Saturday, December 29, 2007

(3089/898) Judges and jails

2005) Judges have the option [of calling neutral expert witnesses], but they do not do so. Judges believe in the adversarial system, they believe that anything can be decided by controlled argument - but science cannot be decided that way.
Marcia Angell (paraphrased)
author of Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical
Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case
interviewed by David Gergen on
Newshour (PBS) (10/1/1996)

2006) The jail is an incredibly expensive homeless shelter, an incredibly expensive detox center, an incredibly expensive drug treatment center and it's an incredibly inept way to handle social problems. But these problems are not being dealt with in other ways.
Alisa Riker
director of an inmate release program
quoted by A. Lin Neuman in
"Hell's Waiting Room"
San Francisco Examiner (10/6/1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 387 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/29/2007 09:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Photography: Sledding!

click to enlarge

Daryl Samuel
Location: Long Island, NY

Previous: Photos posted in 2006 / 2007: Pagoda / Ferry / Sand Tracks / General Store / Taverna Tables / Finger Piano / Bridge at Sunset / Snowfall in Cambridge / Boats / Grandma in Motion / Museum Silhouette / Brooklyn Bridge / Seascape / City Hall / Santa Fe Hotel / Lunch Break / Low Rider / Giant Crab Invades Boston! / East Meets West / Building Reflections / Flatiron Spring / Hands With Glasses / Fishing Net / Steps / Oil and Vinegar / Gas Station / Brooklyn Bridge in Sepia / Windmill on the Paralia / Santa Fe Art / Island Time / Battleship Rock / Copper Mine / Slide! / Playing Piano / Underground Cistern / Broken Windmill / Forked River / Manhattan Bridge / Hot Air Balloon / Island Engine / Park Reflections / Sultan Ahmed Mosque / Clasped Hands / Washing the Boat / Central Park Bridge / Lake Reflections / Greek Church Silhouette / Copper Mine Fly-By / Van Winkle in Autumn / Western Ave. Bridge / Christmas Tree

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2007 11:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Humphrey: Leaps of Faith

1995) Scientific materialism is regarded by many, even by some of its own prophets, as deeply unsatisfying: scary, bewildering, insulting, demeaning, dispiriting, confining. [...] Science, with is chain-saws and bulldozers of reason, has felled the tropical rain forest of spirituality. It has wreaked ecological destruction on fairyland. It has extinguished the leprechauns, the elves and goblins. It has caused a global change in the weather of the imagination. It has made a dustbowl of our own Eden, and created an inner drought. And all this, not to bring greater peace or happiness, but to satisfy people's hunger for the Big Macs of technology.
Nicholas Humphrey
Leaps of Faith (1996)

1996) No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.
"Occam's Razor"
[Note: Named after and attributed to William of Occam, the 14th century English logician and philosopher, although it has not been found specifically in his writings. The principle is sometimes paraphrased as All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. [WP]]
1997) Man must at last wake up out of his millenary dream and discover his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. He must realize that, like a gypsy, he lives on the boundary of an alien world; a world that is deaf to his music, and as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his sufferings and his crimes.
Jacques Monod
Chance and Necessity (1972)
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

Nicholas Humphrey
1998) That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collisions of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system [...] Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be built.
Bertrand Russell
quoted by E.A. Burtt in
The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern
Physical Science
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

1999) [S]cience is an extension of a natural faculty that was long ago firmly implanted in human heads because it works in practice to deliver knowledge of the kind the people have always needed in order to survive in daily life. Even if minor natural scientists is not all that people are - they do of course also sometimes employ other less reliable (and less effective) ways to gaining knowledge - it is what they all are.
Nicholas Humphrey
Leaps of Faith (1996)

2000) The most important thing to realize about systems of animal communication is that they are not expected to be systems for the dissemination of truth. Instead, they are expected to be systems by which individual organism attempt to maximize their fitness by communicating to others things that may be true or false.
Robert Trivers
"Sociobiology and politics" in
Sociobiology and Human Politics (1981)
Elliott White, ed.
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

