The Ancient, Peaceful Art of Self-Generated Hallucination

meditation light

Posted By Rose Eveleth

After five years of practicing meditation, subject number 99003 began to see the lights. “My eyes were closed,” he reported, “[and] there would be what appeared to be a moon-shaped object in my consciousness directly above me, about the same size as the moon if you lay down on the ground and look into the night sky. It was white. When I let go I was totally enveloped inside this light… I was seeing colors and lights and all kinds of things going on… Blue, purple, red. They were globes; they were kind of like Christmas-tree lights hanging out in space, except they were round.”

Subject 99003 described these experiences to Jared Lindahl, a researcher from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, who has spent years scientifically studying meditation. He and his team are the midst of a large study on meditators and their experiences, and in a recent paper they homed in on a peculiar experience many of them share: mysterious lights that appear in their mind’s eyes as they practice.

To figure out just where these lights might be coming from, Lindahl and his team talked to 28 meditators for an average of 77 minutes each. Nine of them reported “light experiences,” with descriptions much like subject 99003’s. “Sometimes there were, oftentimes, just a white spot, sometimes multiple white spots,” one said. “Sometimes the spots, or ‘little stars’ as I called them, would float together in a wave, like a group of birds migrating, but I would just let those things come and go.”

Another said: “In concentration I’ve had rays of white light that go through everything. They’re either coming from behind me somewhere or coming out of the object that I was concentrating on… I saw it with my eyes open and it wasn’t really seeing it was something else, even though I still was perceiving that I was there.”

Buddhist literature refers to lights and visions in myriad ways. The Theravada tradition refers to  nimitta, an vision of a series of lights seen during meditation that can be taken to represent everything from the meditator’s pure mind to a visual symbol of a real object. In one Buddhist text, called The Path of Purification, the nimitta is described this way:

It appears to some as a star or cluster of gems or a cluster of pearls, […] to others like a long braid string or a wreath of flowers or a puff of smoke, to others like a stretched-out cobweb or a film of cloud or a lotus flower or a chariot wheel or the moon’s disk or the sun’s disk.

Other Buddhist traditions also refer to lights during meditation, but Lindahl points out in the paper that “there is no single, consistent interpretation of meditation-induced light experiences in Buddhist traditions.” And yet the appearance of lights isn’t a fluke occurrence—it’s something that many meditators experience, and that many traditions have tried to incorporate and explain.

“Sometimes the spots, or ‘little stars’ as I called them, would float together in a wave, like a group of birds migrating, but I would just let those things come and go.”

So where are these lights coming from? They’re clearly not real, physical lights dancing in front of the meditator’s face, but rather a construction of the idle, meditating brain. What is it about meditation that opens the brain up to these kinds of hallucinations?

To answer that question, Lindahl and his team looked for occasions where the descriptions he gathered from meditators intersected with descriptions of neurophysiological disorders. They found that both the first-person accounts and the Buddhist literary descriptions of these lights intersected pretty well with the experiences of people undergoing the intentional practice of sensory deprivation…




McDonalds’ Definition of “Sustainable:” Brought to You by the Beef Industry

By Dana Liebelson

In January, McDonald’s announced that it will begin the transition to sustainable beef in 2016. The plan was met with skepticism, since it didn’t actually define “sustainable.” In the weeks that followed, McDonald’s continued working with a group called the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) to come up with a working definition of the term, and on Monday, GRSB released a draft of its definition for public comment. In addition to McDonald’s, GRSB’s new set of sustainability guidelines will also be implemented by the group’s other members, which include Walmart, Darden Restaurants (the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster), Cargill, Tyson Foods, and the pharmaceutical company Merck.

Despite its name, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is not so much an environmental organization as a meat industry group. Its executive committee includes representatives from McDonald’s, Elanco, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Just two environmental groups—the World Wildlife Fund and Netherlands-based Solidaridad—are part of its executive board. Cameron Bruett, president of GRSB and chief sustainability officer for JBS USA, a beef-processing company, said that McDonald’s, along with other members, helped come up with the organization’s “sustainability” definition and guidelines.

“I don’t know if there’s any justification for banning antibiotics in feed,” said a GRSB spokesman.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the group’s leadership, the GRSB’s guidelines are short on specifics. Instead, the group provides a definition for sustainability that is open to members’ interpretation. The plan says, for example, that sustainable companies must provide “stable, safe employment for at least the minimum wage where applicable” and institute “where applicable, third-party validation of practices by all members of the value chain.” But it doesn’t doesn’t specify which third-party groups should conduct audits, and doesn’t explain how workplaces should be monitored to prevent labor violations. In its section on climate change, it says that GRSB members should ensure that “emissions from beef systems, including those from land use conversion, are minimized and carbon sequestration is optimized.” But it does not include any specific examples of target emissions standards or grazing policies.

Also absent from the plan is any mention of the beef industry’s use of antibiotics. In the United States, four-fifths of all antibiotics go to livestock operations. McDonald’s uses antibiotics to “treat, prevent, and control disease” in its food-producing animals, according to a McDonald’s spokesman…




Most of What You Think You Know About Milk Is Probably Dairy Industry Lies

The powerful dairy lobby has been spreading dangerous health claims about milk for decades.

