Admit it: we all know, at some level, that rational thought can be a smokescreen.
You don’t like strawberries because there’s a rational argument for them … they just taste good. And you don’t abhor murder because there’s a good argument against it, although there is: that good argument is something you use to justify your inherent disgust at the practice.
We know that. From far back in human history people have known that we often use rational justifications as a cover for things we already believe.
But modern neuroscience has now “proven” it – showing that for many decisions the emotional parts of our brain kick in before the rational. Some people are now saying that this changes everything we know about ethics – because ethical behavior is an emotional, rather than a rational, process.
Does that follow?
In a recent New York Times column provocatively entitled “The End of Philosophy,” David Brooks suggests that new evidence that humans make value-laden, emotional decisions will lead to a new “evolutionary” perspective on ethics that doesn’t need all that difficult philosophizing. He writes:
The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.
Marvin Brown, however, doesn’t believe it.
Saybrook President Lorne Buchman announced last week that Mike Cairns, a former Saybrook trustee, has been appointed interim Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Saybrook.
Cairns, who served as chair of the finance committee of Saybrook’s Board of Trustees, has over 25 years of financial experience, including tenure with such companies as Transamerica Corporation and Deloitte and Touche. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Finance for Legacy Corporation. A member of the CSCPA, he received his MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Cairns said he is thrilled to be working more closely with Saybrook, and pleased by its recent growth and development.
“I have served on Saybrook’s Board of Trustee’s since 2003, and during this time, I have seen the school go through many changes,” said Cairns. “The level of energy I see today is incredible and I am very excited to be here. The direction the school is taking with the new programs and affiliations can only lead to a stronger and more vibrant institution.”
The three most controversial words in government right now might be: “Pay for performance.”
A number of federal departments have recently announced that they’ll be instituting pay-for-performance plans for the first time, because they say they have a desperate need for motivated, high-quality employees … and that traditional reward structures just aren’t doing it.
At the same time, a number of prominent Democratic lawmakers have asked the Obama administration to suspend all pay-for-performance initiatives until they can be fully evaluated: they suggest that pay-for-performance systems don’t really motivate federal employees.
What’s an administration to do? What’s the best system for motivating civil servants?
Two Saybrook management experts with significant government experience – one ultimately in favor of pay-for-performance, one leaning against it – say that the issue isn’t which reward system you’re using, but whether the system actually can recognize the behaviors you want to reward.
If the system can do that, they agree, it’s probably a good one: if it can’t, it’s likely a bad one.
Two Saybrook faculty have recently received major awards recognizing their global influence in their fields.
On February 14, Saybrook psychology faculty member Amedeo Giorgi received an Honorary Doctorate from the College of Medicine of the University of Orebro, Orebro, Sweden. This was awarded because of his development of the descriptive phenomenological research method, based upon the philosophers Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and which is used by many nurses in their research. The award was also granted in recognition of his efforts in planting the seeds of a phenomenological approach in Sweden during the last 30 years because of the many lectures and workshops he gave in numerous institutes and universities in Sweden.
Orebro is the fourth largest city in Sweden after Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. The university is one of Sweden's youngest since it only began in 1999. The celebrations were held in February because it was the tenth anniversary of the founding of Orebro University. It was in conjunction with the tenth anniversary celebrations that honorary degrees were awarded to several scholars.
On March 2, the American Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (ASCH) awarded Eric Willmarth, a faculty member of Saybrook’s program in Mind-Body Medicine, its Presidential Recognition Award.
Given for meritorious services to the ASCH and to the larger field of hypnosis, the award recognized Willmarth’s work educating his students and professionals in clinical hypnosis, and for his efforts to interview significant practitioners in the field from around the world, and make those interviews publicly available in an online video archive.
That archive can be accessed at: www.ewillmarth.com.
Somewhere, a committee is trying to draw a line in the sand: check your email so many times a day and you’re healthy; check it so many more and you’re an addict in need of mental health counseling, and possibly drugs.
One year ago the American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial calling for recognition in the upcoming DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) – the “Bible of psychiatry” – of “Internet addiction” as a mental disorder. Late last month, Psychology Today blogger Christopher Lane noted that the effort to include Internet addiction in the DSM is still ongoing … and fairly uncontroversial among the psychiatric community.
For Lane, it should be controversial – and the idea of treating Internet addiction with drugs is ludicrous. Here at Saybrook, the PsyD classes led by Art Bohart are presently examining this very issue: is Internet addiction “real”? If so, what kind of disorder is it? And how can it best be treated?
For Bohart, the very approach taken by psychiatry is the problem – and that has nothing to do with exactly what “Internet addiction” is.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be exceptions: they may be the new rule.
