Thursday, March 30, 2006

Acceptance of what?

Acceptance may be the single most-overlooked helpful  strategy in psychotherapy. I started this blog two months ago mainly to talk about therapeutic acceptance — and other issues raised by Steve Hayes's acceptance and commitment therapy (which I cottoned onto a couple years ago, before it was cool).

When I was deep into my expensive, destructive, “neo-Freudian” psychoanalysis, I said, after a lot of thought on the subject, that the ultimate goal of therapy could only be having a different attitude toward the things that come up within yourself. My analyst surprised me when he agreed.

Therapeutic acceptance is, I think, the acceptance of those things that come up within yourself: the thoughts and feelings and other occurences that are sort of in between that seem to surface (or bob near the surface) like from a deep, deep well you have no control over and can't possibly see into. It's not so much, in my expression to my analyst or in Hayes's literature, acceptance of things outside yourself, like environmental conditions or other people's behavior.

I think maybe that's where initial interest in this therapy approach can get derailed a little, even as presented by Hayes & friends. Because “acceptance”, as commonly used, usually refers to acceptance of factors outside yourself, not to, well, YOU. I've seen what looks like a complete lack of interest in acceptance as a approach on a psychotherapy consumer board I go to, for example.

Albert Ellis's “Unconditional Self-Acceptance” and “Unconditional Other-Acceptance” also paint with a little bit broader brush than I use in this area. I think the distinction is that you don't have to accept that you have a big nose, but you can accept the feelings that come up from your unfathomable inner well about  your big nose. And unlike Ellis, I would allow conditions on that acceptance, at least insofar as something like, “I'm ashamed to feel this way, but I hate my big nose.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

O Liberty, Sweet Liberty!

Liberty

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Long, long, long, long post

Despite my glorious blog, I am not a very successful person, even judged by my own generous standards. I have been clinically depressed, often severely, and without a single full day of remission, for over 20 years. By “severely” I mean, for example, that I lie on the floor with my eyes open for six hours without moving because moving is impossible. By “often” I mean often.

I have tried a lot (3 dozen regimens) of prescription psych meds, unilateral ECT, vitamins, lights, exercise, sugarless diets, and the passage of time. I've done conventional weekly psychotherapy, daily neo-Freudian psychoanalysis, cognitive behavior therapy, and shitloads of self-help books, and I have a shelf full of journals documenting a self-analysis that would give Karen Horney pause.

Not one bit of it was more than minimally helpful. Some of it was harmful.

Through a process that deserves several blog posts of its own, I recently acquired a prescription for buprenorphine (Subutex®), a synthetic opioid usually given to people like Vicodin addicts in recovery programs. (I've never been addicted to anything and tried it for its potential antidepressant properties.)

Bupe has had significant benefits for me, for which I am grateful (but to whom?). It is the only drug I've ever tried that has been effective against depression for more than a few days. I recommend trying it if you're a treatment-resistant depressive. (Good lucking getting any, but that's another blog.)

Thing is, there are critical areas of my life that bupe has not helped with. Chiefly, it is still impossible for me to do anything significant that would be, to me, “successful”. This despite throwing all the CBT techniques in the library at such problems, even while on a double-dose of bupe, just in case. I am really at an impasse. What can be done next to get me over or through this huge problem?

I'm willing to add various psych meds back into my bloodstream in hopes that one or more of them that didn't help before might help now, now that I'm using bupe as well. I think I probably will try something like that before too long.

But I also feel that I must do something significantly different in my own head, something substantial that I haven't really tried before. One thing that makes sense to try in this regard is related to my first blog post: the principle that, universally, people are doing the best they can.

Some people (like me) would have trouble applying that to certain politicians. But taken simply as a principle, its application is straightforward even in cases of the most horrific assholes, rapists, mass murderers, and compassionate conservatives. It's hard work, and it doesn't always last, but it can be done repeatedly, and the effect on your own thinking is remarkable. You can see clear though to assertive solutions instead of getting bogged down in “shouldy” thinking about the people who upset you. (Was that Ellis’s or Horney’s word?)

But one place I realized I could never apply my principle (which still needs a name) was to my dad and my brother, at least as they were in my childhood, in their treatment of me. I'm only going to say that it was not ideal.

There was no way, as I knew when I first came up with that doing-the-best-they-can idea, that I could apply it to Dad & “Ken”. Maybe ever. Yet I realized that such an event (“forgiving” them) would plausibly either be therapeutic itself or be the ultimate result of successful therapy for me. But I couldn't actually imagine doing it.

