Archive for psychology

False Beliefs

I’ve been reading cognitive psychology this morning trying to get my projects done for the end of the semester. I ran across an interesting experiment along the lines of Piaget’s conservation of volume.

In the false belief experiment a child is shown a box full of candy while two experimenters are in the room. One of the experimenters leaves and the other replaces the candy in the box with pencils and closes the box. When the experimenter returns the child is asked what the absent experimenter thinks is in the box.

Up until the age of three, children will think that the absent person believes the box to contain pencils because they can’t yet understand that what they know is not somehow also known by the other person as well.

There’s some interesting work at the Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory on an architecture that reproduces the development of false belief in artificial intelligences in Second Life.

In the first example, the AI fails to understand that the absent party has a false belief:

And in the next, an AI modeling an adult does have that ability:

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Computational Models Of No Mind

Imagine tens of thousands of years ago a couple of our ancestors manage to work out some symbolic representation for something, probably danger.

Symbols are, after all, mostly useful for social formation initially. An aggregate of communicating individuals will, in most situations, have a competitive advantage in spotting threats or food or whatever.

Eventually the symbols become more fine grained and they are used for a wider variety of social functions. I can signal that I want water or a rock or food, whatever.

Humans, eventually get the hang of recording the symbols in such a way that knowledge can aggregate. The already intense survival pressure on the capacity to manipulate symbols for oral communication goes up again.

This aggregation of symbols eventually becomes history and progresses to science.

I’ve been thinking about the Buddhist concept of “no mind” or not knowing. It’s such a counter-intuitive instruction since how does one use a brain, whose basic function is thought, to stop thinking.

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The Form Of The Revolution

I’ve been thinking about anarchism for the last couple months. Thoreau captures my basic thought with the quote:

“That government is best which governs not at all” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

My interest is primarily the second part of that statement: “when men are prepared for it.”

This is essentially the question I asked about TI’s Whatever You Like: why do some people, like Singer not eat at restaurants so they can give their money to the poor while other people pay thousands of dollars for jeweled teeth?

How do those people come to be so different?

A life where no one tries to coerce me into doing something with the threat of jail or unemployment or violence sounds pretty nice. One where I wake up in the morning and think to myself “what would I like to do today?” and then I do that.

A world full of Singers (or Ghandis or Dali Lamas or whatever) could be that way. They’d probably like some general rules like traffic lights to avoid accidents, but these are people though who, when given absolute freedom, would still do the right thing. Some mornings they would wake up and want to do things to help the less fortunate simply because they’re moral people and the suffering of others bothers them.

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Awareness — We’re Crazy

Meer DeMello

We’re All Crazy

The poor psychologists, they’re doing a good job. They really are. There are times when psychotherapy is a tremendous help, because when you’re on the verge of going insane, raving mad, you’re about to become either a psychotic or a mystic. That’s what the mystic is, the opposite of the lunatic.

Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, “Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy?” It really is. Because we are crazy. The whole world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics! The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us.

So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong! Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one.

That man called Jesus Christ — minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. The Buddha — minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying.

I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, “Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.” That’s well and accurately put. You’re going to hear lots of blasphemies during these days. “He hath blasphemed!” Because people are crazy, they’re lunatics, and the sooner you see this, the better for your mental and spiritual health.

Don’t trust them. Don’t trust your best friends. Get disillusioned with your best friends. They’re very clever. As you are in your dealings with everybody else, though you probably don’t know it. Ah, you’re so wily, and subtle, and clever. You’re putting on a great act.

I’m not being very complimentary here, am I? But I repeat: you want to wake up. You’re putting on a great act. And you don’t even know it. You think you’re being so loving. Ha! Whom are you loving? Even your self-sacrifice gives you a good feeling, doesn’t it? “I’m sacrificing myself! I’m living up to my ideal.” But you’re getting something out of it, aren’t you? You’re always getting something out of everything you do, until you wake up.

So there it is: step one. Realize that you don’t want to wake up. It’s pretty difficult to wake up when you have been hypnotized into thinking that a scrap of old newspaper is a check for a million dollars. How difficult it is to tear yourself away from that scrap of old newspaper.

