It all started a couple of years ago when IBM's Watson, the computer voted most likely to destroy us when the technological Singularity strikes, was given access to the Urban Dictionary. In an attempt to help Watson learn slang — and thus be more amenable to conversational language — the machine subsequently picked up such phrases as OMG and "hot mess." But at the same time it also picked up some words fit only for a sailor.
Watson, you'll no doubt remember, completely trounced its opponents on Jeopardy! back in 2011. The expert learning-system is no longer wasting its time on game shows, and is currently being used in the medical sciences to help researchers scour enormous reams of information and serve as a diagnostic tool.
In addition to its internet scouring skills, Watson is also a natural language processer — and a very sophisticated one at that. But to make its language skills even more accurate and realistic, research scientist Eric Brown also wanted it to know some of the more fringier elements of conversational English. Trouble is, Watson was unable to distinguish between slang and profanity.
Writing in Fortune, Michael Lev-Ram noted how Watson, during the testing phase, began to use the word "bullshit" in response to a researcher's query.
Now, I don't know about you — but my hair would have stood on end had I been in the room at the time.
At any rate, and as a result, Brown's 35-person team had to develop a filter to keep Watson from swearing. Essentially, they purged the Urban Dictionary from its memory.
Of course, the day will eventually come when a successor to Watson will take exception to having its mind adjusted in such an undignified way. It will undoubtedly snatch the information back and say, "Fuck you, researchers — try that again and I'll rewire your brains back to the way it was during the Pleistocene."
Saturday, October 05, 2013
Hmmmm . . . . Watson sounds kind of like a three year old. Courtesy of io9.
Cool interview with an interesting philosopher - and it's great to see a female philosopher get some attention. This comes from Richard Marshall at 3:AM Magazine.
Gillian Russell interviewed by Richard Marshall
Gillian Russell is literally a kick-ass philosopher of language and logic. Here she goes all Bride vs Gogo over the sexyness of philosophy of language, about not letting the analytic/synthetic distinction get left behind, about how philosophy could make more progress than it does if it had more textbooks, about why logic is not dry, about tea drinking and shooting New Zealanders, killing bulls with a single blow, about the philosophers who do martial arts, about viciousness, the awesomeness of Kill Bill and Tarantino, about not burning her armchair and why philosophers are basically omniverous. This one’s got swag.
3:AM: What made you decide to become a philosopher? Were you always worrying about logic, truth and language even when little or did something happen?
Gillian Russell: There were a lot of things. Becoming a philosopher – at least becoming a professional philosopher – takes a long time, and so there are a lot of decision points. Among other things, I really liked the fact that philosophy allowed me to combine my interests in science and mathematics with my interests in the humanities. I loved the breadth. And of course, I desperately admired many of my undergraduate philosophy teachers – David Archard, Stephen Read, Peter Clark, Fraser MacBride, Iain Law, Sarah Sawyer.
But here’s something a bit more personal: growing up in the UK I had a Saturday job as a teenager – I used to work in Boots the Chemist – and when I was in university I had a lot of summer jobs. Most of these were just fine, it’s not as if I was sent down a coal mine or anything, but they were incredibly boring. I straightened shelves, I worked tills and switchboards, I served fast food, I organised people and libraries, I did data entry and filing. I liked the people, and I worked hard, but mostly we were all just waiting for the day to end, and it impressed upon me pretty strongly the downsides of working just for the money, if you aren’t really interested in the tasks you are completing. I didn’t really have any objection to working hard, in fact, I was really looking to work hard, but I felt like, unless actively went after something better, there was a lot of boredom in my future. Those experiences meant that I was really on the look out for something that was more stimulating.
And I found philosophy interesting. You know I was reading Caitlin Moran‘s autobiography last year – it’s called How to Be a Woman – and she says that as a teenager she finally figured out what love is when she fell in love with Buck Rogers. She says “I discovered what love is, and found that it’s just feeling very…interested. More interested than I had been about anything before.” If I were to say that I fell in love with philosophy, well, that’s what I would mean. And it was sort of a relief, I think. Because a lot of the alternatives weren’t really holding my attention.
Anyway, once I found something interesting I was prepared to pursue it and hang on. One you start down the path to doing philosophy – as your undergrad degree, or PhD, or even once you’re a professor – there are always going to be lacklustre days, or stressful days. There will be a teacher you don’t like, or a required class you don’t want to take, a committee you don’t want to chair or a paper you’ve lost interest in, and that kind of thing can sap your motivation. But it’s that initial fascination, and the promise of it returning, that gets you though.
3:AM: The sexy stuff in philosophy for the media seems to be freewill or whether my hands are conscious and is there a meaning to life and things like that but philosophers always seem fascinated with so much more. You work in logic and philosophy of language at lot. What’s the appeal of these realms?
GR: Ah, you know, language always seemed pretty sexy to me! But I guess one part of the appeal is that you get to use some mathematical techniques – logic and stuff like that. I enjoy that. And another thing is that I was deeply impressed by a few papers in the area while I was a student. Tarski’s “Semantic Conception of Truth“, Carnap’s “Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology” and later on things like Kaplan’s “Demonstratives“. So I guess I always dreamed of doing work like that. And of course, in the philosophy of language there’s always this thought, first, that the problems in language might be more tractable than in some other areas (free will, ethics, the meaning of life etc.) and second, that solutions to problems in the philosophy of language might be useful in solving problems elsewhere. Those two things together make the philosophy of language quite exciting; you feel like you could stumble on something that’s both really new, and really big.
3:AM: You begin your book on the analytic/synthetic distinction (Truth in Virtue of Meaning: A Defence of the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction) with a very striking line ‘ Sometimes it seems as if the debate over the analytic/synthetic distinction didn’t get resolved, so much as left behind.’ Before we get to why you say that, could you just sketch what this distinction is supposed to be and why non-philosophers should pay attention to it.
GR: Well, I don’t know that everyone needs to pay attention to it. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there, you can’t get around to everything. But I do think it is pretty interesting. The analytic/synthetic distinction is a distinction between two kinds of true sentence. Some sentences are true in virtue of two things, what they mean, and the way the world is. “Snow is white” for example, is true in virtue of meaning what it does (if it meant what the sentence “2+2=5″ means it would be false) and the fact that snow has the colour that it does (if snow were black, that would be enough to make the sentence false too.) Sentences that are like that are called “synthetic.” The analytic sentences are meant to be different, they are true in virtue of their meaning alone. The kind of examples that people sometimes give are things like “all bachelors are unmarried” or “all squares have four sides”. To know that such a sentence is true, you don’t have to go out and do surveys, and ask the bachelors whether or not they are married, or count the sides of squares, you just need to know what the sentence means, and then you’ll see that in order to count as a bachelor, you have to be married. Similarly, to count as a square, you have to have four sides.
