Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Malignant Narcissism diagnostic checklist

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Interesting and perhaps even useful, at the personal or national level.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2018 at 7:33 am

Effective treatment for depression: Transcranial magnetic stimulation

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Transcranial magnetic stimulation is relatively new but has proved effective against depression when talk therapy and/or medication has not worked. The link is to an article by the Mayo Clinic, which begins:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective.

How it works

During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression. And it may activate regions of the brain that have decreased activity in people with depression.

Though the biology of why rTMS works isn’t completely understood, the stimulation appears to affect how this part of the brain is working, which in turn seems to ease depression symptoms and improve mood.

Treatment for depression involves delivering repetitive magnetic pulses, so it’s called repetitive TMS or rTMS.

Mayo Clinic’s approach

Why it’s done

Depression is a treatable condition, but for some people, standard treatments aren’t effective. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is typically used when standard treatments such as medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy) don’t work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2018 at 2:13 pm

Social Connection Makes a Better Brain

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This article by Emily Esfahani Smith in the Atlantic is from 2013, but it caught my eye today:

Matthew Lieberman, a distinguished social psychologist and neuroscientist, basically won the lottery. This past summer, he was offered three million dollars for an academic position—one million in raw income and two to do lab research. That’s a king’s ransom for a psychology professor. On average, psychology professors make less than six figures and rely on a patchwork of modest grants to sustain their research. All Lieberman had to do was spend four months this year and next year in Moscow, a nice enough city, doing some research—which he would have done anyway at home at UCLA.

But there was a catch. He would have to be away from his wife Naomi and seven-year-old son Ian for those eight months. They could not join him in Moscow. He had a basic trade-off problem, one that kept him up for many nights: Should I take the money and give up those eight months with my family or should I stay home and give up the money and research opportunities? In one form or another, we’ve all faced this dilemma, if on a more modest scale. Do you work late tonight or join your family for dinner? Do you go to the conference or to your friend’s wedding? Do you prioritize your career or your relationships?

Lieberman’s new book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect hits the shelves this month. It’s a book about relationships and why relationships are a central—though increasingly absent—part of a flourishing life. Lieberman draws on psychology and neuroscience research to confirm what Aristotle asserted long ago in his Politics: “Man is by nature a social animal … Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

Just as human beings have a basic need for food and shelter, we also have a basic need to belong to a group and form relationships. The desire to be in a loving relationship, to fit in at school, to join a fraternity or sorority, to avoid rejection and loss, to see your friends do well and be cared for, to share good news with your family, to cheer on your sports team, and to check in on Facebook—these things motivate an incredibly impressive array of our thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Lieberman sees the brain as the center of the social self. Its primary purpose is social thinking. One of the great mysteries of evolutionary science is how and why the human brain got to be so large. Brain size generally increases with body size across the animal kingdom. Elephants have huge brains while mice have tiny ones. But humans are the great exception to this rule. Given the size of our bodies, our brains should be much smaller—but they are by far the largest in the animal kingdom relative to our body size. The question is why.

Scientists have debated this question for a long time, but the research of anthropologist Robin Dunbar is fairly conclusive on this point. Dunbar has found that the strongest predictor of a species’ brain size—specifically, the size of its neocortex, the outermost layer—is the size of its social group. We have big brains in order to socialize. Scientists think the first hominids with brains as large as ours appeared about 600,000-700,000 years ago in Africa. Known as Homo heidelbergensis, they are believed to be the ancestors of Homo sapiens and the Neanderthals. Revealingly, they appear to be the first hominids to have had division of labor (they worked together to hunt), central campsites, and they may have been the first to bury their dead.

One of the most exciting findings to emerge from neuroscience in recent years underlines the brain’s inherently social nature. When neuroscientists monitor what’s going on in someone’s brain, they are typically interested in what happens in it when people are involved in an active task, like doing a math problem or reaching for a ball. But neuroscientists have looked more closely at what the brain does during non-active moments, when we’re chilling out and the brain is at rest. Every time we are not engaged in an active task—like when we take a break between two math problems—the brain falls into a neural configuration called the “default network.” When you have down time, even if it’s just for a second, this brain system comes on automatically.

What’s remarkable about the default network, according to Lieberman’s research, is that it looks almost identical to another brain configuration—the one used for social thinking or “making sense of other people and ourselves,” as he writes: “The default network directs us to think about other people’s minds—their thoughts, feelings, and goals.” Whenever it has a free moment, the human brain has an automatic reflex to go social. Why would the brain, which forms only 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of its energy, use its limited resources on social thinking, rather than conserving its energy by relaxing?

“Evolution has made a bet,” Lieberman tells me, “that the best thing for our brain to do in any spare moment is to get ready for what comes next in social terms.”