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Awareness — Are We Talking About Psychology?

Plus de DeMello:

Are We Talking About Psychology In This Spirituality Course?

Is psychology more practical than spirituality? Nothing is more practical than spirituality. What can the poor psychologist do? He can only relieve the pressure. I’m a psychologist myself, and I practice psychotherapy, and I have this great conflict within me when I have to choose sometimes between psychology and spirituality. I wonder if that makes sense to anybody here. It didn’t make sense to me for many years.

I’ll explain. It didn’t make sense to me for many years until I suddenly discovered that people have to suffer enough in a relationship so that they get disillusioned with all relationships. Isn’t that a terrible thing to think? They’ve got to suffer enough in a relationship before they wake up and say, “I’m sick of it! There must be a better way of living than depending on another human being.”

And what was I doing as a psychotherapist? People were coming to me with their relationship problems, with their communication problems, etc., and sometimes what I did was a help. But sometimes, I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t, because it kept people asleep.

Maybe they should have suffered a little more. Maybe they ought to touch rock bottom and say, “I’m sick of it all.” It’s only when you’re sick of your sickness that you’ll get out of it. Most people go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it.

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Awareness — On Wanting Happiness

Mas DeMello

On Wanting Happiness

I was saying that we don’t want to be happy. We want other things. Or let’s put it more accurately: We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing. But this is really to say to our friend or to our God or to anyone, “You are my happiness. If I don’t get you, I refuse to be happy.”

It’s so important to understand that. We cannot imagine being happy without those conditions. That’s pretty accurate. We cannot conceive of being happy without them. We’ve been taught to place our happiness in them.

So that’s the first thing we need to do if we want to come awake, which is the same thing as saying: if we want to love, if we want freedom, if we want joy and peace and spirituality. In that sense, spirituality is the most practical thing in the whole wide world.

I challenge anyone to think of anything more practical than spirituality as I have defined it — not piety, not devotion, not religion, not worship, but spirituality — waking up, waking up! Look at the heartache everywhere, look at the loneliness, look at the fear, the confusion, the conflict in the hearts of people, inner conflict, outer conflict.

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Awareness — Will I Be Of Help To You In This Retreat?

Back from a relaxing weekend in the mountains, I’m feeling a bit contemplative and thought I’d read the next chapter from DeMello’s Awareness (which I started last week):

Will I Be Of Help To You In This Retreat?

Do you think I am going to help anybody? No! Oh, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t expect me to be of help to anyone. Nor do I expect to damage anyone. If you are damaged, you did it; and if you are helped, you did it. You really did! You think people help you? They don’t. You think people support you? They don’t.

There was a woman in a therapy group I was conducting once. She was a religious sister. She said to me, “I don’t feel supported by my superior.” So I said, “What do you mean by that?” And she said, “Well, my superior, the provincial superior, never shows up at the novitiate where I am in charge, never. She never says a word of appreciation.”

I said to her, “All right, let’s do a little role playing. Pretend I know your provincial superior. In fact, pretend I know exactly what she thinks about you. So I say to you (acting the part of the provincial superior), “You know, Mary, the reason I don’t come to that place you’re in is because it is the one place in the province that is trouble — free — no problems. I know you’re in charge, so all is well.’ How do you feel now?” She said, “I feel great.”

Then I said to her, “All right, would you mind leaving the room for a minute or two. This is part of the exercise.” So she did. While she was away, I said to the others in the therapy group, “I am still the provincial superior, O.K.? Mary out there is the worst novice director I have ever had in the whole history of the province. In fact, the reason I don’t go to the novitiate is because I can’t bear to see what she is up to. It’s simply awful. But if I tell her the truth, it’s only going to make those novices suffer all the more. We are getting somebody to take her place in a year or two; we are training someone. In the meantime I thought I would say those nice things to her to keep her going. What do you think of that?” They answered, “Well, it was really the only thing you could do under the circumstances?

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Where Emotions Live

I’ve got about a dozen pet theories I’m going to work on once I manage to get free of work and school and whatnot to clear my head out and think a bit.

One of them has to do with the pragmatic repercussions of meditation.

