Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Books - Consciousness, Analytic Philosophy, Emotions, and More

Lots of interesting new books to talk about today -- several have been added to my Amazon Wish List. I'm only quoting brief sections of the reviews, so follow the links in my introductions (or the embedded Amazon links) to read more.

First up today, the difficulties in talking about consciousness, even when is supposed to be an expert.
Review - Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and the Science of Being Human
by Simeon Locke
Praeger, 2007
Review by Brian J. McVeigh
May 6th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 19)

In English "consciousness" has several very different meanings: (1) the neuro-physiological state of not sleeping; (2) the neuro-physiological state of not being in a coma; (3) cognition; and (4) more specific definitions of (4), such as perception, what one's inner self introspects upon, self-awareness, etc. (to be thorough, one more definition might be mentioned: the mutual self-awareness of a collectivity, e.g., national consciousness, class consciousness). The problem with the word "consciousness," then, is just not its ambiguity, but rather its promiscuousness: it is pressed into service to describe neurological processes and subjective experiences that are strikingly disparate. Any work with "consciousness" in the title requires judicious attention to its usage.

Simeon Locke, a neurologist, tackles consciousness by dividing the book under review into 17 chapters, many of which consist of only several pages (the book itself, including the index, is 156 pages long). The very first sentence of this book notes that in any discussion of consciousness, we are confronted with three problems: (1) how to define it; (2) how to measure it; and (3) how to explain it. As for the first issue, Locke postulates "three levels of definition" that are "reflective of three states of consciousness." The first level is one of potential, ability, and readiness. This is intransitive consciousness, since it requires no object and can be measured physiologically and electrographically. The second level concerns registration of input and is transitive (i.e., conscious of something). Locke describes the final level in various ways: consciousness of consciousness, self-consciousness, conscious-awareness, and awareness of awareness.

Using these three levels, the author conflates and thereby confuses many different processes and phenomena. He seems to view consciousness as meaning wakefulness, perception, conception, and the subjective sense of self-reflexivity and self-existence. That is quite a conceptual burden for only one word to bear. The result? The book is peppered through and through with phrases such as "awareness without awareness"; "consciousness without awareness"; "awareness of which the organism is unaware" (called "fore-consciousness"; p. 7); "awareness can be conscious or can be unconscious" (p. 67); "unconscious awareness" (p. 88); "cortical consciousness" (p. 115); "unawareness of unawareness" (p. 89); "awareness without awareness of awareness—or consciousness of without consciousness of consciousness of" (sic; p. 122). We also learn that we can be consciousness but not aware, and a "denial of absent conscious awareness becomes an agnosia for an agnosia, or an absent awareness of an absent awareness—in other words, absent self-consciousness" (p. 106).

Clearly, the reviewer did not like some elements of this book a whole lot. Still, he seems to recommend it (sort of) at the end -- with the caveat that we need to really think hard about how we use the terms in this discussion.

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Net up, a look at the mind/body issue in psychology -- a much needed critique of cognitive-based psychologies.
Review - The Mind, the Body and the World
Psychology After Cognitivism?
by Brendan Wallace
Imprint Academic, 2007
Review by Richard G T Gipps, Ph.D.
Apr 29th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 18)

This collection of essays has been put together with the aim of considering cognitivism (p. 1): 'what it is (was?), how it originated, and whether or not it is now desirable to look for ways to go beyond it'. The authors are philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists and they write within these genres. Their contributions are divided into three sections on theory, language, and practice respectively, sections framed by an introduction and conclusion from the editors.

The result is something of a curate's egg. Whilst some authors write with style, address well-defined issues, introduce their technical vocabulary with clear definitions, and remain pertinent to the critical investigation of cognitivism, others do not. Different meanings of key terms, and radically different valuations of key concepts - 'representation', 'information processing', 'cognition', 'cognitivism' – are presented throughout the desultory text. The editors miss the opportunity to hold the authors to common standards or meaning, to request that they address one another's work, or to map out the upshot of their diverse contributions in the conclusion (which instead simply recapitulates the preface). Further, some of the contributors also made frequent use of irritating rhetorical devices akin to what a friend of mine called Hume's 'tis obvious' indicator: using a phrase like ''tis obvious' or 'of course' or 'as X noted' when 'tis obvious that what is really wanted is not an observation but an argument for something that is, well, not at all obvious.

