Cognition & Reality

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Going There

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Emotion,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 4:05 pm

Sometimes, you’ve just got to go into those bad feelings, remembering that they happen anyway. Of course, it’s possible to numb out, stopping consciousness of sadness and shame. Unfortunately, numbing either doesn’t stop the feelings from continuing, or it actually intensifies them by adding fuel to the fire.

These days, I’m worried and feeling embattled because of my relatively high PSA score, and because of knowing that next week I go in for a urology appointment, at which I expect them to put me in the prostate cancer pipeline, notorious for its inefficacy. I can watch all the TV I want, surf the Web, talk on the phone, write emails, see other doctors, and distract myself with food, but the fear and edginess remain. I might as well sink into them.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Tip Of The Iceberg: A Blessing

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Emotion,Perennial Philosophy,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 9:12 am

I may have written about this before. I’m not sure. In any case, it’s worth pointing out that we tend to disparage the “tip of the iceberg” in favor of the seven-eighths, or whatever it is, that’s underwater, although without the tip of the iceberg, we wouldn’t know that the rest of it is there. If I’m grumpy, and it’s “really’ because I’m grieving my mother’s death earlier this year, the grumpiness is a mere symptom (“tip”) of an underlying issue (the rest of the “iceberg”). Nevertheless, the grumpiness is a token of the whole, and I might not know what’s going on if it were not for my bad mood.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

It’s All Good II

In a previous post, I spoke about the expression, “It’s all good,” and compared it with the concept of “basic goodness,” as taught by Chögyam Trungpa. There are similarities, but it is a misunderstanding to draw a line from “basic goodness” to the idea that everything that happens is “good.” Everything that happens, happens. None of us is in a position to say, in absolute terms, whether it is good or not. The issue here is reminiscent of the question often asked about God: If God is good, why does he allow children to die of leukemia?

The claim that everything is good, including the Holocaust, child sexual abuse, world hunger, etc., merely reinvests in the dichotomy between good and bad, or the dichotomy between good and evil. The terms are relative to subjective experience, in any case, and do not refer the Absolute Truth. Again, what happens does happen. Whether I consider it good or bad depends upon my story about the fictional past and the conjectural future. Whether it is absolutely good, no one can tell.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Promissory Materialism

Sir John Eccles, the Nobel-winning Australian neurophysiologist, coined the term “promissory materialism” for the doctrine that all mental states can be reduced to and explained by physiological states in the nervous system. Eccles  famously defended a theistic scientific position, but his insight need not be confined to the terms of debates about the existence of God. Much of what passes as “science” today depends on extrapolation from murky results to a description of life as a mere unraveling the strands of DNA.

Daniel Dennet, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins, among others, have promoted a theory of mind as a highly specialized organ that evolved as the human race evolved. Such a mind is a collection of specific faculties or modules almost literally designed for specific tasks, with its origins in the workings of the brain. This theory confuses levels of being, and draws its conclusions based largely on literally murky photos of the brain taken using advanced radiological techniques.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Discomfort Zone

The discomfort zone includes the darker corners of yourself where you feel unhappy and disturbed. You know what the discomfort zone is like: Your stomach churns, your neck tightens, your jaw clenches, and your mind races with unpleasant thoughts. The nausea, the pressure seem unbearable. One’s first thought on entering this zone is, “Get me outta here!” Consequently, the discomfort zone becomes a punishment in itself.

But what if you decide to stay in the discomfort zone. What if you start to explore the place, with its oppressive climate, complete with tsetse flies, crocodiles, and all manner of frightening predator? What if you take up residence in the Heart of Darkness, and start mining for the gold in the “horrible” feelings you find there? What then?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

“Bigger, Stronger, Faster”: The Anatomy Of Lying

Filed under: Chemical Imbalance,Film,Propaganda,Psychomyths — drtone @ 11:07 am

Chris Bell’s “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” is ostensibly a documentary about the campaign to eliminate steroid use from sports. In exposing the abuse of the issue by journalists and interested parties, however, it also demonstrates the structure and function of propaganda wherever it appears or applies. Although there is little evidence of the harm they supposedly do, demonizing steroids and those who use them has created a distracting urban mythology that serves some powerful interests. That is what propaganda does.

According to the disinterested experts Bell interviews, there is simply no evidence that steroids are particularly dangerous. I’ve never used them, but I recognize the attacks typical of every anti-drug campaign: Like cannabis, ecstasy, PCP and many other illicit substances, steroids are supposed to make a person both super-strong and insane, while having devastating effects on one’s physical health. For example, the physician who represents the principal anti-doping agency distorts and misrepresents the facts about steroids, operating from the presupposition that they are evil. The press and politicians have participated enthusiastically in denouncing steroid use. Congress has spent a disproportionate amount of time on the steroid question, and journalists continue to march out Lyle Alzado’s demonstrably false claim about the connection between his brain cancer and his use of steroids during his NFL career.

