Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A slowdown in posting
January 29, 2008

My posting is going to be a bit slower/haphazard for a while. Real life, wouldn’t you know.

I don’t want to lose my wonderful reader-commentators, but I do understand the vastness of the web-world – there’s a lot of good stuff out there.

If you register via RSS feed you’ll be notified when something new appears.

Be well!

What is it to be empathic?
January 20, 2008



Empathy is a primal level of interpersonal interaction whereby signals from one person are picked up by another. These may (or may not) become actualised as feelings, and/or thoughts, and/or behaviours.

As readers point out, features of this basic interpersonal signal-detection are authenticity, unthought/unfelt, somatic.

Empathy, then, is but the raw material for being empathic.

What is it to be empathic?
The word ’empathy’ is often often used in common parlance as a shorthand for one of two types of things:

1. Feelings and/or thoughts which (it is assumed) are similar to those of another person (e.g. “I feel sad, perhaps it’s because he feels sad”).

2. Behaviours intended to help the other through correct identification of how things are for the other (e.g. because I believe that he is sad I offer a kind word).

As cumbersome and potentially confusing as it may be, I want to keep these distinct:

empathy as apperception
empathic internal awareness
empathic act

(The former I have been dealing with for a while now and attempt to capture in the metaphor of the internal ham operator.)

Empathic internal awareness
When a signal from the other is detected it can be elaborated into a sensation and then a feeling, or into an awareness and then a thought. One can ping (to use swivelchair’s word) between these to build a complex emotional conception. And one might act upon it.

While this internal response can become increasingly sophisticated, I think that a rather minimal internal awareness can lead to an empathic act.

Empathic act
An empathic behaviour has the following elements:
1. a signal from the other is detected
2. a response is proffered to demonstrate shared experience
3. the response is experienced by the other as right.

I will argue that if any of these is missing it is pseudo-empathy which might well be experienced as unempathic.

Why is this nitpicking necessary?
I trust that it is clear how the collapsing of meanings makes it impossible to follow a statement like this: The psychopath felt no emapthy as he used his empathic detection of another’s signals to behave unempathically in order to hurt the other.

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Photo: Briton Riviere: Sympathy, originally uploaded by freeparking

Quickpost – An interesting set of posts
January 13, 2008

Evan Hadkins is taking an interesting direction on his blog Wellbeing and health. Over the last week or so he has written a set of three posts in the form of a brief autobiography. Now this part is not exactly unusual in the blogging world – indeed writing about the minuiae of life is the stereotype many non-bloggers have.

The purpose of Evan’s narrative has a point, though, and that is to demonstrate the development of what has become a coherent spiritual/physical/psychological worldview. Rather than state (or imply) “This is the way I see things”, he shows how his blend of western and eastern (christian [lowercase], Taoist) spiritual and treatment (Gestalt, acupuncture) traditions came into being and coheres.

Full disclosure: he is a regular commentator on this site. The biographical pieces ‘health and me’ can be read here, here, and here.

In the final episode Evan mentions three projects for 2008.

1. A course dealing with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual will be run via the site.
2. Also a long article to be available as a free report (an ebook?).
3. A series of blog reviews. Contact him with suggestions.

‘Daily Con’ launch (please give generously)
January 1, 2008


Lies, bull, confidence trickery, verbal jujitsu, paramoralisms, being jesuitical, mendacity, twisting the truth, false apologies, truthity, evasiveness, telling porkies, phoniness, quibbling…these are just some of the ways people have of interacting in bad faith.

I have started a spin-off blog Daily Con where exemplars of mendacity can be exhibited. In order to become anything the contents of this site need to be provided by readers.

It could be thought of as a kind of community art project something like the wonderful secret postcards project. Has someone tried (succeeded in) duping/manipulating you? Perhaps you’ve perpetrated it yourself? Have you come across examples in the media, literature, etc. Overheard something? Submit it to Daily Con.

