Archive for January, 2012

OK, I have been building up to another post for a while, I have been trying to write one on the psychology of racism but feel there are some premises that should be explained before it. The first of these is going to be the lies we choose not to process. We think, thanks to our super efficient consciousness that we know everything that is going on in our brain but that is far from the truth. There are shortcuts, design flaws, things not worth noticing and beyond all that there is the unconscious mind that actually does all the work and gets none of the thanks.

We process lies, we are told lies and we process them. We add up whether there is any truth in the statement, we analyse all things associated with the situation, previous experience, what we know about the person speaking, whether we have any evidence and then we decide whether it is the truth or not. If you want to understand this better, consider it within a conversation with someone who might be telling the truth or not. Then assess things in terms of their usual familiarity about that person and whether or not they seem more easily retrievable. They should be. We make these decisions as to a persons’ honesty, we decide how we will treat their future information and our conscious mind takes all the credit. The problem with this is that it thinks it is in control, it needs to think it is in control and contradicting that would undermine consciousness as a whole. So, it will give glimpses of this decision making process, it will allow just enough reasoning to happen consciously and it will generally just get on with things.

There is an issue with this though, we only pay attention to a decision if it is hard or if there are things attached to it that make it particularly significant. There are a few little examples in normal life that should give an idea of the complications involved. How often has, what should be a simple decision taken ages to make, simply because you had the misfortune of paying attention at the time? Things like picking from a take away menu, becomes a massive decision, taking up your entire central executive (the conscious thinking bit). Or, you have been agonizing over a decision for days, then without thinking about it at all, you realise you have made it. This highlights, for me anyway, the interaction between the unconscious and the conscious decision making bits of the brain.

There are a bunch of studies coming out at the minute and for the last 6 or 7 years that will tell you that determinism is entirely real and I do not actually disagree with this but it is far from as simple as saying ‘well if I was only ever going to make one decision, I don’t need to think about anything’. There are moral, physical, neurological and societal reasons to confuse this issue but for now, I will just say that we are conscious beings and as such, there is large element of decision making that is automatic.

So, what’s the point? Well, in this instance the unconscious decisions, the things we don’t quite bother attending to, the things like a government telling lies or a government being racist or Louise Mensch being stupid enough to think she is a feminist, these are things that should concern us but don’t seem to be doing often enough. So, why is that? I am sure there is a complexity to this answer that I would not dare to approach in all honesty but a couple of things of interest is the way we at least appear to repress things we don’t want/ don’t feel the need to pay attention to.

We think (hopefully) that all the current MP’s, for example, are scum sucking leeches that only have big business and their own interests behind every single action (if you don’t think this, then this article is particularly for you). It is precisely because we attribute things like ‘liar’, ‘cheat’ and other generally unscrupulous adjectives that they get away with things like expense scandals, giving Vodafone a couple of million £ bung and flat out lying to students in the run up to an election. It is not always as simple as that though, there are thresholds and as I have mentioned, there are some cognitive processes that play their part as well.

To attend to a decision it requires either a conscious decision, which people are conditioned out of making in terms of politics or the decision to be particularly salient to them personally. If not, then as long as it doesn’t contradict current schema’s it will be dismissed using an attitude and everything carries on. It is worth mentioning at this stage, attitudes are formations of cognitions designed to make sure we don’t waste time and energy thinking about things that we already know about. If we had to decide every element of every decision, then we would do very little else. We develop attitudes, which are automatically achieved schemata that dictate what groupings of things are associated with each thing we experience. It is a way of saving time. These develop both consciously and subconsciously and I won’t bore you with too much detail about all of that. The point is, if you think that politicians are liars, cheats and thieves and they behave like that, it is not even going to hit the conscious thought process. It is far more likely that you will just carry out about your business, happy in the fact that actually your current understanding of the world has been affirmed again. In terms of operant conditioning, you are actually rewarded for being right about being cheated and apathy ensues.

All this matters because Marxists constantly talk about raising the consciousness of the working class and people talk constantly about the apathy of a generation. The simple fact is, while people attribute these things to politicians without fighting and questioning why they should be this thing and get away with it, apathy will continue unless what they do becomes massively important and requires conscious processing because of the threat it poses for the individual. So, it is necessary for change to happen for every person to believe that every act they carry out directly affects them and just writing them off as liars and cheats is going to compound the problem. I am not saying we shouldn’t think of them as this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are both. I am saying though, that actually, the expense scandal has almost actually worked in their favour. They sacrifice a few lambs, most of them are back in work relatively unaffected and life continues for them are we get done over.


A Material Model of Consciousness

Marx and Foucault both talked about the nature of history and consciousness, where it defines what we are and who we are in an instant and in the future. Marx suggests that our consciousness is a material product of our being and that our conscious conclusions are the same. Analysing the two slightly different definitions of consciousness posited by these two theorists and many others has resulted in my research into how this would work and some of the correlations with recent psychological modelling of memory and intelligent thought.

