Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Quotations


"You can persuade a man to believe almost anything
provided he is clever enough, but it is much more
difficult to persuade someone less clever."

--- Tom Stoppard (1937 -   )

"Sentence structure is innate but whining is acquired."

--- Woody Allen (1935 -  )

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces
a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter
hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray
we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

--- Woody Allen (1935 -  )

"Haec ebun ridentur vel sola vel maxime
quae notant et designant turpitudinem
         aliquam non turpiter."

"An indecency decently put is the thing
        we laugh at hardest."

--- Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why do men go bald?

2/21/12. Hair today, gone tomorrow.

Defying the Doomsayers

"If every image made and every word written from the earliest stirring of civilization to the year 2003 were converted to digital information, the total would come to five exabytes. An exabyte is one quintillion bytes, or one billion gigabytes—or just think of it as the number one followed by 18 zeros. That's a lot of digital data, but it's nothing compared with what happened from 2003 through 2010: We created five exabytes of digital information every two days. Get ready for what's coming: By next year, we'll be producing five exabytes every 10 minutes. How much information is that? The total for 2010 of 912 exabytes is the equivalent of 18 times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written. The world is not just changing, and the change is not just accelerating; the rate of the acceleration of change is itself accelerating..."

What Can Neurology Tell Us About the Human Brain?

"So here is something staring you in the face, an extraordinary syndrome, utterly mysterious, where a person wants his normal limb removed. Why does this happen? There are all kinds of crazy theories about it including Freudian theories. One theory asserts, for example, that it's an attention seeking behavior. This chap wants attention so he asks you to remove his arm. It doesn't make any sense. Why does he not want his nose removed or ear removed or something less drastic? Why an arm? It seems a little bit too drastic for seeking attention."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blaming the Private Sector

2/12/12. Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker tells the truth about America's financial crises --- and how government made the crisis worse.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Charles Murray Steps Back in the Ring

Robert Nozick on Intellectuals

2/9/12. The late philosopher Robert Nozick (1938 - 1998) was quoted in today's Wall Street Journal:

"From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectual have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best."

In 1998, I had the privilege of spending a day with Professor Nozick, inviting him to speak at the American Psychological Association convention held in San Franciso.

My introduction to Professor Nozick's talk:

August 15, 1998.

 It is a privilege to be here.  I am Steve Ceresnie, President of the Michigan Psychological Association, a long time student---from afar---of Robert Nozick’s work.

Professor Nozick assures me that today’s experience is real, and not the product of my being connected to an experience machine that generates such desires as introducing your favorite philosopher to APA psychologists --- I’ll explain more about this experience machine in a minute. 

 I am one of the many friends of Marty Seligman, the psychologist’s psychologist,  whose creative ideas, optimism, and commitment to bridging the worlds of science and practice, have inspired so much of this APA Convention.

Unlike many of his professional colleagues, Robert Nozick, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, has the courage, concern, and commitment to deal with the topics of life, living, and the massive problems of the 20th century. 

 He goes after fundamental questions of social justice and human existence that his colleagues ignore:

 “Are there objective ethical truths?”

“Do we have a free will?”

“Is there meaning to life?”

 In his words, Robert Nozick was born “just one generation from the shtetl…” in Brooklyn, New York.  He grew up in the ethnic, working-class neighborhoods of Brownsville and East Flatbush.

 After graduating from Columbia College, he enrolled in the doctoral program at Princeton.  During his Princeton years, a Libertarian capitalist at Princeton whose arguments he could not refute effectively challenged his own beliefs, making Professor Nozick more friendly, in his own words to “capitalist acts between consenting adults.”

 Robert Nozick has been a member of the philosophy department at Harvard University since 1965. And shortly after celebrating his 30th birthday, he was granted tenure at Harvard.

 Professor Nozick has been known primarily for his early work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which won a National Book Award.   One reviewer wrote that Nozick “has observed the breath-taking wickedness of what the state is capable.” Yet, I must add, Professor Nozick is no apologist for the status quo. 

 In fact, Professor Nozick has never thought of himself as a political philosopher. He has not responded to the sizable literature on Anarchy, State, and Utopia and the vast majority of his writing and attention has focused on topics of importance to all psychologists: knowledge, the self, and why is there something rather than nothing.

Professor Nozick is the author of five books:

Besides Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he has written: Philosophical Explanations, The Examined Life (my favorite), The Nature of Rationality, and most recently, Socratic Puzzles, published in the spring of 1997. A reviewer described Robert Nozick as “a professorial stand-up comic steeped in the tradition of Woody Allen and Philip Roth."

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.”

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?”

To read his books is to imagine a brilliant friend over for dinner who goes long into the night drawing from his wealth of readings and depth of understandings.

