Saturday, June 23, 2012

Changesurfer Radio - Buddhism and Transhumanism: The Technologies of Self-Perfection

This is an interesting talk for those interested in transhumanism and its intersection with Buddhist ideas (me thinks the Buddha would not favor transhumanist interventions in our quest for self-perfection, but that's likely my personal bias). It's from 2004, but it has not lost it's relevance.

The book in the image that Dr. Hughes speaks about is Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience by Stephen Hall - and it's actually quite interesting.

Buddhism and Transhumanism: The Technologies of Self-Perfection

Dr. J.

Changesurfer Radio

Posted: Jun 15, 2012

James Hughes, IEET Executive Director, speaking at the August 5, 2004 Faith, Transhumanism and Hope Symposium, Trinity College, University of Toronto. (and yes, seven years later I’m still working on that book…)

Debunking the Myth of Intuition - Daniel Kahneman Interviewed in Spiegel

I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Kahneman's most recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow - in which he explains the two cognitive systems that shape the way we think: "System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical." Great book, and this is an excellent interview in which you can get a taste of his ideas.

SPIEGEL Interview with Daniel Kahneman

Debunking the Myth of Intuition

Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition.

SPIEGEL: Professor Kahneman, you've spent your entire professional life studying the snares in which human thought can become entrapped. For example, in your book, you describe how easy it is to increase a person's willingness to contribute money to the coffee fund.
Kahneman: You just have to make sure that the right picture is hanging above the cash box. If a pair of eyes is looking back at them from the wall, people will contribute twice as much as they do when the picture shows flowers. People who feel observed behave more morally.
SPIEGEL: And this also works if we don't even pay attention to the photo on the wall?
Kahneman: All the more if you don't notice it. The phenomenon is called "priming": We aren't aware that we have perceived a certain stimulus, but it can be proved that we still respond to it.
SPIEGEL: People in advertising will like that.
Kahneman: Of course, that's where priming is in widespread use. An attractive woman in an ad automatically directs your attention to the name of the product. When you encounter it in the shop later on, it will already seem familiar to you.
SPIEGEL: Isn't erotic association much more important?
Kahneman: Of course, there are other mechanisms of advertising that also act on the subconscious. But the main effect is simply that a name we see in a shop looks familiar -- because, when it looks familiar, it looks good. There is a very good evolutionary explanation for that: If I encounter something many times, and it hasn't eaten me yet, then I'm safe. Familiarity is a safety signal. That's why we like what we know.
SPIEGEL: Can these insights also be applied to politics?
Kahneman: Of course. For example, one can show that anything that reminds people of their mortality makes them more obedient.
SPIEGEL: Like the cross above the altar?
Kahneman: Yes, there is even a theory that deals with the fear of death; it's called "Terror Management Theory." You can influence people by just reminding them of something -- it can be death; it can be money. Any symbol that is associated with money, even if it's just dollar signs as a screensaver, ensures that people will pay more attention to their own interests than they will want to help others.
SPIEGEL: It seems that priming works primarily in favor of the political right.
Kahneman: It would work just as well the other way around. There's an experiment, for example, in which people were playing a game but, in the first group, it was called a "competition game" and, in the other group, it was called a "community game." And, in the latter case, people acted less selfish even though it's exactly the same game.
SPIEGEL: Is there no way to escape those powerful suggestions?
Kahneman: It isn't easy, at any rate. The problem is that we usually don't notice these influences.
SPIEGEL: That's pretty unsettling.
Kahneman: Well, it can't be too bad because we live with that all the time. That's just the way it is.
SPIEGEL: But we want to know what our decisions are based on!
Kahneman: I'm not even sure I want that, to be honest, because it would be too complicated. I don't think we really are very keen to be self-controlled all the time.
SPIEGEL: You say in your book that, in such cases, we leave the decisions up to "System 1."
Kahneman: Yes. Psychologists distinguish between a "System 1" and a "System 2," which control our actions. System 1 represents what we may call intuition. It tirelessly provides us with quick impressions, intentions and feelings. System 2, on the other hand, represents reason, self-control and intelligence.
SPIEGEL: In other words, our conscious self?
Kahneman: Yes. System 2 is the one who believes that it's making the decisions. But in reality, most of the time, System 1 is acting on its own, without your being aware of it. It's System 1 that decides whether you like a person, which thoughts or associations come to mind, and what you feel about something. All of this happens automatically. You can't help it, and yet you often base your decisions on it.
SPIEGEL: And this System 1 never sleeps?
Kahneman: That's right. System 1 can never be switched off. You can't stop it from doing its thing. System 2, on the other hand, is lazy and only becomes active when necessary. Slow, deliberate thinking is hard work. It consumes chemical resources in the brain, and people usually don't like that. It's accompanied by physical arousal, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, activated sweat glands and dilated pupils …
SPIEGEL: … which you discovered as a useful tool for your research.
Kahneman: Yes. The pupil normally fluctuates in size, mostly depending on incoming light. But, when you give someone a mental task, it widens and remains surprisingly stable -- a strange circumstance that proved to be very useful to us. In fact, the pupils reflect the extent of mental effort in an incredibly precise way. I have never done any work in which the measurement is so precise.

