Friday, September 24, 2010

The Face of a Hero: Hero Meme

In a previous post about “A Portrait of the Artist as a Real Hero” I defined a real altruist as Nature’s Real Hero and described the Vervet Monkey as an example. In literature and in the “hero’s journey”, the hero is defined as the altruist, willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of the greater good.

I've written several posts on altruism, the altruist (the true definition of the hero) and the hero, including:

Altruism at the Heart of True Happiness
Gaia vs. Medea: A Case for Altruism
What Altruism in Animals Can Teach Us About Ourselves
The Samaritan Paradox Revisited: The Karma Ran Over the Dogma
Our Obsession with Ownership
Is James Bond an Altruist? – part 2
A Hero’s Journey: the Journey
The Hero’s Journey: Archetypes

The altruist is often not noticed or recognized. The real altruist is undervalued or mistaken for something else. The Real Hero is often misunderstood, feared, and ridiculed or exiled for being different. S/he must often walk a lonely path. Yet the hero shines in the dark face of adversity. They are a bright beacon of hope, leading us through the dark forest of evil or confusion toward a better life and a better world. Not only does the hero reflect our very best selves in times of crises, but they are our catalysts for change and evolution, our inspirational sources. While we may ridicule them in one breath as brazen, foolish or impetuous, or even threatening, we strive to be them, to emulate their qualities and follow in their noble footsteps. Heroes can be mentors, catalysts, and heralds of change. They educate us, challenge us—particularly our complacency and apathy—and they ultimately inspire us. Heroes bring us back to our humanity and show us what we can be.

In any case, it got me thinking about who my heroes are and who your heroes are. So, I created this meme in honor of our heroes:

The Hero Meme:

Here’s how it’s played: those of you who have been tagged are encouraged to name FIVE HEROES in your life with a brief explanation of why they deserve this recognition. Then you need to tag five to ten other bloggers to name their heroes. You and anyone you tag should 1) link to the source post (this one) and 2) to the blog or the person that tagged you (if it’s me then you only need to link here once).

First I’ll give you my personal hero picks. Then I’ll give you my choice of 10 blog-heroes that I’ve tagged to further this worthwhile meme. Even if I haven’t tagged you, I’d love to hear from you. Who are YOUR heroes?

Here are eight of my heroes; each demonstrates to me several important aspects of heroism and altruism:

The Vervet Monkey: Commonly living in groups or “troops” of 20 or more, the Vervet possesses the “rudiments of language”. Altruistic Vervets give alarm calls to warn their group of invading leopards, snakes, and eagles. In doing so, they attract attention to themselves, increasing their chance of being attacked. Because of their being known to destroy crops in Kenya, they have been classified as vermin in South Africa and were shot without a permit until 2003. I honor these courageous and noble creatures. They are the ultimate altruist and ultimate hero: prepared to risk their life for others.

Doctor Lynn Margulis: This scientist had the courage to challenge the current scientific hegemony, based on what she felt and knew was true, and persisted with her theory of endosymbiosis despite being ridiculed by the “ruling” scientific community. She endured two decades of censure only to see her theory finally accepted and reported in every text book on biology. Certain “greats” were compelled to retract their censure, which she accepted with grace and forgiveness. I draw inspiration from this courageous and persevering scientist in pursuit of the truth.

Victor Frankl: Gentle spirit, psychologist and founder of existential logo-therapy, Frankl endured and survived the atrocities of Auschwitz with incredible grace and equanimity. He wrote the profound book “Man’s Search for Meaning” which contained these stirring words: That which is to give light must first endure burning. Frankl referenced Nietzsche, "he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how," when he argued that what made the difference between those who survived and those who did not was not the intensity of their suffering, but whether or not they retained meaning and purpose in their lives. Amid the degradation and abject misery of a concentration camp, Frankl was able to exercise the most important freedom of all—the freedom to determine one's own attitude and spiritual well-being. Said Frankl, “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire…The salvation of man is through love and in love.” I honor his deep courage and his merciful compassion for those who tormented him with undue cruelty.

A.E. Whittall: My high school English teacher, who had the courage to be different and led a new movement in English instruction that challenged students like no other teacher had before. He “pushed” me and every other student toward achievements previously unimagined. He did this through his passionate treatment of writing and literature and by creating an even-playing field of mutual respect. He challenged us to think and to challenge him back by courageously offering his own vulnerability and passion. He inspired, cajoled and compelled, openly sharing his heart, his mind, and his spirit. I admire his courageous devotion to opening our minds and hearts toward ultimate expression.