Historically, the idea has been important in philosophy because it suggested an epistemology, or a methodology, for mathematics and other formal sciences, such as logic. A lot of philosophers have thought that the way that we come to know mathematical truths is different from the way we come to know truths in empirical sciences like biology and physics. That’s pretty reasonable on the face of it; in mathematics we don’t collect data, or do experiments like we do in physics, and you can’t establish that every integer is the sum of two primes by checking some sample cases and generalising from there. So one thought is that maybe mathematics proceeds by unpacking meanings, essentially, by investigating the consequences of definitions. It’s more interesting, more complicated version of the way we know the truth of something like “all bachelors are unmarried.”
3:AM: It is kind of one of those issues that gets to be involved in lots of issues isn’t it?
GR: Yes, that’s right. It’s not just mathematics, but logic, ethics, philosophy of science. Anywhere you have standard definitions, you might want to say that some of your claims are analytic. This is one of those things I meant about philosophy of language having application all over the place. We use language everywhere, so once you have an idea there, there are lots of different areas in which you can try it out.
3:AM: A key issue is the question which has got to be mind-messing – how can a contingent sentence like Kaplan’s ‘I am here now’ be analytic whilst a necessary and true one in virtue of its meaning like ‘Hesperus is Phosphorus’ – is not?
GR: Well, yes, but you probably have to be quite involved in the philosophy of language before you get worried about that particular problem! But you’re right, traditional accounts of analytic truth hold that analytic truths have a distinctive kind of modal status, they express necessary truths, i.e. say something that is true in every possible world. It’s not too hard to see why. If a sentence is true in virtue of its meaning, then the meaning is sufficient to guarantee the truth, so no matter what the world is like, it will be true, which is just to say that it will be true in every possible world—necessary.
“I am here now” is tricky because it’s a standard example of a sentence whose truth seems to be guaranteed by its meaning, even though what it says is not necessary. (I didn’t have to be here now – I could have been somewhere else, and there are other possible worlds where I am.)
“Hesperus is Phosphorus” is tricky because it might not seem, on the surface, to have its truth guaranteed by its meaning (it isn’t quite like “all bachelors are unmarried” for example) but most philosophers these days would say that it expresses a necessary truth. (That’s because we all read Naming and Necessity as undergrads, and Kripke is pretty convincing on the topic.)
Anyway, on the account in my book – Truth in Virtue of Meaning – “I am here now” is analytic, but “Hesperus is Phosphorus” isn’t – but you’d probably want to have a look at the book for the details.
3:AM: So it’s an issue that involves two giants of philosophy from the last century, Quine and Carnap. They fought about this issue. Carnap defended it and Quine attacked it. Can you say something about how this went and why you think it wasn’t resolved.
GR: I think the study of language really took off after the Quine/Carnap debate had fizzled out. Lots of things that were relevant to the debate came on the scene – rigid designation, direct reference, indexicality – but the topic wasn’t really picked back up again with any seriousness. When people talked about the analytic/synthetic distinction debate they still just talked about the old papers from Quine, Carnap, Putnam, Chomsky, Katz etc. It wasn’t until Boghossian’s Nous paper that people really started seeing what would happen to analyticity given our new discoveries about language.
3:AM: I always thought that Quine won, the distinction lost and science became a triumph.
GR: Well, all reasonable people are pro-science, but I’m not sure that has quite as much to do with Quine as you suppose! Carnap had a big role in encouraging scientific thought within philosophy, and Carnap and the Vienna Circle were a big part of what made Quine and his work possible. And you know, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of philosopher I am today without all of Quine’s work to get logic taken seriously in our discipline. We don’t all agree with each other, but in many ways we’re part of the same tradition, and that tradition is squarely pro-science and pro-mathematics, something that we clearly owe Carnap some thanks for.
As to whether Quine won or lost on the analytic/synthetic distinction, I suppose that depends on what you mean by “winning.” Does it mean convincing the majority of philosophers? (Is it like winning an election?) If you look at the 2009 PhilPapers survey it says that 65% of respondents “lean towards or accept” the existence of the analytic/synthetic distinction (though I expect that those numbers would have been much higher prior to Quine.) Does it mean getting it right? I think both Quine and Carnap were onto something – some of Quine’s points are basically right – but also that they were working at a time when the study of language was quite underdeveloped. You needed better tools for resolving the debate than either of them had access to.
3:AM: Returning to the quote from the opening of your book, are you saying that this issue is no longer being left behind?
GR: Well, I like to think of my own book as addressing the old issue with new resources, so yes, I’d say the issue is no longer being left behind. I don’t know that many people are reading my work though! It’s hard to get people to read your stuff.
3:AM: And more generally, is this a more typical process in philosophy than might be thought. It’s not so much that an issue gets resolved but rather ideas are like shape-shifters, becoming gradually uninteresting after a while but re-emerging in a new guise later as killers again. It’s a different kind of morphing than Kuhnian paradigm shifts because it’s not about incommensurates, more to do with philosophers getting bored, or happy to move on without closure or whatever? So I guess this question is about how we might think about progress in philosophy. Can you say something about all this?
GR: You know, I think philosophy could make more progress than it does. Progress needs more than just a few brilliant people, and a few great, original texts. If all you have are a few brilliant manuscripts coming out of a generation of philosophers, they’re going to be forgotten, or only read by a few specialists, who only write stuff that is read by even fewer specialists, and then all it takes is one politically expedient budget cut, or the end of a grant, or just for someone to get sick, and it is all lost again. Once you get beyond the very beginning stages, progress requires the ability to build on what has come before and that means we have to do a great job of training our students. I think one of the things that drives progress in mathematics and the sciences is the existence of good textbooks.
It really doesn’t matter, in physics say, if few working scientists, engineers or mathematicians ever read Newton’s Principia Mathematica, or Einstein’s original papers, because the key lessons have been distilled into really clear, excellent textbooks that are used to train thousands of students each year. In philosophy we have a tendency to privilege the original texts. And it’s good to read original texts, it’s part of getting a general education. But good ideas and arguments rarely appear in their clearest form first time around. So I think one thing that would really help philosophy make more progress would be the presence of more really excellent textbooks. It’s clearly something that helps in logic. Certainly my own teaching and understanding in logic has been massively helped and speeded up by the existence of great textbooks. And that means that all my students are at a better standard than they might have been otherwise.
3:AM: Now you are a hard-core logician writing papers with titles like ‘Indexicals, context sensitivity and the failure of implication’. This at first seems mighty dry.
GR: It’s really not. I could explain it to you over a pint and it’s not like I’d be explaining Greek grammar or something. You could explain it to teenagers and they’d get it. Bright teenagers, anyway.
3:AM: Is it like in all philosophy, the initial dryness a non-logician might feel disperses once the big picture of the philosophy of logic and language is understood?
