Saturday, January 14, 2012

James Cresswell & Allison Hawn - Drawing on Bakhtin and Goffman: Toward an Epistemology that Makes Lived Experience Visible

This is some seriously geeky philosophy - from FORUM: QUALITATIVE SOCIAL RESEARCH, Volume 13, No. 1, Art. 20; January 2012 - that brings together two very different perspectives. Goffman was a very influential sociologist and Bakhtin was best known as a semiotician and philosopher of language, but together their theories do make a certain amount of sense.
Drawing on Bakhtin and Goffman: Toward an Epistemology that Makes Lived Experience Visible
James Cresswell & Allison Hawn

Abstract: This article seeks to enrich qualitative analysis by way of showing how Erving GOFFMAN's work can be enhanced by interfacing it with Mikhail BAKHTIN. The goal is to inspire an approach to the interpretation of human action that highlights phenomenologically immediate experience, thereby enhancing current work. BAKHTIN's later work focused on the interpretation of such experience but it was left incomplete at the time of his death. Fortunately, this latter work is reminiscent of his early work on the interpretation of poetics. The article addresses BAKHTIN's discussion of content, form, and material in art and how this discussion can enlighten our epistemological praxis with persons. By way of a demonstration, our proposed approach is applied to an online interaction between the second author and an anonymous online gamer.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Orientation: GOFFMAN and BAKHTIN
2.1 GOFFMAN and frame analysis
2.2 BAKHTIN and epistemology
3. Content
3.1 BAKHTIN's discussion of content
3.2 Implications for extending GOFFMAN
3.2.1 Interpretive Principle 1
3.2.2 Interpretive Principle 2
3.2.3 Interpretive Principle 3
4. Material and Form
4.1 BAKHTIN's discussion of material and form
4.2 Implications for extending GOFFMAN
4.2.1 Interpretive Principle 4
5. Conclusion

This is a passage from the introduction that sets up their thesis for this paper.
Erving GOFFMAN (1959, 1961, 1963a, 1963b, 1969, 1974) inspires qualitative methods that are often set forth as alternative approaches to a natural-scientific "cookbook" approach that attempts to apply a "recipe" to produce objectively verified results (POLKINGHORNE, 1983, p.3). His approach often rejected the standardization inherent in naturalscientific approaches, but, even though he touched on experience, he still bypassed the deeply experiential character of such realities. In particular, it will be discussed how his work, and the analyses inspired by it, tends to treat these realities as resources that can be rhetorically manipulated. That is, GOFFMAN's theories and practices were symptomatic of a potential problem in qualitative research: the treatment of experiential realities as rhetorically controllable when their verisimilar objectivity is such that they cannot be so manipulated. We will discuss how such experiential realities have a compelling quality such that they cannot be changed on such whim and our concern is that treating them as such can result in missing their deeply compelling quality. The experience of the nightclub, for example, is not something that one can just change. Understanding such a participant would require apprehending this experiential depth. It is thereby possible to extend GOFFMAN's work by illustrating this bypass and how it could be rectified. In the broader scheme of qualitative research, this discussion can serve as an illustration of how experiential realities are so compelling that researchers cannot afford to treat them as rhetorical resources, lest researchers bypass these important phenomena. [2]

We turn to Mikhail BAKHTIN because he inspires an approach that both illuminates the potential to enhance GOFFMAN and provides a way to improve on qualitative methods. He has been described by HOLQUIST, an editor and translator of much of BAKHTIN's work, as "epistemic" (2002, p.15-17). It is this largely unexplored epistemic side of BAKHTIN that we explicate in this paper. This epistemic feature of BAKHTIN had roots in his early career where he drew on the phenomenology of Max SCHELER (1970 [1913]; see CRESSWELL & TEUCHER, 2011) to address the techniques that can be used to interpret art (BAKHTIN 1990a [1979])1. Such early work on aesthetics revolved around interpreting socially constituted lived realities as they are expressed in art and so speaks to contemporary movements that draw on aesthetics beyond the realm of art to address the fundamental structure of human-constituted reality (c.f. WELSCH, 1997, pp.4-8, 48, 90-98). BAKHTIN's epistemology in regards to art was about making visible experiential realities (CRESSWELL & BAERVELDT, 2011). His later work drew on similar ideas but focused directly on the interpretation of human action (BAKHTIN, 1986a [1979]). Taking this early and later work together enables a view into his epistemology that makes visible lived realities. We will outline GOFFMAN's claims insofar as they overlap with BAKHTIN and show how points of non-coincidence illustrate the potential to enrich the former's work, shortcomings illustrative of the way that qualitative research in general can be enriched. [3]

After providing a brief orientation to the ideas of GOFFMAN and BAKHTIN, we outline a BAKHTIN-inspired epistemology. By articulating this epistemology through a discussion of BAKHTIN's early work, we can distill four principles that make visible the experienced realities that people take for granted. Each of these principles will be illustrated with an interpretation of the lived experiential reality of an on-line interaction that contrasts the results to those that would emerge from a GOFFMAN-inspired analysis. By discussing these principles in light of Erving GOFFMAN the proposal herein attempts to clarify how taken-for-granted realities that constitute experiences cannot be used rhetorically—mostly because they are deep part of how reality is experienced as-if given. [4]

Introduction to Attachment - Conference Lectures

The first lecture is useful as an introduction to the basic ideas of attachment theory - too bad the whole conference was not videoed or made available online. However, there is audio and PDFs of the lectures and/or Powerpoints (see below).

The conference was hosted by the Shenandoah Anabaptist Science Society - as part of Eastern Mennonite University's counseling program - it's good to see at least some sects of Christianity looking to science to make us better human beings and better parents.
Introduction to Attachment

Dr. Annmarie Early, associate professor in the MA in Counseling program, gave EMU faculty and staff an introduction to attachment theory and a preview of the upcoming conference, "Conversations on Attachment: Integrating the Science of Love and Spirituality," to be held at EMU March 31-April 2, 2011.

For more information on the conference, visit

But wait, there's more . . . .

November 20, 2009

“Molecular Neurobiology of Attachment and Social Bonding”
Dr. Larry Young
Professor of Psychiatry
Emory University, Atlanta, GA

January 22, 2010

“Caring: How We Become Attached”
Nel Noddings, Ph.D.
Lee Jacks Professor of Education Emerita
Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Follow up to the conference

Thanks to the more than 1,000 people who gathered at EMU March 31 through April 2, 2011 for the Conversations on Attachment conference! We’re delighted if the conversation continues long beyond the campus gathering.