By Martha Rosenberg

Got milk allergy? Many people including Native Americans and people of Asian, African and  South American descent are lactose intolerant and can’t and don’t drink milk. That is the way nature made them over epochs and no one ever died of a dairy deficiency.

But there is money in dairy. That is why American fast food companies try to bring the love of dairy to cultures where it traditionally hasn’t existed. And that is why the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board in the US disseminate “educational” materials that address “misconceptions about lactose intolerance” according to research in  Born With a Junk Food Deficiency, How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. The marketing groups bragged to Congress that they regularly assure people in such ethnic groups that their lactose intolerance “should not be a barrier to including milk in the diet,” in an ongoing effort to help US dairy farmers. Ka-ching.

Battling “misconceptions” about lactose intolerance is only one of many marketing campaigns by the dairy lobby. Since the 1990s, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board have partnered with the USDA to push milk drinking, which had been falling since the 1970s, especially among teens and tweens. The promotions even have included partnerships with fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, who would seem unlikely comrades for a government agency sworn to protect the public health.

The milk campaigns began in the early 1990s with the catchphrase “Milk: It Does a Body Good” and used top model Tyra Banks and musician Marc Anthony to push milk for strong bones. “One in five victims of osteoporosis is male,” said the Banks ads. “Don’t worry. Calcium can help prevent it.” “Shake it, don’t break it. Want strong bones?” said the Anthony ad.  “Drinking enough lowfat milk now can help prevent osteoporosis later.” The ads were targeted toward African Americans, Latinos and men though all of the groups are among the least likely to get osteoporosis!

Next, the dairy lobby promoted milk  as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Television ads showed bumbling boyfriends and husbands rushing to the store for milk to detoxify their stricken women. The ads disappeared as it became evident the study on which the campaign was based credited  calcium not milk with helping PMS. And calcium is found in many sources besides milk–including the calcium-fortified juices that the milk ads are designed to sell against. Oops.

Then milk marketers tried to portray milk as a  diet food that would help people lose weight until the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection  told them to cease “until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss.”

Susan Ruland, spokesperson for the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, begged to differ. “There’s a strong body of scientific evidence that demonstrates a connection between dairy and weight loss,” she said, although she promised that future ads would comply. After the FTC clampdown, marketing materials claimed that low-fat dairy products  do not necessarily add weight and may have “certain nutrients that can help consumers meet dietary requirements”–pretty much the definition of “food” when you think about. Soon the ads “went negative” and read, “Soft drinks and other sweetened beverages are now the leading source of calories in a teen’s diet and these nutrient-void beverages are increasingly taking the place of milk.” Take that!

The factually-challenged campaigns did not made a dent in posters of mustache-wearing actors, sports figures, musicians and models shipped to 60,000 US elementary schools and 45,000 middle schools in outrageous promotion of private industry by the government. In-school milk promotions have included  the “Healthiest Student Bodies,” which promised students they could win an iPod, Fender guitar and other prizes if they visited the milk marketing site. And students at three California high schools got a chance to create their own “Got Milk?” campaigns to sell milk to their peers and win a $2,000, an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco to present their ideas to the milk advertising agency…




Now that’s an open plan office: New pictures reveal Facebook’s ‘hacker cave’ that will house 2,800 workers in ONE room – and there’s even an underground tunnel to get in and out

A model of the vast campus under construction at Frank Gehry's office. The team worked closely with Mark Zuckerberg on the project

.Facebook’s new office, designed by Frank Gehry, is designed to replicate a college campus
.Will feature the largest open plan office in the world for 2,800 engineers, and house 3,400 staff
.Underground tunnel will link the new office to Facebook’s existing Menlo Park campus

By Mark Prigg

If you’ve ever been annoyed by your  colleagues or complained about noise in an open plan office, spare a though for  Facebook’s engineers.

The firm today revealed the final plans for  its new office building – which includes a giant room housing 2,800  engineers.

At more than 435,000 square feet, spread  across 22 acres, the new building also boasts tunnels to Facebook’s current  campus, and even a rooftop park filled with cafes and barbecue areas.

The huge roof dips and rises from 45 to 73  feet, and makes the building blend into the surroundings.

There will be seating, cafes and barbecue  areas on top -all above a giant, open plan office.

Facebook's West Campus to be built in Menlo Park by 2016 and designed by Frank Gehry . It will feature the world's biggest open plan office, with 3,400 Engineers sitting together - and is designed to replicate a college campus.

The entire office is built above a  surface-level parking lot, and topped with a park.

Mark Zuckerberg enlisted architect Frank  Gehry to expand Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, near Palo Alto,  California.

Gehry was charged with  creating a space for 2,800 Facebook engineers to work on developing the campus  for the social networking site now struggling to prove its dominance in the  market.

Early plans show the company’s team of  techies will congregate in a massive open room, which will be the largest open  office space in the world, in keeping with Zuckerberg’s mission to make the  ‘world a more open place.’