Evolution only makes bets if there are payoffs—and when it comes to being social, there are many benefits. Having strong social bonds is as good for you as quitting smoking. Connecting with other people, even in the most basic ways, also makes you happier—especially when you know they need your help.

One study of adults found that the brain’s reward center, which turns on when people feel pleasure, was more active when people gave $10 to charity than when they received $10. In another study, comforting someone in distress activated the reward center in a powerful way. Couples were brought into the lab and the girlfriend was placed inside a brain scanner while the boyfriend sat in a chair right next to her. In some cases, the boyfriend would receive a painful electrical shock.

The girlfriend, who knew when her boyfriend was being shocked, was instructed to either hold her boyfriend’s hand or to hold onto a small ball. When the scientists looked at the girlfriend’s brain activity, they found that her reward system was active when she was holding the hand of her boyfriend both when he was being shocked and when he wasn’t in pain—but it was most activewhen she held his hand as he was being shocked. Holding your boyfriend’s hand feels nice, but it’s especially meaningful when you know that he needs your love and affection.

***

When economists put a price tag on our relationships, we get a concrete sense of just how valuable our social connections are—and how devastating it is when they are broken. If you volunteer at least once a week, the increase to your happiness is like moving from a yearly income of $20,000 to $75,000. If you have a friend that you see on most days, it’s like earning $100,000 more each year. Simply seeing your neighbors on a regular basis gets you $60,000 a year more. On the other hand, when you break a critical social tie—here, in the case of getting divorced—it’s like suffering a $90,000 per year decrease in your income.

You don’t have to be a social scientist to know how badly a breakup hurts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 11:53 am

Trump promised to fix veterans’ problems. Now they call his hotline desperate for help.

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Jessica Cotrera reports in the Washington Post:

 The phones rang early in the morning and late in the evening. They rang, always, in the middle of the night. They were ringing now, as Mary Hendricks sank into a swivel chair and settled in beside her co-workers for another day of answering them.

The calls came from veterans who were about to be evicted. Veterans who couldn’t get hold of their doctors. Veterans who needed to talk about what they saw in Afghanistan or Iraq or Vietnam.
Mary pressed a button. Her headset clicked on.
“This is the White House VA hotline,” she said, introducing herself by first name only. “How can I help you?”
Here in a small West Virginia town, 74 miles from the White House, a Donald Trump campaign promise is being fulfilled. He told the country’s 20 million veterans that if they had an issue with the Department of Veterans Affairs, there would be a number they could call 24 hours a day to talk to a real person.
On this day in late July, as Mary was beginning a conversation with one of those veterans, Trump was standing before a crowd of them at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Missouri, introducing a new VA secretary, Robert Wilkie.
The department Wilkie was about to take over had endured months of turmoil. Trump had fired his predecessor via tweet. Longtime employees had been dismissed and demoted. The bipartisanship that once existed inside the halls of the federal government’s second-largest agency had been replaced by political infighting over how veterans should be cared for.
All the while, the veterans who were supposed to receive that care kept calling this room inside a nondescript office building to ­report what was going wrong with it.
“We’re going to try to get you some help,” Mary said to the man on her line now, an Air Force veteran who had erroneously received a bill for $350.18. He did not have $350.18.
“I will instruct my staff that if a valid complaint is not addressed, that the issue be brought directly to me,” Trump said in 2016. “I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to.”
But for now, the only person trying to fix it was Mary, a 44-year-old widow with blond hair, a cross around her neck and long lavender nails that clacked on her keyboard. She had learned so much about VA that she wished she had known when her husband, an Army veteran, had been alive. But still, she could not make the $350.18 bill go away.
She could not see why it was sent. She could not access benefits or medical records, even with the man’s permission. She wasn’t allowed to call his provider. All she could do was type his problem and send it to a different team in a different place that would respond in approximately 60 business days, if it responded on time.
Listen. Type. Send. This was what the 60 customer service agents could do for the 107,000 calls that had come in since June 2017. On this day, there would be 584 more.
Some veterans believed it was helping. Some said it was just another layer of bureaucracy. Mary said only, “You’re very welcome, sir. Have a wonderful day,” and waited for the phone to ring again.
The history of the Department of Veterans Affairs is entwined with scandal, from its first leader — an embezzler — under President Warren Harding to the revelation under President Barack Obama that VA hospitals were lying about how long veterans were waiting for care. Obama brought in a new VA secretary, Robert McDonald, to fix it.
One of McDonald’s solutions: A hotline.
At first, the line was his cellphone number, which he gave out at news conferences, saying, “Call me Bob.” Then he created MyVA311, another line for an agency that has staffed hotlines for everything from quitting smoking to learning about the flu to coping after seeing “Saving Private Ryan.”
The new hotline, 855-948-2311, joins nearly 20 phone numbers VA has listed on its website as national hotlines, help lines or call centers. These are in addition to the call centers run by individual VA hospitals and veterans service organizations.
The allure of a hotline is that problems cannot be remedied unless they are first reported. But just because problems are reported doesn’t mean they will be fixed, said Joe Plenzler, spokesman for the American Legion. That’s why organizations like his are skeptical of Trump’s version of the idea, which has an annual budget of $7.4 million.
“We are asking: Is it action? Or is it just the appearance of action?” Plenzler said.
On the day after Trump’s speech with Wilkie, the action for Mary began with Diet Pepsi and Sheetz coffee, both of which she needed to get through eight hours of calls. (To protect the privacy of veterans, VA officials permitted The Washington Post to listen only to the call takers’ side of the conversations.)
“I am so sorry,” Mary told the first veteran routed to her phone, as if it were her fault that the Army reservist had been denied the benefits he believed he deserved. Her computer showed he had called many times. “Veteran with brain damage” was how the last call taker described the first of his problems.
Mary was quiet as his voice grew louder in her ear. This job wasn’t all that different from the bartending she had done for years.
“I still listen,” she said. “I just don’t get them drunk.”

