Cognition & Reality

Monday, 28 February 2011


Filed under: Sports — drtone @ 2:32 pm

After making my entry last night regarding the trade of Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks, I was afraid I had undervalued Chauncey Billups, one of my favorite players, who also went over to the Knicks in the trade. I had. Just now, with a long delay, I watched last night’s Knicks-Heat game, which Billups took over in the last three minutes to win it. He is a difference-maker, and may, after all, be the difference in that trade. Any team with him on it has a chance to win.


Sunday, 27 February 2011

Melodrama Will Have Sad Ending For Knicks

Filed under: Sports — drtone @ 6:29 pm

The trading deadline in the NBA brought a number of big trades, but none was bigger than the one that sent Carmelo Anthony, one of the league’s brightest stars, from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks. Anthony’s desire to go the the Knicks had been talked about since last season, and the many recent stops and starts in his journey to the Big Apple have distracted the entire NBA since at least the beginning of January. Now that it’s over, I predict the trade will be a disaster for New York, no matter how well Carmelo performs on Broadway.

The reason I say this is based partly on the outsized expectations placed on a team with two superstars, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire–and no bench–but mostly on an assessment of what Denver received in return for Anthony and the great Chauncey Billups. Anthony is that rare superstar who can score with ease either facing the basket or with his back to it, and score in bundles. Nevertheless, he is a poor defender and something of a head case. Billups, a favorite in his native Denver, is on his way to the Hall of Fame, meaning that he’s far from the player he once was, and was in the middle of a productive but, for him, somewhat down season.

It is notoriously difficult for a team to get value for a star player who is playing out his contract with no intention to remain with the team, as was the Nuggets’ situation in Carmelo Anthony’s case. Nevertheless, in addition to draft choices, they received three players who could start with pretty much any team in the league, and another who could be a significant back-up big man. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are both guys who can get you 16 points and 8 rebounds night after night; either can occasionally go off for a lot more, and both are good defenders. Raymond Felton is in the midst of a career year that, although he plays in NYC, has been overlooked on account of the gaudy numbers being put up by some other point guards in a league presently rich in artists at that position. Although no one could replace the leadership of Billups in the short term, Felton will eventually wrest the starter’s role from fellow North Carolina alum Ty Lawson, and could end up being an upgrade from Billups over the long term. Timofey Mozgov has performed well for the Knicks in limited minutes at center, starting over a dozen games for them.

Setting aside some more marginal players involved in the deal, which included a trade-within-a-trade involving Minnesota, Denver got a hell of a lot from the Knicks, who could have signed Carmelo in the off-season without sacrificing a clutch of excellent players had they taken the minor gamble of waiting until then. The Knicks also gave Denver the opportunity to improve itself greatly later on, giving up a first round draft choice this year, as well as second round choices in the two succeeding years. Even if it does not land a superstar with one of those picks, Denver, under George Karl, one of the elite coaches, has a chance to become a team like the league-leading San Antonio Spurs, an efficient unit of excellent players with no superstar. Few trades improve both teams as much as that. Furthermore, unless the Knicks start winning big soon, unlikely considering what they had to give up to get Carmelo, they are in danger of melting down under the megawatt spotlight of the New York media. Time will tell that, having made Denver one of the deepest teams in the NBA, the Anthony trade was too lopsided a deal to have been good for the New York Knicks. The “Melodrama” will turn out to be a tragedy for Knicks fans.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Fruits Of Action

Filed under: Attachment,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 1:21 pm

I have no desire at all for the fruits of action. Sri Krishna: Bhagavad Gita IV

The consistency that makes my story understandable and believable is an illusion designed to maintain the coherence of an ego required to give an account of itself. My story about myself happens to me as I move from the past into the future. The value of the story depends upon my identification with the central character, me, and upon my attachment to the story’s “plot,” as I win or lose, attain happiness, or sink into sorrow. Subjective consciousness is not real. The idea of self, the idea of mind, the idea of the  physical world, the idea of the psychological world, all these are illusions. There is nothing novel in such a view, which has been held and developed for millennia by Eastern sages: I am a story I tell myself. Attachment to the fruits of my actions is, therefore, little more than a dream, because the “I” or ego who is the central character is an illusion, as is the timeline through which the ego moves.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Trying Pinker

