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Fri, 27 Nov 2020
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The perfect fictional psychopath: We Need to Talk About Kevin

broken mirror psychopathy
© Getty
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Stephen McWilliams observes that author Lionel Shiver and film director Lynne Ramsay's dramatic thrillers raise important questions about psychopathy and society and the enduring 'nature versus nurture' debate on where evil comes from

It is difficult not to empathise with a child in any novel, even if they seem to tick most of the boxes for psychopathy. Twelve-year-old Josephine Leonides murders her grandfather and her nanny in Agatha Christie's novel The Crooked House (1949), yet most readers would feel at least a pang of sorrow for her in the end.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Kevin Khatchadourian, the protagonist in Lionel Shiver's dramatic thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Many readers will be familiar with this book; it sold more than a million copies and garnered its author the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. It was subsequently adapted for film by Director Lynne Ramsay and starred Tilda Swinton.

The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was screened in September of the same year at the Toronto International Film Festival to much critical acclaim.

Sun

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Live Not By Lies

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Solzhenitsyn penned this essay in 1974 and it circulated among Moscow's intellectuals at the time. It is dated Feb. 12, the same day that secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. The next day he was exiled to West Germany. The essay is a call to moral courage and serves as light to all who value truth.

At one time we dared not even to whisper. Now we write and read samizdat, and sometimes when we gather in the smoking room at the Science Institute we complain frankly to one another: What kind of tricks are they playing on us, and where are they dragging us? Gratuitous boasting of cosmic achievements while there is poverty and destruction at home. Propping up remote, uncivilized regimes. Fanning up civil war. And we recklessly fostered Mao Tse-tung at our expense — and it will be we who are sent to war against him, and will have to go. Is there any way out? And they put on trial anybody they want and they put sane people in asylums — always they, and we are powerless.

Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children — but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble without tounges tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven't the strength?

Comment: The stark admonitions and guidance that Solzhenitsyn gave decades ago were no less relevant then than they are right now, in the West. We'd do well to heed them to the best of our ability.


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MindMatters: Navigating The Chaos

don't panic
As current events and crazy people continue to spiral downhill with ever greater frequency and intensity, we find ourselves challenged not to react or respond in ways that are detrimental to ourselves and those around us. From both within and without each of us faces the choices of what to believe, how to feel - and what the appropriate responses to life could and should be. Will we fall prey to the Adversary's thinking and control, or will we follow the archetype of individuation, growth and the path of the Hero?

Taking a passage from Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning as inspiration, this week on MindMatters we examine the thought processes, emotions and intentions that may assist us in navigating the chaos. When political, social and cultural institutions continue to disintegrate around us and threaten to drag down all those in their sphere of influence, we must be our own anchors and continue to exercise our higher faculties to maintain some semblance of equilibrium. But just how to do this is a question we must ask for ourselves every day, and a framework for doing this is what we can start building for ourselves (and for those who look to us) right now.


Running Time: 00:55:22

Download: MP3 — 50.7 MB


Bulb

The individual solution to avoiding totalitarianism

no face masks allowed
Shortly after the turn of this century, I found myself standing in one of the halls of political power in former Czechoslovakia, after hearing the umpteenth horror story from communism, and saying to myself "I wish I could live through a little bit of communism to see how normal people allowed it to all happen."

You see, I just couldn't believe how this stable and prosperous interwar democracy could find itself in the throes of Stalinist communism and its psychological turmoil. It was shortly after World War II though, in 1948, that the communists came to power and there was a lot of "new normal" to deal with after the horrors of war. Akin to our current era, there was even a period of Czechoslovak communism called "normalizacia" or normalization.

What was this thing called normalization? It was the "second wave" of Stalinism led by the old guard, a return after the liberalization of the 1968 Prague Spring to the most oppressive communism, a "new normal."

Normalization lasted from the fall of 1968 until November 17, 1989, when a peaceful revolution was set into place in former Czechoslovakia.

Comment: Obviously we want to exercise some judiciousness and strategy in the face of a pack of authoritarian followers, but the author's question still holds: What choices are we making at this moment in order to [help] spread greater liberty in the world?


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MindMatters: The Impenetrable Fortress of Thoughtitude: When Belief Trumps Truth

closed minds
We all have belief systems, maps to reality that inform our perspectives and help us form the bedrock values we have about ourselves, others, and the world at large. This means thoughts on everything from religion and politics to how we interact with friends, and the specific truths about reality we have come to know and adapted to in our everyday lives. But when it comes to taking in new facts, what are the psychological and emotional processes involved in bringing ourselves to a higher or more constructive "place" with this new information? And how does the weaker part of our character seek to stifle new information in its desire to "be right" and remain "comfortable"?

This week on MindMatters we discuss the difficulties and challenges of looking at our own thought processes, default beliefs, and sometimes obsolete "knowledge" of things. There's a reason people don't like discussing politics or religion at the dinner table, but that won't stop us from doing it here. Did Mohammad really exist? Did Jesus? Are Democrats or Republicans always wrong? And how do our thoughts on such things prevent us from looking at data that might otherwise change our minds? With some determination, and truth as the ultimate value, we have the tools to form a more constructive view of ourselves, and of the world in which we live.


