Over the time I’ve been on Medium, I’ve written a lot of nonsense … a lot of it. Quite deliberately so — I’m an absurdist/surrealist/satirist and do it for the purpose of entertainment/amusement.
I have, however … just occasionally … penned something rather more serious. Not in as much depth as I might if I were getting paid for it¹, but serious nevertheless.
I’m not going to labour things, but this, is going to be one of those occasions, I’m afraid — so, if you’re not interested in reading me get all intense about Psychology again, this would be the time to stop reading and go do something more suited to your frame of mind (like picking lint out of your navel).
Right … well … as we all know … okay, many of us, anyway … the more you know about your area(s) of specialisation, the harder it becomes to give people simple answers to their simplistic questions, because things are too complex for that⁴.
For instance, whilst my humourous synopsis of the thinking of four famous philosophers might make those in the know laugh, it’s unlikely to prove to be of any value to those who aren’t because it’s too condensed …
However, albeit equally as tongue-in-cheek, there is also a fundamental truth to the differentiation I made between Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis here …
Psycho For The Sake Of It ¹
Psychoanalysts figure out who, or what, is making you unhappy so that you can put a stop to it. Psychiatrists figure…
Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis are forms of ‘Applied Psychology’ … informed by the field but not defining it — the former can be the result of studying Medicine and then adding some study of Psychology (it tends to favour medical/pharmacological intervention more than does the wider population of psychologists) … the latter from pursuing any number of ‘schools’ of thought regarding the human mind but with little or no knowledge, let alone understanding, of the broader field necessarily required (there’s a lot of quackery out there).
As a result, few people who haven’t studied it, have any idea what Psychology (the discipline as opposed to the phenomenon it studies) even is … conflating it with one or both of the other two — which is to say that most people have the same level of understanding of it as they do of how technology works (i.e. none).
Subsequently, a lot of nonsense is written/said by people with little or no grasp of the subject about which they are writing/speaking.
Perhaps they are a journalist with a deadline to meet and need to cover some development that results in a refinement of some former findings and they report on ‘new’ findings that demonstrate something that was already shown to be the case over a quarter of a century ago already. Possibly because they don’t appreciate that more detailed knowledge acting as a refinement does not mean that knowledge is shining a light on matters heretofore unknown. Perhaps because their readers aren’t interested in the dry reporting to be found in scientific journals, would be put off by it and are more likely to purchase/click sensationalist material. Perhaps the limits of their allotted wordcount renders both the presentation of background information and subsequent examination of the significance of the new findings in that light impossible, so, to ensure the new findings are understood, it’s more efficacious to lump them all in together as if it were all new information.
Perhaps they’re a (lazy) student who (wasn’t listening during the lecture and) misunderstood something significant.
Perhaps they’re simply repeating some misinformation they read/heard elsewhere.
Perhaps they have an ulterior motive …
In the ’60s and ’70s, if a young stud with neither the courage to be an honest rapist nor access to ‘roofies’ wanted…
In any event, what happens, is myths arise as a result.
Unsophisticated though their wisdom may have been compared to our latterday ‘book smarts’ … woefully misinformed about matters scientific … the Ancients were, nevertheless, not stupid.
They knew that the best way to remember something is to do so ‘physically’ as it were — muscle memory entails the lowest cognitive load and, hence, produces the least effortful performance.
Likewise, as it calls upon us to engage in similarly rhythmic activity … indeed, to actually engage the muscles of the diaphragm, our vocal chords, etc. …. the best way to learn information and subsequently accurately recall it is to learn it in the form of song.
Should that not be an option, rhyme is the next best approach and, indeed, nursery rhymes, albeit ostensibly for children, were a method for retaining and transmitting historical, and other information through a society or culture — they were, in fact, memes⁵.
Should that prove impossible then physical activity is the next best technique … which is why the ancient Greek orators used to learn their speeches by placing different parchments in different physical locations and learning their content by walking from one to the next to memorise the content of each — when the time came to recall the words, they visualised, in their minds, the physical location of each parchment and their prepared speeches were more readily remembered.
Absent the opportunity to do any of those things then a story … ideally with pictures too … nearly always helps, placing matters into a coherent whole — creating a network, graph or lattice of ideas and information makes recall easier and, for all its inherent fallibility and imperfections, more frequently accurate.
