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Monday, February 14, 2005


Magic tricks are all to do about the independent variable, that is the thing or things you manipulate to get an intended result. But magic is all about one thing, namely the unlikely or impossible variable that the eye does not see but cannot resist believing. Of course the magician doesn’t allow you in on the trick, but nonetheless lets you know it is a trick. In other words, there is more than one independent variable than meets the eye, and indeed, as the magician cautions, seeing should mean disbelieving.

As any magician will tell you, the ones who are easiest to fool have the greatest interest in being fooled, or in believing that sleight of hand is of sleight importance, and that magical accomplishments reside in the stolidity of magic words. Indeed, scientists are the easiest to fool mainly because they have a vested interest in extraordinary causes. So rather than believing that crop circles are caused by pranksters, that ESP is a magicians trick, or that ‘hypnotic’ behavior can be caused by ordinary motives, a ‘scientist’ would demur, and write articles, found journals, and avert the eyes of millions to a new intellectual movement that following the footsteps of Galileo and Darwin will revolutionize the world. And so in the large we have the trick of human behavior reduced to a magic word that is no more than metaphor, and ‘reinforcement’, ‘selfish genes’, and ‘intrinsic motivators’ change behavior like, well, abracadabra.

Now you see it....

So dear reader, I am sure that you personally think that you are quite resistant to this intellectual flimflam. To which I say that you too have a need to believe. So, here’s an intellectual trick for you, one that has been foisted upon the most banal and brilliant minds. Indeed, I will even reveal its secret to you, which a magician would only hint, and a con-man (or should we say scientist?) conceal or deny.

First, get in a quiet place, and eliminate all intrusive thoughts and distractions. Pronounce the magic words abracadabra, and keep doing so for the next twenty or so minutes. Voila! You will feel relaxed, alert, supercharged! And it’s all because you’ve learned to meditate, or more plainly, elicit a relaxation response. Since repeating a nonsense word seems to be the only independent variable around that correlates with all these great states of mind, it stands to reason that the magic is all in the word, and that nature has conspired to hard wire a relaxation response to the trivial neural buzz of a thought.

So where you may ask are the hidden variables in a psychological space so hermetically sealed? Why in the quiet of course. Doing nothing and thinking of nothing is an independent variable, since it represents the escape not only conscious thoughts, but also of the nonconscious arousal or anticipation of imminent things. In a resting state, thinking becomes more acute, our muscles are relaxed, and a magic word is merely a redundant and unnecessary key. Indeed, if abracadabra caused good feelings, it wouldn’t matter where you mumbled the words, but common sense reveals that perseveration in thinking doesn’t help much when you are in traffic, watching TV, or are awaiting the gallows. Magic words you see still need repose to work their magic, but repose needs only itself. But without magic meditation is a non thing, or nothing really. That’s the bad thing about behavior when it is made plain. It can’t make a living for a magician, and it can’t for a psychologist either. So economics if not truth dictates that we will always have magic, and for psychology, the eternal verity of magic words.

For more on the parlor magic of meditation, I have more than a few things to say, as you may find here.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Off to see the Wizard

As goes the tale, Dorothy was whisked out by a tornado to a strange land populated by quaint, odd, and sometimes scary creatures. Naturally, she wanted to find a way home. That required a trip to the wizard. Ensconced in green hall in a green castle and hidden behind a veil of fog and flame, he was an outsized face full of angry bluster. Dorothy just wanted a way out. It was a simple question that any oversized disembodied angry head could answer. The answer that Dorothy got instead was a scavenger hunt, just find a witch’s broomstick and the head would oblige an answer. When Dorothy returned with the broom, the angry head huffed and puffed, and asked her to come back later. As Dorothy stammered in frustration, her dog sniffed out the real wizard, a little old man turning dials and pulling cords behind a curtain. He was merely a road show magician, a con man really, and as he confessed, it seemed that Dorothy really knew the way home after all.

