Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Mechanics of Psychological Self-Awareness

Swans Commentary, the online political and literary site, accepted my review of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” I’ve been reading and excited about Slavoj Zizek’s writings and I’ve been trying to add to my blog more. These events caused a regression to a problematic psychological approach to living which I became conscious of and tried to change.

I described the problematic psychological approach in a couple of posts in October of 2005. I was living along a spectrum whose two poles were “being an intellectual somebody” and “being an intellectual nobody.” The desired goal was to “be an intellectual somebody” and the feared failure was to “be an intellectual nobody.” The value of my life was determined along that spectrum.

This pathological spectrum is opposed by an alternative approach to life in which I try to “be myself” through following my desires. In the former approach, I imagine an external scale of recognition and rate myself according to it, in the latter approach, I follow my inner desires, interests, and what I “feel like doing.” Instead of being a split person who projects a self-judgment outside myself and then tries to live up to it, I look inward first to find the desires in the moment and then act motivated with their energy.

Recently I found myself at the computer on a day off trying to find something to do but not knowing what to do. I wanted to write or read something but didn’t know what. I’ve had enough experience with such states to know that, when they occur, I need to stop what I’m doing and just sit and do nothing. After sitting for a moment I saw that behind the pressured search for something to do was the repeated thought: “what should I do now, what should I do now…” I realized that with the recent excitements stated above, I was getting ahead myself. The desire to do things had turned into the belief that I “should” do things and so I needed to find things to do. Instead of recognizing and following desire, I was being directed by the pressure to “keep it up,” to “find something creative to do,” to find what I “should do now.” To manufacture the kind of life that I imagined I should be living. That “should” is maintained by a distance from myself. “Should” implies a model and rule to follow, some image to live up to; a molding of myself in its image. Opposed to this is the arising from within of desire: “feeling like” doing this or that and then pursing it; having an inclination to do this or that.

Realizing this seemed interesting so I felt motivated to write it down and it became what I did next, which is this piece.


Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

Regarding the psychological and beliefs questions that you commonly analyzes in this blog, I read a book by late psychoanalist and psychology professor Elizabeth Mayer entitled "Extraordinary Knowking"

She had a paranormal-like experience with a dowser, and it caused in her a very strong cognitive dissonance and attempts to rationalize that experience. She was very skeptical of these things, and her own experience made no sense to her (hence, the cognitive dissonance).

You can read a review of this interesting book here:;col1

I think this book would be of your interest, because it's very informative from a psychological point of view. Also, Mayer's reflections, ideas and thoughts as a trained psychoanalist are very interesting and informative.

It remember me of your articles on psychology of beliefs.

Regardless of one opinion about the paranormal (or spiritual experiences in general), the book is worth reading, especially for psychologists or psychoanalists.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

A lot of good reviews for this book on amazon. My interests have been elsewhere lately, but periodically I cyclical back to the paranormal question. Thanks for the reference

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

If you're interested in some good recent literature on the paranormal, I'd suggest you a couple of books (in addition to Meyer's book):

-Charles Tart's "The end of materialism" have been recently published. Tart is a psychologist, and my impression is that he has got an encyclopedic knowledge of technical literature on consciousness, psychology and parapsychology.

This is one of the best books I've ever read about these topics. I just finished reading it some days ago.

-Chris Carter's "parapsychology and the skeptics"

This book is more about the philosophical aspects of the debate on parapsychology.

Carter has a degree in philosophy from Oxford, he is not a psychologist like Tart or Meyer. So his book is more about philosophical questions than about the psychological aspects of the debate.

For instance, he has a chapter dealing with Hume's arguments against miracles (which have been used against the possibility of the paranormal too), and another dealing with Popper's philosophy of science.

There are good books about the philosophical aspects of the paranormal (e.g. Stephen Braude's books are the best I've read about it), but Carter has made a very original contribution to this debate.

In other topic, I read you review of the "slumdog" movie. I agree with your moral criticism of it. Maybe it could have been of help if you give a specific rate (e.g. 2 of 5 stars) to the reviews to know more or less accurately how do you rate it, or if you recommend it or not.

Also, I wasn't impressed with such movie. In fact, for me, "Benjamin Button" was a more interesting and better movie. I was very surprised that "Slumdog" win more Oscars.

Obviously, many people would disagree with this opinion. But as a fan of movies, I wasn't very impressed with it (it is not a bad movie either, in a technical and non-moral sense)

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Hi Z,

Tart's been around a long time. I'm more curious about Carter's book. I'd like to see how strong his case is.

It's hard to give Slumdog stars because it was so disturbing. But yes, it was technically impressive; fine in the non-moral sense, although the core story was trite: rags to riches, hero saves princess from monster. So the content was bad but the form was good.