A few of these chapters will now be considered in a little more detail, and the core concerns will be noted and numbered. Brendan Wallace's introduction traces a historical narrative of the antecedents of cognitivism, moving forward from Plato to Descartes to Shannon, Turing and Chomsky. The principle metaphysical confusion unearthed by Wallace is (1) the belief that the normativity of everyday judgment (for example my holding, correctly or incorrectly, that John's behavior is pious) is a function of my knowledge (perhaps tacit) of rules or principles of a sort which could be appealed to in a justification of the judgment. This is traced to Plato (reporting Socrates), as is (2) the metaphysical propensity to treat non-material phenomena (numbers, mentality) as if they enjoy the categorical character of entities – thereby creating either dualistic ontologies of the human being as made up not only of material, but also of mental, stuff, or materialist ontologies in which it is assumed that putative 'mind stuff' is after all 'identical' with the physical stuff of the brain.

Wallace goes on to note the significance of two ideas he traces to Descartes: (3) the idea of mind as an inner domain sharply distinguished from a world which is 'external' to it, and (4) the idea that the mind or brain relates to this 'external' world by representing it. As with his discussion of Plato, the principle problems with Wallace's argument are: his lack of textual evidence for his readings, his (these days all-too-prevalent) use of terms like 'Cartesian' in a catch-all and historically un-nuanced manner, and most importantly, his apparent view that historical precedent in philosophical matters can without further textual and historical evidence be considered evidence of intellectual influence.
Whether the reviewer likes this book or not (he thinks the book is uneven), it's a needed addition to the dialogue. Research continues to show how much our consciousness is embedded (bodily-based) and not merely rational -- therapies need to reflect that reality.

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The next book is probably only of interest to psychologists, as it deals with emotion regulation, a topic not common in consumer psychology books.
Review - Emotion Regulation
Conceptual and Clinical Issues
by Ad Vingerhoets, Ivan Nyklíček and Johan Denollet (Editors)
Springer, 2008
Review by Marion Ledwig, Ph.D.
Apr 29th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 18)

>The editors of this state of the art volume on emotion regulation with its fifteen excellent chapters are Associate Professor Ad Vingerhoets, Professor Johan Denollet, and Assistant Professor Ivan Nyklíček. All three of them work in the Department of Medical Psychology at Tilburg University. This book represents the key contributions of a conference on emotions, emotion regulation and health research held at Tilburg University in 2003. It is divided into two parts -- part I dealing with conceptual and neurobiological issues comprising chapters one to seven and part II covering clinical perspectives and interventions in chapters eight to fifteen. The book itself is not aimed at students or at newcomers to the field, but it is mainly directed at researchers, clinicians, and graduate students coming from such diverse fields as psychiatry, psychosomatics, behavioral medicine, health psychology, clinical psychology, and medical psychology, who have already considerable insight into the subject matter. Yet, it is written in such a way that it is understandable by everyone.

The book covers such diverse areas as coping, crying, emotional intelligence, depression, anxiety disorders, trauma-related affect dysregulation, the connection between emotions and eating disorders, emotional competence and health in children, the connection between expressive writing and emotional health, and alexithymia. Alexithymia can be characterized by a "reduced ability to differentiate between emotional feelings", a "reduced ability to fantasize", a "reduced ability to verbalize emotional experiences", "a reduced ability to experience emotional feelings", and "a reduced tendency to reflect upon emotions", this volume p. 27). Although so many different areas are covered, the contributions to this volume go considerably into depth and detail, so that one gains considerable knowledge and is not left with the feeling that one hasn't got a thorough overview with regard to these cutting edge research topics.
Too bad this one costs arm, a leg, and possibly a kidney. It looks like a great book that would be useful for any therapist.

