Previous month:
March 2010
Next month:
May 2010

April 2010

t r u t h o u t | Joe Brewer | The Death of Self-Interest Fundamentalism

So the birth place of modern market fundamentalism, in the guise of “rational choice theory”, was the military think tank that gave us the disastrous arms race. Untested and theoretical, it quickly spread throughout the highest levels of government during the tenure of Robert McNamara at the Department of Defense, then whipped through the economics departments of many prominent universities, spurred the creation of public policy analysis as a “scientific” field, and undergirded today’s global institutions of economic governance.

But things are starting to change.

via www.truthout.org

Cathie's Notes: Joe Brewer's article has threads of connection (via Antonio Damasio's book, Descartes Error) to my recent post on Miki Kashtan's Empathy and Good Judgment piece at Tikkun. Brewer's article takes the discussion further into the realm of behavioral economics. Interesting stuff.

t r u t h o u t | Psychologists Notes May Indicate Zubaydah Torture Experimentation

The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques' application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical medial. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the "The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah," also described CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Zubaydah.

via www.truthout.org


Mind Over Meds - NYTimes.com

After J.J. left my office, I realized, uncomfortably, that somehow, over the course of the decade following my residency, my way of thinking about patients had veered away from psychological curiosity. Instead, I had come to focus on symptoms, as if they were objective medical findings, much the way internists view blood-pressure readings or potassium levels. Psychiatry, for me and many of my colleagues, had become a process of corralling patients’ symptoms into labels and finding a drug to match.

Leon Eisenberg, an early pioneer in psychopharmacology at Harvard, once made the notable historical observation that “in the first half of the 20th century, American psychiatry was virtually ‘brainless.’ . . . In the second half of the 20th century, psychiatry became virtually ‘mindless.’ ” The brainless period was a reference to psychiatry’s early infatuation with psychoanalysis; the mindless period, to our current love affair with pills. J.J., I saw, had inadvertently highlighted a glaring deficiency in much of modern psychiatry. Ultimately, his question would change the way I thought about my field, and how I practiced.

via www.nytimes.com

Cathie's notes: Daniel Carlat's candid article is well worth reading. He also has a great blog that you can access from Hawk's Blogroll in the left sidebar.

Some Thoughts on Miki Kashtan's Article: Empathy and Good Judgment

I really appreciated Miki Kashtan's argument yesterday in her post on empathy, emotion and reason:

The concern about empathy reflects a long tradition of valuing rationality, and the Enlightenment’s imperative to overcome instincts, passions, and emotions through exercising reason. This exclusive focus on reason applies across the board: to moral theory, to the law, to professional conduct, and to our assessment of our own choices and decisions.

I want to challenge the idea that we make better decisions without emotions.

Kashtan goes on to talk about the cross-wiring of human mental and emotional systems being explored by neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio, author of the very readable and thought-feeling provoking book, Descartes' Error.

I happened upon Damasio's work many years ago when I became interested in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis. His work and others inspired a huge shift in the way I felt-thought about who I am and how I experience being human -- alone and in relationship to other people and to nature. I think about the systemic interconnectedness often, but perhaps not often enough. That in itself speaks to the way that threads of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" are so tightly woven into the rug of assumptions on which we daily stand, and from which we make meaning of our experiences.

That's why I'm especially grateful when other people revitalize discussion of this fundamental relationship of feeling and reason as mediated by the brain, and continue to explore contexts in which such an idea can be played with more consciously. Kashtan has done this by relating this broader discussion to the possible values of empathy as a key emotional capacity to advance social and political transformation.

Kashtan makes reference to the backdraft discussion that occurred when Barack Obama suggested that empathy is a desirable capacity for a Supreme Court judge. The fiery debate that later shot its flame toward Sonia Sotomayor left hot evidence of the national feeling about reason versus empathy in our judicial system. (See her article for some great links about this.)

I, along with fellow grassroots activists for environmental justice, encounter similar resistance to the emotional roots of reason all the time. Recently activists got some suggestions from a federal agency that offered this bullet point on public comment writing:

“Leave the heart out". The agencies are looking for facts and will ignore emotion.

They didn't leave us totally without official avenues for emotional expression, however, suggesting that we take the emotional stuff to our Senators and Representatives. Not a totally bad idea, I suppose, unless your Congressperson happens to be among those who have publicly devalued the "heart" of the matter or demonstrated profound lack of empathy.

Here's the problem I have with such categorical dismissals of empathy, of resistance to matters of heart-mind. If cognitive and emotional systems are in fact cross-wired in the brain, the natural consequences of that structure -- most of which (for most of us) are beyond conscious control -- continue to operate nonetheless. Without awareness of this, humankind can continue to believe that it's possible to carve out territories of reason and feeling that can actually be enforced. This illusion makes it possible to believe in such things as righteous exclusion, marginalization, exploitation, oppression and killing.

