Monday, April 23, 2012


The Skeptic's Dictionary has a great page about Landmark Forum. Landmark is the successor to Werner Erhart's est from the 70s. Swami Muktananda was explicitly influenced by est in creating the intensive weekends in the Siddha Yoga (SYDA) organization, The influence of est can be seen in the many other currently-active LGATs (Large Group Awareness Trainings), and this Skeptic's Dictionary page sheds some clear-thinking light on all of them.

One simple concept that I found intriguing is this. People naturally go through high and low psychological phases during their lives. Among those who are drawn to an LGAT, people in a down-phase are over-represented, as they have the most motivation for seeking quick transformation. The tendency of people at low psychological points is to eventually regress to the mean. That is, they move from the extraordinarily low psychological point to a more typical one (i.e., they feel better with time). If the LGAT can convince people of its transformational power, then when a better state occurs (for whatever reason), they'll likely attribute it to the LGAT, and become true believers.

Of course there are some people who get extraordinary bliss-states etc, not just relief from a low-point. Surely, the mere fact that attendance of these workshops and seminars gives people an opportunity to ponder their lives, seek new perspectives, question old assumptions, etc, can have amazingly powerful effects. But among the masses who become LGAT devotees, I'd think regression to mean is a significant dynamic.

In a broader sense, many psychologists say that our happiness tends to follow a U-shape. We're happy as children, then struggle as young adults as we adapt to challenging jobs and relationships and life complications. Somewhere in mid-adulthood, most people tend to gain greater mastery of their lives (and/or our lives actually become easier, as we advance beyond shitty jobs, as kids grow up and no longer demand constant attention, as relationships become more solid, etc). The point is that when we experience a natural life up-turn, we tend to project a reason on it, even if it's just correlation and not causation. If we happen to be Christians, we say Jesus is making us happier. If we're into meditation, we credit that. If we value money most, we think that wealth is the cause of this increased happiness, etc.

Our experience is one thing, and the way we interpret it (assigning a cause to our good or bad feelings) is something different.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Free Thinking

Long ago, when our species was less evolved, it improved our chances of survival if we stuck in tight-knit tribes. As individuals, we'd quickly starve or get eaten by wild animals etc. It makes sense that DNA would wire us to blindly follow a leader, so we'd all stick together in the tribe, and we'd have a fighting chance to keep nature at bay, long enough to procreate and all.

Evolution is brilliant that way, but it moves very very slowly. After all, natural selection has no tools except trial-and-error. We generate a bunch of offspring, and the ones best designed for survival last long enough to pass on DNA codes to future beings. Amazingly effective adaptions arise, but only over the course of many many generations.

Then we got these incredible new tools. Rational thinking allows us to run "what-if" scenarios, and conclude what's best for our survival so much more quickly than the brute force of trial and error. The development of language and the printed word allow us to accumulate knowledge across populations, and pass it on to the future. What to speak of the internet.

Rationality, technology, scientific method bring us to our current condition, in which individuality and independent thinking are a far more effective survival mechanism than they were in our caveman days. When I need food, I pop something into the microwave. Satisfying my needs apart from any tribal allegiance has become a lot easier, compared to when I'd have to live off of dinosaur meat (joking, joking).

The new tools of rationality etc allow at least part of the population to live as free-thinkers. But for many generations to come, this advancement towards personal freedom and independent thinking will be bumping up against the hard-wired drive to adhere to a tribal authority, that drive being a hold-over of a strategy that was more appropriate millions of years ago.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What is This?