Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Way the Brain Buys

12/28/11. The psychology of shopping. We have come a long way since Vance Packard wrote "The Hidden Persuaders" in 1957.

Antonio Damsio: The Quest to Understand Consciousness

Going Pogo

12/28/11. The life and times of Walt Kelly's Pogo.

"On the first Earth Day, in 1970, a cartoon poster appeared at rallies in all 50 states. It showed a rueful opossum picking up papers, bottles, cans, wrappers—the detritus of modern life. Superimposed on the image were the words WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US..."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Essaying Epstein


"Books of essays don’t sell, an editor once told me, so don’t send me one. Joseph Epstein, who considers the label “essayist” an honorific and who himself has been one of the editors of the annual series, The Best American Essays, has compared the essayist’s place in the realm of literature to a seat at the children’s table at the family holiday dinner. Not to get too snooty about it, as Joe Epstein might say, the essay deserves a better seat than that, maybe even one at the high table..."

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twice-Victimized of Sexual Assault


Jane Brody:

"Nearly every woman I know can recall one or more instances in which she was sexually assaulted, harassed, threatened, inappropriately touched or even raped..."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Holiday Book Recommendations

12/6/11. Some of my recent favorite books:

Darlymple, Theodore. "Life at the Bottom. The Worldview that Makes the Underclass."

Epstein, Joseph. "Gossip."

Gazzanaga, Michael. "Who's in Charge?  Free Will and the Science of the Brain."

Kagan, Jerome. "The Temperamental Thread. How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are."

Markel, Howard. "An Anatomy of Addiction. Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle of Cocaine."

The Myth of Multiple Personality Disorder

12/6/11. How can so many people be so wrong?  Easy. Science is filled with beliefs masquerading as facts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Thomas Sowell

12/6/11. Economist Thomas Sowell is a national treasure. His book "Conflict of Visions" is my favorite.

Theodore Dalrymple: Barbarians on the Thames

12/6/11. A postmortem of the British riots.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl RIP

12/6/11. Of her many books, I enjoyed her study of Anna Freud, the youngest of Sigmund Freud's six children.

NYT: 100 Notable Books of 2011


What is your favorite book(s) from last year?

Book Review: "Gossip," by Joseph Epstein

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Herman Cain --- Two Views

11/30/11. On the drive into work today, I heard an interview on NPR about Herman Cain. One person interviewed was a pastor, and he offered his opinion about the morality of what Cain thought he was able to get away with. The other person interviewed was the CEO of a Web site that arranges affairs between married people --- who thought moral judgments should not apply to Mr. Cain.

What do you think? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Great Global Warming Fizzle

11/29/11. Some say global warning attracts a religious following. When is that last time a religious group disbanded for lack of evidence supporting the tenets of their beliefs?

Inflating Your IQ

11/29/11. Charting our IQs started in the early 1900's with the invention of tests to measure children's progress in school. These tests proved necessary because relying on teachers' judgements were often misguided. The standard IQ test measures verbal reasoning, perceptual organization, working memory, and visual processing. Much can be learned from an IQ assessments in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders and learning disabilities. As yet, we have no valid measures for creativity.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Joshua Walters: On being just crazy enough

11/21/11. Joshua Walters - a self-described bipolar comedian - gives a provocative talk about mental illness and creativity.

Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to Birth - Visualized

11/21/11. A magical, visual tour of the unfolding of the genetic blueprints of a human being - to marvelous for words.

Jonah Lehrer: How Does Prozac Work?

11/21/11.  Is our brain to complicated to imagine?

