Archives For: November 2009

The philosopher and the Nazi


Martin Heidegger is sometimes thought to be one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century – and a critical figure in the foundation of existentialism. 

He was also a Nazi.

For decades, his defenders have contended that he was a major philosopher, but only a minor Nazi – a member of the party for only a year, and an unwilling accomplice. 

But what if that isn’t true? 

Several new publications, some with new evidence, are suggesting that Heidegger was a more enthusiastic Nazi than he ever admitted, and his defenders ever knew. 

But more than Heidegger the person, they’re suggesting that Heidegger the philosopher is also suspect.

“Drawing on new evidence, the author, Emmanuel Faye, argues fascist and racist ideas are so woven into the fabric of Heidegger’s theories that they no longer deserve to be called philosophy,” Patricia Cohen writes in the New York Times.  “As a result Mr. Faye declares, Heidegger’s works and the many fields built on them need to be re-examined lest they spread sinister ideas as dangerous to modern thought as ‘the Nazi movement was to the physical existence of the exterminated peoples.”’

Intellectually speaking, those are fighting words – and the issue is one with which some Saybrook community members, as students and practitioners of existential psychology, are grappling.

Continue Reading

War is harder on soldiers who kill


Soldiers are no less human for wearing a uniform, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that new research shows that soldiers who kill tend to have far more difficult lives than soldiers who don’t. 

That’s the conclusion of a new report produced on Vietnam Veterans by UC San Francisco and the VA Medical center.  Even compared to other combat veterans, soldiers who killed (or think they killed) are more likely to suffer long-term from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, violent behavior, and other psychological problems. 

To Stanley Krippner, a psychology faculty member at Saybrook and co-author of the book Haunted by Combat, this isn’t a surprise:  treating traumatic situation in a “one-size fits all” kind of way will never account for the unique experiences each soldier takes back with them from battle.  However you slice it, killing someone is not like being shot at - no two experiences are the same.

Continue Reading

Japan and San Francisco - the existential connection


 Yes, Europe played a role, but to Kingo Matsuda America is the “origin of psychotherapy” – especially person-centered therapy.

That’s why Kingo, the Director of the Overseas Department for the Academy of Counselors Japan, was at Saybrook this month with 15 students.  Together they went through training in humanistic and existential therapy provided by leading experts on the Saybrook faculty, including Kirk Schneider and Charles Cannady. 

Since 2004 Saybrook has worked with the Academy of Counselors Japan to give its students, who will upon graduation be front line therapists and counselors in that country, a strong grounding in existential-humanistic approaches

Saybrook, Kingo says, has that expertise – although ironically person-centered approaches to therapy may be more popular in Japan than in the U.S..

“Person-centered is very popular in Japan,” says Kingo.  “However, they have never had anything like existential therapy or gestalt therapy.  So they can expand their knowledge here, and bring it back to Japan and as a counselor their insight is expanded.  They can expand their insight.”

Continue Reading

The advantage of unprocessed foods


Nutrition is an often overlooked component of mind-body medicine – it doesn’t have the glitz of hypnosis or the hipness of biofeedback.  But it’s basic:  what you decide to put in your body today has a major impact on your health tomorrow. 

Just ask Beverly Rubik.  A faculty member of Saybrook’s College of Mind-Body Medicine and the Director of the Institute for Frontier Science, Rubik is frequently called upon to perform evaluations of health products or regimens, and has recently completed a study on the impact of processed foods on health. 
Two words:  not good.

In a recent study of the impact of processed foods, Rubik compared fresh blood samples (taken under optimal fasting conditions) of subjects who eat processed foods (including organic) with subjects who do not (in this case, followers of the Weston A. Price diet) for at least two years.  The subjects were all healthy adults from 25 to 81 years old, matched for age. 

Using a microscopic technique known as dark-field live blood analysis, she observed that the blood cells of those on the Weston A Price diet aggregated and clotted much less than the blood cells of those on conventional modern diets, even hours after the blood samples were drawn.  

Continue Reading

"Smart pills" have stupid problems


An avalanche starts with a single pebble, and scientists are now warning us that they’re seeing the next social avalanche begin:  the age of neuro-enhancers … pills to make us smarter … is here.

