Bob Schwartz

Category: Psychology

Proof of Dreams

Proof of Dreams

The dreams of last night’s sleep
Are as real and present
As this morning’s coffee.
Otherwise how could they
Poke and tug and shake
As we move on and say
They are over.

©

The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire

I cannot fully explain James Hillman in this space, not briefly, not at all. If there is a badge, it might say psychologist, or Jungian psychologist, but that would be misleading, limiting and wrong. Thomas Moore, in his Prologue to The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire, begins with this:

James Hillman is an artist of psychology. If it sounds odd to call a psychologist an artist, then you, the reader, know your task as you take up this anthology. You will be challenged all along the way to rethink, to re-vision, and to reimagine. The difficulty in reading Hillman is not to learn a new bag of techniques or a new conceptual system. Hillman demands nothing short of a new way of thinking. He takes psychoanalysis out of the context of medicine and health, not only in the obvious ways, rejecting the medical model, but in subtle ways: asking us to give up fantasies of cure, repair, growth, self-improvement, understanding, and well-being as primary motives for psychological work. He is more a painter than a physician, more a musician than a social scientist, and more an alchemist than a traditional philosopher.

Hillman has written many books and articles, but A Blue Fire, made up of short passages from many works, is what to read to get the essence. Choosing a representative excerpt is impossible, since it is bound to miss most other points Hillman makes. But the excerpt below, covering the nature of illiteracy, silence and imagination, is close to my heart, and to some of our life in 2018: “An education that in any way neglects imagination is an education into psychopathy. It is an education that results in a sociopathic society of manipulations. We learn how to deal with others and become a society of dealers.”


Why have we as a nation become more and more illiterate? We blame television and the computer, but they are not causes. They are results of a prior condition that invited them in. They arrived to fill a gap. When imaginative ability declines, other ways to communicate appear. These ways work even though they too are dyslexic in structure: simultaneity of bits, odd juxtapositions, messages that do not move linearly from left to right. Yet television and personal computers communicate.

Evidently, reading does not depend solely on the ordering of words or the ordering of letters in the words. Indeed, poets use dyslexic structures deliberately. Reading depends on the psyche’s capacity to enter imagination. Reading is more like dreaming, which, too, goes on in silence. Our illiteracy reflects our educative process away from the silent grounds of reading: silent study halls and quiet periods, solitary homework, learning by heart, listening through a whole class without interruptions, writing an essay exam in longhand, drawing from nature instead of lab experiments. This long neglect of imaginational conditions that foster reading—Sputnik and the new math; social problems and social relatedness; mecentered motivation; the confusion of information with knowledge, of opinion with judgment, and trivia with sources; communications as messages by telephone calls and answering machines rather than as letter writing in silence; learning to speak up without first having something learned to say; multiple choice and scoring as a test of comprehension—has produced illiteracy.

The human person as a data bank does not need to read more than functionally. A data bank deciding yes or no on the basis of feedback (i.e., reinforcement) need not imagine beyond getting, storing, and spending. Just get the instructions right; never mind the content. Learn the how rather than the what with its qualities, values, and subtleties. Then the human agent becomes an incarnated credit card performing the religious rituals of consumerism. You need only be able to sign your name in the space marked Xy like an immigrant, like a slave, or a …

Or a psychopath. Descriptions of psychopathy, or sociopathic personalities, speak of their inability to imagine the other. Psychopaths are well able to size up situations and charm people. They perceive, assess, and relate, making use of any opportunity. Hence their successful manipulations of others. But the psychopath is far less able to imagine the other beyond a fantasy of usefulness, the other as a true interiority with his or her own needs, intentions, and feelings. An education that in any way neglects imagination is an education into psychopathy. It is an education that results in a sociopathic society of manipulations. We learn how to deal with others and become a society of dealers.

James Hillman
“Right to Remain Silent”
Journal of Humanistic Education and Development (1988)

Crazy Like a Fox and Friends: After the Laughter It Is Not At All Funny

Discomfort and despair has led to dark laughter as we listen to Trump’s half-hour unraveling/meltdown in his call-in monologue on Fox and Friends yesterday. Of course it is not actually funny.

