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Jordan Peterson's take on the origins of the Buddha
In this short video, he compares the outset of Buddhism with the biblical garden.
- During this class, Jordan Peterson describes how overprotective parenting led to the creation of Buddhism.
- Peterson compares the Buddhist origin myth with the story of Eden.
- Both tales deal with the onset of consciousness and mortality and therefore are universal in appeal.
Jordan Peterson begins at the outset of the origin myth. Siddhārtha Gautama's father was a local oligarch in the region of modern-day Nepal. It was prophesied that his child would either become a great political king or spiritual leader. The chieftain would never have a mendicant for a son, and thus built a walled garden to enclose his offspring. This way the young Gautama would only experience the pleasures of life: health, youth, and beauty.
Father purposefully kept son from disease and death, hoping that by showing the future Buddha joy and mirth he would never feel the need to wander around sampling spiritual disciplines, meditating, chanting, and the like. Peterson finds this predictable:
"It's also in some sense what a good father would do. What do you do with your young children? Well, you don't expose them to death and decay at every step of the way. You build a protected world for them, like a walled enclosure, and you only keep what's healthy and life-giving inside of it."
You wouldn't bring a three-year-old to a funeral or show a four-year-old The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Peterson continues. Because the Buddha has been raised in good health, however, he seeks what's beyond the protective confines of that which has blessed him with health. He becomes, like all humans, curious.
Peterson compares this moment with a realization from Doestoevsky's Notes From the Underground: give people utopia and the first thing they want to do is smash it to pieces "just so something interesting and perverse can happen." Peterson continues,
"We're creatures that are designed to encounter the unknown. We want to keep moving beyond what we have, even if what we have is what we want. And maybe that's partly because we're oriented towards the future."
Jordan Peterson during his lecture at UofT. Photo credit: Rene Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images
Buddha might have felt confined by a few walls; today, Earth itself seems too restrictive. Jeff Bezos calls us, in honor of Isaac Asimov, "planetary chauvinists," while Elon Musk declares we must become a "multi-planetary species." Most likely, a mature Buddha would recommend they both curb their interplanetary enthusiasm and take better care of the planet that birthed us. Still, a young Gautama felt stuffy in his pleasure dome.
Peterson compares what happens next to modern-day China's Olympics preparation, spray painting grass green and evicting locals to offer an appearance of sterility. Gautama Sr. attempted to make the outside world as safe as his son's walled garden. He tells the sick and ugly to take a walk. Peterson calls it the snake in the garden theory:
"No matter how much care you take to make things perfect, some of what you're excluding is going to come back in."
A chosen route was strewn with flowers; beautiful women lined the road for young Gautama's chaperoned chariot. But then, as always, the gods intervened. Though Peterson doesn't mention it, they create an alternate — or in this case, real — route for the Buddha to travel that only the prince and his driver see. And what he saw was old age, disease, and death. That is, he learned about time.
Gautama returns home distressed, though awakened to the nature of reality — in this case, nature. He has finally felt the pain of sentience. Peterson mentions that he's comforted in the safety of his walled garden, again protected by caretakers who use hugging as an analgesic. Pain reduced, Gautama eventually fixes for his vice. Forget these golden robes, he thinks, I must understand pain and suffering. Peterson notes the parallel with the biblical garden, the onset of consciousness after the tempting fruit is bitten.
In Peterson's retelling, the Buddha needed six months before venturing out again. In other versions, he sees all the world's ailments in a single night. Either way, Gautama could never really return to the walled garden. As with all epics, he had set out on his quest; there was no turning back. His father would have a mendicant for a son, one who would, in a strange twist, become a sort of political leader, though that's rarely discussed.
Interestingly, Peterson never mentions the fact that Buddha himself becomes a deadbeat dad, leaving his family shortly after the birth of his son, Rāhula, who he named for being a "fetter." Buddha felt his son chained him to a life he no longer wanted to live. Just as his father created his neurosis, we have to wonder what became of Rāhula's psychological trauma.
2017 Maps of Meaning 10: Genesis and the Buddha
Yet we're not there yet. We're still on the second fateful night, when the future Buddha wishes to return home. His father instead instructs the driver to take Gautama to an orgy of women assembled exclusively for his usage. When he arrives, the prince can only contemplate death. The comfort of fleshly delights has been replaced with the knowledge of mortality.
Continuing alongside biblical parallelism, Peterson notes that the Bible is set up in the same manner as the Buddhist cycles: a garden, the collapse of ignorance, the journey, a return home — all four of Joseph Campbell's phases of mythology covered.
The question has now been asked: How to bring order out of chaos? The very problem civilizations repeatedly pursue. In biblical and Buddhist times, it centered on tribal conflicts; today, how to leave a planet we're quickly destroying — though we're certainly still consumed by our tribal battles as well. Millennia change little.
For Peterson, it begins and ends here: "Identification with the spirit that generates order out of chaos."
What does that spirit contain? That is still a question being asked, likely one that will be asked until we are no more. The Buddha offered his response in the form of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that followed. What must change is not external realities, most of which we have little to no control over. What must change is your mindset.
Origin myths are telling as they reveal the path ahead. The story of Buddhism is rooted in a tale many of us live through: the mythos of overprotective parenting. While curiosity is part of our biological inheritance, the ability to cultivate stillness and practice composure is every situation leads to liberation. A timeless message, regardless of external circumstance.
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Researchers figure out the average temperatures of the last ice age on Earth.
- A new study analyzes fossil data to find the average temperatures during the last Ice Age.
- This period of time, about 20,000 years ago, had the average temperature of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 C).
- The study has implications for understanding climate change.
Surface air temperatures during the last ice age.
Credit: Jessica Tierney, University of Arizona
"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.
- Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
- For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
- No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy<p>Now, I get it if you don't agree with me. I love "Star Trek" and I thought "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one) was amazing and I do adore "The Mandalorian". They are all fun and important and worth watching and thinking about. And maybe you love them more than anything else. But when you sum up the acting, the universe building, and the use of real science where it matters, I think nothing can beat "The Expanse". And with a <a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse" target="_blank">Rotten Tomato</a> average rating of 93%, I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way.</p><p>Best.</p><p>Show.</p><p>Ever. </p>
Contrary to what some might think, the brain is a very plastic organ.
As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active.