2001) An understanding of the psychology of human perception, cognition and behaviour suggests that, even in psi phenomenona were not to exist, the kinds of experiences that people report under the rubric of "psychic" should be expected to occur from time to time.
James E. Alcock
"Parapsychology as a "spiritual" science" in
A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology (1985)
Paul Kurtz, ed.
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

2002) Psychics and other "credulists" are typically engaged seriously (but misguidedly) in that most characteristic of human enterprises: the attempt to capture our chaotic and fragmentary experiences in a network of meanings and to discover the hidden connectedness that (we hope) underlies all the disorderly and recalcitrant happenings in the world.
William Grey
"Philosophy and the paranormal"
Skeptical Inquirer (March/April 1994)
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

2003) [P]sychic experiences [...] are an inevitable consequence of the way we think [...] like visual illusions, they are the price we pay for a generally very effective relationship with a massively complex world.
Susan Blakemore
"Psychic experiences: Psychic illusions"
Skeptical Inquirer (Summer 1992)
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
Leaps of Faith (1996)

2004) [B]eliefs in paranormal powers - or echoes of them - remain central to our own cultural institutions at every level. They are there as an elite opinion, there en masses. They continue to run right through our art and entertainment, our music, painting, literature, architecture, theatre and cinema. They are invoked in all our rites of passage - at weddings, births and funerals. They follow us to school, on to the sports field, on to the battle ground, in and out of love and sex. They creep into our beds and keep us wide eyed in the night.

Many, probably the majority, of the public figures who we look up to - the princes, presidents, popes, pop stars, parliamentarians, press barons, prime-time presenters, prima donnas, premiere league players, etc. who act as society's opinions formers - acknowledge by words or actions their own acceptance of the paranormal ethos. ...

What is rare indeed is to find any public figure disavowing paranormality entirely. And if they do privately have doubts about it, they are probably well advised to keep them to themselves and play along: for, as every public relations consultant would tell you, no one ever did his image any good by openly declaring his preference for common sense.
Nicholas Humphrey
Leaps of Faith (1996)


[WP] - Wikipedia

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 388 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2007 11:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Damasio: Reason and emotions

Antonio Damasio
1993) [R]eason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were [...] emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all: they may be enmeshed in its networks, for worse and for better. The strategies of human reason probably did not develop, in either evolution or any single individual, without the guiding force of the mechanisms of biological regulation, of which emotions and feeling are notable expressions. Moreover, even after reasoning strategies become established in the formative years, their effective deployment probably depends, to a considerable extent, on a continued ability to experience feelings.

This is not to deny that emotions and feelings can cause havoc in the processes of reasoning under certain circumstances. Traditional wisdom has told us that they can, and recent investigations of the normal human reasoning process also reveal the potentially harmful influence of emotional biases. It is thus even more surprising and novel that the absence of emotion and feeling is no less damaging, no less capable of of compromising the rationality that makes us distinctly human and allows us to decide in consonance with a sense of personal future, social convention, and moral principle.

Nor is this to say that when feelings have a positive action they do the deciding for us; or that we are not rational beings. I suggest only that certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality. At their best, feelings point us in the proper direction, take us to the appropriate place in a decision-making space, where we may put the instruments of logic to good use. We are faced by uncertainty when we have to make a moral judgment, decide on the course of a personal relationship, choose some means to prevent being penniless in old age, or plan for the life that lies ahead. Emotion and felling, along with the covert physiological machinery underlying them, assists us with the daunting task of predicting an uncertain future and planning our actions accordingly. [...]

There has never been any doubt that under certain circumstances, emotion disrupts reasoning. The evidence is abundant and constitutes the source for the sound advice with which we have been brought up. Keep a cool head, hold emotions at bay! Do not let your passions interfere with your judgment. As a result, we usually conceive of emotion as a supernumerary mental faculty, an unsolicited, nature-ordained accompaniment to our rational thinking. If emotion is pleasurable, we enjoy it as a luxury; if it is painful, we suffer it as an unwelcome intrusion. In either case, the sage will advise us, we should experience emotion and feeling in only judicious amounts. We should be reasonable.