Except for willfully oblivious Republicans, Trump’s instability is obvious to everyone. There is wide agreement not only that the thirty minutes of nearly uninterrupted chatter was often nonsensical and non-sequitur, but that if the Fox and Friends hosts—who were clearly aghast—had not intervened (“you have a million things to do, Mr. President”), Trump might have gone on blathering for hours.

Why Republicans ignore, excuse and put up with just about anything Trump dishes out, including rants that beg for a psychological evaluation, is best told by an old and wise joke:

Guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office. “Doc,” he says, “my brother thinks he’s a chicken.” Doctor says, “Bring him in and I’m sure I can help him.” Guy says, “I would Doc, but we need the eggs.”

Is Trump Experiencing a Break With Reality?

“Trump suggested to a senator earlier this year that [the “Access Hollywood” tape] was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.”

The New York Times reports:

But something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)

The least controversial interpretation is that Trump is doing what he frequently does: saying something untrue in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary to escape an inconvenient situation. Or, as even Republicans admit, he lies.

But sometimes you wonder, as when candidate Trump said he saw people cheering the attacks on 9/11:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he saw people cheering the Sept. 11 attacks across the river in New Jersey — a claim officials strongly deny.

Trump first told the story Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, as he pressed the need for greater surveillance, including monitoring certain mosques, in the wake of the Paris attacks.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.

Trump repeated the assertion Sunday in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” as Stephanopoulos explained to Trump that police had refuted any such rumors at the time.

“It did happen. I saw it,” said Trump. “It was on television. I saw it.”

It was simple to dismiss this as political prevarication. But the sincerity with which he said it might indicate he really did see it, or thought he did. In the current revision of history, he says he no longer believes that he spoke the words that appear to be coming out of his mouth—even though he previously acknowledged it.

So maybe Trump really does now believe he never said the words he is shown saying and admits saying. If that is the case, it is evidence that somehow he is experiencing a break with reality. There is no clinical definition of the term “mental breakdown”, but the clinical conditions related to this sort of break can be exacerbated or triggered by extreme stress. However Trump got himself into his current situation, and whether or not he was predisposed to mental problems before he took office, he is now in a situation that offers little opportunity for a clean escape. It would not be surprising if anyone under that kind of pressure might no longer know the difference between the real and unreal, the true and untrue. If the person is president, the stakes are immeasurably high.

Don’t Play the Madman’s Game (Heart of Darkness)

In the face of current events in America, it is easy to say something heartfelt, progressive, outraged, rational and clever. I am tempted, but decline and leave that to other more articulate voices.

Instead, what I want to say right now is this: don’t play the madman’s game. Social and political situations are real and affect the lives of many, and we want to make things better, for ourselves and others. But loud and powerful lunatics can quickly draw us into their craziness, even as we think we are doing the right thing by criticizing, resisting and opposing. Before you venture into the heart of darkness, try to be sure of your own light.

Note: Some literary and film folks may recognize the reference to “heart of darkness.” It is the title of a Joseph Conrad novella, which was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now. In unsettled times, in strange lands, charismatic and crazy leaders may emerge, not so much products of the environment as reflections of it, or at least part of it. Read or reread Heart of Darkness, watch or rewatch Apocalypse Now. “Mistah Kurtz—he dead.”

Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation

What if someone lies in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence? What if that person really believes what he is saying?

Confabulation is the construction of false answers to a question while genuinely believing that you are telling the truth.

This mysterious phenomenon usually accompanies neurological or cognitive disorders, and the puzzle of it has been the subject of some study among researchers. In his book Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation, William Hirstein takes this study further than it has gone before:

“Both a neuroscientist and a philosopher, William Hirstein writes from his unique vantage point with great scholarship, precision, and clarity to tackle some of the deeper mysteries of the human mind. Brain Fiction is full of profound insights, and I recommend it to all who wish to better understand our human nature.”

—Fredric Schiffer, M.D., Harvard Medical School, author of Of Two Minds

Here is a description of the book:

Some neurological patients exhibit a striking tendency to confabulate—to construct false answers to a question while genuinely believing that they are telling the truth. A stroke victim, for example, will describe in detail a conference he attended over the weekend when in fact he has not left the hospital. Normal people, too, sometimes have a tendency to confabulate; rather than admitting “I don’t know,” some people will make up an answer or an explanation and express it with complete conviction. In Brain Fiction, William Hirstein examines confabulation and argues that its causes are not merely technical issues in neurology or cognitive science but deeply revealing about the structure of the human intellect.