You see it in large numbers of college students taking the stimulant Adderall to do better on term papers.  You see it in pilots and doctors and taxi drivers who work long shifts taking Ritalin to help them concentrate.  You see it in the promise of new drugs that will even further enhance “mental performance.” 

An informal poll conducted last year by the journal Nature found that one in five readers of that scientific publication had taken drugs off-label to improve “their focus, concentration, or memory” – and a third said they would likely give “smart drugs” to their kids if they learned that other parents were doing so.

Call it neuro-enhancement, call it “cosmetic neurology,” call it drug addiction – but in the future, we’re warned, if you’re not popping pills to make you smarter, then you’ll be left behind.

Continue Reading

Treating "despair" like "depression" only makes things worse


“(I)n an age when all psychic life is being understood in terms of neurotransmitters,” wrote Gordon Marino on the New York Times website, “the art of introspection has become passé.”

That’s a sentiment that the sentimentalists among us can get behind, but the hard-headed will surely ask “So what?”  What does it matter if introspection is one more form of “technology” that goes by the wayside, like the horse and buggy, like letter writing, and like card catalogs?  Don’t we have better “mental technology” now in the form of anti-depressants and fMRI scans?

Well, not exactly.  For one thing, the “medicalization” of the mind is leading to a confusion of categories:  “depression,” as a medical condition, Marino suggests, has become too broad, now encompassing other, unrelated, feelings – like despair.

“Depression” is what comes over us when we’re feeling blue, possibly (sometimes) as a result of chemical imbalances – but “despair” is what comes over us when we have a spiritual imbalance, when we have failed to understand who we really are, and live in denial.  Marino writes:

“(D)espair is not correlated with any particular set of emotions but is instead marked by a desire to get rid of the self, or put another way, by an unwillingness to become who you fundamentally are. This unwillingness often takes the form of flat out wanting to be someone else.”

That’s something we’ve all felt, that can’t possibly be “cured” by drugs in any meaningful sense of the term. 

Continue Reading

Existential Humanistic Institute holds its third annual conference this month


The Existential Humanistic Institute will hold its third annual conference this month, Nov. 19 – 21, in San Francisco.

Co-sponsored by Saybrook, the conference will have the theme of “From Crisis to Creativity  Necessary Losses, Unexpected Gains,” and will examine the paradoxical nature of life and our times.

Many significant thinkers in the existential-humanistic tradition will be participating. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Robert Stolorow, a world renowned intersubjective psychoanalyst, and author/co-author of numerous books including Working Intersubjectively, Contexts of Being, Faces in a Cloud, and his most recent Trauma and Existence.

Dr. Stolorow’s keynote will be followed by a panel discussion between himself and EHI board members about the similarities and differences between intersubjective psychoanalysis and existential-humanistic therapy. 

Also notable will be a presentation on Thursday, Nov. 19, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. by California State Assembly Majority Whip Fiona Ma, who will present a trailblazing talk on humanizing governance through improving communications skills among legislators.  This will be part of a larger discussion of what EHI vice-president and Saybrook psychology faculty member Kirk Schneider calls “experiential democracy” – an attempt to supplement the standard legislative procedure by helping legislators to personally and experientially encounter issues of moral importance. 

Continue Reading

Human Science student Gail Ervin wins prestigious World Peace Fellowship


Gail Ervin, an environmental planner and mediator studying in Saybrook’s Human Science PhD program with a concentration in Social Transformation has been awarded a prestigious Rotary World Peace Fellowship – one of only two people from the United States to receive the honor this year. 

There are 24 fellows in all.

The fellowship involves an 11-week intensive conflict resolution certificate program, with field work in Nepal and along the border of Cambodia, which is fully funded by Rotary Foundation. 

At Saybrook, Gail is studying how the global community of conflict resolution practitioners can use networks to fundamentally alter community discourses towards a culture of conflict resolution.

Joel Federman, who directs Saybrook’s Social Transformation concentration, served as one of Gail’s references for the award.
"Gail is a natural innovator and leader, who has extraordinary academic aptitude, commitment to service, initiative, and grace," Federman said.  "We're thrilled that she has received this prestigious fellowship, and proud that she will be representing Saybrook among the community of international peace scholars and practitioners participating in the Rotary program.”

Continue Reading

Living a courageous life is like driving a car ...


You focus on where you want to go, instead of where you don't.  Alison Shapiro explains on her blog at Psychology Today. 

Continue Reading