Without love, we’re dead is a summary article about the entire conference. You can comment on that article and forward it via Facebook and Twitter.

Other follow up materials are below, including posting by each speaker with blogging option to continue the conversation.


EMU’s official Attachment Blog is up and running with a follow up post dedicated to each conference speaker. All follow up materials for each keynote address will be published at the Attachment Blog as they become available.

Integrating Heart and Soul: The New Science of Attachment & EFT by Sue Johnson
The Social Regulation of Emotion by James Coan
Mindsight, Mindfulness and the Journey from Me to We by Dan Siegel
Narratives of Care: The Social Echo of Community Transformation by John Paul Lederach
Emotion, Attachment, and Theology: How Do They Fit in the Hierarchy of the Sciences? by Nancey Murphy  

Others at EMU are blogging about the attachment conference as well!
CJP Faculty Reflect on the EMU Attachment Conference // Peacebuilder Online (Center for Justice and Peacebuilding)
Relationships Matter // Restorative Justice Blog by Howard Zehr

PowerPoint presentations

The conference presentations are now available to be downloaded. Please note that slides that contain videos were removed to minimize download time.

Integrating Heart and Soul: The New Science of Attachment & EFT Dr. Sue Johnson
The Social Regulation of Emotion Dr. James Coan
Mindsight, Mindfulness and the Journey from Me to We Dan Siegel, M.D.
Narratives of Care: The Social Echo of Community Transformation John Paul Lederach


Friday, January 13, 2012

Carl Jung - The Wisdom of the Dream

The Wisdom of the Dream is a three-part PBS documentary on the life and work of Carl Gustav Jung, student and one-time heir of Freud and founder of Analytical Psychology. Joseph Campbell and James Hillman are probably two of the best known students of Jung, along with Hillman's student Thomas Moore (Care of Soul).
This film is one of a three-part series of films produced by PBS, on the life and works of the great thinker and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. Born on July 26, 1875, in Switzerland, Jung became interested in psychiatry during his medical studies. He saw that the minds of mentally deranged persons had similar contents, much of which he recognized from his own interior life, described in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections. His lifelong quest to understand the workings of the psyche led him to develop the analytical method of psychiatry. He proceeded by looking at the role in his patients' lives of what he termed the personal and collective unconscious, as expressed through dreams, myths, and outer events.

Vol 1 - A Life of Dreams

Vol 2 - Inheritance of Dreams

Vol 3 - A World of Dreams

On Point - The Importance Of Forgetting

This week's episode of On Point with Tom Ashbrook looks at memory, forgetting, and when forgetting may be a good thing. It's a good discussion.
Listen to this story
“Just put it out of your mind,” may be better advice than you think: We’ll look at memory and the scientific importance of forgetting.

This rendered 3-D computed tomography (CT) scan looking down the human head shows the complicated arteries and veins (in blue) supplying the brain above the base of the skull (in green). (Kai-hung Fung/National Science Foundation)
This rendered 3-D computed tomography (CT) scan looking down the human head shows the complicated arteries and veins (in blue) supplying the brain above the base of the skull (in green). (Kai-hung Fung/National Science Foundation)

We talk so much about memory.  Not losing it.  Enhancing it.  Diving into it.  Working through it.  Sometimes, says a raft of new science, it’s better to just forget.  Forgetting, it turns out, may be a key part of mental health, mental hygiene.

Sigmund Freud said deal with it.  Dive into that repressed stuff.  Work it out.  Work it through. Tony Soprano said “fuggetaboutit.”  Tony Soprano may have been right.  Remember and you’ll ruminate.  Ruminate, and you’re bummed.  The brain is also built to forget.

This hour, On Point: memory and forgetting, and when forgetting may be for the best.
-Tom Ashbrook


Ingrid Wickelgren, an editor at Scientific American Mind and the author of the Streams of Consciousness blog at Her special report in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind, titled Forgetting is Key to a Healthy Mind.

Michael Anderson, a professor at the University of Cambridge and a member of their Memory Research Group.

Alison Winter, associate professor of history at the University of Chicago. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Memory: Fragments of a Modern History.

From Tom’s Reading List

Scientific American Mind “Solomon Shereshevsky could recite entire speeches, word for word, after hearing them once. In minutes, he memorized complex math formulas, passages in foreign languages and tables consisting of 50 numbers or nonsense syllables. The traces of these sequences were so durably etched in his brain that he could reproduce them years later, according to Russian psychologist Alexander R. Luria, who wrote about the man he called, simply, “S” in The Mind of a Mnemonist.”

Salon “One of the most tenacious themes of 20th-century memory research was the idea that people tormented by the memories of terrible experiences could benefit from remembering them, and from remembering them better. The assumption — broadly indebted to psychoanalysis — was that psychological records of traumatic events often failed to be fully “integrated” into conscious memories. ”

RSA - Robert Trivers: Why Do We Deceive Ourselves? posted this video from the RSA - One of the world’s most influential evolutionary theorists Robert Trivers asks: Why do we lie to ourselves?

According to Wikipedia, Steven Pinker considers Trivers to be "one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought.". Says Pinker, Robert Trivers has:
inspired an astonishing amount of research and commentary in psychology and biology—the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, Darwinian social science, and behavioral ecology are in large part attempt to test and flesh out Trivers' ideas. It is no coincidence that E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene were published in 1975 and 1976 respectively, just a few years after Trivers' seminal papers. Both bestselling authors openly acknowledged that they were popularizing Trivers' ideas and the research they spawned. Likewise for the much-talked-about books on evolutionary psychology in the 1990s—The Adapted Mind, The Red Queen, Born to Rebel, The Origins of Virtue, The Moral Animal, and my own How the Mind Works. Each of these books is based in large part on Trivers' ideas and the explosion of research they inspired (involving dozens of animal species, mathematical and computer modeling, and human social and cognitive psychology).
 The video is brief, but cool.
Robert Trivers: Why Do We Deceive Ourselves?

