[Paleopsych] H-N: Thos. E. Dickins: A Necessary Pain in the Heart

Robert E. Haskell haskellre at tampadsl.net
Sun Jul 24 16:18:11 UTC 2005

I find that I must respond to this post—something 
which rarely--- if ever--- I have done.  In the 
course of an otherwise excellent understanding 
and review of my colleague, David Smith's book 
Why We Lie, a long standing pet peeve of mine was 
introduced which  I would like to take the 
opportunity clarify. I do this because the object 
of my pet peeve generally haunts the research on 
unconscious processing, and more specifically 
continues to haunt my own work on unconscious 
communications—which David so kindly cites.
To wit: When  the term ‘unconscious’ is 
encountered, it is most always is automatically 
assumed to be of the Freudian kind.  The short of 
it is that while most psychoanalytic concepts 
are  based in unconscious processing, not all 
that is unconscious processing is based in 
psychoanalysis (While all As are Bs, not all Bs are As).

The concept of the unconscious was around before 
Freud (granted, he systematized the concept 
within a specific framework). See, Ellenberger’s 
The Discovery of the Unconscious, and LL Whyte’s 
The Unconscious Before Freud.  And certainly, 
modern concept of a cognitive unconscious in 
cognitive science has a wealth of non Freudian research and theory.

For an extended explanation of this issue, see my 
Chapter Five,  “Discovering Deep Listening: What 
Freud Didn’t Know But Almost Did—and Should Have” 
of  Haskell, R. E. (2001). Deep listening: 
Uncovering hidden meaning in conversations.  Cambridge, MA: Perseus books.

See also the following where I point out that 
unconscious communications do not need to be 
linked to psychoanalytic theory.   Haskell, 
R.E.  (1999). Unconscious Communication: 
Communicative Psychoanalysis and  Sub-literal 
Cognition. Journal of the American Academy of 
Psychoanalysis, 27, (3), 471-502.

See too,  Chapter Twelve of : Haskell, R. 
E.  (1999). Between the Lines: Unconscious 
meaning in everyday conversation. New York: 
Plenum/Insight Books (taken out of print by 
author but still available on the web).

Finally, see, the following framework for 
unconscious communications.  Haskell, R.E. 
.(2003)  A Logico-mathematic, Structural 
Methodology: Part I, [of III]. The Analysis and 
Validation of Sub-literal (SubLit) Language and 
Cognition. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 24 (3/4) 347-400.

If list members are interested in this issue, I 
would more than gladly cite some of the above 
material and clarify further. Thanks.

