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Entries in psychology (27)


Punctured Armour

Over this year, I’ve read three books that have changed my life. All three combined shifted my thinking and feeling on an existential level, on par with No More Mr. Nice Guy and the work I’ve done with the Melbourne Chapter over six odd years. They are:

  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
  • What Men Still Don't Know About Women, Relationships, and Love by Dr. Herb Goldberg
  • Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep – Love by Dr. Amir Levine & Rachel Heller

Prior to reading any of these books, writing this post would be unthinkable to me. Since, it’s been a trying exercise to open up and understand the nature of how I act and interact with others. Revealing oneself isn’t weakness, it’s Wholeheartedness. Focusing on what women tell me and not what they need is following Content, not Process. Keeping significant others at arm’s length isn’t a deep need for independence, more an attachment style known as Fearful Avoidance. To the outside world, these are meaningless buzzwords. To my friends and family, I imagine it just boils me down to a quiet, unknowable asshole.

Same goes for those featured on puerile reality shows such as Married at First Sight or Seven-Year Switch. I’m sure there are countless others that exploit neuroses as entertainment. Clashing attachment types creak under the weight of their own internal burdens until collapse. Opening up about themselves causes sweating, a clenching of fists, the desire to run away.  I imagine half the population wonders why speaking about such simple inner truths seems like torture to these people. For someone like me, who grew up reading, building with Legos and playing computer games on his own for most of his childhood, it seems perfect and rational.

I often think that changing oneself is a Heisenberg principle – you know where you’re going or you know where you are, never both at the same time. I’m making new friends and new connections, and it scares me to think in the new ways. Maybe they give a shit? Maybe closeness won’t send the sky hurdling toward my head? Maybe everything I learned is a god damned lie? I hope it will all be for the better.

Of course, I use music to put it all in perspective. Two songs in particular sums up my experience living “as me.”




A Holey Meditation

"If some one can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in either thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's self-deception or ignorance."

-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book 6.21)

I had a thought that came to me in a dream the other day that concerned the perception of others and how one lives a life. Imagine you put everything you did in life - work, friends, family, hobbies, etc. etc. into a space 100m by 50m square and erected a 10" fence around it. In the middle of that fence is a hole, approximately 1 or 2cm in diameter. About 90% of the people who meet you will see your life through that restricted peephole, the information they glean from it effects their feelings and judgment toward you; the measure of your character according to them is essentially only a very rough and incomplete estimation.

So if what they see is incomplete, how can one take umbrage to their opinions of you? They do not speak of you personally since they only take in less than 1% of who you are, all of which is tainted by their biases and preconceptions - the clothes you wear, the music you listen to. We may all have shared experiences but they are all unique to us and us alone. So how can we possibly take the infantile ad hominem attacks personally when they cannot describe us all? Our names are convenient identifiers but they can easily be changed. As social animals we rely on others to explore our own humanity - compassion, friendship, anger and love. Some of us strive for truth - insofar that we do not falsify intentionally - but we must also remember that there are only degrees of certainty; probabilities and details we inevitably leave out. We have the capacity to reason with logic and the scientific method and properly explore the world around us and constantly ask questions.
That said, we must also be cognizant of our limitations - our weaknesses, our faults and our shortcomings - as they also make us who we are. Human.


This Human Equation

Holidays from both study and work leave me with spare neurons to devote to idle reflection. I decided to read extensively on media ecology and economics over my semester break in preparation for my Masters' thesis as well as work on my General Semantics studies.

Chatting to an acquaintance of mine (whom I hope to get to know better!) we settled that, amongst a great many other things, one aspect of commonality we shared was we "didn't understand humans properly" despite our chosen professions of reporting on what they do and why.

Therefore, I will embark on an ongoing project entitled the Human Equation project, the title inspired in part by Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon record of the same name and the motto of the American Psychological Association; "man is the sum of his parts." It is my contention that our society has willfully disconnected us from one another; we work longer and spend more money and time alone, purposefully separate ourselves and hole ourselves off from the world using a myriad of digital distractions. These will comprise three initial experiments.

1. The Ellis Experiment
As regular readers may know, Albert Ellis, Ph.D was the father of Rational Emotive Therapy, a widely successful cognitive behavioral therapy. By applying rational, empirical thinking to every day situations he found that people could live happier, calmer and neurosis free.

One of his earlier experiments involved talking to members of the opposite sex since he had an exaggerated fear of speaking in public during his adolescence. At age 19, he forced himself to himself to talk to 100 women in the Bronx Botanical Gardens over a period of a month. Although "he didn't get a date, he reported that he desensitized himself to his fear of rejection by women." I, along with several others will attempt this experiment on a smaller scale to reconnect with people in a meaningful way.

2. The Postman Experiment
Media ecologist Neil Postman was both in awe of and skeptical of technology - especially media technology. While many of us take it for granted he contended that media was a Faustian bargain. It both giveth and it taketh away. It takes our sense of community, ties to the real and tangible and forces us to spend time away from others. In his book Technopoly, he sets an assignment for his students - they must forsake their use of all media technologies for 48 hours. If they broke their media "fast" they were forced to start again from scratch. Set in the mid-90s before the advent of cheap and easily accessible hand-held devices with access to the internet, it will seem that media is unavoidable by design in 2010. Therefore me and my fellow experimenters will attempt 24 hours and record our experiences.

