"Lauren's Blitherings"

No BS, genuinely honest op-ed ramblings on a wide range of news articles.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So they're saying. . .the brain pays extra attention to things that frighten us


So, short-term memories are stored in the hippocampi and frightening memories are stored in the amygdala. Makes perfect sense to me. These two sections of the brain are the oldest and direct our most primitive drives. Primitive man only would've needed short-term memory and memories of what frightens him in order to survive.

But what's most interesting to me about this article is its talk about the finding made by a research team in Canada that was printed in the Science journal (volume 323, p. 1492), where they were able to, "erase a frightening memory of a noise in a mouse by killing amygdala neurons whose synapses had recently been strengthened after exposure to the noise".

This immediately made me think about humans who incur trauma (specifically, emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse). If the trauma is a "frightening" experience, why do some of us who incur this trauma remember every detail (i.e. the colors, emotions, physical sensations, scents, and sounds of the scene), while some of us draw a blank? Is there something else going on that directly inhibits the strengthening of these amygdala neural synapses in those of us who can't remember our traumas? Are those of us who dissociate during the traumatic experience more susceptible to these interruptions in the strengthening of the associated amygdala neural synapses? In keeping with this same population of "persons who dissociate", might this pattern then be repeated in other sections of our brain and result in other memory or associated brain malfunctions?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

So I'm saying. . .in today's society, faux intimacy is the name of the game

I want to tweak something I said in my last post if for no other reason than the corrected version providing the perfect segue into a critique of society that I would like to make.

In my last post on ditching religion, I said that "He [man] NEEDS interactions with other humans to survive". If the focus of this last post had been on a sociological or social psychological topic, and I hadn't had to worry about getting carried off into an entirely different, unrelated direction that would've lead me astray from the very point I was trying to make about man no longer needing religion, I would've been more specific with this phrasing and said something more along the lines of, "He [man] NEEDS healthy, reciprocal interactions with other humans to survive".

But even this corrected phrasing too, I have found, still doesn't speak the entire truth, as evidenced by the typical postmodern interaction. So trying this again. . .

"Without healthy, reciprocal interactions, he [man] does survive, but can be expected to live a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short life." (obviously the latter piece of this phrase was borrowed from Leviathan, a book written by philosopher, Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century. I find it to be an appropriate fit since a world without healthy, reciprocal interactions seems antithetical to Hobbes's "state of society").

Well, I'm sure Hobbes would be in a state of disbelief (no pun intended) if he were to walk the Earth today, because apparently, even in a "state of society", man's life can be and IS "solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish" (actually, not short, but that is only thanks to the pharmaceutical industrial complex that keep those emotionally-devastated, artery-clogged hearts ticking with their never-ending, forever advancing supply of SSRIs and anticoagulants).

What makes it solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish? It is this. For the most part, the postmodern interaction is not as intimate and genuine as it could be and thus robs man of one of his most basic, fundamental needs as a social being.

And after so many, many years of man perfecting his "performance" (see footnote 1) for his audience (we're talking high-tech, state-of-the-art "pre-established patterns of interactions", folks [see footnote 2]), most men have been fooled into thinking that the interactions they have on a daily basis, whether they be with family, friends, colleagues, etc. ., are intimate and genuine. I am obviously disagreeing with Goffman that ". . .the arts of piercing an individual's effort at calculated unintentionality seem better developed than our capacity to manipulate our own behavior. . ." (p. 8-9 of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). Unless of course, the people in the audience are intentionally feigning ignorance so as not to disrupt the social norms surrounding the interaction. . .

Wow, can you imagine? Feigning ignorance in an effort to keep social norms at a higher priority than man's own fundamental, interpersonal needs? It happens all the time. Take the worker-boss dynamic or any other formal dynamic where emotional intimacy is not its basis nor its priority.

But how about in man's informal dynamics where emotional intimacy is key? Surely he can't be intentionally performing in those informal dynamics that are considered healthy and reciprocal (note: I am only referring to "healthy" and "reciprocal" interactions, not ones where the participants are purposefully manipulative for external gains, etc). It is in these informal dynamics that man is supposed to be able to allow himself to be truly vulnerable and not worry about social norms. So, what is getting in the way?

Facebook. MySpace. AIM. AOL. Yahoo Chat. MSN chat. Skype. Cell phone texting. Telephone. Etc, etc. . .

And what do all of these communication mediums have in common?

