Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 85

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

People with multiple personalities are changing psychologists’ ideas of the self.

The “busy” trap and how to escape it.

Radical theory overturns old model of how emotions are made.

Calm yourself, write in a diary.

The psychologists who helped the CIA to torture detainees speak, trying to defend themselves. It’s chilling.


P.S.: beginning next week, the regular publication schedule for the blog will shift to essays on Tuesdays (rather than Monday) and reading suggestions on Friday (as usual). Please notice that the current duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for).

42 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 85

  1. SocraticGadfly

    I had already seen the CIA psychologists’ story. They made their own bed long ago and should have known the CIA would slough them off when they were deemed “expendable.”

    The DID article is very good. Thought-provoking beyond the sadness of people who could only maintain a sense of self by maintaining more than one.

    The emotions piece? Disagree on the idea; also, seems like it’s punching against a straw man.

    The busyness piece? A secular amen!


  2. Fernando Andrade

    I found the article on the possible origins of emotions provocative. But one thing that Barret says about the possible concept dependente of vision bothers me, babies may not have concepts about vision, and yet we see them, in very young age, following objects presented to them. This, for me, appears to be in contrast with concept dependece she argues.


  3. Massimo Post author

    Socratic, Fernando,

    I think the idea that there is a conceptual / constructivist component to emotions is beginning to be accepted on the strength of serious empirical evidence. That doesn’t mean we don’t also have basic / innate capabilities, including elemental emotional reactions and basic perception, that get started independently of conceptual assent. But as soon as we begin to reflect on our perceptions and reactions we start a continuous feedback that makes any view of emotions as separate from concepts (and hence “reason”) untenable.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fernando Andrade

    Massimo, I have to say that I pretty much like your description. One thing that always bugged me is about the impact of social and cultural aspects on the limits of our reasioning and our biases, and how they relate to our biological limitations. Are there social/cultural “setups” (and also technological) that may help us overcome biological limits? and how our current context impacts on out limitations? Althought the paper is about social constructs of emotions, I wonder the impact of those in other aspects.


  5. Thomas Jones

    With regard to the too brief articles on emotions, I couldn’t help wondering how a joint discussion between Barrett and Lieberman would go. For reasons stated in the article on Liberman’s research, there doesn’t seem to be anything noteworthy about the damping effect of labeling negative emotions other than locating the effect in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, not that I intend any criticism of this approach or its finding. But I did find the article on Barrett’s work more interesting and suggest that readers follow the link given at the end of the article where she amplifies on her findings in an interview on NPR.

    BTW, I should note that I was puzzled regarding the point of one paragraph in the Lieberman article (quoted below). Can any of the readers amplify on its significance for me?

    “Lieberman also noted a separate study at the University of Austin, in which people were asked to keep a diary for four days addressing a traumatic experience. The participants were later found to have visited the doctor less over the next six months compared to a control group asked to keep a four-day journal about neutral experiences.”


  6. Massimo Post author


    I interpreted that paragraph as reinforcing the idea (which goes back to the Hellenistic schools) that keeping a diary for self-reflection is mentally healthy and facilitated handling disruptive emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. wtc48

    I can’t relate personally to the multiple-personality problem, except in that my life has been somewhat episodic, especially as a child, and I have always been aware of a need to find a single thread between the episodes, in order to reinforce the idea of a single identity as much as possible.

    I don’t know much about psychology (and mistrust what I think I know), but I do have some experience with the technique of method acting, which is based on becoming the character one is playing, even to the extent of creating an off-stage history congruent with the one contained in the script. Perhaps this would have some use in people who have submerged personalities, to gain control over the hidden ones and be able to access them at will. A good deal of life consists in playing the appropriate role for the occasion, but it’s important not to become identified with the role of the moment to the extent that one must maintain the character at all times.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thomas Jones

    Thanks, Massimo. I get that part of it, and Lieberman acknowledges same in the article. What I was looking for is some explanation of why the control group with “neutral experiences” might visit MD’s more often.


