Ethics – Love – Definitions

by pre., Friday, August 29th, 2008.

This week we are taking advantage of the fact its is a five-Friday month to make this week’s article a prelude, an aside. We’ll explain the topic of the meditation to be published next week rather than focus yet more on social perception. By having the first our our essays on ‘love’ this week we can do four articles on Social Perception, four on Love, and still have a week for a recap before we complete the first lap around the spiral at the end of September.

Which is useful, because the word “Love” is a frustratingly ambiguous mess in the English language, and it’ll take a short diversion into it’s meaning before we can really start to talk usefully about how love can help your ethics, why you should care, and how to improve and gain more control over your loving skills.

The Greeks do not suffer from this same ambiguity. They have at least five words which loosely translate into the English world “love”: Eros, philia, agapē, storge and thelema.

C.S. Lewis counted only Four Types Of Love when he thought about it, missing Thelema and so presumably never saying “I love to play tennis” or “I love to write allegories on the bible as children’s stories “.

Each of the types of love are no doubt useful and powerful emotions which should probably all be developed and nurtured and expanded and controlled to help push us closer to transcendence. Let’s examine them in turn.

Eros

Eros is, of course, romantic love. Full of lust, passion and sexual desire. It’s a red-hot overwhelming, burning need. A jealous possessive love which, if uncontrolled, can lead to Shakespearian tragedy and, if unrequited, to suicidal misery and stalking.

When you learn to take more conscious and deliberate control of this emotion you’ll better be able to turn on that passion and lust in yourself and your partner. You’ll be more able to ignore an unrequited love and through understanding gain more perspective on it’s importance to your Thelema.

Thelema

The type of Greek Love which C.S. Lewis missed, presumably damning it as no love at all because it’s not a relationship between people, but an intrinsic will or desire. You can feel Thelema towards a sport, towards a drug or brand of baked beans or even towards an abstract concept — “I love maths”. When people say “Do what you love” they mean Thelema.

It refers to your drives, subjective value systems, the things you get out of bed for on a Saturday.

The Transcendence Institute is at least a part of our thelema. The pursuit of knowledge, understanding, self-consciousness and self-control, the drive to learn how to be most effective in the rest of our thelema.

As you learn to know yourself better, you will find and resolve desires which conflict. Knowing your will, your Thelema, will better enable you to find ways to peruse that will, and remove any fear you have of chasing that which you love to chase. Eventually you’ll also learn to increase your thelema and thus drive yourself more passionately towards your goal.

Philia

C.S. Lewis called Philia “Friendship” and the scientific suffix “philic” means essentially “Attracted to” in the sense that a magnetic south pole is attracted to a magnetic north. Unlike North and South though, Philia arises though a similarity, having things in common. I love (Philia) you because we share a goal, or enjoy a similar pastime, support the same team, are of the same nation, friendship-group or family. We may even call it comradeship.

As you learn to understand this kind of love, you’ll learn how to inspire it in others — to ‘make friends and influence people’. You’ll better be able to find what common cause you have with people to base a friendship on, and you’ll learn to value your friendships more, and more accurately.

Storge

Storge is an affection, a familial love. A brotherly or sisterly love. A love which will tend to grow as you spend time with someone just through that familiarity. A wish for someone’s well-being because you’d miss them if they were gone.

It’s useful to control and understand your Storge, and that of others. To know why you feel the way you feel, to edit and change those feelings if they conflict with other types of love, your Thelema or Philia. To learn how to turn these emotions up and down as appropriate to your will.

Agapē

Early Christians, certainly Paul/Saul in his biblical letters, used the word “Agapē” to describe their god’s love for the world. The word which he claimed that his god loved unconditionally. Buddhists may see if at the source of good-karma: loving even that which does you harm. A general well-wishing, wanting good for the whole world.

It’s clear why this kind of love would improve our instinctual sense of ethics. If we have a general wish to see all parties — all things — come out better, if we love the entire world, then we’re more likely to find the fair solution to a problem than if we’re selfishly loving (Eros) our spouse and want to see them advantaged or if we’re biased towards those we’re familiar with (Storge). The emotion of Agapē gives us a sense of ‘fair-play’. As you learn to practice Agapē you’ll find pleasure in more things.

