excerpted from caro's journal: topic: reading

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2001_08_29:17: Minor Adjustments

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Anthony Robbins's Ultimate Power
Insects of the Los Angeles Basin
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2001_06_20:16: Testing

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All Objectivity, all the time.
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2000-11-04:22:26

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There's so much to read and write elsewhere, I haven't had time to write here. Lots to do for the summer meeting. November 1st was the first deadline to be met for potential paper presenters, and with that there came a flood of email, attachments, miscommunications, acknowledgements, and all manner of correspondence. With that mostly out of the way now, I can settle down to actually read the submissions, see what I can put on the web site, see what I have to have redone or what I have to reject altogether, and start getting things ready for publication. Then there'll be a little break, before Round Two.

Round Two might be December 1st. The online calendar of philosophy events to which I sent the announcement, wasn't coming out til November. Rather than not list, I let them make the date December 1st. Or, nothing will appear then, and the next round is farther off. And so for now the most pressing things will be the online conference in January, Objectivity< /i> and a pack of little programming projects which I suppose don't count as reading.

And that means that I can move on at last to propositions.
Too much participation on email lists.
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2008_05_24:16: Why and How

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I am reading no novels at the moment. I blame Gerry and Desiree for this.
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2001_09_13:22: Should We Laugh

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I've been recommending Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror all month, because I think that Objectivists tend to be foolishly unaware of their own emotions as well as those of others. As of this date, I consider it required reading, for understanding oneself and others, now more than ever.
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2001-04-05:02: Porn, Dogs, and Seduction.html

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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's Dogs Never Lie About Love, and James Herriot's All Things Bright And Beautiful: light reading before sleep to clear my head of facts and propositions and entities and justice.

Herriot I discovered in high school, and I've read his books many times since. I'd forgotten how much I loved them and why. He has an eye for beauty and humor and an interest in everyday detail, and I find animals inherently interesting anyway. His love of nature and domestic animals is tangible; he bathes in the English countryside and has a gift for description. I'm toying with the idea of writing a review. Not this week.

Masson's book is a great contrast. While Herriot is a man who lived a great, full life and was a great story-teller who said, "You know what? I think I'll write all this down!" Masson seems to have had an assignment before him: write about dog love. One detail I find offensive from the outset is that he seems to have got his three dogs so that he would have a subject to study. He does seem to like the dogs, but I take this to be a happy accident.

He's done a lot of research into what other people have written about dog behavior, and the quotes are jammed into the pages--but it reads more like a list than a coherent document. Frequently he misinterprets authors whom he's quoted at length, or experiments he's cited, or he doesn't provide the part of the experiment that he intends to cite. For example, he says
A series of experiments conducted by A. J. Brodbeck in 1954 showed that feeding was not a necessary part of the development of the social bond. One group of puppies were automatically fed by a machine and the other group were fed by a person. The hand-fed puppies vocalized more at the sight of the experimenter, but this was the only important difference between the two groups of puppies. So love on the part of the dog does not seem conditioned merely by what we provide the dog, nor simply a recognition that we are a source of food. A dog does not love a robot that gives it food, but is capable of loving people who never feed it.
It's a book that delivers more "Hunh?"'s per page! I'm not even sure I could speculate as to what he thinks the connection between the description and his conclusion is. It's likely that he drew his conclusion from the study, but got mixed up when he described it. He was supposed to show us that the treatment of the puppies was the same aside from having either human or mechanical feeders, and that their behavior was radically different; instead, he showed us that their treatment was very different, but their behavior was pretty much the same regardless.

He really could use a few lessons in objectivist method. He often comes close to an understanding of how such high-level notions as love occur, and how some things get included into categories and others excluded, but a few sentences later he gets it all wrong again. He scolds authors for personifying dogs, and then personifies them unselfconsciously. He's more inclined to keep repeating the word for a concept than to try to explain why he is attributing the property it signifies to an animal.