What’s the point of neuroscience? Why do we spend billions of dollars investigating those three pounds of flesh inside the head? Sure, human nature is interesting, and self-knowledge is a virtuous pursuit, but let’s be honest: we study the brain because we don’t want to die. Because we want cures for awful afflictions. Because we’re desperate to avoid depression and addiction and dementia. The only way to justify the terrific expense of biomedical research is medicine.
Here’s the bad news: I think neuroscience has yet to deliver on its therapeutical potential. We’ve learned an astonishing amount about the brain in recent years – a ten year old textbook is totally obsolete – but all this shiny new knowledge has yet to heal us. As a result, we’re still stuck with pills and treatments that are frustratingly ineffective.
Consider depression. Every year, approximately 7 percent of us will be afflicted to some degree by the awful mental state that William Styron described as a “gray drizzle of horror . . . a storm of murk.” This is a big societal problem, which is why 24.4 million prescriptions were filled for fluoxetine (the generic version of Prozac) in 2010 in America.
The first thing to say about fluoxetine is that it’s an old drug, having been introduced in the early 1970s. (Like many medical treatments, it was discovered largely by accident, when researchers realized that a common anti-histamine had anti-depressant properties.) Until recently, scientists assumed they knew how fluoxetine/Prozac worked. The story was simple: depression results from a neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain, in which patients suffer from a shortage of chemical happiness. The little blue pills cheer us up because they give the brain what it has been missing – a dose of serotonin.
There’s only one problem with this theory of anti-depressants: it’s almost certainly wrong, or at the very least woefully incomplete. Experiments have since shown that lowering people’s serotonin levels does not make them depressed, nor does it worsen their symptoms if they are already depressed. And then there’s the “Prozac lag”: although anti-depressants increase the amount of serotonin in the brain within hours, their beneficial effects are not usually felt for weeks.
Despite our causal ignorance, anti-depressants remain an essential balm for millions of people, allowing them to escape from that recursive loop of woe. And yet, it’s also clear that anti-depressants are
often disturbingly ineffective and, in many clinical trials, appear little better than a placebo. (See Irving Kirsch for a partiuclarly critical take.)
Furthermore, even when the drugs prove effective, their efficacy remains mysterious. Although there are some exciting new hypotheses about the power of Prozac – I’m particularly interested in the neurogenesis story – we still don’t understand why this category of drugs is the best we’ve got, even after forty years of well funded R&D. (Of course, this mystery hasn’t interfered with the popularity of the pills: As Schopenhauer once noted, people tend to treat causes “like a hired cab that one dismisses when one reaches the destination.” All we really care about is the health benefit – the causal story is just a sales ploy, a way to reassure patients that our success isn’t dumb luck, even when it is.)
And this returns us to the current state of neuroscientific research into depression. Last week, the field recieved a jolt of bad news: a hyped new compound from Glaxo (GSK372475) proved utterly useless. In two well done clinical trials, the drug failed to make people feel better.
Why is this news? Drugs fail all the time. (According to one recent analysis, more than 40 percent of drugs fail Phase III clinical trials. The odds are even worse for brain pills.) What makes the dismissal of GSK372475 noteworthy is that it looked so good on paper. The molecule is a potent triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI), blocking the breakdown of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. While Prozac only alters serotonin, other successful anti-depressants, such as venlafaxine, block the reuptake of serotonin and noradrenaline. So it seemed like a good idea to also interfere with the reuptake of dopamine, especially since decades of research have suggested that more dopamine in the synapse is reliably associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. (Why do you think cocaine feels nice?) Although we still don’t understand how blocking the reuptake of various neurotransmitters cheers us up, we have yet to improve on that mechanism of action, which is why drug companies are still investing in expensive clinical trials for reuptake inhibitors.
But that logic didn’t pan out. Not only did depressed patients on GSK372475 get better more slowly than those on placebo, they were also hit with a bevy of side-effects, including insomnia and nausea.
Pharmaceutical failures like this are a sobering reminder that the brain and its afflictions remain deeply mysterious. Despite the billions of dollars poured into depression research, we still don’t understand the causal mechanisms of the illness, which means we don’t even know which drug actions to screen for. We can’t even imitate our past successes.
Given such struggles, it’s not surprising that drug companies are dramatically scaling back research into the brain. (Most recently, four leading drug firms, including Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, announced that they were cutting neuroscience R&D. They cited the disconnect between scientific funding and pharmaceutical sucess.) The organ is simply too complicated, too full of networks and pathways we don’t comprehend.
I don’t want to overdo the pessimism – betting against science is a losing game. But I think we need to be honest about the payoff of basic research, at least so far. We’ve learned so much, but we have yet to learn what really matters, whether it’s the neural underpinnings of depression or the triggers of Alzheimer’s or the genetic snippets behind, well, everything. The brain isn’t just complicated – it seems to be more complicated than we can imagine.
So how does Prozac work? The sad answer is that we’re still not sure. And that means we don’t know how to come up with something better.
PS. The Neuroskeptic has a typically great post on the failed trial.