That’s not all

Even this list of Greek words does not fully expand upon the vast spectrum of emotions which the world “love” so vaguely describes. The Transcendence Institute would add to this list at least an appreciative, love, a love felt because the object of that love is good, a love that’s not Eros (the object of that love isn’t sexy), it’s not Philia (we need not share common cause or even know each other), it’s not Storge (we could not feel it for the black sheep of the family), it’s not Thelema (it’s not a drive, a desire, just a recognition of that which is ‘good’), it’s not Agapē (we do not feel appreciative of everything, only that which is good).

We would also add a love built from gratitude, even indebtedness, loving someone or something because of the help they have provided in the past.

All these types of love are pleasurable, at least in some circumstances, and this alone is sufficent reason to encourage them in yourself, to practice and train yourself on them.

The point of this article, however, is not to enumerate types of love. Human emotion is a huge continuous spectrum of experiences which we’ll barely be able to touch on next month. There are more instances of love than there are people who have ever existed, for each will have loved many times. All these words capture some parts of the experience and miss other parts. The point isn’t to list what is possible but to give a framework for discussion. Not to put love into boxes, but to give some markers, stake out some landmarks in the landscape of love.

This, we have done, so next week we’ll introduce a meditation designed to help increase and control Agapē, for to improve our ethics we must feel that sense of fair-play, and apply it to all things

Ethics – Love – A meditation for increaseing agapē

by pre., Friday, September 5th, 2008.

Last week we examined the many types of love, staked out the landscape, doing the ground-work so that we’re less likely to be misunderstood.

This week we are, of course, introducing a new meditation. This month’s mediation is designed to help you to increase your ability and tendency to love. In particular “agapē”, a general undiscriminating love for everything, compassion for all things.

Next week we’ll show why increasing your ‘agapē’ in is useful, both personally and to one’s ethics. Indeed we’ll show why a functioning ethical system is useful both to society at large and even to a single individual within it. Useful to you. That is next week we’ll discuss why you would want to increase your agapē while this week we’ll discuss how to do so.

Increasing agapē

Our meditation this month has you focus on your heart, and to pay attention and concentrate on the love coming from it, to project that onto other things. Of course, love actually comes from the brain just as all other thoughts, feelings, emotions and sentiment does. But our culture has symbolised love with the heart for more generations than we can count, we may even be biologically wired to feel as though it comes from there. Certainly love can make the heart beat faster.

When we meditate we’re not manipulating real world things. We’re just manipulating symbols. We use the symbol of the heart as an associative key to prompt the physical patterns representing love into the neural network in our brains. As a key to help you feel the love you’re meditating on.

You’ll use this key and your imagination and memory of past experiences of love to direct your mind towards the agapē pattern, and as you do so you’ll project it out onto a series of real-world items. Well, the symbols for real-word items obviously, but that’s all your brain ever knows. You’ll start with easy ones, family, friends, lovers, people who in fact probably inspire love in you rather than really needing to have you project it upon them. Then get progressively more general, directing your love, your agapē, towards more distant acquaintances, strangers, eventually the whole universe at large, even hated enemies.

Associating that feeling with those things, even just pretending, just ‘practising’ as you meditate, will effect your feelings about those things back in the ‘real’ world when you have finished meditation. And of course in general your brain is more likely to do things it’s done before, so spending a few minutes now and then feeling love will already make you more likely to find it outside your meditation.

Finally you’ll finish with the usual suggestive visualisations, seeing how you’ll be different after you have increased your agapē abilities, imagining that you’re heading towards it, that you’ll continue to feel these things during your dreams and that your life from then on will be effected positively.

Guided Meditation File 8 – Ethics – Love

Ethics – Love – Why

by pre., Friday, September 12th, 2008.

Last week we discussed how to increase agapē, your general compassion for everything. This week we’ll discuss why you’d do such a thing. After all, hasn’t economics and business school taught you that the most selfish, narcissistic, egomaniacal, even Machiavellian, people win the game of life? Get all the money and power and groupies and fame?

Building Relationships

Firstly the truth is, no. Few people actually get ahead by trampling those below. The people who rise to the top are more often those who make friends and influence people. Those who build alliances and forge friendly relationships with their customers and co-workers, not those who make enemies and wage feuds. No human can do their best work alone, we all need help and support from each other. Our families. Our friends. Our society. Even the occasional stranger. We get that support mostly from those with whom we have built a relationship, and the more loving you are the easier you will build that support.

