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Meditation Found To Increase Brain Size

Meditation Found To Increase Brain Size

Neat.

People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.

[…]

“Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice.”

Though there’s a bunch of other possible practices, I like this as a neat expression of what some meditation is about:

Insight meditation can be practiced anytime, anywhere. “People who do it quickly realize that much of what goes on in their heads involves random thoughts that often have little substance,” Lazar comments. “The goal is not so much to ’empty’ your head, but to not get caught up in random thoughts that pop into consciousness.”

In my experience, meditation is a wonderful practice, with many benefits.

Review: Home

Home, The Gathering‘s latest studio album, is a strange and special beast. Their second full length release since founding their own record label and assuming complete creative control, and the followup to the heavily electronic trip rock of Souvenirs, they continue their evolution as one of the most unique bands around, this time with a new bassist.

Home is one hour of music: each track overlaps seamlessly with the next. The Gathering approach to music seems largely to be assembling interesting sounds they like and arranging them in subtle and complex ways, giving free reign to Anneke Van Giesbergen’s astounding vocal talent.

Anneke’s layered vocals are an increasing feature of the background sonic wash. Her lyrics are getting clearer while losing none of their evocative power as she explores her growing spiritual warmth and celebrates her recent baby. Waking Hour is probably the standout track, and is just gorgeous and lush. (Though so far, each time I’ve listened to it, I’ve had a different favourite track.)

While certainly initially catchy and beautiful, more and more they are a band who require headphones to grasp. From How To Measure a Planet? onwards, they have made full use of the studio to create subtle effects rewarding repeated listening (most notably on if_then_else).

The range of sounds has gotten stranger – certainly I’m often left wondering what the hell is that rythmic element? – or possibly the contrasts inherent in their juxtaposition. From the giant crunching boom (it is either a drum or a boulder being dropped repeatedly on broken glass) on Solace, to the murmury dark vibrations of Fatigue, to the bouncing bass and crunchy/wheezing guitar on Alone.

Despite promising to “bring back the guitars” this album, it’s nothing like the guitar driven early days, and often is stripped back to piano and voice, or other minimalist assemblages. Overall this is a quiet album, softer, more introspective. When it cuts loose it is epic but restrained. It feels like both a culmination and a transition, with momentary glimpses of trodden pastures and elusive hints of new ones to come.

It’s a little hard to describe this stuff. About the only comparison that makes sense so far is Radiohead; they share a similar relationship to traditional categories as they increasingly go their own way, and these days their ballparks certainly abut.

Recommended.

The Da Vinci Code

Quite unexpectedly, I read this yesterday. It has been most likely a decade since I read anything in the mainstream bestseller category. Odd experience. Thankfully it was some kind of oversized illustrated deluxe edition, which really worked for it, since the places and objects referenced throughout are of more than passing importance.

There may be spoilers from here on, but probably not much.

An intriguing mix of good and bad. Easily the greatest strength is the research and historical backstory. And that the leads are intelligent, though we are never given a reason to give a damn about most of them except Sophie. And it’s a generally fast paced thriller, with neat puzzles. No time to get bored. But The Bull and the albino assassin plant us firmly in pot boiler land.

I guess what really amazed me was that all this historical stuff – the Priory of Sion, the grail/bloodline of Christ theories, the Merovingians and Knights Templar, and hidden occult symbolism in art and architecture and so on – was largely familiar to me as a dweller on the fringes through a confused melange of conspiracy. But here it was in one of the biggest, most mainstream books ever. Holy shit. Colour me surprised. (Reminds me of a Grant Morrison interview where he says that the mainstream are desperate for content so they’re mining further and further into the fringes.)

And that, at its philosophical core, it is concerned with the necessary reclamation of the sacred feminine by modern man as an antidote to the present imbalance in the world. Which, in many different metaphors and tongues, is one of the major convergence points of much thinking: whether it is diagnosed as a return to oral culture rather than visual, a shift between left and right hemispheres of the brain, or a fundamental shift in human consciousness, or embracing indigenous understandings of the relationship between man and the world (representing the Holy Mother)… but always this notion of returning something that is a part of us that we have lost under the dominant male/rationalist paradigm.

So, to the extent that this gets people in the mainstream, who would never touch bubble reality challenging fringe stuff, thinking about this, then yay. On the other hand, since it is cast largely as a dismantling of the actions of the early Christian church to hijack the spiritual teaching for corporeal power, people could get lost in the (hotly argued) detail, and miss the metaphor.

Oh, and I don’t know how they’ll fit all the historic detail into the movie, so it will probably lose something. And it kind of made me want to read Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

We feel fine

Wow.

We feel fine.

It’s like post-secret on crack.

It’s astounding and a little hard to describe. It aggregates feelings and thoughts and data about the poster by trawling the blogosphere and pulls out sentences with “I feel” etc in them, and puts it into funky interfaces. The voyeur in me is in love. But after twenty minutes of being absolutely hypnotised by its beauty, I also think there is something incredibly powerful at work here, some warped way in which technology can bring us closer together, or to a better understanding of our common humanity.

Have a look. Now.

Blow out

That was fun. I really needed a full moon dress up blow out. Almost like I was reclaiming part of myself which hadn’t been able to come out and play enough lately.

The Fog of War

Robert Strange McNamara. Interesting guy. Ivy league university, Harvard officer training school, strategic bomber command in WWII, first non family member President of Ford Motors, Secretary of State under Kennedy and Johnson (through Vietnam), then 13 years as President of the World Bank.

Fog of War is basically a long interview with him in his 80’s looking back, cut and spliced with (occasionally deranged) period footage. It focusses mostly on the period of his life up to and including Vietnam, structured around “lessons” learned.

He seemed a reasonably cool old guy with a sense of humour. Which was a touch surprising, but he came across as someone who had made mistakes and learned something from them.

Random highlights: him reporting his commanding general in the bombing command’s view that their actions made them war criminals – destroying 50-90% of 67 Japanese cities by firebombing them – and the only reason they weren’t was that they won the war.
2) the behind the scenes of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The lesson from that was “rationality will not save us”, since rational people would have decided to engage in mutually assured destruction. The other lesson was “empathise with your enemy”; it turned out to be what saved the world was the ex-ambassador to Russia understood enough about Krushev’s mindset to suggest an acceptable way out. McNamara also notes this as a problem with Vietnam, where they completely didn’t understand their enemy or why they were fighting – the Vietnamese were fighting for their independence and freedom, and would never quit, whereas the Americans were engaged in a delusional cold war proxy war.

And all the behind the scenes tapes of presidential discussions and the general play of power was fascinating. (Bush ain’t the first retarded hick president, though certainly the worst.)

Actually, there was quite a lot in it. And the Lyndon Johnson cold war nuclear fear election ad was absolutely freaking deranged. Jaw droppingly demented.

Worth a look if this kind of thing tickles your fancy.

Y'reckon this chick is a robot?

robochick

Cos she is.

Capable of realistic facial expressions and basic conversation.

Letter to the President

is a really worthwhile documentary about the roots of rap and hip hop as a conscious response to social conditions – and it doesn’t shirk from those social conditions (nice that they both interview Gary Webb and dedicate it to him posthumously) – and its subsequent corruption into mindless commercialism.

Actually, it’s a lot more than that, really getting into the interactive cycle of hip hop and its environment and its cultural response. Interesting stuff.

The more documentaries I see which contextualise hip hop as a coherent cultural phenomenon, the more I can appreciate it on its own terms, while still understanding why I have no time whatsoever for the leading edge of it I experience in the form of mindless bling bling booty shaking music videos. (But that’s what sells.)

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