She’d been working at a restaurant when she met her husband, Rod, who was in the Army during Desert Storm. In their 10 years together, every time she asked about his deployment, he changed the subject. She stopped asking. It stopped mattering to her once he was sick.
Headaches. Kidney problems. Dialysis three times a week, four hours a day. VA doctors and private doctors, bills and paperwork, a system she didn’t know how to help him navigate. She tried to be there for him in other ways, to pray for him, to be the wife he needed. The last question she asked him, in the moments before the heart attack that would take his life in 2015, was: “What do you want for dinner?”
A year later, she was working at a dollar store and on a hospital overnight cleanup crew during the 2016 presidential campaign. She had voted for Obama in 2008. But Trump seemed to be working to earn veterans’ votes. He didn’t hide behind his words. Mary thought Rod would have liked that.
She didn’t know it was Trump’s hotline when she saw the ad for a call center representative on ­Indeed.com for a job that paid $12.50 per hour and required someone “compassionate to veterans’ concerns.” She immediately submitted her résumé. The contractor doing the hiring said she was the first to apply.
Now she was 10 months in, trying to show she was compassionate to this veteran’s concerns. “Want me to try to get through to the benefits administration?”
The Army reservist said he’d already tried that.
“I just want to yell,” he said, so Mary let him, because that was what she was trained to do.
For three weeks, the agents had been schooled on VA, its “I-CARE values” (Integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, excellence) and “Three E’s” (Effectiveness, ease, emotion), lessons that could never fully prepare them for the calls to come.
Like the woman who identified herself as a veteran calling from the Civil War. Or the older man who painted a vivid picture of his sex life, saying, “I can’t even . . . ” and “She has to . . . ” and all the agent could think to say was, “You do what you gotta do, sir.”
They were instructed not to disconnect unless they were being screamed at with profanity, which happened daily. (“I am so friggin’ nice when I call Comcast now,” Mary said.)
So she had listened for over an hour when a veteran called to relive every detail of her sexual assault. She’d listened to a man go on and on about a bill until she realized he was asking whether his wife would have to pay the bill when he died because he was about to kill himself. Suddenly he said, “Thank you so much, sweetie, I got to go,” and hung up. Mary called the crisis line to send the police to check on him. She doesn’t know what they found.
One call at a time, that was the way to get through.
“Like digging a hole through a mountain with a spoon,” said Steven Spaid, 50, an Air Force veteran who spent his career dropping supplies for combat troops out of planes before becoming a call taker.
“We really are their last resort,” said Jessica Coates, 36, an Army veteran who used a soothing voice to calm the callers — and short walks around the parking lot to calm herself.
To Mary, so many of the problems felt fixable, if only they had the powers, or permission, to fix them.
“There was this man,” she said as she waited for the phone to ring again. “And he just wanted a . . .

Continue reading.

The US is broken.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2018 at 1:59 pm

Denialism: what drives people to reject the truth

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Keith Kahn-Harris has an extract from his book Denial: The Unspeakable Truth in the Guardian:

We are all in denial, some of the time at least. Part of being human, and living in a society with other humans, is finding clever ways to express – and conceal – our feelings. From the most sophisticated diplomatic language to the baldest lie, humans find ways to deceive. Deceptions are not necessarily malign; at some level they are vital if humans are to live together with civility. As Richard Sennett has argued: “In practising social civility, you keep silent about things you know clearly but which you should not and do not say.”

Just as we can suppress some aspects of ourselves in our self-presentation to others, so we can do the same to ourselves in acknowledging or not acknowledging what we desire. Most of the time, we spare ourselves from the torture of recognising our baser yearnings. But when does this necessary private self-deception become harmful? When it becomes public dogma. In other words: when it becomes denialism.