Over the millennia, ‘Chinese Whispers’, inattention, distraction, elaboration, obfuscation, malicious intent and all manner of other, all too human, things combine to turn a simple story told to act as a mnemonic aid to successful agricultural and other important activities into an elaborate web of nonsense as people added to, subtracted from, changed and manipulated it to various ends with varying degrees of separation from its original purpose.
And thus the tales of people, creatures, things and events in the skies turned from a way to remember how to recognise when the stars were correctly aligned to start planting … or when the hunt might begin … to elaborate mythologies and Astronomy begat the bastard offspring that are Astrology and Religion.
And so, to Psychology.
One myth that gets repeated, seemingly ad infinitum, is the idea that we only use 10% (or some other headline-grabbing number) of our brain and, if only we could unlock the remaining almost-all-of-it we would unlock hitherto only-imagined potential (or potential currently available only to the ‘gifted’ or ‘enlightened’). We’d be telepathic, clairvoyant, need only light and air to live on and transcend to a higher state of consciousness (ultimately even becoming beings of pure energy).
Or at least live in a world without lawyers anyway.
Yeah, right, thanks Mr McKenna but, if it’s all the same to you, I remain unconvinced that the ‘New Age’ will be ushered in by sitting around, with a dog called ‘Blim’ leashed with a piece of string, whilst living on a diet of heroic quantities of psychoactives and not getting enough sleep — I think it far more likely that we’ll be ringing in the age of your anus than that of Aquarius, if we do.
The fact that not all of it may be lit up at the same time, all the time, is no more indicative of lack of use than is the fact that not all the roads in the World see traffic jams 24x7x52 indicative that only 10% the road network is used … no more than is the fact that we don’t have our telephones glued to our ears whilst we chat 24x7x52 evidence that only 10% (or whatever) of the telephone network is used.
Moreover, the fact that a lot of it is concerned with the control of autonomic function and thus not available (at least not without difficulty) to conscious introspection and manipulation does not mean it isn’t being used any more than does the fact that I have stuck my head in the sand and can’t see the approaching predator mean it isn’t there.
We do not use 10% (or whatever) of our brain, we use all of it … 100%.
We just don’t consciously use 100% of it every waking moment.
Another popular one that seemingly just won’t die but persists, zombie-like, in rearing its misshapen head and stumbling on is the idea that people are ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’.
It is based upon a mishmash of misunderstanding and incompletely explained ideas arising from neuroscientific research, including the fact that there seem to be specific centres for certain neurocognitive functions like language processing (to name but one example) and that there is a preponderance for certain such centres to be located in one hemisphere or the other. That and a misunderstanding of the implications of the findings of studies into the effects of corpus callostomies.
We all have our skills and talents and that frequently leads us to lead lives that favour particular activities … activities that result in certain parts of the brain processing more efficiently and, in a virtuous/vicious circle (because that’s how the brain functions), becoming better at the activities they influence, resulting in our engaging ever more in those activities, which feeds back and improves the efficiency of those centres … you get the idea.
But it is not the case that artistic or ‘emotionally intelligent’ people are ‘right-brained’ whilst the more scientifically/analytically inclined are ‘left-brained’. Get that idea out of your head now.
The two hemispheres are in constant communication with each other and influence each other. For example, the left hemisphere is strongly implicated in the processing of language, but the right processes context and tone. The left hemisphere is strongly involved in the processing of mathematical equations, but the right contributes with comparisons and rough estimates.
If you think you might have a dominant hemisphere, see a neurologist — you’re probably having a stroke!
One of the most pernicious myths concerns the ‘multiple personalities’ of schizophrenics.
Let me lay that to rest once and for all: Schizophrenia is not ̵M̵u̵l̵t̵i̵p̵l̵e̵ ̵P̵e̵r̵s̵o̵n̵a̵l̵i̵t̵y̵ ̵D̵i̵s̵o̵r̵d̵e̵r̵ Dissociative Identity Disorder … schizophrenics do not have ‘split personalities’ — get that idea out of your head. They suffer from psychotic episodes, frequently characterised by hallucination and/or delusion.
Which brings me to the next frequently misunderstood term: ‘Psychotic’.
