That's the question the Saybrook Forum asked psychology faculty member Eugene Taylor, an internationally renowned scholar on the life and work of William James, after the question was raised by the The New Humanist magazine. His response is below.
William James: Still One Hundred and Fifty Years Ahead of His Time
In a thoughtful article recently published in The New Humanist [125:4, July/August 2010], Jonathan Raée extols the attributes of his favorite philosopher-psychologist, William James. He was the only enduring figure, according to Raée, who did not get bogged down in details , and did not take a megalomaniacal stance toward his own ideas. We should resurrect his memory and seek to emulate the now forgotten direction he was always pointing us towards—world peace through a strengthening of our own inward character.
I should say that Mr. Raée as a writer is himself on the right track. Briefly, we may review here only a few of James’s prescient insights into our uniquely American and humanistically oriented legacy, and at the same time we might widen even more for the reader the scope of James’s thinking about our future.
"Nobody’s original," says composer David Cope.
Here’s what he means: there’s no such thing as "creativity," only endless copying, theme, and variation. "Everybody copies from everybody. The skill is in how large a fragment you choose to copy and how elegantly you can put them together."
Cope is making more than just an argument with the idea that "nobody’s original" – he’s making music. Cope is the world’s foremost creator of computer programs that compose classical music, and his latest program, called "Emily Howell," recently released its first album. In several cases, classical music scholars have been unable to tell an artificial intelligence created work in the style of Bach or Mozart from the original.
That music, Cope says, is proof that creativity, as we commonly understand it, does not exist – and that people are therefore little more than complex machines constantly crunching algorithms.
"The question," Cope says in a recent article in Miller-McCune,"isn’t whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul." His answer is "no."
How many times have you heard someone talking about a major policy ask: "How is the market going to respond?"
Or heard someone say that a social problem will be taken care of "if we let the market work?" Or heard that our society is in trouble because "the market lost confidence."
These statements refer, of course, to the financial markets – but in a provocative article in the London Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty asked: if you substitute "God" for "the market" in all of these statements, doesn’t it make about as much sense?
In fact, said Chakrabortty, isn’t this a pretty good indication that "The Market" has become the Western society’s religion?
After all, we have faith in it, and in its power to perform miracles and bestow prosperity, even if we don’t really understand how. We ask if "the market" will like something, or how "the market" will react, when we try to decide whether or not to do something.
And, when you think about it, the market has a priestly class, temples, and orthodox doctrines, too.
Is Chakrabortt right?
We asked Alan Vaughan, a Jungian analyst and psychology faculty member in Saybrook’s PsyD program who studies both the psychology of global capitalism and the transmission of religions across cultures, to weigh in.
His response is below.
Every 70 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that means that there could be up to 16 million Americans with Alzheimer’s by 2050 – and that’s only one of many different kinds of dementia that afflict the elderly.
In the most literal sense possible, what are we going to do with all these people who can’t do for themselves?
For the most part, they get their physical needs met: hospitals and clinics and care workers and families are increasingly good at helping people with dementia eat and bathe and take their medicine.
But what about their psychological needs? Does dementia condemn someone to a life of confusion, loneliness, and solitude?
“People with dementia are present, they live in the moment, and they still want to be met, noticed, related to,” says Doris Bersing, an expert on the psychology of aging and a faculty member in Saybrook’s PsyD program. When people with dementia aren’t related to, their confusion often becomes depression and anger – the way anyone’s does.
It’s simple arithmetic: more and more veterans are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), as more and more soldiers are coming home from war. This adds up to tragedy. More veterans are getting into trouble after they return home, and many of them are in the nation’s prison system.
A recent study suggested that six percent of new inmates in the Texas prison system are recently returning veterans, and now that state is trying a new approach to address the problem: special courts for veterans.
Modeled on “drug courts” that offer drug users social services and mental health treatment instead of jail time, the veterans courts – which are either operating or ramping up in six Texas counties – would try to identify veterans whose crimes can be traced to combat stress or the attempt to cope with it, and offer them social and mental health services and treatment for addictions instead of jail time.
Saybrook psychologists who have worked frequently with soldiers say they appreciate what Texas is trying to do, but are skeptical about the idea.
The internet might rightly be called the greatest medium of free expression in human history – but just how free is the internet?
This month a federal court ruled that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can block or slow internet content they don’t like … or charge popular sites to be accessed.
In other words, the company that provides your internet can also decide what you see on it.
The ruling has caused an uproar, with everyone from government regulators to high-tech companies trying to decide what to do next. Many of them argue that the principle of “net neutrality” – the idea that every site on the internet should be treated equally by ISPs – is essential to preserving the potential for the internet as a free exchange of ideas.