Robert Trivers: Why Do We Deceive Ourselves? from The RSA on

Robert L. Trivers is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist and Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University. Trivers is most noted for proposing the theories of reciprocal altruism, parental investment, facultative sex ratiodetermination, and parent-offspring conflict. Other areas in which he has made influential contributions include an adaptive view of self-deception and intragenomic conflict.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January, 2012 Issue of the Integral Leadership Review Is Online

The new issue of the Integral Leadership Review is out and online, with a special supplement on Integral in Africa.

January 2012 Table of Contents

Leading Comments
Nicholas Shannon - Leading Comments: Some British Contributions to Integral Leadership

Leadership Coaching Tips
Graham Ward - Leadership Coaching Tip

Fresh Perspective
Nicholas Shannon - Fresh Perspective: Anthony Grayling on Educating for Leadership

Russ Volckmann - Fresh Perspective: James O’Dea – Peace and Sanity

Feature Articles
Simon Western - Analytic-Network Coaching©: Coaching for Distributed ‘Eco’ Leadership and Organizational Change

Nick Ross - Epoch of Transformation: An Interpersonal Leadership Model for the 21st Century–Part 1

John Tuite - Getting Back to the Body: Leadership Lessons on Power from the Martial Arts and Somatic Tradition

Andrew Munro - Leadership Wisdom and the Perspective of Time

Donna Ladkin - Perception, Reversibility, “Flesh”: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Leadership as Embodied Practice

Scott Lichtenstein The Role of Values in Leadership: How Leaders’ Values Shape Value Creation

Maretha Prinsloo - Towards an Integrated Assessment of Leadership Potential 

Keith Rice - Retrospective: Summit on the Future of Great Britain – 2009

Book Reviews
Nicholas Shannon - Book Review: Buffalo Maps

John Rowan - Book Review: Integral Psychotherapy and With a Commentary on Ken Wilber’s AQAL and Types

Mark McCaslin - Column: Journeys into the Integral North

Etim Omini African Integral Development Network (AIDEN) with a New Approach to Effective Leadership for Africa

Lillian Enyang Oyama - Integral Life Practice

Oliver Ngodo - International Leadership Conference and Integral Leadership Education Program in Nigeria 

Notes from the Field
Alexander Savkin and Philipp Guzenuk - International Integral Journey with Coach Institute, Russia

Robin Reinach and Barbara Larisch - Martin Ucik, Author of Integral Relationships, in Discourse with Integral New York

Dmitry Baranov - Russian December: The Layers of Protests in Russia

David Holzmer - The 13th Annual International Leadership Association Global Conference, October 2011 in London, England

Ola Solawe - The 4th Integral Meeting: Mindful Mind, Conscious Life – Gdańsk, Poland

Michael Stern - The Spiral Dance of Spiritual Growth: Navigating the Whitewater of Individuation and Belonging

Leadership Emerging
Russ Volckmann - Leadership Emerging

Russ Volckmann - Coda: Change is on My Mind

Dr. Jean Decety, Editor - Empathy: From Bench to Bedside

Dr.  Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, was kind enough to send me a copy of the new book he edited and to which he also contributes, Empathy: From Bench to Bedside (from the MIT Press Social Neuroscience series).

Among the other books he he has written or edited include The Social Neuroscience of Empathy by Jean Decety and William Ickes (this book is excellent - my first introduction to the neuroscience side of empathy studies), The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience (Oxford Library of Psychology) by Jean Decety and John T. Cacioppo, and Interpersonal Sensitivity: Entering Others' Worlds: A Special Issue of Social Neuroscience (Special Issues of Social Neuroscience) by Jean Decety and Dan Batson.

A great collection of his papers is available through his Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory page at the University of Chicago.

Here is the MIT Press description of this new book:
Empathy: From Bench to Bedside
Edited by Jean Decety

There are many reasons for scholars to investigate empathy. Empathy plays a crucial role in human social interaction at all stages of life; it is thought to help motivate positive social behavior, inhibit aggression, and provide the affective and motivational bases for moral development; it is a necessary component of psychotherapy and patient-physician interactions. This volume covers a wide range of topics in empathy theory, research, and applications, helping to integrate perspectives as varied as anthropology and neuroscience. he contributors discuss the evolution of empathy within the mammalian brain and the development of empathy in infants and children; the relationships among empathy, social behavior, compassion, and altruism; the neural underpinnings of empathy; cognitive versus emotional empathy in clinical practice; and the cost of empathy.

Taken together, the contributions significantly broaden the interdisciplinary scope of empathy studies, reporting on current knowledge of the evolutionary, social, developmental, cognitive, and neurobiological aspects of empathy and linking this capacity to human communication, including in clinical practice and medical educiation.

I have only just started this book, but it is an excellent resource on empathy from the research and philosophical sides to the clinical practice realm (which is my real interest).

Open Culture - George Orwell’s Animal Farm & 1984: Watch the Films Online

Very cool . . . . via Open Culture, of course.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm & 1984: Watch the Films Online

George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novella, Animal Farm, almost never saw the light of day. The manuscript barely survived the Nazi bombing of London during World War II, and then T.S. Eliot (an important editor at Faber & Faber) and other publishers rejected the book, partly for political reasons. Eventually Animal Farm came out in print in 1945 (download it via our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections) and the now-famous text became an animated film in 1954.

Produced by Halas and Batchelor (and funded by the CIA, although the animators didn’t know it), Animal Farm was the first British animated feature released worldwide, and the animation style — dubbed “Disney-turned-serious” — received critical praise. The film runs 80 minutes, and you can watch it above or here.

Orwell’s 1984 hardly needs an introduction (although Christopher Hitchens, author of Why Orwell Matters, does a nice job contextualizing the novel in this radio appearance). Originally published in 1949, the novel came to television in 1954, courtesy of the BBC. The live production, featuring scenes considered “horrific” and “subversive” at the time, shocked viewers across England. One viewer reportedly collapsed and died while watching the program. A wave of controversy followed, and, amidst it all, the BBC decided to air a second live performance and record it to 35mm film. (Watch above or here.) Years later, the British Film Institute ranked the production 73rd on its list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.

Like Animal Farm, Orwell’s 1984 appears in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections. Plus you’ll find both movies listed in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Chuck Stevens - A Neuroscientist's Neuroscientist Talks Science

Cool video from The Science Network.

Chuck Stevens - A Neuroscientist's Neuroscientist Talks Science

"Neuroscientist's Neuroscientist" Chuck Stevens talks with Roger Bingham about his trajectory through research science, his interest in scaling relations in the brain and the design principles that allow them, and the subtleties of consciousness.

