Monday, October 29, 2018

Review of "The Hope Circuit," by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

Random Thoughts and Observations
By Steven J. Cersenie, Ph.D.
     A most important virtue is tolerance based on humility. Tolerance is welcoming discussions with people who fundamentally disagree with us based on humility - a recognition we cannot be sure we are right about our beliefs.
     We underestimate the importance of chance, accident, and luck in the events of our lives. Sure, hard work and character are important in achieving success, but reflecting on our lives highlights whatever success we achieve in relationships and work has much to do from more than just a little bit of luck.
Make Waves
     Heard from a client who owns a sailboat about his friend's behavior:
My friend is always making waves in a no wake zone.
Heard from a talented handyman
I'm having such a bad day, I can't even do wrong right.
Martin Elias Peter Seligman, Ph.D.
Martin E. P Seligman. The Hope Circuit. A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. New York: The Hachette Book Group, 2018.
     Seligman begins his story about his journey from helplessness to optimism by describing the world as he found it when he arrived "one gestation period after Pearl Harbor." Both his parents had troubled lives - far from the optimism Seligman would later research and apply to the lives of many. His mother was born in Hungary, now Romania - his grandmother died giving birth to his mother Irene. Irene became the center of his father's love and attention until his father remarried and turned all his attention from his daughter Irene to his new wife. Seligman's mother, Irene, always felt the horrible sting of rejection. His father's parents had emigrated from the Dutch border of Germany and from Alsace, and married in New York in 1899. Seligman's father was an anxious child who skipped four grades in school.
    Seligman describes his father as "a brilliant young lawyer, armed with a doctorate from Columbia Law School." It was the second year of the Great Depression; lawyers were making a living, but many were poor. His father chose a secure path taking a job in civil service, reporting judges' decisions at the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York. Seligman describes his mother as, "gorgeous - there is no other word: five-foot-one, full-figured, blonde, and blue-eyed. She was well-spoken but reserved and very sympathetic of manner..." Her parents' poverty took a toll on her, and she dropped out of high school to help support the family as a legal secretary.
     In Albany, Seligman's parents joined a conservative synagogue. To Seligman's dismay, he later learned his father was an atheist - although his mother was very strongly attached to Judaism.
     Seligman was named for his saintly maternal grandfather who died of a sudden heart attack in 1940. Elias was chosen as his middle name to honor his grandfather and his six-year-old sister was given naming rights to call him Peter. So he was named Martin Elias Peter Seligman.
     There is much more detail in his elegantly written book about his family background and his early years. A detail that caught my eye was about Seligman, who like one of my younger entrepreneurial brothers, took a job in his early teens selling magazines for five summers. He made more money selling magazines than he made until he was an associate professor.
     Jumping ahead to his college years, Seligman was strongly influenced by Robert Nozick (1938 - 2002), a professor of philosophy at Princeton, where Seligman did his undergraduate study. Nozick was famous for his 1974 magnum opus, Anarchy, State and Utopia. In this classic text, Nozick wrote that he believed in capitalist acts between consenting adults - an unusual belief for a college professor during those years. Seligman wasn't sure whether to pursue psychology or philosophy. Looking back, Seligman asked the question, "How much rigor? How much reality?" These questions formed Seligman's role in the transformation of psychology over the next fifty years.
     Seligman spent his 50-year psychology career rejecting psychology's basic premises. When he came to psychology, he found help for psychological maladies focused on people's misery and suffering, with Freud and his followers developing treatments hoping to remove the crippling conflicts and memories stemming from childhood experiences. The best humans could accomplish according to this approach was to turn hysterical misery into common unhappiness.    
     Early in his career, Seligman discovered learned helplessness, where animals and people were exposed to uncontrollable events such as shock or noise and then developing passivity and learning to give up. Over many years, learned helplessness has become a model for studying and treating depression. Seligman noted that when studying learned helplessness, about three of either people couldn't be made helpless, that is, these three people were invulnerable to being helpless. Thus, began his study of the components of optimism and he took techniques from cognitive therapy to teach pessimistic people to be optimistic. I particularly liked the chapter where Seligman discovers he was wrong about the causes of learned helplessness based on new research on the neurological underpinnings of The Hope Circuit. This chapter is worth the price of the book.