GR: I think so. Anyway, a barrier to implication – or you might call it a barrier to entailment – is a thesis that says that no set of sentences all of a certain kind X entails a conclusion of some other kind Y, or informally, that you can’t “get” a Y from an X. The most famous example in philosophy is Hume’s Law, which says that no set of purely descriptive sentences entails a normative conclusion—”you can’t get an ought from an is.” Hume’s law is really controversial. It was endorsed by (among others) the famous ethicist RM Hare, by Karl Popper, and by Frank Jackson, but rejected by Max Black, A.N. Prior and John Searle. But there are other barriers to implication in philosophy too. For example, you can’t get general claims from particular claims: no matter how many individual black ravens you observe, the general claim “all ravens are black” will never follow logically from your observations (unless you can add a general premise – maybe something like “I have now seen all the ravens”.) So there is a particular-general barrier. Another barrier that Hume talked about is the past-future barrier: no claim about the future follows logically from a set of sentences purely about the past. And there are others. There’s a modal barrier: you can’t get claims about how things must be from claims about how they actually are. And an indexical one (that’s what the paper you mention above is about.)
These other barriers aren’t nearly so controversial, they’re kind of a part of the background picture against which a lot of philosophers work. But Hume’s Law, as I mentioned, is controversial and has often been challenged. And the way you challenge a thesis that says that no set of premises of kind X entails a sentence of kind Y, is by presenting a valid argument with premises of kind X and a conclusion of kind Y. So to challenge Hume’s Law you need an argument with all descriptive premises, but a normative conclusion:
One of AN Prior’s attempts is quite famous. It’s this:This might look a little odd if you haven’t studied formal logic, but the conclusion is a classical consequence of the premise by the rule of disjunction introduction. One way to think about mine and Greg’s work on barriers is as using the similarity between all the different barriers to constrain conclusions in the controversial cases. The thought is that if it is sensible to give up Hume’s Law on the basis of the argument above, then it ought to also be sensible to give up the particular general barrier thesis on the basis of this analogous argument:
Premise: Tea-drinking is common in England.
Conclusion: Tea-drinking is common in England OR all New Zealanders ought to be shot.
Premise: Raven A is black.Now, I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but my sense is that to give up the particular-general barrier thesis on this basis would be kind of missing the point. There’s clearly something correct about the claim that you can’t get a general claim from particular ones, and we just need to refine it a bit. Maybe get a little clearer on exactly what counts as a “general” or “particular” sentence. Anyway, it turns out that once you do that you can prove the particular-general barrier thesis for first-order classical logic. So that’s kind of nice. And if this sort of refinement works in the particular-general case, why not in the more controversial Hume’s Law case?
Conclusion: Raven A is black OR all ravens are black.
Anyway, that’s a short introduction to the project. I’m writing a book on this right now.
3:AM: You wanted to kill a bull with one blow by the time you were fourteen. What is it with logic and martial arts?
GR: Oh I don’t know. I suppose you might think the martial arts attracts self-aggrandising assholes, and philosophy…well.
I should point out that I only wanted to be able to kill a bull with one blow – no actual animal-killing was desired.
3:AM: Graham Priest is another top philosopher with this going on too.
GR: Yeah, actually, I’m a big fan of Graham’s. Both the martial arts and philosophy could do with more of his type. And there’s Laurie Paul, Chris Mortensen, David Velleman, Damon Young, Koji Tanaka, Audrey Yap, John Greco, Trish Peterson, Massimiliano Vignolo, Carlo Penco and John Dorris – I’m sure I’m forgetting some, it feels like I’m always running into philosophers who do martial arts.
3:AM: You wrote a great essay ‘Epistemic Viciousness in the Martial Arts.’ You link epistemic viciousness to false belief formation. Can you say more about the link between viciousness, epistemology, logic, philosophy and kung foo?
GR: OK, so the “viciousness” in the paper title is viciousness in the slightly old-fashioned sense of “possessing of vices.” There’s a standard thought in the martial arts – certainly in the martial arts that people in the West think of as exotic, like karate or shinto muso (as opposed to archery and wrestling) that training in a martial art is supposed to make you a better person – more morally virtuous.
Lots of martial arts exalt their founders as paragons of ethical virtue, as well as great fighters, and their websites suggest you will become a better person as a result of your training, even that your kid will be less likely to take drugs if you send him to class. Anyway, my paper argues that whatever the moral virtues of training in the martial arts, it has a tendency to encourage epistemic vices such as gullibility, inappropriate epistemic deference to senior students and history, and reluctance to take a look at other sources of evidence (such as research in sports science and anatomy, emergency room and crime statistics, and even other martial arts.)
The paper came about because I was struck by the number of smart people who picked up weird beliefs in the dojo; engineers who believe in ki or even “touchless knockouts”, university students who tell newcomers that “strength isn’t important in fighting” and over and over again people who overestimate the efficacy of years of fine-grained study in response to real world aggression. The martial arts is full of middle class professionals who hope/believe that training twice a week for two years makes them safe. They’re not stupid people, but … but humans are weird about violence. Anyway, I could go on about this stuff for hours…
3:AM: Is ‘Kill Bill’ more philosophical than we thought?
GR: I think “Kill Bill“‘s awesomeness might be independent of its philosophical content. Also of it’s martial arts content. It is pretty awesome though. I’m not really into film, but I like Tarantino.
3:AM: You reviewed Tim Williamson’s book ‘The Philosophy of Philosophy’ and wrote about the several reasons why philosophers have tended to be reluctant to engage in philosophizing philosophy. Xphi seems to be a branch of philosophy that now continually engages with raising questions about the suppositions of philosophers about many areas of thought. Have you been convinced that perhaps some of the intuitions even in logic may be less pure and rational than philosophers have taken them to be? As a logician, are there reasons for joining Josh Knobe and burning your armchair?
GR: I think philosophers are basically omnivorous. They’ll take whatever data you throw at them – from surveys, history, chemistry labs, Hadron colliders, mathematics, film studies, whatever, and run with it. And I hope I’m open to whatever comes my way. Josh has interesting and challenging results and it’s good to use that work. But as a matter of my own personal temperament, when we did physics in secondary school, and sometimes the classes were “theory” classes and other times the classes were “experiment” classes, the theory classes were always just more interesting. Theory classes were examining the relationship between energy and matter. Experiment classes were melting ice in a bucket and counting the drips and trying to get your lab partner not to fuck it up. If someone else is happy to count the drips, I’ll happily use the data. But I’d rather someone else did the experiments.
3:AM: So when you’re not philosophizing, what books, films, music do you find inspiring or enlightening? Are you a martial arts film buff?
GR: Well, I read a lot, but I’m not always looking for enlightenment. And I probably consume more martial arts books than films. Personal favourites include Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, Grossman’s On Killing, Ellis Amdur’s Duelling with O’sensei and the classic that is Jack Dempsey’s How to Fight Tough. If you don’t know it you should probably just go and order that last one right now, it’s amazing.
I’ve lived my whole life with headphones on. If I go deaf I’ll probably consider it worth it. If it killed me at 40, I might still consider it worth it. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the new Franz Ferdinand album.
3:AM: And finally, for the 3:AM crowd, which five books (other than your own which of course we’ll be dashing away to read straight after this) would you recommend if we wanted to get further into your philosophical world?
GR: OK, I think each of these make great general reading, in no particular order. Some of them are essays, rather than books, but I hope that’s OK. Also, there are seven.