Reciprocity

When you love, people in general are more likely to return it. How many people who love you do you hate? How many people who you love hate you? As you grow to love more, you will increase the number of people who love you. Love isn’t a price paid on a more economical selfishness, it’s an investment and sure, some investment’s go bad but that’s no reason not to invest again.

As you grow your agapē you will find people come to like you more, you’ll notice how they help you, you’ll feel a warm gratitude and know that repaying that help will bring yet more back to you.

Fairness

When you are more compassionate to a wider range of things, you are more likely to be fair, towards a larger range of things. A reputation for being fair will make your judgement more likely sought, your advice more often taken, your confidence more often trusted. Again, building relationships and encouraging people to help you, to find ways you can help each other.

Happiness

Even if Machiavellian exploitation of people was the best route to money and power, it’s not money or power which actually make people happy, or help them transcend. Good company, not a good bank balance. Being loved, not feared.

You know that ‘love’ isn’t a property of the object which is loved, it’s a property of the brain doing the loving. You know that you can change your own brain. You know that the longer a brain says in some given state the more likely it is to revert there. If you spend a lot of time loving, your neutral gear, your rest position will be closer to the loving end of the multi-dimensional emotional spectrum. If you spend time in the agapē areas of thought-space, you’ll lay your hat there and your brain will call it home.

Ask yourself, who is more likely to be happy, a guy who spends his time hating, who’s thought-space home is hateville, or the guy who spends his time loving, resting in neutral near the agapēton?

Grudges

If you love more, you are more likely to forgive, and forgiving is less expensive than holding a grudge. Grudges cause feuds. Punishing too much hurts your bottom line. Grudges prevent you from once again gaining mutual benefit from a relationship. Being annoyed with a shop-keep for overcharging you 5p should not make you stop your custom if you can save 10p by going there. If you make him feel gratitude he can gain from repaying. As you cultivate a more loving attitude you’ll be more willing to forgive, helping you build more allies, friends, stronger relationships.

Conservation

Even increasing your agapē for inanimate objects helps you. Of course those things will not repay your love, they will not build a relationship with you, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be helpful to you. A love for the environment, be it the globe, the country, the street or your own furniture, will motivate you conserve and get the most from it.

If you love things you will protect them, keep them safe. You’re more likely to need something in good condition later than to need a broken thing.

This, then, is why it’s useful, pleasurable, worthwhile and good for you to learn to love more widely.

Next week we’ll talk about remembering to point some of that love at yourself.

Ethics – Love – Love Thyself

by pre., Friday, September 19th, 2008.

This month we have discussed what love means, how to train your brain to love more, and why it’s useful to love the world in general. This week we will discuss why and how it’s useful to love yourself.

The most obvious reason to spend time trying to train your brain into loving yourself is that you spend a lot of time with yourself. Pretty much all of it. If your own presence can be a trigger to put your mind into a more loving state, you’ll be in that more loving state more often. This, of course, will help you to find all the advantages that we discussed when asking why loving the world was useful.

Since it’s only right and natural that you’ll think about yourself more than any other being, as we mentioned you’ll be with yourself more than any other being, you will certainly find yourself happier and in a more positive frame of mind if you love the object of your concentration. You know that poor self esteem can lead to eating disorders, depression, trouble with relationships, underachievement and problematic drug and alcohol use. Loving yourself more will help avoid these dead-ends and make you happier

As you begin to love yourself more you’ll more you’ll find you experience an increasingly positive mental attitude, perhaps begin to be more optimistic. You have seen that all people live as much in a psychological world as a physical one. Your successes, your inspirations, your ideas and your failures, are influenced greatly by your expectation. Optimists go and try things while pessimists don’t try since they expect failure. As your love for yourself is growing, so your expectation of success will grow.