But I think now that there may be no way around it if I am ever going to have ANY good kind of life. I think (and I won't go into details) that understanding and thereby (eeyyccchh, this is hard to write) forgiving  those assholes for their conduct toward me may be the only way to free up my own behavior in regard to anything that looks like success.

Here's why

They feared and punished my success when I was a kid, persistently, sometimes viciously, and for all of my childhood. (Other people who were there have independently arrived at that conclusion; it's not my delusion. My CBT therapist pointed out that my brother would not have continued in it without my dad's blessing!)

The result of this long-term and fairly consistent treatment, I believe, is that today, I expect almost any meaningful personal success to be followed by some catastrophic punishment. Despite having some successes that weren't obviously punished, this deep fear has not abated in the least.

I think that's because I don't see any connection between the expected punishment and the independent, external circumstances or consequences that vary from situation to situation. I see that the independent variable triggering the punishment is ME, not anything else. As long as I am there, a success will be punished.

If I could let Dad & Ken off the hook, I could possibly see that there were other causes for their treatment of me. The independent variables causing them to inflict pain on me was other stuff in their lives; it wasn't me. I would be able to see, as most people do, that whether I am “punished” or not for a particular success TODAY depends on all kinds of external factors which can be monitored and managed, that it's not just because I'm the one who's doing something successful that the outcome has to be bad. If my childhood punishments were caused by other, external factors, then there probably isn't anything inherent in me that automatically requires a punished outcome.

I need to let Dad & Ken off the hook in order to change that conditioning. By keeping up my resentment for them, I keep myself in the picture as the independent variable. If there's some other cause of their bad treatment of me (like dementia or their own bad learning), then I have to give up my resentment. And if I do that, then it's like I can never get justice or revenge or make them stop it so hard they'll never threaten me like that again. Grudge-carrying is a very old reptilian urge. It comes pre-packaged with your brain. It has its usefulness but not in this situation, even though I feel it here so very strongly.

Unless I free up Dad & Ken from my lust for revenge, I will never see that they were not responding to ME. If I see that they had other causes, then (1) I no longer consider myself inherently punishment-evoking, which would be nice, but (2) I would have to give up forever my very passionate belief that they need to be punished themselves for what they did to me.

I doubt this would make sense to another human being, and I'm certain no human would read this far, LOL. But I wanted to post it, to be clear about it, on the record: Without forgiving D&K, I, plausibly, will never be able to extinguish my own fear of my success.

And here's the thing: last night, I really saw that it's a bit of a toss up. Even if it would cost me (as it will) having any meaningful accomplishment for the rest of my life, I'm really not sure that I would be willing to give up my hatred and resentment for what they did. No matter what factors influenced them to behave so badly toward me, the fact is that they should NEVER have behaved that way despite such influences! Am I supposed to just forget that? To just say, “Hey, that's okay! No problem!”?

HELL NO! Sometimes I think I am put together with resentment.

Of course, I'm not able to get back at them by holding such a grudge, I realize that. Dad's dead! But I could do still hold it! I could hold a grudge for the next 40 years, and have a rotten, destitute, bankrupt, desiccated, lonely life just to prove a point to no one. I really could.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Straight? Unhappy? Sue somebody.

Straight? Unhappy?

Michael York is 64!

Michael York Today is the 64th birthday of British actor Michael York, star of Logan's Run (1976), the movie in which people get a wonderful life but have to take manditory death at age 30. I haven't seen it since I was in my mid-twenties, but this good (i.e., helpful) review has convinced me to see it again — with York's DVD commentary, of course.

What really makes me curious about York, though, is his participation in the Christian evangelical apocalyptic Omega Code series (1 & 2), which seems to stand in apposition to every other movie he's ever worked in, not least the Austin Powers series.

Does York believe that end-of-the-world stuff? He's an actor, so naturally, he will do anything for money, and I assume the doomsayers paid him well enough. All I've ever been able to find out about what York thinks of the actual beliefs the films promote is equivocal-sounding stuff about the forgotten Christian audience. There's this, but it's an indirect quote, re-written by the reporter:
“York says many people believe that the first film and this sequel are actual truisms that could occur because it's based on the Bible.”Zap2it
Did York really say exactly that? What could he have meant by truism? Surely not the dictionary definition (obvious or undeniable). His not-recently-updated official web site is silent on matters of faith.