     In 1998, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association with the largest number of votes of any APA President. During his Presidency of APA and beyond, Seligman created Positive Psychology, a view that there is a lot more to life than suffering, and built his research efforts on what makes life worth living. The alleviation of suffering is only the start to what psychologists can do for their clients - human happiness matters. Positive psychology is now a worldwide movement to enhance well-being and attracting some of the best psychologists in the field who have turned their research interests to what makes people live better lives. Seligman and his colleagues have taken his studies of positive psychology, resilience, post-traumatic growth, optimism and more and applied these mind-enriching concepts to people around the world in schools, corporations, and our service people in the United States Army.
     During his career, Seligman challenged the belief that we are creatures whose minds are blank slates, where experience is all important and writes what we take in from our senses to stamp-in experiences on these blank slates- a core tenet of early behaviorism - a theory that didn't take conscious experience seriously; nor did this approach incorporate the findings of evolution seriously.
    The blank slate view of humans is personal for me. I remember the first time I evaluated an autistic child while working at a child psychiatric state hospital in the 1970's. I met two warm, loving, guilt-ridden parents telling me through their tears about their unresponsive, odd five-year-old child who didn't talk and was obsessed with playing with door knobs and hinges. When this child entered my office, he walked past me as if I wasn't there, and went straight to the curtains and began sucking on the cloth. Back then, the prevailing theory was autism was caused by the child being raised by a cold "refrigerator mother," a theory I never believed, but an accepted view in the field that caused the suffering of thousands of children and their families. Scientists have now discovered the importance of genetics in autism - and in all psychiatric disorders and personality traits.
     Seligman not only challenged the belief that the best outcome humans could achieve from psychological therapy was normal misery, but he argued against the blank slate view of humans, and stressed the importance of evolution in human development. With his colleagues, he showed that not any stimulus paired with any other stimulus would be learned - a challenge to Pavlovian conditioning. Humans, it turns out, are prepared to learn some things and not others.
     During his work on Positive Psychology, incorporating his challenges to psychology's basic premises, Seligman compiled research evidence and became convinced there are five elements of well-being, summarized by the acronym: PERMA.
Positive emotion
     On a side note, it was the program committee of the Michigan Psychological Association who invited Seligman to speak at an MPA conference in 1996, two years before he was elected APA President. Seligman, to the surprise of the committee, agreed to speak at the MPA conference to announce his decision to run for APA President. I had the privilege of picking Seligman up at the airport, and the next evening have a gathering of MPA members at my house to meet Dr. Seligman, who I now called Marty.
     Before taking Marty to his hotel, I took Marty to my local delicatessen for dinner. Back then, Marty was a serious fellow, and we were soon embroiled in a discussion on the topic of sexuality. I had worked in a child psychiatric hospital for many years and treated many adolescent males brought in for inpatient treatment because of a history of sexual perversions - a label not used now. As we waited for our dinner in the crowded deli, Marty shared some of his experiences treating this sample of youngsters and stressed the importance of classical and operant conditioning models of etiology and the benefits of cognitive therapy. I had found the work of psychoanalyst Robert Stoller, M.D. most helpful in treating these trouble youngsters. Stoller had written the book, "Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred," emphasizing the role of unconscious learning. The part of our dinner I will never forget is this: Marty said in so many words that my views were not up with the current research and then he gently raised his voice and said, "Let's take masturbation for an example." I noticed several restaurant patrons turn their heads our way, and then I said to Marty, "Maybe we should discuss masturbation another time. You're leaving town tomorrow, and I'm a regular customer at this deli."
     We both smiled.
 (To comment on this column, contact Steve Ceresnie at