We tend to separate out emotion and cognition as separate aspects of consciousness. What if they’re not? When you respond emotionally to something, you feel it. You really feel it as a physical sensation somewhere in your body.

One of the ways that people deal with unacceptable emotional responses is to dampen their awareness of that physical response. Try to remember when you got angry but you thought you shouldn’t. For me, at least, one of the ways I stop is to pull my focus out of the anger I feel in my body and into a calmer place.

The feeling doesn’t always go away though. I’ve certainly had arguments come bubbling back up in my relationships even though it was entirely unreasonable for me to be upset. Meditation is, in no small part, about learning to be present with a feeling but not to act on it. To let things be without choosing to be driven by them.

I can let the experience of my emotions happen because even if I am being angry at a time that I don’t think I ought to be, I don’t have to worry about doing anything that I’ll later regret. If I’m not going to do anything then why not simply let myself respond how I naturally want to respond? If it doesn’t hurt anyone, why not just do what I want?

I was contemplating this as I was reading about the Emotionally Vague experiments. They took a bunch of people and had them draw on a body where they felt various emotions. Then they overlaid them all onto a single image. Can you guess which of these is joy, which is sadness and which is anger?


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On Waking Up — DeMello’s Awareness

At the suggestion of an old friend and mentor, I have begun reading Awareness by Anthony DeMello. I’ve been in a bit of a funk trying to integrate what I want to do with my life with my school responsibilities that are at best loosely tied to my deepest interests.

I know that I should feel lucky to have the opportunities and leisure that I have, but it’s a bit of a challenge to actually change my view on the world. I’m trying a triumvirate of gym visits, meditation and topping it off with working my way through this book.

I figure I’ll put the bits from DeMello here along with my own thoughts. Awareness is collected from a series of weekend talks, so it’s meant to unfold over time. I reckon people might not particularly get into reading my thoughts, but DeMello’s might prove interesting for some.

On Waking Up

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. You know, all mystics — Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

Last year on Spanish television I heard a story about this gentleman who knocks on his son’s door. “Jaime,” he says, “wake up!” Jaime answers, “I don’t want to get up, Papa.” The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.” Jaime says, “I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” asks the father. “Three reasons,” says Jaime. “First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.” And the father says, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster.” Wake up, wake up! You’ve grown up. You’re too big to be asleep. Wake up! Stop playing with your toys.

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up. That’s the reason the wise guru will not attempt to wake people up. I hope I’m going to be wise here and make no attempt whatsoever to wake you up if you are asleep. It is really none of my business, even though I say to you at times, “Wake up!” My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”

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Making Giving More Fun

I’ve been to a few different events where someone gave me something in the past few days.

The first was Warner Park’s Full Moon Pickin’ Party. It was about sixty or so folks from the Nashville area who all just showed up with their instruments and formed impromptu bluegrass bands.

The structure of bluegrass is such that the group as a whole would play the basic tune and then they’d go around the circle, and allow each artist to jam for a bit.

I’m honestly not such a bluegrass fan that I listen to it much in the car, but I really enjoy watching people make music. There’s just not the opportunities for someone to learn an instrument in their basement and get to play with a band in other genres.

Then, on Sunday, the Methodists had a BBQ lunch after church for the college students. The ladies of the church prepared deviled eggs, bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, baked beans and seventeen different desserts to go along with the meal.

In both of these times I was struck by how happy it seemed to make people just to be appreciated. Be it the musicians or the chefs, knowing that you’ve created something that made someone else happy, feels nice.

For my part, I think alot of the time I sorta hang back because I don’t want to be seen as overly enthusiastic or fawning. It’s certainly possible to try and force appreciation such that it shows as false. At the same time learning to find that place in myself that is simply happy with the music or the food or the care, and simply showing that to other people works out well for everyone. As much as it is possible to force it, it’s possible to play it cool and squelch a genuine appreciativeness.

Well, the Muslim Student Association has been doing a fast today in honor of Ramadan to raise food for the local food bank, and it’s about time to break fast. I’m pretty sure finding my appreciation oughtn’t be very hard. I’m starving. ☺

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