Dispatches from Armageddon He produced a book about his experience playing the Omega antichrist (now selling for 45¢ in remainders at Amazon), which I may have to read to get a better answer.

Update: I just ordered a 46¢ remaindered copy of Dispatches from Armageddon: Making the Movie Megiddo...a Devilish Diary!  by the birthday boy. Clearly this blog will stop at nothing in its relentless search for the truth.

Update 6/20/2006: I finally read York's book and posted the result here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

‘Newsweek’ errs on Freud’s influence

So Newsweek  gave Freud a cover this week (issue date 3/27/06), an article on his early career, an article about his lasting influence, and an interview about Freud with real Nobel prizewinner Eric Kandel.

I didn't think the article was great, although it contained these gems:
And Freud's debunkers are finding much to confirm what they've said all along, that his canonical "cures" were the product of wishful thinking and conscious fudging, and his theories founded on a sinkhole of circular logic.

“I'm afraid he doesn't hold up very well at all.… It almost feels like a personal betrayal to say that. But every particular is wrong: the universality of the Oedipus complex, penis envy, infantile sexuality.” –Peter D. Kramer
It was enough to get this out of a blogging psychoanalyst (or his patient, I'm not quite sure): “Regardless of what scientists can prove or disprove about his theories, I think the bottom line is this: psychoanalysis can be extremely effective”. That's the spirit. No matter what's disproved, keep on truckin’.

The Newsweek  bit had a few errors and misleading statements, like: “The American Psychological Association, which represents psychotherapists without medical degrees, has 150,000 members”. I think most psychotherapists are MA or MSW clinicians (not APA members) and a huge portion of that 150,000 are not clinical psychologists doing psychotherapy. (But I can't find any numbers this morning, drat.)

I disagreed with most of Kandel's statements about Freud. He said, for example, “Much of what we do is unconscious. That is a revelation that largely comes from Freud.” But Freud's assertions about our randy, tripartite mind have nothing I mean nothing  to do with modern research on unconscious brain activity.

Kandel also excused Freud for Freudianism's unscientific basis: “The problem with psychoanalysis, and it's a deep problem, is not with Freud. Subsequent generations have failed to make it a more rigorous, biologically based science.” Um, that's maybe because it can't be done? Just a guess. If Freud had set up a attitude of subjecting psychoanalytic assertions to ANY controlled research, then maybe you could say that the “deep problem” wasn't with Freud.

But the wrongest thing

in Newsweek  was a graphic in the print addition (not online yet, I guess) that showed a sort of family tree of modern psychology flowing out of Freud's head. Although most of it was various psychodynamic writers, it also showed the behaviorists Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner on a vein flowing out of Freud! Absolute bogus nonsense malarky! I hope there are indignant letters to the editor in coming editions.

(That tree also showed Beck coming out of Skinner, which is debatable. Beck started as a Freudian.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What George & Dick understand

Jacob Weisberg, over at Slate, gets it right about U.S. military conscription:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney react angrily to any suggestion that a draft might be needed, because they know that the prospect of conscription would make their decision to invade Iraq even more unpopular. Having lived through Vietnam and [having] shirked the draft themselves, they understand that if people anywhere near their own station in life were forced to fight, any remaining support for wars of arguable necessity would dry up and blow away.
If the U.S. population on the whole isn't willing to put up it ought to shut up where our intervention in Iraq is concerned.

It isn't well-known that draftees go AWOL at one-fifth  the rate of volunteers. Draftees have far fewer criminal problems while enlisted than volunteers and perform better overall. That's a little counter-intuitive, but the fact is that military service often looks most attractive to those who have no other options. Young men with enough competence and ambition to have other options (like skilled-trade jobs or higher education) aren't nearly as likely to choose to be yelled at, take craps in public, and run a high risk of death, paralysis, or having hooks for hands or a freak show for a face.

Draftees cost less money and give better service. If George is really doing all he can to protect us, isn't he obligated to get the best people he can for the armed forces?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blogspot® SUCKS!

I had a brilliant idea. It would've saved money, saved the environment, saved the Heathen, and let everybody in the whole world live together in happiness and harmony forever. But because Blogspot® absolutely SUCKS with their fucking “filer upgrade”, I couldn't get on to post it for over 24 hours. And now I've forgotten it!

Way to go, billionaires.