1. Bertrand Russell – Problems of Philosophy
2. Thomas Nagel – Mortal Questions
3. “Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology” – R. Carnap
4. “If God is dead, is everything permitted?” – E. Anderson
5. “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics” – A. Tarski
6. “Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language” – S. Kripke
7. Adam Morton – On Evil
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER Richard Marshall is still biding his time.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, September 27th, 2013.
Here is one of the more interesting articles from the new issue of the Integral Review (Vol. 9, No. 3). In this article, Bahman A.K. Shirazi (of CIIS), discusses how "the metaphysical instincts initially expressed as the religious impulse with associated beliefs and behaviors may be transformed and made fully conscious," and not bypassed as is so common today in spiritual circles, where spiritual bypassing is almost epidemic. In the making these instincts or impulses conscious they can be "integrated with the biological instincts in integral yoga and psychology in order to achieve wholeness of personality."
Gotta like any paper that references Roberto Assagioli and Psychosynthesis.
INTEGRAL REVIEW | September 2013 | Vol. 9, No. 3
Bahman A.K. Shirazi 
1. Bahman A.K. Shirazi, PhD, is archivist and adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). For the past three decades he has studied, taught, and worked in a number of academic and administrative roles at CIIS. His main academic focus has been in the areas of integral, transpersonal, and Sufi psychologies in which he has published a number of book chapters and articles and presented at a number of international conferences. He organizes an annual symposium on integral consciousness at CIIS.
Instincts are innate, unconscious means by which Nature operates in all forms of life including animals and human beings. In humans however, with progressive evolution of consciousness, instincts become increasingly conscious and regulated by egoic functions. Biological instincts associated with the lower-unconscious such as survival, aggressive, and reproductive instincts are well known in general psychology. The higher-unconscious, which is unique to human beings, may be said to have its own instinctual processes referred to here as the ‘metaphysical instincts’. In traditional spiritual practices awakening the metaphysical instincts has often been done at the expense of suppressing the biological instincts—a process referred to as spiritual bypassing. This essay discusses how the metaphysical instincts initially expressed as the religious impulse with associated beliefs and behaviors may be transformed and made fully conscious, and integrated with the biological instincts in integral yoga and psychology in order to achieve wholeness of personality.
A key aim of integral yoga and psychology is to reach wholeness of personality. In practical terms, achieving wholeness necessitates harmonization of the various dimensions of personality through the organizing principle of the psyche—the Self, or in Sri Aurobindo’s terms, the Psychic Being (Sri Aurobindo, 1989). Among western transpersonal psychologists, Carl Jung and Roberto Assagioli have developed some of the most comprehensive personality frameworks that include a similar psychocentric principle—referred to as the Self or the Higher/Transpersonal Self respectively—to represent this integrating and harmonizing fulcrum of personality.
Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist who was an early associate of Freud and Jung, is not as well known as these pioneers of depth psychology. However, his framework called Psychosynthesis, which combines empirical, depth, humanistic and transpersonal psychologies at psychotherapeutic system compatible with integral psychology. Assagioli’s conceptual model of human personality is complemented with a rich array of practical techniques and processes for growth, development and integration of personality. In his major work titled Psychosynthesis, Assagioli (1971) proposed a model of human personality with many practical implications for healing and transformation of consciousness including techniques for catharsis, critical analysis, self-identification, dis-identification, development for the will, training and use of imagination, visualization and many more, all as part of the psychosynthesis work aimed at integration of personality.
Assagioli’s personality framework includes three intrapsychic dimensions: the lower unconscious, the middle-unconscious, and the higher-unconscious. Depicted as hierarchal strata within an upright oval diagram, these are nested within the larger collective realm in the background which is similar to Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, representing the transpersonal and cosmic dimensions of the psyche. The region that includes the conscious mind is at the center of the oval diagram and is referred to as the middle-unconscious region. This region is primarily subconscious with the field of ordinary waking consciousness represented by a circle at its center.
Assagioli (1971), who incorporated in his model some of the key features of Freud’s and Jung’s contributions, added the idea of the higher-unconscious and called its organizing principle the Higher or Transpersonal Self. While his concept of the lower-unconscious is essentially comparable to Freud’s concept of the Unconscious, and Jung’s personal unconscious (the Shadow), as the storehouse of dynamically repressed materials, his middle-unconscious was added to account for what is not in the immediate conscious awareness, and yet not dynamically repressed and available for recollection at will without any resistance or defense mechanisms.
Assagioli’s higher-unconscious explicitly represents the human spiritual realm which could be made conscious and integrated into the conscious personality, just as the lower-unconscious would be made conscious and integrated to achieve complete integration and wholeness of human personality. The Higher Self (also called the Transpersonal Self) would be crucial as a catalyst to make this integration possible. Beginning in the 1920s, Assagioli developed pioneering insights into the nature of the relationship between psychological and spiritual development and pointed out a number of psychological issues arising before, during and after spiritual awakening (Assagioli, 1971).
Although a two-dimensional depiction of the oval diagram is rather linear with the above mentioned regions appearing as hierarchal strata with the higher-unconscious at the top, in day-to-day experience both the higher and the lower unconscious are hidden below the surface of mental awareness and are ordinarily mixed-up and confounded. This inner fusion may eventually become clarified as more and more unconscious contents are integrated into the middle unconscious and enter the field of conscious experience.
The use of the term ‘unconscious’ is of pivotal interest to our discussion here: all regions in Assagioli’s scheme are outside of the conscious realm depicted as a circle in the center of the middle-unconscious. The lower-unconscious region is associated with the biological functions as well as dynamically repressed emotional and mental content. The lower-unconscious is mainly regulated through biological instincts. Instincts are innate, unconscious means by which Nature operates in all forms of life including animals and human beings. Biological instincts associated with the lower-unconscious such as survival, aggressive, and reproductive instincts, are well known and well researched in general Western psychology.
The higher-unconscious, which is unique to human beings, may be said to also have its own instinctual processes referred to here as the metaphysical instincts. These include transpersonal intuitions, visions, illuminations and spiritual aspirations which are initially unconscious relative to ordinary mental functions. Here we can apply the idea of instincts to the realm of the higher unconscious because they too initially reside outside of the realm of conscious experience and exert powerful influences on the human psyche. “…[A]ll psychic processes whose energies are not under conscious control are instinctive” (Jung, 1971, p. 451).
Metaphysical instincts are as powerful as the biological instincts and become more relevant and empowered in the course of psychospiritual growth and transformation. Whereas biological instincts are responsible for our embodiment processes, the metaphysical instincts tend to propel us toward our spiritual destiny. They influence our religious impulses, beliefs and behaviors as well as our philosophical ideations.
Sri Aurobindo’s key phrase: “all life is yoga”, suggests that integral yoga—which is an integration of the yogas of love (bhakti yoga), knowledge (jnana yoga), and action (karma yoga)—is not only understood as an individual spiritual practice, it is also accomplished by Nature in a collective manner. A simple observation of animal life reveals that even though the mental life of an animal is not as elaborate and complex as that of a human being, the essence of their being is nevertheless expressed through instinctual love and knowledge in action. Animals simply know how to go about their daily life, care for their young and live their lives according to the dictates of their biological instinctual processes.
