Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: Coming Apart

1/31/12. Read this book.

W. Bradford Wilcox reviews Charles Murray's new book:

"So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in "Coming Apart," are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, "the state of white America, 1960-2010," Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous..."


Monday, January 30, 2012

What the Bible Teaches about Capitalism

What's Wrong with the Teenage Mind?

"What was he thinking?" It's the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.

How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn't even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents' basement..."


The Tribal Psychology of Politics


Jonathan Haidt:

"...Haidt (pronounced like "height") made his name arguing that intuition, not reason, drives moral judgments. People are more like lawyers building a case for their gut feelings than judges reasoning toward truth. He later theorized a series of innate moral foundations that evolution etched into our brains like the taste buds on our tongues—psychological bases that underlie both the individual-protecting qualities that liberals value, like care and fairness, as well as the group-binding virtues favored by conservatives, like loyalty and authority..."


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nature, Nurture, and Liberal Values


Roger Scruton:

"Human beings are diverse and live in diverse ways. Should we accept that we are diverse by nature, having followed separate evolutionary paths? Or should we suppose that we share our biological inheritance, but develop differently according to environment and culture? Over recent years scientific research has reshaped this familiar “nature-nurture” debate, which remains central to our understanding of human nature and morality..."


Two Cheers for Ritalin


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a well-known disorder that is not known well.  

Dr. Sroufe's recent article "Ritalin Gone Wrong," (New York Times, 1/29/12) stands in a long line of CNN-ical media attacks on the safety and efficacy of medication to treat ADHD. His article takes a well known disorder and ignores what has gone right with Ritalin.

The following, for example, is an exceptionally intelligent 40 year old female describing growing up undiagnosed with this well- known disorder:

...Growing up I came by a reputation (honestly earned) of being very forgetful and not finishing things...I seemed to be an extreme case, by all accounts from friends and family...As a teenager I had a difficult time with the repetitive, routine jobs in my family’s bakery...I have always tended to be disorganized and messy...I have found I function best in jobs that I can move around a lot...I find I need an externally imposed structure to my days. It is difficult for me to prioritize and organize myself when faced with an ‘open’ day...Socially, I have a tendency to interrupt others during conversations, small talk can be hard because my mind starts to drift...I tend to lose things quite a bit...I think I am rather ‘stimulus bound’ - that is, I get distracted by things that are happening at the moment and drift towards the distraction, forgetting the task I was originally doing...In this sense, I am impulsive and reactive...Mood swings can be a problem for me...Some months they seem related to PMS, but those symptoms tend to lessen the more I exercise...luckily, I’ve also got a light side that somehow pulls me through...

The plural of clinical vignette is not data, but what is not known well about ADHD is the wealth of scientific data on the clinical description, epidemiology, developmental course, prognosis, etiology, evaluation, differential diagnosis, and treatment for ADHD --- accumulated over more than fifty years of peer-reviewed research that informs clinical practice:

(1)    The psychostimulants methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall) are the oldest and most established pharmacological agents in child psychiatry. The beneficial effects of stimulant medication for ADHD have been extensively studied over many years (e.g. Jadad et al., 1999; Swanson, 1993; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2007; Greenhill, 2002; Spencer et al., 2006; Wilens et al., 2006). Medications are underused in some areas and may be prescribed too freely in others, not using proper evaluation and follow-up. These medications work for the vast majority of people who are properly diagnosed.

(2)    There are some excellent long-term studies about the effects of medication for ADHD (e.g. Weiss and Hechtman, 2003; Mannuzza et al, 1998; Barkley et al., 2006).

(3)    There is strong evidence that ADHD is a genetic disorder (e.g Sprich et al., 2000).

If you type ADHD into the Google search engine, the prestigious National Institute of Mental Health web site pops up, linking you to a 46 page pamphlet on ADHD -- a disorder affecting 3 - 5 percent of youngsters under age 18 years characterized by chronic (since childhood) and pervasive (across settings) problems with hyperactivity (trouble doing nothing), impulsivity (trouble putting the "brakes" on emotions and actions) and/or inattentiveness (trouble filtering out external distractions)-- a neurophysiological disorder that doctors have known about and successfully treated for decades.

Physicians cannot persuade their patients to take the required eight days of antibiotics to treat their infections. Yet, some professionals and citizens claim that physicians are convincing parents to drug their children with Ritalin everyday with the help of harried teachers and lazy, self-preoccupied, permissive parents. .Others claim that ADHD is nothing but another myth of mental illness.

My experience - over 35 years - is that most parents never want their child to take medication for any psychiatric disorder.