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 8:47 am

I decided to try to read Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. For the same reason that I don’t follow the news, I had been avoiding it for years. It’s going to be bitch. One of the book’s main premises, as the subtitle suggests, is that the importance of “nature” in the nature-nurture debate is typically underestimated in our society. One wonders on what planet Pinker lives. In the society I inhabit, one can hardly watch TV for ten minutes before someone ascribes some characteristic as “genetic.” In the academic world, the one Pinker inhabits, those who attribute human behavior and development to “innate” properties of the mind have been in the ascendant for decades. Pinker’s whiny introduction, in which he claims that most people are horrified by the idea that human behaviors have an innate basis, and compares “the denial of human nature” with Victorian attitudes toward sex, reminds me of the American notion that we are underdogs in the “War on Terrorism.”

Thursday, 17 February 2011

If Not “Psychotherapy”

Filed under: Psychotherapy — drtone @ 10:45 am

A couple of daze ago, I commented on the implications of using the term “therapy” or “psychotherapy.” I’ve tried to come up with some alternatives, if only to demonstrate the difficulties inherent in labeling the work we do.

Although it is a term used colloquially in a broad sense for various forms of (let us call it) counseling, it’s unfortunate that “psychoanalysis” already has an established meaning too specialized to allow it to refer accurately to the process under description.  In spite of being devised by a physician, “psychoanalysis” doesn’t carry with it the metaphor of disorder and repair that we have identified as infecting the broader term “psychotherapy.” It literally means something like “dissolving the soul,” or “loosening the soul.” Pretty much perfect.

There are a number of candidate terms that I’ve rejected. “Self-examination” and “self-investigation” seem to come from the criminal justice system. “Self-exploration” and “self-discovery” come too close to the dismissive navel-gazing, masturbatory metaphors used by critics and those who do not wish to engage. I thought about “psycho-spelunking,” but it does not have the right ring.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Lincoln And Propaganda

Filed under: Propaganda — drtone @ 12:48 pm

Although he was not explicitly speaking about political propaganda, for which there was not yet a word, Abraham Lincoln expressed perfectly, in one of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the importance of molding public opinion:

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.

Lincoln was speaking about the influence of his opponent, the famously persuasive Stephen A. Douglas. Nevertheless, he cites a principle that spans history, at least in modern times.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

If It Ain’t Broke…

Filed under: Emotion,Psychotherapy,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 9:09 am

Because the process of psychotherapy also depends on a story, one about receiving “treatment” for a “problem,” it consists in a self-contradictory story. In that story, I am damaged and someone else, a “therapist,” comes along and fixes whatever is wrong with me. Not only does such a story depend on a static medical model, with a doctor ministering to a passive recipient, but it also involves the false portrayal of the entire situation as a transit from illness to health. When we renounce attachment to our narrative about repairing the Self, we discover that there was nothing broken in the first place.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a maxim to live by. Once we recognize that the true self manifests constantly, we can begin to examine why that is not apparent to the conscious mind. Suffering does occur. Under no circumstances can arrangements in the world meet every need. Life outside is not like life in the womb. It can be uncomfortable and unsafe, a discovery an infant continues to make from birth onward. In response, we develop defenses against the elements of experience that do not comport with feelings of comfort and safety. Psychotherapy is somehow about reaching behind those defenses without disrespecting them.

A client suggested to me, when we discussed psychotherapy and the question of “fixing,” to consider the meaning of the word “fix,” which is about preserving the status quo. In photography, for example, the “fixer” bath prevents the newly developed photo from changing. Fixing, thought of that way, is against change. Therefore, the client suggested, psychotherapy, at its best, is about “un-fixing.”

