Posts Tagged: Psychology

Notes on Jung and Persona

He carefully recorded his dreams, fantasies, and visions, and drew, painted, and sculpted them as well. He found that his experiences tended to form themselves into persons, beginning with a wise old man and his companion, a little girl. The wise old man evolved, over a number of dreams, into a sort of spiritual guru. The little girl became “anima,” the feminine soul, who served as his main medium of communication with the deeper aspects of his unconscious. #

Good description of “anima”.

The anima and animus, in Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology, are the unconscious or true inner self of an individual, as opposed to the persona or outer aspect of the personality. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female, it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus. #

Good news – A little crazy is adaptive.

From an article on how nutty “creative types” get laid more often than their normal peers:

The study also included some known schizophrenics. And Nettle’s personality surveys revealed that the artists and poets shared certain traits with schizophrenics. Again, perhaps no big surprise. But these traits are linked with increased sexual activity, Nettle and his colleagues say (though full-blown schizophrenic patients tend to withdraw from society and have less active sex lives).

Insofar as evolution is concerned, maybe teetering on the brink is a good thing, the researchers speculate.

“These personality traits can manifest themselves in negative ways, in that a person with them is likely to be prone to the shadows of full-blown mental illness such as depression and suicidal thoughts,” Nettle said. “This research shows there are positive reasons, such as their role in mate attraction and species survival, for why these characteristics are still around.”


For example, the first of our ancestors to empathize and read facial expressions had a striking advantage. They could confirm their own social status and convince others to share food and shelter. But too much emotional acuity — when individuals overanalyze every grimace — can cause a motivational nervousness about one’s social value to morph into a relentless handicapping anxiety.

Pondering the future

Another cognitive innovation made it possible to compare potential futures. While other animals focus on the present, only humans, said Geary, “sit and worry about what will happen three years from now if I do that or this.” Our ability to think things over, and over, can be counterproductive and lead to obsessive tendencies.

Certain types of depression, however, Geary continued, may be advantageous. The lethargy and disrupted mental state can help us disengage from unattainable goals — whether it is an unrequited love or an exalted social position. Evolution likely favored individuals who pause and reassess ambitions, instead of wasting energy being blindly optimistic.

Natural selection also likely held the door open for disorders such as attention deficit. Quickly abandoning a low stimulus situation was more helpful for male hunters than female gatherers, writes Nesse, which may explain why boys are five times more likely than girls to be hyperactive.

Similarly, in its mildest form, bipolar disorder can increase productivity and creativity. Bipolar individuals (and their relatives) also often have more sex than average people, Geary noted.

Sex, and survival of one’s kids, is the whole point — as far as nature is concerned. Sometimes unpleasant mental states lead to greater reproductive success, said Geary, “so these genes stay in the gene pool.”

Tips for working with procrastinators

We all procrastinate, but why? When I try to boil it down, procrastination is fear and avoidance. It inhibits action but pushes away the gnawing anxiety of starting, the tyranny of the empty page or the empty canvas. Why do we tend to procrastinate more on big things like term papers or design work but not on small things like doing the laundry?

Procrastination does not remove the stress and uncertainty of the thing we want to avoid. But, it does buy time. We try to avoid what needs doing in the hopes that our future self will be better equipped to do it or in the hope that our little problem will resolve itself. If we acted on what we needed to do, even if nowhere near completion, we would cease to procrastinate. Completion is not the opposite of procrastination, action is. Maybe the antidote to procrastination is simply any action toward doing the things we avoid doing.

Anyway, I got the idea for this entry as a result of a clever little trick Jody played on me. She had asked me to do something for her and expecting that I might wait until the last minute to get it done she told me the deadline was actually a day earlier than it really was. So in the event I did wait until the last day and changes had to be made we had some wiggle room. At first I was annoyed since I was so stressed about getting her task done then I realized that she was just being smart; that she knew me enough to work around me. Respect!

It got me thinking. How do you work with procrastinators? How do you work around people who you know get blocked by deadlines and who always wait until the last minute? Maybe the best approach is to enter their world rather than to try to force them to work the way you want?

In considering how to positively engineer the dynamics with procrastinators, I came up with a few tips on how to work with them.