Running Time: 01:18:35

Download: MP3 — 72 MB


Info

Both sides of the brain help adults learn a new language says study

Brain Study
© caracterdesign / Getty Images
Learning languages is a breeze for young children, but once that window of opportunity closes it becomes notoriously difficult. Now, Spanish scientists have shed more light on how we get around this.

While it's thought that language is specialised in the left side of the brain, the researchers found that the right side also helps out when learning a new language as an adult, providing further evidence of the brain's remarkable flexibility.

"The left hemisphere is widely considered to be more or less hardwired for language, but there is plenty of evidence that it is not quite as simple as that," says Kshipra Gurunandan from the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language, lead author of a paper published in the Journal of Neurology.

This is seen, for instance, in the unpredictable nature of language impairment and recovery after brain damage to either hemisphere, especially in people who are multilingual.

Gurunandan and colleagues noted that adults can memorise lists of foreign or nonsense words but struggle to distinguish or pronounce foreign sounds or tones. They reasoned that this difficulty could arise from non-linguistic, sensorimotor aspects of language.

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MindMatters: Brainwashing Is Easy, Thinking Isn't

thought control
Covid-19. Trump. Social Justice. War. Human rights. Economics. Whatever the issue, it seems that every day we are being told we must adopt a particular position. And to do so "or else". Under incredible pressure to be in the right and to feel good about ourselves, we are bombarded with "ways to think" that are quite often delivered by overt propaganda, but that are also, perhaps more than we realize, covert and not aware to us consciously. How do the social programmers do this? Who are they? And what knowledge of psychology do they use to meet their agendas? Is it possible that many of the views which we hold dear are actually prefabricated for us?

This week on MindMatters we delve into some of the big social, cultural and political issues of the day, the perspectives we take on them, and how it is we come to a specific understanding or stance on something. Questioning what we believe - and why we do - is a responsibility we all take upon ourselves, for ourselves - but also for others. At a time in human history when truth is under egregious attack, how might one effectively examine one's own thinking? And how do we know when our thoughts are or aren't our own?

Show sources:

Running Time: 01:13:20

Download: MP3 — 67.1 MB


Brain

Hypnosis experts cast doubt on famous psychological experiments

fake hand
© Getty Images
Psychology has taken some hits in recent years — most famously in the form of the "replication crisis." Multiple failures to reproduce high-profile findings prompted a reexamination of methods that can inadvertently generate apparently significant findings that are actually just statistical artifacts. Now a new challenge has arisen to a series of renowned psychological studies that purported to provide a window into how the brain processes internal representations of our physical "self." The questioning of this research comes from an unlikely quarter: the study of hypnosis.

Long seen as a fringe topic, hypnosis has become surprisingly well established in the cognitive sciences today as a measurable, repeatable phenomenon. Hypnosis is the induction of a seemingly altered state of consciousness in which a person appears to relinquish voluntary control, becoming highly responsive to suggestion. Findings from hypnosis research show that the practice all boils down to how suggestible people are, which the researchers behind the new investigation call "trait phenomenological control." Their paper suggests this trait may offer an alternative explanation for some key studies that invoke neural mechanisms underlying representation of the self or of the actions and experiences of others. The work also suggests new ways in which psychologists could improve the rigor and reliability of future studies.

Brain

Why, as a neurosurgeon, I believe in free will

Epilepsy
© Peter Schreiber/AdobeStock


The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy.


In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: "Why are there no intellectual seizures?"

Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways — convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention.

But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these "intellectual" areas of the brain. Yet the outcome is never intellectual seizures.

Comment: See also:


Evil Rays

How the MEAN psychologists got us to comply with coronavirus restrictions

mind control
Introduction

The British public's widespread compliance with the Government's draconian diktats has arguably been the most remarkable aspect of the coronavirus crisis. The unprecedented restrictions on our basic freedoms - in the form of lockdowns, travel bans and mandatory mask wearing - have been passively accepted by the large majority of people. Despite the lack of evidence for effectiveness of these extreme measures, and the growing recognition of their negative consequences, it seems most of us continue to submit to the ongoing restrictions on our lives. Why have we witnessed such capitulation?

A major contributor to the mass obedience of the British people is likely to have been the activities of government-employed psychologists working as part of the 'Behavioural Insights Team' (BIT). After outlining the structure and stated remit of the BIT, I will describe the strategies deployed by this group of psychological specialists to shape our behaviours in line with the Government's public health approach to coronavirus. In particular, I will highlight the four main tactics used in their COVID-19 communication campaigns to 'nudge' us towards compliance: a focus on the MESSENGER, EGO, AFFECT and NORMS (or 'MEAN' as an acronym), providing specific examples to illustrate how these influencers were put to work so as to get us to obey the Government's directives. Finally, the questionable ethics of resorting to these psychological interventions to promote compliance with an increasingly contested public health policy will be addressed.

The Behavioural Insights Team - structure and remit

The BIT was conceived in the Prime Minister's Office in 2010 as 'the world's first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural science to policy' (Hallsworth et al., 2018). It is collectively owned by the UK Government, Nesta (a charity that views itself as an 'innovation foundation' and a 'champion of radical thinking'), and BIT's own employees. According to the BIT website, their team has rapidly expanded from a seven person unit working with the UK government to a 'social purpose company' operating in many countries around the world.