Monday, February 27, 2017

Can I Give Up Atheism for Lent for Lent?

I'll start off by saying this: yes, the title of this entry is a little confusing. But what is even more confusing is this program initiated by radical theologian Peter Rollins called Atheism for Lent. No, it's not about trying to overcome doubts that one might have in relation to God, which to me sounds pretty good, but it's about basking in the doubts of acclaimed atheist writers! Take a look at the blurb below.

Lent is a time that is traditionally reserved for a type of psychological purging that leads up to the Crucifixion. In light of this, Atheism for Lent seeks to use some of the most potent critiques of Christianity as a type of purifying fire that might help us appreciate and understand Christ’s cry of dereliction on the Cross in a new way. Just as Christ experienced the loss of God on the Cross, so Atheism for Lent invites participants into that desert space traditionally called the dark night of the soul.

What initially strikes me as strange is that "Christ experienced the loss of God on the Cross." If this is referring to Matthew 27:46, I highly doubt that Jesus doubted the existence of God. If Jesus did doubt God's existence, then why did he even cry out to him at all? To believe that God had forsaken him presupposes that God exists. Secondly, if you have an interest in the dark night of the soul, why not just read some Saint John of the Cross?

I can sympathize with this notion of trying to understand where an atheist is coming from, and of course coming to terms with one's doubts is healthy if they are already there. What I am not particularly amused by is this idea that doubting as much as possible is a good use of time. Nobody should have to feel obligated to turn their certainties into doubts just because some postmodernists say so.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Skip

Geography has been lost to a technological torrent. Survey the lay of the land. Empires, ghettos, mansions, houses, apartments, boutiques, discounts ... what does it all mean in the face of proper questions? Is there a silence apart from the cacophony? Has the world wide web become a world wide marketplace? The downtown, tenth floor office residing capitalist is no longer the only one raking in the dough. Cultural capital, social capital, and money all have their presence in the digital hemisphere, though I think such an un-nature promotes bungling to a certain extent. All of these presences are social; you need a buyer and a seller. Unfortunately, the seller is granted a more comfortable accommodation while the potential buyers must surf the net with caution, much like a surfer trying to avoid getting trapped in the coral reef! The potential buyers are assumed to be interested in buying. I suppose that's not much different than walking into a shop and having employees badger you with promotions 'cause they're working on commission. Competition, it is sad to say, prompts disappointing results every time. I guess I'm just frustrated by advertisements ... nearly nobody has the means to accumulate all of the property that's advertised to them ... is there something that could be done about this? I'm sure people have felt like this for a long time. When you watch TV, you want to skip the ads.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Questioning the "Science Says" Attitude

A few snippets from Meredith Wadman's article, "One in three scientists confesses to having sinned", published in 2005 by the notorious scientific journal "Nature":

More than a third of US scientists, in a survey of thousands, have admitted to misbehaving in the past three years. The social scientists who carried out the study of research misconduct warn that because attention is focused on high-profile, serious cases, a broader threat from more minor deeds is being missed.

Of 3,247 early- and mid-career researchers who responded, less than 1.5% admitted to falsification or plagiarism, the most serious types of misconduct listed. But 15.5% said they had changed the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source; 12.5% admitted overlooking others' use of flawed data; and 7.6% said they had circumvented minor aspects of requirements regarding the use of human subjects.

Overall, about a third admitted to at least one of the ten most serious offences on the list - a range of misbehaviours described by the authors as "striking in its breadth and prevalence".

Sunday, February 19, 2017

'Aesthetics' as a Contemporary Word

Though Hegel never used these terms, he is recognized as the creator of the following triad: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It is quite convenient, then, that there are, what I would consider, three contemporary meanings for 'aesthetics': 1) as a philosophy; 2) as a practice; 3) as a preference. The game at hand, it appears to me, is to delineate which meaning fits within each of Hegel's categories. But first, let me properly describe what I am referring to with each of these three meanings. First, aesthetics as a philosophy refers to not only the study of beauty but how 'beauty' might be defined, if at all. Second, aesthetics as a practice refers to the attempt to make things beautiful - e.g. Roberta, an aesthetician, dyes a client's hair blonde because that's what the client deems beautiful. Third, aesthetics as a preference refers to a certain characteristic or set of characteristics that a person maintains - e.g. "Black nail polish is my aesthetic," said Veronica.

