Friday, July 25, 2008

More Psychology Books

Here is another collection of cool psychology books I found interesting. Follow the links to see the whole review of each book.

First up, from The Wall Street Journal:
The Synapse and the Soul
July 8, 2008; Page A19

[The Synapse and the Soul]

By Michael S. Gazzaniga
(Ecco, 447 pages, $27.50)

What is it that makes us human – that sets us apart from other animals? What drives us to act altruistically? Why do we gossip and flirt and empathize? How do we judge beauty, and why are we impelled to create works of art?

In "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique," Michael S. Gazzaniga argues that modern neuroscience is on the brink of offering us real answers to these questions – answers more reliable and truthful than those that centuries of philosophy, religious tradition and literature have offered. Thanks to advances in brain research, Mr. Gazzaniga believes, "things have changed." We can at last set aside vague speculation and get down to facts. We can finally understand love and courtship and the roots of morality. We can put an end to the "long windbag discussions about art." If we want answers, science has them.

What science tells us is simple and, by now, familiar: Who we are today is the result of eons of evolutionary adaptations serving our basic biological impulses to survive and reproduce. Evolutionary pressures shaped our bodies and minds as well as our social behaviors. There is almost nothing in human social life, Mr. Gazzaniga says, that cannot ultimately be explained by recourse to evolution.

Read the rest of the review.

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The next few reviews are all from Metapsychology Online Reviews.

Traumatizing Theory: The Cultural Politics of Affect in and Beyond Psychoanalysis
by Karyn Ball
Other Press, 2007
Review by Petar Jevremovic
This interesting book could be seen as a collection of eleven really insightful (and of course, potentially enriching) essays that are mainly concerned with the different possible aspects of the trauma. It is not just another theory of trauma. It is also far from being jusst a collection of various theories of the trauma. It is more a collection of eleventh different theoretical attempts to theorize trauma. To make it discursively present. To make it (paradoxically) theoretic. Grounded in history, philosophy and (broadly speaking) culture, this book embraces important philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Levinas s well as theorist such as Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard and Deleuze. In this book there is also a lot of psychoanalysis, and even politics.

It a is well known fact -- therapists know it quite well -- that it is almost absolutely impossible to think, write and talk about traumatizing causes and effect of trauma. There is something deeply mute, alogic and inhuman in the bottom of traumatic experience. There is something essentially atheoretic within the traumatic experience. There is no place for metaphor within the traumatized subjectivity. Traumatic core of traumatic experience is beyond any symbolization and ideation (or we could say mentalization). Trauma is something ontologically unmediated. One of its logical consequences is (just mentioned) trauma’s atheoretic essence. There is no place for any symbol within it. There is no functional ideation. The traumatized subject is deeply frozen in unbearable reality (reality that is not symbolized and not mentalized) of his primitive mental state.
Read the rest of this review.

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Dialogues on Difference: Studies of Diversity in the Therapeutic Relationship

by J. Christopher Muran (Editor)
American Psychological Association, 2006
Review by Anca Gheaus, Ph.D.
Psychotherapy is often perceived as diminishing our capacity to criticize the world and uncover its many forms of injustice. After all, its goal is to empower clients to deal better with life's challenges, to pursue their dreams more efficiently, or, at very least, to accept and to cope with the world while leading lives as functional as possible. As Freud put it a long time ago, psychotherapy is supposed to enable people to love and work. An obvious hindrance to this project is blaming one's problems on the external world -- with its unfair institutions, cruel traditions and mischievous or evil others. Indeed, in order to (re)gain due power over one's life, one has to take responsibility for what happens to oneself as well as for how one is responding to external events. To focus on changing one's own self, one might need to take away one's energy and attention from what is wrong with, and what should change in, the world.

These truths, however, do not take away the fact that we are living in an unjust world, shaped by various legacies of marginalizing, oppressing and discriminating against many groups of people. Gender, race, class, sexual identity, age, bodily and intellectual ability as well as being a migrant are embedded in one's identity as well as in the way in which we live our psychological impasses. To complicate things further, these identities often intersect and many individuals have to live with multiple, and complexly interacting, histories of social exclusion. For a long time, psychoanalysis as well as other schools of psychotherapy have obscured or, even worse, mystified issues related to social exclusion and turned a blind eye to the many injustices involved in defining "normality" and "functionality". One of the best known examples is the long history of pathologizing and medicalizing homosexuality within psychoanalysis. The book edited by Cristopher Muran provides both an illustration of the recent turn, within psychotherapy, towards integrating and engaging previously ignored questions concerning difference, and an invitation to reflect on how this turn has affected both psychological theory and practice.