Here's a good discussion:
Disappointment is a word we use to indicate a feeling we all experience and exhibit in various ways to others. The same emotion we see in other humans is written in the faces of dogs, in their eyes, ears, deportment. It is not anthropomorphism to observe the same signs in them as we see in other people...
and a bad discussion:
When one of my three dogs strays too far from the others and I continue walking, oblivious, I will notice that the other two stop and wait for their companion to return. They look at me as if to let me know that this is the right thing to do, and that I should wait, too. They do not want to continue until the pack is complete. This act is surely indicative of compassion, just as in the case of the wolves. Of course, we could explain it in other ways; there is always another explanation, whether for human or animal compassion--it is really self-interest, for instance, or disguised selfishness, with hopes of a favor in return. But even if there is some truth in these explanations, they do not cancel out the element that derives from love and compassion because they cannot explain away the feelings that accompany those actions.
Here, it seems as if he was called out of the room and lost his train of thought in the middle of the paragraph, and then couldn't find it again. The very thing that he's supposed to be arguing for is that the act is indicative of the emotion of compassion; and he's begun to try to prove instead that we can't reduce the feeling of compassion to something else, because we'll still have compassion to explain. Moreover, his considered objections are straw men: another good explanation for the behavior is, for example, that dogs in a pack are in the habit of keeping the pack together, and if one dog falls away, the other ones need to go pick her up. This simple, low-level explanation is one that should occur to him, given how much attention he gives to pack psychology. The introduction of an even more complicated psychological phenomenon--disguised selfishness--as a possible alternative to his own theory, comes out of left field. A great deal of the book is like this. Love receives discussions similar to this throughout, but the chapter on love is particularly bad. While I can easily grant, for the sake of discussion, that dogs exhibit the same sorts of behavior that humans exhibit when they are sick-in-love, he just takes it as obvious that most of dog behavior can be accounted for in terms of their love for us. Not only has ne not show that their cooperative behavior is necessarily to be construed as loving, but there is also a lot of dog behavior that is positively the opposite of what we would include under the human category of loving behavior. The odd thing is that he actually recounts (in other chapters) much of this behavior: biting, fighting, failure to respond to commands, growling, running away, destructiveness--and killing babies! He notes that "The main victims of fatal dog bites are children, and most of these result from attacks on sleeping infants." Who would let a dog into the room with a sleeping baby? People who trusted the dog and thought it loved them and their baby, and who had presumably judged that it loved them on the basis of its outward love-like dog-behavior. What does he have to say about that?

He theorizes a lot, but it doesn't seem to bother him that the theories don't cohere with one another, or that the evidence he's presented doesn't support the theories. When he says of the relationship between terminally ill people and the dogs that visit them, "[Ill people] have every reason to be depressed, but seeing these healthy, happy animals lifts them, momentarily at least, from their sadness. I think it may make the dogs feel good, too, as if they know that they are bringing some pleasure to otherwise dreary lives," he is on better grounds for the former speculation than for the latter, since he gives evidence that the people are doing better but says nothing about the dogs.

I could excuse all this as an inductive, exploratory exercise, except that his general approach seems to be the false alternative. He just doesn't consider facts and explanations that are right before his eyes.

I adore animals and especially dogs. I love to think about their behavior and their minds in relation to mine. I love to anthropomorphize. So although I'm not a trained researcher, I have a lot of experience thinking about the subject, and it seems to me that he doesn't. He's not adding anything to my non-expert general conceptual framework. He's just chatting amicably and bit absent-mindedly.

On the bright side, there are lots of short anecdotes that are fun to consider, though he's not much of a story-teller. Again, too many of these are abbreviated and packed in, so that it reads more like an annotated bibliography than a discussion, and they frequently don't prove his point or he infers 'way too much from them. But dog stories are hard to ruin, and hard dog-facts are always handy to know, and there's plenty to be had of both. I just wonder if I can trust them all.
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2000-12-28:18:05

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Instant Emotional Healing: Acupressure for the Emotions, by Peter Lambrou and George Pratt.



(Note: This is the full text of a letter I just sent to a small mailing list owned by Branden). The Dear who sent me the book is Tom Radcliffe.

I've just finished the first reading of chapter 4, "Energy Alignment:
Correcting Polarity Reversals". I've tried the exercises there a couple of
times but don't have any comments to make about that yet.

I have some highly critical (critical, not skeptical) remarks I'd like to
share.
_________________________________________________

The introduction and chapter one are all about talking the skeptic into
having an open mind about the technique. There are lots of stories. I
don't believe them. Here's why: While the traumas and neuroses are
somewhat described, they all end the same way: "And they lived happily
ever after." This fails to convince me simply because there's so little to
it. Maybe that's really true, but then that tells me that something
_other_ than these stories is what they need to be giving me. I was fairly
excited about learning about this stuff. I've gotten enthusiastic
endorsements from devotees, and I've heard from people that I respect
intellectually that they thought there might be something to it. The book
was purchased for me because I forwarded Nathaniel's note about it to a
friend who'd heard a testimonial, and because I love techniques and
methods and because I want instant emotional healing. Given that buildup,
I was rather embarrassed by the Non-Stop Hype of the intro and chapter
one. I am still trying to decide whether I should be seriously displeased
and call them up (they're in La Jolla, my fair city) and ask them wuzzup,
or whether I should start my own Best Seller Instantly!

I'm not as impressed by who they are as they might suppose. I have little
evidence that psychologists and medical practitioners are particularly
good researchers or particularly clear thinkers. It strikes me that these
two are in need of some logic classes. I'll get to that later in my
vicious rant. Hint for those who can't wait: "Studies by Larry Dossey,
M.D., have shown that prayer can be a healing agent, even prayers over
very long distances, directed to people unknown to those praying" (p. 43).
No, they haven't.