You got it. They do not allow for face-to-face interactions and thus do not allow for communication via man's most fundamental communication tools: his non-verbals. And non-verbals cannot be hidden behind like words. In a face-to-face interaction, non-verbals are what allows men to be vulnerable with one another. . .and without vulnerability, there is no real intimacy . . and without intimacy, there is no true health or genuine reciprocation.

Yeah, you can see the other person on Skype, but not very well . . . and non-verbals that can be seen are not the only types of non-verbals that are taken in during a face-to-face interaction. How about the other participant's scent? And we're not just talking about the scents that you are aware that you are smelling, we're also talking about things like pheromones. And what's more, man's sense of smell is the fastest route to the most important parts of his brain's processing centers.

And now when people attempt to transfer those faux intimate telephone/internet dynamics to a first-time face-to-face dynamic, a truly intimate and genuine dynamic needs to be constructed from scratch. Or when one meets another first through face-to-face interaction and then they hop back and forth between a faux intimate telephone/internet dynamic and face-to-face dynamic until finally allowing the faux intimate telephone/internet dynamic to take precedence and dictate the performance of an intimate, genuine face-to-face interaction.

I think we are especially seeing the consequences in our bedrooms and in the rising numbers of persons with depression and social anxiety.

No one allows themselves to be truly vulnerable with another person anymore. And for someone who does, it is tearing me apart.

1Definition of "performance" here is: All the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants. (Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Anchor Books.)

2Definition of "pre-established patterns of interactions" here is: A "part" or a "routine" that is unfolded during a performance and which may be presented or played through on other occasions. (Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Anchor Books.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So they're saying. . .we should ditch religion


I couldn't agree with you more, Mr. Harris. And your argument for why we should ditch it (i.e. "we should be talking about real problems") is indeed plausible, but it ain't gonna be the same argument that actually convinces people to ditch it.

Why do people need religion in the first place?

Voltaire said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him".

Humans are insecure, lonely, and can't help but ponder the meaning of their existence. All of which are very understandable, respectable reasons for man to have to create and rely on religion. At least it was understandable and respectable thousands of years ago when man didn't have the physical and social sciences that he has today.

This all reminds me of a concept a therapist of mine once gave me called "behavior dinosauric". It's where a person utilizes a behavior and/or defense mechanism that was necessary back when there was a real, actual threat, but then continues to use that behavior and/or defense mechanism well after the real, actual threat has disappeared, usually just out of habit and/or comfort.

When man did not have the physical and social sciences that exist today and was feeling these real and actual threatening, anguishing feelings of insecurity and loneliness about himself and his existence, he was left to his own devices (namely that wonderfully abstract-thought producing brain of his) to do anything he could in his power to explain away these uncomfortable feelings and questions. But in today's age, even after man has found physically and socially scientific proofs -- that is, explanations outside of his own creation that have actually been SCIENTIFICALLY proven, or if they're still theories, at least have more plausibility than that which he made up purely through his own imagination and through the filters of his own powerfully uncomfortable emotions -- he continues to rely on the explanations and comfort given to him through his own man-made religions and god(s) from long, long ago.

OK, so the physical sciences totally make sense here (i.e. the big bang theory, etc), but you may be wondering where the social sciences (i.e. Psychology, Sociology, etc) come in. Basically, the social sciences help explain what makes man tick (except Anthropology which just observes and collects data on how he ticks but doesn't dare critique it). And just like his own existence, man had to come up with his own ideas about what made himself tick before there was any science outside of himself that pulled (mostly) non emotionally-laden concepts together (I say "mostly" here because it's damn near impossible for man to be completely objective when he starts dealing with the science of how his own mind and heart work). Now, unlike most of what you'll find in the physical sciences, most of these ideas are all still just theories, but very plausible ones that have shown results when put to the test in therapy, experimental tests on groups of people, and/or other social scientific situations.

But what's the major concept of the general social sciences that's applicable here that I'm trying to get at? It is this: Man is a social creature. He NEEDS interactions with other humans to survive. The social sciences say that man needs a sense of community and a sense of meaning and purpose, and the physical sciences have given another more plausible explanation(s) for the origins of our existence. . and yet man continues to seek that sense of meaning, purpose, and community through his religions and god(s). Surely as science continues to become the primary influence on man's way of conceptualizing himself and his existence, man will look less to religion and god(s). . . and. . .perhaps to his fellow man?