The Pitfalls of Intuition
SPIEGEL: By studying human intuition, or System 1, you seem to have learned to distrust this intuition…
Kahneman: I wouldn't put it that way. Our intuition works very well for the most part. But it's interesting to examine where it fails.
SPIEGEL: Experts, for example, have gathered a lot of experience in their respective fields and, for this reason, are convinced that they have very good intuition about their particular field. Shouldn't we be able to rely on that?
Kahneman: It depends on the field. In the stock market, for example, the predictions of experts are practically worthless. Anyone who wants to invest money is better off choosing index funds, which simply follow a certain stock index without any intervention of gifted stock pickers. Year after year, they perform better than 80 percent of the investment funds managed by highly paid specialists. Nevertheless, intuitively, we want to invest our money with somebody who appears to understand, even though the statistical evidence is plain that they are very unlikely to do so. Of course, there are fields in which expertise exists. This depends on two things: whether the domain is inherently predictable, and whether the expert has had sufficient experience to learn the regularities. The world of stock is inherently unpredictable.
SPIEGEL: So, all the experts' complex analyses and calculations are worthless and no better than simply betting on the index?
Kahneman: The experts are even worse because they're expensive.
SPIEGEL: So it's all about selling snake oil?
Kahneman: It's more complicated because the person who sells snake oil knows that there is no magic, whereas many people on Wall Street seem to believe that they understand. That's the illusion of validity …
SPIEGEL: … which earns them millions in bonuses.
Kahneman: There is no need to be cynical. You may be cynical about the whole banking system, but not about the individuals. Many believe they are building real value.
SPIEGEL: How did Wall Street respond to your book?
Kahneman: Oh, some people were really mad; others were quite interested and positive. It was on Wall Street, I heard, that somebody gave a thousand copies of my book to investors. But, of course, many professionals still don't believe me. Or, to be more precise, they believe me in general, but they don't apply that to themselves. They feel that they can trust their own judgment, and they feel comfortable with that.
SPIEGEL: Do we generally put too much faith in experts?
Kahneman: I'm not claiming that the predictions of experts are fundamentally worthless. … Take doctors. They're often excellent when it comes to short-term predictions. But they're often quite poor in predicting how a patient will be doing in five or 10 years. And they don't know the difference. That's the key.
SPIEGEL: How can you tell whether a prediction is any good?
Kahneman: In the first place, be suspicious if a prediction is presented with great confidence. That says nothing about its accuracy. You should ask whether the environment is sufficiently regular and predictable, and whether the individual has had enough experience to learn this environment.
SPIEGEL: According to your most recent book "Thinking, Fast and Slow," when in doubt, it's better to trust a computer algorithm.
Kahneman: When it comes to predictions, algorithms often just happen to be better.
SPIEGEL: Why should that be the case?
Kahneman: Well, the results are unequivocal. Hundreds of studies have shown that wherever we have sufficient information to build a model, it will perform better than most people.
SPIEGEL: How can a simple procedure be superior to human reasoning?
Kahneman: Well, even models are sometimes useless. A computer will be just as unreliable at predicting stock prices as a human being. And the political situation in 20 years is probably completely unpredictable; the world is simply too complex. However, computer models are good where things are relatively regular. Human judgment is easily influenced by circumstances and moods: Give a radiologist the same X-ray twice, and he'll often interpret it differently the second time. But with an algorithm, if you give it the same information twice, it will turn out the same answer twice.
SPIEGEL: IBM has developed a supercomputer called "Watson" that is supposed to quickly supply medical diagnoses by analyzing the description of symptoms and the patient's history. Is this the medicine of the future?
Kahneman: I think so. There's no magic involved.
SPIEGEL: Some say the next blockbuster movie could be predicted by an algorithm, as well.
Kahneman: Why not? The alternative is simply not very convincing. The entertainment industry wastes a lot of money on films that don't work. It shouldn't be that difficult to develop a program that at least doesn't do any worse than the intuitive judgments that govern these decisions now.
SPIEGEL: But most people tend to be hostile to formulas and cold calculations, and many patients prefer a doctor who treats them holistically.
Kahneman: It's a question of what you're used to. So-called "evidence-based medicine" is making progress, and it's based on clear, replicable algorithms. Or take the oil industry. There are strict procedures on deciding whether or not to drill in a specific location. They have a set of questions that they ask, and then they measure. Relying on intuition would be far too error-prone. After all, the risks are high, and there is a lot of money at stake.