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Preventing collisions at intersections

I’ve seen several people writing about Tom Vanderbilt’s thought-provoking, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) . Every few pages there is a good idea that leads you down some mental rabbit hole. I have highlighted passages and dog-eared pages on the Kindle every time I sit down to read it. The universal experience of driving has turned us all into amateur psychoanalysts navigating complex social interactions, so the book’s popularity is understandable and says a lot about how much is going on while we’re just driving.

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Shallow versus deep

Despite my desire at times to be otherwise, I am a shallow thinker – in the sense that my normal thought pattern is more lateral and connective than deep and focused. There are few things that I know deeply, but many things I understand superficially.

I hate not knowing something and yet feel satisfied once I have understood something sufficiently well to connect it to everything else I have stored away. Like most things, it is probably best to have a foot in both camps: the ability to process large amounts of information while capable of ‘going deep’ to focus when necessary.

In my experience, most people are in one camp or another. Yet, which mode is the most ideal?

A few things I have noticed:

  1. Shallow thinkers tend to be more social relative to their deep thinking peers. Many deep thinkers are even frustratingly asocial.
  2. Deep thinkers are rare whereas the world seems to abound in shallow thinkers.
  3. Both shallow thinkers and deep thinkers get something from the presence of the other. There is a certain excitable state that emerges when capable shallow and deep thinkers get together.
  4. Shallow thinkers seem more practical and action-oriented, while deep thinkers seem drawn more to the theoretical, or at the very least, they seem more content with the thinking versus the doing.

Which type of thinking are you most comfortable with?

I started thinking about this after viewing my Google Reader Trends:

From your 203 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 8,077 items, starred 491 items, shared 1 items, and emailed 45 items.

I am also reminded of the (humbling) description of the socionics type, the ENTP at Psychological Types uncovered from the Socionics people:

ENTps are very curious and process a lot of information, similar to a gold digger washing out the soil looking for gold. And ENTps know where the “gold” is. They are often well aware of some new and unusual discoveries. Such information is usually available to everyone who is interested enough to look for it, but not many people are that bothered. ENTps ideas are often based on these discoveries and for someone who didn’t know that these findings are already in existence, ENTps ideas may look very radical and original.

Later borns and provocation

Birth order theories are interesting, especially with regard to first borns and later borns. Here’s an article from Time Magazine, The Power of Birth Order

Even more impressive is how early younger siblings develop what’s known as the theory of mind. Very small children have a hard time distinguishing the things they know from the things they assume other people know. A toddler who watches an adult hide a toy will expect that anyone who walks into the room afterward will also know where to find it, reckoning that all knowledge is universal knowledge. It usually takes a child until age 3 to learn that that’s not so. For children who have at least one elder sibling, however, the realization typically comes earlier. “When you’re less powerful, it’s advantageous to be able to anticipate what’s going on in someone else’s mind,” says Sulloway.

Later-borns, however, don’t try merely to please other people; they also try to provoke them. Richard Zweigenhaft, a professor of psychology at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., who revealed the overrepresentation of firstborns in Congress, conducted a similar study of picketers at labor demonstrations. On the occasions that the events grew unruly enough to lead to arrests, he would interview the people the police rounded up. Again and again, he found, the majority were later- or last-borns. “It was a statistically significant pattern,” says Zweigenhaft. “A disproportionate number of them were choosing to be arrested.”

Alien abductions, sleep paralysis, and the sensory homunculous

I was thinking about alien abductions the other day while I was driving around. It has always puzzled me that abductees seem to report similar accounts, especially when it comes to physical descriptions of the aliens themselves. Basically, these nocturnal, body-snatchers are always strangely humanoid in appearance: laterally symmetrical, bipedal, possessing large craniums, large stereoscopic eyes, and slender limbs with articulated hands and fingers. This has always seemed strange. After all, why would a being from another world possess a similar appearance to our own? It could easily look like a giant crab or something. It seems unlikely. Yet, this common description also suggests that there is some shared dimension to each individual abduction story. Either the abductees are making up or remembering similar experiences, or, the aliens, if they exist in any fashion manufactured or otherwise, are humanoid in appearance. There are two basic possibilities: abductees are wrong (for whatever reason) or these abductions occurred in some sense.