Woody Allen, American Master

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Metapsychology: Book Reviews

11/19/20. A Web site of reviews of psychology books.

Medication for Mental Health

11/19/11. Sometimes psychiatric medication is essential for psychological treatment. For example, people with major depressive disorder, ADHD, and anxieties often benefit from medication.

Psychological therapy is often a crucial component of effective psychological treatment. Many people take psychiatric medication --- for a while --- give up, and never reap the benefits of psychological therapy.

For some people, until we have biological markers for psychological disorders, no amount of research and clinical knowledge will propel people to get the psychological treatment they need.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mrs. Radosh and Hyman.


Mrs. Radosh says to the rabbi, My husband keeps shrinking! When we married he was five foot eight, and now he’s five foot four. Can you say a blessing for him?

Of course: May he live to be four foot ten.

God agrees to grant Hyman a wish, with the condition that whatever he asks for, his brother-in-law will get double.

Okay, Hyman says,  I wish I were half-dead.

Rethinking Thinking

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Wrong Inequality

11/6/11. David Brooks describes the complexity of inequality.
There is not only income inequality - a serious problem - but also educational and social inequality.
There are no easy answers.

David Eagleman: Your Brain Knows a Lot More Than You Realize

11/6/11. Your consciousness or "I" feel likes your driver. For much of your experience, you are the passenger with your unconscious mind at the wheel.

Video Interview with Walter Mischel and David Brooks

11/6/11. David Brooks is a journalist as rare as a Rabbi in Mecca who writes a regular column in the New York Times. Much of his interest focuses on social science applications to practical problems. Walter Mischel is one of the giants in the field of social psychology most famous for his two marshmallows study illustrating the roots of self-control.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Review. "A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next," by David Horowitz.

11/4/11. David Horowitz took three years to write an elegant, short book drawing from his experience and from the works of Marcus Aurelius and Dostoevsky.  In his youth, Horowitz was a political radical. After his secretary was murdered by the Black Panthers, he began to rethink his ideology. Horowitz is now a political conservative, and understands --- like few people do --- the utopian horrors of his youth.
He meditates on the meaning of life - and death.

When Geeks Meet

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sascha) draws on his research on autism to predict  what kind of parents produce autistic kids.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Profile of Michael Gazzaniga: Neuroscientist

11/2/11. Professor Gazzaniga' s research has enlightened our minds on such topics as split/brain surgery, the role of the interpreter, and the ethics of neuroscience findings defining the concepts of free-will, responsibility, and accountability.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Favorite Web Site: Arts and Letters Daily

New Guidelines for ADHD

10/17/11. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines for diagnosing ADHD in children as young as four years old.

A reliable method to diagnose preschool children with ADHD is to count the number of rings under the parents' eyes.

ADHD is a neurophysiological disorder --- children are born with it --- so treating young children with ADHD with medication who do not respond to behavioral methods makes sense.

The Genetics of Happiness: Transporter of delight

10/17/11. Happiness is in your DNA; and different races may have different propensities for it.

When you are getting married, take a good look at your spouse-to-be's family.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

E.O. Wilson's Theory of Everything

10/12/11. Evolutionary biologist 82 year-old E.O. Wilson continues his remarkable career.