Monday, March 20, 2006

B F Skinner at 102

Hero
Today (March 20,2006) is the 102nd anniversary of B. F. Skinner's birth. He is probably the most-misunderstood psychologist of the 20th century, and that's saying something.

He gave psychology the term reinforcement, which is among its most-misused terms. This is especially true in the phrase positive reinforcement, which is so widely misused that its incorrect meaning has gained authoritative recognition. Oh well.

I first stumbled onto Steve Hayes's acceptance and commitment therapy a couple years ago when I Googled for depression "b f skinner" . I was looking for some way to think about clinical depression that made good sense from a Skinnerian, radical behaviorist point of view. I wanted that because behaviorism can bring amazing clarity to muddied situations. It has often seemed to me like “universal acid”, which Daniel Dennett said Dariwinian thiking is for him.

Depression is a terribly muddy subject. It is simply not well understood. But Skinnerian “accounts” (to use a Skinnerian word) of it have not gotten very far, either.

It's been suggested (I have no reference at the moment, but I've read it, trust me) that when person is depressed, things that were “reinforcing” for her in the past just aren't anymore. Well, that's probably true, but that's a misuse of the term. The fact is that the depressed person just doesn't do any of the things we'd normally expect her to do, so those actions can't possibly be reinforced by anything because they don't occur! (Get it?)

So the failure of the reinforcers, technically speaking, must've happened earlier, before she got depressed. Because if they'd been effective reinforcers, she be engaging in the reinforced actions now. Presumably.

Mostly, I wanted to note Skinner's birthday. I don't really have anything to say. I'm too depressed.

(That is, of course, a very NON-Skinnerian attribution of behavior to an emotional state, but oh well.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

I hate Arianna Huffington

Oooh! George Clooney nailed I mean nailed  Arianna Huffington. I hate her.

Tell me I'm wrong Her staff took excerpts from interviews George had done with the Guardian  and Larry King. (By the way, Larry King looks, sounds, and moves like he's in his nineties, not just 73.) They mortared them together and published the result on Arianna's very-slow-loading web site, the Huffington Post, as if it were an original blog post by George.

But when he found out about it, boy, was he mad! Supposedly the Huff had permission from George's publicist, who's probably in for it frm George. (I would hate to get bawled out by that man, or Batman, let me tell you.) George says he's never had a ghostwriter. The Huff has since removed the offending page.

It galls me that people take Arianna seriously. When George started making a stink about this, “She said some things that I won't share, but she did tell me that this could be bad…for my career,” he told Lloyd Grove. Are you kidding me?! Arianna thought she could threaten pinnacle-level superstar, director, multiple Emmy®- and Oscar®-winner George Clooney's career  with her stupid word-vacuum?

The less delicious but more nutritious take-home from this incident, however, is the knowledge that the Huff probably pulls such shit all the time. Desperately trawling for content to fill up their for-profit site, they need opinionated stuff by really famous people. Problem: most really famous people don't have many interesting or thoughtful opinions on subjects outside their careers. Since there's a lot of stuff on the Huff by really famous people opining outside their careers, the staff there may be primarily composed of ghosts.

Anything on the Huffington Post that's written by a famous person who's not a professional writer is now suspect. As far as I'm concerned, anything there that's written by a movie star is fake.

You may rest assured, however, that everything  on this blog really is written by George Clooney.

This blog’s true intention

Steve Hayes
The primary reason I started a blog at all was to write about “acceptance and commitment therapy”, its creator Steve Hayes, and appurtenances thereto. But I wanted to get established as a blogger first. Not necessarily establish an audience (’tis to laugh) but at least post enough so that I had a style and wasn’t a one-note piper.

That approach isn’t working so well. It’s like walking around with your head poked through the bottom of a garbage bag so people will take you seriously when you wear your new sweater.

It’s like eating a chunk of Styrofoam® every day to get yourself ready for waffles and syrup.

It’s like—     You get the point.

So don’t be surprised if this blog now becomes obsessive, pitiful, and pathetic; focuses on sick, idiosyncratic minutiae; and veers dangerously close to the self-involved.

(Promise?)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Abortion

It's clear from my site traffic reports that I need to post more often. My public demands it. It's also clear that I need to enhance my revenue stream. But blogging is more fun. So...

Contentious Topic #1: Abortion

My opinions on abortion would enrage anyone on either side. I'm never going to be pregnant or get someone pregnant or personally perform an abortion or personally stop a woman from getting one, so my opinions are more-or-less harmless, except that they might persuade someone else who is in a position to do/not do these things. Nevertheless, I usually keep my universally-enraging opinions about it to myself.