Denialism is an expansion, an intensification, of denial. At root, denial and denialism are simply a subset of the many ways humans have developed to use language to deceive others and themselves. Denial can be as simple as refusing to accept that someone else is speaking truthfully. Denial can be as unfathomable as the multiple ways we avoid acknowledging our weaknesses and secret desires.

Denialism is more than just another manifestation of the humdrum intricacies of our deceptions and self-deceptions. It represents the transformation of the everyday practice of denial into a whole new way of seeing the world and – most important – a collective accomplishment. Denial is furtive and routine; denialism is combative and extraordinary. Denial hides from the truth, denialism builds a new and better truth.

In recent years, the term has been used to describe a number of fields of “scholarship”, whose scholars engage in audacious projects to hold back, against seemingly insurmountable odds, the findings of an avalanche of research. They argue that the Holocaust (and other genocides) never happened, that anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is a myth, that Aids either does not exist or is unrelated to HIV, that evolution is a scientific impossibility, and that all manner of other scientific and historical orthodoxies must be rejected.

In some ways, denialism is a terrible term. No one calls themselves a “denialist”, and no one signs up to all forms of denialism. In fact, denialism is founded on the assertion that it is not denialism. In the wake of Freud (or at least the vulgarisation of Freud), no one wants to be accused of being “in denial”, and labelling people denialists seems to compound the insult by implying that they have taken the private sickness of denial and turned it into public dogma.

But denial and denialism are closely linked; what humans do on a large scale is rooted in what we do on a small scale. While everyday denial can be harmful, it is also just a mundane way for humans to respond to the incredibly difficult challenge of living in a social world in which people lie, make mistakes and have desires that cannot be openly acknowledged. Denialism is rooted in human tendencies that are neither freakish nor pathological.

All that said, there is no doubt that denialism is dangerous. In some cases, we can point to concrete examples of denialism causing actual harm. In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki, in office between 1999 and 2008, was influenced by Aids denialists such as Peter Duesberg, who deny the link between HIV and Aids (or even HIV’s existence) and cast doubt on the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs. Mbeki’s reluctance to implement national treatment programmes using anti-retrovirals has been estimated to have cost the lives of 330,000 people. On a smaller scale, in early 2017 the Somali-American community in Minnesota was struck by a childhood measles outbreak, as a direct result of proponents of the discredited theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism, persuading parents not to vaccinate their children.

More commonly though, denialism’s effects are less direct but more insidious. Climate change denialists have not managed to overturn the general scientific consensus that it is occurring and caused by human activity. What they have managed to do is provide subtle and not-so-subtle support for those opposed to taking radical action to address this urgent problem. Achieving a global agreement that could underpin a transition to a post-carbon economy, and that would be capable of slowing the temperature increase, was always going to be an enormous challenge. Climate changedenialism has helped to make the challenge even harder.

Denialism can also create an environment of hate and suspicion. Forms of genocide denialism are not just attempts to overthrow irrefutable historical facts; they are an assault on those who survive genocide, and their descendants. The implacable denialism that has led the Turkish state to refuse to admit that the 1917 Armenian genocide occurred is also an attack on today’s Armenians, and on any other minority that would dare to raise troubling questions about the status of minorities in Turkey. Similarly, those who deny the Holocaust are not trying to disinterestedly “correct” the historical record; they are, with varying degrees of subtlety, trying to show that Jews are pathological liars and fundamentally dangerous, as well as to rehabilitate the reputation of the Nazis.

The dangers that other forms of denialism pose may be less concrete, but they are no less serious. Denial of evolution, for example, does not have an immediately hateful payoff; rather it works to foster a distrust in science and research that feeds into other denialisms and undermines evidence-based policymaking. Even lunatic-fringe denialisms, such as flat Earth theories, while hard to take seriously, help to create an environment in which real scholarship and political attempts to engage with reality, break down in favour of an all-encompassing suspicion that nothing is what it seems.

Denialism has moved from the fringes to the centre of public discourse, helped in part by new technology. As information becomes freer to access online, as “research” has been opened to anyone with a web browser, as previously marginal voices climb on to the online soapbox, so the opportunities for countering accepted truths multiply. No one can be entirely ostracised, marginalised and dismissed as a crank anymore.

The sheer profusion of voices, the plurality of opinions, the cacophony of the controversy, are enough to make anyone doubt what they should believe.


So how do you fight denialism? Denialism offers a dystopian vision of a world unmoored, in which nothing can be taken for granted and no one can be trusted. If you believe that you are being constantly lied to, paradoxically you may be in danger of accepting the untruths of others. Denialism is a mix of corrosive doubt and corrosive credulity.