Nikola Tesla:  Tesla was a humble genius, intense mystic and gentle spirit whose indomitable faith against all odds carried him through the many hardships and actions of betrayal and brutal jealousy that he endured with grace throughout his career as scientist and inventor (he insisted that he was not so much an inventor as a discoverer of ideas gifted to him in flashes of light). His many achievements include alternating current, wireless communication, the electric motor, lasers and radar, x-rays, neon, robotics, remote control, the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics and theoretical physics, cellular technology, and even tactical space-warfare. Tesla was a rare breed of scientist/engineer, one who intuited his discoveries and inventions. And one who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist [he was fluent in eight languages], and a connoisseur of food and drink. He was also a humanitarian and loved animals.

Tesla was a selfless, giving and nonjudgmental spirit of incredible integrity who practiced altruism in his constant attempts to better the world. Despite the cynical and greedy actions of others around him, Tesla prevailed in his faith in humanity until he passed away, a pauper and generally unrecognized by the scientific community. This distinguished, sincere and modest altruist demonstrated great generosity in continually bestowing his gifts of genius to the world.


My Brother: When we were children, he protected me without dominating me, loved me unconditionally (for who and what I was), believed in me, respected me and knew just how to tease me (to get my goat!). At ease with himself, he is quietly assertive, has a wonderful sense of humor, and remains a strong advocate for justice and fairness. I forgive him for calling me an alien (well, that’s what I am, after all…) and “runt”... well, I was that too…

His Holiness the Dalai Lama:  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama embodies harmony, ethics and happiness among all peoples. This past April, I participated in a conference in Zurich, Switzerland, on altruism and compassion in economics with His Holiness. I watched in awe as he guided each of the scientists and economists with a humble wisdom toward a common resolution. Delivered with his signature smile and laughter, the Dalai Lama disarmed conflict and promoted the joining of spirits toward true altruistic thought. His belief in and devotion to kindness, compassion and love on the planet is inspirational.

Karen Mason: Publisher, advocate, advisor, mystic and so much more, Karen is a gentle spirit who delivered me a dream by showing me an unfailing faith to achieve it. Karen’s undying optimism and indomitable faith against all odds has carried her through much that would have beaten others into defeat—and each time she prevailed with grace and compassion. Karen is a humanitarian and healer with an empathic gift with animals, a Kabbalist, accomplished musician, gifted cryptologist and linguist [she is fluent in six languages including Ancient Hebrew), and connoisseur of food and drink. Intelligent, wise and incredibly accomplished in art, communications and technology, she has demonstrated in all her actions a heroic quality that most of us can only strive to achieve: a truly selfless, giving and nonjudgmental spirit of incredible integrity who practices altruism in its most pure form. She is my ultimate inspiration for living a life of faith, genuine kindness, joy and continued wonder. Karen is a beautiful spirit who I am honored to call my friend and mentor.

Here are the blog heroes I’ve tagged:

Kathleen Maher, the Diary of a Heretic
Bob Kingsley, Somerset Bob's Place
Jean Luc Picard, Captain Picard's Journal
Heather Dugan, Footsteps
Princess Haiku, Princess Haiku
Dcr, DCR Blogs
Manchild, When Least Expected
Jennifer Rahn, Random Synaptic Transfers
Lynda Williams, Reality Skimming
Toulouse LeTrek, Toulouse LeTrek

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Power of the Mind and the Phantom Hand

Such stuff as dreams are made on—William Shakespeare

Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran at the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California in San Diego conducted an incredibly illuminating experiment on mind and perception (reported in the Premiere issue of Scientific American Mind, Feb 2005).

Briefly, the experiment involved a subject whose right hand was concealed from her while a fake plastic right hand was placed in full view. The experimenter repeatedly tapped or stroked the person’s concealed hand, while simultaneously doing the same to the plastic hand. After half a minute the person whose concealed hand was being stroked began to feel the fake hand being stroked! “The sensations seem to emerge directly from the plastic rather than from [the person’s] actual hidden flesh,” reported Ramachandran and Rogers-Ramachandran. This illusion was first reported by Matthew Botvinick and Jonothan Cohen at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998; they suggested that look and proximity of the fake hand to the hidden real hand was enough to fool the brain.

But there’s more.