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.
“(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.
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.
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.”
You focus on where you want to go, instead of where you don't. Alison Shapiro explains on her blog at Psychology Today.
It’s a headline guaranteed to make any romantic smile: “Love, but not lust, inspires creativity.”
That’s the conclusion of a new study reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In it, researchers asked 60 university students to imagine either casual sex with someone they were attracted to but not in love with, or a long walk with their beloved partner, and then put them through a small battery of tests that required logical thinking, and additional tests that required creative thinking.
Sure enough, the students who were primed with romantic feelings did better on the creative tasks.
Sadly for the romantics, Steve Pritzker, who co-chairs Saybrook’s Creativity Studies program, says this research doesn’t really make a case that love is a stimulant to creativity.
“It’s pretty interesting stuff,” he acknowledges. “But are a group of university students really a sufficient sample to make that conclusion?” Additionally, he notes, no baseline tests were taken to measure creative skills before the experiment: it’s possible that one group was simply more creative that the other, even when they weren’t thinking about long romantic walks.
“And,” Pritzker adds, “how do we know that the extent of their romantic musings really did stop at long romantic walks? That nothing else happened in their minds? Are we at least a little suspicious?”
That question gets at the heart of the matter for Pritzker: it’s very difficult to separate “love” from “lust” sometimes.
Throughout his long career – as a private practitioner working with Jim Bugental; as the editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology; as a faculty member at Saybrook, and at UCLA – Tom Greening has striven to live up to the charge of humanistic psychology: to enhance people’s ability to experience freedom and meaning in their lives.
That’s a mission he’s even applied to the “mentally ill” – a term he has come to distrust as both a bad metaphor and as a means of tuning out the idea that we should even be concerned about the need mental patients have to experience freedom and meaning.
This month that work was recognized as Tom Greening was chosen to receive the 2009 Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties – an award named after the pioneering author (and Rollo May Award winner) who championed the idea that “mental illness” is a contradiction in terms.
We know times are tough when eight New Jersey cities, famous for their independence, are looking to consolidate services and share resources. In fact, all along the East Coast, cities, towns, and villages that have been independent for hundreds of years are staring down the barrel of the financial crisis and asking if more efficient use of government resources can save them.
Which is a great question – but it’s also one that they could have asked years ago, when real estate prices where high, resources were plentiful, and there were no financial crises limiting their options.
That’s a head slapping fact for their residents, but it’s also a problem that anyone who’s worked in organizations is familiar with: they only prepare for the next crisis after it’s already hit.
Can we do better? Is there a way that organizations can look at ways to improve themselves before there’s a crisis?
“Yes, and that’s good leadership and good management practice,” says Gloria Burgess, a prominent business consultant and member of the LIOS faculty. “But having said that, not many companies do it.”
There were two reasons for psychology faculty member Benina Gould to attend the Dalai Lama’s Mind-Life Conference early this month. The personal reason is that she’s a practicing Buddhist.
The professional reason was that the conference’s theme, “Emerging World Citizens,” dovetails almost perfectly with Gould’s own research on how to educate people to become global citizens.
Gould is one of the few researchers examining how Muslim youth perceive their own choices, and has recently conducted surveys of the internet use of Muslim youth, and how it impacts their attitudes and perceptions, in Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United States.
Too often, Gould says, we try to shape children to the outcomes we want (whether “ a successful career” or “not to support terrorists”) without consulting them as part of the process – so she says she was thrilled to find a strong community consensus at the Mind-Life Conference to do just that.
“There’s a feeling, even in America, that young people really have not done well with all the competition and the testing, that suicide rates have gone up, that there’s all kinds of problems with prescription drugs and that alcoholism has increased dramatically,” Gould says. “So I was very pleased to see contemplative education being looked to as an alternative, training teachers about doing mind-body work with young people, and taking a much more holistic approach.”
Those hoping to improve outcomes for kids have their work cut out for them, though, as two themes at the conference made clear.
This month Don Moss, Chair of Saybrook University’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine, was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA).
The editor of Biofeedback Magazine and a globally recognized expert in mind-body techniques, Moss operates two Michigan-based clinics providing psychological services and mind-body therapies, and lectures and trains on mind-body healing around the world. He now joins an elite group of healthcare professionals who are charged to maintain and uphold the standards and values of the oldest and most renowned certifying body for the clinical practice of biofeedback – and the only biofeedback institute recognized worldwide.
“One of the major challenges for integrative health is that consumers face very uneven quality in the alternative therapies available in their communities,” Moss said. “Biofeedback is no exception. Many individuals give up on seeking help for their headache, anxiety or other problem, because a professional has provided ineffective biofeedback services, sometimes just a relaxation tape and an opportunity to use a biofeedback instrument without any therapeutic education and guidance. BCIA certification provides a gold standard for consumers, assuring them that their biofeedback therapist has a core of knowledge and skills sufficient for quality care.”