It’s perfectly understandable that denialism sparks anger and outrage, particularly in those who are directly challenged by it. If you are a Holocaust survivor, a historian, a climate scientist, a resident of a flood-plain, a geologist, an Aids researcher or someone whose child caught a preventable disease from an unvaccinated child, denialism can feel like an assault on your life’s work, your core beliefs or even your life itself. Such people do fight back. This can include, in some countries, supporting laws against denialism, as in France’s prohibition of Holocaust denial. Attempts to teach “creation science” alongside evolution in US schools are fought with tenacity. Denialists are routinely excluded from scholarly journals and academic conferences.

The most common response to denialism, though, is debunking. Just as denialists produce a large and ever-growing body of books, articles, websites, lectures and videos, so their detractors respond with a literature of their own. Denialist claims are refuted point by point, in a spiralling contest in which no argument – however ludicrous – is ever left unchallenged. Some debunkings are endlessly patient and civil, treating denialists and their claims seriously and even respectfully; others are angry and contemptuous.

Yet none of these strategies work, at least not completely. Take the libel case that the Holocaust denier David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt in 1996. Irving’s claim that accusing him of being a Holocaust denier and a falsifier of history was libellous were forensically demolished by Richard Evans and other eminent historians. The judgment was devastating to Irving’s reputation and unambiguous in its rejection of his claim to be a legitimate historian. The judgment bankrupted him, he was repudiated by the few remaining mainstream historians who had supported him, and in 2006 he was imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial.

But Irving today? He is still writing and lecturing, albeit in a more covert fashion. He still makes similar claims and his defenders see him as a heroic figure who survived the attempts of the Jewish-led establishment to silence him. Nothing really changed. Holocaust denial is still around, and its proponents find new followers. In legal and scholarly terms, Lipstadt won an absolute victory, but she didn’t beat Holocaust denial or even Irving in the long term.

There is a salutary lesson here: in democratic societies at least, denialism cannot be beaten legally, or through debunking, or through attempts to discredit its proponents. That’s because, for denialists, the existence of denialism is itself a triumph. Central to denialism is an argument that “the truth” has been suppressed by its enemies. To continue to exist is a heroic act, a victory for the forces of truth.

Of course, denialists might yearn for a more complete victory – when theories of anthropogenic climate change will be marginalised in academia and politics, when the story of how the Jews hoaxed the world will be in every history book – but, for now, every day that denialism persists is a good day. In fact, denialism can achieve more modest triumphs even without total victory. For the denialist, every day barrels of oil continue to be extracted and burned is a good day, every day a parent doesn’t vaccinate their child is a good day, every day a teenager Googling the Holocaust finds out that some people think it never happened is a good day.

Conversely, denialism’s opponents rarely have time on their side. As climate change rushes towards the point of no return, as Holocaust survivors die and can no longer give testimony, as once-vanquished diseases threaten pandemics, as the notion that there is “doubt” on settled scholarship becomes unremarkable, so the task facing the debunkers becomes both more urgent and more difficult. It’s understandable that panic can set in and that anger overwhelms some of those who battle against denialism.

A better approach to denialism is one of self-criticism. The starting point is a frank question: why did we fail? Why have those of us who abhor denialism not succeeded in halting its onward march? And why have we as a species managed to turn our everyday capacity to deny into an organised attempt to undermine our collective ability to understand the world and change it for the better?

These questions are beginning to be asked in some circles. They are often the result of a kind of despair. Campaigners against anthropogenic global warming often lament that, as the task becomes ever more urgent, so denialism continues to run rampant (along with apathy and “softer” forms of denial). It appears that nothing works in the campaign to make humanity aware of the threat it faces.

The obstinacy with which people can stick to disproved notions is attested to in the social sciences and in neuroscientific research. Humans are not only reasoning beings who disinterestedly weigh evidence and arguments. But there is a difference between the pre-conscious search for confirmation of existing views – we all engage in that to some extent – and the deliberate attempt to dress this search up as a quest for truth, as denialists do. Denialism adds extra layers of reinforcement and defence around widely shared psychological practices with the (never articulated) aim of preventing their exposure. This certainly makes changing the minds of denialists even more difficult than changing the minds of the rest of stubborn humanity.

There are multiple kinds of denialists: from those who are sceptical of all established knowledge, to those who challenge one type of knowledge; from those who actively contribute to the creation of denialist scholarship, to those who quietly consume it; from those who burn with certainty, to those who are privately sceptical about their scepticism. What they all have in common, I would argue, is a particular type of desire. This desire – for something not to be true – is the driver of denialism.


Empathy with denialists is not easy, but it is essential. Denialism is not stupidity, or ignorance, or mendacity, or psychological pathology. Nor is it the same as lying. Of course, denialists can be stupid, ignorant liars, but so can any of us. But denialists are people in a desperate predicament.