You will see in a moment why.

That moment is now.

Uhhhnnn... No, not yet.

The terms

A philosophy professor I had said people who argue about abortion too often make reference to the need to “define your terms”. This is ridiculous, he said, because the entire discussion is over the definition of the terms and nothing else. Does person  include a fetus? a zygote? an unimplanted cluster of cells? a sperm that's really near an egg? If you can define it the debate is over. Similarly with body, life, freedom, etc.    

He said an abortion arguments often run like this.
Zoe: “I have the right to do with my body what I choose.”

Moe: “Do you have the right to throw your body over my face so that I cannot breathe?”

Zoe: “No, because that would harm another person.”
My professor then rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders as if to say QED.

My opinion on abortion also involves definitions. I come down at a particular point to mark the beginning of a new human life, for example. But my ethical criteria about abortion are pragmatic and don't depend on anybody's verbal definitions, even mine.

So, my long-secret abortion ruling...

 

...will soon follow.

Preventing pregnancy

What's most perplexing to me is that people (other than Roman Catholics) who are opposed to abortion aren't doing everything possible to prevent the pregnancies that result in abortions. They don't want to encourage premarital sex, okay; I get it. But isn't that a lesser offense than (in their eyes) murdering unborn babies?

I, for one, would have no problem with a cultural tradition of temporarily “fixing” all boys and girls until they were, say 21 years old. Lots of other people would object to that, but not, I hope, on the grounds that people under 21 need to have babies. Or even should. Not these days.

Of course the official Roman Catholic position is beyond adequate words. It's one thing for intellectually isolated, officially celebate, monomaniacal prelates to have odd, purely theoretical ideas about sex. But many of those who tout the no-contraception line are healthy, young lay people! Bollocks-lobed, boob-brained, terribly confused, silly-thinking nitwits who believe married-to-each-other heterosexual adults should not use condoms, ever, when having penis-in-vagina intercourse because it's inherently immoral — but pulling the penis out before ejaculation is  moral, although after both interventions the sacred sperm ends up in the same bedroom wastebasket!

Michigan's own pizza billionaire Tom Monaghan is pressuring the pharmacies in his Catholic development in Florida not to carry condoms! He lumps their sale on the side of “evil”! I don't think he really believes that. I think he enjoys bothering people by saying goofy things. The local independent hospital, though, says it will NOT supply birth control hormones to women who go to Monaghan's school, even though they provide them to everybody else. Read it! It's right there in the article!

I remind myself that all people are doing the best they can.

My opinion on abortion

As I said, it would upset anyone. Let me start by saying that it doesn't bother me if (most) teenagers are experimenting sexually with each other, if they've had safety and emotional issues thoroughly explained to them, if it's something they want to do, if they're able to say no, if they have responsible, competent adults they trust and can turn to, if they're using disease- and pregnancy-prevention, and if they realize it's optional, unnecessary, and less cool than current political science. That's a lot of ifs.

I want contraceptives to be as freely available as mints at restaurant cash registers, as pennies in gas station penny cups, as daily junk mail. I want any government program that reduces unplanned conceptions and conception in women 19 and under fully funded.

Now to the hard part.

I think human life begins at
Sorry. I gotta run to the bank before 4:00. I'll pick up here later!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This means you

What a great scary notice! I think I may put it on every one of my posts:
You may link this article to your website… provided your link does not depict this article, its author, or [this site] in a negative manner.
Since the author is apparently a lawyer himself, you really have to wonder if he actually believes it has any legal power. I suspect it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke.

Nevertheless, I propose expanding it. I may send postcards to everyone I know and hand out cards to people I pass on the street and wear a T-shirt or button warning all in my radius that they may point at me or mention me provided they don’t depict me (or my parents) in a negative manner. Consider yourself warned!

