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Early factual mistake in “The Moral Landscape”
Posted: 11 January 2011 09:27 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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On p.2 of “The Moral Landscape”, Sam asserts that “facts about physical and mental health” transcend culture, later asserting that “schizophrenia is still schizophrenia” even in the highlands of New Guinea.

Facts about physical health may well be cross-cultural, but to make such an assertion about mental health is peculiarly ironic given the recent (2010) publication of “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche”, by Ethan Watters. This book, with several hundred citations of research articles, points out quite emphatically that mental health and mental illness are strongly culture-dependent: even the most fundamental symptoms and subjective experiences of mental illness are heavily influenced by the expectations and beliefs of the sufferer and the surrounding society. To add to the irony, Chapter 3 of Watters is entirely devoted to pointing out the ways in which the presentation, experience, and outcome of schizophrenia are affected by the sufferer’s cultural and social context.

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Posted: 12 January 2011 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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The first obvious question; is Watters’ take established psychology, controversial, or just Watters’ take?

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Posted: 12 January 2011 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:07 AM

The first obvious question; is Watters’ take established psychology, controversial, or just Watters’ take?

Given the density of research citations, it’s certainly not “just Watters’ take”. A quick run through the bibliography for Chapter 1 alone turns up citations to:

Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
American Journal of Psychiatry (2)
American Psychologist (2)
Applied Developmental Science
Archives of General Psychiatry
Asian Journal of Social Psychology
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
British Journal of Medical Psychology
British Journal of Psychiatry (5)
Child Development
Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (8)
European Eating Disorders Review (3)
Family Social Work
Hong Kong Medical Journal
International Journal of Eating Disorders (7)
International Journal of Health Services
International Journal of Social Psychiatry (3)
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Journal of Adolescence
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Journal of Anxiety Disorders
Journal of Comparative Family Studies
Journal of Family Therapy
Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Journal of Psychiatric Research
Nature
Pain Medicine
Psychiatric Clinics of North America (2)
Psychological Medicine (3)
Psychology: Interpersonal and Biological Processes
Psychopathology
Psychosomatic Medicine (2)
Social Science and Medicine (6)
Social Work in Mental Health
Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior
Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review (2)
Transcultural Psychiatry (2)

The list above is limited to technical and professional journals; I’ve ignored books (even those from respected academic presses), non-technical journals, newspaper articles, and the like. I am not sufficiently current in the psychological literature to know whether Watters’ thesis is “controversial” within the field, but there is clearly a large body of published research supporting it.

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Posted: 12 January 2011 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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yorkdobyns - 12 January 2011 10:18 PM
SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:07 AM

The first obvious question; is Watters’ take established psychology, controversial, or just Watters’ take?

Given the density of research citations, it’s certainly not “just Watters’ take”. A quick run through the bibliography for Chapter 1 alone turns up citations to:

...

The list above is limited to technical and professional journals; I’ve ignored books (even those from respected academic presses), non-technical journals, newspaper articles, and the like. I am not sufficiently current in the psychological literature to know whether Watters’ thesis is “controversial” within the field, but there is clearly a large body of published research supporting it.

So you’re presuming all of the references support Watters’ take?

Isn’t that the question?

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Posted: 12 January 2011 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:00 PM
yorkdobyns - 12 January 2011 10:18 PM
SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:07 AM

The first obvious question; is Watters’ take established psychology, controversial, or just Watters’ take?

...

So you’re presuming all of the references support Watters’ take?

Isn’t that the question?

I would find it very surprising if any author cited references that refute his main argument. In general, authors cite material they’re using, as opposed to material they’re ignoring. Contrarian references therefore usually appear only as sources for contrary arguments that are presented to be refuted, as a way of strengthening the main thesis by visibly disposing of potential criticisms. While I certainly don’t have time to re-do all of Watters’ research, a few spot-checks on his cites verify that they’re real articles in real journals, and the abstracts are consistent with Watters’ claims.

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Posted: 12 January 2011 08:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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yorkdobyns - 13 January 2011 12:49 AM
SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:00 PM
yorkdobyns - 12 January 2011 10:18 PM
SkepticX - 12 January 2011 11:07 AM

The first obvious question; is Watters’ take established psychology, controversial, or just Watters’ take?

...

So you’re presuming all of the references support Watters’ take?