Memory, Trauma and Time
SPIEGEL: In the second part of your book, you deal with the question of why we can't even rely on our memory. You claim, for example, that when a person has suffered, in retrospect, it doesn't matter to him or her how long the pain lasted. That sounds rather absurd.
Kahneman: The findings are clear. We demonstrated this in patients who had had a colonoscopy. In half of the cases, we asked the doctors to wait a while after having finished before removing the tube from the patients. In other words, for them, the unpleasant procedure was prolonged. And that, it turns out, greatly improved the scores that people gave to the experience. The patients clearly based their global assessments of the procedure on how it ended, and they perceived the gradual subsidence of pain as being much more pleasant. Many other experiments arrived at similar results. In some cases, subjects had to tolerate noise and, in others, they had to hold their hand in cold water. The issue is not memory: People know how long they had to endure the pain, so their memory is correct. But their evaluation of the experience is unaffected by duration.
SPIEGEL: How can that be?
Kahneman: Every experience is given a score in your memory: good, bad, worse. And that's completely independent of its duration. Only two things matter here: the peaks -- that is, the worst or best moments -- and the outcome. How did it end up?
SPIEGEL: So, after painful procedures, should doctors simply ask whether they might subject the patient to a few more minutes of moderate torture?
Kahneman: No. Because if a doctor says it's over, the episode is finished for the patient -- and that's the point at which a value is assigned. After that, a new episode begins, and no one would ask for additional pain in advance. … But it would probably be useful, mainly for patients who have suffered a trauma. My advice would be: Don't remove them from the site of the trauma to treat them elsewhere. You should try to make them feel better in the same place so that the memory of what happened to them will not be as bad.
SPIEGEL: Because this changes the perception they associate with that location?
Kahneman: No, because moving away from the location is perceived as the end of an episode, and the evaluation made at that time will be stored in memory.
SPIEGEL: But that doesn't prevent us from living through every bad experience again and again, as in a movie.
Kahneman: That certainly is the case. But what you evaluate in the end, or what you will fear in the future, that just happens to be this representative, especially intense moment, and not the entire episode. It's similar with animals, by the way.
SPIEGEL: How can you know that?
Kahneman: It's easy to study -- in rats, for example -- by giving them light electric shocks. You can vary both the intensity and the duration of the shocks. And you can measure how afraid they are. You'll see that it depends on the intensity, not on the duration.
SPIEGEL: In other words, our memory also informs what we expect from the future?
Kahneman: Exactly. This can be demonstrated with a small thought experiment I sometimes ask people to do: Suppose you go on a vacation and, at the end, you get an amnesia drug. Of course, all your photographs are also destroyed. Would you take the same trip again? Or would you choose one that's less challenging? Some people say they wouldn't even bother to go on the vacation. In other words, they prefer to forsake the pleasure, which, of course, would remain completely unaffected by its being erased afterwards. So they are clearly not doing it for the experience; they are doing it entirely for the memory of it.
SPIEGEL: Why is it so important for us to imagine our lives as a collection of stories?
Kahneman: Because that's all we keep from life. It's going by, and you are left with stories. That's why people exaggerate the importance of memories.
SPIEGEL: But, if I'm planning a vacation, I wouldn't accept being terribly bored most of the time just for the sake of a few highlights.
Kahneman: Of course not. And if I ask you whether you would rather tolerate pain for three minutes or five minutes, the answer is just as clear. But, in retrospect, the vacation that left you with the best memories wins out. How long you've been bored between the memorable moments is no longer relevant.
SPIEGEL: It was rather exhausting and difficult for you to write the book. You must remember how long it lasted, that is, the duration.
Kahneman: That's true. I could very quickly go through a film of four years of pain, but mostly I remember moments -- and most of them are bad.
SPIEGEL: Do you re-evaluate this period of time now that the book has become such a big success?
Kahneman: There is much less pain associated with the memory now. In my mind, if the book had done less well, I would feel even worse about what happened to me during those years. So, clearly, what happens later changes the story.
SPIEGEL: Would we even start such a challenging project a second time if it weren't for the partial amnesia?
Kahneman: Well, you don't know how much pain you are going to have. But, later on, we remember the great relief we felt after completing the task. … In childbirth, for example, it's all about the story that ends well, and that offsets what may have been horrible until then. It's as if we were divided into an experiencing self, which has to endure the strain, and a remembering self, which doesn't care at all.

Happiness and the Remembering Self
SPIEGEL: So, do we have our remembering self to thank for the fact that we courageously go out in search of adventure and memorable moments in life? Would we otherwise simply be content with long, dull periods of moderate well-being?
Kahneman: Yes, our lives are governed by the remembering self. Even when we're planning something, we anticipate the memories we expect to get out of it. The experiencing self, which may have to put up with a lot in return, has no say in the matter. Besides, what the experiencing self has enjoyed can be completely devaluated in retrospect. Someone once told me that he had recently listened to a wonderful symphony but, unfortunately, at the end, there was a terrible screeching sound on the record. He said that ruined the whole experience. But, of course, the only thing it ruined was the memory of the experience, (which was) still a happy experience.
SPIEGEL: Does that also apply to an entire life? Is it all about the end?
Kahneman: Yes, in a sense. We can't help but look at life retrospectively, and we want it to look good in retrospect. There was once an experiment in which the subjects were supposed to evaluate the life of a fictitious woman who had had a very happy life but then died in an accident. Astonishingly, whether she died at 30 or 60 had no effect whatsoever on their evaluation. But when the subjects were told that the woman had had 30 happy years followed by five that were no so happy, the scores got worse. Or imagine a scientist who has made an important discovery, a happy and successful man, and after his death it turns out that the discovery was false and isn't worth anything. It spoils the entire story even though absolutely nothing about the scientist's life has changed. But now you feel pity for him.
SPIEGEL: Would you go so far as to say that it's the remembering self that makes us human? Animals probably don't collect memorable moments.
Kahneman: Well, I actually think that animals do because they must score experiences as worth repeating and others as worth avoiding. And, from the evolutionary point of view, that makes sense. The duration of an experience is simply not relevant. What matters for survival is whether it ended well and how bad it got. This also applies to animals.
SPIEGEL: In your view, the remembering self is very dominant -- to the point that it seems to have practically enslaved the experiencing self.
Kahneman: In fact, I call it a tyranny. It can vary in intensity, depending on culture. Buddhists, for example, emphasize the experience, the present; they try to live in the moment. They put little weight on memories and retrospective evaluation. For devout Christians, it's completely different. For them, the only thing that matters is whether they go to heaven at the end.
SPIEGEL: People reading your book will sympathize with the poor experiencing self, which essentially has to do our living.
Kahneman: That was my intention. Readers should realize that there is another way of looking at it. I would say it's comforting for me because both my wife and I complain all the time that our memories are terrible. We don't really go to the theater to remember what we've seen later on, but to enjoy the performance. Other people live through life collecting experiences like you collect pictures.
SPIEGEL: In other words, they think that only a wealth of memories can make them happy.
Kahneman: Here we have to distinguish between satisfaction and happiness. When you ask people whether they're happy, their answers can differ widely depending on their current mood. Let me give you an example: For years, the Gallup institute has been polling about a thousand Americans on various issues, including their well-being. One of the most surprising findings is that, when the first question is about politics, people immediately consider themselves less happy.
SPIEGEL: True calamities, on the other hand, seem to have surprisingly little effect on well-being. Paraplegics, for example, hardly differ from healthy individuals in terms of their satisfaction with life.
Kahneman: At any rate, the difference is smaller than one would expect. That's because, when we think of paraplegics, we are subject to an illusion that is hard to escape: We automatically focus on all the things that change as a result of the disability, and we overlook what is still the same in everyday life. It's similar with income. Everyone wants to make more money, and yet the salary level -- at least above a certain threshold -- has no influence whatsoever on emotional happiness, although life satisfaction continues to rise with income.
SPIEGEL: And where is that threshold?
Kahneman: Here in the United States, it's at a household income of about $75,000 (€60,000). Below that, it makes a substantial difference. It's terrible to be poor. No matter if you are sick or going through a divorce, everything is worse if you're poor.
SPIEGEL: So, is it harder to get used to illness or disability than poverty?
Kahneman: I think we adapt more quickly to improvement than to deterioration.
SPIEGEL: Professor Kahneman, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Manfred Dworschak and Johann Grolle.