________________________________________________

Ah, good, now on to chapter 2. I've studied Thomas Kuhn in some detail,
and I know about paradigm shifts and resistance thereto. Basic idea:
theory-ladenness of perception and understanding and research, meaning
that we very often see only that for which we are prepared. I was fairly
surprised that they wanted to stretch this out into an entire chapter,
when they know very well I'm chomping at the bit to get healed but am too
scholarly for my own good and am afraid I will miss an important bit.

Unfortunately, this chapter is worse than hype; it is fallacious from
beginning to end. By 'fallacious' I mean 'offering what looks like
arguments, but which are actually sets of statements irrelevant to the
conclusion'. The conclusion is "Tapping isn't all that kooky." The alleged
argument is "Look at all the things that people thought were kooky and
turned out not to be!"

Ok, I looked at those. How about god? That turned out to be kooky. What
about water sprites? Psychic prediction? Horror-scopes? Santa Claus,
leprachauns, spontaneous generation of rats from old newspaper? The Loch
Ness Monster, ether, the homonculous. I guess I can stop now.

What they're trying to do here is argue that their technique isn't bogus.
The reason that they're giving is *that people are saying that it is
bogus*.

Let me write that in standard form:


Some ideas that people at first thought were bogus, turned out to be
right.

People think our idea is bogus.
_________
Therefore, our idea will turn out to be right.


Of course, they're not coming out and saying the conclusion. They are
offering an elliptical argument, and enthymeme, which leaves the drawing
of the conclusion to the audience. Because the audience has to exert the
mental effort of drawing the conclusion on its own, it is more powerful.

But it's still wrong.

I am definitely now becoming seriously displeased. It would be one thing
if the authors bored me by citing lists of statistics or giving me
extended lessons in psychology; at least I could say, It's boring but it's
true. Instead, they are hyping for all they're worth, wasting my precious
time with FALSE things. At this point, it does not bode well for the
theory, that they refuse to offer an argument, some data, some stats,
some history, ANYTHING to actually support their theory. It makes me worry
that they don't believe it either, or they believe it for very, very bad
reasons. And all this build-up? Placebo, for one; and suspension of
thought, for another.

I'm not entirely opposed to placeboes, as some people seem to be. If my
mind is powerful enough to cure my broken leg just by sheer force of
belief, I am all for it. Talk me into it. But I was under the impression
that there is more to this particular technique, and I'd prefer to get
that first. I have therefore been skimming each example of how similar
their current plight in the scientific arena is to Columbus, Reichenbach,
Wright, etc. I am interested enough in having this technique work for me,
that I'd be willing to go through the hype again on the off chance that
therein lies instant emotional healing.

But I seriously suspect that the point of the hype and the fallacies is to
lull me into a non-critical state of mind. Maybe they really do know
something, but they think I'm too stupid or too repressed to hear the
message unless I suspend critical thought first and just accept the theory
on the basis of arguments that have mass appeal. Or maybe they realize
that they got nuthin but they'd like to have lots of clients and sell lots
of books--and if it helps the more gullible people via placebo effect,
that's really good marketing too.

It is not my natural inclination to be stubbornly skeptical. I like to try
all kinds of new things, a la Pollyanna, who tries to find something to be
glad about in everything. I am working tremendously hard to find something
to be glad about in these first three sections, and I did actually find
something, but it ain't the meridian tapping. Rather, I am slowly and
somewhat painfully coming to the realization that I will soon be a
millionaire--and I haven't even tapped on anything yet! This is how it's
done. This is how the psychics do it, this is how L. Ron Hubbard did it.
Is this what I must do? Is there some way to make this OK? Or do I just
get the money and worry about my integrity later?

__________________________________________________

Here I am at chapter 3. So far, they haven't actually said anything;
it's all been overature and courtship dances. I'm politely overlooking the
clumsy insults to my intelligence because I really want to like this
suitor and I can overlook some pretty monstrous vices without half trying.

I'm going to reread this chapter and the next. I'd like some words
defined. What is 'energy'? What is an energy field? What is thought
energy? What is a thought field?

Questions: What does a nurse touching a patient's body have to do with
people praying for the patient at a distance? Were there controlled
studies done? What were those like? Did the patient have any beliefs about
people praying for him or her? About god and healing? Did the nurses and
candystripers chat about god's goodness and how their aunts were praying
for the sick people and most especially you?

What does the fact that thought is beyond our current ability to measure,
have to do with action at a distance?

What is thought polarity? If it is, as I currently gather, inconsistent
thoughts or resistance to certain ideas that I hold, then what has that to
do with magnetite in my pituitary gland and in those of geese?