For more Chuck Stevens on the scalable architecture of the brain, check out his lecture for UCSD's CogSci 200 course.

Charles "Chuck" Stevens is a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, adjunct professor at UCSD, and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His research currently focuses on the mechanisms responsible for synaptic transmission and the design principles underlying the scalable architecture of neural circuits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TEDxHogeschoolUtrecht - Liane Young - The Brain on Intention

Via TEDx Talks:
Liane Young is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College. Young studies the cognitive and neural basis of human moral judgment. Her current research focuses on the role of theory of mind and emotions in moral judgment and moral behavior, as well as individual and cultural differences in moral cognition.

Perspectives on the Self - Nour Foundation

This collection of short videos comes from Nour Foundation . . . . Some of the people featured in these conversations include Thomas Metzinger on the phenomenal self, Even Thompson on the embodied self, Timothy Wilson on the adaptive unconscious, and many others.

Perspectives on the Self: Conversations on Identity & Consciousness 
"Who am I?" This question lies at the heart of our deeply rooted need to understand our experience of consciousness known as the Self. This six-part series brings together experts from the sciences and the humanities for interdisciplinary conversations on the evolving meaning of the Self.

The Nour Foundation explores meaning and commonality in human experience by adopting a multidisciplinary and integrative approach to the study of principles and values that universally engender greater understanding, tolerance, and unity among human beings worldwide.

The Lost Gospels with Pete Owen (Anglican Priest)

I have always found the Gospels that did not survive the canonization process to be much more interesting than those that did. Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels was my introduction to this body of literature, but this documentary is also quite interesting.

Father Owen (are Anglican priests called Father?) argues at one point that the inclusion of some of these texts, particularly the Gospel of Mary, may have doomed Christianity as we know it to the archives of history, as little more than a footnote. And I am forced to wonder if that would be a bad thing or not.

There is much to be said for the force of religion in shaping our distinctly Western culture - but how might it have better if it gone differently?

The Lost Gospels

The Lost GospelsDocumentary presented by Anglican priest Pete Owen Jones which explores the huge number of ancient Christian texts that didn’t make it into the New Testament. Shocking and challenging, these were works in which Jesus didn’t die, took revenge on his enemies and kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth – a Jesus unrecognizable from that found in the traditional books of the New Testament.

Pete travels through Egypt and the former Roman Empire looking at the emerging evidence of a Christian world that’s very different to the one we know, and discovers that aside from the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, there were over seventy gospels, acts, letters and apocalypses, all circulating in the early Church.

Through these lost Gospels, Pete reconstructs the intense intellectual and political struggles for orthodoxy that was fought in the early centuries of Christianity, a battle involving different Christian sects, each convinced that their gospels were true and sacred.

The worldwide success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code sparked new interest, as well as wild and misguided speculation about the origins of the Christian faith. Owen Jones sets out the context in which heretical texts like the Gospel of Mary emerged. He also strikes a cautionary note – if these lost gospels had been allowed to flourish, Christianity may well have faced an uncertain future, or perhaps not survived at all.

Watch the full documentary now

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dan Falk - Life, the Universe, and Everything: What are the Odds?

From the PLoS Blogs, Dan Falk takes a look at "Life, the Universe, and Everything: What are the Odds?" Falk is a science journalist and author, currently doing a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT. Along with his newspaper and magazine work, he's made more than a dozen radio documentaries for CBC Radio in Canada, written two popular science books, "In Search of Time" and "Universe on a T-Shirt" - you can find him at / Twitter: @danfalk

Life, the Universe, and Everything: What are the Odds?

Have you ever wondered how likely – or unlikely – it is that you exist?  Although it may sound pie-in-the-sky, it’s really a scientific problem, though you don’t have to be a scientist to be captivated by it.

Take, for example, the wonderfully-named Cosmicomics of 20th-century Italian writer Italo Calvino – a collection of whimsical, science-fiction-flavoured short stories.  One of the stories, called “How Much Shall We Bet,” involves two characters, the narrator (with the unpronounceable name “Qfwfq”) and someone named “Dean (k)yK.”  The two men seem to have existed since the before the beginning of the universe – somehow separate from the universe, whatever that could mean – and they seem to be immortal.  All they do is make an endless series of bets regarding what sorts of things will happen in their cosmos.

As you might imagine, the series of events that they bet on, and the series of events that actually unfold, are rather familiar:  They seem to resemble the actual events that have unfolded in the history of our own universe.  Their first bet is on the formation of atoms; the narrator bets for it, while Dean bets against it.  They go on betting on the formation of various chemical elements, and, looking billions of years ahead, they bet as to whether the Assyrians will invade Mesopotamia. We’re told that Dean always bets no, “not because he believed the Assyrians wouldn’t do it, but because he refused to think there would ever be Assyrians and Mesopotamia and the Earth and a human race.”

Let’s begin with the big philosophical questions:  First there’s the issue of determinism – roughly, whether the “stuff that happens” in the universe is largely, or perhaps completely, determined by what came before.  This is something that thinkers have wrestled with for 2,500 years, and I won’t attempt to add to that discussion here; but it is worth mentioning that most versions of determinism seem to place free will in jeopardy, making them rather unappetizing (though not necessarily wrong).  (But I would say that, wouldn’t, if I were destined to say it?)

Secondly, assuming that the future is not fully determined by the present, there’s the string of probabilities associated with each development along the way to “us.” Thinking again of Calvino’s story:  Before you can have Assyrians, you have to have human beings, and before you can have human beings you have to have life, and before you can have life you have to have a habitable planet orbiting a star at just the right distance… it does sound like a leaning tower of improbabilities, doesn’t it?

In my next blog post, I’ll explore what I think is the weakest link in that chain – the appearance of intelligent life.  But first, let’s have some more fun with the ideas and the numbers.

Certainly, the more specific the outcome, more improbable it seems.  If you consider some particular state of affairs, and then ask what the odds are, starting from today and going back even a short time (let alone the 3.8 billion years to when life first appeared on this planet), that particular state will seem extraordinarily unlikely.  For example, imagine turning the clock back five years.  From that perspective, what were the odds that, on this particular day, you would be sitting in this particular room, in this city, reading this particular sentence?