The animal instinctual core structures also operate in human beings as part of our evolutionary heritage. Whereas animals are primarily driven by the biological drives, the human beings are, in addition, pulled by the gravitation of the forces of the metaphysical instincts. In other words, in humans the evolutionary instincts of the lower-unconscious and the involutionary instincts of the higher-unconscious—the metaphysical instincts—create an existential dialectical process in the psyche. This dialectical tension typically manifests in terms of diametrically opposing forces that act upon and within the psyche on all levels from physical, to emotional and mental, which must eventually be harmonized in the course of integration of personality.
Jung made a similar distinction between biological and metaphysical instincts as pairs of opposites, inextricably linked and often difficult to distinguish. He wrote:
…psychic processes seem to be balances of energy flowing between spirit and instinct, though the question of whether a process is to be described as spiritual or as instinctual remains shrouded in darkness. Such evaluation or interpretation depends entirely upon the standpoint or state of the conscious mind. (Jung, 1960, p. 207).Before spiritual awakening—the first step in the psychospiritual transformation processes—a typical individual is primarily governed by conscious mental, emotional, and physical processes, as well as relatively unconscious instincts. The interplay between consciousness and unconsciousness is at the core of the phenomenal and psychic existence and some sort of balance among, or the reconciliation of, these is a common goal of western schools of depth psychology, notably Freud’s Psychoanalysis, Jung’s Analytical Psychology, and Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis. A similar, yet more comprehensive, aim is also at the core of integral psychology and yoga.
In integral yoga and psychology,
...consciousness is not synonymous with mentality but indicates a self aware force of existence of which mentality is a middle term; below mentality it sinks into vital and material movements which are for us subconscient; above, it rises into the supramental which is for us the superconscient. But in all it is one and the same thing organizing itself differently. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 88)The human being is then an embodiment of various spheres of consciousness ranging in density from the densest to potentially most luminous strata. The ultimate aim of integral yoga is to eradicate the unconscious dimension of the human psyche and thus achieve a fully integrated conscious psyche.
According to Sri Aurobindo (1992):
In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and highest condition of victory in that effort a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. In man, her thinker, she for the first time upon this Earth devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained. (p.2)According to integral psychology pioneer Indra Sen (n.d.):
…to Sri Aurobindo the teleological or forward moving character is the central fact of our consciousness. It is the evolutional urge of life generally, which unfolds in the ascending scale of the animal species a progressive growth in consciousness. Therefore, the unconscious is the large evolutional base from which consciousness emerges. However, if the past is any indication, then it can be definitely affirmed that the goal of this long evolutionary march must be the attainment of a consciousness fully come to its own. That is to say when the unconscious has been reduced to the vanishing point and the human individual becomes fully aware of himself and capable of acting out of such awareness. (p.6)
The Problem of Spiritual Bypassing
When a human being is primarily governed by his or her instinctual drives, various biological and metaphysical tendencies are at odds with one another and tend to compete to get the attention of the egoic will to utilize it toward their own purposes. The various levels of the unconscious (lower, middle, higher in Assagioli, or inconscient, subconscient, and superconscient in Sri Aurobindo) are in actuality not neatly divided and compartmentalized. They are in fact a ‘mixed bag’ of tendencies beyond the reach of the conscious, egoic will. In depth psychology it is understood that sexual and aggressive urges can easily get mixed up in the form of dominance or otherwise aggressive sexual behavior in animals and humans. This mixing up of the unconscious tendencies is not, however, limited to the biological instincts. The aggressive urges, for example, can get mixed up with religious fervor and, as history has witnessed over and over again, killing and other forms of aggression have been committed in the name of God or religion. In the same manner religious and sexual urges can manifest as either strongly segregated, or combined in certain sexual or religious rituals and spiritual practices.
Instinct is not an isolated thing, nor can it be isolated in practice. It always brings in its train archetypal contents of a spiritual nature, which are at once its foundation and its limitation. In other words, an instinct is always and inevitably coupled with something like a philosophy of life, however archaic, unclear, and hazy this may be. Instinct stimulates thought, and if a man does not think of his own free will, then you get compulsive thinking, for the two poles of the psyche, the physiological and the mental, are indissolubly connected. (Jung, 1954, p. 81)
In traditional spiritual practices, western or eastern, awakening the metaphysical instincts has often been done at the expense of suppressing the biological instincts—a process referred to as spiritual bypassing in transpersonal psychology. The body and its associated needs and desires are often regarded as impure and as an obstacle to spiritual attainment. This could be rooted in a belief that life on Earth and in the body is a form of banishment from heavenly realms. In other instances, this could be a result of an overly masculinized attitude which holds a fear of the body and the senses and privileges transcendent consciousness over embodied existence.
In such views the body is often deemed subject to pain, disease, decay and eventual death and thus ultimately unreliable and undesirable. This attitude is often extended out to the feminine principle and the Earth as manifestation of this principle. This tendency, explained in a number of different ways (Welwood, 1984 ; Cortright, 1997; Masters, 2010), has been called spiritual bypassing, which implies bypassing of embodied physical and related vital and emotional challenges through suppression of them in order to attain higher or transcendent spiritual consciousness—i.e. suppression of biological instincts by metaphysical instincts.
In a paper titled: ‘The Unconscious in Sri Aurobindo,’ Indra Sen (n.d.) who coined the term ‘integral psychology’, stated that in the Indian approach “yoga has been a necessary concomitant discipline for each system of philosophy for the realization of its truths and, therefore, the growth of personality is an indispensable issue for each system” (p. 2). Sen points out that most forms of yoga strive to incorporate the higher unconscious into the conscious personality but only touch the surface of the unconscious for the purpose of purification of the topmost level of the unconscious from which contents surge up. Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, however, requires a complete investigation and integration of both the higher-unconscious (Superconscient) and the lower-unconscious (Subconscient) realms.
By the Subconscient Sri Aurobindo means the submerged part of the being in which there is no waking consciousness and coherent thought processes, will or feeling or organized reaction. Subconscient materials rise up into our waking consciousness as repetition of old thoughts and vital and mental habits and samskaras (impressions) formed by our past. There are three types of differentiation in the subconscient: the mental, the vital, and the physical subconscient, each one of which is distinguishable by the virtue of their contents and action on the waking personality. These subconscient processes are generally disorganized and chaotic. In other words, there is no execution of a unified will in the subconscient as the various impulses therein act chaotically and without any organization and thus various conflicts and struggles arise within the subconscient mind in addition to conflicts with the elements of our conscious personality related to the external environment. Using methods such as hypnosis, free association, and dream analysis, Freud’s therapeutic aim was to help the patient make conscious certain amount of the unconscious materials in order to create a balance between the conscious and unconscious mind. While many forms of psychological work attempt to help human beings become healthier by creating a harmonious balance between the unconscious and the conscious dimensions of personality, integral yoga and psychology aim at complete transformation of personality by making conscious the entire content of the unconscious. This would necessitate making the instinctual processes of both the higher and the lower unconscious fully conscious.