There is much wisdom in this widely held belief, and I will not deny that uncontrollable or misdirected emotion can be a major source of irrational behavior. Nor will I deny that seemingly normal reason by be disturbed but subtle biases rooted in emotion. [...] Nonetheless, what the traditional account leaves out is a notion that emerged from the study of patients [with frontal lobe damage who are incapable of emotional responses] [...]: Reduction in emotions may constitute and equally important source of irrational behavior. The counterintuitive connection between absent emotion and warped behavior may tell us something about the biological machinery of reason.
Antonio R. Damasio
Descartes' Error (1994)
Human brain showing the amygdala, center of emotional responses
1994) Among animals, from insects to mammals, there are unequivocal examples of successful coping with particular forms of environment on the basis of innate strategies, and no doubt these strategies often include complex aspects of social cognition and behavior, I never cease to marvel at the intricate social organization of our distant monkey cousins, or at the elaborate social observances of so many birds. When we consider our own species, however, and the far more varied and largely unpredictable environments in which we have thrived, it is apparent that we must rely on highly evolved genetically based biological mechanisms, as well as suprainstinctual survival strategies that have developed in society, are transmitted by culture, and require, for their application, consciousness, reasoned deliberation, and willpower. This is why human hunger, desire, and explosive anger do not proceed unchecked toward feeding frenzy, sexual assault, and murder, at least not always, assuming that a healthy human organism has developed in a society in which suprainstinctual survival strategies are actively transmitted and respected. [...]

A task that faces neuroscientists today is to consider the neurobiology supporting adaptive supraregulations, but which I mean the study and understanding of the brain structures required to know about those regulations. I am not attempting to reduce social phenomena to biological phenomena, but rather to discuss the powerful connection between them. It should be clear that although culture and civilization arise from the behavior of biological individuals, the behavior was generated in collectives of individuals interacting in specific environments. Culture and civilization could not have arisen from single individuals and thus cannot be reduced to biological mechanisms and, even less, can they be reduced to a subset of genetic specifications. Their comprehension demands not just general biology and neurobiology but the methodologies of the social sciences as well.

In human societies there are social conventions and ethical rules over and above those that biology already provides. Those additional layers of control shape instinctual behavior so that it can be adapted flexibly to a complex and rapidly changing environment and ensure survival for the individual and for others (especially if they belong to the same species) in circumstances in which a preset response from the natural repertoire would be immediately or eventually counterproductive. The perils preempted by such conventions and rules may be immediate and direct (physical or mental harm), or remote and indirect (future loss, embarrassment). Although such conventions and rules need be transmitted only through education and socialization, from generation to generation, I suspect that the neural representations of the wisdom they embody, and of the means to implement that wisdom, are inextricably linked to the neural representation of innate regulatory biological processes. I see a "trail" connecting the brain that represents one, to the brain that represents the other. Naturally, that trail is made up of connections among neurons. [...]

Does this mean that love, generosity, kindness, compassion, honesty, and other commendable human characteristics are nothing but the result of conscious but selfish, survival-oriented neurobiological regulation? Does this deny the possibility of altruism and negate free will? Does this means that there is no true love, no sincere friendship, no genuine compassion? That is definitely *not* the case. Love is true, friendship sincere, and compassion genuine, if I do not lie about how I feel, if I really feel loving, friendly, and compassionate. Perhaps I would feel more eligible for praise if I arrived as suchsentiments by means of pure intellectual effort and willpower, but what if I have not, what if my current nature helps me get there faster, and be nice and honest without even trying? The truth of the feeling (which concerns how what I do and say matches what I have in mind), the magnitude of the feeling, and the beauty of the feeling, are not endangered by the realizing that survival, brain, and proper education have a lot to do with the reasons why we experience such feelings. The same applies to a considerable extent to altruism and free will. Realizing that there are biological mechanisms behind the most sublime human behavior does not imply a simplistic reduction to the nuts and bolts of neurobiology. In any case, the partial explanation of complexity by something less complex does not signify debasement.