I remember being in graduate school when his controversial book, "Sociobiology" was published. Some female psychology professors wanted to  stop Wilson from spreading such "lies" about social behavior, gender, and biology. Wilson responded to criticism with another provocative book, "On Human Nature."

Wilson once said that Karl Marx was right about socialism --- but he was wrong about the species. Marx should have applied his insights to ants --- Wilson's scientific specialty.

A Patient Recommends...

10/12/11. I found this endorsement of my psychological services --- I am grateful to the person who wrote this. Thank you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jonah Lehrer: "Why Do Some People Learn Faster?"


"The physicist Niels Bohr once defined an expert as “a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” Bohr’s quip summarizes one of the essential lessons of learning, which is that people learn how to get it right by getting it wrong again and again. Education isn’t magic. Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.
A new study, forthcoming in Psychological Science, and led by Jason Moser at Michigan State University, expands on this important concept. The question at the heart of the paper is simple: Why are some people so much more effective at learning from their mistakes? After all, everybody screws up. The important part is what happens next. Do we ignore the mistake, brushing it aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the error, seeking to learn from the snafu?

The Moser experiment is premised on the fact that there are two distinct reactions to mistakes, both of which can be reliably detected using electroenchephalography, or EEG. The first reaction is called error-related negativity (ERN). It appears about 50 milliseconds after a screw-up and is believed to originate in the anterior cingulate cortex, a chunk of tissue that helps monitor behavior, anticipate rewards and regulate attention. This neural reaction is mostly involuntary, the inevitable response to any screw-up.
The second signal, which is known as error positivity (Pe), arrives anywhere between 100-500 milliseconds after the mistake and is associated with awareness. It occurs when we pay attention to the error, dwelling on the disappointing result. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that subjects learn more effectively when their brains demonstrate two properties: 1) a larger ERN signal, suggesting a bigger initial response to the mistake and 2) a more consistent Pe signal, which means that they are probably paying attention to the error, and thus trying to learn from it.
In this new paper, Moser et al. extends this research by looking at how beliefs about learning shape these mostly involuntary error-related signals in the brain, both of which appear in less than half a second. More specifically, the scientists applied a dichotomy first proposed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. In her influential research, Dweck distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset — they tend to agree with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it” — and those with a growth mindset, who believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy. While people with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a dismal failure — a sign that we aren’t talented enough for the task in question — those with a growth mindset see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge, the engine of education.
The experiment began with a flanker task, a tedious assignment in which subjects are supposed to identify the middle letter of a five-letter series, such as “MMMMM” or “NNMNN.” Sometimes the middle letter is the same as the other four, and sometimes it’s different. This simple change induces frequent mistakes, as the boring task encourages people to zone out. Once they make a mistake, of course, they immediately regret it. There is no excuse for misidentifying a letter.
While performing the flanker task, subjects wore an EEG cap, a monitoring device filled with greased electrodes that records electrical activity in the brain. (Unlike fMRI, EEG gives researchers excellent temporal resolution, allowing them to precisely measure a sequence of neural events. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of spatial resolution, making it difficult to know where in the brain the signals are coming from.)
It turned out that those subjects with a growth mindset were significantly better at learning from their mistakes. As a result, they showed a spike in accuracy immediately following an error. Most interesting, though, was the EEG data, which demonstrated that those with a growth mindset generated a much larger Pe signal, indicating increased attention to their mistakes. (While those with an extremely fixed mindset generated a Pe amplitude around five, those with a growth mindset were closer to fifteen.) What’s more, this increased Pe signal was nicely correlated with improvement after error, implying that the extra awareness was paying dividends in performance. Because the subjects were thinking about what they got wrong, they learned how to get it right.
In her own research, Dweck has shown that these mindsets have important practical implications. Her most famous study, conducted in twelve different New York City schools along with Claudia Mueller, involved giving more than 400 fifth graders a relatively easy test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After the children finished the test, the researchers told the students their score, and provided them with a single line of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence. “You must be smart at this,” the researcher said. The other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”
The students were then allowed to choose between two different subsequent tests. The first choice was described as a more difficult set of puzzles, but the kids were told that they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other option was an easy test, similar to the test they’d just taken.
When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.
Dweck’s next set of experiments showed how this fear of failure can actually inhibit learning. She gave the same fifth graders yet another test. This test was designed to be extremely difficult — it was originally written for eighth graders — but Dweck wanted to see how the kids would respond to the challenge. The students who were initially praised for their effort worked hard at figuring out the puzzles. Kids praised for their smarts, on the other hand, were easily discouraged. Their inevitable mistakes were seen as a sign of failure: Perhaps they really weren’t so smart. After taking this difficult test, the two groups of students were then given the option of looking either at the exams of kids who did worse or those who did better. Students praised for their intelligence almost always chose to bolster their self-esteem by comparing themselves with students who had performed worse on the test. In contrast, kids praised for their hard work were more interested in the higher-scoring exams. They wanted to understand their mistakes, to learn from their errors, to figure out how to do better.
The final round of tests was the same difficulty level as the initial test. Nevertheless, students who were praised for their effort exhibited significant improvement, raising their average score by 30 percent. Because these kids were willing to challenge themselves, even if it meant failing at first, they ended up performing at a much higher level. This result was even more impressive when compared to students randomly assigned to the smart group, who saw their scores drop by nearly 20 percent. The experience of failure had been so discouraging for the “smart” kids that they actually regressed.
The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence — the “smart” compliment — is that it misrepresents the psychological reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is when we learn from our mistakes. Because unless we experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong — that surge of Pe activity a few hundred milliseconds after the error, directing our attention to the very thing we’d like to ignore — the mind will never revise its models. We’ll keep on making the same mistakes, forsaking self-improvement for the sake of self-confidence. Samuel Beckett had the right attitude: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: The Price of Civilization

