Category Archives: Psychology

How We Got “Please” and “Thank You” by Maria Popova

downloadWhy the line between politeness and bossiness is a linguistic mirage.

“A good thing to think about is what kind of face to make when you say please,” Ruth Krauss wrote in her magnificent final collaboration with Maurice Sendak. “That coat will be the last gift [your mother] gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you,” Cheryl Strayed counseled in her endlessly soul-stirring Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. But how did these commonest of courtesies, “please” and “thank you,” actually originate? That’s precisely what anthropologist and activist David Graeber explores in one of the most absorbing semi-asides in his altogether illuminating Debt: The First 5,000 Years (public library):

Debt … is just an exchange that has not been brought to completion.

It follows that debt is strictly a creature of reciprocity and has little to do with other sorts of morality. . . . But isn”t that just the same old story, starting with the assumption that all human interactions must be, by definitions, forms of exchange, and then performing whatever mental somersaults are required to prove it?

No. All human interactions are not forms of exchange. Only some are. Exchange encourages a particular way of conceiving human relations. This is because exchange implies equality, but it also implies separation.

Graeber goes on to offer a counterexample via the history of two of our most common cultural habits of civility:

Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying “please” and “thank you.” To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it, just as the moral guardians of our society — teachers and ministers, for instance — do to everybody else. We often assume that the habit is universal, but … it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.manners-are-free-say-please-thankyou

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Why Psychiatry Holds Enormous Power in Society Despite Losing Scientific Credibility

Definition: Psychiatry is a medical field concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health conditions


It helps to be funded by Big Pharma By Bruce Levine AlterNet January 6, 2015

“What’s a guy gotta do around here to lose a little credibility?” asked ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger in a 2012 piece about top Wall Street executives who created the financial meltdown but remain top executives, continue to sit on corporate and nonprofit boards, serve as regulators, and whose opinions are sought out by prominent op-ed pages and talk shows.

Wall Street is not the only arena where one can be completely wrong and still retain powerful influence. Influential “thought leader” psychiatrists and major psychiatry institutions, by their own recent admissions, have been repeatedly wrong about illness/disorder validity, biochemical causes and drug treatments. In several cases, they have been discovered to be on the take from drug companies, yet continue to be taken seriously by the mainstream media.

While Big Pharma financial backing is one reason psychiatry is able to retain its clout, this is not the only reason. More insidiously, psychiatry retains influence because of the needs of the larger power structure that rules us. And perhaps most troubling, psychiatry retains influence because of us—and our increasing fears that have resulted in our expanding needs for coercion.

But before discussing these three reasons, some documentation of psychiatry’s lost scientific credibility in several critical areas.


Psychiatry’s Lost Scientific Credibility

DSM Invalidity. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic bible, the DSM, was slammed by the pillars of the psychiatry establishment. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the highest U.S. governmental mental health official, offered a harsh rebuke of theDSM, announcing that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and he stated that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” Also in 2013, Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, published his book, Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.

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Is Depression Partly Caused by an Allergic Reaction?

Depression conceptual design isolated on white background. Low mood concept

Growing evidence for a new understanding of depression By Caroline Williams The Guardian January 4, 2015

Barely a week goes by without a celebrity “opening up” about their “battle with depression”. This, apparently, is a brave thing to do because, despite all efforts to get rid of the stigma around depression, it is still seen as some kind of mental and emotional weakness.

But what if it was nothing of the sort? What if it was a physical illness that just happens to make people feel pretty lousy? Would that make it less of a big deal to admit to? Could it even put a final nail in the coffin of the idea that depression is all in the mind?

According to a growing number of scientists, this is exactly how we should be thinking about the condition. George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has spent years studying depression, and has come to the conclusion that it has as much to do with the body as the mind. “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”

The basis of this new view is blindingly obvious once it is pointed out: everyone feels miserable when they are ill. That feeling of being too tired, bored and fed up to move off the sofa and get on with life is known among psychologists as sickness behaviour. It happens for a good reason, helping us avoid doing more damage or spreading an infection any further.

Woman depression

It also looks a lot like depression. So if people with depression show classic sickness behaviour and sick people feel a lot like people with depression – might there be a common cause that accounts for both?