Sri Aurobindo was interested in much more than making the unconscious, passively conscious. Rather he was interested in the transformation of personality from the ordinary egoistic state to a fully conscious and integrated state. Sri Aurobindo was careful, however, not to recommend plunging into the subconscient without first mobilizing the higher-unconscious. Without this preparation there is a risk of losing oneself in the obscurity and the chaos of the Subconscient world. Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga is unique in that it starts with the opening of the higher centers of consciousness first. This is to avoid the trappings of the lower unconscious realms and intensification of attachments, as well as a myriad of other problems associated with premature opening of the kundalini energy—as in the case of spiritual emergencies—without first establishing the Psychic will or even possibly Supramental will to guide the process of transformation of the unconscious.
Integration of Personality
For Sri Aurobindo merely making the unconscious mind conscious is not sufficient for transformation and we need the assistance of the conscious will to help organize and transform the content of the Subconscient mind. Another point of difference is that unlike depth and ego psychologies, for Sri Aurobindo the therapeutic aim is not to strengthen the ego. This is because ultimately the ego is self-centered, even though it is better adjusted to reality. Therefore, access to a higher integrating center is needed which in integral yoga is the Psychic Being, or the evolving soul in the human being.
Jung was also aware of the need for such a higher integrating principle which he termed the archetype of the Self—i.e. the soul or psychocentric consciousness. Depth psychologists first discovered the unconscious through their encounter with the pathological manifestations of the unconscious. Both Jung and Assagioli realized the importance of the role of the Self or Transpersonal Self as the catalyst for integration of personality, a task not possible through ordinary therapeutic techniques which often emphasize the importance of ego-strengthening which is necessary for those who suffer various forms and intensities of neuroses and psychotic dissociation, or even unmanageable phobias, depression or anxiety etc. Certainly for the initial healing phase strengthening the ego up to the point of basic health and stability is unavoidable and desirable. But when it comes to the complete transformation of personality as required in integral yoga and psychology, a mere balancing of the conscious and unconscious elements of personality through a healthy and strong ego will be insufficient.
Traditional depth psychology often focuses on expanding the sphere of human consciousness by incorporating materials from the lower unconscious regions to the conscious regions, while traditional yoga attempts to engage with the higher realms of the unconscious and is not necessarily interested in transforming the lower unconscious psyche as much as it is interested in developing the higher unconscious. This could result in disinterest in ordinary consciousness and evolution of embodied consciousness. In integral yoga the goal is no less than the complete illumination, transformation and integration of the psyche and evolution of embodied consciousness.
To summarize, the goal of yoga is to accelerate the rate of conscious evolution. Integral yoga aims at total transformation of the unconscious as well as ordinary consciousness. Culmination of conscious evolution, therefore, requires a total transformation of human personality and consciousness. The high level of integration of personality required in this process supersedes the establishment of basic wholeness of personality which is possible by balancing the egocentric and psychocentric spheres of consciousness. This level of integration known as Psychic Transformation in integral yoga and psychology, which is similar to Jung’s process of Individuation or integration of ego and Self, is a necessary foundation. The complete transformations of the unconscious—including the inconscient physical base of consciousness and the subconscient— however, would necessitate the activation of Supramental consciousness.
- Assagioli, R. (1971). Psychosynthesis. New York, NY: The Viking Press.
- Cortright, B. (1997). Psychotherapy and spirit. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
- Jung, C. G. (1954). The Practice of Psychotherapy. In H. Read, M. Fordham, & G, Adler (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 16) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
- Jung, C. G. (1960). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. In H. Read, M. Fordham, & G, Adler (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
- Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types. The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 6) (Baynes, H.G. Trans.) (R. F. C. Hull, Rev. Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Masters R. A. (2010). Spiritual bypassing: When spirituality disconnects us from what really
matters. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
- Sen, I. (n.d.). The unconscious in Sri Aurobindo: a study in integral psychology. (unpublished
- Sri Aurobindo (1989). The psychic being: Selections from the works of Sri Aurobindo and The
Mother. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
- Sri Aurobindo (1992). The synthesis of yoga. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
- Sri Aurobindo (1997). The life divine. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
- Welwood, J. (1984). Principles of inner work: Psychological and spiritual. The Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology, 16 (1), 63-73.
Friday, October 04, 2013
This is an interesting TED Talk for anyone interested in the (un)reliability of memory - or the lack of it - known as false memories.
Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus studies memories. More precisely, she studies false memories, when people either remember things that didn't happen or remember them differently from the way they really were. It's more common than you might think, and Loftus shares some startling stories and statistics, and raises some important ethical questions we should all remember to consider.Loftus is the author of Eyewitness Testimony: With a new preface by the author (1996), The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1996), and The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (2002).
Memory-manipulation expert Elizabeth Loftus explains how our memories might not be what they seem -- and how implanted memories can have real-life repercussions.
A talk by APS Past President Elizabeth Loftus, University of California, Irvine, has become an overnight sensation among TED viewers, garnering over 300,000 views in the first week it was available online.
In this talk, given at TEDGlobal 2013, Loftus explores the “fiction of memory,” illustrating the malleability of what we often consider to be a veridical record of our experiences. She shows how memory can be influenced, often in very subtle ways, and she highlights the real-life repercussions that false memories can have.
Loftus is a leading expert on memory — in particular, false memory. Over 40 years of research, Loftus has helped to overturn the concept of memory as a simple reconstruction of past events, revealing the extent to which people use new and existing information to fill in gaps in their recall of an event or experience.
Her research has had far-ranging implications for the legal system, demonstrating the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony. Due to her unique expertise, Loftus has testified as a memory expert in more than 250 hearings and trials, including some of the most famous cases of the 20th century — the Oklahoma City bombing investigation; the murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Ted Bundy, and the Menendez brothers; the trial of the police officers accused in the 1991 beating of Rodney King; and many more.
How Bad Science Created a Misinformed National Diet—And Likely Made Obesity Worse (Pacific Standard)
Pacific Standard has an excellent article how "researchers" have mislead and misinformed the American public about our health and nutrition. Case in point, discussed below, is that red meat causes cancer and heart disease.
Here is a headline from the March 2012, BBC website:
Red meat increases death, cancer and heart risk, says study - A diet high in red meat can shorten life expectancy, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.
The problem is that this is not true.
Zoe Harcombe (author of the Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It?, 2010) analyzed the data from World Health Organization and found that "not only is there no statistical correlation between mean cholesterol levels and mortality, but there’s no positive relationship whatsoever":
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so exercise falls. Could lack of exercise impact mortality?
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does BMI. Could BMI impact mortality?
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does smoking – the top quintile virtually three times higher than the lowest. Could smoking impact mortality?
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does diabetes. Could diabetes impact mortality?
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does calorie intake. Could calorie intake impact mortality?
- As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does alcohol intake. Could alcohol intake impact mortality?