Satire: Early Career Psychologist: Myth or Malady



An Early Career Psychologist: Myth or Malady?


Steven J. Ceresnie, Ph.D.

     Approaching three score and ten years, I have had the privilege of being invited into the private lives of many people in deep distress - that's what clinical psychologists do. But lately, I feel my mind and body are changing - my muscles are becoming more supple, my waistline is shrinking, my pectoral muscles are taking the shape of a younger man, and I stop at clothing stores to sample clothing worn by college students and young men. I have started listening to music that matches the tastes of younger, more macho males - I find pleasure in rap, heavy metal and alternative music genres.


     On some nights, late in the evenings, I go up in our finished attic and try on these fashionable attire of young men and adjust my Spotify to play the latest rap tunes. There are other symptoms I experience but I'm embarrassed to make these public. I dare not tell my wife, I fear she would suggest I seek psychiatric help.


    Yet psychiatric help, of which I'm most familiar, is not what I believe I need. Of course, I'm aware that at my chronological age any number of biological or psychological maladies may explain my unusual behaviors, not to mention denial of mental and physical deterioration, dementia or death.


     Over the years, I have not been prone to denial, the most logical explanation for my behavior, and my physical health is good - although I do take blood pressure and cholesterol medications, not uncommon for gentleman my age.


    Oh, I forgot to mention that I started reading many psychology articles and textbooks - I keep up with the literature and don't miss an opportunity to cruise the shelves of psychology texts in college book stores I visit across the country seeking out the current requirements for a Ph.D. in psychology. Not only do I read as much as I can, but I tell my wife that my about the cravings to collect these journals and textbooks - to my wife it appears I'm studying for exams. All of this reading can be traced to the many seminars I'm asked to present around the country; okay, that's not exactly the truth.


    After much consideration, I fear I have a yet undiscovered serious psychiatric disorder that in some way mimics those few men I see in my practice who tell me they feel they have a female genotype - a concept I use metaphorically - trapped inside their male phenotype. These men are convinced they are females and that the world has played a cruel trick on them. In fact, their fear of not living as females is stronger than their fear of death; some grand existential dilemma.


    Bear with me as I briefly outline what I have come to think is my existential crises: I am an early career psychologist trapped inside an almost 70-year-old body. After all my years of immersing myself in the lives of others, I'm aware how easily our minds adopt beliefs, opinions, and facts used to justify our actions. As that astute philosopher David Hume reminds us, the intellect is a slave to our passions.


   So as a scientist, skeptic and a life-long worshipper of reason, I set out to test my passion-driven beliefs examined under the light of intensive psychotherapy, peering into my unconscious, preconscious, conscious, defenses and neurotransmitters. To do this, I took a sabbatical from my work and committed myself to challenging my beliefs, or at least attempting to understand them, by subjecting myself to the psychotherapy by the best clinicians I could find who practiced psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, and various other approaches. I took carefully monitored trials of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.


    I am embarrassed but not surprised to report the early career psychologist continues to live and grow inside of me despite excellent psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. Of course, I have not revealed my preoccupation to my wife or any of my friends or colleagues. In the old days - during my training as a psychologist- my behaviors were called a perversion.


  So, I confine my early career psychologist behaviors in my attic in my home - three late evenings a week for two hours after my wife goes to sleep. I've given on being cured. Over my own years of practice, I have learned that the word "cure" is not often applied to psychiatric maladies. Consequently, I have come to accept the advice of Sigmund Freud:


   A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson: The Second World Wars

1/29/18. Edward Short reviews Victor Davis Hanson's new book on the Second World Wars.

Psychologist Jordan Peterson debates

1/29/18. Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. In this spirited interview,  Dr. Peterson debates a challenging interviewer. Dr. Peterson presents information that may surprise you.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jonathan Haidt "Age of Outrage"

12/21/17. Liberal social psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the righteous minds of some liberals and conservatives.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Las Vegas: The Unanswerable

10/4/17. The motives for this mass killing of 59 people with 500 injuries is beyond our imagination of evil. We will endlessly search for reasons to explain this evil and come up empty handed. We need to know more about human nature.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Naked Ladies and Weird Invisable Men

Milton Friedman on Collectivism vs the Free Market

8/12/17. The arguments for the free market are subtle and hard for people to understand.
“The argument for collectivism, for government doing something, is simple. Anybody can understand it. 'If there's something wrong, pass a law. If somebody is in trouble, get Mr. X to help them out.' The argument for voluntary cooperation, for a free market, is not nearly so simple. It says, 'You know, if you allow people to cooperate voluntarily and don't interfere with them, indirectly, through the operation of the market, they will improve matters more than you can improve it directly by appointing somebody.' That's a subtle argument, and it's hard for people to understand. Moreover, people think that when you argue that way you're arguing for selfishness, for greed. That's utter nonsense.”
— Milton Friedman

Thomas Sowell on Helping Others

8/12/17. Truth.
“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
— Thomas Sowell

Anne Lamott On Loss

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
— Anne Lamott 

Google and Diversity

Monday, July 31, 2017

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: "Everybody Lies"

7/31/17. Forward by Steven Pinker, Ph.D. We all lie when we examine big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us. A look a google searches reveals a view of human nature we cannot see.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taking on the Scourge of Opiods

6/26/17. Psychiatrist Dr. Sally Satel describes the crisis of opioid addiction and offers some suggestions for treatment. Dr. Satel is an expert on drug addiction.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


5/9/17. “That it makes you do the harder thing when that is the right thing.”


FROM: Robert Sapolsky.  "Behave. Humans at Our Best and Worst"

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On Robert Nozick

5/2/17. I had the privilege of introducing Professor Nozick when he talked to the American Psychological Association in 1998 on Consciousness. He was an extraordinary man.