Monday, 14 February 2011

No News Is Still Good News

Filed under: Propaganda,Television — drtone @ 2:40 pm

In a previous post, I mentioned the temporary suspension of my self-imposed news blackout in order that I watch coverage of the Mubarak resignation. While watching that coverage, I heard and saw comments and commentators I found just as irritating as when I stopped watching the news. Initially, I had thought that I could perhaps return to following the news–at least the international news–but soon realized that I was falling into the same disturbing habits of thought and action that caused me to impose the blackout.

For example, I was exposed to an interview of Ken Pollack, who made his reputation by writing a book from a “liberal” perspective calling for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of the various dangers posed by the Hussein regime, particularly WMD. That he was wrong, as were so many others, has apparently not put a crimp in Pollack’s career: The reporter who interviewed him complimented for “bring[ing] a lot to the table.” What he brings is not obvious, but what is obvious is that those “experts” who supported the invasion have, by and large, maintained or enlarged their reputations and those who opposed it continue on the margins to which they were forced during that horrible and unnecessary war. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the terrible stupidity of this state of affairs.

I also heard a reporter quote Fuad Adjami to the effect that Mubarak’s agents used “Saddam-like” techniques to suppress Egyptian demonstrators. In other words, Adjami, among the keenest warmongers on the planet and perhaps the leading Arab neo-conservative, is still at it in characterizing Saddam Hussein as some sort of standard of evil. During the run-up to both the First (American) Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq,  The neo-cons continually asked whether Saddam was “the next Hitler,” as if such a comparison meant anything whatsoever. Although it was clear within months of the costly, brutal Iraq invasion that the conditions in Iraq that would succeed Hussein’s ouster were worse than those imposed by his regime, the main justification for a war that was a disaster by any other measure has been the “evil” of Hussein and his family. The supposed improvement in Iraq and the world is supposed to make up for the many genuine “evils” the war wrought.

Anyway, see how I go on. I can’t stand it. I must not listen to, watch or read the news.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Not In Our Genes II

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Books,Human Evolution,Propaganda,Race,Science — drtone @ 1:03 pm

I posted recently regarding the 1985 book Not In Our Genes, by R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose & Leon Kamin. In that previous post, I discussed the reasons, despite its fame, that the book failed to block the increasing popularity of sociobiology. The authors’ criticisms of the latter are trenchant and occasionally funny, but they are couched in neo-Marxist language virtually guaranteed to turn readers off.

In addition, the chapter on the state of the debate, at the time the book was written, regarding the role of women is, thankfully, somewhat dated. Even if they believe it, no one of any substance currently argues that women can’t fill roles in society previously held exclusively by men. Advances in the quarter century since the book was written have favored the inclusion of women in the professional world, which is not to say that true gender equality has been reached, but only to say that it has increased noticeably. Indeed, it could be instructive for young people to read that chapter in order to gain some appreciation of the the character and pace of what was then called “women’s lib.”

That said, Not In Our Genes is a good book, well-written, well-argued and entertaining.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Who’s Reporting?

Filed under: Race,Television — drtone @ 1:57 pm

By accident this morning, I tuned into the news from Cairo a few minutes after Mubarak resigned. Because it was clearly big news, I stayed with the coverage for a few hours. On MSNBC, for the first hour I watched, Lester Holt was the anchor. He handed off to a woman named Tamron Hall, who shifted coverage to a reporter in Cairo. I could not help but note that Holt, Hall, and the Cairo reporter are all African-Americans. I am old enough to remember when the idea of a national news broadcast by a Black reporter was–and I use the word advisedly–unthinkable. Once upon a time, that an African-American was a reporter for a major news organization would have been at least as big a story as Mubarak’s resignation. Here in the middle of it, however, was a Black woman holding the anchor chair, and it was not of any interest. I love that.

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