According to a recent article in The New Atlantis by former Marine and current Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Keith Pavlischek, the United States’ dominance in conventional warfare has given insurgents the world over the incentive to use different types of tactics. Therefore, “It is likely,” Pavlischek notes, “that the United States will be involved in more irregular conflicts in the years ahead.”
The history of counter-insurgency warfare is pretty brutal, as Pavlischek documents. These kinds of conflicts are much more likely to resemble Afghanistan and Iraq than World War II or the first Gulf War, which for Pavlischek and a host of military scholars and ethicists raises a troubling question: have we learned anything in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us develop more ethical tactics?
Humanity passed a milestone last month, with the first ever commercial fertility service announcing that it would allow parents to screen potential offspring for “cosmetic” details such as eye color, hair color, and skin color.
The company (Fertility Institutes) announced that it was dropping the service shortly afterward, as “we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved,” according to a company statement.
But even if this was a near miss, the fact remains that genetic research is moving steadily ahead, and its commercial aspects … in this country and in others … are moving quickly too. At some point, some level of “designer humans” appear to be inevitable.
For psychologists, and for everyone, this new era will present some profoundly new versions of old questions: How do we approach issues of identity and moral responsibility when many details of children can be chosen by their parents (or others) as never before? What are the implications for personhood? For the way we think of ourselves, and others?
Saybrook psychology faculty member Eugene Taylor says that however new the technology, the underlying folly of “the commercialization of biology” is an old one: that idea that everything can be rationally managed if we just think hard enough about it.
A recent survey conducted on Saybrook’s technology tools shows that most Saybrook classes are barely scratching the potential of communications technology.
According to the online survey, developed by Saybrook’s Dean of Instruction Eric Fox, the vast majority of students (73%) usually keep in touch with faculty via email, and almost never with text messaging or chat with audio or video. About half of students reported using listservs to develop group discussions in classes, and less than a quarter reported that classes use blogs, wikis, or online portfolios.
By the same token, email is by far the most popular technology asked for, with an overwhelming majority (80%) saying they were “very interested” in contacting faculty through email. No other technology scored as well, but 80% students reported that they were at least “somewhat interested” in the use of online bulletin boards, videos, self-paced online tutorials, and audio clips/podcasts. A majority of students also expressed interest in the use of online chatrooms or instant messaging, phone conferencing, blogs, wikis, electronic portfolios, listservs, and audio or video chats.
Students also say they’d like opportunities for increased collaboration. Just over half of students (57.4%) would like to collaborate more with other students on projects or courses, and a majority of students (74.7%) either felt that Saybrook’s technological tools were insufficient for building community among students, or were neutral on the question.
Admirers, alumni, and friends of Saybrook have established a scholarship fund in the memory of Saybrook founder James F.T. Bugental, PhD, and Elizabeth Keber Bugental, PhD.
The scholarship will support Saybrook students interested in studying the tradition of existential and experiential psychotherapy developed in the teaching and writing of Jim and Elizabeth.
“Many in the Saybrook community have been deeply moved and influenced by Elizabeth and Jim,” said Saybrook President Lorne Buchman, “and the creation of this annual award is an opportunity to demonstrate our gratitude for and recognition of their enduring contributions to humanistic thought and practice.
In the commencement address that Elizabeth gave to Saybrook graduates in 2006, she encouraged our students to “bear daily witness to the glory of the human spirit, the power of determination, the joy of connection, and the endurance of love.”
“In their lives, Elizabeth and Jim did just that,” Buchman says, “and we are proud that their names will continue to be connected to Saybrook through this new scholarship.”
It was, according to the New York Times, a breakthrough in the study of dreams.
“(S)ocial scientists now have answers,” about what dreams “mean,” wrote Times science blogger John Tierny, “and really, it’s about time.”
He was referring to a meta-analysis published by the APA showing that “people engage
in motivated interpretation of their dreams and that these interpretations impact their everyday lives.”
In other words, there is a selection bias in the way we interpret dreams: we’re more likely to act on the basis of dreams that reinforce our existing prejudices, and less likely to believe in dreams that tell us things we don’t want to hear.
Voila! Tierny wrote. These “suspiciously convenient correlations” mean that your dreams mean “whatever your bias says.” Problem solved.
Saybrook’s experts in dream studies are not impressed.
“I find it interesting and not a little amusing that one should do studies to show that our cultures and belief systems influence how we interpret dreams,” says Claire Frederick, a faculty member in Saybrook’s Mind-Body Medicine and Consciousness and Spirituality programs. “From a strictly neuroscience point of view, this seems obvious.”