For Joel Federman, a member of Saybrook’s Human Science faculty who heads its interdisciplinary concentration in Social Transformation, this discussion couldn’t be more crucial. The future of democracy – which depends on access to information – is at stake.
It’s one small step for 400 people – but could turn into a huge change for the federal government.
The United States Office of Personnel Management has announced that it will implement a pilot “results only” work program for 400 federal employees – allowing them to work wherever, whenever, and however they want, and evaluating them only by the results they produce.
If successful, it could lead to widespread changes, and greater flexibility, for government employees at every level.
Saybrook scholars who work with governments say they are impressed – but that programs like this aren’t always easy to get right.
“The devil is in the details, as they say,” says Gary Metcalf, an Organizational Systems faculty member who teaches at the Federal Executive Institute of the U.S. government. “How it actually works will depend a great deal on the targets they set, and how they get measured. Some people will do better with it than others. Also, it takes more discipline to run your own schedule, and some people don’t do that well.”
Still, he’s excited by the prospect. “Conceptually it sounds like a huge step forward – well beyond what many corporations are ready for yet. If the expected amount of work for each person remains relatively the same, though, and employees feel like outcomes are evaluated fairly, I think the end result could be really positive.”
If you want to prove capitalism works, you might think back to 18th century Glasgow. That’s where Adam Smith was when he created the theory of market capitalism – he looked around, saw open markets, saw competition, saw the industriousness and prosperity that resulted, and correctly concluded that a system of free markets based on competition benefits everyone.
Everyone, that is, except the slaves.
Because what Smith’s famous example leaves out is the fact that Scotland’s prosperity was the result not just of free markets, but of slaves in the Americas producing tobacco that could be shipped to Scotland for processing. Without the slaves, the system wouldn’t have worked.
Smith knew it, too. He roundly condemned slavery as an evil thing in his moral writings, but simply considered it part of doing business in his economic writings – prosperity trumped human rights, because economics has nothing to do with morality.
That’s the finding of Saybrook faculty member Marvin Brown’s provocative new book Civilizing the Economy: A New Economics of Provision. “When he’s talking about slavery in his economic works, slavery is an economic issue, and when he’s writing his moral treatises, it’s a moral issue, and he never connects the two,” Brown says. “And we’re still seeing that disconnect today. We’re living it. It’s at the very basis of our identity.”
The implications for capitalism are enormous.
Since 2001, there have been 2,100 suicides in the military, triple the number of troops that have died in Afghanistan and half of all US deaths in Iraq.
In 2007, a story in the San Diego Union Tribune showed that more Marines died at Camp Pendleton from suicide, homicide, and motorcycle accidents than Marines deployed from Camp Pendleton who died in combat. In 2008, the New York Times reported that over 1,000 suicide attempts a month were reported in veterans seen at VA facilities.
These shocking statistics are matched by another one: from 2002 – 2008 the number of anti-depressants and anti-psychotics prescribed to military personnel and their families has nearly doubled. One social worker who completed two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that 90 percent of the US combatants have used psychiatric medication: she claims she was specifically told to support the medication of the troops. A VA psychiatrist has openly admitted that he prescribes psychiatric medicine to 98 percent of the patients he’s treated.
Is there a relationship between the vast use of anti-depressants to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the astoundingly high rates of veteran suicides?
That’s the question asked by Bart Billings, a clinical psychologist, retired soldier, and Saybrook graduate, at Congressional hearings in late February.
Billings, who founded and directs the world’s longest running conference on combat stress, has concerns that the US military has a de facto policy of drugging soldiers first and asking questions later.
Recently blogger Nick Waters watched 30 different movies designed to appeal to women – “chick flicks” – to see what he could learn about modern women.
The answer was, not much … and that’s hardly a surprise. But what was startling, as Salon pointed out, was that he could only find 11 out of 30 movies that had actually been directed by women. That’s right: two thirds of the movies designed to appeal to women were actually written and directed by men.
Even that makes the situation look better than it is. According to a recent report by The Center for Study of Women and Television in Film, in 2008, women directed only nine percent of the 250 top-grossing films … and in 2007, it was only six percent.
Looking ahead, only five of the 50 biggest movies slated for 2010 have female leads – and that includes “Sex and the City,” the next “Twilight,” and an animated fairy tale.
Clearly, women are hugely underrepresented in American film. Even more amazing, says Steve Pritzker, a former Hollywood comedy writer who chairs Saybrook’s MA Psychology program with a specialization in Creativity Studies, is that when women have made significant contributions to film and television, they’ve been quickly forgotten.
Pritzker feels this issue personally. A writer for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, he was at the forefront of creating a program meant to chronicle the experiences of being a woman working in a man’s industry. “That was the point, that was the premise,” he remembers. “And the majority of episodes were written by men. It’s something that didn’t even occur to us at the time. We just didn’t think about it.”