It is a very modern predicament. Denialism is a post‑enlightenment phenomenon, a reaction to the “inconvenience” of many of the findings of modern scholarship. The discovery of evolution, for example, is inconvenient to those committed to a literalist biblical account of creation. Denialism is also a reaction to the inconvenience of the moral consensus that emerged in the post-enlightenment world. In the ancient world, you could erect a monument proudly proclaiming the genocide you committed to the world. In the modern world, mass killing, mass starvation, mass environmental catastrophe can no longer be publicly legitimated.

Yet many humans still want to do the same things humans always did. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more—indeed, there’s an entire book.

I also point out Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, by Daniel Goleman.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2018 at 12:13 pm

It’s True: Trump Is Lying More, and He’s Doing It on Purpose

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Susan B. Glasser writes in the New Yorker:

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a remarkable story on its front page revealing a recent spike in the number of “false and misleading claims” made by President Trump. In his first year as President, Trump made 2,140 false claims, according to the Post. In just the last six months, he has nearly doubled that total to 4,229. In June and July, he averaged sixteen false claims a day. On July 5th, the Post found what appears to be Trump’s most untruthful day yet: seventy-six per cent of the ninety-eight factual assertions he made in a campaign-style rally in Great Falls, Montana, were “false, misleading or unsupported by evidence.” Trump’s rallies have become the signature events of his Presidency, and it is there that the President most often plays fast and loose with the facts, in service to his political priorities and to telling his fervent supporters what they want and expect to hear from him. At another rally this week, in Tampa, Trump made thirty-five false and misleading claims, on subjects ranging from trade with China to the size of his tax cut.

These astonishing statistics were compiled by a small team overseen by Glenn Kessler, the editor and chief writer of the Post’s Fact Checker column, who for much of the last decade has been truth-squadding politicians and doling out Pinocchios for their exaggerations, misrepresentations, distortions, and otherwise false claims. At this point, Kessler practically has a Ph.D. in the anthropology of the Washington lie, a long and storied art form which has always had skilled practitioners of both parties. But Trump has challenged the Fact Checker, Kessler told me over coffee this week, in ways that have tested the very premise of the column. The President, for example, has a habit of repeating the same falsehoods over and over again, especially as they concern his core political causes, such as trade or immigration or getting European allies to contribute more to nato. What should Kessler do, he often asks himself, when Trump repeats a four-Pinocchio whopper? Since taking office, the Postfact-checking team found, Trump has repeated close to a hundred and fifty untruths at least three times. Kessler has instated a Trump-specific database in response. Initially, the Post planned to compile the database of Trump’s misrepresentations as part of a project for his first hundred days in office. But the numbers kept piling up; now, Kessler told me, he is committed to keeping it up for Trump’s full term, documenting every “untruth” (per Post policy, he does not use the label “lies” even for the most egregious Presidential whoppers). “We’re kind of doing it for history,” he said.

History books will likely declare the last few months a turning point in the Trump Presidency, and Kessler’s laborious work gives us metrics that confirm what is becoming more and more apparent: the recent wave of misstatements is both a reflection of Trump’s increasingly unbound Presidency and a signal attribute of it. The upsurge provides empirical evidence that Trump, in recent months, has felt more confident running his White House as he pleases, keeping his own counsel, and saying and doing what he wants when he wants to. The fact that Trump, while historically unpopular with the American public as a whole, has retained the loyalty of more than eighty per cent of Republicans—the group at which his lies seem to be aimed—means we are in for much more, as a midterm election approaches that may determine whether Trump is impeached by a newly Democratic Congress. At this point, the falsehoods are as much a part of his political identity as his floppy orange hair and the “Make America Great Again” slogan. The untruths, Kessler told me, are Trump’s political “secret sauce.”

That appears to be the case for others on Trump’s team as well. As Kessler and I talked, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, presided at one of her increasingly rare press briefings. (Another metric to consider: Sanders gave three briefings in all of July, while previous Administrations conducted them daily.) In the briefing, Sanders repeated a number of false claims, including one that Kessler had previously debunked, that reporters put out “leaked” information that caused Osama bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone and slowed the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader before the 9/11 attacks. Kessler heard about Sanders’s false claim as we were leaving and retweeted his old article. “Kind of amazed but not surprised,” he wrote on Twitter, that the White House press secretary “would cite uninformed reporting that appeared BEFORE I debunked this fable in 2005.”

To me, the striking thing was that Sanders’s false claim was part of her prepared remarks; she read them from a piece of paper in the midst of a press-bashing jeremiad about the evils of what Trump calls “fake news.” A day later, she made her personal view of the press clear. Asked repeatedly Thursday whether she endorses Trump’s oft-stated line that the media are the “enemies of the people,” Sanders refused to reject Trump’s characterization. “I’m here to speak on behalf of the President,” she said. “He’s made his comments clear.” The White House assault on the truth is not an accident—it is intentional.