The point? We learn about people’s trickiness. We can be chastened and improve our own behaviour. We can have a laugh or shake our heads.

All identifying details – unless figures are in the public eye – will be omitted. See here for submission guidelines.

Here is a list of the entries I have made to get things rolling (notice that the ‘daily’ promise has already been broken). Be more creative than I have been!

Dec, 24 Who did what, now?
Here is Governer Eliot Spitzer’s non-apology, ‘An Apology From Albany’:

Dec, 26 What do you expect, he said?
In ‘Brideshead revisited’ Julia Flight is engaged to Rex Mottram, MP. Brenda Champion is his old flame. Julia learns that Rex had been staying the week-end with a stockbroker in Sunningdale, when he said he was at his constituency, and that Mrs Champion had been there too:

Dec, 27 We wish you a Merry Xmas
Overheard in a queue:

Dec, 28 Duper’s delight
Dr X writes about duper’s delight – Paul Eckman’s term for the micro expression revealing the experience of pleasure betrayed by the smile of a lying psychopath:

Dec, 29 Gibberish
William George Heirens was convicted in 1948 of the murder of three women. He remains in prison:

Dec, 30 Two’s company
Homer Simpson is caught out lying:

Dec, 31 Copping a Vick
I quote from Michael Vick’s letter to Judge Henry E. Hudson asking for clemency before his sentencing for dog fighting (let’s not omit dog torture and dog slaughter by his own hand):

Jan, 1 Are paramoralisms catching?
A primary purpose of a paramoralism is to corrode the moral thinking of the other. In the Vick case one strategy would be to distract attention away from Vick’s acts and onto a more culpable (imaginary)person. (Another way would be to pooh-pooh the offence: Oh, everyone does it where he comes from, according to Whoopi Goldberg.) Consider the tack taken by Deion Sanders, former star football and baseball player and current commentator for CBS Sports:

Jan, 2 Don’t de-spam this
My spam-catcher asks me whether I want to delete the following message or de-spam it:

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Photo: mouth expressions., originally uploaded by Pσrcelαΐηgΐrl°

Quickpost: Jobs for psychopaths?
December 15, 2007

My correspondents ‘DuMuarier-Smith’ and Evan Hadkins have been worrying away at the question of whether certain jobs attract/require psychopathy.

DM-T: I’ve been reading Robert Hare’s depiction of the psychopath. Does anyone else think the depiction fits politicians to a T?

EH: I guess the big question is: are there some situations where psychopathology is useful (or, a bigger stretch, good). I’m a bit of an Agatha Christie devotee. She wrote a novel where the murderer was someone who had been very useful during the war but who didn’t really fit civilian society. Would this be an example? Part of me wants to say, “No! Never!” another part wonders with this part is just being unrealistic and sentimental.

(See this.) The latest issue of Nature has an article, Scanning psychopaths:

[Hare] has used [PCL-SV] to esti-
mate that maybe 1% are psychopathic, even if
they have never committed a crime, according
to research presented recently at a meeting on
psychopathy research. “Some psychopathic fea-
tures are not necessarily a bad thing for society
— in some professions they may even help,”
says Hare. “Too much empathy, for example,
on the part of a police officer or a politician
would interfere with the job.”

I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying.

The silences of psychotherapy
December 2, 2007

If therapy is a talking cure, why is there so much silence in it?

The professional therapist and patient can answer this no problem. Sometimes, however, it’s forgotton that not every patient is up with the play. It’s a bit like infantile amnesia where adults forget what it’s like to be a child.

What happens in the therapy room is weird* and the non-knowledgeable client is right to be mystified, frustrated, even frightened by an inscrutable one-who-is-presumed-to-know.

Given that client reports aren’t, shall we say, 100% accurate, violentacres does provide food for thought in a recent post ‘When to see a therapist‘. (more…)

The artist is not the art
November 14, 2007

A comment from Arthur reminds me of one of my pet hates – the fallacy of confusing the life events of an artist, scholar, etc. with the art, scholarship, etc. which they produce.