August 1998

American Psychological Association
San Francisco


 I am Steve Ceresnie, President of the Michigan Psychological Association, a long-time fan of Professor Robert Nozick, and one of the many friends of Marty Seligman.

Anyone familiar with the remarkable work of Professor Robert Nozick knows that he is no ordinary modern philosopher.   Professor Nozick tell us that “Life or living is not the kind of topic whose investigation philosophers find especially rewarding.” 

But Professor Nozick has the creativity, the guts and  the will to deal with the life, living and the massive problems of the 20th century.  He goes after fundamental questions of human existence that his colleagues ignore:

 “Are there objective ethical truths?”

"Do we have a free will?”

"Is there is meaning to life?"

 In his recent APA Monitor Presidential column, Marty Seligman laments and even says he loses sleep over how  there are so few talented academics who study the guts of human existence such as love, work, and play – and so few talented academics who bring to bear both analytic and synthetic thinking –  Marty  is not talking about our distinguished speaker --- Robert Nozick. 

In his introduction to his book The Examined Life, Professor Nozick writes and I quote:

“I want to think about living and what is important in life, to clarify my thinking---and also my life. Mostly we tend---I do too---to live on automatic pilot, following through the views of ourselves and the aims we acquired early, with only minor adjustments…”

 Later in the same paragraph he writes:

“---would you design an intelligent species so continually shaped by its childhood, one whose emotions had ho half-life and where statues of limitations could be involved only with great difficulty?”

Known by many for his early work as a “political philosopher,” Robert Nozick, the Arthur Kingsley Porter  Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, tells us that his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia was written by “accident.” A fortunate accident for us I might add. He says he originally planned to write a book on free will --------but perhaps--- it wasn’t in the cards to write on free will.

Robert Nozick is the author of five books:

Anarchy, State, and Utopia (which received a National Book Award), which I mentioned, Philosophical Explanations (which received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of Phi Beta Kappa), The Examined Life, The Nature of Rationality, and most recently, Socratic Puzzles, published in the Spring of 1997.

He has also published stories in literary magazines including the piece “God --- A Story” which begins: “Proving God’s existence isn’t all that easy---even when you’re God. So, I ask you, how can people expect to do it?”

In the Spring of 1997, he delivered the six John Locke Lectures at Oxford University, and a revision of these lectures will be published by Harvard University with the title Objectivity and Invariance.

When you read Robert Nozick’s work, your mind is aroused by  his remarkable gift for offering elegant, witty, and playful cases and thought experiments to represent problems. 

To read his books is to imagine inviting a brilliant friend over for dinner. The following chapter headings from Robert Nozick’s books give you only a taste of the full course meal to come:

 Dying; Parents and Children; Love’s Bond; The Nature of God, the Nature of Faith; Sexuality; Creating; Love’s Bond; Emotions; Being more Real; Why Do Intellectual Oppose Capitalism; The Holocaust.

His brilliant chapter on The Holocaust--- alone--- makes the book worth reading.

You should know that we have two Presidents of APA with us today.  Robert Nozick is the President  --- the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division). He is a member of the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard university, and was Christensen Visiting Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University in the Spring of 1997. He was a Cultural Adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO Conference on World Cultural Policy in 1982.

He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for the Advance Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, educated at Columbia College and Princeton University, he has lived in Italy, Israel,  France, and England. He is married to Gjertrud Schnackenberg.

Professor Robert Nozick will speak on:

The Place of Consciousness. A discussion of the function of consciousness and the relation of conscious experience to neurophysiological process and events.

Please welcome Professor Nozick.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Lucky or Smart?


"A simple rule that every good man knows by heart / It's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart."

--- Pippin

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A prescription for mental-health policy

4/18/17. Doctors Sally Satel & E. Fuller Torrey

About 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. They aren't getting the help they need.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"No One Cares about Crazy People"

4/10/17. Review of a new book about a family's experiences raising two schizophrenic sons; the history of America's treatment of the mentally ill; and a courageous story of horror, humility, sadness, and resilience.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Words of Wisdom


Steven J. Ceresnie, Ph.D.
MPA Newsletter, Spring 2017

The following are some observations, ideas, and concepts that have filled my tires with air over the road covered with the wonder, mystery, and humor of the human condition:


 When Anna Freud was eighty-five, a depressed young man sent her a lament about the chaotic state of the world, she sent him a succinct statement of her credo:

“I agree with you wholeheartedly that things are not as well as you would like them to be. However, my feeling is that there is only one way to deal with it, namely to try and be all right with oneself, and to create around one at least a small circle where matters are arranged as one wants them to be.”

