Thermodynamics and the Anthropic Principle

Stephen Hawking frequently refers to the anthropic principle in his lectures, thereby expressing in philosophical terms a conundrum being pondered by cosmologists.  How did the universe happen to evolve in such a way that would support intelligent life?  The modern concept of thermodynamics hypothesizes a strong anthropic principle; that there is considerable evolutionary pressure favoring complex systems, and that these systems would inevitably become intelligent.  The word “anthropic” is a bit of a misnomer, however.  There is nothing in the theory that requires the ultimate solution to be bipedal, carbon-based, and relatively hairless. In fact, there is no a priori reason why such a system must meet our definition of “life.”  It’s time to redefine intelligence as something more than an emergent property of the human neural network.


Spiritual but not religious. All of my projects — four books, two web sites — are about, and for people who describe themselves that way.  And I get it. Over and over I find myself writing things like, “don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly religious myself.”  Usually right before I click into doctor-mode and start talking about how healthy it is to be religious.

It’s complicated.  There are really only two places in the world where SBNR is a cultural phenomenon.   Continue reading

We are, and aren’t, ships passing

… in the night.  And that is, and isn’t sad. When we engage another human being, I think url.jpgit’s helpful to imagine that there are three games being played, all at the same time.

The first is the game of life on earth, in which we are all ants, basically.  Small units in a big, complex system.  In this game, time is our mortal enemy.  We are born, we grow, we senesce, and we die; all as a function of time.  We wish we could stop time, but we can’t.  To us, the present moment is all we have, Continue reading

Define Consciousness

world_11_temp-1359976357-510f97a5-620x348In “Ego and the Problem of Death,” I spend a lot of time not talking about consciousness.  “Consciousness” is one of those situations where we seemed to run out of words, so we use one word to refer to several different things.  It can mean the opposite of “comatose,” or the opposite of “subconscious.”  Those two meanings are OK, I’d just rather use the terms “awake” and “explicit.”  It’s the third definition of consciousness that gives problems; the one that refers to awareness or sentience. Continue reading

I learned two things this week

The first thing I learned is was from a young Black man who was dying.   I refer from time to time to “near death experiences” but I have only rarely encountered such things in my practice, at least in the sense most people think of them. I haven’t had many patients who have experienced ecstasis (out-of-body experience) during anesthesia, or due to trauma.  But people get dreams that often contain much the same content in the days and weeks leading up to death.   Continue reading

Therapeutic Use of Empathy

Here’s an example of how a functional definition of empathy is useful in health care.  When a family member asks me if their loved one is dying, I ask if they personally have had any unusual dreams lately.  The task is to hear what they have to say, and allow them to weep while they are saying it, without weeping yourself.  The examiner should experience the emotion of peace, not grief.  Therapeutic empathy is communication; it is not mirroring.  If the only trick you know is to experience the same emotion as the family member, a) you won’t be much good to them; and b) you won’t last long in this business.

Mapping in Higher Dimensions


I’ve spent a little time writing about how the brain maps the world, and objects, based on information sent in by the eyeballs.  And I’ve wondered why we seem to be limited to mapping in three dimensions, when we know full well that the universe consists of at least five dimensions.  I think it has something to do with the nature of what it is we are mapping.

Reality is what we are mapping.   Continue reading