Now that I have sorted out the proper definitions, it is appropriate to match these definitions to the three Hegelian stages. I would say that the thesis here is aesthetics as a practice. The reason I would not select aesthetics as a philosophy as pertaining to this stage is because part of what this comprises is the study of beauty, and to study beauty, you must first have something beautiful. All things that begin to exist must have a cause, so for any beautiful things that begin to exist they must have a cause, and it seems most clear to me that a term like practice denotes the making of something, in this case, something beautiful. From here I would say that aesthetics as a philosophy is the antithesis because it can question those practices and results which are deemed beautiful by some. Lastly, I would say that aesthetics as a preference represents the synthesis of aesthetics as a practice and a philosophy because for someone to maintain characteristics means that those characteristics came from somewhere - a practice. It is by means of philosophizing that they observe this characteristic and allow it to be of personal significance.


I should say that all of this has been motivated by Kierkegaard's three stages: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. It's interesting to note that G.K. Chesterton incorporated Kierkegaard's aesthete into his work. I came to this realization in quite a non-calculated way, as I read Chesterton's essay back in 2015 and William McDonald's entry on Kierkegaard yesterday. In Chesterton's essay On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the Small World he writes: "We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees ... The bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army." In McDonald's entry it says: "The prime motivation for the aesthete is the transformation of the boring into the interesting."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Social Construction of the Chemical Imbalance Theory: Part III

An important document that these different stages of science led to was the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), that is, the most current edition of this document. Its descriptions for depression and anxiety reveal that this document reinforces the idea that these illnesses are problems which pertain to the brain. Citing Hasler and Northoff and Ravindran et al., it is stated that many brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, amygdala, and hippocampus have been involved in persistent depressive disorder. Citing Jorge et al. 2004 and Levin et al. 2005, it is also mentioned that depression is associated with traumatic brain injury. Still yet, it has been suggested, though there is no certainty on the matter, that depression might be episodic (that is, recurring), in certain persons with static brain injuries and other CNS diseases (American Psychiatric Association).

Within the description for anxiety, there is much less detail as to the brain’s relation, considering it is only mentioned once. The brain is mentioned within the context of panic attacks, and somewhat surprisingly, no part of the brain is mentioned to cause them. Instead, it is mentioned that people with panic disorder have a tendency to overreact to non-threatening sensations, such as a mild physical symptom or a side effect from a medication. The example listed in the DSM-5 involves a person believing that their headache indicates they have a brain tumor (American Psychiatric Association). What I found most interesting whilst referring to the DSM-5 was how the chemical imbalance theory was not mentioned. I merely have guesses as to why this is the case. As will be explained in greater detail later in this paper, the viability of this explanation has been questioned, so that could be a factor. Nevertheless, I think that mentioning this information from the DSM-5, which again, is a relevant document, has affirmed my point that the chemical imbalance theory has had a major effect on how depression and anxiety are understood and treated. Since I have reached the point of talking about these medications in the contemporary context, I think it is appropriate to look at another implication of modernity: the sales and marketing of pharmaceuticals.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. “Depressive Disorders.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. 2013.


American Psychiatric Association. “Anxiety Disorders.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. 2013.

The Social Construction of the Chemical Imbalance Theory: Part II

Also of significance in the 1950s was reserpine, which is an alkaloid contained in the root of Rauwolfia serpentina. Prior to being introduced in the United States, this herbal medicine was used in India as a treatment for both psychosis and hypertension. This drug was found to have neuroleptic effects, meaning it operates as a depressant (France et al. 412). What is fascinating about this is that nearly 70 years ago, herbal medicine was intersecting with the pharmaceutical industry. Through animal studies, it was first found that serotonin was present in the CNS and affected behavior. Reserpine was found to decrease serotonin levels, and so, a hypothesis was developed that low serotonin levels caused depression (France et al. 412).

Notice here though that this study was performed on animals and not humans. As Michael B. Bracken, an epidemiologist at Yale University, mentions in an article from 2009, this has been a controversial subject for a long time. For instance, the Persian polymath Ibn Sina was writing about this topic a thousand years ago, not to mention that one of 18th century poet Alexander Pope’s most quoted statements is “The proper study of mankind is a man” (Bracken 120). For my purposes here, the most important implication is the similarity between the CNS of human and non-human animals, particularly the brain, since the CNS simply refers to the brain and spinal cord (Colman). The spinal cord is only of peripheral importance (if any at all) since antidepressants are used to treat the brain. Of course, it is common sense that human brains are more complex than non-human animal brains. 