Mezmer asks Steven Pinker a question. Posted by Hello

As a writer with more than severe case of skepticism about the field of psychology, it’s often that when walking the odd paths of the land of academic psychology, I just want to get home, and return to the comfortable certainties of everyday existence. Yet when I lay these certainties out to the munchkins and fairies of rarefied academe, it’s always the same answer, ‘go off to see the wizard!’ When trapped in the twisty roads of this intellectual landscape, even the yellow brick road leads to a dead end, as the wizard himself is as clueless as a toadstool. Such an attitude pretty much frames my communications with academic psychologists, who like the wizard of oz, are more inclined to set you off on scavenger hunts, or more often, not respond to you at all. It’s enough to set one off in a spasm of ridicule and satire, a response to which I confess. But try it yourself. Have a question on psychology, or worse, an idea about psychology that you need some clarification, and google up some wizardly psychologist who knows it all and has the smoke, flame, and journal articles to prove it. Then ask him a question. If he responds, get ready to go looking for some old broomstick, and when you come back to be asked to come back some other day.

Friday, February 04, 2005

DNA to GO!

Recently, a geneticist predicted that we could soon not only map the human genome, but also map our individual DNA, putting it literally on a CD, and giving the concept of long play a new meaning. Personally, if we know the code, namely ours,, we can predict things like our longevity, susceptibility to disease, and perhaps our inclination to vote republican or believe in God (see god gene).

The problem is, people are profoundly ambivalent about predicting the future. It’s nice to prognosticate that the Red Sox will win the world series, but to actually know the outcome beforehand is a downright bummer. We like to know that we are likely to live until we are eighty, that our favorite teams will probably have winning seasons, and that we will have on average 2.5 kids, but to know these facts with absolute precision is downright depressing.

There is a tension between likely and absolute knowledge when knowledge imparts important things in your life. We are born in uncertain worlds, but are also made for uncertain worlds. That is perhaps a lesson that will temper the human reach for omniscience. Perhaps God know that but is rather uncertain about it.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Stupid Sex Self Help Books

The One Minute Lover by Donald Giovanni

The newest blockbuster by the author of 'The One Minute Manager', 'The One Minute Neurosurgeon', and the 'One Minute Egg', the One Minute Lover will show you how you can get into the really steamy parts of a relationship with a minimum of those boring conversations that tend to pervade modern courtship. You'll learn about such one minute praisings, cajolings, and other assorted one liners as 'You look beautiful', 'My place or yours', and 'I'll give you a call', that will give you the reputation with the ladies in no time. If you've been groping for words, these little phrases will have you physically groping with a new loved one each week. This book is a companion work to the equally terse 'The One Minute Relationship'.

With a few well placed lines, you too can be an irresistable guy!

How to Make Love to a Pillow By Jack Downy

It is available, soft, subtle, and gently yielding to the touch. And what's more, it's waiting for you on your bed! It's not a girl, it's eiderdown! Follow Jack as he shows you how a soft pillow and a very healthy imagination can set your love life free from a sad dependence on troublesome females. You'll learn about all sorts of new love making positions that your pillow can take, such as the supine, recline, incline, and Laz-y-boy positions. For those of you who have kinkier tastes, Jack will also show you how to make love to your mattress, your washing machine, and large casaba melons.

Soft and Yielding Love Object

The Wendy's Dilemma by Dr. Ronald McDonald

A sad feminine distress of modern times occurs when a lady is overcome by an uncontrollable longing for something hot and juicy, when she knows that to submit to that urge will compromise her longings for interpersonal affairs which are also hot and juicy. This dilemma is often resolved when a lady is forced to commit herself to either Weight-Watchers or the local health spa. Dr. McDonald shows that much of the feminine lust for burgers and other fast foods is due to the hidden subconscious connotations of such suggestive foods as the Big Mac, the Whaler, the Whopper, and the MacWeenie. All in all, this book is the latest triumph of the psychoanalytic tradition.