10/1/11. Paul Ryan reviews Jeffrey Sachs' "The Price of Civilization."

Competing visions of human nature underlie Sachs' claim that a moral crisis is at the root of America's economic crisis. Sachs, like so many intellectuals who are allergic to capitalism, benefits from the fruits of free enterprise that has lifted-up more humans from poverty than any other economic system.

Book Review: The Better Angels Of Our Nature

10/1/11. James Q. Wilson reviews Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels Of Our Nature."

Have people become less violent? Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker makes the case that humans are becoming more civilized and suppressing their most violent impulses.

James Q. Wilson:

"...Some facts are not in dispute. There has been a dramatic drop in the homicide rate from the Middle Ages to the present. We know this from detailed studies by archaeologists and by others, such as the political scientist Ted Robert Gurr. Other facts are in dispute: Was the 20th century—with two world wars, the perfection of genocide and the use of forced starvation as a way of compelling political assent—the bloodiest in history'?

You would think so. World War II took 55 million lives. In China, Mao Zedong killed 40 million of his own people. In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin murdered 20 million of his. World War I added an additional 15 million to the death lists. The total is 130 million dead bodies. But Mr. Pinker argues that this figure, as ghastly as it is, does not tell the whole story. The more important consideration, he suggests, is what fraction of the living were put to death..."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Joseph Epstein: Puncturing Our Pretensions

9/24/11. Epstein reflects on La Rochefoucauld (1613 - 1680) who perfected pithy verbal darts aimed at deflating our self-deceptions. Better reality instructions you will not get.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Teenage Brains


"To see past the distracting, dopey teenager and glimpse the adaptive adolescent within, we should look not at specific, sometimes startling, behaviors, such as skateboarding down stairways or dating fast company, but at the broader traits that underlie those acts.

Let's start with the teen's love of the thrill. We all like new and exciting things, but we never value them more highly than we do during adolescence. Here we hit a high in what behavioral scientists call sensation seeking: the hunt for the neural buzz, the jolt of the unusual or unexpected..."