If I've got blockages in my meridians, what has that got to do with
crossing my left wrist over my right, and my right ankle over my left, but
always opposite? The meridians can flow through one hand to the other?
What if I get my hands wrapped around for the Balanced Breathing Exercise,
but I lay my hands on my left shoulder and lay my head on my hands--is
that OK, or will I disrupt the polarity of my thoughts?

Is the language of energy meridians and thought fields really necessary,
or can we say the same thing by acknowledging that we live in our whole
bodies, that our nervous system includes brain and all nerves which are
everywhere? Could I just say "the nerve running down my left arm" instead
of "thought field"? Is the Polarity Reversal (PR) Exercise really about
polarity, or about getting past contradictory sets of beliefs to make
self-acceptance possible?

Why do I need to know all this _psychology_ to get the tapping to work?

I hope to find answers to these questions as I read.

I am trying all the exercises as I go, as is my wont. I think I might have
noticed effects from the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
exercise. I found that both times I tried it, I focused on a disturbing
incident that bothers me perennially. Usually when I think about such
things, or just brood or feel pissed off, I think about only that one
thing--that's part of the problem! I found that each time, other memories
came to me and seemed importantly related and better integrated. This is
interesting to me because what I _thought_ was supposed to happen was that
I'd just feel better about the incidents; I can't say yet whether I feel
better, but they seem to have more context and make more sense now. I'd
like to document things like this as I go along through the book because
I'm afraid I'll forget what it was like when I started, and then I'd like
to compare them with other people's experiences. I'll be publishing my
study of the book in my online journal and probably formalizing it for the
Enlightenment web site, but I thought I'd give you all a preview since
it's assigned reading for the next meeting. I probably won't be there, so
I am flinging my thought energy at you from a distance; I thought it might
help if I also flung my email at you, given how resistent you all have
been to my recent psychic communiques.

Ciao!

Carolyn
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2001-02-07:19:32

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Wow, I have read a lot over the past two months! Dave Barry's Guide to Guys, was very funny though largely false (or at least I hope so). Einstein's Moon: Bell's Theorem and the Curious Quest for Quantum Reality by David Peat was my primer on the state of physicists' philosophical acumen today (not good). I swing between chomping at the bit to get started on the paper with Tom, and just pretending the whole thing never happened. And
Instant Emotional Healing: Acupressure for the Emotions, which is an embarrassment to the psychological community, and to the human race. I wrote about the first few chapters in an earlier entry. The next chapters were better, but only because they should have been chapters of a different book. Nice lightweight discussions of emotions, distinctions therebetween, and some definitions. I hope that this part sinks in for people, because this is the actual information provided in the book.

Because I am not a natural business person or marketeer, and because I am a philosopher and a person who tries to behave as virtuously as she knows how, I find it difficult to deal with the fact that this sort of hype can not only get people to buy the book but that it can convince people who read it that the book actually said something. The responses that I got to the comments I made, really shook me up, disoriented me, made me feel alone in an alien world. And thus the effect of Instant Emotional Healing on me was extended emotional and philosophical disappointment and crisis.

But I'm feeling much better now. That restructuring of my conceptual scheme and my opinion of humans in general needed to be done, and now that it is done I am all the more determined to strive for the best.
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2001_07_06:15: Sundry Aversions

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Accidentally finished reading a slimey little book that Tom thoughtfully left here after the Annual Meeting. Frank Abignale, Jr.'s Catch Me If You Can. The nominal subject is Abignale's amazing three years of extensive criminal activity. Secondarily, thoughout the book Abignale inadvertantly demonstrates exactly the way that men should not think about women. Note well: I didn't say, "the way that men should not talk about women." I said, "the way that men should not think about women." If he didn't think this way about women, he would never talk this way about them. I think most men will miss this when they read the book, but he thinks about the companies he's scamming and the women he's attracted to in exactly the same way. Very instructive.
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2001_07_20:18: Social Considerations

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Made a startling discovery this month and followup observations to collect more data. Working hypothesis: most people on the internet can't read. Specifically, I hypothesize that they either don't visually perceive, or can't conceptually decipher, logical connectives. They get some nouns and some verbs, and that's about it. That's how they can respond to a well-argued piece that argues for proposition X, lambasting the writer for believing proposition Not-X.

When I read, I comb the text. I never skim; or, if I skim, I don't offer any opinion because I only skimmed. That's because I might have missed, or misinterpreted, some logical connectives. I want to make sure my interpretation is accurate. This inhibition seems to be missing from most people.

Maybe also, contrary to my earlier hypothesis, it's not the case that I embarrass less easily, but rather more easily than most people. I see exchanges on the internet all the time that I would be embarrassed to have taken part in, because the misinterpretations are incredibly stupid. Yet they are determined to repeat the mistake, instead of learning from it.