At 11:00 AM 7/24/2005, Premise Checker wrote:
>Thos. E. Dickins: A Necessary Pain in the Heart
>[Thanks to Laird for this.]
>    Evolutionary Psychology 3: 175-178
>    Book Review
>    A Necessary Pain in the Heart*
>    A Review of Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the
>    Unconscious Mind by David Livingstone Smith. New York: St Martin's
>    Press. ISBN 0-312-31039, 2004.
>    Thomas E. Dickins, School of Psychology, University of East London and
>    Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of
>    Economics, London E15 4LZ, United Kingdom.
>    * This is a line from Stevie Wonder's song Ordinary Pain, on his album
>    Songs in the Key of Life, 1976. This song advocates a stringent
>    functionalism about emotional responses.
>    Six years ago, at the annual Human Behaviour and Evolution Society
>    conference, I sat down to dinner with a group of fellow evolutionary
>    behavioural scientists. Everyone was in high conference spirits and
>    everyone at my table was male. Soon conversation moved from social
>    gossip about fellow delegates to talking about relationships, and one
>    of our number posed the question "does working in this field hinder
>    your romantic relationships?" The table was divided, with half of the
>    men claiming no influence whatsoever, for in those intimate
>    circumstances their behaviours simply played out naturally. The other
>    half saw knowledge about evolved mating behaviours as a hindrance to
>    their interactions, for they often failed to seize the moment and
>    instead went off-line and observed the interaction with a critical
>    eye. I placed myself in this latter camp.
>    At the time the conversation was an amusing conceit and I thought
>    little more about it. But during the course of the following six years
>    my personal life continued and, as it turned out, my relationship
>    history unfolded somewhat unfortunately. When my wife and I separated
>    I quite naturally tried to think about the situation from an
>    evolutionary perspective and I asked myself whether I could
>    conceptualize the failure in our relationship in terms of what I knew
>    about mating decisions. Of course, I soon chastised myself for trying
>    to jump from statements about human universals to an analysis of the
>    fine-grained sequences of behaviour that constituted my marriage.
>    Nonetheless, I had started down a particular road in my thinking. I
>    did not understand the nature of the emotional pain I felt, but I
>    recognised that it was patterned; I did not understand my motivations
>    for saying certain things during the separation process, but I saw
>    that they achieved certain specific effects. Surely, these things were
>    not idiosyncratic to me and surely there must be a functional story to
>    tell about this aspect of psychology?
>    Whilst I reflected on this I remembered the conversation at the
>    conference and realised that no one on the table had claimed that an
>    evolutionary perspective could help a relationship; the only expressed
>    options were no effect or hindrance. Perhaps, I rather grandly
>    reasoned, an evolutionary account of the emotions felt around
>    separation might form the foundation of a useful therapeutic tool.
>    During discussions with a number of patient colleagues, one of them
>    reminded me of Freud's ambitions. Freud had hoped to integrate an
>    account of personal-level psychological machinations with contemporary
>    neurological science. Freud, of course, failed in this attempt but his
>    expression of the problem can only be seen as useful.
>    Recently, Timothy D. Wilson (2002) has more formally resurrected
>    Freud's project in his book Strangers to Ourselves. The subtitle of
>    this book is Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, which captures
>    Wilson's thesis that much of our psychology is unconscious and adapted
>    to solve specific problems. Our conscious, or personal-level
>    processing is perhaps best seen as a calibrational tool, or set of
>    tools, that finesses work done by the unconscious. In making this
>    claim, Wilson brings the Freudian project into contact with modern
>    evolutionary approaches. However, Wilson does not offer a detailed
>    adaptationist analysis of our unconscious psychology and instead
>    tantalisingly hints at a variety of possible functions that are served
>    by such processes. David Livingstone Smith's book, on the other hand,
>    sets out to achieve an adaptationist decomposition of at least one
>    aspect of our unconscious psychology; that which delivers/underlies
>    social manipulation.
>    The first half of the book is an introduction to evolutionary
>    psychology and to theories of deception and self-deception. It is from
>    this half that the book gains its title. For those well versed in
>    evolutionary approaches to the behavioural sciences this can be
>    skipped: however, for those who are not, its light touch and pace will
>    bring them rapidly to a point Smith's core thesis can be digested.
>    It is as follows. We tell stories; or rather we construct narratives
>    about much of what goes on in our lives. These narratives are for our
>    own private consumption, to explain events as well as to shape and
>    predict futures. Our stories find public uses too, for they act as
>    communicative structures. However, most of our conversational
>    machinations are not, in fact, under personal-level control, but
>    instead are under the unconscious or sub-personal-level control of a
>    social module. This module is a domain-specific device, in keeping
>    with contemporary assumptions in Evolutionary Psychology, and it
>    delivers (small-p) political insight, in keeping with the
>    Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis, as well as more general social
>    scanning. The key point is that this module renders us highly
>    sensitive to other people and it influences our narration in such a
>    way as to deliver unintended messages. At the personal-level we tell
>    ourselves we are delivering message x, but our sub-personal-level
>    cognition is in fact causing us to send message y.
>    An example of such coded communication happened when I once entered a
>    public house in the U.K. with a fellow academic. We were engaged in a
>    debate about some aspect of cognition, vigorously disagreeing with
>    each other while we found somewhere to sit. We eventually perched on
>    the edge of a shared bench and continued arguing, seemingly oblivious
>    to the world around us. At one point my antagonist, who had grown
>    frustrated with my line of argument, declared that "your argument is