Some hesitation about prescribing Ritalin for ADHD - and medicines for other psychological disturbances stems from contemplating the complexity of our brains:

In considering the brain, we are talking about a population of hundreds of billions of cells that far exceeds the number of stars in the sky. The number of possible connections these cells can make exceeds the numbers of particles in the universe. To give a sense of this, consider that the cortex of your brain has 30 billion neurons. It has a million billion connections, at least. If you counted one connection per second, you would not finish counting until 32 million years later. (Edelman, 2004).

No doubt scientists have made huge gains in our knowledge about the workings of the brain and the mind. But we do not know how the brain produces the mind --- how consciousness flows from brain tissue.

To circumvent this brain-mind gap in our knowledge and to clarify our diagnostic thinking about the multiple causal pathways of such disorders as ADHD, we benefit from considering the following four etiological families of psychological disorders (McHugh and Slavney, 1998; Kagan, 2010):

(1) brain disease (e.g. autism, dementia, schizophrenia, delirium).

(2) temperamental biases for anxiety and depression (e.g. phobias, PTSD, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive-disorder, depression).

(3) temperamental biases that make it difficult to regulate impulsive behavior (e.g. ADHD, conduct disorder).

(4) distressful life encounters (e.g. grief, adjustment disorders, trauma).

Not all twisted thoughts are caused by twisted neurons. We live in a time when our excitement with the remarkable technology of brain imaging and advances in understanding brain biochemistry lead to promoting pills for complex problems. Some brain scientists call this obsession with brain based explanations - neuromania (Tallis, 2011).

For those who may remember, we have lived through decades of environmental mania - when experts on the human mind told us that autism and schizophrenia were created by refrigerator mothers who just happened to defrost enough to produce a child (e.g. Kanner, 1943).

We must focus on the individual circumstances and social contexts of patients whose problems result from  unique combinations of these multiple etiologies. For example, a youngster with ADHD can be depressed, have an anxiety disorder, live in a family that frequently moves, and have an alcoholic, violent father.

With this ADHD youngster, psychiatric medications sometimes offer life-enhancing measures to improve a youngster’s faulty "hard drive" - improving mood stability, ability to filter out external distractions, reducing anxiety  and bolstering self-control. Medication is rarely enough to insure effective treatment. Psychological therapies are required.

Understanding family relationships and individual psychodynamics - and prescribing pharmacotherapy are not incompatible, but often complimentary methods of treatment.

Psychological therapies do much to repair "software," providing supportive settings to promote hope, reroute faulty emotional learning and beliefs, enhance family and peer relationships, and help the youngster enjoy life more. Psychological therapies for ADHD frequently make creative use of principles of behavioral psychology (e.g. Pelham et al., 1998).

Until we have a medical test for ADHD, no amount of anecdotes, scientific data, or testimonials from patients, will convince some professionals and citizens that ADHD is not a myth, but a well researched psychological disorder that can be accurately diagnosed and effectively treated. 


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 46: 894 – 921, 2007.

Barkley. R.  et al., Young adult outcome of hyperactive children:  adaptive functioning in major life activities. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 45: 192 – 202, 2006.

Edelman, G. New Perspectives Quarterly, V. 21, No. 3, Summer, 2004

Greenhill, L. Stimulant medication treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: State of Science, Best Practices, Edited By Jensen, P. et al. Kingston, NJ:  Civic Research Institute, 2002, pp 9-1 – 9-27, 2002.

Jadad et al. Treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Summ) Nov:i-viii, 1 – 341,1999.

Kanner, L. Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, V. 2, No. 2:  217 - 230, 1943.

Kagan, J. The Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are. New York:  The Dana Foundation, 2010.

McHugh, P.  and Slavney, P. The Perspectives of Psychiatry. Baltimore:  The John Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Mannuzza, S. et al. Adult psychiatric status of hyperactive boys grown up. Am J Psychiatry 155: 493 – 498, 1998.

Pelham, W.E. et al. Empirically supported psychosocial treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. J Clin Child Psychol 27: 190 – 205, 1998.

Spencer, T.J.  et al. Efficacy and safety of mixed amphetamine salts extended release (Adderall XR) in the management of oppositional defiant disorder with or without comorbid attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in school-aged children and adolescents: a 4-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled, forced-dose-escalation study. Clin Ther 28:402 – 418, 2006.

Swanson, J.M. Effect of stimulant medication on children with attention deficit disorder: a “review of reviews.” Except Child 60: 154 – 162, 1993.

Tallis, R. Aping Mankind:  Neuromania, Dawinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Durham:  Acumen Publishing, 2011.

Weiss, G., and,  Hechtman, L. Hyperactive Children Grown Up. New York: Guilford, 2003.