The situation is similar to the one that prevails in the public’s view of the use of another type of drug, antidepressants. The difference is that, when it comes to the latter,  the powerful are on the side of using drugs, and the campaign is all about the devastating effects of depression (i.e., sadness and fear), based on the faulty “science” of “chemical imbalance.” Isn’t it interesting that the medical and political establishments oppose the use of substances that make a person stronger, but encourage the use of substances that make a person contented and compliant?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Who’s The Boss?

When you feel bullied in a “real” situation, you are  dealing with your own internal reactions. Say your boss is angry at you for some mistake you made or for being late to work. Can she or he really “make” you feel guilty or anxious? That guilt or anxiety is coming from inside, and your boss is merely connecting with it. Consequently, you feel controlled by the feelings in the situation, although they are your feelings, not your boss’s or anyone else’s.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Figuring It Out

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 4:32 pm

I suppose that it has been coming to me for a long time, but it dawned on me a couple of daze ago that I’m always trying to figure out the problem of ME. I have maintained a naive faith that, even as I understood that life cannot be lived from the intellect, I could position my mind in such a way as to answer every question all at once. Where I recognize that the mind won’t work, I nevertheless try to smuggle it in.

On Tuesday, my psychotherapist, Michael Sieck, said to me, with great impact, “Tony, you can’t figure this out. You can’t do this with your mind,” or words to that effect I can’t quite remember. From that moment for many hours, I lived in the sadness from which all my posturing is intended to protect me. It was a great release, as well as a great relief to know that I can’t do anything about it. Now I’m trying to recapture that experience with my mind.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

“Depression” Makes Me Sad

I’ve discussed my problems with the term “depression” in  a post from a couple of months ago. I’m returning to this topic because the term “depression” encapsulates so many of the misconceptions that plague the current public discussion of emotional and psychological problems. I want to emphasize that the term “depression” itself exemplifies the dangerous imperialism of medical “science.”

A woman whose husband beats her, for example, might very well meet the DSM criteria for depression. If medical doctors knew what to look for, which they do not, her brain might even manifest biochemical signs of depression, the famous “chemical imbalances.” What she really suffers from, however, is an imbalance of strength with her spouse,  a lifetime of  social conditioning that keeps her in her marriage, and  the lack  of resources that would permit her to leave.

The current propaganda about depression, because there is no actual evidence for the “chemical imbalances” that supposedly underlie it, invariably describe depression as “associated” with changes in neurotransmitters. As I’ve said before, that skates past the problem of determining the relationship between supposed brain states, which can be seen only through a glass darkly, and emotional states that are all too obvious. In the absence of actual biochemical evidence, the argument invariably put forth to defend the “chemical imbalances” claim is that some drugs affect mood in some people. As is true of so much of the “logic” put forth by believers, this argument confuses causes with cures. Aspirin ameliorates headaches. Does that mean that it addresses an acetylsalicylic acid imbalance in the brain or body? I suppose that you could say that if  I received morphine for pain, the medication has addressed an “endorphin imbalance” in my body, although the real physical insult that caused the pain has nothing to do with the biochemistry of pain transmission.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


The “past” and “future” are constructions, as I have discussed previously (in the fictional past). The specific representations we offer ourselves as “proof” of past and future, I refer to as “stories,” a terminology that did not originate with me. A “story,” in this context, is a description of something that supposedly happened or will happen, built from elements of reality.

This last phrase is important: When I ask you what happened at such and such a time, you might tell me about your parents’ divorce. True, your parents did get divorced, but an infinite number of other things happened at the same time: The hostages were released in Iran, your report card showed all “A’s.” the bulb in the bathroom light fixture blew out, rust continued to form on the wrought-iron fence…

From that infinite store, you have selected one from Column A, one from Column B, and so on, to present a “story” about your parents splitting up. When I say that it’s a “story,” I don’t mean that it’s not a compelling account of something you experienced, but I am say that it is your construction of that experience, which also included countless other elements that you left out. Therefore, “my parents divorce” is a selection from the infinite variety of life as it is lived.

To show that it is a “story,” consider how your siblings or your parents would report on the same period of time. There would probably be a great deal of similarity between your account and theirs, but there would be differences, as well. Notice that I referred to others’ accounts about  “a period of time” rather than, say, “a series of events,” because the putative “events” are the elements of the story.

Say that you were at home when the divorce happened, and your older sister was away at college. Her “story” would differ from yours in many ways, right? The “events” in her story would occur in other places and at other times, relative to the “events” in your story. In some cases, two witnesses to the same supposed set of actions can present accounts that have almost no similarity, which is the basis of the film “Rashomon” and the novels in The Alexandria Quartet.

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