Which brings us to the social networking effects of loving yourself, of auto-agapē. People are pretty good judges of what someone thinks of themselves, their status, their position in the social hierarchy. As your auto-agapē grows you will be less likely to judge yourself unworthy, and people will in general trust the impression of that judgement which you automatically project. They will trust the opinion of others who have made such a judgement. Your self-worth leaks out through the social atmosphere into other people, and when you begin to judge yourself more worthy of love you’ll project that, and others will subconsciously agree

You will also find that as your love for yourself is growing, you’ll be more forgiving of the mistakes you do make. Less harsh a critic on yourself which will have positive-feedback results in all the above effects. With less harsh judgement of yourself others will have less harsh judgement of you.

How?

When listening to the Guided Meditation this month, pay particular attention to the first few minutes, when you’re asked to project the love from your heart inwards and around our own body and mind. If you particularly want to concentrate on building self esteem and loving yourself more, project that love inwards at yourself on each of the subsequent occasions rather than allowing it to grow outwards to an ever greater array of objects as the meditation suggests. Be sure that you still feel it growing, and shining out from your body, but concentrate on the visualisation of the growth of that symbolic power within yourself rather than outside.

Guided Meditation File 8 – Ethics – Love
Backing Music “A New Sunshine” By AK1974
Download Meditation Download Backing Music Visit Artist's Site Read Articles

Ethics – Karma – Non Magical Karma

by pre., Friday, May 1st, 2009.

In the west, the word “karma” tends to be misused. People assume it means that every good action needs a bad action to balance the yin-yang of life. People think it means that good things happen to good people. They think it means that bad people will be punished, either in this world or in a reincarnation or other form of afterlife. They think it’s like a cosmic bank where every good deed is a deposit on future luck.

Obviously, since there is no magic, if Karma exists it is none of these things.

Non Magical Karma

A real karma, one which is based not on magic but on solid understanding of game theory, sociology and ethics, is not so much a belief that “If I behave well, I will live in a better place” more an understanding of the the fact that “If everyone behaves well, the world is a better place.” For everyone in it.

The first meaning would require a magic karma fairy to keep score, to ensure that people who are nice meet each other more often than average. The second meaning is just a simple statement about probabilities. The more good acts there are in the world, the more chance there is you’ll come upon one.

Your good actions aren’t designed to give you, personally a better outcome. They’re designed to make your society into one with a greater chance of finding those good acts. Your part in a group effort.

Yes, it may be possible to cheat, to be a free-rider, to be bad while everyone else is being good and to take advantage of others, but in doing so you harm the society in which you live.

Prisoners Dilemma

The Prisoners Dilemma is a game in which the rules are set up so that ‘rational’, self-interested decisions result in each prisoner’s being worse off than if each chose to help the other.

Both players play a card: Either ‘defect’ or ‘cooperate’. Here’s a matrix showing the number of points each player scores depending on which cards are played:

Player A
Cooperate Defect
Player B Cooperate A:3, B:3 A:5, B:0
Defect A:0, B:5 A:1, B:1

As you can see, if both players play “cooperate” they get 3 points each. If both players defect they get 1 point each. However if one player cooperates while the other defects, they score just zero, giving the defecting player five points.

If a player uses the defect card, he does the best he can regardless of what the other player does. Likewise, if that other player plays the defect card then he in turn does better than the first. Yet if both play the cooperate card then between them they win more than if either play defect.

Note that the essential condition is this: By cooperating, more points are scored in total for the players than if they defect. An individual player will score 1 or 5 if he defects, or else 0 or 3 if he cooperates. A clear rational choice to defect. Yet the players in total receive 6 points for cooperating with each other and only 1 or 5 if one chooses to defect

“Games” in the game-theory sense which have with these conditions exist all over the society in which we live. Every economic transaction you’ve ever participated in is grounded in it. In the actual world, many games are NOT zero sum meaning the only way to score points is not to take them from another player.

We can call the total number of points awarded in the Prisoners Dilemma the ‘karma’. If both players cooperate, the karma is 6. There is more ‘karma’ to be shared between everybody. If both players defect the total karma is only 2. There are less points to go around. If only one player cooperates there are just 5 karma points in the system, even though they are all given to the defector.

A world with more Karma is a world in which more people choose to go against their selfish competitive one-upmanship and to cooperate to improve the lot of all. In that world with more cooperation, everybody wins.

A world with more cooperation, more karma, is a better place in which to live.

