The Measure of a Man

Iwan Pietrowicz Pawlow's bust in front of Mosc...

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I am sitting in a class called behavioural assessment. The professor expounds. They want me to believe that I am the sum of the vectors around me. They want me to believe that I am the result of conditions, conditioning. They want me to be my behavior, and nothing more. This to me, is an unacceptable condition. We are not just Pavlovian dogs that drool at meat, we are more than just apes with a big craniums. I sense that at the root of it lies the struggle for culture, for something deeper.

We struggle to deal with the responsibility of developing our talents. Believing that we have it, because others won’t until you do. Getting past the point where you feel like it’s a car that sometimes won’t start. Trying to accept the fear that comes with setting goals. Trying to struggle to deal with limitations, to deal with the patience that it takes to sculpt the rawness of intent into form and substance. To wake up from your dreams and try to make them real, and not to feel them slip through your fingers. To give birth to your potential, to nurture it and feed it. To cut your fingernails and take out the trash in between it all. To get off the couch of your own mind and put paper to pen, either literally, metaphorically. To understand what the meta is for. Continue reading

Marvel at the Myth: Why we Need Superheroes

Dark Knight of the Soul.

I leave the theatre.
For a moment,  I am restored. My pupils are dilated.
But In the cold of light the everyday moment, the ecstasy is shattered.
The visions shrivel and implode.   The beautiful illusion evaporates.
I am upset.

But then I remember.  He is an idea. And ideas are are In my actions. In the principles that I manifest.  It has been said that Alexander the Great believed that  we were most alone when we were with the myths.  The Romans were legislators, builders and statesmen par excellence.  The Greek were scientists, poets, philosophers.

icarusWrapped in the struggles of their own situations, the characters of the Greeks were vehicles for the subtlest of truths.  Like DNA base pairs uniting in sequence, they were so much more than the sum of their parts. They were a message to be translated.  They were a constellation of allegorical wisdom, a secret map that could allow one to navigate the stormy seas home.  Sysyphus searches for a reason. Achilles chooses glory over longevity. Icarus flies too high.

But these are archaic images, foreign to the minds of a new generation.

Enter the DC universe, and Marvel at the Myth.  Men and women woven into the world that we live in. Journalists, photographers, soldiers, scientists, professors.  But behind them, and the pomp, the struggles are the same.

And this is why films like Batman Begins and the Dark Knight are so vivid, so visceral.

We taste the guilt that drives every blow that Batman strikes.
We want to see the tears of the flesh. We long for the tears of anguish, the innocence violently ripped away.
We want to rage against the dying of the knight.

As Parker leaves Mary Jane to do what he must , we acknowledge the price that power bestows.  We understand that we must leave what we love in order to truly love it.

We breathe in the grandeur.
We can feel the weight of the chips on the table as Logan rages against the past to carve a future that won’t give way to anything less than an adamantium will.

We doubt in the whole, as Magneto does, and we secretly hope for hope, as Xavier chooses to.  We want to be believe we can, but we’ve been hurt before.

These are humans with purpose. These are men and women of action. Heroes.

Through them vicariously we can witness the physical expression of the drama of our own existences. Their destinies unfold before us in mere moments, casting a brief flash upon the paths that lie shrouded in darkness before us.

Sartre spoke of existence preceding essence. Science and engineering preserve our existence, but do little for our essence.  Like all art, essence is something we manifest, create. To deny the process is to exist, but to do little else.

The principles we uphold, the rules we struggle not to break, the chances that we choose to take, these are our myths.

Mike Deodato Jr Deviant ArtFor our heroes and us, challenges abound. We sense the importance of the mission.
Deeper still, we sense the importance of a mission, any mission.
We breathe in the intoxicating scent of ambition, and our eyes are blinded by the brilliance of their vision.

The metaphor is yours to choose.  It is there for you to create. It is bound up in every image, every sound. It is the essence that you create.

The meanings that we project upon the canvas are all internal, and yet, they reveal themselves in the ways that we conduct ourselves. They determine the battles that we choose.  Every thought, action, choice, virtue stubbornly upheld, all coalesce into grooves upon which the rails of our destiny rides.

