Cognition & Reality

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Why Intensification Works

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 12:26 pm

It’s a commonplace of psychotherapy that intensifying negative feelings leads to a lessening of those feelings. The technique is used almost across the board in both  CBT and psychodynamic therapy. I’ve often wondered how that is, how making feelings stronger can cause them to attenuate. The simple, direct answer is that it brings the feelings under control, but there’s a circularity there, leaving unanswered the question of just how it happens, where the experience of control comes from. My tentative hypothesis is that intensifying the feelings  indicates someone who has those feelings, a doer of the intensifying act and therefore a doer of the feelings themselves. Self-awareness as that doer brings with it a realization that the feelings themselves are contained within and products of the larger Self who’s making it all happen, and can therefore make it stop. I dunno. Just considering.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Wouldn’t It…Be Loverly?

Filed under: Attachment,Perennial Philosophy,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 10:07 am

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 3

If only we could, through good works, grant ourselves future health, wealth, and happiness. It doesn’t work that way. For one thing, acquiring “good karma” in that way presupposes a future in the past and a past in the future. As we know, “past” and “future” are the very fabric of Maya. Furthermore, my works become “good” through the operation of my ego, the seat of illusion, with its attachment to this and to that.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Stories Revisited

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 4:41 pm

A “story” is a narrative that you have created about the past or future or both. An amazing thing about our stories is that we assume that they are true without examining them. The fact is, however, that a story is merely a thought. Thoughts pass one to the other, on and on. Our stories are part of that constant “stream of consciousness.”

No story is true, although some are more plausible than others. It’s likely that when the phone rings that it will be something prosaic. For most of us, it’s unlikely that someone is calling to tell us that an executive jet is waiting at the local airport to take us to the Caribbean. Notice, however, that such a possibility is neither true nor untrue, real nor impossible, until it actually happens or doesn’t. Until events manifest, our stories about them are simply random possibilities selected by the mind in answer to the question, “What’s next?”

Not uncommonly, a story will have vague sections with important material obscured by emotion. So we are vaguely unhappy when we hear the name of city we once lived in. I have found that I feel very uncomfortable when I see the name “Silver City,” because merely seeing it threatens me with re-experiencing the “story” of my most recent marriage and divorce, or some part of it. A feeling of discomfort,often signals the presence of a “story,” as the tip of the iceberg signals the presence of the entire iceberg.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Behavioral Genetics: An Alien Invasion

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Propaganda,Psychomyths — drtone @ 12:50 pm

This article from offers a balanced, rather critical, appraisal of research on the genetics of alcoholism. It is interesting that a middle-of-the-road organ assumes such a critical stance, showing that the truth about behavioral genetics, that it walks on thin evidential ice, has filtered into the secondary and tertiary literature. Academics have begun to acknowledge the flaws in twin studies and the conundrum posed by the failure of research based on the Human Genome Project to yield direct relationships between DNA and behavior. Presumably because the expected evidence has failed to accumulate, the problems with behavioral genetics are becoming widely known.

Nevertheless, the note at the end of the article, by Enoch Gordis, MD, ignores most of the content that precedes it, passing over the various problems the article explores. “We know,” Dr. Gordis says, “that more than one gene is responsible” for vulnerability to alcoholism. He says this in spite of what it says in the article, that animal studies have so far not found “a single gene responsible for alcohol-related behaviors.” Gordis, making the fundamental error in this domain, presupposes that, in the absence of single-gene linkages, genes will be discovered that account for personality traits related to alcoholism. The level of faith underpinning the medical profession’s belief in behavioral genetics far outstrips the evidence, such that only the faith remains. Physicians ignore rules of evidence that they, as “scientists,” would presumably respect if the issue were, say, the existence of extraterrestrial life, a rational appraisal of which would not begin with the assumption that the search for extraterrestrial life has been successful.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Where’s The “Why”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 9:14 am

Why do people become depressed? Or, to put it another way, do people become depressed out of nowhere without a “why”? Mostly, there’s some pretty good cause that throws somebody into depression, a failed business, a failed relationship, the death of someone close, etc. True, some people fall apart and others don’t, but in the absence of strong evidence (beyond the jiggered up results of twin studies) that there’s a so-called “genetic” component, is there any reason to look beyond personal histories to explain those differences?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Mental Illness: A Holiday Message

During the upcoming holidays, many will renew their awareness of the role families play in “mental illness.” To a parent already blaming himself or herself for the troubles of a decompensating child, that he or she played a role in producing those troubles is a far less acceptable explanation for an ongoing crisis, however, than that it was something in the DNA (“in the blood,” as people used to say). A “genetic” explanation for psychiatric illness comforts parents, gratifies the egos of doctors, and fills the coffers of giant companies. What could be better than that?