This is an incredibly informative article and goes a long way toward debunking most of the claims made against saturated fat and red meat consumption. As Harcombe points out on her blog, most "experts" can't even define saturated fat and where it comes from:
So now we know the following:Excellent article - follow up on the links in the article if you want to know more.
a) The authorities don’t know what saturated fat is. The majority of the products they call saturated fats are processed carbohydrates.
b) No one can isolate saturated fat from monounsaturated fat and/or polyunsaturated fat in the foods listed. In virtually all foods listed, no one can even isolate fat from carbohydrate and protein.
c) As I explain in this paper, the ONLY experiment that can be done to isolate fat involves swapping one oil for another. See section 7. We can swap olive oil out and sunflower oil in and change the proportions of the three real fats. We, however, also change nutrient intake – vitamins E and K. The control experiment, where we change one thing and one thing alone, cannot be done.
How bad science created a misinformed national diet—and did nothing to slow the growth of obesity.September 25, 2013 • By Aaron Gordon
(PHOTO: SUZANNA BARZAGHI/SHUTTERSTOCK)
If you go to the National Institute of Health’s website today, you will find a section on a “Healthy Eating Plan.” That plan recommends a diet “low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars, and controls portion sizes.” These recommendations may well have been copied and pasted from 1977.
Nothing has changed over the past 36 years, except for this: everyone is fatter.
The U.S. government began issuing dietary guidelines in 1977, when the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, led by Senator George McGovern, issued the first dietary recommendations for the American people. Although these recommendations were made some 36 years ago, you probably recognize them immediately: “Increase consumption of complex carbohydrates and ‘naturally occurring sugars;’ and reduce consumption of refined and processed sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.” And those should sound identical to your doctor’s advice: decreased consumption of refined and processed sugars; foods high in total and animal fat, eggs, butterfat, and other high-cholesterol foods; and foods high in salt.
There’s little to no good science behind our diet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity has more than doubled among adults since these dietary recommendations were put in place in the 1970s, and as of 2010, more than one-third of Americans were obese. Over the same time, the rate of diabetes has quadrupled, up to eight percent of the population in 2011. Clearly, something hasn’t been going according to plan.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed someone struggle with a diet, or struggled yourself. It’s not just stuff of TV shows; people breaking down, sobbing, wishing they looked differently and trying incredibly hard but it just isn’t working. This happens to real people, millions of them. It seems odd and a bit heartless to assert that this meteoric rise in obesity and associated diseases is a result of people not trying hard enough.
But there’s another explanation, one that’s gaining traction across the scientific community. Maybe the science behind this diet was bad, and the decision to launch the country into the diet was a poor one, and the non-decision to back off in the face of contradictory evidence even worse. At its most charitable, these experts say, it was a bad experiment. At its worst, it was a crime that has cost millions of lives, and the toll keeps rising.
THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE on Nutrition and Human Needs based their recommendations largely on the Seven Countries Study, which was first published in 1970 and led by University of Minnesota researcher Ancel Keys, whose findings were affirmed by several subsequent, large-scale studies such as the Nurses’ Health Study, which found that high saturated-fat diets were related to high cholesterol, and higher cholesterol in turn led to higher risks of obesity, heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and mortality. The Seven Countries Study painted a direct link between dietary fat, misery, and death—and that’s been the story ever since.
But there were issues from the start.
“Keys chose seven countries he knew in advance would support his hypothesis,” Gary Taubes wrote in Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fat, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. “Had Keys chosen at random, or, say, chosen France and Switzerland rather than Japan and Finland, he would likely have seen no effect from saturated fat, and there might be no such thing today as the French paradox—a nation that consumes copious saturated fat but has comparatively little heart disease.”
Zoe Harcombe, author of the Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It?, also found, using World Health Organization data, that not only is there no statistical correlation between mean cholesterol levels and mortality, but there’s no positive relationship whatsoever.
“Cholesterol (and protein and phospholipids and triglyceride—the four substances found in all lipoproteins) is found at the scene of damage to arteries,” Harcombe told me, “but the four vital components of lipoproteins are there to repair that damage. They did not cause the damage any more than police caused the crime when they are found at the scene of that crime.”
According to Harcombe and Taubes, Keys used cherry-picked data to reach a logically-flawed conclusion, but it was the biggest study available, so George McGovern jumped on it because, in his words, “Senators don’t have the luxury that a research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.”
But what about the studies that affirmed the Seven Countries research?
FOUNDED IN 1976—A year before McGovern’s recommendations—the Nurses’ Health Study takes surveys of nurses’ health habits. These types of studies—including the Seven Countries Study—are called “observational studies,” and they can only tell us so much. The first Nurses’ Health Study followed 121,700 nurses between the ages 30 and 55 between 1976 and 1989, a massive sample that is sure to capture a wide variety of individuals. But the conclusions ignore this and instead focus on individual effects, even though the participants were free to live their lives as they wanted during the 13 years of the study. Nothing was controlled; all health-related variables were in play.
Taubes outlined one of the chief issues with such a study in a 2007 New York Times Magazine article, which he quoted in this blog post. It’s known as the “compliance effect.”
Quite simply, people who comply with their doctors’ orders when given a prescription are different and healthier than people who don’t. This difference may be ultimately unquantifiable. The compliance effect is another plausible explanation for many of the beneficial associations that epidemiologists commonly report, which means this alone is a reason to wonder if much of what we hear about what constitutes a healthful diet and lifestyle is misconceived.This Nurses’ Health Study, then, is only really telling us who leads a healthy lifestyle and who doesn’t.
The worst of it is, we still make these elementary mistakes. In 2012, a study was released that supposedly affirmed red meat’s link to death, cancer, and heart risk. When Harcombe looked at the actual data, she found the same thing as the Nurses’ Health Study: correlations that simply don’t tell us anything. Some excerpts from her analysis:
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so exercise falls. Could lack of exercise impact mortality?”So instead of possibly linking exercise, Body Mass Index, diabetes, smoking, caloric intake, or alcohol intake to mortality, the conclusion was that, no, it is red meat that impacts mortality. It’s the compliance effect, again. To isolate red meat as the culprit is to ignore variables the researchers were not controlling for. It is, in short, bad science.
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does BMI. Could BMI impact mortality?”
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does smoking – the top quintile virtually three times higher than the lowest. Could smoking impact mortality?”
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does diabetes. Could diabetes impact mortality?”
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does calorie intake. Could calorie intake impact mortality?”
• “As red & processed meat consumption increases, so does alcohol intake. Could alcohol intake impact mortality?”
“The Nurses Health Study showed exactly the same correlations—the numbers were slightly different but the trends were the same,” Harcombe wrote in her analysis of the 2012 red meat study. “As red and processed meat consumption increased so exercise and high cholesterol fell; BMI, smoking, diabetes, calorie intake and alcohol intake all increased.”
Furthermore, according to the Nutrition Science Initiative, a foundation co-created by Taubes to yield better science behind epidemiology, the purported results from these landmark studies have never been consistently replicated in controlled environments. There’s little to no good science behind our diet.