And what something even more basic – say, your own existence?  A couple of months ago, a “probability chart” produced by Harvard Law School blogger Ali Binazir went somewhat viral, encouraging people to contemplate this very question.  In the chart, Binazir calculates just how improbable it was that the right sperm from your father hooked up with the right egg produced by your mother – by his estimate, it’s about one chance in 400 quadrillion (that number seems only slightly more tame in scientific notation: 4 x 10^17).  And that’s hardly the whole battle:  To even get to that stage, all of your ancestors, going all the way back to the beginning of life on Earth, had to survive to reproductive age.  Multiplying the string of probabilities together, he concludes that the odds of your existence are an astronomical one in 10^2,685.000.  (As you can imagine, not everyone in the blogosphere was kind to Binazir; one asked if it was painful to pull those numbers out of you-know-where.)

To be sure, we can quibble about the precise figures.  But I’m sure we can agree that the chances of anything specific happening, viewed from a remote enough point in the past, seem absurdly low.  And yet, for some reason, we often weave stories in which historical events have a flavour of inevitability to them.  Think how many science fiction stories you’ve read on the theme of time travel, in which the time traveller attempts to “change history,” only to find that what was going to happen, happens anyway.  Push history, and it pushes back.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ll know that his latest book, 11-22-63, involves a time traveller who attempts to prevent the Kennedy assassination (which of course took place on the date that gives the book its title).  As you might guess, even with several years lead-time, preventing the fatal shot from being fired from the Dallas book depository is no simple task.  As filmmaker Errol Morris puts it in his review of King’s book:  “What if history is too forceful to redirect?  What if jiggering the engine produces no favourable outcome – merely a postponement of the inevitable?  If he had lived, Kennedy might not have escalated the war in Vietnam, and might have kept America out of a bloody mire.  But we don’t know.  What if we were headed there anyway?  Then our tampering might only make things worse.  It is not historical inevitability, but something close.”

These kinds of questions, about the inevitability (or otherwise) of history, have made their way into our popular culture, so I’m happy to give the last word to Lisa Simpson.  I’m thinking of a Halloween episode in which Lisa had lost a tooth; as part of an experiment for a science fair project, she leaves the tooth in a glass of cola overnight.  Sure enough, the next morning she sees a peculiar mold growing on it; and looking through her microscope, she sees that she’s crated little cave men.  Some hours later she looks again, and the little people are undergoing what appears to be the Renaissance; soon, one of the little people is seen nailing something to the cathedral door. She gasps:  “I’ve created Lutherans!”

More on likelihood of life – and intelligent life in particular – next time.

Lawrence Krauss on the Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions

This is a cool lecture from Lawrence Krauss posted at Open Culture, via Richard Dawkins - the lecture is called Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions.

Lawrence Krauss on the Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions

In the world of everyday experience we perceive three dimensions of space. Through any point, no more than three perpendicular lines may pass. The notion that there might be more than three dimensions has traditionally been the domain of science fiction shows like The Twilight Zone.

In this engaging lecture (click image above to watch), theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains the growing respectability of extra-dimensional theories in physics, tracing the evolution of the idea from Plato’s cave through Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, and from Einstein-Minkowski spacetime through Kaluza-Klein theory, on into modern-day string theory.

Titled “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions,” Krauss’s presentation was given in September at a conference in Oslo, Norway, organized by the Fritt Ord Foundation. The speech lasts about an hour and is followed by a question-and-answer session.

via Richard Dawkins

Related Content:

Philosophy Now - Philosophy of Mind: An Overview

Philosophy Now offers a nice overview of the current Philosophy of Mind, written by Laura Weed. Essentially, it's an examination of the "hard problem," as David Chalmers calls it, of the brain/mind issue of how to account for the subjective experience of consciousness.

Here is the beginning of the paper - she goes into detail about the current variations of each of the three major models - the first shots in the battle against Cartesian Dualism - that she introduces in this section.

Philosophy of Mind: An Overview

Laura Weed takes us on a tour of the mind/brain controversy.

In the twentieth century philosophy of mind became one of the central areas of philosophy in the English-speaking world, and so it remains. Questions such as the relationship between mind and brain, the nature of consciousness, and how we perceive the world, have come to be seen as crucial in understanding the world. These days, the predominant position in philosophy of mind aims at equating mental phenomena with operations of the brain, and explaining them all in scientific terms. Sometimes this project is called ‘cognitive science’, and it carries the implicit assumption that cognition occurs in computers as well as in human and animal brains, and can be studied equally well in each of these three forms.

Before the mid-twentieth century, for a long time the dominant philosophical view of the mind was that put forward by René Descartes (1596-1650). According to Descartes, each of us consists of a material body subject to the normal laws of physics, and an immaterial mind, which is not. This dual nature gives Descartes’ theory its name: Cartesian Dualism. Although immaterial, the mind causes actions of the body, through the brain, and perceptions are fed to the mind from the body. Descartes thought this interaction between mind and body takes place in the part of the brain we call the pineal gland. However, he didn’t clarify how a completely non-physical mind could have a causal effect on the physical brain, or vice versa, and this was one of the problems that eventually led to dissatisfaction with his theory.

In the early twentieth century three strands of thought arose out of developments in psychology and philosophy which would come together to lead to Cartesian Dualism being challenged, then abandoned. These were Behaviorism, Scientific Reductionism and Vienna Circle Verificationism. I will begin with a very brief summary of each of those positions before I describe various contemporary views that have evolved from them:

Behaviorism: Behaviorists accept psychologist B.F. Skinner’s claims that mental events can be reduced to stimulus-response pairs, and that descriptions of observable behavior are the only adequate, scientific way to describe mental behavior. So, for behaviorists, all talk about mental events – images, feelings, dreams, desires, and so on – is really either a reference to a behavioral disposition or it is meaningless. Behaviorists claim that only descriptions of objectively observable behavior can be scientific. Introspection is a meaningless process that cannot yield anything, much less a ‘mind’ as a product, and all human ‘mental’ life that is worth counting as real occurs as an objectively observable form of behavior. Head-scratching is objectively observable. Incestuous desire is not; nor is universal doubt, apprehension of infinity, or Cartesian introspection. Philosophers like Carl Hempel and Gilbert Ryle shared the view that all genuine problems are scientific problems.