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The secret madness of Adolf Hitler


What a mysterious ailment during World War I reveals about the motivations of history’s greatest monster by PETER CADDICK-ADAMS SATURDAY, JAN 3, 2015 01:01 PM +0000

All the records agree that on Tuesday, 15 October 1918, a little over a week before the Armistice, Adolf Hitler was blinded by poison gas. A hardened veteran, his four years of service with the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment had brought him full circle, almost back to where he first saw action in 1914, advancing on the Flemish city of ypres. This time, his company was manning the lines at Wervicq-Sud, twelve miles south of ypres, when a bombardment from the British 30th Division caught them in the early morning. Six were incapacitated, including Gefreiter (Lance Corporal) Hitler, one of the Meldegänger (despatch runners), considered by his mates to be lucky until that moment. Reeling from the effects of a mixture of phosgene and chlorine gas, the twenty-nine-year-old recalled later how his ‘eyes had turned into glowing coals; it had grown dark around me’. He was evacuated quickly through a series of aid stations and hospitals from the little village on French side of the Lys river which separated France from Belgium. This occurrence allegedly explained his aversion to the military use of poison gas during the Second World War.

According to his medical notes, despite washing out his red, swollen eyes, he stated that he remained totally blind. Travelling by hospital train for several days, his piercing blue eyes, which would one day captivate millions, covered by grubby bandages, Hitler was not to know that the end of the war was days away. His destination was a specialist eye clinic at Pasewalk, in north-eastern Germany near the Polish border, for the diagnosis in his case was most unusual. His continuing blindness was attributed not to injuries suffered in the gas attack, but to hysteria. Doctors from all the belligerent nations were overwhelmed by servicemen suffering from such hysteria, in the same category as shell shock – acute stress, mental rather than physical in origin – that manifested itself in a range of symptoms, which varied from memory loss, insomnia, stutters or mutism, to extreme physical tics, paralysis, deafness or in extremis, blindness. In Hitler’s case there was no lasting or serious damage to his eyes – they were sore from rubbing, not gas – which suggested that the cause was mental not physical. He could not see because he believed he had gone blind. In other words, Hitler, far from being injured in the British attack, had suffered a mental breakdown.


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How much of genius is actually perspiration???


I read Malcolm Gladwells 2008 book ‘Outliers’ over Christmas and I found this aspect particularly interesting – the idea that what we call ‘Genius’ may come mostly from Hard Work  – he estimates around 10,000 hours worth of it. You need to have talent and other advantages – it is not hard work alone – but it is hard work that enables you to shine out from the rest. It has caused controversy and a ‘vigorous’ debate. This article is his 2013 response to some of the criticisms, but it also restates the ideas quite neatly. I have included some of those in the links at the bottom of the post.  It isn’t discussed in the book in those terms but it did remind me of Edisons famous quote above……


Complexity and the Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule By Malcolm Gladwell August 21, 2013

Forty years ago, in a paper in American Scientist, Herbert Simon and William Chase drew one of the most famous conclusions in the study of expertise:

There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions…

In the years that followed, an entire field within psychology grew up devoted to elaborating on Simon and Chase’s observation—and researchers, time and again, reached the same conclusion: it takes a lot of practice to be good at complex tasks. After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)

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‘I Am Lonely, Will Anyone Speak to Me?’

f82Inside 10 Years of the Saddest Internet Thread by Tori Telfer November 21, 2014

In 2004, this sad thread started. It’s still going even as the Internet has totally changed.

This October, a guest user logged onto — a technical Q&A forum for media file playback and conversion — to post a cry for help on one of the site’s off-topic forums. “[I’]m so lonely,” wrote the user, “feeling sad please anyone talk to me.” It was an almost word-for-word replica of the thread’s title, written 10 years and thousands of posts earlier: “i am lonely will anyone speak to me.” The thread’s creator was also a guest, who logged in as “lonely” in 2004. A decade ago, due to the freakishly searchable title and the fact that the site was already optimized for maximum Google search exposure, the thread went viral. Within days, it was the No. 1 result for “I am lonely” on Google, and hundreds of anonymous lonely hearts were flocking to the forum to commiserate, console and weep.

Today, the “i am lonely” thread is a decade-long anthem to the phenomenon of loneliness in the Internet age. It has its own Wikipedia page. It was written up in the New Yorker and the Guardian. It’s no longer the first result for “I am lonely” on Google, but its longevity makes it a poignant record of a certain type of Catch-22 loneliness: the isolation of people who turn to the Internet to make them feel less alone.


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