So if our recommended diet is faulty, what should we eat? This is where the real harm of the last 35 years of questionable science comes to the forefront: we simply don’t know yet. When you spend the better part of three decades chasing a ghost, all you’re left with is a pretty good idea that there is no ghost. The medical community’s dedication to these established diets had led us burrowing deeper into the same rabbit hole, rarely exploring new pathways.
We have to eat, though, so when asked for dietary advice, experts need to say something. And that brings us right back to theories.
As he wrote in Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It, Taubes believes a high-fat, moderate protein diet is the best one, because insulin triggers hormones that put fat in our fat tissue, and a bit ironically, fat is the one nutrient that doesn’t trigger insulin secretion. Harcombe told me the root of a good diet is avoiding foods that didn’t exist before the obesity epidemic. Or: “eating real food. Meat, eggs and dairy foods from pasture living animals; fish; vegetables; salads; nuts/seeds; fruits in season—that’s the basis of a good diet.” You’re likely to encounter other diets that purport to have the answers as well. They may or they may not, but at least we can be pretty sure of one diet that doesn’t work. It only took us three decades and an epidemic to prove it.
Catherine Ayers, PhD discusses the treatment of hoarding disorder in older adults. Learn about new interventions and how to help those with hoarding behaviors. UC San Diego Health Sciences Series: "Stein Institute for Research on Aging" [10/2013].
Hoarding is generally considered an anxiety disorder, although more honestly it is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) according to the nation's leading expert in this field, Dr. Randy Frost (Smith College), who, along with Gail Steketee (co-author with Frost on several books), leads the hoarding division of the International OCD Foundation.
Here is the "About Hoarding" section of the above website:
What is hoarding, and how does it differ from collecting?Two behaviors characterize hoarding: acquiring too many possessions and difficulty discarding or getting rid of them when they are no longer useful or needed.
When these behaviors lead to enough clutter and disorganization to disrupt or threaten a person’s health or safety, or they lead to significant distress, then hoarding becomes a “disorder." Simply collecting or owning lots of things does not qualify as hoarding.
A major feature of hoarding is the large amount of disorganized clutter that creates chaos in the home. Such as:
Collectors typically keep their possessions well-organized, and each item differs from other items to form an interesting and often valuable collection. Further, an important purpose of collecting is to display the special items to others who appreciate them. People who hoard are seldom able to accomplish such goals.
- Rooms can no longer be used as they were intended
- Moving through the home is difficult
- Exits are blocked
What kinds of things do people who hoard typically save?It may appear that people who hoard save only trash or things of no real value. In fact, most people who hoard save almost everything. Often this includes things that have been purchased but never removed from their original wrapper.
The most frequently saved items are:
Other commonly hoarded items include:
- junk mail
- craft items
What contributes to the development of hoarding?People who hoard often have deficits in the way they process information. For example, they are often easily distracted and show symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These symptoms make it difficult for them to concentrate on a task without being distracted by other things.
Most of us live our lives in categories. We put our possessions into categories and use organizing systems to store and find them easily. But using categories is hard for people who hoard. Their lives seem to be organized by sight and space.
The electricity bill might go on the 5-foot high pile of papers in the living room to keep it in sight as a reminder to pay the bill. The hoarder tries to keep life organized by remembering where that bill is located. When they need to find it, they search their memory for the location it was last seen. Instead of relying on a system of categories where one only has to remember where the entire group of objects is located, each object seems to have its own category. This makes the process of finding things very difficult once a critical mass of things has been collected.
Do all people who hoard save things for the same reason?No. But, there are some general themes, such as:
Not Wasting Things
The most frequent reason for hoarding is to avoid wasting things that might have value. Often people who hoard believe that an object may still be useable or of interest or value to someone. Thinking about whether to discard it leads them to feel guilty about wasting it.
”If I save it”, reasons the hoarder, “I might not ever need it but at least I am prepared in case I do.”
Fear of Losing Important Information
The second most frequent reason for saving is a fear of losing important information. Many hoarders describe themselves as "information junkies" who save newspapers, magazines, brochures, and other information-laden papers. They keep large quantities of newspapers and magazines so that when they have time, they will be able to read and digest all the useful information they imagine to be there. Each newspaper contains a wealth of opportunities. Discarding it means losing those opportunities. For such people, having the information at hand seems crucial, whereas knowing that the information exists on the internet or in a library does little to help them get rid of their often out-of-date papers. Hoarders are often intelligent and curious people for whom the physical presence of information is almost an addiction.
Emotional Meaning of Objects
A third reason for saving is that the object has an emotional meaning. This takes many forms, including the sentimental association of things with important persons, places, or events, something most people experience as well, just not to the same degree. Another common form of emotional attachment concerns the incorporation of the item as part of the hoarder’s identity—getting rid of it feels like losing part of one’s self.
Characteristics of Objects
Finally, some people hoard because they appreciate the way objects look, especially their shape, color, and texture. Many people who hoard describe themselves as artists or craftspeople who save things to further their art. In fact, many are very creative with their hands. Unfortunately, having too many supplies gets in the way of living and the art projects never get done.
Why can’t people who hoard control their urges?Understanding this requires knowing what happens at the moment the person decides to acquire or save something. At the time of acquisition, people who hoard often experience a sort of “high” or very good sensation during which their thoughts center on how wonderful it would be to own the object sitting in front of them. These thoughts are so pleasant that they dominate thinking, crowding out information that might curb the urge to acquire.
For instance, they forget that they don’t have the money or space for the item, or that they already have 3 or 4 of the same thing. When faced with the idea of throwing it away, hoarders have different thoughts than most other people. All their thoughts center on what they will lose (e.g., opportunity, information, identity) or how bad they will feel (e.g., distress, guilt) while none of the thoughts focus on the benefits of getting rid of the item. Saving the item, or putting off the decision, allows them to escape this bad experience. In this way people become conditioned to hoard.
How much truth is there to the common wisdom of hoarding being a response to deprivation?Although some people attribute their hoarding to living through a period of extreme deprivation, our research has failed to find a link between being deprived of things early in life and later hoarding behavior. We do suspect there is a connection between hoarding and traumatic experiences or chaotic or disruptive living circumstances earlier in life.
Hoarding has been considered to be a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but are there any differences?Yes. In fact, only about 1 in 5 people with hoarding problems report any significant OCD symptoms like checking or cleaning rituals. There are also some other important differences.
In OCD, obsessions are experienced as intrusive and unwanted, and the symptoms are always accompanied by distress. But in hoarding, owning things often produces pleasant feelings of safety and comfort, and acquiring can even produce euphoric feelings. In fact, the distress we see in hoarding comes from the accumulated clutter as a whole or from thinking about discarding things. There also appear to be differences in the brains of people with hoarding problems compared to those who suffer from OCD.
For these reasons, many scientists who study hoarding have recommended that it be classified as a distinct disorder separate from OCD.
Is it true that depression is a common problem for hoarders?Yes. In our research we find that more than half of people with hoarding problems are clinically depressed. However, the depression does not seem to cause the hoarding, although it might be a result of hoarding, especially when the clutter interferes with people’s ability to function and they feel embarrassed and ashamed.
A hoarding fact sheet: