Understanding Science

Almost everywhere we turn, we read some approach is “evidence-based” or “scientifically supported.” If we bother to look behind those labels, though, we often find that these claims are not based on as solid a foundation as it might seem. That is often because most people are not as scientifically literate as we ought to be in a world that is so influenced by science.

This starts with a misunderstanding about what science actually is. Many of us are confusing parts of science with science itself. Let me explain. Science is a system that contains many parts. Those parts range from exploratory research to solidly confirming systematic reviews and meta-analyses – move along the gamut of evidence. These parts contain everything from hypotheses to full theories. When science is claimed to be reductionist, this is often because people mistake the parts for the whole. Of course, a single research paper might look only at a small aspect of, say, evolution. And yet when that paper is integrated into the larger whole of evolutionary theory it is no longer reductionist. It becomes a system.

So, one paper, no matter how much its findings are touted, is not science and it does not show anything, especially not that something is scientifically supported. To make that claim, we have to make it based on an understanding of the whole system, which integrates theory with research that tested hypotheses that emerged from the theory (although hypotheses are not always developed from a full-fledged theory, eventually individual research studies have to be integrated into a theory that explains the findings).

Let’s look at a couple of exampled: EMDR and TSY. EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and TSY, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, are two approaches that are offered to help people heal from traumatic experiences. From a scientific literacy perspective, I see some crucial differences between the two. Both have research evidence that suggests that they are effective in helping people cope with and heal from trauma.

Yet, EMDR offers little in terms of an explanation as to how that actually happens. There are some speculations that it might be because somehow moving ones eyes connects the left and right brain hemispheres and thus allows for more integration. However, this is called into question by the finding that there does not seem to be anything unique about EMDR as compared to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Moving our eyes (or fingers or sounds) does not seem to add anything, which makes sense since we cannot explain how it might add something.

TSY, on the other hand, might have more of a theoretical grounding as the developers hypothesized that it might help with impulse and emotional regulation. It is clear how that might work. Yoga can help us learn to detect what is going on in our bodies, a crucial skill to have when we want to not react impulsively but instead chose our actions. If we cannot feel that we got triggered, we do not have this choice. The research on TSY so far supports this hypothesis, thus there might be the possibility of integrating theory with research evidence.

To me, this seems to be a crucial difference, which appears to be missed by most researchers and pragmatic skeptics Or maybe, I am missing something. What do you think?

Women in Buddhism

On February 14, 2013, events in over 200 countries took place to break the chain of violence against women. Worldwide, the UN estimates that 1 in 3 women has experienced rape or beatings. That translates to one billion women, thus the events were part of One Billion Rising.

Because Buddhism is often portrayed in the West as a peace-loving religion, i thought i’d take a closer look at violence against women in Buddhist countries. As feminist and Buddhist scholar Rita Gross has pointed out, Buddhism in the East has some troubling patriarchal tendencies that, if we do not question them, will be perpetuated in the West (where we are far from beyond those patriarchal tendencies…). She calls upon Western Buddhist to integrate feminist analysis with Buddhist teachings, which, she shows, are more radically egalitarian than most (male) Buddhist scholars admit.
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Mirror, mirror on the Wall

I believe we need a mirror to fully know our worthiness. While we can increase our sense of self-worth to completely feel secure, our worthiness of love, belonging, and acceptance needs to be mirrored. In our culture, we are told that this mirror is one person, usually our spouse or partner. That leaves us singles in a bind: How can we get the mirroring that we long for simply because we are human and thus social animals?

Imagine a mirror of an odd shape. It’s a bit raggedy, though sort of round. It seems more like someone put the pieces onto material they found somewhere in the trash. Most people would reject it as imperfect. Yet this mirror’s beauty shows that imperfection can be beautiful. The surface of the mirror is just as odd as its shape. Instead of one reflective piece, it is like a mosaic. There are tiny pieces and there are larger pieces. They don’t all fit together well although on closer inspection, it is obvious that the whole surface is reflective. The areas that do not mirror are almost non-perceptible. Some of the pieces are even colored creating a blue or red or green reflection.

It is a piece of art created out of things most people would throw away: Broken mirrors. Looking into the mirror does not give a distorted view, though. Somehow all the pieces seem to reflect the whole person looking into the mirror, especially when that person smiles. It is as if the mirror pieces fuse together when someone wants to be reflected creating a solid surface made out of pieces.

We can use this mosaic mirror approach for our worthiness mirror, too. Instead of relying on one person, which would be fairly risky anyways, we can notice all the people in our lives who reflect parts of us. Someone, for example, might compliment my dancing. Another might enjoy talking to me because of the thoughtfulness I bring to conversations. Yet another might like my playfulness.

Creating a mosaic creates resilience: Although we value all the people in our lives – and some are very likely more important than others – we do not have to depend on their approval. Every person can remind us of our worthiness as a whole person because they reflect a part of us – and we know that reflection integrates into a mosaic mirror. The mirror pieces might be of different sizes, thus indicating the importance a person has in our lives. They might also be irreplaceable – at least completely. However, one piece falling out of our mosaic does not threaten our self-worth.

Empowerment Nugget: Can you open up to take in all the love and acceptance that is around you? If you stop looking for the one perfect mirror and instead create a mosaic, how does that impact your sense of self-worth?