Hirstein describes confabulation as the failure of a normal checking or censoring process in the brain—the failure to recognize that a false answer is fantasy, not reality. Thus, he argues, the creative ability to construct a plausible-sounding response and some ability to check that response are separate in the human brain. Hirstein sees the dialectic between the creative and checking processes—”the inner dialogue”—as an important part of our mental life. In constructing a theory of confabulation, Hirstein integrates perspectives from different fields, including philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology to achieve a natural mix of conceptual issues usually treated by philosophers with purely empirical issues; information about the distribution of certain blood vessels in the prefrontal lobes of the brain, for example, or the behavior of split-brain patients can shed light on the classic questions of philosophy of mind, including questions about the function of consciousness. This first book-length study of confabulation breaks ground in both philosophy and cognitive science.

A sample chapter can be read here. A couple of brief excerpts:

Why then does confabulation happen? Confabulation seems to involve two sorts of errors. First, a false response is created. Second, having thought of or spoken the false response, the patient fails to check, examine it and recognize its falsity. A normal person, we want to say, would notice the falsity or absurdity of such claims. The patient should have either not created the false response or, having created it, should have censored or corrected it. We do this sort of censoring in our normal lives. If I ask you whether you have ever been to Siberia, for instance, an image might appear in your mind of you wearing a thick fur coat and hat and braving a snowy storm, but you know that this is fantasy, not reality. In very general terms, the confabulating patient lacks the ability to assess his or her situation, and to either answer correctly, or respond that he or she does not know. Apparently, admitting ignorance in response to a question, rather than being an indication of glibness and a low level of function, is a high-level cognitive ability, one that confabulators have lost. ‘‘I don’t know,’’ can be an intelligent answer to a question, or at least an answer indicative of good cognitive health….

Young children sometimes confabulate when asked to recall events. Ackil and Zaragoza (1998) showed first-graders a segment of a film depicting a boy and his experiences at summer camp. Afterward the children were asked questions about it, including questions about events that did not happen in the film. One such question was, ‘‘What did the boy say Sullivan had stolen?’’ when in fact no thefts had taken place in the film. The children were pressed to give some sort of answer, and the experimenters often suggested an answer. When the children were interviewed a week later, the false events as well as the suggested answers had been incorporated into their recollections of the movie.

DSM-5: Paranoia

DSM-5

I did not think that I would be returning to the DSM quite so soon after my recent post.

The caveat in my last post about the DSM bears repeating. Mental health is a serious issue. Using diagnostic tools and terminology merely for entertainment and “pop psychology” can be careless. On the other hand, these tools can help provide insights that may be useful, particularly when the subject and the subject matter are very important or even critical.

Non-professionals talk loosely and colloquially about paranoia. The DSM approaches this clinically and scientifically:

Paranoid Personality Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria

A pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. Suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her.
  2. Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates.
  3. Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her.
  4. Reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events.
  5. Persistently bears grudges (i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights).
  6. Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack.
  7. Has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.

Diagnostic Features [selected]

They suspect on the basis of little or no evidence that others are plotting against them and may attack them suddenly, at any time and without reason.

They are preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of their friends and associates, whose actions are minutely scrutinized for evidence of hostile intentions.

They may refuse to answer personal questions, saying that the information is “nobody’s business.”

They read hidden meanings that are demeaning and threatening into benign remarks or events. For example, an individual with this disorder may misinterpret an honest mistake by a store clerk as a deliberate attempt to shortchange, or view a casual humorous remark by a co-worker as a serious character attack.

They may view an offer of help as a criticism that they are not doing well enough on their own.

Individuals with this disorder persistently bear grudges and are unwilling to forgive the insults, injuries, or slights that they think they have received.

Minor slights arouse major hostility, and the hostile feelings persist for a long time.

Because they are constantly vigilant to the harmful intentions of others, they very often feel that their character or reputation has been attacked or that they have been slighted in some other way.