  9. Coel

    Re: the “emotions” piece and Massimo’s comment:

    But as soon as we begin to reflect on our perceptions and reactions we start a continuous feedback that makes any view of emotions as separate from concepts (and hence “reason”) untenable.

    Agreed. If one thinks in terms of human-language concepts such as “reason”, “emotion” and “sense data” one can get the impression that these are distinct things that can be analysed separately.

    From the engineering perspective, however, given how our brains actually work, all of these things will be entwined in the same neural network and it won’t be possible to separate them, even in principle. That network will be the product of a genetic recipe, development constraints, environment, learning, social interaction, et cetera.

    Thus “thoughts” will always be products of sense data, emotions, reason and all in such a way that everything feeds into the final “thought”.

    Quoting the article:

    The classical model of emotion goes something like: You’re born with an innate suite of emotions …

    Well no, at most you’re born with a developmental recipe which is already well underway …


  10. Massimo Post author


    Ah, sorry. I interpreted that bit as providing the baseline for people visiting their doctors without the diary practice. But one would have to look at the original paper to get exactly what was going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, agreed that we all have feedback loops on emotional intelligence, labeling and development. Still think the article could have been a bit more nuanced in what it was arguing for, and what it claimed it was arguing against.

    On the diary story, I am SHOCKED you didn’t mention friend Marcus!


  12. Paul Braterman

    I remember reading (can someone identify the source?) of the discrediting of torture some centuries ago, when a sceptic got a prosecutor’s servants to confess to having worshipped the devil in the company of the prosecutor.

    Show me the instruments, and I will as quickly as I can tell you what I think you want to hear. Take someone a bit tougher, and after a while they will do the same. Take someone really tough and after resistance they will break down and tell you what THEY want YOU to hear. I wonder if some of the disastrous intelligence information surrounding recent US military adventures arose in this way.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. SocraticGadfly

    Paul, IIRC, the CIA source “Curveball” over Hussein allegedly having “WMDs” had been tortured in the past by Hussein’s forces. Surely, even without actual torture, or the threat of “rendition,” that made him more pliable to the CIA.


  14. SocraticGadfly

    More on the DID article. This partially fits with quasi-Dennett ideas of multiple drafts of consciousness and subselves. It’s that, for some people, subselves become entirely separate selves. Short of that, we exist in a spectrum of how much or how little we integrate these subselves, and per my previous thoughts on volition, this is driven at least as much by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as it is by inheritance.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Paul Braterman

    That’s exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of. The combination of the flimsiest evidence, the inappropriate conviction, and the foreseeable and deeply damaging (to the West, as well as to Hussein) outcome.


  16. wtc48

    Fernando: “Are there social/cultural “setups” (and also technological) that may help us overcome biological limits? and how our current context impacts on out limitations?”

    I think a case could be made that human culture, in its entirety, functions as an aid in overcoming biological limits.


  17. Steve G.

    I gather that there is a metaphysical distinction between what the article wishes to call “multiple personality disorder” (MPD), and “now more commonly referred to as dissociative identity disorder (DID)”.
    MPD is multiple discrete identifiable personalities, whereas DID is an abrupt, shocking disruption of what a first person “I” at present might have taken to be “me”.

    I interpret MPD as an example of scientifically obsolete Aristotelian categorization and DID as modern scientific (perhaps Heraclitean?) description of change in the absence of proper conventional language.

    The thought arises from my puzzlement with Plato’s treatment of three (out of possibly four) Platonic alternatives for the origin of language in the Cratylus.


  18. synred

    Interoception is our sense of the physiological condition of our bodies. This sense monitors our internal processes and sends status updates to the brain. Those updates come in four rudimentary signals: pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal and calmness. Emotions, Barrett claims, are formed from the brain’s attempt to make sense out of this raw data. The brain does this by taking the raw data and filtering it through our past experiences – through our learned concepts

    That does not seem that different from conventional thinking. Those are emotions, just add a little Pavlov. Likely Pavlov’s dog found the sound of the bell ‘pleasant’ and the sense of hunger ‘unpleasant.’