Isn’t that the question?

I would find it very surprising if any author cited references that refute his main argument. In general, authors cite material they’re using, as opposed to material they’re ignoring. Contrarian references therefore usually appear only as sources for contrary arguments that are presented to be refuted, as a way of strengthening the main thesis by visibly disposing of potential criticisms. While I certainly don’t have time to re-do all of Watters’ research, a few spot-checks on his cites verify that they’re real articles in real journals, and the abstracts are consistent with Watters’ claims.

Ah ... the references were from Watters’ book.

The next question is whether or not they really do support what he claims they do.

Sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it’s hard to determine without a lot of education and careful scrutiny. Unfortunately discrepancies like that are more common with social science, so you have to do more homework to verify a source, and that source’s sources. It’s particularly bad with controversial topics, like guns and violence, drugs, crime and punishment, etc.

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Posted: 20 January 2011 06:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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yorkdobyns - 12 January 2011 02:27 AM

  To add to the irony, Chapter 3 of Watters is entirely devoted to pointing out the ways in which the presentation, experience, and outcome of schizophrenia are affected by the sufferer’s cultural and social context.

your interpretation of Watters supports Harris’s comment that “schizophrenia is still schizophrenia (regardless of culture). You are talking about various cultural “outcomes and affects” UPON the sufferer of schizophrenia. Note: there is still the sufferer of schizophrenia. You may have been too busy reacting to read properly.

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Posted: 28 January 2011 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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gragor - 20 January 2011 11:44 PM
yorkdobyns - 12 January 2011 02:27 AM

  To add to the irony, Chapter 3 of Watters is entirely devoted to pointing out the ways in which the presentation, experience, and outcome of schizophrenia are affected by the sufferer’s cultural and social context.

your interpretation of Watters supports Harris’s comment that “schizophrenia is still schizophrenia (regardless of culture). You are talking about various cultural “outcomes and affects” UPON the sufferer of schizophrenia. Note: there is still the sufferer of schizophrenia. You may have been too busy reacting to read properly.

Yes, but since no universally accepted differential diagnosis for schizophrenia is available, it remains a vaguely-defined mental dysfunction. It seems safe to assume that various cultural systems define whatever it is that schizophrenia seems to be, in diverse ways.
http://www.amazon.com/Psychiatry-Science-Thomas-Stephen-Szasz/dp/0815609108/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296222112&sr=1-3

[ Edited: 28 January 2011 05:43 AM by nv]
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Posted: 28 January 2011 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Yes, a vaguely defined mental dysfunction called “schizoprenia” in Western terminology. And then, added to this mental dysfunction (which obviously seems to have cross-cultural similarities) are aberrations due to cultural context. Here is another vague definition: “Tree”. Now there would be various cultural contexts that would influence how this phenomena maybe defined. An English speaking person roaming other areas of the globe will still define certain phenomena as “tree”. A particular culture may see a tree differently, due to, say, cultural stories that may assume a reason for the existence of what Westerners define scientifically as “tree”, but from a Western scientific perspective it is still a tree. The same could be said for certain mental aberrations in various cultures that behave similarly to a Western “shizophrenic”. A Western person, who is highly qualified in order to distinguish human behavioural characteristics, would quite conceivably be able to recognize “scizophrenia” across cultures. Afterall, we all experience the same range of emotions. Where we differ emotionally can be due to cultural expectations. For example; arranged marriage. A woman that has had her husband arranged for her may feel culturally pressured to merely act as if she is happy (for reasons of family honour) while actually feeling sensations of disempowerment. Consequently, such cultural pressure will inevitably induce various degrees of split-mindedness, or “schizophrenic” tendencies (one can’t actually feel happy and powerless if we are to assume, rightly, in my opinion, that happiness is real power).

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Posted: 28 January 2011 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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gragor - 28 January 2011 11:35 AM

. . . A woman that has had her husband arranged for her may feel culturally pressured to merely act as if she is happy (for reasons of family honour) while actually feeling sensations of disempowerment. Consequently, such cultural pressure will inevitably induce various degrees of split-mindedness, or “schizophrenic” tendencies (one can’t actually feel happy and powerless if we are to assume, rightly, in my opinion, that happiness is real power).