>    about as useful as a one-armed man on a building site." Sitting next
>    to him, further along the bench, was a one-armed man who was clearly
>    manipulating pints, wallets, cash and handshakes in a different manner
>    than most. No one had mentioned this man, and my protagonist claimed
>    he had not even seen him; but, according to Smith, the likelihood is
>    that my colleague had seen him, had registered his loss of an arm, and
>    had had a series of thoughts about the consequences of such an injury.
>    Such features are of importance to a social animal, and according to
>    Smith, are the kind of thing we might comment on to the extent that
>    even if we do not directly discuss the issue, it will find a way to be
>    expressed in our conversation.
>    Smith has many examples of situations in which public pronouncements
>    indirectly (and not always too subtly) convey messages about key
>    social facts. One striking example is of a conversation among some of
>    Smith's students. Three students had turned up to a class on a harsh
>    winter's morning, and the remaining four had not. Whilst they were
>    waiting for the class to start a conversation ensued that included the
>    following exchange:
>      Amy
>      : I heard a horrible story on the news, but I can't remember what
>      it was.
>      Michelle
>      : There was this guy who drove up into the mountains with his
>      three-year-old child. He went out hunting and left the kid all by
>      himself in the truck. When he came back his son was frozen to
>      death. He just went off to enjoy himself, and when he came back his
>      son was dead. (p. 129)
>    Smith claims that this conversation was a coded way of commenting on
>    the absence of the other class members, and that the "man in the story
>    appears to stand for the absent students and his abandoned child
>    stands for the three students who turned up for class" (p. 130). Amy
>    and Michelle would not necessarily have been aware of this, but their
>    concerns were filtering through, none the less.
>    It is clear from the above examples that Smith has retained much of
>    the Freudian project. Here we have an attempt to uncover unconscious
>    motivations by attending to the content of conversations, which is
>    reminiscent of psychoanalysis. Analysing conversations in this manner,
>    as Smith readily admits, appears to stretch credulity at points: what
>    external measure do we have to validate such claims? Nonetheless,
>    Smith is not putting this forward as a fait accomplis but rather as an
>    open hypothesis for future refining and testing.
>    Smith's thesis presents an interesting counter to many social
>    scientists working in the constructionist tradition (see Dickins, 2004
>    for a discussion of this tradition and its weaknesses). In its mild
>    form this tradition claims that much of our knowledge about the world
>    is socially constructed in a language that does not directly represent
>    reality. Instead, we create narratives that reflect our various
>    interests, and that are malleable in the face of small-p and big-p
>    political forces. Such narration impairs our ability to deliver
>    objective knowledge about the world, according to some theorists. A
>    typical (and adequate) retort to this position is to undermine the
>    wholesale application of the concept of narration and present some
>    form of realist philosophy of science. Smith has extended this reply
>    by treating human narrative practices, in social situations, as a
>    phenomenon to be explained; as something that is patterned, seemingly
>    designed and therefore open to an adaptationist analysis. Smith has in
>    effect asked the question - "if we generate narratives then what are
>    their properties and how do we understand them?" His answer is that
>    they are highly social and indirect forms of communication that are
>    influenced by a Machiavellian module.
>    Although the book is well written and engaging, it is not entirely
>    clear how to relate the discussions of deception with the discussion
>    of unconscious influences on our narratives. One possible link is
>    through the discussion of self-deception, in which Smith outlines the
>    familiar argument that the best way to deceive others is by deceiving
>    ourselves. In this way we are so certain of the untruth that we will
>    not give away any "tells" that might undermine the necessary
>    deception. Such an idea is clearly an aspect of the relationship
>    between personal- and sub-personal-level interactions; but
>    functionally this is quite distinct from the indirect signalling
>    functions of our narratives. At most, all that can be said is that
>    both deception and indirect signalling are about social manipulation,
>    but this is too coarse-grained analysis to yield a useful evolutionary
>    psychology. Instead it seems that Smith has discussed two aspects of
>    the evolutionary Freudian project.
>    I opened this review by asking whether or not, as with the original
>    Freudian project, evolutionary psychology could ever hope to deliver
>    understanding of human troubles, and perhaps even some order of
>    therapeutic intervention. Smith has not attempted to do this (despite
>    a therapeutic background) but his thesis must surely be of interest to
>    those involved in the "talking therapies"; indeed, some of Smith's
>    examples come from therapeutic conversations. By turning an
>    adaptationist eye to the possible sub-textual social signalling of our
>    narratives we might begin to recognise patterns of expression that are
>    indicative of malaise and low-mood. We might also begin to see how
>    seemingly normal conversations between people, in whatever form of
>    relationship, are encoding and signalling discontent and frustrations.
>    Just as we are uncovering the necessary elements of emotional pain, so
>    we might uncover the ordinary sub-personal signals of everyday
>    conversation.
>    References
>    Dickins, T. E. (2004.) Social Constructionism as Cognitive Science.
>    Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 34 (4), 333-352
>    Wilson, T. D. (2002) Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive
>    Unconscious. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
>    Citation
>    Dickins, T. E. (2005). A Necessary Pain in the Heart. A Review of Why
>    We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind
>    by David Livingstone Smith. Evolutionary Psychology, 3:175-178.
>    [9]Thomas Dickins
>    9. mailto:t.dickins at uel.ac.uk
>paleopsych mailing list
>paleopsych at paleopsych.org
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