This argument tells us why we are better off in the long run, as a society, if we and everybody else ‘pull their weight’, if we help and cooperate with each other. However, the cold hard rules of natural selection care not for our lofty arguments or how well the group fairs. They care only for which genes are successfully producing the most copies of themselves. What works in evolution has to work here, now, immediately, personally, to increase the spread of a given gene.

Next week we’ll look into the mechanism found by evolution to dig species out of the selfish swamps of competition into the relative ease of cooperation.

Ethics – Karma – Social Reinforcement

by pre., Friday, May 8th, 2009.

Last week we mentioned the prisoners dilemma a simple system built to model a non zero sum game, we compared the total number of points scored by all players combined to the karma in the system. Cooperation increased the total number of points available, even if a larger absolute number of points could be gained for a given individual player by defecting.

In the penultimate chapter of The Selfish Gene, entitled “Nice Guys Finish First”, Richard Dawkins discuses the ways in which evolution, through simple selfish Darwinian selection, can still evolve cooperation. There is a BBC Documentry of the same name based on the chapter.

In it, Dawkins explains that in order to evolve cooperation, a system must satisfy three conditions: The interaction must be repeated, so that the same individuals are likely to interact again. They must be able to recognise the partners they are interacting with and they must be able to remember how their partner interacted last time.

Iterated Prisoners Dilemma

The first of these keys to the evolution of cooperation is that the game must be played more than once, ideally repeated over and over again indefinitely. If the game is played over and over again a host of new strategies open up. Rather than just “cooperate” or “defect” a player can do something more like “Defect on each alternate go and cooperate otherwise” or “Cooperate 3 times then defect”. This widening of the strategic field is essential to evolving a cooperative strategy, for simply “cooperate” OR simply “defect” are not complicated enough. Repeating the game changes it’s nature, rather than a simple prisoners dilemma game, it becomes the iterated prisoners dilemma.

Memory

The next essential element is that each player must be able to remember the results of previous iterations. Without the ability to remember the past, strategy can’t change depending on previous actions and we’re back to the simple game, with just “cooperate” or “defect”, perhaps with a random component. Even to implement “cooperate every other time” we need to remember which round we’re on, what we did last time.

Recognition

Finally, Dawkins shows that the players must be able to recognise their partner in the game. To link their memory of the game to the particular individual they last played with. To remember, essentially, whether the individual they are playing against cooperated or defected on the last few iterations.

When all three of these conditions are present in an evolutionary system, the system becomes complicated enough that it can evolve ways to spread the advantage of an increase system-wide karma to all the agents in that system. Strategies can evolve to encourage cooperation so that the group, and each individual within it, can take advantage of group effort.

Strategies

In the 1980s, Robert Axelrod hosted a computerized tournament of strategies which met these criteria. Computer programs were submitted which implemented a given strategy, and each program given the opportunity to compete over many rounds with all the other strategies.

The winning strategy, known as ‘tit for tat’, is very simple: Cooperate on the first move, then afterwards copy the move your partner made.

The strategy ‘punishes’ a player for defecting. The more they defect, the more Tit For Tat will defect back at them. Suddenly, in an environment of tit for tat players that you expect to meet again and again, the best strategy is to cooperate rather than defect.

Human Beings

Of course, actual creatures don’t have to consciously understand this data in order to cooperate. They just need to be built by evolution to instinctively cooperate, and punish defectors. It’s this evolution which has given us social emotions which make us so urgently feel injustice, feel such hatred against cheaters and criminals. They make us love those who have helped us, and want to repay the debt of kindness. They give us pride in our reputation, and instinctive ways to judge another’s reputation based on interactions with them and others they have interacted with.

Social Emotions

Karma, understood properly, is a measure of how much cooperation there is in society, a measure of the good in your community. Your own personal rewards are of course partially determined by this, and partially by your own actions.

If you lived in a community of cooperators, people who helped regardless of your reputation and your previous action, you could indeed defect and so gain personally at the expense of the society in which you live and the people with whom you interact. However, over time, this would cause damage to the society that supported you and discourage cooperation throughout. Those cooperating linages would die out. Your selfish strategy would cease to work. Each member of the species would suffer, without a bedrock of kindness to exploit.

This is not the world in which you live though. You are not in a community of mindless cooperators. You live in a world where you have friends, a reputation, enemies. A world in which people sacrifice their own gain in the name of punishing criminals, in the name of justice and honesty.

