Archive for December, 2012

Cojones of Self-Awareness

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Donald Bersoff, PhD, JD is 2013 President of the American Psychological Association. In an interview with Monitor (APA publication) he was asked: “Why did you run for president?”

“There is a narcissistic part of it, and a doing good part. [Bersoff goes on to explain the “doing good” part by stating his particular executive priorities for the organization; and then continues about the narcissistic part.] The narcissistic part is, to take part in a profession for 50 years and then finally have the opportunity to lead it is a great honor.”

Instantly I trust the man!
And instantly I wonder about whether our national presidential leaders have the same cojones of self-awareness. (See my prior post Psychology of Presidential Ambition for additional context).

Self-aware narcissism is just another name for healthy ambition.

In My Own Secret Life

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Parts of Leonard Cohen’s song “In My Secret Life” (mostly the mood and some phrases) make me think of the strange life of a modern-day psychotherapist (of course, just from my own view from within):

It’s a life of absolute secrecy, a fearless witnessing of fellow sufferers in a rushed flow of existence, an ever-evolving dance of emotional intimacy, an all out effort to be there for an otherwise random stranger, a relentless pursuit of two-way authenticity, and a battle against oversimplification, and a battle for boundaries, and, yes, a war against the Dealer of Duality. And all of it from a comfortably lonely orbit of metacognitive distance…

Sometimes there is more to it and sometimes there is much less. What a strange life!

Here’s Leonard (I’ve highlighted in bold the verbiage that relates to what I am saying; some of these lines express my point-of-view, others seem to capture the fragments of clients’ thoughts, the frequent-flyer sentiments, if you wish; I’ve also added a couple of notes at the bottom):

I saw you this morning.
You were moving so fast.

Can’t seem to loosen my grip
On the past.
And I miss you so much.
There’s no one in sight.
And we’re still making love
In My Secret Life.

I smile when I’m angry. I cheat and I lie.
I do what I have to do
To get by.
But I know what is wrong,
And I know what is right.
And I’d die for the truth
In My Secret Life.

Hold on, hold on, my brother.
My sister, hold on tight.
I finally got my orders.
I’ll be marching through the morning,
Marching through the night,
Moving cross the borders
Of My Secret Life.

Looked through the paper.
Makes you want to cry.
Nobody cares if the people
Live or die.
And the dealer wants you thinking
That it’s either black or white.
Thank G-d it’s not that simple
In My Secret Life.

I bite my lip.
I buy what I’m told:
From the latest hit,
To the wisdom of old.
But I’m always alone.

Neural Bridges: Brain-to-Brain Application Possibilities?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

I read today in Scientific American (Jan 2013 issue) about the work of Kacy Cullen and Douglas Smith (with University of Pennsylvania): this brilliant duo has been working on devising a neural adapter for jacking into human peripheral nervous system (PNS) as an interface for next-generation prosthetics.  In particular, Cullen and Smith have been able to “stretch-grow” neural axons in a lab as a kind of neural bio-wire, one end of which can grow around a polymer input of a prosthetic device and the other (axonal) end can branch into a host PNS.

Cullen and Smith mention the usual complications: potential immune rejection of a hybrid interface, coding issues (will the brain be able to communicate with a prosthesis via such neural bridge?).  As I read this it occurred to me that some of these complications might be a bit less daunting in a brain-to-brain or PNS-to-PNS interface (as opposed to brain-to-machine or PNS-to-machine interfaces).

Here are some BBI (brain-to-brain) application possibilities (arguably, far-fetched and possibly technically impossible, yet potentially enticing) that occured to me, the possibilities of literally building bridges between people (and the fellow neural colonies of the animal kingdom).  (To clarify, Cullen and Douglas focus on brain-to-machine interface applications of their lab-grown axons, not any of these potential brain-to-brain, human-to-animal applications that I speculate about below).

– using a “neural bridge” to attempt to jumpstart (i.e. awaken from within) a comatose brain (a proof-of-principle experiment would involve a PNS-to-PNS experiment where a non-comatose/normal subject has his/her hand motor neurons jacked into a wrist of a comatose subject via a neural bridge; imagine a volunteer relative with guarding mandate have a neural bridge spliced into his, say, right hand motor neurons with the other end of the neural bridge spliced into the severed hand nerves of a comatose relative; following the neural adaptation phase of the neural bridge growing into the PNS of each respective host, a a normal subject could attempt to manipulate the hand of a comatose relative; etc, etc; up and up the spinal cord with the eventual CNS-to-CNS linkup)

– using “neural bridges” for empathy …

3-D Pizza Printer & the Present Shock

Friday, December 21st, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up the following fake news story (just for kicks):

3-D Pizza Printer

Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Pizza Hut (PH) are rumored to have partnered to develop the first ever 3D pizza printer. The HP/PH Pizza Printer (HP/PH-PP) is positioned to revolutionize pizza delivery. A prospective HP/PH-PP owner will have the option of subscribing to a monthly supply of “ingredient cartridges” and to an online feed of downloadable recipes. For added convenience, the accompanying mobile app would allow the consumer to print out pizzas wirelessly, for example, on the way home from work.