Research - Does Personality Moderate Reaction and Adaptation to Major Life Events?

This study looked at the correspondence (or lack thereof) between Big Five personality traits and responses (increased or decreased life satisfaction) to major life events in a wide population (The British Household Panel Survey conducted by ESRC Research Centre on Micro-social Change at the University of Essex, Colchester).

The study seems to show that major life events do have a strong impact on life satisfaction and these responses are not mitigated by the Big Five traits over time.

Full citation:
Yap, S.C.Y., Anusic, I., Lucas, R.E. (2012). Does Personality Moderate Reaction and Adaptation
to Major Life Events? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey. Journal of Research in Personality, doi:

Does Personality Moderate Reaction and Adaptation to Major Life Events?

Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey

Stevie C.Y. Yap, Ivana Anusic, Richard E. Lucas

A nationally representative panel study of British households was used to examine the extent to which Big Five personality traits interact with the experience of major life events (marriage, childbirth, unemployment, and widowhood) to predict increases and decreases in life satisfaction following the event. Results show that major life events are associated with changes in life satisfaction, and some of these changes are very long lasting. Personality traits did not have consistent moderating effects on the association between stressful life events and life satisfaction over time.

* * * *

Major events play a central role in people's lives. People may work hard to achieve certain life events (like getting married) and invest great effort to avoid experiencing others (like ending a marriage in divorce). Although there are many reasons why people pursue or avoid these experiences, intuition would suggest that at least one reason concerns the effects that these experiences have on happiness and subjective well-being. It would be surprising to find out, for instance, that the things that one has worked so hard for and desired to such a great extent made no lasting difference in that person's self-assessed overall quality of life. Thus, the degree to which one's subjective well-being is affected by the experience of these life events is an important empirical concern.

Life Events and Subjective Well-being
Subjective well-being (SWB) is defined as the subjective evaluation of a person's quality of life from his or her own perspective (Diener, 1984). An important goal for research concerns identifying the factors that are associated with SWB. Somewhat surprisingly, effect sizes linking objective life circumstances to subjective reports of well-being tend to be relatively small (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). These small effects have led some to conclude that people adapt to most objective circumstances over time. Specifically, adaptation theories (e.g., Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999) suggest that one’s SWB varies around a stable, genetically determined set-point (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006). These theories predict that individuals may temporarily move away from this set point in response to positive and negative life events, but will inevitably adapt back to baseline levels of SWB within a short period of time.

Initially, much of the research into the causes of SWB consisted of cross-sectional studies that focused on the correlates of individual differences in well-being (for reviews, see Diener, 1984; Wilson, 1967). However, these cross-sectional designs have known and relatively serious limitations. Therefore, in recent years, researchers have turned to more sophisticated designs for assessing the factors that may influence well-being. One such stream of research involves analyzing large, nationally representative panel studies to see whether changes in life circumstances are associated with changes in SWB (see Lucas, 2007a, for a review). These studies can often provide more information about the nature of the associations between life circumstance variables and SWB outcomes than can simpler cross-sectional designs. Past empirical research that has used this type of panel data to examine the effect of life events on SWB suggests that experiencing major positive and negative life events may have substantial effects on an individual's life satisfaction (e.g., Lucas, 2007a). However, the precise nature of these effects appears to vary across different events. For instance, research using the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) shows that individuals typically do react to major life events (like marriage, divorce, disability, childbirth, widowhood, and unemployment), but the length of time that these reactions last varies across events (Lucas, 2007a). Past research suggests that people adapt relatively quickly to marriage and childbirth, more slowly to widowhood, and that adaptation is not complete for unemployment and the onset of disability (Lucas, 2007a; Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003; 2004; Dyrdal & Lucas, in press).

Read the whole article or download the PDF.

Athena Staik, Ph.D. - Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain With Your Mind and Conscious Action

Dr. Athena Staik offers a regular column at Psych Central - Neuroscience and Relationships - on neuroscience, relationships, and methods of rewiring the brain. In this particular entry, she offers a four-step model for rewiring the brain through conscious attention and action.

The model she offers here is based on the work of UCLA neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, who developed this "cognitive-biobehavioral self-treatment" in working with OCD clients (obsessive-compulsive disorder [the Axis I disorder, not the Axis II personality disorder, which is quite different]). This program is to be performed by the client between sessions with the therapist.

Dr. Staik adapts this model for use in a variety of other situations where intrusive thoughts are a problem, something I see daily in those who suffer from PTSD. It's mostly a cognitive-behavioral model, but as an adjunct to more depth-oriented sessions with a therapist, this is a very useful tool.


True, the mystery and complexity of the mind and brain may remain an ever present reality. Thanks in large part to advanced methods of studying the brain, however, recent findings in neuroscience have come a long way to unravel numerous puzzles.