Book Review: Your Medical Mind


"...In 'Your Medical Mind,' oncologist Jerome Groopman, and his wife, endocrinologist Pamela Hartzband, offer a road map for navigating the medical maze and the mountains of information that Google searches produce. In an era when the magisterial physician who dictates care is obsolete, the book may be a welcome guide for those who are daunted by the choices they face, ranging from taking a cholesterol-lowering drug to making end-of-life decisions for a loved one..."

Excerpt from "Your Medical Mind:"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nathan Glazer on the Limits of Social Policy

9/21/11. 88 year old Professor Glazer has witnessed the gaps beween the intentions and consequences of American social policy.

“Against the view that to every problem there is a solution, I came to believe that we can have only partial and less than wholly satisfying answers to the social problems in question. Whereas the prevailing wisdom was that social policies would make steady progress in nibbling away at the agenda of problems set by the forces of industrialization and urbanization, I came to believe that although social policy had ameliorated some of the problems we had inherited, it had also given rise to other problems no less grave in their effect on human happiness.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Richard Dawkins

9/20/11. A passionate atheist, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins seeks to find out why we are here, wonders what life means, and whether their is a purpose to our existence. He once said that we are the lucky ones - because most people are never born.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Daniel Kahneman: The Marvels and the Flaws of Intuitive Thinking

"...If you want to understand intuition, it is very useful to understand perception, because so many of the rules that apply to perception apply as well to intuitive thinking. Intuitive thinking is quite different from perception. Intuitive thinking has language. Intuitive thinking has a lot of world knowledge organized in different ways than mere perception. But some very basic characteristics that we'll talk about of perception are extended almost directly into intuitive thinking..."

What if the Secret to Success is Failure?


"...Randolph has been pondering throughout his 23-year career as an educator the question of whether and how schools should impart good character. It has often felt like a lonely quest, but it has led him in some interesting directions. In the winter of 2005, Randolph read “Learned Optimism,” a book by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who helped establish the Positive Psychology movement. Randolph found the book intriguing, and he arranged a meeting with the author. As it happened, on the morning that Randolph made the trip to Philadelphia, Seligman had scheduled a separate meeting with David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City. Seligman decided he might as well combine the two meetings, and he invited Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, who was also visiting Penn that day, to join him and Randolph and Levin in his office for a freewheeling discussion of psychology and schooling..."

David Brooks: The Planning Fallacy

9/16/11. Wise people know the limits of their intelligence. Intelligent people don't.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bachmann in Overdrive

9/15/11. Michele Bachmann speaks to the dangers of the HPV vaccine. She is eerily uninformed. Enough children are now needlessly dying from not getting life-saving vaccines. Bachmann reminds me of how some liberals fought for the rights of schizophrenic patients to refuse their psychiatric medications.

From Scientific American:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Quotations


"We see only what we know."

--- Goethe (1749 - 1832)

"Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopp'd,
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is."

--- Shakespeare (1564 - 1616

"None of us can help the things life has done to us. They're done before you realise it, and once they're done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you'ld like to be, and you lose your true self for ever."

--- Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)

"...he who remains passive when overwhelmed with grief loses his best chance of recovering elasticity of mind."

--- Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

"In addition to perceived burdensomeness, the other important psychological state in my model of suicidal behavior is the perception that one does not belong --- the feeling that one is alienated from others and not an integral part of a family, circle of friends, or other valued group."

--- Thomas Joiner 

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Psychologist

9/2/11. Vladimir Nabokov knew much about human nature.

Brian Boyd writes:
"...Psychology fills vastly wider channels now than when Nabokov, in the mid-20th century, refused to sail the narrow course between the Scylla of behaviorism and the Charybdis of Freud. It deals with what matters to writers, readers, and others: with memory and imagination, emotion and thought, art and our attunement to one another, and it does so in wider time frames and with tighter spatial focus than even Nabokov could imagine. It therefore seems high time to revise or refresh our sense of Nabokov by considering him as a serious (and of course a playful) psychologist, and to see what literature and psychology can now offer each other..."

