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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology

“What a piece of work is a man!”*…

 

A two-minute look at demographics, habits, living conditions, and more if only 100 people lived on Earth in the same cultural and social patterns as the 7.4 billion who actually do:

[Happily, while most of the info here check out as solid, the poverty numbers in this video seem to be based on data from around 2012; things have got better since then: if 15 people in 100 spent $US1.90 a day or less in 2012, by 2015 that number was down to 10. Back in 1981, according to World Bank data, the corresponding number was over 40.]

* Shakespeare, Hamlet

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As we note that “it takes a village,” we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Gabriel Tarde; he was born on this date in 1843.  A French sociologist, criminologist, and social psychologist, he conceived society as based on small psychological interactions (“intermental activity”) among individuals (much as if it were chemistry), the fundamental forces being imitation and innovation.

While this theory of social interaction– which emphasized the individual in an aggregate of persons– brought Tarde into conflict with Émile Durkheim (who conceived of society as a collective unity), Tarde had an formative influence on the thinking of psychologists and social theorists from Sigmund Freud to Everett Rogers.  Now, for all his sins, Tarde seems to be in process of being re-discovered as a harbinger of postmodern French theory, particularly as influenced by the social philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

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Written by LW

March 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”*…

 

If all goes as NASA — and Elon Musk — have planned, at some point in the not-too-distant future, a group of astronauts will begin a years-long round trip to Mars. In NASA’s plan, during each six-month (or more) leg of the journey, the members of a small crew will strap themselves into a cramped spacecraft that offers limited opportunities for recreation, distraction or privacy. As they get farther from Earth, they’ll be increasingly isolated from everything they’ve ever known. Real-time communication with mission control or family members will become impossible.

All of that is a recipe for psychological stress, even above and beyond what astronauts have already experienced. So scientists are trying to identify the unique mental pressures that would accompany a trip to Mars so they can select crews who will cope the best, prepare them to handle the difficulties they will face, and learn how best to help them when they’re millions of miles away…

Preparing for a trip that will make a tourist seat on a United flight seem luxurious: “What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds.”

Pair with a packing list for Mars: “The Earth In A Suitcase.”

* Elon Musk

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As we buckle in, we might spare a thought for Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., USN; he died on this date in 1957.  An explorer, aviator, and scientist, he was the first man to fly over both of the Earth’s poles.

From the age of 13, he showed an adventurous spirit, traveling alone around the world.  He joined the Navy, and by WW I was commander of U.S. Navy aviation forces in Canada.  To improve aerial navigation for occasions when no land or horizon would be visible, he developed a bubble sextant and a drift indicator.

On May 9, 1926, in order to demonstrate the practicability of aerial polar exploration, he and a copilot circled the North Pole.  During an Antarctic expedition, he organized scientific studies, surveying, and collection of meteorological and radio wave propagation data. Then, on November 28-29, 1929, with three crew, he made a flight to the South Pole.

By the time he died, Byrd had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades– the only individual to ever receive more than two.

Byrd was one of only four American military officers in history entitled to wear a medal with his own image on it. The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson.  As Byrd’s image is on both the first and second Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals, he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.

Byrd and his Vought VE-7 Bluebird seaplane

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Written by LW

March 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us”*…

 

Passwords, passports, umbrellas, scarves, earrings, earbuds, musical instruments, W-2s, that letter you meant to answer, the permission slip for your daughter’s field trip, the can of paint you scrupulously set aside three years ago for the touch-up job you knew you’d someday need: the range of things we lose and the readiness with which we do so are staggering. Data from one insurance-company survey suggest that the average person misplaces up to nine objects a day, which means that, by the time we turn sixty, we will have lost up to two hundred thousand things. (These figures seem preposterous until you reflect on all those times you holler up the stairs to ask your partner if she’s seen your jacket, or on how often you search the couch cushions for the pen you were just using, or on that daily almost-out-the-door flurry when you can’t find your kid’s lunchbox or your car keys.) Granted, you’ll get many of those items back, but you’ll never get back the time you wasted looking for them. In the course of your life, you’ll spend roughly six solid months looking for missing objects; here in the United States, that translates to, collectively, some fifty-four million hours spent searching a day. And there’s the associated loss of money: in the U.S. in 2011, thirty billion dollars on misplaced cell phones alone…

Katherine Shulz on the varieties of loss:

Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days…

Find her exquisite piece in full at “When things go missing.”

* Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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As we suspend the search, we might send wistful birthday greetings to an eloquent eulogizer bucolic picnics (and other lost pleasures), Kenneth Grahame; he was born on this date in 1859.  A career officer at the Bank of England–he retired as its Secretary– he is better remembered as the author of tales he created to delight his son Alastair, The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon (both of which were made into films by Disney: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and The Reluctant Dragon).

John Singer Sargent’s drawing of Grahame

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Written by LW

March 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”*…

 

As a neuroscientist, I am frequently asked about consciousness. In academic discourse, the celebrated problem of consciousness is often divided into two parts: the “Easy Problem” involves identifying the processes in the brain that correlate with particular conscious experiences. The “Hard Problem” involves murkier questions: what are conscious experiences, and why do they exist at all? This neat separation into Easy and Hard problems, which comes courtesy the Australian philosopher David Chalmers, seems to indicate a division of labor. The neuroscientists, neurologists and psychologists can, at least in principle, systematically uncover the neural correlates of consciousness. Most of them agree that calling this the “Easy Problem” somewhat underestimates the theoretical and experimental challenges involved. It may not be the Hard Problem, but at the very least it’s A Rather Hard Problem. And many philosophers and scientists think that the Hard Problem may well be a non-problem, or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein might have said, the kind of problem that philosophers typically devise in order to maximize unsolvability.

One might assume that as a neuroscientist, I should be gung-ho to prove the imperious philosophers wrong, and to defend the belief that science can solve any sort of problem one might throw at it: hard, soft, or half-baked. But I have become increasingly convinced that science is severely limited in what it can say about consciousness. In a very important sense, consciousness is invisible to science…

Yohan John on “Why some neuroscientists call consciousness ‘the C-word’.”  Via the always-illuminating 3 Quarks Daily.

* Erwin Schrödinger

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As we muse on mind, we might spare a thought for Mary Whiton Calkins; she died on this date in 1930.  A psychologist and philosopher, Calkins studied psychology at Harvard as a “guest” (since women could not officially register there in her day).  Though she completed all requirements for a doctorate, and had the strong support of William James and her other professors, Harvard still refused to grant a degree to a woman. She went on to become the first prominent woman in her fields:  After leaving Harvard, she established the first psychology laboratory at a women’s college (Wellesley), and later became the first female president of both the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical Association.

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“Personality is everything in art and poetry”*…

 

Marcel Proust

From parlor game to psychological staple, the strange story of the Proust Questionnaire…

In 1886, Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the future French President Félix Faure, asked her childhood friend Marcel Proust to fill out a questionnaire in a book titled “Confessions. An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, & c.” A fashionable parlor game originating among the Victorian literate classes, the “confession album,” as it was known, presented a formulaic set of queries on each page—“What is your distinguishing characteristic,” for instance, or “What virtue do you most esteem?” The album’s owner would pass the volume around among her friends, collecting their comments as a kind of souvenir, not unlike the notes that high-school students leave in one another’s yearbooks. Though Proust was only fourteen years old when he filled out Faure’s album, he responded to the questionnaire in precociously Proustian style. Beside the prompt “Your favorite virtue?,” he wrote, “All those that are not specific to any one sect; the universal ones.” To the rather pedestrian question “Where would you like to live?,” he answered, “In the realm of the ideal, or rather my ideal.” His “idea of misery,” true to form, was “to be separated from Maman.” And when asked, “For what fault have you most toleration?,” he replied, “For the private lives of geniuses.”

The young Proust wrote his answers in French, though Faure’s album, a British import, was printed in English. In his early twenties, Proust would fill out a second questionnaire, in a French album titled “Les Confidences de Salon.” He was far from the only significant cultural figure to participate in this ritual. In 1865, Karl Marx confessed that he considered his chief characteristic “singleness of purpose,” and that his favorite occupation was “bookworming.” Five years later, Oscar Wilde wrote in an album called “Mental Photographs, an Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions” that his distinguishing feature was “inordinate self-esteem.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Cézanne all filled out similar forms. But while these other confessions are curios of their era, remembered only by historians, Proust’s questionnaires have had a far-reaching influence that their young author could scarcely have foreseen, becoming, over time, the template for one of the most widely administered personality quizzes in history.