Safe to say, many operations of the brain and body are governed by scientific laws as real as the Law of Gravity. Unquestionably, there is less mystery.

One of the laws discovered by recent findings is the ability of the brain to restructure and heal itself throughout life. This discovery alone tossed out centuries of scientific creeds, which previously held that we cannot do much about the damage caused by trauma and certain set patterns such as those labeled mental or behavioral “disorders.”

Known as neuroplasticity, findings show you have an innate ability to restructure the gray matter of your brain, literally speaking, with your mind and conscious action. When you change what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the “what” to fire and wire” messages, whenever your felt experience of an event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the gray matter of your brain.

More and more, psychological treatment is less guesswork and mystery, and more application of proven science.

Even deeply entrenched behavior problems, such as addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been shown to respond to treatment that follows proven methods of rewiring the brain by altering current thought-response patterns. For OCD, for example, neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has developed four steps in a ‘response prevention” cognitive-biobehavioral approach.

It makes sense. Most emotional issues have to do with rigid patterns of thinking associated with the body’s fear response.

What follows are  four steps to rewire your brain to think and feel a different way, which can be applied to enhance your behavior or thought patterns overall. With more serious issues, seek the support of a professional.

Dr. Staik offers these four steps - based on the OCD model but made more universal to be applicable in a variety of situations - that are discussed in more detail at the original post:
1. See your automatic response patterns as learned brain-strategies.
2. Re-frame a behavior as a problem located outside of who you are as a person.
3. Set clear life vision to refocus your energies on what you consciously prioritize and most value.
4. Take action to express your commitment to this new priority or value.
By way  of comparison, here are the four steps as presented by the UCLA group - and you can read a much more detailed article on they work with OCD at this link.


Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the RESULT OF OCD.

Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is CAUSED BY OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain.

Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes: DO ANOTHER BEHAVIOR.

Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It Is not significant in itself.

Friday, June 22, 2012

24EQ - World's First "Truly Global" Emotional Intelligence Conference

Looks cool - and it's free. There are some big names involved here, including Daniel Goleman, Marco Iacoboni, Dan Siegel, and David Rock.

The Ghosts of Père Lachaise (Animation)

This is a cool little animated film shared at Open Culture - featuring the ghost of Frédéric Chopin.

The Ghosts of Père Lachaise

June 3rd, 2012

Père Lachaise — it’s the cemetery of the celebrities in Paris. Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Proust, Delacroix, Molière, Yves Montand, and Edith Piaf are all buried there. (Visit each grave with this virtual tour.) So, too, is Frédéric Chopin, who gets channeled in this short animated film by Guillaume Rio and Antoine Colomb. Enjoy.

Research - Neural activity associated with self-reflection

This article details a research project that sought to identify the specificity of brain regions involved in self-reflection vs. other reflection (thinking about a known person). They were able to identify the cingulate, medial and lateral prefrontal, insular and inferior parietal regions as relevant for self-related cognition. One possible application of this information, suggested by the authors, is with the investigation of pathological self-related processing in individuals. 

The question for me, as always, is if we scan the brain of a person with dysfunctional self-related processing (for example, someone experiencing depersonalization) and we find organic dysfunction in these brain regions, was the person born with an organic abnormality, did they suffer some form on insult (TBI) that created the problem, or is there a link between subjective experience and dysfunctional changes in brain architecture?

It's good to identify the brain regions involved in dysfunction, but if we cannot also identify the cause of the abnormality, we are left with no real understanding of the etiology.

Neural activity associated with self-reflection

Uwe Herwig, Tina Kaffenberger, Caroline Schell, Lutz Jäncke, Annette B Bruehl
BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:52. doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-52


Self-referential cognitions are important for self-monitoring and self-regulation. Previous studies have addressed the neural correlates of self-referential processes in response to or related to external stimuli. We here investigated brain activity associated with a short, exclusively mental process of self-reflection in the absence of external stimuli or behavioural requirements. Healthy subjects reflected either on themselves, a personally known or an unknown person during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The reflection period was initialized by a cue and followed by photographs of the respective persons (perception of pictures of oneself or the other person).

Self-reflection, compared with reflecting on the other persons and to a major part also compared with perceiving photographs of one-self, was associated with more prominent dorsomedial and lateral prefrontal, insular, anterior and posterior cingulate activations. Whereas some of these areas showed activity in the “other”-conditions as well, self-selective characteristics were revealed in right dorsolateral prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex for self-reflection; in anterior cingulate cortex for self-perception and in the left inferior parietal lobe for self-reflection and -perception.

Altogether, cingulate, medial and lateral prefrontal, insular and inferior parietal regions show relevance for self-related cognitions, with in part self-specificity in terms of comparison with the known-, unknown- and perception-conditions. Notably, the results are obtained here without behavioural response supporting the reliability of this methodological approach of applying a solely mental intervention. We suggest considering the reported structures when investigating psychopathologically affected self-related processing.


Humans not only have a neural representation of the external and social world, they also have the ability to represent themselves as coherent human beings and as a self. They can reflect on themselves as a person and they have a neural representation of their own body. Understanding the basis of neural self-representation is not only interesting from a philosophical or scientific point of view but may also have practical implications in psychiatry, for example, in understanding disturbed self-related functions occurring during depression [1].