The picture I am drawing for humans is that of an organism that comes to life designed with automatic survival mechanisms, and to which education and acculturation add a set of socially permissible and desirable decision-making strategies that, in turn, enhance survival, remarkably improve the quality of that survival, and serve as a basis for constructing a person. At birth, the human brain comes to development endowed with drives and instincts that include not just a physiological kit to regulate metabolism but, in addition, basic devices to cope with social cognition and behavior. It emerges from child development with additional layers of survival strategy. The neurophysiological base of those added strategies is interwoven with that of the instinctual repertoire, and not only modifies its use but extends its reach. The neural mechanisms supporting the suprainstinctual repertoire may be similar in their overall formal design to those governing biological drives, and may be constrained by them. Yet they require the intervention of society to become whatever they become, and thus are related as much to a given culture as to general neurobiology. Moreover, out of that dual constraint, suprainstinctual survival strategies generate something probably unique to humans: a moral point of view that, on occasion, can transcend the interests of the immediate group and even the species.
Antonio R. Damasio
Descartes' Error (1994)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 388 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2007 01:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) The Third Culture

John BrockmanL The Third Culture
1988) In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quit often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washed its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comments on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.
John Brockman
The Third Culture (1995)

1989) Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does; and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.
Stewart Brand
quoted by John Brockman in
The Third Culture (1995)

1990) The universe is a difficult enough place to understand already without introducing mystical mysteriousness that's not actually there. [...] [T]he universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe inspiring. The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organized religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited.
Richard Dawkins
interviewed by John Brockman in
"A Survival Machine" in
The Third Culture (1995)

1991) There's only one general principle in biology, and that, of course, is Darwinism.
Richard Dawkins
interviewed by John Brockman in
"A Survival Machine" in
The Third Culture (1995)

1992) I have a problem with scientists who spend most of the time looking at their own navels, trying to define what it is they're supposed to be studying. It's like a game where both teams stand around arguing about what the rules are supposed to be. [...[ There's a disease of middle-aged literary men called Hearty Degeneration of the Fat; when you get old, you boom about Big Issues. G.K. Chesterton was a classic example. Scientists, I guess, have a related problem - Anguished Uncertainty of the Elderly is probably a better term. All of a sudden you forget that science is the art of the answerable and you begin to speculate about things that basically lie outside science altogether.
Steve Jones
interviewed by John Brockman in
The Third Culture (1995)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 388 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/28/2007 01:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, December 27, 2007

(3089/898) Berlin and Navasky

Isaiah Berlin
1986) [W]hatever can be isolated, looked at, inspected, should be. We need not be obscurantist. I do not wish to say or hint, as some romantic thinkers have, that something is lost in the very act of investigating, analyzing, and bringing to light, that there is some virtue in darkness as such, that the most important things are too deep for words, and should be left untouched, that it is somehow blasphemous to enunciate them. This I believe to be a false and on the whole deleterious doctrine. Whatever can be illuminated, made articulate, incorporated in a proper science, should of course be so. "We murder to dissect," wrote Wordsworth - at times we do; at other times dissection reveals truths. There are vast regions of reality which only scientific methods, hypotheses, established truths, can reveal, account for explain, and indeed control. What science can achieve must be welcomed. In historical studies, in classical scholarship, in archaeology, linguistics, demography, the study of collective behavior, in many other fields of human life and endeavor, scientific methods can give indispensable information.

I do not hold with those who maintain that natural science, and the technology based upon it, somehow distorts our vision, and prevents us from direct contact with reality - "being" - which pre-Socratic Greeks or medieval Europeans saw face to face. That seems to me an absurd nostalgic delusion.
Isaiah Berlin
"On Political Judgment"
New York Review of Books (10/3/1996)
[Note: The William Wordworth quote – We murder to dissect. – is from "The Tables Turned" (1798)]
Victor Navasky1987) As a public service [...] we are pleased to provide some guidelines for deconstructing your favorite futurologists.
  • Beware of those who make projections based on statistics. [...]