They are quick to counterattack and react with anger to perceived insults.

A Creative Pseudonymous Psychological Analysis and Case Study of a World Leader

I have been thinking about Freud. As one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, he and others published case studies that anonymized, and some would say took creative liberties with, their patients. One could say that analysis as practiced, developed and publicized by Freud and others is in fact a creative process.

Artists outside clinical psychology have also enjoyed the freedom to create and play—in the best sense—in the field of psychology and analysis. There are hundreds of examples: the paintings of Dali, the movies of Hitchcock, and so many more. (In some of these, Freud himself even plays a prominent role. The novelist D. M. Thomas in 1981 published The White Hotel, an extraordinary and unforgettable melding of Freud’s analyzing a patient with the surreality of the Holocaust. As a side note, The White Hotel, which has fascinated movie producers for decades, is now considered the ultimate great novel that will never actually be filmable or filmed.)

In this vein, what if professionals and creatives both were to devise case studies—entirely veiled and pseudonymous—of someone presently powerful and famous? Might that be revealing in ways that other profiles might not? Might such studies fill in the blanks in a personal portrait that is still quite mysterious and confounding?

Above all, might these case studies be true art? As I’ve written before, in the right hands, poetry and all the other arts can indeed be insurgent.

DSM-5: Antagonism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

 

DSM-5

Mental health is a serious matter and mental health practitioners are serious professionals. These are not to be treated lightly and off-handedly.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the “bible” of the mental health profession: “a classification of mental disorders with associated criteria designed to facilitate more reliable diagnoses of these disorders.” It is not a reference to be thrown around and used casually by non-professionals.

The DSM can nonetheless be fascinating, especially when certain strong behavioral traits observed in others seem to closely match the traits and possible related disorders referenced in the DSM.

With the above caution and caveat, here are selections from DSM-5 about the Personality Trait Domain of Antagonism. More from the DSM about the way this may or may not relate to Narcissistic Personality Disorder will follow in a subsequent post.

Personality trait: A tendency to behave, feel, perceive, and think in relatively consistent ways across time and across situations in which the trait may be manifest.

Personality trait facets: Specific personality components that make up the five broad personality trait domains in the dimensional taxonomy of Section III “Alternative DSM-5 Model for Personality Disorders.” For example, the broad domain Antagonism has the following component facets: Manipulativeness, Deceitfulness, Grandiosity, Attention Seeking, Callousness, and Hostility.

Antagonism: Behaviors that put an individual at odds with other people, such as an exaggerated sense of self-importance with a concomitant expectation of special treatment, as well as a callous antipathy toward others, encompassing both unawareness of others’ needs and feelings, and a readiness to use others in the service of self-enhancement. Antagonism is one of the five broad personality trait domains defined in Section III “Alternative DSM-5 Model for Personality Disorders.”

Manipulativeness: Use of subterfuge to influence or control others; use of seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one’s ends. Manipulativeness is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Grandiosity: Believing that one is superior to others and deserves special treatment; self-centeredness; feelings of entitlement; condescension toward others. Grandiosity is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Deceitfulness: Dishonesty and fraudulence; misrepresentation of self; embellishment or fabrication when relating events. Deceitfulness is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Attention seeking: Engaging in behavior designed to attract notice and to make oneself the focus of others’ attention and admiration. Attention seeking is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Callousness: Lack of concern for the feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one’s actions on others. Callousness is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults; mean, nasty, or vengeful behavior. Hostility is a facet of the broad personality trait domain Antagonism.

Philip K. Dick, Now More Than Ever

Philip K. Dick color

Pretty much every day now, my head spins, just a little. My head does not usually and chronically spin, but it does these days. I find myself not so much trying to make sense of some things, but trying to determine whether there is or will appear some appropriate and constructive response. So far, nothing.

Today, however, I did think about Philip K. Dick. I wrote a little about Dick a while ago. To say he was just a science fiction writer is not nearly enough. Some of his many books and stories have been turned into a number of successful movies (Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc.) and now into an excellent TV series (Man in the High Castle).

The reason for his books being so adaptable, and for his loyal and committed readers, is that Dick was a visionary, some might say a prophet. He was also psychologically and cognitively different. The two parts often go together.