In the last decade, a growing number of studies has assessed the neural bases of self-related processes using functional neuroimaging methods [2-11] and electrical tomographic techniques [12]. In these studies, brain activity was examined, for example, while viewing photographs of oneself compared to that obtained while viewing photographs of other persons, or while recognizing one’s own face, names, voices or morphed photographs [3,4,13-19]. Other approaches have addressed the relevance of trait adjectives with reference to oneself and compared brain activity to that occurring under control conditions, for example reference of trait adjectives to close friends or others, or have applied more complex self-referential tasks which required responses to external stimuli [2,3,12,20-25]. Self-referential memory [26-28], emotional domains [29,30] and cognitive aspects in the spatial domain such as navigational tasks or perspective-taking tasks [31,32] have also been examined. Self-reference has been further studied in relation to the external world or from the perspective of the self as an object, i.e. from the perspective of a third-person [9,33,34] or relative to certain features of the self, for example individual goals [35], psychological aspects [36] and social issues [20].

Recent meta-analyses of functional neuroimaging studies have confirmed the involvement of certain brain regions in self-referential processes [6,10,37]: medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), anterior and posterior cingulate cortices (ACC, PCC) and (pre)cuneus, which also reflect the concept of cortical midline areas and self-reference [38]. Further, the lateral and ventromedial prefrontal, medial temporal, and parieto-temporal regions, the insular cortex and other regions were found to be active during self-referential processes [6,9,10,25,37].

From a methodological perspective, all these studies have in common that they examine the neural bases of self-reference in response to external stimuli or in comparison to behavioural tasks potentially involving other cognitive domains. This could make it difficult to assess self-referential activity possible interferences from neural activity related to external cognitions or actions. Certainly, these studies acknowledged the methodological issue of implementing behavioural controls. However, it may be of value to assess whether or not the brain areas reported are also active during a restrictively mental and not behavioural self-referential condition, and whether these areas show more or less specific activity for self-reference than other areas in terms of activation during self-reflection but not during reflection about others or during self-photo perception. In this study, we investigated the neural processes underlying self-reference in the sense of self-reflection, however, compared to other studies without possibly interfering for instance visual or verbal stimuli. The term “self-reflection” comprises at very least processes such as becoming aware of and reflecting on one’s current and past experiences and one’s self-concept, including the self-relevance of trait words [39]. The division between self-reflection, and self-recognition or self-awareness and even self-consciousness is not clear-cut [38,40,41]. Some authors have defined self-reflection as cognitively reflecting on one’s sense of self, i.e. on a collection of schema regarding one’s abilities and traits [42]. Accordingly, we here aimed to direct the subjects to reflect on themselves as a person and on their identity. This was realized by issuing a concrete instruction to the subject for self-reflection (e.g. “who am I?”), whereby the subjects could select their own content. As control condition, we instructed subjects to reflect on a personal acquaintance of the same gender. This was to control for the process of reflecting on a personally known person and the related knowledge and memory. Subjects were further requested to reflect on an unknown person who was introduced to them by photograph prior to the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session. This controlled for general reflection on a person. In order to intensify reflection, we also presented photographs of the respective persons after the reflection period. Considering the unconventional methodological approach with respect to non-implementation of a behavioural control, we applied very conservative statistics.

Our hypothesis was that the solely mental task of self-reflection would still be associated with brain activity particularly in cortical midline regions such as the medial prefrontal (MPFC) and cingulate cortices, but also in ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal and insular regions and in lateral parietal cortex areas [2,9,25,43]. We predicted different activities for mental self-reflection than for perception of self-related stimuli, thus insinuating self-reflection specific activation. In addition, we were interested in whether or not certain brain regions are specifically associated with self-reflection (refl-self) and self-perception (perc-self) when compared to those areas associated with reflections on other persons (refl-known, reflunknown) or the perception of photographs of other persons (perc-known, perc-unknown).

Read the rest of the study.

Full citation:
Herwig, U., Kaffenberger, T., Schell, C., Jäncke, L. and Bruehl, A.B. (2012, May 24). Neural activity associated with self-reflection. BMC Neuroscience, 13:52. doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-52

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bookforum Omnivore - "Humans Will Keep on Evolving"

Another interesting and informative collection of links from Bookforum's three-times-daily Omnivore series.

This collection looks at evolution - and there are links to a whole mess of reviews on E.O. Wilson's recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth.

Observations on The Ego Trick, Part Three

This is part three of many installments in my process/review of Julian Baggini's The Ego Trick: In Search of the Self. There is as much personal reflection in this as there is review of the book, and there are also philosophical reflections on the material.

Part one and Part two are at these links.

I was reading Julian Baggini's The Ego Trick during transit days on my European adventure. At first I thought maybe I was musing more philosophical due to being tired on the plane trip over, but it has continued since I've been here, so maybe it's the continent. Anyway, I've been jotting some random thoughts as I read the book, and here is the third installment.

Although I am back to my normal life, I plan to continue this process as much as I am able, so if this is at all interesting to you, please stay tuned.

* * * * * * *

Baggini shares a quote in his section on dementia from John Bayley, husband of the author Iris Murdoch, about her decline into dementia: "I cannot now imagine Iris any different. Her loss of memory becomes, in a sense, my own." That is round statement that deserves real attention, but Baggini did not acknowledge the profundity of it.

Although this book is essentially about the Cartesian Self, the singular, isolated, untethered view of the self that has dominated since the Rennaisance (revealing Baggini's modernist lens, or worldview), post-structuralist models see the self as both more fluid and less isolated - we are social beings and our sense of self is socially, culturally, and interpersonally dependent.

Bayley's comment about the shared loss in his wife's decline reveals the extent to which our own sense of self can be entwined with another person. When Iris's memory faded, including their shared memories, he experienced that loss as his own - so much of our memory is formed in relation to an other - highlighting the relational nature of how we form an experience a sense of self.