Robert O. Duncan, a behavioral scientist from York College, offers some interesting insight on the topic. Focusing on the sub-topic of self-awareness (sometimes called metacognition), Duncan writes that this is what distinguishes humans from a majority of other animal species. He notes that the prefrontal cortex is generally regarded as the source of self-awareness, though there is no certainty in the matter. There are other factors that could have a part in this ability, such as the size of the brain, a more robust cognitive ability, as well as a greater degree of connection between brain areas (Duncan). Now, I should like to note here that self-awareness has massive implications for antidepressant usage and their effect on the body. Depression and anxiety are difficult mental states to manage precisely because of self-awareness. This is not to say that a lack of self-awareness would cause the burdensome effects of anxiety and depression for its sufferers to simply vanish into thin air. What I am saying is that self-awareness multiplies the mental pain. For instance, suppose that someone struggles with pessimism and worry, two symptoms of depression and anxiety. In particular, this person is concerned about going to a certain location where people they know are. This person does not want to go there because they have bad past experiences and are sure those experiences will happen again if they go. The person in this example could not have any of those concerns without self-reflection because it is, in part, themselves they are worried about. In addition to this, people who are concerned about their mental health, at least some of them, will go to see someone who might be able to help them, such as a doctor or a therapist. To say to oneself “I need help” is contingent upon self-reflection.

The next monumental moment in the process happened in the early 1980s, when the first SSRI, zimelidine, appeared on the market. The efficacy zimelidine had at the time not only caused other pharmaceutical companies to follow suit and add SSRIs to their repertoire of products, but also caused a re-evaluation of the serotonin hypothesis of the 1950s. The new hypothesis added that in addition to insufficient serotonin levels in the brain, depression was caused by other chemical insufficiencies, particularly, in monoamines norepinephrine and dopamine (Owens 6).

Works Cited

Bracken, Michael B. “Why animal studies are often poor predictors of human reactions to exposure.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 101, 2008, pp. 120-122. DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.2008.08k033.

Colman, Andrew M. "central nervous system." A Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2015, Oxford Reference,  www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/
acref/9780199657681.001.0001/acref-9780199657681-e-1346>.


Duncan, Robert O. “What Are the Structural Differences in the Brain between Animals That Are Self-Aware (Humans, Apes) and Other Vertebrates?” Scientific American. 2012. www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-are-the-structural-differences/.

France, Christopher M. et al. “The 'chemical imbalance' explanation for depression: Origins, lay    endorsement, and clinical implications.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, vol. 38, no. 4, 2007, pp. 411-420. DOI: 10.1037/0735-7028.38.4.411.

Owens, Michael J. “Selectivity of Antidepressants: From the Monoamine Hypothesis of Depression to the SSRI Revolution and Beyond.” The Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 65, 2004, pp. 5-10. www.psychiatrist.com.cyber.usask.ca/JCP/article/
_layouts/ppp.psych.controls/BinaryViewer.ashx?Article=/JCP/article/Pages/2004/
v65s04/v65s0402.aspx&Type=Article.

The Social Construction of the Chemical Imbalance Theory: Part I

The chemical imbalance theory was introduced in the mid-20th century. Various scientific findings brought this about, including: the potential of chlorpromazine to treat psychosis; monoamines acting as neurotransmitters in the CNS; and an understanding of how monoamines operate in the brain, such as their synthesis, storage, release, and activation. These discoveries also brought about the emergence of the discipline of psychopharmacology and the practice of treating mental disorders by means of prescribed medication (France et al. 411).

The first antidepressant drugs of the modern era, iproniazid and imipramine, were introduced in the 1950s. Originally, such drugs were used to treat tuberculosis, but when it was discovered that some tubercular patients had elevated moods upon using this medication, iproniazid and imipramine were tested on psychiatric patients both in and outside the United States. It remained a popular treatment for depression for many years until concerning potential side effects had surfaced (France et al. 411-412). This scenario shows science as a rather messy practice. It was clearly not the original intention of the doctors to use these drugs to treat depression, but rather, it was an opportunity they stumbled upon through a more calculated treatment of a different illness.


Works Cited:
France, Christopher M. et al. “The 'chemical imbalance' explanation for depression: Origins, lay    endorsement, and clinical implications.Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, vol. 38, no. 4, 2007, pp. 411-420. DOI: 10.1037/0735-7028.38.4.411.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Some Brief Thoughts on Social Constructionism

I wrote a research paper between November and December last year entitled Fringes and Folkways: Why Pharmaceutical Antidepressants are More Successful Than Herbal Medications. There's a section in that paper where I explain how the chemical imbalance theory, something that is on the pharmaceutical side of the spectrum, is a social construction. All I am claiming here is that this idea/common understanding that a chemical imbalance is a cause of depression or anxiety was something that came about through social processes. What I am not addressing in this section of the paper: a) the soundness of the chemical imbalance theory or b) the efficacy of pharmaceuticals. Scientific realists and their ilk complain that social constructionists contend that there is no such thing as objective reality, but I simply think that's an unfair assessment. All that social constructionists are really saying is that shared understandings of things are formed through social interaction - and clearly that is something quite different from saying that there would be no objective reality without socialization or our interpretations! At any rate, I wanted this to serve as a preamble to some future posts so that you know what my intentions are.

Also, I've been thinking about an epistemology that successfully combines objectivism and social constructionism. Plato wrote about the Forms, for instance, a perfect circle that exists in Heaven. Even if all the circles in the human world were erased, the perfect circle would still exist in Heaven. In fact, none of those this-world circles could exist without that perfect circle existing. Yes, humans have a part in shaping understandings of the world. Perhaps through our interaction we do not actually construct, but rather, we find things? It is by our own responsibility and work that we construct, but maybe our constructions are truly mere archetypes, pointing to the Forms. Humanly speaking, we do create, but metaphysically, we only discover.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

World Wide Web Vanity

I have come upon a prime opportunity to discuss, what I would consider to be, some plebeian tendencies. As per usual, I am focusing on ideas and not persons who have said ideas. I say this to avoid any possible perception of antagonism that may result from what I write. It's a blessing and a curse that I can't seem to think well of so many different things. My prose might cut sharp, but beyond that, I wish to do no harm.

Object 1. Instagram - Why don't we talk about pictures of vinyl? No, not hardwood flooring - I mean records. Look, I'm glad that you enjoy music - hey, I do too - but do you really have to brag about what's probably becoming another hipster artifact? Make no mistake, I do listen to records and I enjoy the record-listening experience. But it's this "limited edition, signed, 1/500, first pressing" nonsense that's annoying. And putting your record on a special stand as if it's some idol is terribly bourgeois. Secondly, pictures of other cultural capital, like alcohol. Drink (alcoholic or otherwise) is merely a tool to aid a necessary, that is, to quench one's thirst. There's nothing really interesting about that because it's a bare bones means to survival. And to think that this is what people are using to uphold the thought structure of their personal identity ... it just strikes me as rather insipid. It would seem most silly if I took a picture of a carton of chocolate milk, so why should anyone post a selfie with their PBR? If it's just what's cool, well, there's nothing really to it. The glass is truly empty.

Object 2. Comments on social media - I've noticed there's this tendency for some people to comment on a couple's picture and say "you two are just the cutest" or something to that effect. This makes me rather uncomfortable because the couple should be complimenting each other in romantic ways, rather than outsiders. I must also mention when people say they NEED something on social media, usually some materialistic object. No you don't; limited edition shoes are not necessary for survival. I have also heard the term "networking" thrown around ... I'd be fine if you called it building friendships or even making business connections, etc. but networking just sounds so ... mechanical and non-human. But I won't stop you from saying that or doing any of the other things I've mentioned in this post. This brings me to my final point: when people say you can't say that or something similar. Yes they can because they just did say that! Of course, you don't have to like what they said, but literally speaking, people can say whatever they want even if it's wrong.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For a Second

ALEC: I noticed while we were passing Le Coq Sportif that you were looking through the glass in a very distinguished way. What would cause your eyes to do that?

MARCEL: I must admit, monsieur, that my attention was captured by one of the mannequins in the display case. I can't put my finger on it, but there was something about the way it was looking out the window. While all the others were mere pronouncements of money, this one looked poor in the face.

ALEC: Ah, yes. The third one, on the left?

MARCEL: I thought there were only two?

ALEC: I am the third.

MARCEL: How do you mean?

ALEC: Don't speak for me.

MARCEL: I felt like the mannequin was an accurate depiction of me. Being is in the moment, non-calculated, often unrecognized. As long as I stared at the glass, it was there. As soon as we had passed and began strolling beside that brick wall, the image of myself had disappeared. But the absurd fact was that I was the one walking! I didn't care about the actual, the person walking, as much as the reflection in the window of the boutique.

ALEC: May I offer you a Rothmans?