The reason I’m thinking about Dick is the possibility that those of us who are confused about what is going on are being far too rational and far too narrow about all of it. Maybe what we need is a much bigger and stranger vision. Maybe to understand madness, we all have to try to be a little mad ourselves, or pretend to be. Just a thought.

Anyway, Dick suffered through some mental illness and/or religious experience late in his life. Some would say Dick was a bit of a madman. Or a visionary or a prophet. In any case, if we want to know what the future might look like—or for that matter what the present looks like—we can do no better than look at it through Dick’s eyes.

Writer Jonathan Lethem has written some fine appreciations of Dick. This is from Lethem’s Introduction to Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick:

Dick’s great accomplishment, on view in the twenty-one stories collected here, was to turn the materials of American pulp-style science fiction into a vocabulary for a remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation. It’s a vision as yearning and anxious as Kafka’s, if considerably more homely. It’s also as funny. Dick is a kitchen-sink surrealist, gaining energy and invention from a mad piling of pulp SF tropes—and clichés—into his fiction: time travel, extrasensory powers, tentacled aliens, ray guns, androids, and robots. He loves fakes and simulacra as much as he fears them: illusory worlds, bogus religions, placebo drugs, impersonated police, cyborgs. Tyrannical world governments and ruined dystopian cities are default settings here. Not only have Orwell and Huxley been taken as givens in Dick’s worlds, so have Old Masters of genre SF like Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein, and A. E. Van Vogt. American SF by the mid-1950s was a kind of jazz, stories built by riffing on stories. The conversation they formed might be forbiddingly hermetic, if it hadn’t quickly been incorporated by Rod Serling and Marvel Comics and Steven Spielberg (among many others) to become one of the prime vocabularies of our age….

If Dick, as a bearded, drug-taking Cal-i-fornian, might have seemed a candidate for Beatdom (and in fact did hang out with the San Francisco poets), his persistent engagement with the main materials of his culture kept him from floating off into reveries of escape. It links him instead to writers like Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Arthur Miller (the British satirist John Sladek’s bull’s-eye Dick parody was titled “Solar Shoe Salesman”). Dick’s treatment of his “realist” material can seem oddly cursory, as though the pressing agenda of his paranoiac fantasizing, which would require him to rip the facade off, drop the atomic bomb onto, or otherwise renovate ordinary reality, made that reality’s actual depiction unimportant. But no matter how many times Dick unmasks or destroys the Black Iron Prison of American suburban life, he always returns to it. Unlike the characters in William S. Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, or Thomas Pynchon, Dick’s characters, in novels and stories written well into the 1970s, go on working for grumbling bosses, carrying briefcases, sending interoffice memos, tinkering with cars in driveways, sweating alimony payments, and dreaming of getting away from it all—even when they’ve already emigrated to Mars….

Whether or not he was ready for the world, or the world ready for him, he longed for a respectable recognition, and sought it variously and unsuccessfully throughout his life. In fact, he wrote eight novels in a somber realist mode during the 1950s and early 1960s, a shadow career known mainly to the agents who failed to place the books with various New York publishers. It’s stirring to wonder what Dick might have done with a wider professional opportunity, but there’s little doubt that his SF grew more interesting for being fed by the frustrated energies of his “mainstream” ambition. Possibly, too, a restless streak in Dick’s personality better suited him for the outsider-artist status he tasted during his lifetime….Here, from an introduction written for Golden Man, a collection of stories assembled in 1980, Dick reminisces:

But I think you should know this—specifically, in case you are, say, in your twenties and rather poor and perhaps becoming filled with despair, whether you are an SF writer or not, whatever you want to make of your life. There can be a lot of fear, and often it is a justified fear. People do starve in America. I have seen uneducated street girls survive horrors that beggar description. I have seen the faces of men whose brains have been burned-out by drugs, men who could still think enough to be able to realize what had happened to them; I watched their clumsy attempt to weather that which cannot be weathered. . . . Kabir, the sixteenth-century Sufi poet, wrote, “If you have not lived through something, it is not true.” So live through it; I mean, go all the way to the end. Only then can it be understood, not along the way.