The Real Alternative

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The youth of today… faster, sharper..?

In response to the above tweet, I get a little tired of harping on the same theme day in and day out. So I thought I’d just link to something I said yesterday. The following tweet pretty well sums up how I feel about the hegemony of science in the early 21st century. The older I get, the more it seems young people are hoodwinked by the splendor of science and especially tech. Their minds may seem faster and sharper than the previous generation. But are they really THINKING?

Some are, thank God. But some others, OMG!

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Psychiatry and Spirituality – Even professor “night” can’t stop the sunrise

While doing my PhD at the University of Ottawa, I wrote a paper in 1992-93 that examined the psychiatric diagnostic system, known at the time as the DSM-III-R. I looked at the extraordinary claims of mystics and saints from different religious traditions. Would some historical spiritual figures be viewed as “mentally ill” today? I asked. To ground my paper I offered a summary on postmodern ideas about truth and power. After all, this was a graduate seminar in methodology.

Sadly, it seems the professor hosting the seminar was more interested in getting a paycheck than in trying to open his mind and encourage new research in uncharted territory.

English: The Communist States

The Communist States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was the type of guy who said in class that it was “hopeless” talking about feminism. I guess he feared that, whatever he said, he would be jumped on.

I wasn’t writing about feminism, per se, for this particular paper. But the professor’s unwillingness or inability to probe anything but his own small, esoteric field in religious studies made him a dreadful brick wall to run into.

I say “brick wall” because for some reason this incompetent, intransigent man had a lot of power at the university. Most everyone seemed to shrink in administrative offices whenever his name was mentioned. I still can’t figure it out. But I had serious problems with him later on when trying to get letters of recommendation (outlined here).

For a while I thought it had something to do with his immigrating to Canada from a communist country. But I have met many immigrants from communist countries who are an absolute delight. In seeming contrast to professor “night,” as I will call him, psychologically healthy immigrants from communist regimes can see both mindsets – authoritarian vs. authoritative – and consciously choose which they like better.

So immigrating from a communist country, alone, wasn’t it. There must have been something else to this man that made him so difficult and, in my case, authoritarian.¹

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of contrast, I wrote a similar paper for another professor at Trent University back in the mid 1980s. He was the “day” to the University of Ottawa’s professor “night.”

The Trent professor was a true humanities teacher. He was a PhD in psychology but also up on literature dealing with the subtle nuances of the psyche. His reading list included works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey into Night and that old psychological classic, Macbeth.

Professor “day” clearly understood where I was coming from and what I hoped to achieve. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation that helped me to win a graduate scholarship.

We need more well-rounded professors like that. And hopefully the University of Toronto and Ryerson will continue to encourage quality thinking on this topic. Otherwise, too many people, imo, will be compromised by the system. And they might not even know why.

Having said that, I don’t believe strident, one-sided anti-psychiatry tracts are the answer, as we sometimes see, for instance, at Mad in America. The reality is that the psychiatric system is in place. It has legal power over other perspectives, probably in large part because psychiatric drugs can effectively subdue potentially violent or suicidal individuals (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In some ways psychiatry does a lot of good. But it does need tweaking. And that’s why today’s tweet is highlighted.

¹ When I asked professor “night” why he changed his mind and would not provide a letter of recommendation perilously close to scholarship application deadlines, he answered that his letter would be “weak.” Perplexed and traumatized, I reminded him that he gave me an “A” in his course and that my academic future was at stake. At this he snapped “I GAVE YOU MY REASONS.” And that was it. End of an otherwise promising academic career.


Time is on my side… or is it?

Today I focused on updating an old article at about a Hindu school of philosophy called Samkhya. My update turned toward a partial exposition of my thoughts about how insight and intuition might somehow be integrated with emerging ideas in physics, especially those concerning the relativity of space and time.

One thing absent in the update is the old theological notion that God knows the past and future, and accordingly gives us insight through some kind of direct revelation (i.e. not from the past or future, per se, but from the mind of God). I think this is entirely possible. But today I just emphasized the possibility of intuitive connections through space-time. My entry was already getting complicated enough and I didn’t want to make it worse!

I’ve been blogging about this topic throughout earthpages for at least a decade. But most people, imo, are too constrained by their particular religious or secular world views to really give it much thought. To them, it’s just irrelevant theorizing. Fair enough. This is probably another one of those “we have to get there” issues that humanity won’t really care about for at least another century. But I’m interested now. So I write about it. After all, someone has to be first. But then again, if space-time is somewhat omnidirectional, would that person really be first?  :)

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Another (questionable) side of Carl Jung… and Freud too

Jung…was physically large, selfish, bullying and loud of voice; he cheated at games, had a vile temper and appalling table manners; he thought men should be polygamous but that Emma [his wife] should be his alone. He was also narcissistic and unbalanced, coming from a family with severe mental health problems.¹

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Whew! That’s what my father would have called a “hatchet job.”