 The following chapter headings from some of his books give you a taste of this wealth and depth of his writings:

 Parents and Children; Love’s Bond; Dying; The Nature of God, the Nature of Faith; Sexuality; Creating; Emotions; The Holocaust.

 His chapter on the Holocaust --- alone --- should be required reading.

 In  the introduction to his book The Examined Life, which every psychologist should read at least once, 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…”

No doubt there is just too much meat in Professor Nozick’s writings to summarize. But I must tell you that when you read Professor Nozick’s work, your mind starts associating to startlingly fresh perspectives, and is aroused by his gift for elegant, witty, and playful thought experiments to represent philosophical problems. My favorite thought experiment is what he calls “The Experience Machine.”

Professor Nozick’s describes this experience machine: the one I still think I may be hooked up to.

 Imagine a machine that could give you any experience (or sequence of experiences) you might desire. When connected to this experience machine, you can have the experience of writing a great poem or bringing about world peace or loving someone and being loved in return. You can experience the felt pleasures of these things, how they feel from the inside. You can program your experiences for tomorrow, or this week, or this year or even for the rest of your life. If your imagination is impoverished, you can use the library of suggestions extracted from biographies and enhanced by novelists and psychologists. You can live you fondest dreams “from the inside.” Would you choose to do this for the rest of your life? If not, why not?

Professor Nozick tells us that this thought experiment is designed to isolate one question: 

Do only our internal feelings matter to us?  

 Professor Robert Nozick, the current President of the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division) 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 Robert Nozick.



Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Ultimate Brain Quest: "Connectome"


[CONNECT1] Thomas Deerinck/NCMIR/Photo Researchers

Nerve cells in the brain. Neurons are supported and protected by smaller, and even more numerous, glial cells.

"Every day we recall the past, perceive the present and imagine the future. How do our brains accomplish these feats? It's safe to say that nobody really knows," Sebastian Seung writes early in "Connectome," his exploration of how researchers have at least made a start toward understanding how those feats are accomplished. Mr. Seung, a professor of brain science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an amiable guide, witty and exceptionally clear in describing complex matters for the general reader... the best lay book on brain science I've ever read."


Two Cheers for Ritalin II

2/4/12. Dr. Ned Hallowell - co-author of "Driven to Distraction," tells the truth about living with ADHD and the benefits of medication. He ought to know - he is a world-renowned psychiatrist who has ADHD.

What Musicians Can Teach Doctors



Medicine is a learned profession, but clinical practice is above all a matter of performance, in the best and deepest sense of the word. Because music is, at its core, a pure distillate of real-time performance, musicians are in an excellent position to teach us about better ways to become and remain expert performers in health care and ways for our teachers and mentors to help us do that. Ten features of the professionalization of musicians offer us lessons on how the clinical practice of medicine might be learned, taught, and performed more effectively

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Thoughts on Health Care


The current health care system is an inefficient mix of private and public bureaucracies. Some say we need more government intervention to reduce costs, and cover the uninsured. Some say we need less government intervention, and more market-based reform to reduce costs, and increase the number of the insured.
Many people distrust corporations, abhor the for profit system of health care, and point to wealthy insurance executives as a symptom of a larger problem.

It is hard to be against helping those who can’t afford health insurance, and making sure people, who need medical help, get the best care available.

We hear that government health care programs are more efficient than private medicine --- yet many people from other countries with government run medical care come to the United States for care.

 Studies of Medicare indicate a waste of about $1.00 for every $3.00 the program spends. Of course, some will cite studies showing the waste of private insurance companies.

 At least with private insurance companies --- when people are allowed to purchase insurance across state lines --- may compete for our business, which may lower insurance costs. With the Internet, we could search out the best price for insurance, with benefits tailored to our needs. This may require a loosening of the tax benefits for employers to provide health care, and giving individuals the tax benefits of purchasing their own medical insurance. Of course, some will say corporations should be obligated to pay medical benefits for their employees.

Every year psychologists --- along with physicians, fight to stop decreases in Medicare payments. Does anyone think that when we have a government run system --- the fight to maintain our fees will get easier?

There is ongoing controversy about how many uninsured people there are in America. Many people who are eligible for government run services, never sign up for these benefits. Of course, there are still people who are uninsured. Why not supply those people without insurance an opportunity to buy government subsidized insurance, rather than overhaul the whole system? You may recall it took President Obama one year to convince a Democratic Congress to pass his health care bill --- and he needed to provide many exceptions and deals to unions and corporations

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Sad Saga of Little Albert

2/2/12. Every student who takes introductory psychology has heard of  Little Albert.

Now we find out that what happened to Little Albert may not fit the behavioral theory of John Watson, the psychologist who put Little Albert on the map.