  • Do not be blinded by the prestige of the source. [...]

  • Optimistic predictions should be viewed with special suspicion. [...]

  • Ditto for pessimistic predictions. [...]

  • "Fads" have a way of sticking around long after those who call them that are gone. [...]

  • Career counseling is one thing, but career prediction is something else entirely. [...]

  • There is no accounting for taste.

  • And finally, watch out for futurists who proclaim the end of the future.
Victor Navasky
"Tomorrow Never Knows"
New York Times Magazine (9/29/1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 389 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/27/2007 12:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Crews: The Consolation of Theosophy

Frederick Crews
1983) [By] [s]ome definitions [...] occultism [is] the belief that nature possesses secret properties contradicting the presumed laws of science; a dedicated occultist believes that those properties can be manipulated through adept exercises of magic. Esotericism is the broader project that weds occultism to self-transformation. Spiritualism is the attempted practice of communicating with the dead through seances. Mysticism purports to bring the seeker into direct experience of, even merger with, a transcendent deity. Gnosticism, broadly conceived, is the intuitive apprehension of deep truth without a felt need for corroborating evidence. Theosophy, uncapitalized, is gnostic and esoteric lore that relates human destiny to speculation about the origin, nature, and governance of the universe. Finally, in its capitalized form Theosophy refers to the specific theosophical doctrines and organizations launched by Madame [Helena Petrovna] Blavatsky.
Frederick Crews
"The Consolation of Theosophy" in
New York Review of Books (9/19/1996)

1984) [We should never] be surprised when occultism [...] links arms with reactionary ideologies. Sooner or later, the gnostic habit of thought battens upon vitalism, the belief in a life force that cries out to be unshackled from convention. And fascist doctrine stands ready to give vitalism a nationalistic and nostalgic twist: we must inhale the spirit of our warrior ancestors, who knew no democratic legalism and harbored no pity for the unfit and the foreign. [...] [W]e should not overlook the broad epistemic likeness between Theosophical dreamers and the ideologues who smoothed the way for the terroristic Nazi state. The common factor was their shared rejection of rational empiricism. By pretending that reliable knowledge can be obtained through such means as clairvoyant trances and astrological casting, the original Theosophists encouraged their German colleagues to "uncover" in prehistory just what they pleased: and the resultant myth of how Aryan hegemony was broken by quasi-simian races formed a template for the infectious post World War I story of betrayal by Jewish materialists and the vindictive Allies. The whole visionary apparatus - the vitalists sun cult, the mystic brotherhood, the pygmy usurpers, the lost ancient continents, the millennial cycles, even the idea of a conspiracy by a cabalistic "Great International Party" of diabolical anti-traditionalists - was already there in [Madame Blavatsky's] The Secret Doctrine. There needed only a specific historical grudge and a fevered demagogue to set in motion the march toward paranoid eugenics and actual extermination of the "polluting" social elements.

Madame Helena Petrovna BlavatskyWe need to remind ourselves, after such an example, that esoterically acquired convictions are not always and everywhere a menace. In a stable democracy such as our own, manifest occultism tends to produce more amusement than terror. And, in fact, a direct line of descent connects Theosophy to an array of ludicrous and generally harmless New Age practices that now surround us, from astrology, crystal gazing, homeopathy, and pyramid power to Wicca nature worship, prophecy, channeling, past-life regression, goddess theology, belief in extraterrestrial visitation, and obeisance to self-designated gurus and ascended masters. [...] Although one can agree with Carl Sagan's contention, in his recent book The Demon-Haunted World, that such fads reflect a popular revolt against science and a lamentable resurgence of superstition, it would be perverse to mention them in the same breath with Nazi ideology.
Frederick Crews
"The Consolation of Theosophy II" in
New York Review of Books (10/3/1996)

1985) [O]ne occult atavism [...] can bear deadly consequences: it is the psychotherapeutic practice [...] Although many tend to assume that psychotherapy rests on authenticated discoveries about the mind, the talking cure was actually born in a climate of occultism, retained its gnostic affinities in the anni mirabili of its modern flowering, and has yet to make an altogether clean break from those affinities. Contemporary therapists who are struggling to render their profession more accountable to ethical and empirical norms may not realize it, but they are at war with an irrationalist legacy that deserves to be identified as such. [...] [This does not mean] that psychotherapy is doomed to be a hermetic art or that it serves no useful function, nor even that contemporary Freudians and Jungians ... retain Freud's and Jung's own predilictions for the paranormal. [...] All such pronouncements on the basis of origins alone must be resisted as illogical and anti-historical.