My suggestion is that firstly, the instantaneous, unidirectional model of consciousness currently living in the slot of ‘most accepted’ theory is questionable at best. Consciousness itself is far from being a unidirectional construct where all decisions are made facing forward. Our conscious decision making process seems that way from within our consciousness as we experience everything in a temporal directionality. We also experience the phenomena of control of this and our thoughts, however this is not as it seems. The product of our consciousness is subject to change, from within and without. What Trotsky said has a different effect because of time passing and the dialectics affecting it. Memory can alter over time, even within an individual, exampled by preferential remembering (e.g. when I was just a lad, I was the best football player in our team, a claim made by at least 6 other people but without challenge this idea becomes self conditioned following the basic principle posited in Bandura’s social learning theory but without the social element) and there is a reason to believe perception alters the physicality of a thing to match each perceivers materially constructed experience of previous products/ experiences.

The first element of consciousness to be discussed will be memory. The majority of the current memory models do not allow for a multi-directional factor of memory. Those that do are not complex enough to allow for a reason this might be the case. This is important because it affects our validity as decision making moral beings. Recall of a memory is not as simple as sending a request neurologically to retrieve information stored in a filing cabinet in the brain marked ‘info A’. It is a complex matrix of inter-related information stored in various forms in different areas of the brain and reformulated in the hippocampus. Once a memory is stored, it is not safe and incorruptible. Memories are subject to decay, associative alteration, misremembering, bias, reformulation errors, incoherent transfer from short term semantic format to long term episodic format. Memory, once it is in, is one of the testaments to the astonishing complexity of the human brain and the ultimate in bad science.

That is not to suggest the science surrounding the brain is bad but that the brain itself is bad at science. When something goes wrong, rather than expose its own fallibility, it lies to you. That’s right, your brain makes it up with cognitive trickery like the completion phenomena but with a vast array of functions, including salient thought, so you don’t know it is having an off day and can’t be bothered thinking whatever you want it to properly. So, we are more complex than apes but actually, make more mistakes than them, who is smarter? It depends how you grade.

Our conscious mind is constantly lying to us. The simple fact is, we have very lazy brains and that is why visual tricks work and why two people experiencing the same event will remember it completely differently. It is a perspective thing. We are influenced and have our attention drawn to things that are most salient to us and the rest we are not that interested in and just make it up. I am not even kidding, watch this video (the link is a little example, that is pretty short and worth a watch). So, our consciousness can be wrong, it can be fooled and it is lazy. There are other examples but I won’t bore you with them all, for now please just accept me suggesting that you are all not as smart as you think you are and your brain is a bit crap.

Why does this slightly offensive rant matter to Marxist dialectical materialism? Well, the brain lies I have already talked about are an example of how what is a product of our consciousness in this instant is subject to change over time, even to be redefined by your own consciousness. This happens either as your material self alters and/or is altered by the social or the result of a prior consciousness is subject to change in itself. Take John Lennon for example, ‘Working Class Hero’ meant something totally different when it was written to what it is now, we compare it to now because we can do nothing else with the way our brain functions and we think we are comparing it using our older minds or those of us too young to remember it first time, even attempt to remember it as if we were there but we get it wrong.

The idea that our consciousness is a constant thing that cannot be altered is a rather silly one really. It is not added to until we die, it is merely altered. The social situation we are in changes our consciousness, either to fit the situation or not, depending on our temperament at the time. We feel that we have the ability to choose this but we don’t, not really. There are those of us that are naturally defiant, myself included, who think I don’t change for anyone but that is a product of a material history, in a material mind and consciousness is as a result of our history and will later be a part of our future and we are that shifting thing, that does not settle. There is a lot of talk of capitalism is modelled around our automatic brain functionality but that is actually really narrow and not nearly close to the truth, it is just close to how our mind has us perceive its own function so we don’t all get dizzy and fall down. Marx is much closer to how we work consciously.

Economists this week have suggested that we should be more like Europe in having a much shorter working week of around 20 hours. The Socialist Party (of which I am a member) demands just a 30 hour maximum working week as a transitional demand towards a socialist world. What reasons could there be for this? I am sure the obvious ones, such as people having more time and it freeing up the possibility to get some of the 1 million unemployed youth into work will be being discussed more openly in some of the press and on social networking sites and also in various left wing papers. These issues will have their place but is there a reason to consider this from a psychological perspective? Would it benefit society? How? Would mental health improve under these conditions? Would capitalism crumble under the pressure of people actually being happy in their work and home life?