Gary Becker: The Great Recession and Government Failure

9/2/11. Nobel economics laureate, and professor of economics at the University of Chicago:

"When comparing the performance of markets to government, markets look pretty darn good."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Quotations


"God bless America.
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

--- Irving Berlin (1888- 1989)

"I got plenty of nothin',
And nothin's plenty for me."

--- Ira Gershwin (1896 - 1983)

"Climb ev'ry mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow
Till you find your dream."

--- Oscar Hammerstein II (1895 - 1960)

I felt a surge of patriotism, inspiration, and fortitude after watching a two-hour documentary on the life of Ray Charles.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Willpower

8/27/11. Cordelia Fine reviews "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength," by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierny.

Professor Baumeister is the author of many books including my favorite:  "The Cultural Animal. Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life."

Joseph Epstein: What Killed American Lit.


..."A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination, and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism. The automatic leftism behind this picture is also part of the reigning ethos of the current-day English Department..."

James Q. Wilson: Crime and the Great Recession

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Hard Is It To Get a Cartoon Into The New Yorker?

Jonah Lehrer: Love is the Opposite of Underwear

8/25/11. The neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer describes "grit."

On Monday, I had the honor of delivering a convocation speech at Earlham College. I won’t clog up this blog with the full text of my talk, but I thought a few readers might be interested in the brief excerpt below. I’ve written a few times about grit, a personality trait first identified by Angela Duckworth that predicts a large amount of the individual variation in success. (To take but one example: grittier kids are far more likely to win the National Spelling Bee, largely because higher levels of grit allow them to put in more hours of deliberate practice.) While most descriptions of grit focus on perseverance, on having the strength of character to persist in the face of daunting challenges, I thought it was important to emphasize a less obvious feature of the trait, which is the ability to select the right goals in the first place. Here is what I told the students:
Grit is not just about stubborn persistence. It’s no use persisting, after all, if a goal is truly impossible. While you’ve no doubt been bombarded with successful people telling you that dreams always come true, that we just need to believe, that if you can imagine it then it can happen, the dismal reality is that not every goal is worth pursuing. I might want to play in the NBA, but I’m not Spud Webb. I still want to compose the Great American Novel, but I also know that my college creative writing professor was right: I have no talent for fiction. Unless I’m honest about my limitations, I’ll waste time chasing a farfetched future, which quickly gets very very frustrating. Because dreams do come true. But first we need to pick the right one.

So how can we sort the useful long-term goals from the futile ones? How can we make sure that all of our struggle and practice and sacrifice will be worth it? Well, here’s my advice: ask yourself if the goal passes the underwear test.
Let me explain. One of the most deep seated features of the human mind is that it quickly takes things for granted, becoming numb to the predictable perceptions and pleasures of the world. Just think of your underwear. Do you feel it? Are you conscious of it? Of course not. That’s because you’ve adapted to the feel of underwear, habituated to the touch of cotton on your bum.

And this isn’t just about underwear. Psychological adaptation also explains why the first bite of chocolate cake is better than the second, and the second is better than the third. It explains why the first time you use that new iPhone you’re pretty excited, but before long it will just be another thing in your pocket. And then, a few weeks after that, you’ll start complaining that your phone (your phone!) can only hold 10,000 songs or that it downloads streaming videos from Netflix so slowly. The delight has vanished, replaced by the usual dissatisfaction. This is because our brain is designed to be ungrateful, every pleasure a fleeting thing.
What does this have to do with grit and long-term goals? Well, the only dreams worth pursuing are those that pass the underwear test. These are the pursuits that don’t bore us, even after we put in 10,000 hours of practice. They contain the kind of subtle thrills that don’t get old, that we don’t adapt to, that keep us motivated and interested for years and years at a time. Sure, there will be frustrations along the way, but these frustrations don’t feel permanent, which is what allows us to keep on working and learning and improving. Because that’s what it takes to succeed, to accomplish something interesting. Perhaps you want to invent the cure for malaria, or bake a perfect baguette, or create the next Facebook. Whatever – don’t apologize for your obsession. Just be grateful you are obsessed with something, that you’ve found a goal worth getting gritty over. Because if your goals ever feel tedious, if you find them as unnecessary as that last bite of chocolate cake, then you’re never going to put in the necessary work. Grit requires passion. Grit requires love. And love is just another name for what never gets old. Love is the opposite of underwear.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

8/19/11. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study showing the increasing prevalence of parent-reported ADHD among children in the United States --- 2003 and 2007.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Happened to Obama?