Meat Size can be very important, not to mention the Buns

Foolish Women, Foolish Statistics by Dr. G. Gallup

Presently, many single women are understandably upset and traumatized by the new statistics that tell them that if they are over 30 and unmarried, they probably won't get married, won't or can't have kids, and that half of the human race will be dead of new and strange social diseases by the end of the decade. Dr. Gallup shows that this strange new psychological malady is best cured by going to the heart of the matter, namely the ineptly prepared statistics that women are foolish enough to accept. Using the technique of linear regression of deviance, he shows you how you can set up your own statistical sample, and prove to your own satisfaction that all men are noble and desire only your company, that life begins at 30, and that for the half of humanity that is going to die soon, you wouldn't have wanted to date any of them anyway. Dr. Gallup is also known for his books 'The Crash of 1996', 'Peace in our Time: The Foreign Policy Triumphs of Bill Clinton', and 'The Coming Internet Boom'.

Love 'til You Throw Up by Dr. Leo Bulemia

By the author of 'Real Wimps Eat Quiche', the good doctor advises that a good dose of loving is what's necessary to make bad relationships good, and good relationships better. If a loved one ignores you, doesn't pick up the check, and doesn't return your phone calls, he just needs more loving! So love him all the more, love him until you turn into a worn doormat, in short, love him 'til you throw up. After you throw up, you'll feel a lot better, because by then you've probably realized what a dummy you've been to have put up with the jerk for so long.

The Joy of Lusting by J. Carter

Much has been written about loving another person, but chances are when we're sexually interested in someone, are we likely to fantasize about soft focus picnics in verdant meadows, skipping about arm in arm with our beloved while being accompanied by the string section of the New York Philharmonic? Heck no! We're more likely to be engaging in fantasies that would have done Attila the Hun proud. That's 'cause you're not in love, you're in lust! Whereas we tend to be extremely finicky about who we will fall in love with, lust is a lot more democratic, and everybody can be its object. The author defends this often neglected and derided emotion, and he guides you through the delightful vagaries of lustful experience. You'll learn about the subtle delights of unrequited lust, lusting in your heart, and lusting for the girl next door, your neighbor's wife, and even inanimate objects like department store mannequins. And what's best, you can do all this lusting in the comort of your own delusions!

Ain't daydreams Swell!

I'm Ok, You're a Total Idiot by Dr. D. Rickles

Sometimes, we all feel like we are composed of separate little persons, each struggling to gain control over our personalities. Sigmun Freud attempted to show that our behavior is governed by rational and irrational elements that often struggle unconsciously to gain influence over our behavior. Now, with this seminal work, Dr. Rickles demonstrates that our behavior is not governed by the unconscious struggle between rational and irrational forces, but rather between the rational and the idiotic. How often do we do something really dumb, like dating someone who we know is not good for us, and then with the inevitable break up, we say to ourselves, I must have been a total idiot to have gotten involved with him or her! This can be a frightful admission, since it shows that there is an idiotic little person within us all that is just waiting to throw a proverbial pie in the face of someone we love, or in the worst case, to set us up to have a pie in our own face.

The author shows that the human psyche is divided into three parts: the adult, the child, and the total idiot. By understanding these forces, we can learn to tie psychic tin cans to the idiotic in all of us, so as to be warned when that little monster begins to stir us into dumb behavior

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Meditation as Rest: A Simple Explanation

Could the logical argument be made that meditative
states are merely homeostatic resting states, and that
the very concept of meditation (which imputes
simulus-response or S-R causes of relaxation) be abandoned?

Yes, and here is a simple explanation why.

The question is not to dispute whether relaxation as
the core element of ‘meditation’ is a response, but
rather if a ‘relaxation response’ is homeostatic in
nature, or in other words, is a taxonomy for automatic
self regulation mechanisms that represent a state of
equilibrium. Like sleep, respiration, or other self
regulatory mechanisms, rest has been shown to require
no stimulus event for its induction, and no contingent
event for its reinforcement. Given this fact, then
inductive procedures for rest do not mediate or cause
resting, but rather eliminate behavioral events (e.g.
thoughts, distractions) that interfere with resting
and move the body from a steady state or set point
which is rest. In other words, such procedures
indirectly rather than directly mediate rest. It
follows that states of rest occur when such behavioral
events are eliminated. This may be achieved through
any procedure which performs this function, whether it
be focused attention (TM, Benson’s Relaxation
Response) (Benson, 1974), deprivation of stimuli
through flotation rest (Jacobs et al. 1984, Fine &
Turner, 1982), or avoidance of thoughtful rumination
and distraction (Davidson et al., 2003 ) (resting,
mindfulness meditation). This results in the
prediction that the dependent measures of rest across
procedures should be the same, a prediction generally
confirmed by a recent comparison of the dependent
neurological measures of different meditative
protocols (Newberg & Iverson, 2003).