Verificationism was a criterion of meaning for language formulated by the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle, who argued that any proposition that was not an a logical truth or which could not be tested was literally meaningless. For example, a mother’s claim that the cat will bite Jimmy if he doesn’t stop teasing her is testable, but a theologian’s claim that the Infinite Absolute is invisibly bestowing grace in the world is not.

Scientific Reductionism is the claim that explanations in terms of ordinary language, or sciences such as psychology, physiology, biology, or chemistry, are reducible to explanations at a simpler level – ultimately to explanations at the level of physics. Some (but not all) mental terms can be ‘operationalized’, or reduced to testable and measurable descriptions. Only these ones will rate as real mental events to the scientific reductionist. There will be no Cartesian or Platonic ‘mind’ left over to be something different from a body.
Read the whole article.

Neuroscience and Subjectivity - John Crombya, Tim Newton, Simon J Williams

"Neuroscience and Subjectivity" is the editorial by John Crombya, Tim Newton, and Simon J Williams for the August issue of Subjectivity (2011) - it's also the subject of the special issue of that journal.

The analysis here on the ways neuroscience is threatening to subsume some other disciplines - especially psychology - is useful and informative. They highlight some of the issues that arise when people (notably the government, as in the example of brain scans as lie detection) try to make brain imaging and neuroscience into a "hard science." For example,
neuroscience cannot necessarily provide ‘hard’, context-free ‘objective’ or universal analysis: a point of particular salience and significance in terms of current debates about the effects of so-called ‘cognitive enhancement’ drugs among the healthy, which all too frequently and unproblematically extrapolate from test results found in the controlled settings of laboratory or clinic to the complex layers and relays of everyday life. As with existing psychophysiological research, neurological assessment is continuously influenced by the physical, social and psychological context in which it is undertaken (Newton, 2003, 2007; Littlefield, 2009) – an irreducible complexity that involves the neural, the cardiovascular and the neuroendocrinal, all of these simultaneously both enabling and interpenetrated by the massively fluctuating and interwoven diversities of our psychosocial processes and socio-cultural contexts (Elias, 1994).
This is as close to an integral statement about brain science as I have seen in the academic world - we are never simply brains having an experience. We are physically embodied and socially embedded, as well as environmentally situated, and to disregard any of those conditions leaves the equation of subjectivity only partially addressed.

Cromby, J., Newto, T., & Williams, S.J. (2011). Neuroscience and subjectivity. Subjectivity, 4:215–226. doi:10.1057/sub.2011.13

Neuroscience and subjectivity

John Crombya, Tim Newton, and Simon J Williamsb
  1. aLoughborough University, Leicestershire, UK. E-mail:
  2. bDepartment of Sociology, University of Warwick, UK
As we write there are spectacular uprisings all across the Middle East, and angry responses to public spending cuts and attacks on worker's pensions, pay and conditions in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France. So this might seem like a strange time to be focusing attention ‘inward’, on the workings of the brain: at such a moment, interest may be drawn to wider social, economic and cultural forces and the ways that their shifting contingencies intersect to produce radical – or indeed, conservative – subjectivities. Nevertheless, as the papers in this special issue show, such considerations remain vital. On the one hand they might enliven social science, giving it a robust, intimate grasp upon some of the embodied, material processes by which all subjectivities – both conservative and radical – are inculcated and enabled. And on the other, they demonstrate the continuing importance of the social sciences and humanities at a time when – in the United Kingdom, at least – their existence appears threatened as never before.

The contemporary neurosciences form an influential and complex matrix of interdependent practices, technologies, methods and theories, whose efforts are jointly directed towards a better understanding of one of the most extraordinary objects in the known universe: the human brain. In recent years they have benefitted from a powerful infusion of funding, and initiatives such as the 1990's ‘Decade of the Brain’ have generated a massive boom in knowledge and practice. As it has expanded, the field has divided into primary regions of cognitive, social and affective neuroscience, with numerous smaller (and frequently applied) sub-disciplines cross-cutting these. Simultaneously, the various brain imaging technologies (MRI, fMRI, PET, MEG, fNIRS), with their seeming ability to visualise living thought itself, have done much to capture the public imagination. As the following examples illustrate, a cultural climate has emerged within which neural tropes, brain imaginaries and (more rarely) established facts are mobilised to inform social policy, legitimate clinical interventions and refashion existing bodies of thought and practice for a new era of supposed ‘brainhood’ (see, for example, Vidal, 2009; Ortega and Vidal, 2010; Royal Society, 2011).

Example one: in 2007, the best-selling author, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge publishes, to critical acclaim, The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (Doidge, 2007). Drawing upon the recent science of ‘neuroplasticity’, Doidge offers stories of the plasticity of our senses, of how stroke victims learn to move and speak again and so on – and other arguments and insights pertaining inter alia to the ‘culturally modified brain’, the notion of ‘plasticity as progress’, even the suggestion of ‘psychoanalysis as a neuroplastic therapy’. Here we are invited not simply to consider the manner in which these findings are challenging or overturning old ways of thinking about the brain, but to celebrate the awesome ‘self-healing power that lies within all of us’. Part and parcel of wider socio-cultural tropes and trends towards complexity, flexibility, enterprise and enhancement in all spheres of life, the book in this respect is very much a product of its times, reflecting and reinforcing both neoliberal and neurocultural themes and imperatives.

Example two: another popular book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist (Lehrer, 2011), argues that many neuroscientific discoveries are in fact re-discoveries of insights already achieved by great artists: by Proust with regard to the fallible, reconstructive character of memory, by Cézanne with regard to vision, by Whitman with regard to the biological substrates of consciousness, and so on. Here, neuroscience and art continuously rebound such that each affirms the other, and the historic divide between the ‘two cultures’ is optimistically disregarded: neuroscience is playing ‘catch up’ with art, art is being enriched by neuroscience. In largely ignoring the profound differences between these disparate communities of practice, Lehrer's relatively thin work has the potential to alienate them all, and its advocacy of art as a distinct mode of cognition merely echoes Langer's (1967) earlier important work. Its popularity, nevertheless, illustrates the ‘seductive allure’ (Fine, 2010) of contemporary neuroscience.