A psychotic state is one in which differentiating between what is real and what is imagined is difficult-to-impossible, including delusional thinking and/or hallucination (C.f. Schizophrenia above) — if you take certain drugs (LSD, for instance) then a psychotic state is highly likely to result at some point during your ‘trip’.
But psychosis does not inherently result in the ‘axe-wielding’ rampage popularised by horror movies. An axe-wielding maniac may or may not be in the grips of psychosis when they go on their killing spree, but it is not necessary that they be so — they may just have a really, really, really strong dislike of their victims for some reason (perhaps they disapprove of prostitution … or maybe they just can’t stand their neighbours).
Again, the popular understanding of psychopaths/sociopaths as murderous monsters who go on killing sprees is horribly ill-informed. Yes, there are some who do … especially in times/places in which murderous behaviour is either likely to go unpunished or else the consequences thereof deemed avoidable. But the vast majority of those with Antisocial Personality Disorder do not do so.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (Psychopathy/Sociopathy) is characterised perhaps most significantly by a lack of conscience or remorse and an almost indifferent regard to consequence. But what it is not characterised by is an explicit tendency toward uncontrolled physical violence. When psychopaths/sociopaths do kill … unlike a paranoid individual who engages in a spree killing due to delusional thinking … the former will likely be at most angry, if not completely rational — for those with ASPD, murder is a means to an end (defending ‘turf’, reputation, ‘business’ interests, etc.), not the end in itself. They are not insane but perfectly rational individuals, simply with no conscience as the rest of us understand it.
This, along with ‘troll’/‘trolling’ has become a popularly misunderstood/misused term of late — perhaps as the result of the #MeToo ‘movement’ shedding some timely light on the so-called ‘Manosphere’ and the unpleasant thinking/behaviour that is so frequently concomitant therewith: ‘pickup artistry’, ‘incels’, and abusive behaviour (particularly towards women) in general.
What it is not is ‘negging’, bullying, or the generally unpleasant treatment meted out by, for instance, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder — however psychologically damaging those may be (and they are) they are nothing like as dangerous as gaslighting. It is not someone criticising you. It is not someone disagreeing with you. It is not someone correcting you about things — not even if they do so in a hostile manner. It is not someone belittling you, being dismissive, generally undermining your self-confidence or making you feel bad about yourself in some way. It is considerably more malign and dangerous than that.
It is a particularly pernicious form of psychological manipulation, in which the victim is ‘encouraged’ (actively coerced into) doubting their own sanity and feeling unable to rely upon their own memory, perception or thinking. Basically, it consists of denying the victim’s sense of reality by way of outright lies and denial of their sense of what is real, up to and including manipulating their physical environment.
I could go on … and on … and on … and on …
… but I’ve had my rant now and, rather than reading any more horribly misleading Medium ‘articles’ by the stubbornly misinformed (which only encourage me to do so even more), I’m going to kill some people instead⁶.
¹ Not only do I reserve that level of effort for the things I actually get paid for² Medium is … well, if you’ve read any of my stuff on Security/Privacy, you’ll appreciate why I have reservations about that.
² Yes, I could get paid to write on Medium as well but not only can I just not get paid as much by writing on Medium … it’s a matter of simple economics … but also, Medium is one of my leisure/hobby outlets and I’d rather it remain that way — if I were to write with the intent of getting paid for everything then it’d be all work and no play³.
³ Don’t get me wrong … I absolutely love DJing for instance, but going pro did, in not insignificant ways, kinda take something out of partying for me and, just sometimes, I miss the excitement that comes from going out at the weekend rather than working at the weekend — when you play out two or three times a week there’s a tendency to regard all but those parties at which you and/or your absolute favourite artists are playing as “just another party”.
⁴ I differentiate between simple/simplistic and complex/complicated as follows: there are many complex phenomena that are the result of simple laws and rules … but an awful lot more complicated answers given by people whose reasoning is simplistic.
⁵ Don’t take that too literally … the existence of memes is debatable at best — Dawkins might be one of the darlings of psychoactive 1960s university dropouts, but so were Leary, Astrology and a whole load of other New Age nonsense.
⁶ I finally gave in to peer pressure and got hold of a second-hand copy of Doom3, fifteen years after it was released and feel I ought to at least give it a try before deciding that it’s too retro even for me!