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‘We sacrificed having children for our furry baby’: The story of Hercules the ‘millionaire bear’ who became a Hollywood star – and made his Scottish owners a fortune

A documentary on Ch5, Hercules The Human Bear, charts the bear's incredible life, showing unbelievable footage of the bear opening doors to have breakfast with his 'family,' Andy and Maggie Robin

People could hardly believe the close bond that Scottish Andy Robin shared with Hercules. Grizzly bears are regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous mammal

.Grizzly bear Hercules lived with Andy and Maggie Robin as their ‘baby’
.Was fed home-cooked meals of bacon, eggs coffee and even the odd beer
.Hercules was trained by Andy to be a professional wrestling bear
.Instead he became an global star, appearing in James Bond’s Octopussy
.Documentary explores his life with amazing footage from 1970s and 1980s

By Scarlett Russell

As any pet owner knows, the bond between  animals and their owner is a sacred one.

But even the most ardent animal-lover will be  amazed by the story of Hercules, the grizzly bear cub taken in by a Scottish  couple in 1976.

From that day, and for every  day over the next 25 years, Hercules lived in peace with Andy and Maggie Robin,  becoming the most famous bear in the world and appearing in adverts and even in  the James Bond film, Octopussy, in which he briefly shared the screen with Roger  Moore.

A documentary on Channel Five, Hercules  The Human Bear, charts his incredible life and has extensive interviews  with Andy and Maggie, showing unbelievable footage of the bear opening doors to  have breakfast with the couple, sparring with Andy and tenderly cuddling up to  the pair.

Andy and Maggie bought Hercules from a  wildlife park in Kincraig on 20 September 1976, for just £50, after Andy decided  he wanted a grizzly bear to train and enter wrestling competitions with.

‘I’ll never forget the day Andy came home and  said, “What would you think if I said I was going to get a bear?”‘ laughs  Maggie in the programme, airing on April 3.

Andy devised a hardcore  regime with Hercules, including sparring sessions and cross-country runs, and  they trained every day.

During one training session Hercules  deliberately tripped Andy and pinned him to the ground,

‘He stood back and looked at me as if to say, “I’m your friend, I’m not going to bite you,”’ says Andy.

‘It was then I knew we had star in the  making.’

Little did they know what a phenomenon  Hercules would become.

“Hercules never let me down once.”…

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Gay Jews have ‘higher souls’ than gentiles, says deputy minister

Habayit Hayehudi’s Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan says same-sex marriage is prohibited just as marriage between Jews and gentiles is.

By Haaretz

Homosexual Jews have “higher souls” than gentiles, gay or straight, the deputy minister for religious services told the Israeli daily Maariv in an article published on Friday.

Even so, he would oppose any same-sex marriage bill, just as he would oppose marriage between a Jew and a gentile, said Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, a member of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party.

Same-sex marriage is “unnatural,” the rabbi politician added, saying that “it is natural that the world wants continuity through relations between a man and a woman.”

Ben Dahan spoke out just as his his party and the Yesh Atid party reached a compromise, paving the way for passage of a preliminary bill in the Knesset offering tax breaks for same-sex parents.

The written deal between the two coalition partners has been kept under wraps but it is expected the bill will be shelved and that equivalent tax credits will be implemented through Finance Ministry regulations rather than legislation.

Ben Dahan, who was absent from the Knesset vote, said he does not want to persecute gays, but that his opposition for the bill stems from his commitment to Israel’s Jewish nature.

“I have to keep the state Jewish. Things to contradict the values, culture or tradition will not receive a stamp of approval,” he said.





Voracious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engineered to Kill It

Adult corn rootworm beetle on a corn plant. Image: Sarah Zukoff/Flickr

By Brandon Keim

One of agricultural biotechnology’s great success stories may become a cautionary tale of how short-sighted mismanagement can squander the benefits of genetic modification.

After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.

Until Bt corn was genetically altered to be poisonous to the pests, rootworms used to cause billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops. Named for the pesticidal toxin-producing Bacillus thuringiensis gene it contains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop. The vulnerability of this corn could be disastrous for farmers and the environment.

“Unless management practices change, it’s only going to get worse,” said Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist and co-author of a March 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study describing rootworm resistance. “There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used.”

First planted in 1996, Bt corn quickly became hugely popular among U.S. farmers. Within a few years, populations of rootworms and corn borers, another common corn pest, had plummeted across the midwest. Yields rose and farmers reduced their use of conventional insecticides that cause more ecological damage than the Bt toxin.

By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.

Key to effective management, said the scientists, were refuges set aside and planted with non-Bt corn. Within these fields, rootworms would remain susceptible to the Bt toxin. By mating with any Bt-resistant worms that chanced to evolve in neighboring fields, they’d prevent resistance from building up in the gene pool.

But the scientists’ own recommendations — an advisory panel convened in 2002 by the EPA suggested that a full 50 percent of each corn farmer’s fields be devoted to these non-Bt refuges — were resisted by seed companies and eventually the EPA itself, which set voluntary refuge guidelines at between 5 and 20 percent. Many farmers didn’t even follow those recommendations…