Selected Excerpts & Research Photos
"In its widest possible sense, however, a man's Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions. If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, he feels cast down, - not necessarily in the same degree for each."
William James, The Principles of Psychology
The Psychology of Stuff and Things
Christian Jarrett on our lifelong relationship with objects
How much we see our things as an extension of ourselves may depend in part in how confident we feel about who we are. When Kimberly Morrison and Camille Johnson led European Americans to feel uncertain about themselves using false feedback on a personality questionnaire (telling them: ‘the consistency of your responses is not high enough to construct a clear picture of who you are’), they responded by rating their belongings as particularly self-expressive – as saying something about who they are. The same result didn’t apply to Asian Americans or other US participants with a collectivist mentality, perhaps because they are less concerned by threats to their sense of self.
In a follow-up, those participants scoring highly in individualism (as opposed to collectivism), who wrote about an object that reflected their self-concept, subsequently scored particularly high on a measure of self-certainty. It’s as if reflecting on our things restores a fragile ego. The results could help explain some of the behaviour we associate with a mid-life crisis, such as when the angst-ridden fifty-something finds solace in a new Porsche. A related line of research by Derek Rucker and Adam Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management showed that participants who felt powerless (induced by recalling a time when someone had control over them) were more willing to pay for a silk tie and other high-status products.
From a neural perspective, this absorption of objects into self-identity may be more than mere metaphor. In 2010, Kyungmi Kim and Marcia Johnson scanned participants’ brains as they allocated objects to a container marked as ‘mine’, imagining that they were going to own them, or to a container marked with someone else’s name. Extra activity was observed in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPC) in response to the sight of ‘owned’ items, compared with control items allocated to others. The same area of MPC was activated when participants rated how much various adjectives described their own personality. ‘Areas of the brain that are known to be involved in thinking about the self also appear to be involved when we create associations between external things and ourselves through ownership,’ says Kim.
Handbook for Mankind
by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa
Samsara: Grasping and Clinging
How can we get away from and become completely independent of things, all of which are transient, unsatisfactory and devoid of selfhood? The answer is that we have to find out what is the cause of our desiring those things and clinging to them. Knowing that cause, we shall be in a position to eliminate clinging completely. Buddhists recognize four different kinds of clinging or attachment. 1) Sensual attachment (Kamupanana) is clinging to attractive and desirable sense objects. It is the attachment that we naturally develop for things we like and find satisfaction in: colors and shapes, sounds, odours, tastes, tactile objects, or mental images, objects past, present, or future that arise in the mind, and either correspond to material objects in the world outside or within the body, or are just imaginings. We instinctively find pleasure, enchantment, delight in these six kinds of sense objects. They induce delight and enchantment in the mind perceiving them.
As soon as an individual is born, he comes to know the taste of these six sense objects, and clings to them; and as time passes he becomes more and more firmly attached to them. Ordinary people are incapable of withdrawing from them again, so they present a major problem. It is necessary to have a proper knowledge and understanding of these sense objects and to act appropriately with respect to them, otherwise clinging to them may lead to complete and utter dereliction. If we examine the case history of any person who has sunk into dereliction, we always find that it has come about through his clinging fast to some desirable sense object. Actually every single thing a human being does has its origin in sensuality. Whether we love, become angry, hate, feel envious, murder, or commit suicide, the ultimate cause must be some sense object. If we investigate what is it that drives human beings to work energetically, or to do anything at all for that matter, we find it is desire, desire to get things of one kind or another. People strive, study, and earn what money they can, and then go off in search of pleasure — in the form of colors and shapes, sounds, odors, tastes, and tactile objects — which is what keeps them going. Even merit making in order to go to heaven has its origins simply in a wish based on sensuality. Taken together, all the trouble and chaos in the world has its origin in sensuality.
The danger of sensuality lies in the power of sensual attachment. For this reason the Buddha reckoned clinging to sensuality as the primary form of attachment. It is a real world problem. Whether the world is to be completely destroyed, or whatever is to happen, is bound to depend on this very sensual clinging. It behooves us to examine ourselves to find out in what ways we are attached to sensuality and how firmly, and whether it is not perhaps within our power to give it up. Speaking in worldly terms, attachment to sensuality is a very good thing. It conduces to family love, to diligence and energy in the search for wealth and fame, and so on. But if looked at from the spiritual point of view, it is seen to be the secret en trance for suffering and torment. Spiritually speaking, attachment to sensuality is something to be kept under control. And if all suffering is to be eliminated, sensual attachment has to be done away with completely. 2) Attachment to opinions (Ditthupadana). Clinging to views and opinions is not difficult to detect and identify once we do a little introspection. Ever since we were born into the world, we have been receiving instruction and training, which has given rise to ideas and opinions. In speaking here of opinions, what we have in mind is the kind of ideas one hangs on to and refuses to let go of. To cling to one's own ideas and opinions is quite natural and is not normally condemned or disapproved of. But it is no less grave a danger than attachment to attractive and desirable objects. It can happen that preconceived ideas and opinions to which we had always clung obstinately come to be destroyed. For this reason it is necessary that we continually amend our views, making them progressively more correct, better, higher, changing false views into views that are closer and closer to the truth, and ultimately into the kind of views that incorporate the Four Noble Truths.
On the Double Slit Experiment
The Most Beautiful Experiment
Quantum physics informs us that a system exists in superposition — that is, in all possible states — until we observe that it is only in one specific state.
According to a 2002 poll of Physics World readers, the “most beautiful experiment” in physics is one that simply and elegantly demonstrates how observation affects quantum systems: The double slit experiment. The double slit sets aside causality, determinism, and the notion that reality is “out there” as it blurs the line between the observer and the system being observed.
In the double slit experiment, a series of single photons (light particles) are fired at a solid plate that has two slits. On the other side of the solid plate, a photographic plate is set up to record what comes through those slitThe question: What will we see on the photographic plate?
The answer: If one neglects to observe which slit a photon passes through, it appears to interfere with itself, suggesting that it behaves as a wave by traveling through both slits at once. But, if one chooses to observe the slits, the interference pattern disappears, and each photon travels through only one of the slits.
The formation of the interference pattern requires the existence of two slits… But how can a single photon pass through two slits simultaneously? At that point, we are forced to consider each photon as a wave that travels through both slits… Or we have to think of the photon as splitting and going through each slit separately — and wondering how the photon “knows” a pair of slits is coming.
The only solution is to abandon the idea of a photon — or any other quantum system — as having a location in spacetime until it is observed.