[Paleopsych] being in touch with reality

Paul J. Werbos, Dr. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Fri Dec 31 15:17:04 UTC 2004

Many people say that at the end of the year it is a good idea to
try to take stock of where we are... to appreciate and relive
what has been accomplished... and to appreciate the gap between where
we are going now and where we would want to be that we could potentially be...

For the discussion here, there are many many threads... but ... if I were to
try to summarize where the greatest unmet potential lies... well,
it seems to me that it has something to do with getting more in touch with 

I hate to use such a simple, easily-abused phrase like "how do we get back 
in touch
with reality?" But that's my initial feeling about an underlying problem 

If there is an official purpose to the list, I think it has to do with 
dialogue to investigate
the human mind and what we know about it. But for myself, I find it 
impossible to
separate thinking about the mind from thinking about the soul and thinking
about the waves and wave of threats to our collective survival. (I can 
segregate that
a little from thinking about quantum mechanics, for which I know no really 
satisfactory list.)

Premise Checker recently said something... that sounded to me like
"I have learned all that can possibly be extracted from Western stuff, so I 
like to read nonWestern fiction to learn their viewpoints." Sure, what was 
meant was
more than that, and I apologize. But it leaves me with... a feeling of  a kind
of hopelessness here.

Deeper understanding of nonWestern viewpoints of the mind and of life will 
be essential both to our understanding and to our survival. Deep dialogue
between world cultures is one of the main hopes of our pulling through
the really scary challenges ahead. But do we all go out and read the dreams
of the Red Chamber? Fiction is not the same thing in nonWestern cultures.
And understanding Spanish conquistadores (who do have novels) is not the 
same thing as learning
about nonWestern cultures.

I do remember decades ago trying to learn something real from reading stuff 
like the Tale of Genji.
Never got very far. Wondered why. Later had a number of close friends from 
China (and Japan), from
many of the main streams of culture there. I still remember mentioning my 
teenage attempts...
and the laughter it generated. "Would you try to understand Western culture 
by reading
bathroom romances? What could someone end up thinking? It is so funny...."
It reminds me of a science fiction story I read long ago about 
archeologists, trying to understand
the culture of the lost species of earth after a great freeze, digging up a 
particular Mickey Mouse
movie... For China, one person recommended I read "My Country, My People" 
as a start.
(The author was not Li Quan Yu, but for some reason... Lin ...? I can't 
easily dig it up in memory.
It says little that a properly educated Chinese person would not already 
know, often better, but
it does describe vividly how weird Westerners do in fact manage to grossly 
misconstrue things
to an extreme extent. How we are full of great experts who cannot see the 
nose in front of their face.
And in fact... just a few days ago the Financial Times gave a report by an 
English expert on the Middle East,
touring the present state of Middle Eastern studies in the US... and being 
utterly appalled. If no one
knows anything, how can we possibly expect NOT to be making gross errors, 
A quick summary would be that the dishonest political football game has 
interfered with
serious understanding and learning and adapting to new information (let 
alone seeking it out

And, yes, I know some important islands which are exceptions, but they are 
much embattled and have
many issues bordering them around...

Can cognitive science help? Certainly not if it is purely cognitive and not 
affective. Not if it
ignores the basic realities of life, to the point where it cannot make 
sense of the simplest
basic realities observed by Freud and by Jung (and yea even Karen Horney) 
-- while
preserving a sense of positive motivation and intelligence ala Von Neumann.
Not if it is "reductionist" -- where I refer not to the metaphysical 
objections of
full-time tepid deconstructivists, but rather to the old idea of narrow 
(including specialists like bean-counters and narrow lawyers who pretend to 
be generalists
"by the very nature of my profession").

One of the basic realities of life is unchecked growth of population. Yes, 
there is no certain doom
from overpopulation -- but if we pretend it is irrelevant that millions 
upon millions
of people are growing up in areas where half the population is young and 
and that food and water and simple living space are major issues... well... 
like planning your family budget on the assumption that you can just use 
your credit card and never have
to pay off your debts. If we all commit ourselves to nonsustainable 
policies worldwide,
and fight to the death to maintain them... the death we will have. And that 
is indeed a
problem for psychology, one that can never be solved with patented purple 
(OK, I can hear someone who would like to feed the pills of his/her choice to
Osama AND Bush... that gets into qui custodet custodes and so on.)

There IS important enlightening fiction, yes.

Just read The Ethos Effect by Modesitt. It is scary just how real it is. 
Modesitt, like Orson Scott
Card, is a highly insightful Mormon writer... but I suspect that the Mormon 
is not quite so supportive of him as of Card. But his new book (and what 
led up to it) is
well worth thinking had about, on more levels than one. (And reminds me
in some ways of recent stuff by Vinge.) The theme, in a way, is 
and with Bear on the list... the new and old foundation trilogies are of 
course also
worth thinking about.

All of these particular books have some value in stimulating thought about 
the question
"Is there any hope at all for us humans to survive? If so, in what does it 

My old thesis adviser, Karl Deustch, in his famous (to poli sci) book
Natoinalism and Social Communications, depicted hopes for peace as a kind
of race. I think that's not a bad VERY crude starting point.
(Ironically, he would say the theme of my Harvard PhD thesis --
out in 1994 from Wiley with a new title, "Roots..." -- was
a refinement of his image in that book. But a much larger reconstruction is 
needed to address
the larger issue of human survival.)  It still is a kind
of race, but between many more variables at many more levels.

But abandoning firm and rigid commitments to nonsustainable lifestyles,
while also not turning humans into robots (trying to repress the 
irrepressible soul,
trying to tie it up like the feet of pampered ancient Chinese women)...
those are among the most obvious elements of the race. If we move too slowly
on these variables, we may be well and truly dead, on earth as it is in 
heaven, as they say.

Best of luck to us all...


More information about the paleopsych mailing list