This is why the naive interpretation of ‘karma’, that people who do good are rewarded, are luckier, still holds some truth: Those who treat others well will indeed be better off than those who don’t. Nice people have nicer friends. Helpful people are more likely to be helped. Even the nicest people, even family, rightly have limits, They will eventually punish defection.

This is the essential point: You live in a society which rewards altruism, you have evolved in an environment which is made up, primarily, of other people who reward cooperation and punish defection. Each person doesn’t usually consciously spread gossip and information in order to assure that “you’ll never work in this town again,” full social exclusion is rare. However, people will pick up on each other’s tells, they’ll notice reticence in interactions, suspicion, reluctance. Your reputation, like it or not, follows you everywhere. There is much to gain from being a good person, most notably, good friends.

Of course, you can try to hide the truth about yourself. Hope you’ll get away with cultivating friendships without cooperation. Hope to cleverly take advantage of everyone you meet. Next week we’ll discuss how even defections which nobody but you know about can nevertheless have a negative influence on your life.

Ethics – Karma – Self Reinforcement

by pre., Friday, May 15th, 2009.

Last week we talked about the circumstances in which cooperation can be the best route for all parties, even in deeply competitive situations like evolution by natural selection. That in these circumstances the forces of natural selection favour the evolution of social emotions, methods which change the behaviour of organisms, and thus the very environment in which creatures live. By punishing defection and rewarding cooperation these social emotions increase the karma of the whole group by ensuring that the individual karma of each of it’s members is tracked, and that each of those members rewarded for adding to the karma of the group.

All the members of a community, then, have an incentive to enforce justice. An incentive to punish mis-deeds, to befriend only the most friendly. Genes, emotions, memes and social conventions evolve to build an environment in which individuals can take advantage of the rising tide of good karma which lifts all boats.

Note however that these social emotions aren’t just about others. An individual in this society is better off, personally actually better off, if he cooperates more. He’s better off because, in the special circumstances we mentioned earlier, the other individuals in his group make it so. They enforce the rules.

Thus each individual evolves conscience. If those who fail to cooperate are out-competed by those who do, if there exists a selective pressure to encourage cooperation, then those who feel genuine guilt, those who feel remorse, who make amends and resolve never to again do the thing which caused these feelings will prosper over the guiltless and the selfish.

Self Reinforcement

All of which means that not only have you evolved in an environment of family and friends which carefully watch and judge your ethical actions, your contribution to the group’s karma, but also that you have also evolved to judge yourself on those same scores, those same criteria.

Whether you want it or not, your are always being judged, not just by the wider community (for they are not always present) but by yourself. Every time you find yourself wanting, every time you wrong someone or something, every time you reduce the amount of karma in your society, you will damage your own opinion of yourself.

This self image will be in your mind all the time. If you know you’re not a great person, you won’t expect great friends. If you know you’re a thief, you’ll act like a thief. You’ll condemn yourself.

When you finally are in the company of others again, this self judgement will filter on to them through your non-verbal subliminal body language and behaviour.

Your expectations will change. If you know you’re great, you’ll expect great things. If you know you’re a bastard, you’ll accept being treated like one.

Changing Yourself

At the Transcendence Institute, we believe that these things are fundamentally changeable. It would seem that if you so desired you could erase these effects, judge yourself in a deliberately inaccurate way. Consider yourself better than you are, more kind and friendly than you are. Cynically wear one mask when others are around and another when alone.

However, this would be a mistake.

As we have explained, in a social society the benefits to you, personally from making properly ethical decisions far outweigh any short-term temporary gain you may be able to glean from the dishonest, unfriendly or unethical choice. It’s a good thing to have these social emotions, not only for society at large but (because of the way you’ll interact with that society in future) for you personally too!

In fact then, we should encourage these social emotions. The pleasure of helping someone, the joy of adding karma to your society, the guilt and unhappiness of wronging someone.

The last meditation in this lap around the spiral, presented next week, will help you to build those emotions, to take more pleasure from doing the right thing.

Ethics – Karma – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, May 22nd, 2009.

This month we have examined karma. We have pointed out that in traditional eastern culture it’s a measure of good will in society rather than a given individual’s score, analogous to the total scored in an iterated prisoners dilemma rather than an individual’s score.