8/13/11. Obama has been criticized this week from the political left and right about what he doing wrong.

"Nothing happened to Obama," says Norman Podhoretz, former long-time editor of Commentary Magazine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nassir Ghaemi, M.D.: "A First Rate Madness. Why Mental Illness Enhances Crisis Leadership."

8/9/11. I just read this first rate book. Dr. Ghaemi has written books on concepts of psychiatry, mood disorders, statistics, and the biopsychosocial model ---- all worth reading. There is much to learn here that will provoke heat and light.

Dr. Ghaemi writes:

"The intuition against my thesis has its roots in stigma, I believe. This prejudice underlies the notion that a leader we dislike must be mentally ill, or that mental health inherently is better than mental illness for leadership. These ideas are based on a stigmatizing attitude towards mental illness, the view that it is inherently and completely harmful. Mental illness certainly can be harmful in many ways, but not inherently and completely."

See prior post with excerpt from this book.

Debunking the Paranormal

8/9/11. A psychology professor examines the paranormal.

Bret Stephens: "Is Obama Really That Smart?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

10 Award-Winning Scientific Simulation Videos

Monday Quotations


[Businessman talking into the telephone:] "No, Thursday's out. How about never - is never good for you?"

--- Robert Mankoff (1944 -   )

"Men with pierced ears are better prepared for marriage --- they've experienced pain and bought jewelry."

--- Rita Rudner (1956 -   )

"While taking my noon walk today, I had more morbid thoughts. What is it about death that bothers me so much? Probably the hours. Melnick says the soul is immortal and lives on after the body drops away, but if my soul exists without my body I am convinced all my clothes will be too loose-fitting. Oh, well..."

--- Woody Allen (1935 -   )

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Gray Days Signal a Problem

7/26/11. Many people suffer with a treatable condition called dysthymia or chronic, low-grade depression. This disorder is frequently missed or mislabeled, leaving too many people to lead lives of quiet desperation.

A Woman's Place

7/26/11. A modern story about how one of the best of executive talent navigates corporate America.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Austerity in the U.K.

7/25/11. Psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple writes that shrinking government is much harder than expanding it. People want to get what they don't pay for.

Book Review: An Anatomy of an Addiction

7/24/11. Surgeon and writer ("How People Die") Sherwin Nuland reviews the perceptive new book by Howard Markel: "An Anatomy of an Addiction." Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Quotations


"You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred."

--- Woody Allen (1935 -   )

"The biggest argument against democracy is a five-minute discussion with the average voter."

---Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."

--- Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

---Albert Einstein  (1879 - 1955)

"He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head."

---G. K. Chesterton  (1874 - 1936)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Divorce Generation

7/10/11. The powerful effects of divorce on Generation X.

Thinking Away the Pain

7/10/11. We have not learned the limits of the conscious mind to ease physical pain, and much more.

In Defense of Antidepressants

7/10/11. Psychiatrist Peter Kramer reports on research findings claiming that antidepressants are no more effective than placebos.

My clinical experience matches Kramer's review:  antidepressants are often very helpful for treating severe depression, chronic mild depression or dysthymia, and anxiety in children and adults. Antidepressants often contribute to significant benefits of psychological therapy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Alan Dershowitz. Casey Anthony: The System Worked

7/7/11.  Perhaps the meaning  of "reasonable doubt" has changed with all the crime shows where all criminals are guilty with indisputable forensic evidence generated by powerful computers.  I wonder if being in the court room and hearing all the evidence is ALWAYS a much different experience than watching the trial on TV.