The working week as it stands is one of the longest working weeks in Europe and the world. This has had implications that seemed obvious to post-industrial theorists and yet somehow hasn’t sunk in yet. This must have implications for society and as is suggested in the various articles, there would be financial benefits to having everyone working and therefore being able to significantly reduce the cost of the welfare state. That is another issue for far more capable analysts than I. What I am qualified (almost) to stand in judgement of, is the psychological implications and the therapeutic ones.

Unemployment and under-employment have huge implications for people’s mental health. People are happier when they are in work generally and often feel the gains of being employed in a very real way. It is a myth, that people who choose not to work and claim benefits (a FAR smaller number than the torygraph and the Daily Fail would have us believe), are happy and feel like they are enjoying life.  This is far from the case. Often people in these situations turn to alternatives to the gratification provided by having a happy life and a fulfilling job, with chemical means. Chemical means such as alcohol, nicotine or any other drug that affects the serotinergic pathways, which they all pretty much do in one way or another.

There are other implications linked with employment and general mental health wellbeing. Women are suggested to report depression far more often than men and one of the explanations (of many, some of which are discussed in another post and more will be after this) is that women continue to work in a domestic sense once they return home from work and without a break, this has a catastrophic effect on mental wellbeing. If young people do not work between 18 and 21 they are much less likely to work in later life and are more likely to develop a number of psychological pathologies. People who do not feel challenged or gratified in their jobs, also have a much higher report rate for mood disorders such as depression.

All of these things, as well as the financial implications play a part in pointing out that either a 20 or 30 hour working week would significantly improve not only the economy but peoples mental wellbeing generally as well. This would not just include people out of work currently achieving employment but also, people currently in work would be less likely to suffer stress related illness including heart attack and other mental health conditions.

This is all fairly obvious but I feel there is reason to discuss this in a real sense. There are clear alternatives to each of these things but purely from a mental health point of view, there is very little reason to have such a massive number of people suffering with mental health conditions and therefore unable to work. The estimated cost to the British economy alone for depression is £11bn a year, including loss of earnings due to suicide and time off work with mood disorders and prescription of anti-depressant drugs on the NHS. While this would certainly not be completely removed by the implementation of a 20 or 30 hour working week, it would reduce this amount significantly. So, benefits there for all to appreciate.

Since Thatcher’s Britain there has been a lost generation of people who have found access to work very difficult. For a better explanation than I can give of capitalism’s need for a surplus workforce see Liam Byrne, welfare and capitalism.

There is reason to believe we are facing another generation, at least, of loss but this will be an international one. This is going to ensure that recovery takes at least another generation beyond this one as it takes far longer to treat someone with depression than it would to prevent the circumstances resulting in depression. All it would take realistically is a fair chance for everyone to work on a decent wage and a decent standard of living to be provided for those incapable of work. Simple really and if they would implement this and other suggestions, we would be well on our way to a happier, more fulfilled society.

Following this post, I will be proposing a Marxist model of consciousness that will have a greater implication for discussion and mental health relating to work and life stress management but that is for another time. Feel free to comment below, I look forward to any comments.

The intention of this and the following entries are to challenge my own school of psychology and apply it to everyday life or apply everyday life to psychological phenomena and attempted explanations. Some of it will be banal and hopefully made interesting in its explanation and some of will hopefully question the nature of living in these times.

I am a psychology student, a Marxist and have interests in philosophy, most importantly, in changing the philosophy of my own school by exposing and investigating areas within it which are otherwise restricting its progress. There is growing evidence that schools like psychology are not developing anywhere close to the speed they should be due to the restrictions of capitalism and governance of academia, which is, in my opinion purposefully limiting what is discovered about human behaviour to further validate or limit the invalidation of an outdated mode of rule.

All of that will hopefully become apparent but considering all of that, I realise a need to explain some things in ways that are not immediately accessible generally. If I can ask a question in a way, that it is not being asked or start some conversations around areas that are not being covered, then I will have done something worthwhile. One of the main purposes I have given myself in the coming years and throughout my masters and PhD, is to propose a Marxist model of consciousness, with correlates in cognitive neuroscience, finding evidence in discussion and collaboration along the way.

All that being said, the nature of a consciousness with a dialectic, will mean that all that changes in the not too distant future and I will forget which opposites interpenetrated along the way (little Marx joke for ya). I welcome any questions or discussion regarding this, in fact I instant upon it. I am going into new ground with much of this and will seek to defy some conventions that will be in the least, contentious and at most, seem outrageous but that is part of the fun. The first few entries are going to be fairly heavily psychologically based and will hopefully be translated into everyday occurrences and I think the first entry, will be on a systemic refusal to address racism due to the expense it would cause. Simple explanation that it is wrong has not worked and neither have any of the other interventions tried by some truly great theorists and practitioners along the history of ablative behaviour and I think the answers are there but not popular. As we enter into a time of Popperian revolution as well as political, it is necessary to get it right this time as we cannot afford as a race, to continue allowing divide and rule to reinforce racism.