Although the question that rest is a taxonomy for a
collection of homeostatic mechanisms has never been
addressed directly in the experimental literature,
separate findings do point to this conclusion. For
example, resting reflects involuntary responses that
have a behavioral representation in increased levels
of endogenous opiods and decreased levels of
epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol (Turner and
Fine, 1983), and unique neural activation
patterns(Raichle et al., 2001, Greicius et al., 2003).
These correlate in turn with subjective
representations of pleasure, resistance to pain
(Turner and Fine, 1985), and enhanced self
awareness(Wicker et al., 2003). It may be argued that
these events parallel the objective and subjective
measure of meditation in all its forms.

If resting is indeed a homeostatic response set, then
its metaphorical representation as meditation or the
relaxation response must be abandoned, because the
stimulus-response or S-R mechanisms imputed
by these concepts (attention-relaxation link) could
not exist.

Finally, this argument corresponds with Holmes
(1984,1988) original meta analysis comparing and
equating resting and meditative induction procedures
with dependent variables as measured by biochemical,
neurological, and other somatic indices. Although
Holmes addressed the issue of correlation, he did not
define rest nor address the equally important issue of
causation, thus leaving open the question whether
relaxation was a function of S-R mechanisms
(attention-relaxation link), or was a state of
homeostasis. Indeed, if relaxation is homeostatic in
nature, it indirectly confirms Holmes original
conclusion that meditative states are equivalent with


Benson, H. (1974) The Relaxation Response, New York:

Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J.,
Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F.,
Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., and
Sheridan, J.F.(2003) Alterations in brain and immune
function produced by mindfulness meditation.
Psychosomatic Medicine, 65: 4; 564-70

Fine, T.H. and Turner, J.W., Jr. (1982) The Effects of
Brief Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy in
the Treatment of Essential Hypertension. Behavior
Research and Therapy, 20, 567-70.

Fine, T.H. & Turner, J.W., Jr. (1985). Rest-assisted
relaxation and chronic pain. Health and Clinical
Psychology, 4, 511-518.

Greicius, M. D. Krasnow, B., Reiss, A. L., & Menon, V.
(2003) Functional connectivity in the resting brain: A
network analysis of the default mode hypothesis, Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. 100, 253-258

Holmes, D. S. (1984) Meditation and somatic arousal
reduction. A review of the experimental evidence.
American Psychologist, 39(1), 1-10

Holmes, D. S. (1988) The influence of meditation
versus rest on physiological arousal: a second
evaluation. In Michael A. West (Ed.) The Psychology of
Meditation, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Newberg, A. B. , Iverson, J. (2003) The neural basis
of the complex mental task of meditation,
neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations.
Medical Hypotheses, 61, 2, 282-291

Jacobs, G., Heilbronner, R., and Stanley, J. (1984)
The Effects of Short-Term Flotation REST on
Relaxation: A Controlled Study. Health Psychology, 3,

Raichle, M. E., MacLeod, A. M., Snyder, A. Z., Powers
W. J., Gusnard, D. A. & Shulman, G. L. (2001) A
default mode of brain function, Proc. Natl. Acad.
Sci., 98, 676-682

Turner, J.W., Jr. and Fine, T.H. (1983) Effects of
Relaxation Associated with Brief Restricted
Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) on Plasma
Cortisol, ACTH, and LH. Biofeedback and
Self-Regulation, 8, 115-126.

Wicker, B., Ruby, P., Royet, J. P., and Fonlupt, P.
(2003) A relation between rest and the self in the
brain? Brain Research: Brain Research Reviews, 43(2),