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Sat, 08 May 2021
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


You can hold your ground against critical theory

silhouette crowd
© vector vector
The maddening crowd
Wherever, however, don't back down...

Most "cancel culture" stories are brutal and alarming. It seems no one is safe from the threat of a mob intent on taking a person down: not acclaimed editors, not professors, not poets nor promising politicians nor regular college kids. It's my hope this story will provide encouragement that it's possible to withstand the mob. But you might have to learn how to fight fire with fire.

My husband and I co-founded a non-profit organization in 2010. At the time, we knew nothing about the woke ideology called Critical Theory (or sometimes "critical social justice"). Our motivation was to address disparities in mental health care. We had learned that lay people (without clinical training) made up the majority of trauma care providers working with vulnerable populations such as refugees and human trafficking survivors around the world. We wanted to help equip those lay care providers with good resources for increasing mental and emotional resilience in their communities.

We hired clinically-trained mental health professionals to develop our curriculum, oversee Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, and run the international training program. The organization saw great success in our first seven years. We received accolades from all the right people in academia and the non-profit world, and we partnered with international and grass-roots organizations working with survivors of trauma in more than 50 countries.

Then a few years ago, we became aware of a gradual but marked shift in tone among our program team.

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The Myth of Authority

megaphone yelling boss
Humans are incapable of looking after, organising, protecting or ruling themselves. They need someone or something in power to do it for them. This creed emanates from every pore of the owner, the professional, the state, the institution and the egoic, unconscious parent.

Often the message is an explicit exhortation, or order, to respect authority, obey the prince or know your place, but usually, in the highly developed system, The Myth of Authority is implicit, an unspoken assumption that a world which has the power to command you and I, is normal, right and natural.

Obedience is fostered and sustained by rewarding those who submit and by punishing those who rebel. Schools are structured to identify and filter out children who 'don't play well with others', who 'voice strong opinions', who are 'disruptive', 'insubordinate' or have 'a relaxed attitude'; admission panels of elite universities and interviewers for top jobs are hyper-sensitive to threats from those who might turn out to be intractable; records, references and even whispered reputations, increasingly systematised, follow trouble-makers to their grave; and if, somehow, someone who is resistant to authority finds their way through this minefield to a position of influence, they will be worn down, undermined and, eventually, ejected.

Most of this happens [semi] automatically. The system is set up to nullify threat and reward compliance with minimal human interference[1]. Those who tend to its operations do so unconsciously, instinctively or without seriously questioning its values and imperatives. Meanwhile, those at the bottom of the pile look up in wonder at those chosen to lead.


The virtuous narcissist

captain america
Amara touted herself as a spiritual healer versed in sundry esoteric techniques such as holographic resonance and cathartic release work. She seemed wise and encouraging. It took me years to see the back-stabbing egomaniac that lurked beneath her mystical new age facade. By the time I woke up to the truth I was privy to the way she smeared my name to clients I sent her way, and recognized how her 'inspirational mentorship' was designed to disempower me. When she attempted to lure me back in with her seductive overtures of contrition I refused to be baited.

It was a hard lesson finally learned after a decade of friendship.

Those like myself who were groomed in childhood to be narcissistic supply, desperately sought to break the insidious pattern of falling prey to malignant narcissists. In spite of our efforts we inevitably traversed a torturous phase of recovery, in which we attracted the more polished seemingly altruistic, 'special', successful, and even 'spiritual' narcissists.

Caught up in fastidiously weeding out the blatant signs of narcissism such as smear campaigns, character assassination and incessant lies, we lost sight of the subtle nuanced and stealth ways narcissists maneuver. Desperate to align with kind people of character, we fell for the insidious ploy of conspicuous 'goodness' and moral superiority. Like magnets we gravitated towards those who strategically behaved altruistically and morally so as to gain the upper hand.

These exceptional magnanimous people, highly adept at virtue signaling and grandstanding, are known as covert narcissists and ambient abusers.

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When Men Behave Badly - A review

Rape of Lucretia
© Wikimedia Commons.
The Rape of Lucretia by Luca Giordano (1663)
A review of When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault by David M. Buss, Little, Brown Spark, 336 pages (April 2021)

david buss

David Buss
Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it "uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict." Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology.

Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or 18,000 calories more in total than they otherwise would have required. This surplus was not easy to obtain for our ancestors. Men, in contrast, did not face the same level of sexual risk.

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier "on average." Some women are taller than some men — but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men — but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

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MindMatters: Mary Balogh: The Meaning and Purpose of Romance

Today on MindMatters we have the pleasure of speaking with multiple New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh. Mary is the author of over ninety historical romance novels and dozens of novellas. In this wide-ranging discussion Mary shares her thoughts on romance, her writing process, the nature of inspiration, and the meaning and purpose with which she imbues her novels. There's a reason romance is the bestselling genre of fiction, and there's a reason Mary Balogh is among the best of the best. And if you're not already a fan, tune in, and check out her books! You won't regret it.

Mary's website: marybalogh.com/
Mary on Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorMaryBalogh/
MindMatters on LBRY: lbry.tv/@MindMatters:4

Running Time: 01:58:11

Download: MP3 — 96.6 MB


Anesthesia works by changing the brain's rhythms says new research

Simultaneous measurement of neural rhythms and spikes across five brain areas in animals reveals how propofol induces unconsciousness.

In a uniquely deep and detailed look at how the commonly used anesthetic propofol causes unconsciousness, a collaboration of labs at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT shows that as the drug takes hold in the brain, a wide swath of regions become coordinated by very slow rhythms that maintain a commensurately languid pace of neural activity. Electrically stimulating a deeper region, the thalamus, restores synchrony of the brain's normal higher frequency rhythms and activity levels, waking the brain back up and restoring arousal.
Brain Scans
© The Picower Institute
Data from the research shows strong increases in synchrony only in very slow frequencies (deep red color) between the thalamus and four cortical regions.
"There's a folk psychology or tacit assumption that what anesthesia does is simply 'turn off' the brain," said Earl Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and co-senior author of the study in eLife. "What we show is that propofol dramatically changes and controls the dynamics of the brain's rhythms."

Conscious functions, such as perception and cognition, depend on coordinated brain communication, in particular between the thalamus and the brain's surface regions, or cortex, in a variety of frequency bands ranging from 4 to 100 Hz. Propofol, the study shows, seems to bring coordination among the thalamus and cortical regions down to frequencies around just 1 Hz.

Miller's lab, led by postdoc Andre Bastos and former graduate student Jacob Donoghue, collaborated with that of co-senior author Emery N. Brown, who is Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience and an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The collaboration therefore powerfully unified the Miller lab's expertise on how neural rhythms coordinate the cortex to produce conscious brain function with the Brown lab's expertise in the neuroscience of anesthesia and statistical analysis of neural signals.


Mice master complex thinking with a remarkable capacity for abstraction

Categorization is the brain's tool to organize nearly everything we encounter in our daily lives. Grouping information into categories simplifies our complex world and helps us to react quickly and effectively to new experiences. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology have now shown that also mice categorize surprisingly well. The researchers identified neurons encoding learned categories and thereby demonstrated how abstract information is represented at the neuronal level.
Mice Einstein
© MPI of Neurobiology/ Kuhl
Mice form categories to simplify their world. Showing that, researchers identified neurons that encode learned categories.
A toddler is looking at a new picture book. Suddenly it points to an illustration and shouts 'chair'. The kid made the right call, but that does not seem particularly noteworthy to us. We recognize all kinds of chairs as 'chair' without any difficulty. For a toddler, however, this is an enormous learning process. It must associate the chair pictured in the book with the chairs it already knows - even though they may have different shapes or colors. How does the child do that?

The answer is categorization, a fundamental element of our thinking. Sandra Reinert, first author of the study explains: "Every time a child encounters a chair, it stores the experience. Based on similarities between the chairs, the child's brain will abstract the properties and functions of chairs by forming the category 'chair'. This allows the child to later quickly link new chairs to the category and the knowledge it contains."

Our brain categorizes continuously: not only chairs during childhood, but any information at any given age. What advantage does that give us? Pieter Goltstein, senior author of the study says: "Our brain is trying to find a way to simplify and organize our world. Without categorization, we would not be able to interact with our environment as efficiently as we do." In other words: We would have to learn for every new chair we encounter that we can sit on it. Categorizing sensory input is therefore essential for us, but the underlying processes in the brain are largely unknown.