Oh, and by the way, the silly notice is here: link.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I whiff at Pharyngula

I submitted a comment at biologist PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula. That was this morning. They have to get approved by a moderator (I assume PZ?) before they appear. Quite a few hours later, he allowed one making the same point, I guess in a better way. Mine said:
Forrest comments on the sociology and politics of the creationist movement and on evolutionary science in education and popular culture — categories in which she is a qualified academic researcher. She's published on those subjects in professional and technical journals and is a full professor in Southeastern Louisiana University's Department of History and Political Science.
The one he published said
I don't see your point. If you bothered to read the interview, you would know that Forrest testified about the history of the Intelligent Design Creationism, not the "science". Also, since ID is not science, but is religion, (which is now backed by legal precedent) Forrest, as a philosopher seems perfectly well qualified to comment on it. I don't see how this compares to mechanical engineers and lawyers commenting on the probability of biological phenomena.
Mine was focused, less contentious, had links, grammar, and sentence structure. But it wasn't as good, and he knew it for hours before he even saw the other one. Sigh.  That's okay. I have a blanket I can crawl under.... There's no way I could do grad school. Why do I keep thinking that's possible? I'm stupid in a way you can't cure by trying harder or being more careful. A stilted, unimaginative bore.

Friday, March 10, 2006

cynicillin

At Pharyngula yesterday, PZ Myers coined (as far as I know) the word cyniclin:
“I'd be more enthused if the earlier hype hadn't switched on my skeptical gland and flooded my system with cyniclin, the hormone of disillusionment.”News from Enceladus 3/9/06 5:19 PM
I guess it'd be pronounced SIN-ihk-lin, not sin-EYE-klin. That would bridge between cynic  and hormone names like adrenalin, insulin, and so on.

But I like poster SEF's idea better:
“At least you also have lots of natural cynicillin to protect you against all those infectious religion memes though. It's just a shame so many people are apparently allergic to critical thinking.”SEF | 3/9/06 06:59 PM
I think it sounds funnier, and the idea of protection is more easily conveyed by the -cillin  ending.

Other antibiotics (like ampicillin) have picked it up as well, even though, like copter  in newscopter  or burger  in cheeseburger, it has no etymological significance. Penicillin  comes from penicillus, meaning a little penis – a tail or brush. That's how it looked under the microscope. (There was article I'd like to read on the “Irradiation of the Suffix cillin” in the American Dialect Society's American Speech, but they keep it behind a $$ wall. Their site sucks wad, by the way.)

No googlits for cyniclin OR cynicillin. There is a PC-CILLIN “leading antivirus software” that's in a domain name dispute. [Update: Last year at LiveJournal, there apparently was (briefly) a blog or blogger called cynicillin, but it was touted as “the cure for cynicism?” – very different than these senses.]

Cynicillin is healthy to have around, but you don't want to overdose on it.

Crackpot criteria are always conventional?

I feel like I can draw a distinction between crackpot assertions and ideas that are merely contentious or wrong. Don't you? But what makes that difference? I think I can do better than “I know it when I see it.”

I would put in the crackpot category: sincere (as opposed to politically opportunist) Holocaust deniers, opponents of evolution, and those who believe the US government can't legally collect income taxes. Also HIV-AIDS denier Celia Farber, who just got more of her crackpot HIV-does-not-cause-AIDS-throw-away-your-medicines writing published — in Harper’s, for God's sake.

Contentious ideas: Freudianism, behaviorism, Reagan (or FDR) was the greatest president, No one likes me, There is (is not) a God ...

Wrong ideas: This is 2005, I fail at everything I try ...

I realize I'm slightly confounding crackpots  (people) and crackpot ideas  that the people promote. But I want to get this posted, so I'll sort that out later. Maybe.

I think they're different because the crackpot assertions about HIV or tax legality are about out-in-the-world phenomena where we all, including the crackpots, really do agree on most of the ways we evaluate such ideas’ truthfulness or validity or strength. Whereas for merely contentious ideas, proponents and opponents both generally acknowledge that we don't agree on the terms. Either (a) we agree on the criteria but the evaluations are subjective and iffy (“I do  love him!”), or (b) we all acknowledge that we don't agree on the criteria, like when capitalists and communists focus on different economic outcomes.

Maybe a wrong idea that persists despite contrary conventional evidence wouldn't be crackpot if the person simply rejects the conventional criteria. As in, “I know he says he doesn't love me, and he moved away, and he got a restraining order against me, and he married someone else, but something tells me he does love me, deep-down.”

A crackpot idea is one whose proponents seem to agree that the idea can be, should be, and is evaluated according to conventional criteria. The proponents just repeatedly refuse to accept the conventionally-provided evaluations of those criteria. They minimize, dismiss, or flatly ignore an evaluative source otherwise accepted by everyone including the crackpots — but only when that source disputes or weakens their idea.

Maybe this insight is unremarkable to most people. Maybe it's wrong! But it bugged me not to understand the difference I felt between AIDS deniers and, say, cultural conservatives, since I disagree with both. (Conservatives sometimes fall into the crackpot category but not necessarily.) The distinction I see, which allows a lot of gray area between the poles, is this: Crackpots say  they're playing by the same rules, but they're not.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hypnotic “rigmarole”

An article in the American Psychological Association Monitor summarizes a bunch of recent hypnosis research. Among the findings, hypnosis researcher Amir Raz says, “We now have evidence showing that highly hypnotizable people do not need to be hypnotized in order to benefit from suggestion”. (I think benefit from here means be controlled by.) In one of his studies, “highly hypnotizable” people who were NOT hypnotized at the time were told that certain words they were about to see would be gibberish. They then performed certain tricky tasks involving those words as if the words were gibberish when in fact they were not.

So maybe hypnosis isn't the real independent variable? As long as you're dealing with suggestible people, you can just make the suggestions without performing “hypnotic induction using methods such as guided imagery and visualization,” as in the hypnosis studies, and if you're not working with suggestible people, the hypnosis won't work anyway?

Have adequate controls never been placed on this research, in all the years of publications in all the dedicated journals all over the world? Only now has anyone checked to see if all that stagecraft stuff was needed?

I wish the Monitor  article had explored that. Maybe the article misrepresents the state of hypnosis research. But given the article's closing quote, I'm not sure.

Hypnosis psychoneurophysiology researcher John Gruzelier (Imperial College London), while acknowledging that easily hypnotizable people are suggestible even when not hypnotized, still maintains that hypnosis itself is crucial. His words as quoted by the article are a little troubling:
“It's my feeling that we wouldn't bother going through the whole rigmarole of hypnosis if it was unnecessary,” he says.
Obviously, this is one quoted sentence, lifted by a magazine writer from whatever else Gruzelier may have said. He is an enormously active, well-published researcher whose views are surely more nuanced than represented here, and it would be unfair to paste him on the basis of this quote.

Nevertheless, the view as presented is senseless. We might “go through the whole rigmarole” because no one had done the proper research to notice it wasn't needed! We may go through it because we're professionally committed to the idea of hypnosis or because we like the feeling we get when executing the procedures. Or because we're fascinated by the attitude of the hypnotized subject before us. There are many, many reasons people, even researchers, might persist in a superstitious behavior. A psychologist should know that better than anyone.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The intimation of intimidation

Fart-head
Longtime readers of this blog (both weeks) may know that I think media commentator Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and CNN is a fart-head. Here is an exchange from his online chat yesterday:
New York, N.Y.: […] My question is, will the latest scare tactics by the White House intimidate journalists? Or will it embolden them to dig even deeper? Thanks.

Howard Kurtz: […] I don't think it's a question of being intimidated. I do think that any reporter who relies on anonymous sources now has to think twice and three times about whether he or she is willing to go to jail if necessary to protect the sources, and as a result whether the story at hand is worth doing. Also, some sources themselves may be growing more cautious because of this highly charged environment.
Causing the vicitm to hesitate two and three times, fear punitive consequences, and make trade-offs for freedom and safety against what she would otherwise do are the usual intentions and outcomes that identify intimidation.

Update: Ernie Moran, news editor of the Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram, compared Kurtz’s idea of non-intimidation to the dictionary’s, but I beat him by more than an hour. ;-)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blogspot sucks because...

...I cannot post to it in the evenings. Again and again I have a flash of brilliance after 6 pm, but I can’t get through to post it.

Believe me, this blog would’ve been so  much better if I could’ve posted that shit when I thought of it.

UPDATE 3/8 I can't upload pictures now, either. And there's no serious help section. And that "Issues" page hasn't been updated in 4 months.

I know, I know. It’s free. What did I expect? Why don't I get a life?

Better; and, Then I wouldn't be blogging.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

“SHAM” is a shame

Enthusiastic overstatement of banalities seems* to often be a trait of conservative writers. Like this by Steve Salerno on page 2 of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless:

          Pet lovers read endlessly about pets.

People don't read “endlessly” about anything. No pet owner/lover I know reads pet books except rarely. Salerno's dumb hyperbole makes the reader work so much harder, discounting and re-evaluating mild ideas for which a better writer could get unreserved assent.

