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Monday, July 09, 2007

Jaak Panksepp and Attila's Gold

If you want to find the good stuff for any topic, from the arts to the sciences, you go directly to the source, which happens to be the human being who best knows and can most easily communicate or construct beautiful or knowing things. So if you want good music or literature, Mozart and Shakespeare are names you can trust. Their thematic catalogs are easily available, you can access them easily and in general for free, and you can readily find good explanations about them and their work on the web. Part of this is due to the antiquarian impulse in scholarship, which doesn't rest until all the minutiae of great minds of the past are excavated, dusted off, and reassembled like shards of ancient pottery. So if you want any of the old stuff, from the geography books of the philosopher Pliny to musical scores by Telemann, their work is but a mouse click away.

Sadly, only 10% of texts from the ancient world come down to us, the rest infringed not so much by copyright but by folks like Attila the Hun. Still, if Attila could hold copyright for ransom, he would have preferred that method to a bonfire. After all, if there's gold to be had in intellectual property, it's just as good as the real thing. Ironically, for the common man, surveying the knowledge of the past is a whole lot easier than surveying the knowledge of the present, which thanks to modern day Attilas, is 'freely' available, for a little gold of course.

Herman J. Attila Jr., PhD
Founder of the American Psychological Association

Consider present day psychologists and their research. First is the problem of publication. Good articles are published in academic journals for no one to see except those solitary folks who haunt college libraries, and stupid articles are published on internet and are meant to appeal to our stupidity. (Yup, that includes a lot of my stuff, but they are supposed to be stupid!). And if you want a particular article without having to make a trip to Podunk U, its only $42.50 plus tax, an extortionary bill that would do Attila proud. Luckily, many psychologists say the hell with APA (American Psychological Association) copyright restrictions and publish some of their stuff anyways on the Net. You can find these papers scattered across the web with no particular organizing principle. And that presents yet another problem. For psychologists of note or those who think they should be noted, you would expect that they would use the internet to aggrandize their popularity and repute by organizing and summarizing their meager extant scribblings so as to communicate better to the great intellectually unwashed like you and me.

And you would be wrong.

Go the website of almost any psychologist, and you will invariably read a vitae filled with endless literary accomplishments, but usually neither its explanatory context nor its content is available to you. In other words, they present to you not their wisdom, but their resume! Consider the web site of the distinguished neuro-psychologist Jaak Panksepp. Reading his vitae, you know he has written many great articles, but chances are you'll never read them in your lifetime. Compare him to the ancient Greek playwright Euripides. Like Panksepp, Euripides was an eloquent expositor of the affective nature of the human condition. Of Euripides eighty two plays only 18 come down to us, the rest are fragments. Compare this to Panksepp's over 300 articles of which only 1% come down to us, or more accurately, can be loaded down by us. Ironically, we know more about a fragmentary Greek playwright than the fragmented and hidden works of psychologists, of whom Panksepp is only one small example. In sum, we live in a new dark age, or should I say an age in which we are kept in the dark.

For more on Jaak Panksepp, take a look at my new e-book on the psychology of the internet: 

As an exemplar of how to make the most of the fragmentary, the sites of the psychologist Pawel Lewicki and behavioral neuro-scientist Kent Berridge are some of the few that get it right. Both represent mini-educations in themselves.


Conrad said...

Ironically, I stumbled onto your web site looking for downloadable articles by Panksepp ;). I fully agree with your main points, but isn't this kind of proprietary ownership that our society is based on. From information to seeds, we work to squeeze every cent we can get out of whatever we have produced. "You get nothing for nothing" is a familiar phrase.

A thumbs up to online libraries with free subscription, authors as you have mentioned, and the ability to search google with the phrase "filetype:pdf"

Anyways, thanks for an interesting and thought provoking, free post.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog via the search for the Vita of Jaak Panksepp and wanted to get informed about a potential direct relationship to Paul D. Mac Lean without success; however, I want you to know yet that you talked about "the self-centered types of thought, where individuals persist in persuing very limited and specialized lines of cognitive activity" - so to speak, the akademic autism Panksepp himself is well knowing (Affective Neuroscience [1998], Appendix A) - Roman Morgenroth