 --- Anna Freud


Don’t be too sweet, lest you be eaten up; don’t be too bitter, lest you be spewed out.”

 --- Yiddish proverb


“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?

 --- Steven Wright

 “The only way one can allow oneself to be content is to remember the dead --- and the let them be in on one’s memory.”

 --- Elvin Semrad


 “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.”

 --- Richard Dawkins

 “I’m going to live forever. So far, so good.”

 --- Steven Wright


 “If you want your dreams to come true, don’t sleep.”

 --- Yiddish proverb

“Enjoy yourself --- it’s later than you think.”

 --- Chinese proverb


 “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”

 --- Chinese proverb

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.”

 --- John Milton

 “Self-love is the greatest of all flatterers.”

 “We are all strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.”

 ---Francois, Sixth Duc, de la Rochefoucauld


 “…the least common denominator of all therapies, and the one to which their claims to success must depend, is their ability to combat a destructive state of mind which characterizes persons who seek psychotherapy, whatever their specific symptoms. The state may be termed demoralization…feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, impotence, isolation…Since the meaning of life derives from the ties of individuals with persons whose values they share, alienation may contribute to a sense of meaninglessness."

 --- Jerome Frank

 Freud was once asked what he thought a normal person should be able to do well. The questioner probably expected a complicated answer. But Freud, in the curt way of his old days, is reported to have said, “Lieben und arbeiten” (to love and to work).

"A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get in accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”

 --- Sigmund Freud

 “The most important task of a human being is to make up his mind --- what’s for him and what’s not for him.”

 --- Elvin Semrad

 “…I judge the success of psychotherapy in two ways. Does the patient’s appearance change? Does he get new friends?”

 --- Leston Havens


 “We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can.”

 --- Will Rogers

 “A sense of humor is just common sense dancing."

--- William James

 “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

 --- Mel Brooks

"I don't use humor with people I don't like. It always comes out wrong."

--- Steven Ceresnie


“It’s a very short trip. While alive, live.”

 --- Malcolm Forbes

“Life can be altered by what a patient HAS – diseases.

Life can be altered by what a patient IS – personality and intelligence.

Life can be altered by what a patient DOES --- behaviors.

Life can be altered by what a patient ENCOUNTERS – life story.”

--- Paul McHugh and Philip Slavney


 “The ego’s relation to the id might be compared to that of a rider to his horse. The horse supplies the locomotive energy, while the rider has the privilege of deciding on the goals and of guiding the powerful animal’s movement. But only too often there arises between the ego and the id the not precisely ideal situation of the rider being obliged to guide the horse along the path by which itself wants to go.”

 --- Sigmund Freud


 “Let’s have a merry journey, and should about how light is good and dark is not. What we should do is not future ourselves so much. We should now ourselves more. Now you is more important than Know thyself. Reason is what tells us to ignore the present and live in the future. So all we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be green pastures. It’s crazy. Heaven is nothing but a grand monumental instance of future. Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful”

 --- Mel Brooks


 “As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”

 --- Goethe


 “I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this:  the intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not.”

 --- Sir Peter Medawar


 “You can have too much self-esteem but not too much self-respect.”

 --- Charles Murray

 “Your two-cents is as good as anybody else’s two-cents.”

 --- Anonymous


 “All therapies attract a loyal following, and I have yet to hear of a school that has disbanded because it became convinced of the superiority of its rivals.”

 --- Jerome Frank


 “Respect is conveyed by mean of all aspects of the therapist’s behavior and has its basis in the therapist’s self-respect.”

 “Do not engage in far-fetched constructions. Learn to feel comfortable in acknowledging that you are at a loss. It can be a powerful lesson in reality testing.”

 --- Hans Strupp and Jeffrey Binder

 "We must help the patient to acknowledge, bear, and put into perspective his feelings.”

 --- Elvin Semrad

 “The greatest power of psychotherapy may be precisely this power not to confirm the patients’ expectations, not to collude in the games they and their personal world have long played, but, slowly to turn them toward a more natural and happy course.”

--- Leston Havens


 “When in doubt, tell the truth.”

 --- Mark Twain

 “As long as the world is turning and spinning, we're gonna be dizzy and we're gonna make mistakes.”

 --- Mel Brooks


 “The art of being wise is to know what to overlook."

 --- William James

 “You cannot exert influence if you are not susceptible to influence.”

 --- Carl Jung

 “You cannot control the length of your life but you can control the width.”

 --- Anonymous