Other metrics make clear the significant changes in Trump’s approach to the Presidency in recent months, as he has become more confident, less willing to tolerate advisers who challenge him, and increasingly obsessed with the threats to his Presidency posed by the ongoing special-counsel investigation. One is the epic turnover rate of Trump’s White House staff, which as of June already stood at the unprecedented level of sixty-one per cent among the President’s top advisers.

All the departures from Trump’s troubled West Wing have created a new set of dilemmas for the political world, which normally welcomes even the most controversial White House advisers into a comfortable post-power life of high-paid lobbying or consulting jobs, speaking tours, and cushy think-tank or academic gigs. Will those smooth transitions continue? Should they?

At Harvard, an uproar greeted the decision of the Kennedy School of Government to name Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, a visiting fellow, although, at Stanford, the recent decision by the Hoover Institution to name H. R. McMaster, Trump’s fired national-security adviser, a senior fellow prompted little protest. After Marc Short quit the Trump White House last month, he headed toward such a life as well. Short, a veteran conservative political operative, worked to oppose Trump’s nomination in the 2016 Republican primaries while on the payroll of the big G.O.P. donors the Koch brothers. Nonetheless, he went on to serve as Trump’s chief legislative liaison and congressional vote-counter. Short also often defended Trump on television. After leaving the White House, he landed a paid gig as a CNN commentator (the network where I am also a contributor), a partnership at a Washington consulting firm, and a fellowship at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Short’s hiring at U.V.A. has set off a major controversy in Charlottesville, which will soon mark the one-year anniversary of the violence-scarred white supremacist march that prompted one of Trump’s most controversial statements as President, his declaration that there were bad people and violence “on both sides.” Unlike others in the Administration, Short never publicly objected to Trump’s Charlottesville remarks (though he told me the White House had not handled it “the way we should have.”) In the two weeks since Short’s hiring, thousands of U.V.A. students and professors have signed a petition opposing it, although the Miller Center and U.V.A.’s new president are sticking by him. William Antholis, the Miller Center’s director, told me he believed Short’s appointment was about “understanding the Trump Presidency and engaging in civil dialogue about it, including with somebody who knows it and understands it well, but in my view is still within the legitimate bands of political disagreement.” But Antholis acknowledged that, for many opponents of Trump, this is not a Presidency to be treated like those that preceded it. “The challenge we face is similar to the one all media organizations face: the Trump Presidency and the Congress represent forty per cent of the American people and eighty to ninety per cent of the Republican Party, so can you just completely say that is an illegitimate viewpoint and that anybody complicit in it is by association guilty? Where do you draw the bands of complicity?”

On Monday, two well-regarded history professors quit the Miller Center in protest of Short’s hiring. William Hitchcock, the author of an admiring new biography of President Dwight Eisenhower (“He is the anti-Trump,” Hitchcock said of Eisenhower, when we met at a Miller Center breakfast that I co-hosted this summer—“He is the un-Trumpian in every way”), told me this week that he is fine with universities hiring other former officials with controversial backgrounds, such as the current Miller Center fellow Eric Edelman, who was Vice-President Dick Cheney’s close adviser during the invasion of Iraq, or McMaster at Stanford University, each of whom has an academic background. It is Short’s role as a public propagator of Trump’s untruths that most bothers Hitchcock, and, as a historian, he said that this makes the Trump Administration unique among American Presidencies.

“What is the appropriate position for universities to adopt not just to former Trump officials but to the Trump era?” he asked. “Universities have got to speak up for the basic principles of inquiry, of open-mindeness, and facts that have been cast into doubt . . . . If you invite the slickest, most skillful bender of the truth from the Trump Administration and say, ‘What can you tell us about the Trump Administration?’ Well, what are you going to get out of him?”

On Thursday, I reached Short by telephone and asked him to respond to this criticism. Short said he thought a lot of the backlash around his hiring had to do with Trump’s “unique Presidency ” and the “raw emotions” in Charlottesville and that he hoped he could contribute to “an honest conversation about how this Presidency came to be.” Short suggested that those who objected to him were doing so because they were uncomfortable with a “disruptive President” or because of their “dismissal of Trump voters—and that is a wide swath of America.” When I pointed out that many of the objections, like Hitchcock’s, had to do with a more basic question, of Short’s accountability—and that of other Trump officials—for the President’s unprecedented record of untruths, Short said he did feel “a responsibility to be truthful. All of us have a responsibility to be truthful, and that’s essential.” So, I asked, would he be open to correcting the record of the President’s misstatements? “Tell me specifically where you think there have been things stated that are not true,” he said. “Let’s have that conversation, as opposed to saying, ‘I’m going to resign.’ We’re all better off if we have that conversation in a civil way.”

The previous gold standard in Presidential lying was, of course, Richard Nixon. Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential nominee four years before Nixon won the White House in 1968, famously called Nixon “the most dishonest individual I ever met in my life.” Writing in his memoirs, Goldwater observed that Nixon “lied to his wife, his family, his friends, longtime colleagues in the U.S. Congress, lifetime members of his own political party, the American people, and the world.”