I wanted to write a review of SHAM, a book intended as a send-up of what Salerno calls the “self-help and actualization movement”, but the book was so bad that it would take another book twice as long as it to explain and correct it. I couldn't find a toehold for organizing a review. Anyone who could be persuaded by Salerno's unreferenced assertions and hyperbolic writing would not be persuaded by the calm presentation of referenced fact and supported, deliberative, nuanced conclusions. Anyone with half a brain would dismiss most of the book on their own.

Nevertheless, I recommend the one-star review by Susan Wise Bauer (among several good bad ones) at Amazon for the best brief broadside against it.

For myself, I'll just look at a few quotes from the last full page of text in the book, page 262. Talking about the process of researching the book, Salerno says,
“In one or two cases, I've watched as sources were effectively conscripted in to the movement and became unwitting gurus, of a sort, in their own right. They shall remain nameless, though the alert reader can probably take a stab at who's who.” (pg 262)
What the hell? What sort of information did these sources give Salerno that they must remain nameless? And does he mean these authors wrote self-help books without realizing it — or what do unwitting gurus do? If they are public figures, why not name them and tell what you know? If they are not public figures, how could a reader figure out who they are? And which is it, one or two?

Steve Salerno
Addressing readers who may disagree with his conclusions, Salerno says at the end of the book,
If we seem to have arrived at different endpoints, so be it. That is, after all, what the pursuit of  “self” is really about, or should be—isn't it? (pg 262)
Does Salerno think the self-understanding or personal identity is essentially or fundamentally “about” having different conclusions after exposure to the same factual evidence and rational arguments? Scholarship, even pop-scholarship like this book, is about  persuasion and agreement resulting from the compilation of substantive factual evidence and its analysis through commonly-held rational methods. The pursuit of personal preferences and bias is something you try to set aside  in the pursuit of understanding the world. It's people who simply like having strident opinions who defend them with the sort of factual relativism Salerno is invoking.
But if this book achieves nothing else, my most fervent hope is that it provokes some thought about the things you always took as “givens”.... (pg 262)
How can an author whose most fervent hope is instilling skepticism of other sources go on to write a book wholly without references or bibliography?
Are we predestined, or at least predisposed, to do what we do? If we don't know the truth about such matters, we cannot know the absolute answers to the questions put forth in this book. (pg 262)
I don't know what “the questions put forth in this book” are. It seemed to be assertions from the get-go. If he means a question like, “Which self-help techniques are more effective?” then that, just like, “Which car gets better mileage?” can be answered without solving the whole determinism / free will thing. A fair amount of research has been done on the former question, and various cognitive techniques seem to have the edge, with others gradually appearing and in development. (Watch this blog for more information.)
____________
*I’m open to counterexamples.

Tina Fey on transdermal selegiline

Last night on Weekend Update, Tina Fey announced the approval of Emsam®...
“The FDA this week approved the first ever transdermal patch for the treatment of depression. Simply remove the backing and press the patch firmly over your mother's mouth.”
I think it could've been funnier. Mother-in-law's mouth would be, but it sounds dated these days. Spouse's or boss's mouth...

Oh! How about: “Simply take two of the patches, and stick them in your ears.”

Saturday, March 04, 2006

O happy, happy hatred

To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever
In my first blog post I presented the principle that people are doing the best they can (all people, always) and said that it has to be taken on faith, if at all, but that the results of believing it are readily observable. But it’s often hard to imagine how it could be true, and (more obstructively) it’s expensive. You sometimes have to give up an invigorating, clarifying hatred of the “Other”.

This cost is demonstrated in the title of a new book by Will Blythe: To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever. I haven’t read the book, which is about a college basketball rivalry, but the title is the point. Who can’t relate?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pope Dobson

Responding to a statement by pro-choice Cathoilics in the House of Representatives, a Family Research Council spokesman said opposition to abortion is the  Catholic belief.
“What is at the core of being Catholic is the life issue, and that's something the pope has never strayed from. While other issues are important — such as helping the poor, the death penalty, views on war — these are things that aren't tenets of the Catholic Church.”   –Tom McClusky

(The FRC is predominantly Protestant, and its founder & leader, James Dobson, is a Nazerene. McClusky, its acting vice president for government affairs, is a Catholic.)

What a relief to know that helping the poor is not a “tenet” of the church. That'll save people a lot of money. I guess Jesus was confused.

But how is opposition to the death penalty not part of “the life issue”? How do they possibly draw that line?

You know, Protestants have always mocked the Catholic idea that the pope can give doctrine infallibly. But these Evangelical preachers always think they are speaking ex cathedra.