[Paleopsych] Jaak--is the lab an antique tool?

John Beahrs intarts at teleport.com
Sun Sep 5 04:17:07 UTC 2004

    Right on!  Another more tangible illustration of the limits of the laboratory, is psychiatric practice.  We shrinks pride ourselves on being "scientific", but what we do is scientific only to a point.  Controlled research simply can't test psychiatric treatment as actually practiced in the field.  Research paradigms apply manualized procedures to populations carefully selected as likely to respond to the procedures, and sure enough, a significant number do.  But I'm a VA outpatient psychiatrist who has to treate incredibly complex disturbed veterans with the gamut of disorders and terribly limited resources.  We must do the opposite of controlled research.  We look for and utilize whatever we can find that might help.  Among hundreds or more variables that we're constantly scrutinizing, we seek focal points that we can isolate, change, and which when changed will lead to cascading changes throughout the system.  These occur at many levels.  Sometimes great results accrue, sometimes not.  And when they do, what really led to the positive changes?  Further complicating the matter, is that I'm not the only "therapist".  Others, like AA members, specialty group leaders, friends, and family members, are concurrently interacting -- all may have powerful impact.  And let's not forget the role of patients themselves.  How well they do varies with how much they're doing for themselves, far more than what I do to or for them.  If so, then sometimes I can help the most by motivating self-help beyond what patients initially feel capable.  This has led me toward a "strategic self-therapy" model, challenging patients to define and redefine their personal identities.  
    Now, how do I take stock and try to figure out what really worked and what didn't?  I'm nearing retirement and trying to assess my results collectively.  I've deliberately avoided setting up controls or using numerical rating scales as I go, because if I did, I would no longer be doing what I do, but biasing my treatment into something different; and it's what I actually do that I really want to assess.  I'm currently trying to develop a strategy of rating multiple potentially relevant variables, 0-4+, all complex in themselves, using the clinical record as a data base, getting independent raters to test for inter-rater reliability, and then do cross-correlations for pattern recognition.  It's incredibly difficult, and may prove futile.  But I am convinced, like Howard, that radically new methods will be needed to assess what happens in the human sciences, health sciences, arts, politics -- those things that actually matter the most.  Hang on, Howard.  Don't accept the "scientific" adage that "untestable" means unscientific.  Rather, let's look for creative new ways to study complex systems.  I wish I had a good answer.  l'm really struggling with this issue right now.  

From: HowlBloom at aol.com 
  To: jpankse at bgnet.bgsu.edu 
  Cc: paleopsych at paleopsych.org 
  Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2004 10:21 PM
  Subject: [Paleopsych] Jaak--is the lab an antique tool?

  You tossed me an intriguing challenge when you came over to the bloom brownstone a year or two ago. I've been chewing on it, using it for mindfuel, ever since.

  To make my theories count, you said, I had to be able to translate them into predictions that could be proven or disproven in the lab.  Good point.  What can't be operationalized and what can't be tested isn't science, right?

  So for three months I tried to figure out how to put my ideas int lab-able terms.  That isn't easy.  These concepts were seeded by 15 years of study in theoretical physics, microbiology, psychology, religion, history, and the arts.  

  Many of the questions were tweaked and shaded by riding the rails and adventuring. Then came the real deal--20 years of fieldwork in popular culture, in visual art and music, in making superstars, in creating cultural whirlwinds where there were only breezes before, from making hurricanes of passion in the real world where a film like Purple Rain by Prince becomes a cultural legacy, where it becomes the most popular makeout film for hormonally-driven teens who were born long after the day I had to save Purple Rain from being canned by Warner Brothers.

  In the world of pop culture you do have to demonstrate science's basics, prediction and control.  You are forced to form hypotheses, then make predictions about the next career move for Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, Bob Marley, or Joan Jett.  An artist's lifetime work depends on whether your prediction turns out true or false. The gifts or curses that reach the public depend on your observation, your insight, and your accuracy. 

  But your hypotheses are often formed by your gut, your intellect, and your intuition all working in parallel.  You can't necessarily explain the things you suspect, much less the things you know.

  The subject matter you're studying is huge...far too huge to squeeze into the lab.  

  So how DO we test the making of a culture storm in a lab on a university campus in Boston, New York, Berkeley, or Bowling Green?  The answer, it finally dawned on me was not in trying to shrink hurricanes of mass emotion down to something that can be replicated in a-pencil-and-paper test given to 60 students in exchange for credit toward their psychology requirements.

  The problem you posed may not be in the nature of ideas generated in the field, ideas generated by observational and participatory science.  The problem may be in the lab itself.  

  It could be that the lab is the Oldowan stone tool of science.  It has been a great tool for the last 120 years or so.  I could never have formulated my ideas without what the lab-work of Neil Miller and his proteges gave me in mouse research.  I could never have done it without the work that you have given me with your laughing, tickled, and play-deprived mice.  I could never have done it without the lab-work neuroscientist like Ed Taub gave me in his work with chimpanzees.

  But, Jaak, the lab is not the solution, it's the problem.  The lab is too limited to catch most of what human behavior is about.  It is too limited to catch the mas passions that make a Hitler, an Osama Bin Laden, a Beethoven, a Shakespeare, a Winston Churchill, or an FDR.  It is too limited to assess whether the CIA and the Mossad destroyed the world trade center or whether al qaeda did it.  If al qaida was the culprit, the lab is too limited to tell us what to do next--what to do to defend our civilization from collapse.

  The lab is even too limited to tell us whether our civilization is worth fighting for.

  Are these questions science must address?  You bet.  So the real question is this.  How do we make a genuine science of human passions, of mass emotions, of mass perceptions, of popular culture, of high culture, of politics, and of history.  What new tool can we invent that takes us beyond the lab?

  One clue is this.  There are several real-world measures of mass moods and mass perceptions.  One is the stock market.  Another is the real world interaction that takes place in IMs, videogames, role playing games, and chat rooms.  In the cyberworld, every word and every nuance is recorded.  All one needs is permission from the participants to use the mass of data. 

  Another advantage of the cyberworld: folks from all over the world kick in.  An online group like the one devoted to the Philosophy of History is based in Siberia and reaches out to Europe, the United States, South America, and Australia.  

  There are many ways to slice and splice the data.  There are many ways to quantify, if quantification is what you want.

  But it's critical to realize that some of the greatest distortions in the sciences of the psyche have been created by the physics-and-equation-envy that seize many of us and remove us from the real world.  

  If quality is what you want (and you, in particular, often do) not just measurement, then getting our sciences out of the lab and into the real world is critical.

  The cyberworld may just be a convenient starting point.

  My job, it turns out, is very different.  After 20 years at the top of the star-making business, 20 years of gut-hypotheses, it's time to do something very difficult.  It's time to translate what my muscles and my viscera know into words.

  And it's time to continue to practice the process of shaping human perception in the real world so an Osama doesn't outdo us by understanding the human passions far better than we in science do.

  It's time to practice prediction and control in the world of tomorrow's history.

  Howard Bloom
  Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century
  Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty Member, The Graduate Institute
  Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive editor -- New Paradigm book series.
  For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see: www.paleopsych.org
  for two chapters from 
  The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
  For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net


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