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Taking sex differences in personality seriously

man and woman silhouette
© Jake Olimb Getty Images
Few topics in psychology are more controversial than sex differences [1]. Debates can be classified into two main types: (a) The description of sex differences, including both the size and variability of sex differences across a multitude of physical and psychological traits, and (b) The origins and development of sex differences, including the complex interplay between social, cultural, genetic, and biological factors that influence sex differences.

These lines often get blurred. Researchers who emphasize sociocultural factors in their research tend to conceptualize sex differences as small and worry that if we exaggerate the differences, then all hell will break loose in society. On the other side, those who emphasize biological influences tend to emphasize how differences in personality and behavior can be quite large.

I believe that this blurring between the descriptive and the explanatory levels of analysis has stunted the field and distorted public debates over these complex and sensitive issues. In order to make real long-lasting changes that actually have an effect on desired outcomes, our knowledge of the truth needs to be as clear as possible.

In this article I will focus on the personality domain, which has made some truly fascinating advances in only the past few years. I will argue that while the science still has a long way to go to fully flesh out the complex interplay of nature and nurture in creating these differences, it's nevertheless time to take sex differences in personality seriously.

Comment: See also:

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How dreams change under authoritarianism

The dreams Germans had
© Illustration by Isabel Seliger
The dreams Germans had while the Nazis were in power reveal the effects the regime had on the collective unconscious.
When the Nazis came to power, the writer Charlotte Beradt began collecting dreams. What did she learn?

Not long after Hitler came to power, in 1933, a thirty-year-old woman in Berlin had a series of uncanny dreams. In one, her neighborhood had been stripped of its usual signs, which were replaced with posters that listed twenty verboten words; the first was "Lord" and the last was "I." In another, the woman found herself surrounded by workers, including a milkman, a gasman, a newsagent, and a plumber. She felt calm, until she spied among them a chimney sweep. (In her family, the German word for "chimney sweep" was code for the S.S., a nod to the trade's blackened clothing.) The men brandished their bills and performed a Nazi salute. Then they chanted, "Your guilt cannot be doubted."

These are two of about seventy-five dreams collected in "The Third Reich of Dreams," a strange, enthralling book by the writer Charlotte Beradt. Neither scientific study nor psychoanalytic text, "The Third Reich of Dreams" is a collective diary, a witness account hauled out of a nation's shadows and into forensic light. The book was released, in Germany, in 1966; an English translation, by Adriane Gottwald, was published two years later but has since fallen out of print. (Despite ongoing interest from publishers, no one has been able to find Beradt's heir, who holds the rights.) But the book deserves revisiting, not just because we see echoes today of the populism, racism, and taste for surveillance that were part of Beradt's time but because there's nothing else like it in the literature of the Holocaust. "These dreams — these diaries of the night — were conceived independently of their authors' conscious will," Beradt writes. "They were, so to speak, dictated to them by dictatorship."

Comment: The author of the article is clearly looking at this subject with a bias against rightwing authoritarianism - not only because of the particular book being reviewed but due to her own political leanings. But Western society's contemporary dreams are now likely to reflect a dread of leftwing authoritarianism if its true that "dreams [are] the one realm of free expression that endures when private life falls under state control."

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MindMatters: Interview with Tom Costello: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Left-wing Authoritarianism!

tom costello
Today on MindMatters we interview Thomas Costello, Emory University PhD candidate and lead author of a groundbreaking new study on leftwing authoritarianism. Long thought by social psychologists to be the exclusive of social conservatives (RWA), studies of authoritarianism on the left have been few and far between. Until now. Despite the almost willful ignorance about the subject in the field, LWA really does exist, and Costello and colleagues are clarifying its structure as a valid construct. It turns out that rightwing and leftwing authoritarians have a lot in common - and some differences too.

Join us as we pick Tom's brain about the history of the study of authoritarianism, how it became associated exclusively with conservatism, and what the latest studies are revealing about authoritarians on the left: those anti-conventionalists who channel their aggression against existing hierarchies and favor top-down censorship, and who are more willing to participate in political violence than their peers.

Running Time: 01:03:04

Download: MP3 — 49.3 MB

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