Monday, 17 July 2006

On the Power of Psychoanalytic Theory. No, Really. forgottenboy's version of my feelings about Gladwell's Blink sounds overly sanguine to these ears. Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves may lack the narrative drive of Gladwell's books, but it is a far better introduction to the field. His narrative may stutter through the disciplinary history case-study-by-case-study, but even a shot transmission can push the needle above 55 on occasion. But I want to talk argument, not ornament. Wilson cites the articles being summarized or criticized, and his assessments are responsible and generous. Perhaps too generous. So far, I've found Wilson to be a serial under-exaggerator (even in reference to his own work) who steps delicately to avoid tripping any bullshit detectors. Still, he compels readers to connect the dots he lines up. (In Blink, those debates are obscured by the litany of experts he interviews, none of whom think it's a bad idea to present radical positions as if they were the disciplinary norm.) The most salient and alluring undotted line suggests, forcefully if not persuasively, that a person can acquire a Freudian or Lacanian unconscious by sheer force of belief. Not an actual one, mind you, since it would still reside "above" the adaptive unconscious; and not a truly "unconscious" unconscious, since it would be the product of conscious deliberation; but it could be there. In chapter four, he delves into the research into constitution of "personality," and presents the consensus opinion that people's conscious beliefs and unconscious behavior are at odds. He cites numerous studies which demonstrate, for example, that when a person and all her friends are asked to rate her on character traits like "conscientiousness" and "temper," there is almost no correlation between the person's self-evaluation and her friends' evaluations; however, there's a significant correlation, damn near a consensus, among her friends. What this speaks to, Wilson argues, is the fact that the adaptive unconscious manifests its "personality" more forcefully in social situations, in moments when reactions are instant, or almost so, and thus rely not on conscious deliberation but on the unconscious modules. Their contours are clearly visible to everyone except the person who must infer the disposition of implicit processes they can only access indirectly. We can't control those processes despite the fact that they constitute the bulk of our personality. We are what we do, not how we rationalize it. (On its face, this is a familiar model. Keep in mind, however, that the processes involved work in no way like their psychoanalytic counterparts. No family romance and all it entails.) How does Wilson know this? Like anyone interested in human cognition, he studies people with unique and/or extensive brain damage. He cites the Gazzaniga and LeDoux's famous study of the lobotomized patient whose right hemisphere (controlling the left side of his body) is flashed a picture of a snow scene on it and asked to pick the card which corresponds to it: a shovel, a can opener, a screwdriver and a saw. With his left hand he picks the shovel every time; with...
Flatter Me, Please [Note to readers: Some of the material contained within is absolutely, 100% incorrect. By "some" I mean "the stuff I linked to," not the bit about me being an asshole. Which I am, as this post proves. Sorry all, the next round's on me.] Not every article bears great fruit. Sometimes, it blossoms rotten. Doesn't matter how you approach it, you'll be gagging by the end. Case in point. Now you'd think people would recognize it as such. You'd think they'd read it, be offended, and realize that no response could escape its gravitational stupidity. Anyone could transform that "argument" into a blanket condemnation of whomever they wanted for whatever the reason. As thinking folk, we should recognize that feint for the trap it is and Fuck that! I got me enemies! I'll use any excuse to vent sense into their breathables. That'll learn 'em how to think differently 'bout things what ain't the things that article reckons. Must every poor excuse for an argument by someone you disagree with metamorphose into a whirl of unthinking self-congratulation? How many times can "You're so right!" appear on the same page before someone's hay-fever acts up? You send that many allergens flying and someone's bound to not stop sneezing. I know, I know. Who am I to deny people pleasure? Why not let 'em feel good about themselves for a change? What can I say? In this world, there are nice people and there are assholes. I reckon you can guess my affiliation. P.S. I had a much different post planned for this evening. A followup to the previous two, in which I'd to consider the status of the literary text and why it deserved the special treatment I'd afford it now that it's divorced from theories of cognition. I even whipped out my copy of Literary Interest, eager as I was to bounce my new theory off Knapp's. Then I remembered that literature's no more than an excuse for communal back-patting—a bonding ritual which ensures the survival of the pack by validating the efficacy of its idols ...

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