When we choose, on the other hand, to cultivate awareness of our inherent heart-mind wiring, we free ourselves up to look inside, to explore how we identify ourselves, and how we relate to fellow beings and to the Earth, our home. Then we can begin to insist that we be allowed to speak both heart and mind -- any time and any place -- to mediate, as Kashtan suggests, the unconscionable suffering of people and nature:

The gift of empathy is that it integrates mind and heart in the very same act as it brings together self and other. When we ignore empathy, we pay an enormous price in the form of depression, apathy, victimization, and anger on an individual level, and crime, neglect, alienation, bullying, even war, on a societal level. When we cultivate empathy, our emotional health improves, and in addition also our sense of hope, and our capacity, both individually and collectively, to act as moral agents in addressing the enormous challenges facing us today.

If we can help each other get that far, maybe we can entertain an even wider-scale, collective integration of spiritual dimensions with those of body(brain)-mind-emotions.



Slavoj Zizek: A Soft Focus on War -- In These Times

When Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker won all the big Oscars over James Cameron’s Avatar, the victory was perceived as a good sign of the state of things in Hollywood: A modest production meant for independent festivals clearly overran a superproduction whose technical brilliance cannot cover up the flat simplicity of its story. Did this mean that Hollywood is not just a blockbuster machine, but still knows how to appreciate marginal creative efforts? Maybe—but that’s a big maybe.

via www.inthesetimes.com

Cathie's Notes: Some interesting thoughts from Slavoj Zizek on how we avoid questioning war itself.


The Unconscious Politics That Shape Our World, Choose Presidents and Save or Destroy Lives | | AlterNet

Scientists are finding more and more evidence that human behavior is not rational, not conscious and may be completely programmed without logic or knowledge. These unconscious drives affect jury decisions, elections, wars, our everyday experiences and can sometimes determine life and death. This is the subject of two recent books: Shankar Vedantam's The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save our Lives, and Guillermo Jimenez's Red Genes, Blue Genes, Exposing Political Irrationality. Both demonstrate irrationality but from slightly from different places. We recently discussed these phenomena with the authors.

via www.alternet.org

Cathie's notes: Lots of articles and books popping up in the past year or so on the unconscious side of life. It has been my contention that for the past decade or two, the human collective has been living the unconscious from the inside out. When such a shift occurs (if it does) the notion of the unconscious itself becomes hidden or dismissed as relevant.

I think that the election of Barack Obama signalled a collective return to a more conscious track of awareness and expression. I'm thinking that the notion of an unconscious side of life, in such a circumstance, would become more interesting to mass consciousness, and thus enjoy more coverage by the media, which in many ways acts like an instrument that picks up on the collective thought and emotion and, in a sense, puts it into words.

I'm working on a longer piece related to these ideas.


Next Big Thing - Literary Scholars Turn to Science - NYTimes.com

Literature, like other fields including history and political science, has looked to the technology of brain imaging and the principles of evolution to provide empirical evidence for unprovable theories.

Interest has bloomed during the last decade. Elaine Scarry, a professor of English at Harvard, has since 2000 hosted a seminar on cognitive theory and the arts. Over the years participants have explored, for example, how the visual cortex works in order to explain why Impressionist paintings give the appearance of shimmering. In a few weeks Stephen Kosslyn, a psychologist at Harvard, will give a talk about mental imagery and memory, both of which are invoked while reading.

Ms. Zunshine said that in 1999 she and about 10 others won approval from the Modern Language Association to form a discussion group on cognitive approaches to literature. Last year their members numbered more than 1,200. Unlike Mr. Gottschall, however, Ms. Zunshine sees cognitive approaches as building on other literary theories rather than replacing them.

via www.nytimes.com

Cathie's notes: I got this link today from the PsyArt list. Norm Holland and other PsyArt-ers have had neuroscience on their radar for awhile. Check out Norm's book Literature and the Brain.

I've also been following the development of the field of neuro-psychoanalysis since I read Allan Schore's huge and copiously referenced book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, at the most recent "turn of the century." Given the explosion of research at the intersection of science, psyche and culture over the past decade, it does seem like a very long time ago that I was introduced to Schore's work.

In the last sentence of the excerpt above, the article notes Ms. Zunshine's idea that cognitive approaches build on rather than supplant other literary theories. This has been an interesting part of the journey for me into neuro-psychoanalysis: how do I integrate the science without losing the soul, which I see as what's being analyzed in psychoanalysis.

Patricia Cohen's article is well worth the read.