Could a push for a secular humanistic society be what finally gets man to find common ground on the "issues of less moral importance" so that he can start talking about the "real problems" as Mr. Harris puts it. . .? And could secular humanism be what finally gets man to relinquish his oldest behavior dinosauric?

Friday, March 26, 2010

So they're blaming the Mexicans once again. . .


. . .for our country's problems with drug abuse, that is.

To give it credit, the article does include a few blitherings about the problems we are having with prescription drug abuse, including a statistic about "codeine and methadone sparking a 98 percent rise in overdose deaths between 2002 and 2006". However, what it doesn't mention is that prescription drug abuse is not only a "great concern", it is currently a much bigger concern than illegal drug abuse (aka, those drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, and other foreign nations).

In a statement made by the Director of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Nora D. Volkow, M.D., on "Scientific Research on Prescription Drug Abuse" in 2008, statistics were included from a study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) which was conducted by HHS's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) which showed that, "In 2006, 2.2 million persons aged 12 and over initiated abuse of pain relievers in the past year". (http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/2008/03/t20080312a.html)

I'll ask you to click on that link to the statement so that you can take a good look at the bar graph labeled, "Past Year Initiates for Specific Illicit Drugs among Persons Aged 12 or Older: 2006".

Do you see what I'm getting at here?

You got it. The initiate numbers for pain relievers (aka prescription drugs and OTC medications) far exceed the initiate numbers for heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, and most other non-prescription, illegal drugs that are "coming into our borders".

And marijuana? Yes, it's neck and neck with pain relievers. . . but depending on your perspective, some say its overuse wreaks less havoc on the body than other patented and illegal pain relievers (what's worse, problems with your lungs or problems with your liver, stomach, and kidneys).

Aim and blame towards the people you really need to, folks. I'll give you a hint. . . they're located within our own borders.

So they're saying. . . we don't know how free will emerges


The following is a quote from the linked article above:

"Sternberg's moral is that even though we don't know how free will emerges, we will some day, so we shouldn't throw moral responsibility out the window just yet."

Really? We don't?

Gee, that's funny. I could've sworn that we settled this whole debate ages ago when someone came up with the notion of "executive functions" of the brain. Ya know, that part of your brain they say isn't fully developed until you're in late adolescence. And I quote. . ."In the 1950s, the British psychologist Donald Broadbent drew a distinction between "automatic" and "controlled" processes (a distinction characterized more fully by Shiffrin and Schneider in 1977), and introduced the notion of selective attention, to which executive functions are closely allied" (Wikipedia. I know, I know) (However, for more info on the article in which Shiffrin and Schneider explore this more fully, see this reference: Shiffrin RM, Schneider W (March 1977). "Controlled and automatic human information processing: II: Perceptual learning, automatic attending, and a general theory". Psychological Review 84 (2): 127–90. ).

So what is selective attention?
It is the capacity to maintain a behavioral or cognitive set in the face of distracting or competing stimuli. Therefore it incorporates the notion of "freedom from distractibility" . . . ya know, distractibility, as in distracting, random neurons that fire and tell us what to do beyond our control.

Oh, and in case you thought that the concept of "executive functions" was just a theory, I just happen to have a link to an article that demonstrates evidence of these executive brain centers being clearly identified: http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/06/01/executive-brain-centres-identified/

So while young children and adolescents may not have an excuse because those areas of their brain are not yet fully formed, the rest of us with HEALTHY functioning brains (this excludes persons with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and other illnesses that affect brain functioning), seemingly have no excuse for a lack of moral responsibility.

So they're saying. . .Women with access to good health care prefer feminine-looking men


The only link I can think of is. . . most countries with good health care (like Sweden) also have men who already have very fluid gender expression. . . and/or. . .women in these countries also have access to higher education and thus have better access to information that supports their unlearning of gender stereotypes and allows them to have an appreciation for the whole spectrum of gender expressions that men can adopt (yes, I said adopt, I'm a social constructivist) :P

So they're saying. . .infertile women may have more sexual problems


OK, so if they're having these sexual problems after infertility treatment, we can possibly blame the treatments for affecting their desire and arousal. If they're having them outside of treatments, but are aware of their infertility, we could assume it's psychological. . . if they're infertile and they're NOT aware of this fact, then perhaps it's an evolutionary thing and the body's way of telling the person that there's a problem with this mechanism.