Example three: in 2009, Professor David Nutt was fired as Chief Scientific Adviser on UK government drugs policy after publicly claiming that this advice was being disregarded by politicians. Early in 2011, he attracted further media attention for his claims that the spending cuts and funding changes being implemented by the current UK government are the ‘last nail in the coffin’ of UK basic neuroscientific research (BBC, 2011). Almost simultaneously, UK news excitedly reported research that supposedly identified a brain region (the medial prefrontal cortex) where heroin ‘relapse’ occurs (Bossert et al, 2011) – albeit that the study participants were rats. A few months earlier, the journal Biosocieties presented an excellent special issue on neuroscience and drug dependency that served to situate all such claims with respect to the historical, cultural and material contexts within which drug dependency actually arises (Dunbar et al, 2010). Marred only by a sometimes uncritical acceptance of the concept of addiction (as though this were an observable brain state or objective social fact, rather than a loose term linking disparate activities to negative moral judgements), the contributors gave a thorough account of the neuroscience of drug dependency that was constantly referred back to its own genealogy and institutional history and located within social and political economies of (for example) ethnicity and class.

These examples begin to illustrate how the cultural uptake of neuroscience is contingent and variable, both impeded and progressed by the intersecting tensions generated by material, institutional and intellectual forces. Doidge and Lehrer show that neuroscience is explicating how the malleable processes of experience are enabled, neurally, by the plasticity of dendrite and synapse, the fluctuations of peptide, hormone and neurotransmitter. Conversely, neuroscientific accounts of drug dependency suggest that processes of ‘addiction’ are locked into place by neuroanatomies so stable that they can be characterised as a chronic brain disorder (Kuhar, 2010). Doidge uses neuroscience to celebrate a view of subjectivity that fundamentally accords with neoliberal precepts of choice, flexibility, self-care and personal responsibility (Maasen and Sutter, 2007; Pitts-Taylor, 2010). Conversely, Nutt uses neuroscience to critique other aspects of this same neoliberal agenda, legitimating arguments for more generous state funding of research and against the criminalisation of (some) recreational drugs.

Similar contradictions appear when we consider the relations between neuroscience and other disciplines. Lehrer – and indeed other more serious writers – show how neuroscience is rejuvenating aspects of the humanities and the social sciences, lending new credibility to ideas and practices from the arts and psychotherapy, informing conceptual development in relation to selfhood, agency and morality, and providing rich material for studies in history, STS, political economy and other disciplines. Conversely, neuroscience also threatens to colonise or even engulf some disciplines. This threat is perhaps clearest in psychology, where those sub-disciplines most able to surf the neural wave are growing in prestige and size (Marshall, 2004). But developments such as social neuroscience also raise important questions for sociology, particularly in the context of a more general ‘re-biologisation of the social world’, both within and beyond the neurosciences (Fuller, 2006). Consequently, neuroscience provides challenges that might de-stabilise existing regimes of power by demonstrating and elucidating the thoroughly socio-neural character of experience: but it also provides both armour and ammunition for retrograde tendencies seeking to further marginalise progressive thought and practice.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Open Culture - Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature & Power (1971)

Very cool old video posted by the good folks at Open Culture - it's only excerpts, but you can read the whole transcript online.
Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature & Power (1971)

Once again, we’re heading back to 1971. Yesterday we had Dick Cavett’s 1971 interview with George Harrison. Today, it’s the clash of two intellectual titans, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. In ’71, at the height of the Vietnam War, the American linguist and French historian/social theorist appeared on Dutch TV to debate a fundamental question: Is there such a thing as innate human nature? Or are we shaped by experiences and the power of cultural and social institutions around us?

40 years later, you’ll find excerpts of the classic debate on YouTube. Get Part 1 above, and Part 2 here. Plus a full transcript of the debate can be read online, or you can purchase a copy in book format. Finally, a recent BBC program revisits and analyzes the Chomsky-Foucault encounter. H/T Metafilter

Related Content:

The World Within: C.G. Jung in His Own Words

When I was in my twenties, I read the Collected Works of Carl Jung - well, okay, I was into my thirties before I got through the whole collection (the three volumes on Alchemy were the last that I read). When I began reading Ken Wilber, who also has a whole mess of books, I moved away from Jung. And in recent years, I have been exploring attachment theory and psychoanalytic Self Psychology, especially the intersection of those two schools in intersubjectivity theory.

Recently, however, I have been returning to some Jungian theory again in the last few months, so I have been exploring some of the videos of Jung just for the fun of it.

I've posted a few of them, and there are several more - this one features images from The Red Book.

The World Within: C.G. Jung in His Own Words

Rarely seen interview footage of Carl Jung is the highlight of this video, which explores his idea that the understanding of the images that play across one's mind is of great importance to that individual. Glimpse inside Jung's Red Book, where he described his dreams and fantasies, and witness the paintings he made to record these unconscious images. "...the images of the unconscious place a great responsibility upon a man. Failure to understand them or a shrinking or ethical responsibility deprives him of his wholeness and imposes a painful fragmentariness on his life." Indeed.

Who Owns Mitt Romney?

A site called The Economic Collapse used Tim Tebow's OT heroics in the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh as a jumping off point for a discussion of where the economy is right now (Tebow Time). They highlight some seriously messed up statistics, like the reality of the unemployment rate:
We should all be thankful that the employment situation in the U.S. has stabilized, but things are not as good as the mainstream media would have you to believe.

Instead of 8.5%, the "official" unemployment number put out by the federal government should be about 11 percent, and the "real" unemployment number is somewhere around 22 or 23 percent.

And if you take a long-term view of things, there is no reason to celebrate at all.  The truth is that the middle class in America is being systematically destroyed and we won't see much permanent improvement until this country fundamentally changes direction.
This is the reality of the 99% (give or take 10-20% or so).

The guy the GOP seems poised to run against Obama - Mitt Romney - is part of the top 1/10 of the elite 1% - but he is the closest thing the GOP has to an Obama clone, at least according to these folks.

And when you look at [Mitt Romney's] record (what he has actually done), it quickly becomes clear that he is basically just a more experienced version of Barack Obama.

When the mainstream media says that Mitt Romney has the best chance of beating Barack Obama, that is because they feel as though he is the candidate that is most like Barack Obama.

If it is Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney in the general election, we are basically guaranteed four more years of establishment rule.  Yes, there will be some minor changes, but everything will pretty much continue running the way that it is now no matter which one wins.
But here is the real problem - Romney is bought and paid for by the same banks that Bush/Obama bailed out. He represents the worst of the political game in this country - "the Romney tax plan would add 600 billion dollars to the federal budget deficit in 2015."