Read the rest of this review.

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Polarities of Experiences: Relatedness and Self-definition in Personality Development, Psychopathology and the Therapeutic Process
by Sidney J. Blatt
American Psychological Association, 2008
Review by Edmund O'Toole
Sidney Blatt has had a distinguished career as a psychologist and he has written extensively on personality and psychopathology, receiving many accolades for his work. He has contributed enormously to psychiatry and psychology, both clinically and academically. Polarities of Experience is a scholarly work examining the development of personality through self-definition and relatedness. Blatt offers self-definition and relatedness as fundamental tensions in the development of personality and considers this approach to have enormous relevance for psychopathology; this is supported by clinical and empirical research. Throughout the book Blatt offers a number of diagrams and scales to effectively elucidate the theoretical understanding of this approach.

In terms of the philosophy of psychology, many of the issues he presents are also essential for an understanding of intersubjectivity as a subject. Philosophers have traditionally tended to deal with intersubjective experiences but Blatt manages to consolidate theoretical and empirical methodology in a creditable way that reinvigorates the need to address the issues practically. Redefining psychopathology in terms of the fundamental dimensions may prove beneficial in the amelioration of many of the problems and criticisms which have beset the contemporary psychiatric approach. Indeed, empirical evidence has been gathering for quite some time highlighting the need to discriminate depression and other personality disorders along anaclitic and introjective dimensions. From his perspective most personality theories can be divided along the lines of an emphasis on separatedness or relatedness. Maladaptive features may arise at any development level of personality stemming from an over emphasis upon either dimension which threatens personality integration.
Read the rest of this review.

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Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality
by B. Alan Wallace and Brian Hodel
Shambhala, 2008
Review by Natalie F. Banner
In Embracing Mind Wallace and Hodel attempt to reconcile the typically Western approach to a science of the mind with Buddhist contemplative methods of investigating consciousness. They are critical of the apparent predominance of scientific materialism but aim to draw significant parallels between the theorizing of contemporary physics and Buddhist metaphysics, arguing that there is much to be gained from a fruitful dialogue between the two. The book assumes little or no previous knowledge either of the history and philosophy of science or of contemplative approaches to the mind and world and as such is well targeted towards a lay audience with an interest in gaining a tentative insight into the potential crossover between Eastern and Western empirical traditions.

The book is divided into three parts, of which this review will focus on the first two. This is because the latter part is an introduction for the curious to three meditative Buddhist practices; effectively the tools of a Buddhist science of contemplation. As a description of the methods of Buddhist meditation this section is not amenable to critical analysis by a reviewer ignorant of such traditions.

The main bulk of the book is devoted to the argument that a Western approach to science in general and a science of the mind more specifically has ignored the role of the mind itself. In focusing outwards on what is present or real in the external world, we have apparently overlooked the vital role of introspection in understanding not only our own minds but the universe of which we are part. The text is structured so as to guide the reader from the unquestioning acceptance of a powerful lay conception of science through to an acknowledgement of the errors and shortcomings of this perspective, before introducing a plausible rhetoric about the advantages a Buddhist metaphysics can provide. It is not intended as an invective against science or scientific practice but rather an exploration of the limitations certain deep-rooted assumptions have for understanding and investigating the mind and world, and a gesture towards possible collaboration between science and spiritual traditions.
Read the rest of this review.

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Escape Your Own Prison: Why We Need Spirituality and Psychology to be Truly Free
by Bernard Starr
Rowman & Littlefield, 2007
Review by Melanie Mineo
In Escape Your Own Prison: Why We Need Spirituality and Psychology To Be Truly Free, Bernard Starr's purpose is twofold: first, translate Eastern spiritual teachings "into basic principles of consciousness, reality, and self that could be fully expressed and practiced in a Western mode" (xi); and second, develop, articulate, and advance a new omni consciousness psychology based on these principles.

Central to Starr's effort is the psycho-spiritual reclamation of our 'genuine self', a form of consciousness that "we all own but abandon early in life" (xi), albeit unintentionally. Starr reports that this disaffection of our genuine, or real self begins with the onset of 'psychological birth' (i.e. with the separation-individuation developmental process). The newborn 'I/me' emerges from the womb of symbiotic consciousness, and so begins the seeding of the 'ego self'. As we grow and mature, this 'ego self' has the propensity to completely eclipse the real self--'the original face we are born with'--through a heaping on of socio-cultural accretions that, though necessary for survival and the successful navigation of the commons of our shared social world, can be alienating, and generally deleterious to our continued flourishing, if allowed to trap and imprison us.

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