The propaganda campaign has been so successful that the burden of proof has shifted from where it would be in an actual scientific debate, on those claiming a genetic component in psychiatric illness, onto those who say there is no connection or very little connection, upending the logic of hypothesis testing that is at the heart of scientific inquiry. That it’s been a very successful campaign is obvious when you consider the slender evidence upon which the claim is based, and that everyone, just about, takes it for granted that bad genes cause depression and other psychiatric disorders. Another piece of evidence for the success of the campaign is that anyone, like me, who questions the assumption is immediately marginalized as a shrill advocate for the mean-spirited notion that individuals are responsible for themselves and for their fellow humans.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hemp, Freedom & Consciousness

Filed under: Books,Cannabis — drtone @ 5:13 pm

“If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”

Terence McKenna, 1993, from the epigraph of Cannabis Philosophy for Everyone: What Were We Just Talking About, edited by Dale Jacquette.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Details & Specifics

Filed under: Psychotherapy,Television — drtone @ 3:19 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve written before on the importance of specifics in discourse, clinical and otherwise.

Yesterday, I was queried about my reaction to a detail in the first season of “In Treatment,” the dynamite HBO show featuring Gabriel Byrne as a clinical psychologist: The client played by Blair Underwood kept referring to himself as a “Navy pilot,” but I had been given to understand that Navy fliers prefer to be called ” Naval aviators,” because their carrier landings place them in a different category from those who need only land on the ground. (Or possibly because in maritime usage a “pilot” steers a ship.) Although I now realize I’m not sure whether Navy fliers do normally call themselves “aviators,” the apparent error in detail did bother me. When a “previously on” segment of “Heroes” referred to one of the characters, a girl who can’t be hurt, as “invincible,” rather than “invulnerable,” the show lost me. I no longer trusted the writers.

I was asked why a little detail like that can have such a big effect on me. The best answer I could come up with is that I don’t like anything that interferes with my ability to suspend disbelief, a necessary component of enjoying fiction. The effect is similar to my affection for specifics, except in real discourse specifics or details  increase my ability to believe at all, not so much because their absence signals lying as because vagueness projects a fuzzy picture.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Scientific Authoritarianism

A genuine grasp of current genetics research would take years to acquire and involve the rigors of a postgraduate education. The same is true of any branch of physiology. An ordinary citizen, even one who is otherwise well-educated, cannot hope to bring any level of technical expertise to evaluating claims about the genetics of mental disorders. As I explained in yesterday’s post, even doctors are at sea when it comes to this topic, although they may not realize it. Therefore, belief in those claims depends, at least in part, on faith and obedience.

That is why, rather than supporting explanations of psychoemotional difficulties based on individual experience, which would ostensibly be more consistent with an American emphasis on individual responsibility, our society has gravitated toward explaining aberrant behavior with reference to physiological, “disease” processes beyond a person’s control.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Physicians Aren’t “Scientists”

Although explaining psychological problems as “genetic” disorders as mediated by “chemical imbalances” obviously inflates doctors’ authority and efficacy, their enthusiasm for these types of explanation probably reflects their ignorance of scientific methods more than anything else. You can hardly watch a television “doctor show” without hearing one of the doctors referred to as a “scientist.” In spite of the widely-believed mythology of the medical profession that its members are scientists, however, physicians typically have no scientific training.

The medical school curriculum in North America and in most parts of the industrialized world has two main components, coursework and clinical training. Medical students are notoriously overworked. They take difficult courses, and spend countless hours on “rotations.” In their internships, the excessive length and frequency of their shifts is a matter of some controversy. Given their packed schedule, which really begins when they are undergraduate pre-med majors, and despite the requirement of some schools that they prepare a thesis, medical students have no time for a scientific education. They learn about science, taking courses in the medical sciences, but they do not do science. A  biochemistry course or two, no matter how demanding, does not make you a biochemist, nor does an honors thesis completed more or less as an afterthought.

Because most physicians have not had years of post-graduate training to develop the abilities necessary to a critical appraisal of research results, they tend to rely on secondary sources often issued under the influence of drug companies and other interested parties. They are, moreover, inclined to believe results that comport with the possibility of “curing” psychoemotional problems with medicine. And they’re inclined to propagate myths that magnify their own powers.


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