  19. SocraticGadfly

    Steve G., actually no. It’s the same psychosis, renamed in later versions of the DSM. And, while the name was changed to reflect better understanding of what was happening — extreme fragmentation rather than “multiple” personalities — it’s not quite exactly as you describe it. And certainly not as “Aristotelian” vs “modern.” Rather, to the degree psychology is modern, and scientific, it’s rather the attempt to become more scientific, and more modernly scientific, in general.

    Here’s Psychology Today’s explainer:

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Liam Uber

    Just a word of caution on the radical new theory of emotions. Interoception is said to refer to a ‘sense’ that we have about the state of our body: rudimentary signals are supposedly fed to the brain regarding pleasantness, unpleasantness, calmness and arousal. Fed to the brain from where?

    This is apparently a new usage of the word. Prior usage was based on the idea that there were external and internal receptors providing signals to the brain about the external world or the internal physiological state of the body. The new usage refers to phenomenological states in our minds and has very little to do with receptors per se.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Steve G.

    Socratic, The reason a scientific label in the social sciences becomes obsolete is that it does not describe the vast majority of observed cases. Actual clinically observed multiple personality disorder is very rare, whereas disruption of personal identity in many varied forms is much more common. Thus, they are not really the same.

    Naming and consequent illusion of understanding by the general reader are a serious problem even within the scientific community. Generalists do not pretend to understand the specialists’ specialized scientific terms for this reason.

    Pop science literature, from the perspective of the scientists, is a cartoon-like soft misrepresentation of the real thing. Nevertheless, this is necessary to address the ever-widening communication gap between science and the funding public.

    Actual science is not obvious, nor can it be expressed using language that arose from our ordinary everyday social experience. If that were so, there would be no need for science at all — we would just ask each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Paul Braterman

    “Pop science literature, from the perspective of the scientists, is a cartoon-like soft misrepresentation of the real thing.” Let me cite as counterexamples Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and pretty well anything by Carl Zimmer,, Alice Roberts, or Sean Carroll (either of them).

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Steve G.

    Paul, You are more knowledgeable and certainly more current than I am. As you are aware, real science is in the labs, the research journals, and in peer reception of the conclusions. The scientific terminology, the symbols of representation, the logic of those symbols and the language and logic of the interpretation of the findings is the focus of my comment.

    Popular literature, even at its very best, is far removed from the lab, the observatory, or the computational analysis. Pop science must be aimed at a particular level of readership. This requires that readability be the first concern with only as much actual science included as can be digested by the prospective readers.

    My (and Plato’s) concern is language. Ordinary language is adequate to get us through life, but to do science (or metaphysical dialectic) formalities and new logics must be introduced, simply because that’s what works.


  24. Paul Braterman

    To do science, you need specialist knowledge and a specialist vocabulary, all of which I used when I was a practicing research chemist. But I hope that my reading in, say, geology and biology, or even in philosophy, all subjects where I lack formal training, is a lot more than a “cartoon-like soft misrepresentatation”, and I admire the explanatory skills of those I choose to read.

    This matters. We have never been in greater need of broad public understanding of science (and indeed of philosophy) than we are today, and not merely in order to justify our funding.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. SocraticGadfly

    Paul, you could have cited yourself!

    Steve G. — if you want to talk about language and science, erm, cite Wittgenstein. Plato, like Aristotle, lived in a basically pre-scientific world. Also, since science is based on methodological naturalism, “metaphysical dialectic” has no place.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. SocraticGadfly

    Paul, per the late Bob Carroll’s link, yes, MPD / DID does have a “iatrogenic” connection. That said, does it not exist at all? I think not. And, contra Bob’s main thrust, while DID may be a bit “WEIRD,” per the acronym, that nonetheless doesn’t mean that, as a response to childhood sexual abuse, it shouldn’t be considered a mental disorder. That said, in such cases, it was surely the best “tool” the person had as a child. And, near the end of the piece, Bob does allow for such things.

    To take this back to Dennett, and others, on things like private mental states, psychology will never be able to make as precise of diagnoses on such things as a gastroenterologist or a cardiologist will. That’s part of us being human beings.

    Liked by 1 person

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