At the same time, an awareness of the gnostic strain in Freud and Jung does cast a suggestive light on the central issue that now confronts, and radically polarizes, the therapeutic community throughout the West: whether caregivers should address themselves to helping clients cope with their current dilemmas as they perceive them or, rather, send those clients on a regressive search for a hypothetical early past and initiate them into "knowledge" of repressed traumas and interjected personages. There is all the difference in the world between "taking a history" - investigating the relationships and vicissitudes that have predisposed the patient to act in self-defeating ways - and producing a previously unsuspected, artifactual history that is dictated by boilerplate diagnostic expectations. The cabalistic penchant lingers precisely insofar as therapists insist that true healing must entail a confrontation with some predetermined class of memories, powers, insights, buried selves, or former incarnations. And it is no coincidence that the dangers of drastic harm are all clustered at that end of the therapeutic spectrum.

[...] [W]e might venture to hope that psychotherapy, as an institution that likes to maintain good-neighbor relations with science, will someday make a full reckoning with its gnostic component. All those therapists who acquire "knowledge" by first applying suggestive pressure and then disregarding its influence on their findings are more akin to mediums than to physicians. Do they really want to continue down the yellow brick road that leads from Mesmer and Puysegur through Freud and Jung to the latest promises of cure via channeling, rebirthing, and past-life regression? And will their guides never tire of issuing discreet caveats about "going too far" with diagnostic procedures that actually go in circles?

If I remain pessimistic about the thoroughgoing reform of psychotherapy, it is because of a powerful factor [...]: the unquenchable human thirst for meanings that can ease our doubts, sanction and regulate our urges, and flatter our self-conception. Established religion, Theosophy, and psychotherapy as it is often - by no means always - practiced have all plied the same trade, and with degrees of success that owe nothing to the demonstrable cogency of their assertions. [...] The gods, Jung told the dissatisfied and yearning Western bourgeoisie, already reside within our heads, they find us quite interesting and lovable, and they are eager to imparts their secrets to us. Does mere empirical rationality stand a chance against an appeal that speaks so directly to our needs?
Frederick Crews
"The Consolation of Theosophy II" in
New York Review of Books (10/3/1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 389 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/27/2007 02:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

(3089/898) The post-modern family and a Classic Comics world

Postmodern Family Tree tattoo by Nick Baxter and Adrian Dominic
1981) At the recent wedding of my stepson, my husband sat companionably between his former wife (the mother of the groom) and me. The groom, in his toast, warmly acknowledged the bride's ex-husband (the father of her son), who was there with his longtime partner, who sat next to the lesbian couple with their new baby. The new husband of my husband's ex-wife introduced us to the daughters of his two previous marriages, one of whom described the difficulties of living with your ex-husband in the apartment right above you. All in all, a typical post-modern family - one typical of Republicans as well as Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals, rich as well as poor and, in this case, England as well as America.
Carol Tavris
"Goodbye, Ozzie and Harriet" in
New York Times Book Review (9/22/1996)
[review of She Works/He Works by
Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers and
In the Name of the Family
by Judith Stacey]
[Note: See Don Delillo's surreal comic novel White Noise (1984) for a good fictional example of a "postmodern family" - a disparate group of people loosely held together by bonds of blood, marriage and propinquity.]