If we break it down further, these abductions, if based on memories, could be explained in order of increasing strangeness or practical likelihood by different theories. The reasonability of each theory is determined by your particular world view. For example, assuming the abduction memory is based on an actual experience you could posit multiple scenarios:

Scientific explanations:

  • Psychological explanation: Repressed and recovered memory An alien abduction experience could be the outgrowth of a repressed memory of an actual physical molestation by a human being, either in sleep or during childhood. The abductee could be ‘remembering’ the repressed memory of the experience in a more psychologically comprehensible way. These memories could also be faulty as is the case in many instances of recovered memory. “An experiment conducted by Harvard psychologists suggests that people who believe they have been abducted by extraterrestrials, when they try to recall a word list, make the same kinds of errors as people with recovered memories of childhood sexual molestation. The psychologists conclude that these two experiences have common roots.”
  • Psychological explanation #3: Sleep paralysis One of the most prevalent and compelling theories for abduction narratives is the possibility that alien abductions are dream-like hallucinations induced by episodes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is awakened from a REM state into essentially a normal fully awake state, but the bodily paralysis is still occurring:

    In a typical sleep-paralysis episode, a person wakes up paralyzed, senses a presence in the room, feels fear or even terror, and may hear buzzing and humming noises or see strange lights. A visible or invisible entity may even sit on their chest, shaking, strangling, or prodding them. Attempts to fight the paralysis are usually unsuccessful. It is reputedly more effective to relax or try to move just the eyes or a single finger or toe.

    Spanos et al. (1993) have pointed out the similarities between abductions and sleep paralysis. The majority of the abduction experiences they studied occurred at night, and almost 60 percent of the “intense” reports were sleep related. Of the intense experiences, nearly a quarter involved symptoms similar to sleep paralysis.

    I found this especially interesting because I did experience an episode of sleep paralysis about ten years ago. The details here are very similar to my own experience. I did awake with fear into a semi-conscious dream state and did sense the presence of someone else, although in my case I thought someone was jiggling the handle of my front door and found myself unable to rise out of bed to investigate or fight them off. I struggled to move, but could only barely move my lips and a finger on my right hand. This inability to move while you think someone is breaking into your apartment is very disconcerting.

    Since I’m reading Moby Dick, here’s an episode of sleep paralysis depicted in the book:

    At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it – half steeped in dreams – I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, s%emed closely seated by my bedside. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it.

    Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg’s pagan arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night’s events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm – unlock his bridegroom clasp – yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain.

Unscientific explanations:

  • Science-fiction explanation: Real aliens Although prudence dictates otherwise, it is possible that aliens exist and, for reasons unknown, delight in kidnapping earthlings for a few hours of licentious and/or scientific probing. Never long enough for anyone else to notice.

    From a “Kids in the Hall” skit: Alien: “We’ve been abducting and anally probing these humans for decades now, and the only thing we’ve learned is that one out of ten enjoys it.”

  • Science-fiction explanation #2: Hypersapiens My personal favorite (I swear I came up with this before The Tick episode: “Tick vs. Prehistory, The: (Episode 35 [34])). Alien abductions are being performed by evolved descendants of humanity who need something from modern humans. In The Tick, the hypersapiens need waiters for their restaurants, but if aliens are evolved humans maybe they seek ancestral DNA or something else they can only get by traveling to the past. This would explain why the aliens look humanoid. If we evolved along with our development and use of advanced technology we could become large-headed, skinny dudes due to the lack of intense physical exertion and interaction with the environment.
  • Conspiracy theory: Secret authoritarian plots. Conspiratorially-minded people sometimes attribute UFO sightings and abductions to secretive government programs. This seems more plausible for UFO sighting since these could be explained by secret test flights of new military technology.

One last thing, how do you reconcile the common alien descriptions with the sleep paralysis / recovered memory theories? One way is to attribute the common physical descriptions of the aliens to depictions in popular culture of alien lifeforms that may influence memory and recall in the group who report alien abduction memories. This is very plausible. However, what if another factor affecting these descriptions is related to how our own minds process the senses, especially vision. We know that our minds are attuned to faces and hands more so than other parts of the body like knees, etc. What if when we have to make up a person in our mind, we use a descriptive, visual shorthand: eyes, face, hands, and the rest that connects it all together?

What if when our minds are storing/creating these memories they focus mainly on information related to the face and hands? Human aspects that our brains are attuned to (see sensory homunculous). I don’t think most of us are internally creative enough to completely create a new type of creature completely foreign from experience. We use what’s nearby, our shared cultural / media experiences, and our normal shorthand for remembering people.