In his excellent essay, "The Narrative Construction of Reality," Jerome Bruner makes the following observation:
Eventually it becomes a vain enterprise to say which is the more basic—the mental process or the discourse form that expresses it—for, just as our experience of the natural world tends to imitate the categories of familiar science, so our experience of human affairs comes to take the form of the narratives we use in telling about them.
Have you ever tuned in to your internal monologue and listened to the story, the narrative, it constructs about you, about those around you, the world in which you exist, and so on? Who is this story for? The surrealists and their stream-of-consciousness writing, not to mention the psychoanalytic method of free association, seek to externalize this narrative as art or for healing our wounds, respectively.

There is no other purpose for narrative than sharing it with another human being. We create stories to share them with other people - family, tribe, friends, culture, and so on. 

If this is true, then who is the narrator and who is the listener for our internal monologue?


Before getting into ideas of multiplicity, Baggini takes a detour into speculations on the soul, a proposed essential self that is in the body, but not of it - the soul is seen as immortal. The dualism explicit in notions of a personal soul seem to go back at least to the 10th century. Baggini identifies the Persian philosopher Avicenna as one of the earliest architects of this concept. He breaks down the flawed logic of Avicenna's argument as an example of how easily our intuitions can lead us astray and how easily we can draw false conclusions from them.

Descartes would make the same flawed argument a few centuries later - cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. When he made the argument, it stuck, and it remains the dominant model of self in the Western world. Unfortunately. Philosophers now refer to Cartesian dualism as the ghost in the machine.

When people are asked to imagine having no body - not that it's invisible or numb - many feel it easy to do so. For some, they imagine being in a dark quiet room focusing only on their thoughts - this is what it would be like to have no body. But what is doing the thinking? Modern neuroscience, for those who believe science has something to offer in this discussion, has shown that thought depends on brain function - no brain, no thought. And as Dr. Daniel Siegel points out in his books and lectures, there is no body-brain split, they are one in the same. The brain is part of the body, not separate from it. Therefore, no body, no thought.

In 1949, Gilbert Ryle proposed that Descartes had made a category error in his reasoning - he intuited that thoughts and feelings are not physical things, so they must be a different kind of thing, a non-physical thing. But, as Baggini points out, Rule had also made a mistake in that thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are not things at all, but processes. Thoughts are not things we have but, rather, processes that brains do.


It's apparent in Baggini's chapter on multiplicity, which begins with dissociative identity disorder (DID), that he his at best skeptical of this phenomenon. I was skeptical of DID (although not of multiplicity in general), as well, until I began working with survivors of acute and chronic childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and rape/molestation.

However, he is even more skeptical of "recovered" memories of childhood abuse: "Nor should a belief that some, if not many, recovered memories of abuse are false entail that all or most memories of abuse are." He is making a useful distinction here between "real" memories of abuse and "recovered" memories, those which do not appear until one is in therapy, often referred to as iatrogenic (created by the therapist). A study often cited by Colin Ross, one of the world's experts on dissociation and DID, revealed that during the height of the DID diagnosis trend (in the late 1980s and into the 1990s), 90 percent of these diagnoses were made by less than 10 percent of working therapists. Moreover, considerable research had called into question the methods by which recovered memories are "discovered."

Where Baggini really goes off the rails in this chapter (in a way that is unfortunately consistent with the reigning medical model), is in suggesting that the psychoanalytic method itself creates DID diagnoses where none exist. His first mistake is in assuming that there are very many therapists and counselors even working psychoanalytically - the vast majority would describe themselves as eclectic (or some similar word), but most of them are doing something close to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or Rogerian client-centered therapy. 

More importantly, however, modern psychoanalysis has become highly relational and intersubjective - Baggini's notion of viewing things the client denies having experienced as repression is a few decades out of date (admittedly, there are still some old school Freudians around, but they are a tiny minority). Baggini asserts that if the "therapist believes the client has suffered abuse, then denial will be taken to indicate repression, while assertion will be a sign that this repression has been overcome." He likens this to the mistaken messiah in Monty Python's "Life of Brian."

The reality is that no respectable therapist would work that way. We might suspect abuse, but that is something noted in the progress notes or discussed in consultation - it is not something we go digging for with the client.

* * * * * * * 

A little detour is necessary here to explain the contemporary model of psychoanalysis.

Most of us focus on the present-moment relationship with the client, both interpersonal (exterior) and intersubjective (interior), and any material the client presents from childhood or otherwise is taken "as if," held to be true in the client's experience (whether or not is is literally true is not our job to determine, barring paranoid delusions, and even then the process is one of "joining" with the client and not trying to convince him he is being psychotic). In this approach it is assumed that anything the client presents for "work" is relevant in some way to their prior relationships, and our role is to validate their experience (without judging, and also without condoning). Far too often in most people's lives, their experience was not validated or acknowledged, and just as often it was negated or rejected. The simple power of validation is often quite healing for some clients.