So, what’s your story?

Changing menus: Getting your drink on

As a psychologist in training, I have the unique pleasure of trying to figure out, on a regular basis, exactly what I do for a living.  When I stopped to really think about it, I think it isn’t quite entirely my fault that I still don’t know.

No, seriously. Stop laughing.

The best reason I have for blaming someone else for my sustained confusion is that the questions that psychology asks are so profound, so broad, that it would be like identifying as a ‘democrat’ or a ‘republican’. Everyone understand it’s just a bit more complicated than that, but uses those terms out of convenience.

A more developed reason is that, rapidly approaching, if not already in effect, is an era in which the question “what kind of psychologist are you”, is pretty much as natural as “what type of medical doctor are you?” I’m sure that back in the day, a doctor was the man that took care of your illness, whatever it was, and really did the best he could with the leeches and the damp towel cloth, or whatever level of understanding and technology he had. But, as time progressed, and the wealth and technology available increased, we got to a point where we have pediatricians, anesthesiologists, neurologists and dermatologists.

And when I thought more about why I didn’t know exactly what the hell I did for a living, something else occurred to me.

‘Psychology’ is dead. Now before you get upset or accuse me of being sensationalist, just gimme  a minute to ‘splain.

Originally conceived as a branch within philosophy, as the study of the mind, ‘psychology’ come so far, and gone in so many directions, that any attempt to define it is doomed to failure. Anyone that’s suffered through an introductory psychology course knows this well. It’s like the blind men who try to describe the elephant as they use their hands to feel the part closest to them. To one, it’s a like wall, to another, like a pillar, and to another still, like a rope.

Back in the day, when there was just one giant land mass, things were simpler. But as we all know, over time, things broke off,
separated and developed their own unique climates, plants and animals. Hawaii lucked out, and Greenland just had to deal with it.

The tricksy (yes, it is a word because I want to use it as one, like psychology) part of it is, time, in a rate of movement sense of the word, is speeding up. One of the key reasons for this is rapidly enhanced communication methods like the internet. Another is the fact that we can use tools which help us make better tools, which speeds up the movement of those giant moving plates that we give different names and borders to as time passes and wars are won and lost. We do to knowledge what we do to land. We fight over it, but in different ways.

With knowledge, as with tectonic plates, there’s a lot of pressure that’s been building, in different places, in different issues, as a result of this speeding up of time. And as always when plates and worlds collide, there’s a lot of damage, but in the end, what emerges is a new vista, a place of elevated height where we can see further than we’ve ever before. If we’re lucky, maybe, just maybe, we can catch that it’s not flat, but it curves, ever so slightly. Instead of on the shoulders of giants, we find ourselves on the edges of plates, and by extension, paradigms.

So, if all this take of the ground moving gives you motion sickness, don’t stress. This is good news. I promise, and everything.

In a concrete way, this means that we can carve out a critical role in preventative care as people that teach others how to take care of their bodies, and the behavior that’s so intimately connected with them. It means that we can more deeply understand and explain to others how thoughts are wrapped in language, and fired through cannons of genetics set off by environmental fuses.  It means that with positive psychology we can measure the upper limits of human mind and spirit, and train people how to reach them before we send them out to face the challenges on behalf of others.

I live in Florida at the moment, and I see the flux, I sense the sublimated chaos oozing from everywhere around me.  Even people in my own building are foreclosing on a regular basis. Chaos is a part of growth, and true change means destruction before reconstruction, and dissolution before recrystalization.

It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to write it. As a field of thought in flux, fledgling, the synthesis of so many other things synthesized before it, a great many things are now possible. Millennia old thoughts like mindfulness are being recast as therapies that help those previously thought to be forever on the cusp of self-harm. Enigmas are giving way to sharper ways of expressing truths that were always known, but never fully articulated.

Old wine in new bottles? Maybe.
Old wine in red bull? Intense! (see health psychologist)
Open bar? Sweet.

I’m not saying it will be easy, but it is being done, and will continue to be done, with or without your two cents.

Terrifying? Possibly. Exciting? Most definitely. Your choice? Always.