Last week we looked at the social emotions which have evolved to encourage the kind of cooperative behaviour which, especially in environments consisting of similarly evolved beings, increase the lot of everyone. The rising tide which lifts all the boats in the harbour.

It would seem, then, that these social emotions are personally beneficial in an environment where defectors are detected and punished, or even noticed and not helped. It’s better for society at large, and for each individual actor, if they act the way those social emotions will encourage them to act.

More personally: It’s better for society at large and you personally if you personally feel those social emotions as relevent and immediate and deep.

This month’s meditation aims to help you to feel and pay attention to those emotions. It aims to encourage you to notice and seek the joy of helping others, the pleasure of increasing your community’s karma, of spreading the love.

As usual, you’ll do this through practice, through visualisation and recall (or precall, imagination if you can’t think of an occasion at all). You’ll focus upon the way it feels to help someone, on the emotional repercussions of that action. On enjoying the smile of the person you helped, or the general increase in karma in your social group.

In doing so you’ll also prime yourself to focus on these things in the future at the time they happen, increasing your emotional reward for ethical behaviour, for increasing your society’s karma.

Of course we’ll also try to make suggestions and give instruction designed to help you to understand karma more thoroughly, to learn to see it as a score for the community rater than yourself.

What you’ll hear

After the usual talk-down and slide into that suggestible state, you’ll spend a few minutes thinking about an occasion in which you helped someone. When you added to the community’s karma. Then you’ll send a couple of minutes thinking about a time when you didn’t help, maybe even when you hurt or refused to cooperate.

Each time you’ll be encouraged to allow the emotional effects on your conscience, on karma, to grow. To feel them more strongly.

Finally you’ll compare the emotions evoked by the two different types of action, impressing on your mind the personal emotional benefit to you of helping others.

Download The Meditation:

Guided Meditation File 16 – Ethics – Karma
Backing Music “Lost Loves In Space” By The Stan Operate
Download Meditation Download Backing Music Visit Artist's Site Read Articles

Ethics – Empathy – Biology

by pre., Friday, February 5th, 2010.

Evolution

We’ve mentioned many times before that the human race is a highly social species, living in familial groups and further, even in groups of families. Whole communities of people manage to live together in relative harmony. This group living gives many advantages over a solitary animal. We can spot danger for each other, feed each other when we are hungry. Each individual in the group gains more in support from that group than it costs them to help support the others.

Living in groups like this requires a certain level of cooperation, and cooperation requires an understanding of each other’s needs. It requires that parents can tell when their children need feeding, that individuals can tell when others are in distress. That the people on a hunt can work together, be in the hunting mood at the same time. Individuals which are able to develop this understanding and work well within a group are more likely to survive and prosper within that group than those who don’t. Thus, human beings (and probably many other social animals) have evolved empathy.

Perhaps the simplest way to for evolution to enable us to understand the state of mind of another, is for it to make us feel it. To put your own brain into as similar a configuration as possible to the one being experienced in another. Can there be a better way of understanding how somebody feels than by feeling what they feel?

This, then, is “empathy.” The power to observe another and to know how they are feeling, what they are thinking. More than this, to actually share their emotion, their state of mind, their thoughts.

There is no magic

Clearly this doesn’t work like it works on Star Trek for the Empaths. They have spooky psychic rays permeating space, carrying the thoughts and moods of the thinker away. Science has yet to discover any such rays, whereas it has discovered many more mundane ways that brains can use to increase empathy.

Neurological Basis

Much scientific work has been done to understand the methods which the brain uses to implement empathy. People have been experimented upon while in CAT and PET scanners and the like. Emotions provoked in them, making them scared or angry or bored. Also pictures of others experiencing those emotions can be projected in front of their eyes.

Scientists have found that similar areas of the brain ‘light up’ (that is, require more oxygen since they are working harder) when experiencing an emotion or when observing another person experience it. That is, that seeing someone feel sad produces similar patterns of activity to actually feeling sad yourself. Likewise, looking at happy people involves much of the same neural networks as feeling happy.

Mirror Neurons

Not just general areas of the brain work this way. Individual neurons have been tracked which fire when someone performs an actions, or when they see others do so.