Wilens T.E. et al. Multisite controlled study of OROS methylphenidate in the treatment of adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Arch Pediatr Adolex Med 160:82 – 90, 2006.

Srouge, L. Alan ."Ritalin Gone Wrong." The New York Times, 1/29/12:


Information on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health:



Forum:  Please share you experiences, concerns, and knowledge about ADHD in general, and psychiatric medications in general.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

White Blight

Kay Hymowitz writes:
"Charles Murray depicts an increasingly two-tiered white America.
Charles Murray is back, and the debate about wealth and inequality will never be the same. Readers of the political scientist’s earlier work, especially The Bell Curve and Losing Ground, might assume that with his new book he is returning to the vexed subject of race. He is, but with a twist: Murray’s area of intensive focus (and data mining) is “the state of white America”—and it’s not what you might think.."


Review in the New York Times:


An Honest Speech

1/25/12. Mitch Daniel's response to President Obama's State of the Union.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Joseph Fischhoff, M.D. RIP

1/24/12. My friend, colleague, and mentor Dr. Joseph Fischhoff died today after suffering a stroke on January 16, 2012. He was 87 years old. The I.Q. of the world has declined.

I had the privilege of meeting with Joe, a child psychiatrist, for more than 35 years. He was a remarkable man. Although trained as a psychoanalyst, he was never seduced by the religions of psychiatric theories. He went where his experience and the data took him. He was steeped in pharmacology as deeply as he understood the unconscious mind. He loved a good joke.

Joe played the trumpet like he approached life --- he knew the scales, when to improvise, and cherished effective surprises.

From his years of sailing, he always knew which way the wind was blowing.

He touched the lives of all who knew him.

To life!

Steve Ceresnie

Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute

Tribute to Joseph Fischhoff, M.D. (see page 8)


Quote of the Day


"I tend to choose narcissists as my friends; that way I don’t worry that they’re talking about me behind my back."

--- Sara Levine

What Consciousness is Not


Question:How does the brain generate the mind?

Answer:  We don't know.

Raymond Tallis:

"...Chalmers’s latest book, The Character of Consciousness (2010), at least begins well, and there is much in it to recommend. The early chapters are a significant contribution to clarifying and deepening the fundamental questions of the philosophy of mind:
What is consciousness? How can it be explained? Can there be a science of consciousness? What is the neural basis of consciousness? What is the place of consciousness in nature? Is consciousness physical or nonphysical? How do we know about consciousness? How do we think about consciousness? What are the contents of consciousness? How does consciousness relate to the external world? What is the unity of consciousness?
The multiplicity of these questions is to be entirely expected, given that consciousness is, as Chalmers puts it,
an extraordinary and multifaceted phenomenon whose character can be approached from many different directions. It has a phenomenological and a neurobiological character. It has a metaphysical and an epistemological character. It has a perceptual and a cognitive character. It has a unified and a differentiated character.
And that’s just for starters. The mystery of consciousness is a network of mysteries, touching on the mystery of ourselves, the mystery of the intrinsic nature (if any) of the non-conscious world, and the mystery of our knowledge of ourselves, the natural world, and the human world atop it. If there is such a thing as a First Philosophy, the philosophy of the conscious mind is it. It is the ground in which every other branch of philosophy takes root..."


Twenty Brain-Bending TED Talks for Philosophy Students

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Myth of American Decline

1/21/12. Robert Kagan:

"Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? A great deal depends on the answer to these questions. The present world ordercharacterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powersreflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires and the qualities of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone..."


Metacognition and Learning

1/21/12. Why are so many people wrong about their abilities?


Friday, January 20, 2012

Freud: the last great Enlightenment thinker


"...Freud’s ideas are today not simply rejected as false. They are repudiated as being dangerous or immoral; the “gloomy mythology” of warring instincts is condemned as a kind of slander on the species, the fundamental nobility of which it is sacrilege to deny. To be sure, righteous indignation has informed the response to Freud’s thought from the beginning. But its new strength helps explain one of the more remarkable features of intellectual life at the start of the 21st century, a time that in its own eyes is more enlightened than any other: the intense unpopularity of Freud, the last great Enlightenment thinker..."


Monday, January 16, 2012


1/16/12.     192 contributors.

"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Are We Holding a New Ice Age at Bay?


"The entire 10,000-year history of civilization has happened in an unusually warm interlude in the Earth's recent history. Over the past million years, it has been as warm as this or warmer for less than 10% of the time, during 11 brief episodes known as interglacial periods. One theory holds that agriculture and dense settlement were impossible in the volatile, generally dry and carbon-dioxide-starved climates of the ice age, when crop plants would have grown more slowly and unpredictably even in warmer regions..."