MARCEL: You may but I must decline. Do you truly have such disdain for this conversation that you wish to see me cough so as to keep me from speaking?

ALEC: No, it's just that you seem ... tense.

MARCEL: I am ... now ... quite unlike when I was the image. You see, I looked past myself - not like when somebody else looks past you and there are the pangs of that disinterest - but it was like one of those moments where ... I don't know.

ALEC: Do you not wish to say something?

MARCEL: I sincerely do wish to say something, I think, but I'm not sure what. Let me think for a second ...


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nickelback is My New Favourite Band

What a strange time I find myself in. Who have I been listening to on and off all day? You guessed it: Nickelback. I should note that I have liked some Nickelback songs for quite a few years. "Far Away," "Photograph," "Savin' Me," and others are all enjoyable tracks. The problem is that Nickelback has been one of those bands that many people love to hate - that is, up until now. Only a few days ago did they release their new single "Feed the Machine." It has received surprisingly positive reviews so far, even from a site like Metal Injection, where Greg Kennelty said that it "...has some surprisingly good riffs." All I can do is laugh about this and blast their tunes. Hopefully one day I'll come to my senses and lay waste to this vain distraction (insert crying/laughing emoji here).

Edit: Shortly after publishing this, I remembered that five years ago I published a post (on an older blog) saying that Nickelback was my new favourite band. Some things simply don't change, do they?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Over a Cup of Java

His cup of java has no appeal to him. He'd knock it right off the table if it could contain itself. In a sense, his power becomes subordinate to its weakness. The dissatisfaction alone does not appease; he needs to actualize that dissatisfaction ... but I already know that he won't. He takes another sip to see if anything has changed and can feel his teeth turning slightly yellow, like a forgotten piece of white paper that's now a little easier on the eyes. I'm pretty sure the hint of vanilla keeps him coming back. It doesn't make up for the taste he dislikes, but it's somehow enough to make him think that it does - even if he doesn't really think that. Why would anything just stay in a cup like that? I feel some pity at even probing the question. Its meaning is so obvious that it doesn't even know it for itself. Perhaps that's the best way to live? And here I am, staring through a store window adorned in memorandums, watching a stranger enjoy a mere cup of joe. Why must I bide my time this way? I scratch my front tooth - the one on the right if you were facing me - or, my left. I need to brush my teeth, too.

I guess some people just don't enjoy angst. Not to say that anyone enjoys feeling angst itself ... or maybe some people do, rather sickly ... but a lot of people don't even enjoy perceiving angst. Nobody likes touching an active element on a stove, save for those who do not find it within themselves to feel the pain of coming into contact with such an object. In the same way, when a person of composed temper comes into contact with a person of angst, the composed person is likely to shy away. And if they're both filled with angst, they just won't cross paths at all. But none of this is right. The person of angst has a psychological fire ... is there really nothing pragmatic about it? Maybe pragmatic things just burn right up while in the flames ... tree branches and newspapers. What a waste of substance!

But what's pragmatic about a tree anyway, save for the oxygen they provide to their fellow creatures (conscious and non-conscious alike)? Humans must dance with their feet, but trees dance without having any feet at all. And unlike humans, they never dance to the tune of a miserable secular ethic, for instance, that of drunkenness. Trees must always dance to the rhythm of the wind, the Spirit of God, because nothing else will motivate them to move. The only way man can motivate a tree to move is through machinery, and such a method is used for the sole purpose of destruction.

Poetry is usually quite boring on its own. Nothing is as poetic as the passionate voice of a singer, no matter what they might be saying. I don't know why I write poems, either way ... not that I mentioned the ways anyway (I'm using 'way' way too much - no, not again) ... 

"Have you ever thought, even for one second, that our feelings are just a reflection of how we want to feel at that particular time?" Why are things frustrating? Though every moment is qualitatively different, I've noticed that certain patterns remain over time. Curiosity is so ambivalent ... it lets you explore the depths of the sea at one moment, and at the next, you're being reeled into the shallows of the negative. I don't know if I like this aphorism. I guess I'm just not charitable sometimes. Some people don't seem to have figured out that they don't even have 'it' figured out ... maybe they don't believe they do, but they just don't say it. Why does any of this matter? Really, I'm not a postmodernist ... and why do I even keep bringing this up? Maybe one day I'll forget about this altogether ...

I'm sure that God can imbue the human with proper certainty. If a human has an entire faculty that's filled with God, and the human loves God in return, then how could they ever go wrong?