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Briefly noted:
Predictably Irrational -- "But Ariely's point goes far beyond our irrationality -- it is the predictability of our processing flaws that interests him. It isn't that we sometimes make the wrong decision, but that we make it repeatedly, and in the same way, as a response to certain conditions and mental processes. Early on in the book, Ariely tells us about Gregg Rapp, a restaurant consultant who helps establishments figure out their menu pricing. "One thing Rapp has learned," writes Ariely, "is that high-priced entrees on the menu boost revenues for the restaurant -- even if no one buys them. Why? Because even though people generally won't buy the most expensive dish on the menu, they will order the second most expensive dish. Thus, by creating an expensive dish, a restaurateur can lure customers into ordering the second most expensive dish (which can be cleverly engineered to deliver a high profit margin)."

The implication here is that our irrationality is not only predictable, it's actually being predicted. Restaurants know that we anchor our frugality by deciding the priciest item on the menu is too expensive. Electronic stores know that we're likely to go for the marked-down television whose price places it in the middle of the pack. Magazines know we'll go for whichever subscription rate looks like the best deal as compared to the other subscription rates on the page. The problem, then, is not our predictable irrationality, but the world's asymmetric rationality. They know how we're going to screw up, and how to take advantage of it. The only defense is being similarly aware of our flaws and failings, and trying to take into account not only how they affect our judgment, but how they're being used against us. Ariely's book is an excellent place to start."

* * *

This is a bit from the first chapter of this book.
What is Analytic Philosophy? -- "Analytic philosophy is roughly 100 years old, and it is now the dominant force within Western philosophy (Searle 1996: 1–2). It has prevailed for several decades in the English-speaking world; it is in the ascendancy in Germanophone countries; and it has made significant inroads even in places once regarded as hostile, such as France. At the same time there are continuous rumours about the ‘demise’ of analytic philosophy, about it being ‘defunct’ or at least in ‘crisis’, and complaints about its ‘widely perceived ills’ (Leiter 2004a: 1, 12; Biletzki and Matar 1998: xi; Preston 2004: 445–7, 463–4). A sense of crisis is palpable not just among commentators but also among some leading protagonists. Von Wright noted that in the course of graduating from a revolutionary movement into the philosophical establishment, analytic philosophy has also become so diverse as to lose its distinctive profile (1993: 25). This view is echoed by countless observers who believe that the customary distinction between analytic and continental philosophy has become obsolete (e.g. Glendinning 2002; May 2002; Bieri 2005).

Loss of identity is one general worry, loss of vigour another. Putnam has repeatedly called for ‘a revitalization, a renewal’ of analytic philosophy (e.g. 1992: ix). And Hintikka has maintained that ‘the survival of analytic philosophy’ depends on a fresh start based on exploiting the constructive possibilities in Wittgenstein’s later work (1998). Searle is one of analytic philosophy’s most stalwart and uncompromising advocates. Yet even he concedes that in changing from ‘a revolutionary minority point of view’ into ‘the conventional, establishment point of view’ analytic philosophy ‘has lost some of its vitality’ (1996: 23). Small wonder that those more sceptical about analytic philosophy have for some time now been anticipating its replacement by a ‘post-analytic philosophy’ (Rajchman and West 1985; Baggini and Stangroom 2002: 6; Mulhall 2002).

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Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience: Confronting Global Realities and Rethinking Child Development -- "The haunting images of children huddled in refugee camps and exposed to violence in war zones appear on millions of television screens and in newspapers everyday worldwide. Children continue to be burdened by the emotional and physical scars of violent homes and communities. In his new book, Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience: Confronting Global Realities and Rethinking Child Development, author James Garbarino, PhD, blends insights from the fields of psychology and philosophy with his own wide-ranging, first-hand experiences around the world, taking readers on a personalized journey into the dark side of human experience as it is lived by children.

Throughout the book, Dr. Garbarino intertwines a discussion of children's material and spiritual needs with an examination of the clinical knowledge and experiential wisdom required to understand and meet these complex developmental needs. Using anecdotal observations, empirical evidence, and an ecological perspective, he reveals a path to ensuring the fundamental human rights of all children: the right to safety, equality, economic parity, and a meaningful life.

"If we are to succeed in making a lasting, positive change in the lives of children, we must be willing to rethink the concepts of development, trauma, and resilience," says Dr. Garbarino. "My book brings to light the struggle that many of our children face, and can be an important tool for mental health professionals, educators, researchers, social workers, child advocates, and policymakers. Really, anyone who takes an interest in the well-being and future of the world's children can benefit from this book."

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