3. The Rushkoff Experiment
I think this one will prove the most challenging. This will be an attempt to re-create tangible value amongst the community by exchanging goods and services in real terms with other people. Instead of buying from corporations, I will try to buy locally and trade with neighbors and others using a modified principle of "comparative advantage" - what I can do well in exchange for something else another can do well that I cannot. In his Life, Inc. he argues that corporations have abstracted wealth from local institutions and people and clustered it towards a center, far removed from everyday life. If we can use the abundance in front of us instead of from somewhere inaccessible, we can add value to ourselves locally instead of an elite few.

These experiments have a two-fold purpose - for myself to further my personal development and re-connect with people in a true-to-fact and purposeful way and to "debunk" the givens of modern society. That we must be disconnected and that "bowling alone" is not the right way but merely the path we have chosen in the environment we find currently find ourselves in. If the map is not the territory, it is time to redraw the map and hopefully through our own action and effort, carve out our territory for the better.


A Silent Defeat

I have talked about Korzybski's Manhood of Humanity in great detail in a post here, contemplating if we have indeed entered such a phase. I refuted such an idea, instead postulating we are stuck in the adolescence - an unstable transition that sees us valuing erroneously, remaining fearful of the future and striving toward ideals that are equally transitory. Reading Life, Inc. by media theorist, documentarian and writer (in addition to practising general semantics) Douglas Rushkoff a rousing and chilling condemnation of the corporatism that pervades our entire waking life, I wondered if it would be more appropriately titled the Adolescence of Humanity instead. If we worshiped gods and insanity as children, we now supplicate to corporations, brands and unsanity as adolescents.

Corporate culture does not merely exploit that we as humans routinely mistake the map for the territory, it insists that the map is identical to the territory and manipulates us into believing no other possibility exists. Corporations and brands exist merely as higher-level abstractions and as such requires our blind faith, not reason, to validate their outlandish claims. The intentional confusion of logical levels (PC vs. Mac instead of classifying both as "computers") separates us into categories and demographics that equally require our belief and complete and total submission to that belief to keep us spending our money on their brand - the goods and services they produce are largely irrelevant. Only a cult-like devotion to a product would elicit emotionally charged responses towards any claims of inferiority - "Flash isn't necessary for the web experience" is like saying an index finger isn't necessary to make a hand functional, but iPhone and iPad zealots parrot the line nonetheless.

Corporations and special interests wish us to be blissfully aware of the dual-function of language as behavior and language forming behavior. Buying a coffee from an abstracted "coffee house" stand in a local shopping mall, there was an item that could be purchased called a "babycino" - a thimbleful of frothed milk given to children. It pacified the children into thinking they were adult and sophisticated using the sound "cino" in the name as well as giving the illusion of care and provision for the children as parents (it's for baby - why would one deny a baby the pleasure of a beverage?) making both parent and child feeling content and even attached to the product. The drink becomes irrelevant but the kinesthetic experience remains. I asked the barista why it had such a name. He said, quizzically, "because it's for babies." He missed the point. It's for the corporation that owns the coffee house and no-one else.


The Particle Waves Goodbye

"Man kann nicht nicht kommunizieren."
- Dr. Paul Watzlawick
The above quote when translated means One cannot not communicate. I was thinking today as I almost drifted towards sleep and was startled by a thought involving one of my childhood friends who is now moving away to start his career elsewhere. What piqued my interest especially was thinking of his communication as behavior and vice-versa - the dual function that language wields - as a means of communication and as a behavior. Of course language is not limited to our verbal modality, it extends to visual and kinesthetic behaviors; body language and touch and the like.

Recently, though a partial transformation of attitude - whether self-created or assisted - he has changed the nature of the communication "ritual" as Dr. Eric Berne would call it. The metacommunicative "ritual" was structured on a friendly game of masculine competitiveness - a verbal game of oneupmanship through put downs or "bagging" in the parlance of our times. Recently, this friend has refused to "take the bait" i.e., reciprocated the insults in a manner befitting the well established ritual. This non-communication as a behavior has in fact communicated to me that this friend perhaps has become annoyed with me or no longer wishes to continue the relationship. This behavior validates the axiom of "looking at what [one] does instead of what [one] says." According to some scholars, the choice of words comprise only 7-10% of total communication with the remainder divided equally between voice tonality and body language.

To outsiders, our communication seems scornful and vindictive when in fact the parameters for our friendship has been established in such a fashion that provides us with the maximum amount of pleasure; while we disparage the fidelity of our mothers, we are actually enjoying these little games as an adjunct of the total relationship. The dual function abounds everywhere and reveals itself differently to the partners in the cycle of communication and outside observers. If we remind ourselves of the wave/particle duality of light we can apply it just as easily to human interaction. What we do is what we say and what we say is something we do. Both are inseparable but distinct; both and neither, all at the same time.