Big business and the banks LOVE Romney - as their donations to his campaign illustrate.
If Mitt Romney gets the nomination, it will just be another indication that the Republican Party is bought and paid for by the establishment.

Just check out who is giving money to Romney.  Did you know that Goldman Sachs is his biggest donor?  The following numbers come from

Goldman Sachs $367,200
Credit Suisse Group $203,750
Morgan Stanley $199,800
HIG Capital $186,500
Barclays $157,750
Kirkland & Ellis $132,100
Bank of America $126,500
PriceWaterhouseCoopers $118,250
EMC Corp $117,300
JPMorgan Chase & Co $112,250
The Villages $97,500
Vivint Inc $80,750
Marriott International $79,837
Sullivan & Cromwell $79,250
Bain Capital $74,500
UBS AG $73,750
Wells Fargo $61,500
Blackstone Group $59,800
Citigroup Inc $57,050
Bain & Co $52,500

But the numbers above are nothing compared to the money being poured into the "Super PACs" that are backing Romney.  The financial elite are dumping tens of millions of dollars into these "Super PACs", and these "Super PACs" are playing a huge role in this campaign.

The following comes from an article posted on Economic Policy Journal....
The New York Times reports that New York hedge-fund managers and Boston financiers contributed almost $30 million to “Restore Our Future” before the Iowa caucuses. And “Restore Our Future“‘s faux independence has allowed Romney to publicly distance himself from them, their money, and the dirty work that their money has bought.

More than anyone else running for president, Mitt Romney personifies the top 1 percent in America — actually, the top one-tenth of one percent. It’s not just his four homes and estimated $200 million fortune, not just his wheeling and dealing in leveraged-buyouts and private equity, not even the jobless refugees of his financial maneuvers that makes him the Gordon Gekko of presidential aspirants.

It’s his connections to the epicenters of big money in America — especially to top executives and financiers in the habit of investing  for handsome returns.
The way the political game is played in America today, the candidate with the most money almost always wins.

Mitt Romney and the organizations that are supporting Mitt Romney are sitting on gigantic mountains of cash.
Now that is change we can believe in.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Alison Gopnik - Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism?

Neuroscientist and philosopher Alsion Gopnik looks at the work of David Hume and the possible influence of Buddhsim on his thinking and writing. She makes a good argument that Hume likely was exposed to Buddhist ideas through a Jesuit missionary.

The article appeared in Hume Studies (2009); Volume 35, Number 1&2, pp. 5–28.

Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network

Alison Gopnik
Abstract: Philosophers and Buddhist scholars have noted the affinities between David Hume’s empiricism and the Buddhist philosophical tradition. I show that it was possible for Hume to have had contact with Buddhist philosophical views. The link to Buddhism comes through the Jesuit scholars at the Royal College of La Flèche. Charles Francois Dolu was a Jesuit missionary who lived at the Royal College from 1723–1740, overlapping with Hume’s stay. He had extensive knowledge both of other religions and cultures and of scientific ideas. Dolu had had first-hand experience with Theravada Buddhism as part of the second French embassy to Siam in 1687–1688. In 1727, Dolu also had talked with Ippolito Desideri, a Jesuit missionary who visited Tibet and made an extensive study of Tibetan Buddhism from 1716–1721. It is at least possible that Hume heard about Buddhist ideas through Dolu.


Jung on Film
This compelling film represents a rare record of an original genius. In Jung on Film, the pioneering psychologist tells us about his collaboration with Sigmund Freud, about the insights he gained from listening to his patients' dreams, and about the fascinating turns his own life has taken. Dr. Richard I. Evans, a Presidential Medal of Freedom nominee, interviews Jung, giving us a unique understanding of Jung's many complex theories, while depicting Jung as a sensitive and highly personable human being.

Documentary - The Romantics

For anyone who is a fan of Romanticism as a literary and philosophical movement, this is a cool little documentary, "Recalling the turbulent lives of pioneers of romantic thought." Here is a brief background from Wikipedia:
Romanticism (or the Romantic era/Period) was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and strengthened in reaction to the Industrial Revolution.[1] In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.[2] It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography,[3] education[4] and natural history.[5]

The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made spontaneity a desirable characteristic (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a "natural" epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage.

Romanticism reached beyond the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate a revived medievalism and elements ol, and industrialism, and it also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in modes more authentic than Rococo chinoiserie, harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.f art and narrative perceived to be authentically medieval, in an attempt to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl.

The modern sense of a romantic character may be expressed in Byronic ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner, creatively following the dictates of his inspiration rather than the standard ways of contemporary society.

Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism, the ideologies and events of the French Revolution laid the background from which both Romanticism and the Counter-Enlightenment emerged. The confines of the Industrial Revolution also had their influence on Romanticism, which was in part an escape from modern realities; indeed, in the second half of the 19th century, "Realism" was offered as a polarized opposite to Romanticism.[6] Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individualists and artists, whose pioneering examples would elevate society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority, which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas.
Open University offers some more in-depth background on this series:

Romantics in more depth:

OU on the BBC: Romantics - The Experts' Views

  Read more
Here is the full 3 hour series.

The Romantics

The RomanticsThis documentary looks at a group of visionary writers who changed the way we see the world – the Romantics – and examines stories of bloodshed, political upheaval and poetry.

Liberty. Peter Ackroyd reveals how the radical ideas of liberty that inspired the French Revolution opened up a world of possibility for great British writers such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, inspiring some of the greatest works of literature in the English language.

Their ideas are the foundations of our modern notions of freedom and their words are performed by David Tennant, Dudley Sutton and David Threlfall.

Nature. Peter Ackroyd summons the ghosts of the Romantics to tell the story of man’s escape from the shackles of industry and commerce to the freedom of nature.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Britain during the late 18th Century, the Romantics embraced nature in search of sublime experience.

But this was much more than just a walk in the country; it was a groundbreaking endeavour to understand what it means to be human. They forged poetry of radical protest against a dark world that was descending upon Britain.

Eternity. Byron, Keats and Shelley lived short lives, but the radical way they lived them would change the world. At 19, Shelley wrote The Necessity of Atheism – it was banned and burned, but it freed the Romantics from religion.

Through their search for meaning in a world without God, they pioneered the notions of free love, celebrity and secular idolatry that are at the centre of modern Western culture.

Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 3 hours)