There have been comparisons between Nixon and Trump since Trump first entered office, but these, too, have escalated in recent months as the President has been shadowed by the threat of the ongoing special-counsel investigation into the electronic break-in of the Democratic National Committee (another eerie Watergate echo) and whether Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. Trump’s obsession with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, also comes with metrics: he has called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt” on Twitter more than twenty-one times a month on average this spring and summer, compared with an average of just three times a month in the previous nine months.

Another commonality between Nixon and Trump is  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2018 at 5:38 pm

Could Multiple Personality Disorder Explain Life, the Universe and Everything?

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Bernardo Kastrup, Adam Crabtree, and Edward F. Kelly write in Scientific American:

In 2015, doctors in Germany reported the extraordinary case of a woman who suffered from what has traditionally been called “multiple personality disorder” and today is known as “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). The woman exhibited a variety of dissociated personalities (“alters”), some of which claimed to be blind. Using EEGs, the doctors were able to ascertain that the brain activity normally associated with sight wasn’t present while a blind alter was in control of the woman’s body, even though her eyes were open. Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.

This was a compelling demonstration of the literally blinding power of extreme forms of dissociation, a condition in which the psyche gives rise to multiple, operationally separate centers of consciousness, each with its own private inner life.

Modern neuroimaging techniques have demonstrated that DID is real: in a 2014 study, doctors performed functional brain scans on both DID patients and actors simulating DID. The scans of the actual patients displayed clear differences when compared to those of the actors, showing that dissociation has an identifiable neural activity fingerprint. In other words, there is something rather particular that dissociative processes look like in the brain.

There is also compelling clinical data showing that different alters can be concurrently conscious and see themselves as distinct identities. One of us has written an extensive treatment of evidence for this distinctness of identity and the complex forms of interactive memory that accompany it, particularly in those extreme cases of DID that are usually referred to as multiple personality disorder.

The history of this condition dates back to the early 19th century, with a flurry of cases in the 1880s through the 1920s, and again from the 1960s to the late 1990s. The massive literature on the subject confirms the consistent and uncompromising sense of separateness experienced by the alter personalities. It also displays compelling evidence that the human psyche is constantly active in producing personal units of perception and action that might be needed to deal with the challenges of life.

Although we may be at a loss to explain precisely how this creative process occurs (because it unfolds almost totally beyond the reach of self-reflective introspection) the clinical evidence nevertheless forces us to acknowledge something is happening that has important implications for our views about what is and is not possible in nature.

Now, a newly published paper by one of us posits that dissociation can offer a solution to a critical problem in our current understanding of the nature of reality. This requires some background, so bear with us.

According to the mainstream metaphysical view of physicalism, reality is fundamentally constituted by physical stuff outside and independent of mind. Mental states, in turn, should be explainable in terms of the parameters of physical processes in the brain.

A key problem of physicalism, however, is its inability to make sense of how our subjective experience of qualities—what it is like to feel the warmth of fire, the redness of an apple, the bitterness of disappointment and so on—could arise from mere arrangements of physical stuff.

Physical entities such as subatomic particles possess abstract relational properties, such as mass, spin, momentum and charge. But there is nothing about these properties, or in the way particles are arranged in a brain, in terms of which one could deduce what the warmth of fire, the redness of an apple or the bitterness of disappointment feel like. This is known as the hard problem of consciousness.

To circumvent this problem, some philosophers have proposed an alternative: that experience is inherent to every fundamental physical entity in nature. Under this view, called “constitutive panpsychism,” matter already has experience from the get-go, not just when it arranges itself in the form of brains. Even subatomic particles possess some very simple form of consciousness. Our own human consciousness is then (allegedly) constituted by a combination of the subjective inner lives of the countless physical particles that make up our nervous system.

However, constitutive panpsychism has a critical problem of its own: there is arguably no coherent, non-magical way in which lower-level subjective points of view—such as those of subatomic particles or neurons in the brain, if they have these points of view—could combine to form higher-level subjective points of view, such as yours and ours. This is called the  combination problem and it appears just as insoluble as the hard problem of consciousness.

The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.

You don’t need to be a philosopher to realize the obvious problem with this idea: people have private, separate fields of experience. We can’t normally read your thoughts and, presumably, neither can you read ours. Moreover, we are not normally aware of what’s going on across the universe and, presumably, neither are you. So, for idealism to be tenable, one must explain—at least in principle—how one universal consciousness gives rise to multiple, private but concurrently conscious centers of cognition, each with a distinct personality and sense of identity.

And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.

Moreover, as we’ve seen earlier, there is something dissociative processes look like in the brain of a patient with DID. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2018 at 4:32 pm

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