I know this parlour-psychoanalysis is fun, but it cannot be serious. It doesn’t work; it’s not even wrong. Freud (who resorted to it now and then himself) called this psychological reductionism ‘wild analysis’.

Speaking of Freud, he’s been the object of some real beauts. His death instinct idea came from his pessimism; the Oedipus complex is really just a description of his own upbringing, and so on.

Sometimes they do it the other way round – the work supposedly reveals the real person. In his biography Peter Gay cites a contemporary who called Freud – presumably because he wrote about sex – “the greatest pervert in history”. (more…)

Norman Mailer, psychologist
November 11, 2007

From today’s New York Times:

Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any writer of his generation, died on Nov. 10, 2007 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He was 84.

Like many a great novelist, Mailer was a great psychologist. It might be worth reminding readers, though, that Mailer did make the several forays into psychoanalytic theory itself. Perhaps the most ingeniously outrageous instance occurs in ‘Advertisements for Myself’. Here he took a paragraph from Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ and replaced depth psychological terms with economic. Then he took a paragraph from Marx’s ‘Capital‘ and replaced economic terms with depth psychological. A couple of sentences will be enough to show the startling effect:

In the pages which follow I shall bring forward proof that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret the unconscious undercurrents of society, and that, if that procedure is employed, every society revels itself as a psychical structure which has an unconscious direction which can be detected at any assignable point in the overt activities of social life.

Another one: (more…)

Grit, hanging in there, stick-to-itiveness…
November 11, 2007

Imagine treading water in deep sea, out of sight of land for, say, an hour. Surely there can’t be a more lonesome experience.

What primal fears would this stir up? How long before hopelessness sets in? And if it carried on longer than that, the exhaustion, the sunburn, the thirst…. How long before hopelessness sets in?

Well, Robert Hewitt survived 75 hours lost at sea off the coast of Wellington, New Zealand. That’s right, more than three days and nights bobbing out there – alone, helpless.

How did he manage, and are there any lessons we can learn for when we face our own desire to give up?Hewitt has faith (in the Maori belief system). He has a loving family. And he is a navy diver. One can’t measure or compare these things, but faith, love, and physical/technical prowess are a dynamite combination.There is one psychological strategy he used, though, which anyone can employ.

Don’t look beyond the end of your nose
At about 36 hours (half way, but he wasn’t to know that) Hewit wanted to commit suicide. Either he would drink sea water or hold his breath. Actually, the decision to give up would probably have been enough to finish him off, I reckon.

“Once I had rolled over and given up and felt the old heartbeat slowing down and the throbbing of the head, it was family. What if I had died and I am going up to heaven and I see a boat 500m or two minutes away? Couldn’t I have heald on for two minutes?”

That’s it, that’s the strategy. Maybe I’ll won’t be able to continue later, but for now I’ll hold on for just two more minutes. Made that. OK, another two minutes.

Edmund Hillary was asked: How does one climb Everest. “One step at a time,” he said.

At the end of the day, when all has been said and done, when the rubber hits the road, when we hit the wall – this is the way to survive. Shorten one’s focus radically. This is not the time for letting the mind control us; we must control it. Coaxing oneself along, agonisingly, just a bit longer.

We can be pretty sure that we aren’t actually at our limits. After all, how many people actually die from physical exhaustion? And if we are indeed at that point there’s no need to worry, we’ll die anyway!

Rather assume that the body is not ready to die just yet. Chances that it s (very) bad patch. Things seemed absolutely dire for Hewitt, but he lasted another 39 hours!

“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (Samuel Beckett)
“Do not go gentle into that good night.” (Dylan Thomas)

Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. #2
November 9, 2007

Same joke as yesterday, except this time the older analyst’s response is to shrug and say, “Who listens?”