But the split of schizophrenia separates (supposedly) the rational from the irrational, not pretense from authentic response. So should I assume your point is metaphorical?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 28 January 2011 05:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I don’t see a discrepancy between “rational” and “authentic”, or “irrational” and “pretense”. “Feeling happy” ought to result from rationality (or “reason”, as defined by a moral code implied in Sam Harris’s book) and “pretense”, or pretending to be happy, out of some need to survive within an irrational (or immoral, as defined in the same book) cultural rule (for adherence to a political cultural structure) is un-authentic. Non-authentic is an equal metaphor to pretense, or pretending. An endevour in the direction of a morality that lessens a “splitting” of mind, therefore toward a happy (whole-mind) state of being (or “well-being) seems to be a rational, authentic and right way to proceed for humanity (or “humane state”).

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Posted: 28 January 2011 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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It may be that the mental condition called schizophrenia represents a more functional state of being in some cultural settings than in others, looking across both time and geography. For example, a society that normally functions with significantly high levels of magical thinking—which seems to me to be roughly in the same camp as some forms of schizophrenia—might incorporate the ways of (at least certain) schizophrenic individuals into the mix of everyday meaning with great joy and celebration. Much of benefit could potentially be there. Their reasoned approaches toward people with schizophrenia could be very different from typical 21st-century Western reasoned approaches, wouldn’t you say? Studying moral ways of such differing cultures would require taking all of this sort of stuff into account, but I doubt if Harris would agree with me here.

Maybe a comparison to autism would help. Autism can be a terribly challenging disability when severe. But many of the milder kinds of cases seem not to be debilitating at all. The autism spectrum contains much of high value, in fact, if you agree with the people who put together this piece:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_on_the_autistic_spectrum

Our current culture values a lot of things within the scope of what high-functioning autistic people tend to excel at, and in those regions that have the economic strength to be able to handle it, all who are afflicted / blessed with autism are taken care of / admired.

Am I drawing a specific commonality between autism and schizophrenia here? I have a feeling I may not be doing so, or at least not clearly. Besides, Harris’ point about schizophrenia was only a point in passing—something he spent no more than a brief couple of words with.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 29 January 2011 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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I see your point (maybe?). An attitude (cultural or otherwise) will change the perception of a “condition” and so, therefore, doesn’t necessarily have to be regarded as a dysfunction. One could then say that a condition does not necessitate that it be suffered, either, by the one who has the condition, or others seemingly choosing to, in some sort of angst and reactive fashion, “suffer” that others, whom they share their culture with, have a “shizophrenic” condition.

I agree with Harris that “facts (about health conditions) transcend culture”. I think he may merely be saying that a schizophrenic, regardless of his culture, maybe more accepted into their society if scientific facts are more widely known about such conditions. “Scientific facts” though, are themselves subject to a moral science, and he seems to advocate a science of morality. A new field of science it appears, so therefore new facts.

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Posted: 30 January 2011 01:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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I offer this personal anecdote to clarify my above post.
I have a niece who is diagnosed as Paranoid Schizophrenic and subsequently is medicated for it. As a young child she used to have conversations with “friends” that no-one else in her family could see. Her family became paranoid of her. Paranoid of her (at this stage) mere “schizophrenic” condition. By all accounts she wasn’t initially unhappy (or paranoid) about her conversational experiences. Her “well-being” was probably high on a scale. In the course of her upbringing within a growing atmospheric environment of paranoia (her family) she learned to mirror the condition of paranoia as reflected by her family. In essence her parents and younger siblings, as influenced by the parents, lacked understanding about this girl’s relatively harmless “schizophrenic” condition. Her family CULTURE was actually a paranoid state. The emotional state of her family was, quite typically, a paranoid one. And what do paranoid and uneducated parents do typically in this situation? They seek “professional” advice which consists of hard pharmaceutical drugs. The “professional”, or medical “expert”, of course, also demonstrates paranoia. Afterall, the “experts” are educated in a generally paranoid society, or culture (of ignorance) where there is a lot of misunderstanding about indiviual’s experiences that do not reflect their own.
And so, my niece was once only (and harmlessly) “schizophrenic”. Now? She has learned and, therefore, is successfully a “Paranoid Schizophrenic”. She is a “successful” and “integrated” member of a paranoid family and paranoid society. And what could her state of “well-being” be on a scale now. On a society scale it would probably be slightly low, but probably very low if we “raised the bar” as a society by considering Well-Being as a science. If we all learn to become “well”, by becoming less ignorant about our brains, then it must come to pass that we actually BRING UP our children rather than fear their individual conditions (individuality), and, therefore, bring them down (to our generally fearful and paranoid level). It is not surprising to see “professionals” criticising Sam Harris’s work. It is merely fear of the dark. A “dark” that could actually be lightened (or enlightened) by new ground. New science. New morality. An eventual enlightened society perhaps.
Brain science, as proposed by the likes of Sam Harris, could eventually cut through all of our conventionally programmed shit.