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Billions of Other Planets

1/12/12. Feeling small.

"Astronomers said Wednesday that each of the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way probably has at least one companion planet, on average, adding credence to the notion that planets are as common in the cosmos as grains of sand on the beach.

The finding underscores a fundamental shift in scientific understanding of planetary systems in the cosmos. Our own solar system, considered unique not so long ago, turns out to be just one among billions..."


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments


The authors introduce their paper:

"We review new findings and new theoretical developments
in the field of intelligence. New findings include the following:
(a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social
class. (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been
discovered that are consistently associated with variation
in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned
about the biological underpinnings of intelligence. (d)
“Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of
intelligence at both the behavioral and biological levels.
(e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established
by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children
are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes. (f)
Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most
effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there
can be very marked effects on academic achievement and
life outcomes. (g) In most developed countries studied,
gains on IQ tests have continued, and they are beginning in
the developing world. (h) Sex differences in aspects of
intelligence are due partly to identifiable biological factorsand partly to socialization factors. (i) The IQ gap between
Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD in recent


On Human Nature

In 1945 the American anthropologist George P. Murdock listed the following characteristics that have been recorded in every culture known to history and ethnography:

Age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethnobotany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool making, trade, visiting, weaving, and weather control.

cited in Wilson, E.O.  "On Human Nature."  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1978.

Religion, Science and Human Nature

"The essence of humanity's spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another. Is there a way to erase the dilemma, to resolve the contradictions between the transcendentalist and the empiricist world views."

"People need a sacred narrative. They must have a sense of larger purpose, in one form or another, however intellectualized. They will find a way to keep ancestral spirits alive."

"The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology."

--- E. O. Wilson (1929 -  ). Biologist.

The Sinatra of Social Science

Monday, January 9, 2012

Have your opinions regarding human nature changed over with years?


Steven J. Ceresnie writes:

Yes. My current view is that human nature is deeply woven with contradictions, conflicts, and discontents. Genetics and environments are equally important contributions to understanding human nature. The proper use of reason is to recognize reason's limitations. Reason is the rider holding the reins on the elephant of unconscious desires and values. Understanding human nature springs from the mystery of consciousness, the basic experience of humans on which our social and personal relationships rest. We do not understand how consciousness is produced, nor do we understand its full potential. There is little science that applies to our understanding of human nature. So our understanding of human nature takes the form of stories, religions, ideologies, and beliefs.

How have your opinions regarding human nature changed over the years?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Forgiveness is a Kind of Wild Justice

1/7/12. Dr. Theodore Dalrymple muses about forgiveness and justice.

"Recently I was asked at a public discussion of crime and punishment at which I was a speaker whether I thought it was right that the government (in Britain) had made it illegal for an employer to ask a prospective employee whether he had a criminal record and, if so, its nature and extent. This is a question that I have turned over in my mind, or at least let bubble away in my subconscious, ever since, for it in turn raises several interesting and important questions..."


Interview with Stephen Hawking

Breaking Out of Our Righteous Minds


Psychologist Jonathan Haidt on morality and self-righteous beliefs.

Professor Haidt:

"When I say that human nature is selfish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our own interests, in competition with our peers. When I say that human nature is also groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players.” This is what people who had studied morality had not realized, “that we evolved not just so I can treat you well or compete with you, but at the same time we can compete with them.”


American Psychological Association: Your Mind and Body

1/7/12. Experienced psychologists write about what's on their mind ---- and body.


Charles Murray: Belmont and Fishtown


"American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been seen as different, even peculiar, to people around the world.1 I am thinking of qualities such as American industriousness—not just hard work, but the way that Americans have treated their work and their efforts to get ahead in life as a central expression of who they are. There is American neighborliness. Many cultures have traditions of generous hospitality to guests, but widespread voluntary mutual assistance among unrelated people who happen to live alongside each other has been rare. In the United States, it has been ubiquitous. I am thinking also of qualities such as American optimism, present even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it; our striking lack of class envy; the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies; and our famous naïveté in assuming the best of a random person that we come across. Finally, there is the most lovable of exceptional American qualities: our tradition of insisting that we are part of the middle class, even if we aren’t, and of interacting with our fellow citizens as if we were all middle class..."


Don Carter RIP

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why anti-Semitism is moving towards the mainstream

1/6/12. Alan Dershowitz tells the truth.

"For the first time since the end of World War II, classic anti-Semitic tropes – “the Jews” control the world and are to blame for everything that goes wrong, including the financial crisis; “The Jews killed Christian children in order to use the blood to bake matza; the Holocaust never happened – are becoming acceptable and legitimate subjects for academic and political discussion..."