1982) Like Reagan's trickle-down economics, trickle-down culture was supposed to help deliver the goods to the masses. With a little help from "Masterpiece Theatre" broadcasts, Book-of-the-Month-Club subscriptions and endless museum reproductions of Van Gogh's "sunflowers," cultural missionaries like Mortimer Adler and Will and Ariel Durant were going to make us a more civilized nation. Unfortunately, something else has happened. We've somehow slipped into a Classic Comics limbo, where it's hard to tell what's parody, what's rip-off and what's just user-friendly adaptation.

In the process, stylistic innovations have been divorced from the artistic visions that begot them. Form is wrenched apart from function, and the shock of the new is diluted by imitations. [...] If familiarity does not exactly breed contempt, it does breed indifference and impatience.

Entropy, of course, is a fact of life in the realm of popular culture. Even things without pretensions get homogenized and softened. Over the years, Mickey Mouse evolved from a roughneck sort of rat into his current amiable self, and Columbo, too, evolved from an irascible maverick into an avuncular snoop. Hitchcock gave way to De Palma, and Marilyn to Madonna. [...]

To understand why the trickle-down process has accelerated so swiftly, it's useful to go back to the critic Dwight Macdonald. In a famous 1960 essay, Macdonald identified three sorts of culture: High Culture (think Cezanne and Eliot), which articulate's an artists' idiosyncratic and often demanding vision; Masscult (Norman Rockwell and Erle Stanley Gardner), which tries to "Please the crowd by any means," and Midcult (Pearl Buck and Thorton Wilder), which disguises Masscult's reliance on formula with pretentious allusions.

Back then, high culture stood smugly apart, secure in its elitism. In today's marketplace, however, elitism has no value - money has become the only yardstick. Thus High Culture lusts after the market share of Masscult. [...] In a world where alienation is stylish, Masscult has also discovered the profit in co-opting the avante-garde. Music video makers routinely lift poses from obscure movies and photography books, while smoothing away the rough edges. And by appropriating a few anti-establishment gestures, advertisers (like Benneton) and performers (like Dennis Rodman) have found that they can enjoy the publicity value of controversy, while posing no real threat to the status quo. Indeed, Dadaist highjinks are now the province of David Letterman and Howard Stern.
Michiko Kakutani
"Culture Zone: The Trickle Down Theory"
New York Times Magazine (9/22/1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 391 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2007 10:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Three more from Skeptic

1978) Strong relativism is nonsense. What you want to do is recognize the cultural embeddedness of science without negating what to me is pretty evident - the history of science differs from the history of other cultural institutions in that it produces a progressively more adequate understanding of the natural world (very fitfully, to be sure, but progressive nonetheless). I must interpret this to mean we are achieving a more adequate understanding of nature.
Stephen Jay Gould
interviewed by Michael Shermer in
"An Urchin in a Haystack" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

1979) At the beginning of a historical sequence, actions of the individual elements (atoms, molecules, organisms, people) are chaotic, unpredictable, and have a powerful influence on the future development of that sequence. But as the sequence slowly by ineluctably evolves, and the pathways become more worn, the chaotic system of self-organizes into an orderly one. The individual elements sort themselves, and are sorted into their allotted positions, as dictated by what came before - the conjecture of events compelling a certain course of action by constraining prior conditions - contingent-necessity. [...] The flap of the butterfly's wings in Brazil may indeed start off a tornado in Texas, but only when the system has started anew or is precariously hanging in the balance. Once the storm is well underway, the flap of a billion butterfly wings would not alter the outcome for the tornado-leery Texans. The potency of the sequence grows over time.
Michael Shermer
"Gould's Dangerous Idea" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

1980) [A series of displays at the Institute for Creation Research's Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, California] consists of a grand tour of Creation Week: the six days of Creation described in the opening verses of Genesis and the concluding day of rest, with the Bible verses presented side-by-side with their corresponding "scientific" paraphrases. Genesis is interpreted quite literally: God creates light on Day One, plants on Day Two, and sun, moon and stars on Day Four. [...] Reflecting on the completed Creation, another ICR display contends that since there is no "natural" explanation for our seven-day week it must be of supernatural origins.
Tom McIver
"A Walk Through Earth History:
All Eight Thousand Years" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 391 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/25/2007 07:14:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, December 24, 2007

(3089/898) Fox and Tiger

1974) [R]ace is not a very useful scientific concept. We know roughly what we are talking about - skin color, hair form, and so on, and there are rough divisions of mankind on this basis. But they are very rough and scientifically not very useful.