This peculiar afterlife began in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, when Antoinette Faure’s son, the psychoanalyst André Berge, discovered his mother’s confession album in a pile of old volumes among her effects…

More at “How the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we answer authentically, we might spare a thought for Raymond Loewy; he died on this date in 1986.  A pioneering industrial designer, he shaped landscape of manufactured goods in the U.S., from the Coca-Cola bottle and vending machine, through the automobile (e.g., the Studebaker 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1953 Starliner Coupe,  the 1961 Avanti, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus) and appliances (the 1947 line of Hallicrafter radio receivers that conveyed a crisp precision far ahead of their time; the 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine, the 1934 Sears Coldspot Refrigerator), to the heavy industrial (the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives); and he created logos for companies including Shell, Exxon, TWA, and the former BP. (A more complete list of his work, here.)  For all of this, he earned the epithets The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining, and The Father of Industrial Design.

Loewy standing on one of his designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S1 steam locomotive

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Written by LW

July 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Once a culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all”*…

 

Local commercials — those gems of advertising offering sincere pledges of service and strange visuals seemingly inspired by bath salts — didn’t disappoint this year. These ads find a special place in culture and memory with catchy songs, dated graphics and grainy film. So without further ado, revel in the cheesy glory of summer 2015’s bad local ads. If you’re lucky, you might run into one of these local celebrities at the grocery store (or the dog park).

Talking dogs, bombastic lawyers, and more– from Ad Age, “The Best of 2015’s Bad Local Ads (So Far).”

* Mark Crispin Miller

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As we reach for the remote, we might send archetypal birthday greetings to Carl Gustav Jung; he was born on this date in 1875.  A psychiatrist and psychotherapist, he founded the practice of Analytic Psychotherapy. His concepts of the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion were widely influential in psychology, but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies… and might give readers who viewed the spots at the link above reason for introspection.

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Written by LW

July 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

“About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm”*…

 

In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders’ personalities, before the outbreak of World War II.

“I myself began my study of hands in a spirit of skepticism,” Ranald, who served as an officer in the Austrian army during World War I, admits in the introduction to the book. An encounter with a palmist while Ranald was in the service irritated him rather than impressing him, and while he got out of a tight spot when a prisoner of war by pretending to read the palms of his captors, he reported that he still saw the practice as a scam. (Such admissions of doubt may have been well-designed to gain credibility with his reading audience.)

As a newspaper correspondent, Ranald had contact with many people, whose palms he read on a lark. He wrote that he came to see the practice as scientific: he gathered ten thousand such handprints, using sensitized paper (some sheets of which he included in the back of this book, so that the reader could follow his lead). “With a larger and larger sampling to go by, I felt that I could draw some conclusions from my findings,” he wrote. “On the basis of probabilities derived from statistical averages, I could associate certain markings in the hand with certain characteristics in men and women.”

The spatulate hand of FDR, Ranald wrote, belonged to a person of “advanced and liberal views.” The president was “social-minded,” “of sanguinary temperament,” not at all reclusive or introverted. (Read Ranald’s full analysis of FDR here.)

Read Mussolini’s and Hitler’s palms at Rebecca Onion’s “Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938.”  (From the Tumblr of the Public Domain Review, reposted from Tumblr user nemfrog. The Internet Archive’s copy of the book was scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library.)

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we trace out life lines, we might spare a thought for Heinz Edgar Lehmann; he died on this date in 1999.  A psychiatrist who recalled that at the beginning of his practice, in Canada in the 1930s, psychiatric hospitals were “Snake Pits,” Dr. Lehmann led the transformation of North American asylums into the therapeutic environments they are today. But Lehmann’s greatest legacy was a single pill – Largactil (chlorpromazine hydrochloride, best known on the U.S. as Thorazine), the first anti-psychotic drug used in North America.  In successfully treating patients with this drug, Lehmann introduced the world to the idea that biology plays a role in mental illness.  Chlorpromazine remains on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medication needed in a basic health system.

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Written by LW

April 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

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