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Posted: 30 January 2011 06:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Gragor, I appreciate hearing about your neice. Your anecdote is clarifying, and I agree that today’s cultures typically rely unnecessarily on paranoid responses to mental health issues. I suppose it depends on where you live—that’s how disparate and disorganized mental-health answers seem to be today. Show your child to a professional, and one will say one thing; another may very well come up with something entirely different. I run a small home for developmentally disabled kids, and took in a child 6 or 7 years ago who had a psychiatrist’s diagnosis of autism. The social workers and psychologists alerted me to doubts about the diagnosis, so I quickly made an appointment with the diagnosing psychiatrist and was soon sitting across from him in his office, discussing B’s autism, which was not autism at all. The autism diagnosis was soon gone, though it seemed to some to be a risky thing to do (remove an autism diagnosis) because autism tends to open up educational opportunities like nothing else. But such opportunities had not worked in B’s past, so I didn’t see any reason to continue trying to con the world into wasting money on damaging yet expensive approaches.)

B, at the tender age of 10, had never managed to integrate himself into any class he’d been assigned to because he was so disruptive that he ended up being isolated by the teachers, either in a corner of the classroom or outside the door in the open air. Teachers and social workers were in the habit of treating B as though he had autism, but B, it turned out, had something more like tourettes syndrome. Once the mental health professionals and educators found a more productive diagnosis (and tourettes was never actually an official diagnosis—just a guiding principle for a short time), B started to improve. He’s now a teenager and has been back with his mother for 4 years. He’s been attending a small school that specializes in taking students who have Asperger’s, and now wants to go to one of the regular high schools so he can participate in sports, which apparently will happen soon. As a teenager, he’s now even learning how to read and write, finally.

We don’t seem to know how to react to those who are not within our control, so we react with moral instinct, which is very often a completely different approach from what might turn out to be a mentally productive approach—something that employs flatness of emotion in the face of behavioral chaos. A “morality” (traditional) approach, so to speak, to education fails a child like B, and I suspect it fails lots of others, as well.

Yes, science-style knowledge about ourselves desperately needs to spread somehow. I suspect and hope that it’s happening gradually, but appearances can be deceiving. It will probably take a long time if it is to occur at all. But, as you suggest, it certainly is all about knowledge.

I try to keep in mind that such a result is actually not so out of reach, if we (parents, siblings, teachers, careproviders, etc.) can just manage to contain our emotional/instincual responses and utilize them or set them aside according to the needs of the child. I look at how a diagnosis that’s diametrically opposed to reality can destroy a child’s life, and compare it to a diagnosis that is only inaccurate—not diametrically opposed—to the actual nature of the disorder. The merely inaccurate diagnosis ended up saving a life.

This is the sort of stuff I had in mind while writing the above posts, gragor. I’ve got lots of other stories I could tell that are similar, though. (Don’t worry—I won’t.) My point is that a disabling mental condition might be disabling only due to the ignorance of those who surround the person. In B’s case, it appears to me that his former teachers were mentally disabled, rather than the child.

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Posted: 30 January 2011 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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nonverbal - 30 January 2011 11:16 AM

. . . B, at the tender age of 10, had never managed to integrate himself into any class he’d been assigned to because he was so disruptive that he ended up being isolated by the teachers, either in a corner of the classroom or outside the door in the open air. Teachers and social workers were in the habit of treating B as though he had autism, . . .

I should clarify that school teachers and principals where I live don’t treat autism by shunting children out the door. In B’s case, educational approaches for autism, perhaps because B did not have autism, didn’t work. They had an opposite effect on B’s classroom success, and that’s how B got excluded from the others every time he entered his classroom until he was 10 years old.

Sorry if my wording was confusing.

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