Q: Is this a fair assessment of Carl Jung, the psychologist who has inspired many by trying to bridge the gap between psychology and spirituality?

A: I think the tweeted article is important to read, even if definitely slanted. Always good to hear both sides. And, come to think of it, I recall Carl Jung’s son saying much the same thing—that Jung Sr. wasn’t the greatest dad in the world. Also, having studied Jung for several years, I knew about his polygamy. But I hadn’t fully considered – nor heard – that he demanded monogamy from his wife.

While reading the tweeted story I began to think about something I’ve been considering for a while now: Are insights, theories or moral teachings invalidated by the less than admirable behavior of those advancing them?

In the Bible story, if I remember right, Jesus tells others to do what corrupt preachers say but not what they actually do. Jesus is not condemning their good teaching but rather their bad example. I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. It doesn’t get someone off the hook for being creepy. But it does suggest that, since we’re all ethically imperfect, a realistic and arguably effective approach to life demands a nuanced understanding of how most human beings actually work.


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Is Psychiatry Overdoing It With The Diagnoses?

MRT scan of human head

MRT scan of human head (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I go through tons and tons of news stories every day and, not being a computer, cannot read each one fully. I admittedly scan a lot of stuff, looking for good content and also to avoid contentious material that might unduly offend readers or go too far against my own standards.

Back in high school we were taught that speed reading and skimming would be an increasingly important skill as we entered the “new information age.” This was the late 70s, early 80s. And boy oh boy, were they ever right!

So here are two articles that I skimmed earlier today. They differ from extreme anti-psychiatry polemics because they are not anti-psychiatry, but rather, written by someone who was in medical school and yet can still think for themselves (his or her gender is not specified at the web site).

I think anyone who blindly accepts all the latest psychiatric labels should have a quick scan too.

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William Gibson’s influential “Neuromancer” – A thought-provoking review at Stuff Jeff Reads

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From stone cold and lukewarm to beautiful flames of love – you’ll find it all in today’s Catholic Church

“Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment.”

This quote stood out as I went through this morning’s news. It’s from the tweeted article, above.

As a converted Catholic coming from a non-churchgoing Anglican past, I can say that my experience of Catholicism has been layered. On one level the Catholic Mass is a social event, even if you don’t say anything to others. Looks and glaces are exchanged, and anyone who knows the ABCs of non-verbal communication will acknowledged that a lot can be said without saying a word.

Monks have commented on the very real, ongoing relationships they have without saying a word. And I think some parishioners would attest to a similar kind of interpersonal (and sometimes) spiritual dynamic at the Mass.

Others would not, of course. These people tend to make up the chattier, socially visible and physically active layer of the Church. When these folks are nice we call them social butterflies, organizers, leaders, and so on. When they are nasty we call them busybodies, gossips, and backbiters. I have met both types (and combinations thereof) in today’s Church.

On a deeper layer, I always have indisputable spiritual experiences within the Catholic Church. A worldly person might attribute these to “memory,” “association” or “social belonging” but they are dead wrong. The Holy Spirit is strong in the Catholic Church. And it almost instantly enables me to see myself better. But not only only see. The Holy Spirit is also a healer and purifier. Moreover, the heavenly beauty of the Eucharist is something that, sadly, I don’t think all Catholics experience to the same degree. I would venture to guess that it’s their own worldliness, status seeking and the love of prestige that blocks their reception of this heavenly gift.

In a nutshell, if we keep our noses to the ground like animals grubbing in the dirt, we won’t be able to receive gifts from above.

And this is where today’s tweet comes in.

I see humanity as an evolving species. And worldly attitudes, ideas and behavioral routines are a large part of that. I think it was the philosopher Santayana who spoke of well worn paths or psychological channels that humanity trudges along. Almost like rats in a maze or, if you will, horses with blinders, many individuals have erected high walls around their minds. They plod along in the same old direction without thinking about it too much.

This might be necessary to keep things moving in an orderly fashion. But as time goes on, the psychosocial walls, that is, the conventional order, must either fall down or, less drastically, be rearranged or transformed. Otherwise society and the people who comprise it will become blocked, stagnant and fall short of their full potential. — MC