James Fosshage offers a brief overview of the current psychoanalytic perspective ("A Relational Self Psychological Perspective"):
Kohut (1959, 1982) recognized that there were two perspectives within the analytic arena and, updating psychoanalytic epistemology, placed his emphasis on the patient’s perspective in his formulation of the empathic mode of observation. To listen empathically is to hear and experience the patient as best we can, through affect resonance and vicarious introspection, from within the patient’s frame of reference.
And . . .
I (1995, 1997b) have recently formulated another primary listening/experiencing perspective, termed the other-centred listening per-spective. This perspective refers to how one can experience the patient from the vantage-point of the other person, that is, what it feels like to be the other person in a relationship with the patient. This other-centred perspective (frequently emphasized in object relations and interpersonal approaches) provides us potentially with important information about the patient’s relationships.
And this on the shift from a one-person to a two-person therapeutic model (Freud's original conception required the analyst to be a blank slate on which the patient projects unconscious material - it's telling that Freud never practiced in this way):
Psychological development, pathogenesis, transference and thera-peutic action are no longer viewed as primarily intrapsychically generated phenomena, but as deeply embedded within and shaped by a relational or intersubjective field (Fosshage 1992). For example, within the constructivist (Hoffman 1998) or organizing models (Stolorow & Lachmann 1984/85; Fosshage 1994), transference is viewed not as primarily intrapsychically generated, but as variably co-contributed to by analyst and patient. This shift from an intrapsychic to a field perspective is profound and ‘can be likened to the Copernican revolution, in that the individual, like planet earth, does not exist alone but can be understood only in relation to the “gravitational forces” of the universe at large’ (Fosshage 1992).
Finally, he outlines the nature of the psychoanalytic relationship as co-constructed:
In my view, analyst and patient co-construct, through perception and inter-action, the analytic encounter. While the analytic relationship is asymmetrical in focus (Aron 1996), the analyst and the analyst’s subjectivity (Stolorow, Brandchaft & Atwood 1987) are much more involved through perception and interpersonal interaction than previously realized. We have come to recognize and make use of a range of responses far beyond interpretation (Gedo 1979; Bacal 1985; Fosshage 1997b; Knoblauch 2000). The analytic relationship is asymmetrical, but it is truly a complex co-constructed relationship.
Within this model, we don't work with transference and counter-transference - the old perspective of intrapsychic experience - rather, we work with co-transference (a termed coined by Donna Orange). Co-transference recognizes that if the client is having a transference experience, then there is something about the therapist and her/his relationship to and with the therapist that creates the dynamic - likewise for the therapist feeling triggered by something in the relationship to or with the client. In this sense, EVERY therapeutic dyad is unique and each one will produce unique transference experiences.

OK, all of this is a way to show that Baggini's model of psychoanalysis is outdated.

* * * * * * * 

After seriously questioning so much of DID theory, he looks at the most simple and accurate possibility for explaining general multiplicity, that the only necessary activity in the brain is for one system to go "offline" and for another to come "online." He uses a computer metaphor to examine multiplicity in this chapter. He follows that up with the admission that Nicholas Humphry and Daniel Dennett, in their investigation of DID, found no reason why it is not possible to experience splitting in the self.

If this kind of "strong" multiplicity is possible (meaning DID), Baggini asks, then should we all accept a "weak" multiplicity and abandon any notion of a unitary Self? Most people already believe that they are multi-faceted and that if someone only knows them in one context - at work, for example - then they do not know all of their personality or self.

In order to explain why the notion of multiple selves has become more widely accepted, Baggini dredges up the demon of postmodernism (it's apparent, as speculated above, that he is not a fan of this developmental stage in culture and philosophy). Postmodernism rejects ideas of a single grand narrative to explain all of history, or all of science, or even the self. In postmodern theory, no one story is more right than another - every event can be seen from multiple narrative perspectives, which takes us back to Jerome Bruner's narrative construction of reality.

In reflecting on some authors' views on the cultural and social construction of the self, he suggests that if this is true, then we are free to become the authors of our own narratives, to write our own self or selves as we see fit. If only it were that easy. Baggini seems irritated with postmodernists and their insistence on ambiguity and fragmentation, and rightfully so. To genuinely become self-authoring, according to adult development expert and Harvard professor Robert Kegan (The Evolving Self and In Over Our Heads), is the pinnacle of adult development - very few people ever reach that stage. To do so requires, at a minimum, that we become self-aware (able to hold our self or selves as object/s of awareness), and very few people ever get even this far. 

There is much more to who and what we are than a collection of discourses or narratives. There are, as Baggini notes, constraints. First and foremost we are biological beings and with these bodies comes the genes that partially determine our unique character, size and shape, and so much else - then there is the impact of nurture (our environmental surround, which includes physical space as well as relational space) on those genes and how they express themselves, or don't, as we develop (epigenetics). 

Once we can look at ourselves from a third-person perspective (as an object of awareness rather than a subject of experience), we can identify eight realms that we shape and our shaped by in our development of self or selves:

For each of these four there is both a first-person (I) and third-person (me) perspective available: objective/it (body and behavior), subjective/I (psyche, including memories, emotions, thoughts, and spirituality), subjective/we (shared culture, values, beliefs), objective/its (political systems, economics, means of production, legal codes, and physical space). The crucial point is that none of these can truly be understood in isolation from the others - they are interdependent and co-arising.
Obviously, the postmodernists are looking at only one quadrant, but even Baggini is not acknowledging the holarchical nature of reality.

This is Wilber's representation of the 1st person (inside the circle) and 3rd person (outside the circle) view in each quadrant:

This section has gone on far longer than the others for two reasons - 1) this is a topic I have spent considerable time researching and on which I have very clear perspectives, and 2) I am in the midst of a 9 hour flight from London to Dallas as I return home from Europe, so I have some time on my hands.

But I want to address one more section of this chapter in which Baggini speaks with Rita Carter, author of Multiplicity, on the nature of the self in her model. Unlike most multiplicity models (such as Voice Dialogue, Internal Family Systems, Psychosynthesis, Jungian complexes, or ego states, all of which posit some kind of core self, aware ego, higher self, and so on), she believes that behind the masks of our various selves there is no one else to be found. 

Her view holds some similarity to Hubert Hermans' Dialogical Self Theory, which he defines quite briefly as follows:
Many contemporary conceptions of the self are, often unwittingly, based on Cartesian notions of the mind as individualized, ahistorical, noncultural, disembodied, and centralized. In opposition to these assumptions, the dialogical self is conceived of as socialized, historical, cultural, embodied, and decentralized.
Of the current multiplicity models, DST is the most integrated and free from reliance on any form of solid self - this makes it both intellectually challenging and practically useful in a clinical setting.
There is much more to be said for and about multiplicity, but this has already gone on too long.