Racial differences were useful in the evolutionary sense in the period when the human species was spreading out all over the globe. These minor adaptations, which is what they are, helped us to adapt and spread into numerous micro-environments. Now when we have clothing, buildings, artificial climate control, these physical adaptations just don't mean very much. Individuals live all over the globe regardless of their skin color or hair form. We just don't really need these adaptations anymore. [...]

[I]f we were to expand to other planets and environments, then race and racial differences could become important again. [...] Genetic variation could again then by useful At our present moment on Earth, however, there's scarcely any use for it at all.
Robin Fox
interviewed by Frank Miele in
"The Imperial Animals 25 Years Later" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

Robin Fox, Lionel Tiger
1975) ROBIN FOX: We have a deeply built-in fear of the stranger. This is part of a Paleolithic spacing mechanism. Tribes were separated in space and there were some individuals that were like you and some that were not like you. Therefore, we have a similarity detection mechanism built into us. From childhood, we tend to develop a picture of an ideal form or face from observation of the people around us. We have a special part of the brain that sorts through faces looking for familiarity. Those that are least familiar are those that are going to be the most frightening.

And even if nature doesn't provide the cues to familiarity, like skin color, for us, we provide it for ourselves with things like costumes, haircuts, tatoos, headdresses, things through the nose, or anything that distinguishes who we are from who they are. Skin color is merely one aid to this inborn xenophobia. Something deep down in that Paleolithic brain registers "Different, DIfferent, Different!"

LIONEL TIGER: I agree, but I defy either of you to tell me the observable racial differences between a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosnian Muslim, for example.

FOX: As I said, if there isn't any observable difference to separate the in-group from the out-group, we'll make one up.

TIGER: So we make up religious categories, such as Muslim versus Catholic versus Orthodox, or whatever. People appear to find such differentiation easy to learn and are then quite willing to find their group superior to the other group, and then to find it necessary to "defend" their group against the other.
Robin Fox and Lionel Tiger
interviewed by Frank Miele in
"The Imperial Animals 25 Years Later" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

1976) We can't necessarily go from "is" to "Ought," but we can certainly go from "Is" to "Is." The Darwinian perspective is not necessarily, or even desirably, a set of moral recommendations. It is merely an empirical starting point that permits you to get the facts right. On that basis, you might then try to create some sensible social policies. For example, when Karl Marx and his friends created their vision of a utopian world based on a severe misunderstanding of Homo sapiens they doomed half the planet to disaster for 70 some years. If Marx had actually paid some attention to Darwin in some systematic and thoughtful way, rather than merely thinking of himself as the economic analog of Darwin, he might have concluded that you might want to have the family and the kinship structure still form the basis for a large part of the social system. The kinship structure is a part of living biology. Instead Marx denied the power of the family altogether. [...] If you don't understand the family nature of human beings, and opt instead for some kind of bureaucratic ideal of impartial non-emotionality, you're probably going to get it all wrong.
Lionel Tiger
interviewed by Frank Miele in
"The Imperial Animals 25 Years Later" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

1977) [W]e should be skeptical [...] of the division [of academia] into disciplines that we now take for granted. [...] The academic disciplines were only separated in the late 19th century, when universities suddenly burgeoned, because everybody began staking out claims to their own little bit of reality. [...] [M]y own experience has been that all the interesting problems occurs in the interstices between disciplines. [...] That's where the interesting work in the future is going to be done. Within 20 years, most of what's now being done in the universities will look like a sort of giant obituary for dead thought.
Robin Fox
interviewed by Frank Miele in
"The Imperial Animals 25 Years Later" in
Skeptic (v4 n1, 1996)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 392 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/24/2007 04:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

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© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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