Mirror neurons” have been discovered even in non-primate species. These brain cells were first discovered accidentally by Italian scientists investigating the way a primate’s brain controls it’s limbs. With a monkey’s brain open and minute electrodes in hand, they painstakingly sought out neurons which fired when a monkey moved it’s arm in a given way. Seeking the neurons which controlled that movement.

Success! They found neurons that fired only when a monkey moved it’s arm in a particular way. This would have been quite a scientific result in it’s time even if things had stopped there. A chance accident in the lab occured. An experimenter performed that same arm action in front of the monkey while it was still wired up. The neuron fired.

Whenever the money saw another monkey (or researcher) perform that action, the thing same happened. The neuron which which fired when the monkey’s own arm was moving, fired when it saw anyone else do the same. This neuron, and others that act like it, are called mirror neurons. They connect the actions of another with those same actions of your own.

Social Signalling

We’ve already talked about social signalling, the kinds of actions, expressions and words which we use to communicate our thoughts and emotional states. It’s now clear that seeing, hearing, smelling these signals works subconsciously and directly to ‘synch’ our states of mind. To literally bring your mind state close to that of the people you interact with. To make us all feel each other’s joy and pain.

Next week we’ll discuss how this builds our ethical and moral systems, and what use this is to you as an individual and to the greater society of which you are a part.

Ethics – Empathy – Why Is It Useful?

by pre., Friday, February 12th, 2010.

Last week we looked at the biological implementation of empathy — the way you can feel another’s feelings — and looked at some of the evolutionary reasons for such a mental power to exist, why it might evolve.

However, just because something is useful to genetic evolution does not mean it’s useful to you, personally. Contraception is a horrible idea to genetic evolution, but a great idea for humans who want more control over their reproduction. Suffering pain being such utter torture for the psyche is good for your genes, but not good for your mental state.

You are not a slave to your gene’s evolutionary interests.

Feeling another person’s happiness and joy is all very well, but the people around you aren’t always happy and joyful. Is it really an advantage to be forced to share another’s misery? If you’re editing your brain, reprogramming your mind, you can presumably learn to turn your empathy off. Learn to avoid sharing your friend/associate/stranger/mark/victim’s misery where it is profitable to do so.

Does empathy always help you, personally.

Being able to turn your empathy off, to observe pain without feeling it, even being able to inflict it without personal emotional damage, would appear at first sight to be an advantage. It doesn’t mean you have to inflict pain. It doesn’t mean you have to ignore it when others do. It just opens up your options, right? Would it not be better to be able to calculate another’s emotional state without having to experience their misery, their loneliness and sorrow? To dispassionately observe a slaughter?

No.

Last lap around the spiral we talked about karma and described how evolution had given us the power to actually feel in synch with one another because those particular circumstances create the motivational pay off for people to be good to each other in a way which benefits each of the people in a society by benefiting the whole of society. Each person it in gets a better base from which to live.

This, then, is the primary benefit of feeling an emotional resonance, an empathy with others. It will motivate you, it will guide your will, it will encourage to you to see others as an end in themselves. It’ll stop being being a psychopath!

Personal Gain

The genes which deliver your empathic skills evolved because they were helpful to your ancestors. Not so much because they were useful to the community in which your ancestors existed, but because they were genuinely, selfishly, mathematically, more able to reproduce than the alleles which they were competing against.

It’s actually, genuinely, objectively, better to feel the emotions of those you interact with. The gains from living in a group of individuals that agree this ethical code far exceed the loss of giving your contribution to that group.

While you’re still human you not will be using dispassionate considered mathematics to judge the right cause of action on any given occasion. You’ll be flying by the seats of your pants. You’ll be making judgements on the fly, within hundredths of a second. If you could turn off your emotional response, your empathy for your fellow man, you’ll risk making decisions without your ethics turned on. Your behaviour will be determined by these split second decisions, and so if you want to behave ethically, you need to always feel the empathy which you actually use to make these decisions.

Those emotions will guide your actions and your desires.

We won’t be trying to explore ways to overcome your empathy in order to treat people more brutally or dispassionately. Quite the reverse. We intent to help you learn to do it better and more of the time.

Next week we’ll look at ways of practising and so improving your empathic powers, then at the end of the month will introduce our final guided dream, in which you will do just that and grow your ability to empathise while you dream.