Source: PiNN [Pattern Interruption Non News: not alternative news, but a news alternative]

And Then…

And then, in the January 2013 issue of Popular Science (which arrived in December, by the way), I read that a company called Modern Meadow “is working on a device that prints edible meat.”


The first book I read in English (not without much difficulty!) was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock.  The book is about “too much change in too short a period of time.” I loved it: it took me about a year to plow through it with an English-Russian dictionary.  It was quite an education – in English and in Future.

Yet here I am, in this exponentially accelerated future and I am comfortably unshocked.  Just a few weeks I penned this bit of silliness about a 3-D pizza printer and a few days later I am reading about “devices” that print meat.

The reality always seems to be ahead of itself: January 2013 issue of Popular Science arrives in early December, Christmas shopping begins the day after Thanksgiving, and all that jazz.  And yet I am (and, I presume, you are) unshocked…

20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago when I came to this country (from Russia) I wasn’t shocked.  Neither was my mom when ten years later she too immigrated to US and walked into Wall Mart.  “What in the world is all this stuff?!” she asked.  And added “And how is it that I’ve been able to live my entire life just fine not knowing what any …

Fool’s Business

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

mindfulness definitionClients often ask: “What is mindfulness?” Most of the time I avoid the fool’s business of providing definitions. Definitions finalize. Descriptions leave the subject open to futher descriptions.

– So, what is mindfulness?

Here’s a description (one of hundreds):

When you stop filtering What Is (i.e. Reality) into important and unimportant, relevant and irrelevant, all of a sudden: everything is indescribably important, everything is indescribably relevant.

Is the swaying of this tree over here important?

–  Yes.


–   Unimportant.

What about the non-swaying of that tree over there, is that too relevant?

–   Yes.


–   Irrelevant.

Birch trees photo available from Shutterstock

Daunting Realities

Monday, December 17th, 2012

gun free schoolAs a mother, a psychologist, an educator, and a gun-owner, I have spent the past two days asking myself what we can do to prevent such senseless tragedies as the one that happened on Friday in Connecticut.  Certainly, there are no simple answers.  I believe that our first step is to stop denying the daunting realities we face in attempting to find real solutions.

The reality is that there are millions of guns in the hands of American citizens, many of them responsible gun owners. However, we cannot ignore the fact that many of those guns fall into the hands of disturbed individuals who would do harm to themselves and others.

The reality is that there are millions of Americans who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, many of whom do not receive adequate care.  While those individuals are not to blame for their conditions and should not be routinely excluded from society because of their illness, some of them do pose a threat to the safety of themselves and others.

The reality is that our education and public health systems have failed to find a way to address the issues of gun violence and adequate mental health care.  With so many guns in our midst, why is there no routine education about gun safety in our schools or our media?  With so many people teetering on the edge, why is it so difficult to receive mental health care?  Such things cost money and resources, which are admittedly in short supply.  But is that a reason to throw up our hands and say that we must continue to suffer through these heartbreaking tragedies?

I will admit that I believe our society is deeply flawed, and the cynic in me is tempted to turn away, to immerse myself back into the escapism so rampant in our culture, and say that “this is just the way things are.”  Just a couple of years ago, I would have done that.  But something changed.   What changed for me is the birth of my daughter.  As an older mother at …

“Take It All” – A Mandelian Display of the Machiavelian

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

take it allI’ve long suspected that Howie Mandel is a social provocateur, a rascal sage that tries to show us us. If you’ve seen the last (second) episode of “Take It All” then you know what I am talking about. The lessons are simple: when you try to screw others there is a good chance you are the one who is going to be screwed. Two contestants – now infamous for lying – looked each other in the eye and promised to share the wealth of the moment. And then they tried to screw each other by “taking it all.” The result is a cliche: when you try to take it all, there is a good chance you’ll be left with nothing.

Of course, it’s not always like that: in the first episode of the show, in a pairing of two career teachers, there was a brief talk about the “god-given” blessing of the moment… and then one teacher got over on another, taking home $420,000 (and the notoriety of being a first-class liar). “Ends justify the means,” “gotta do what you gotta do,” right? It’s comical to see contestants marshal rationalizations for their ruthlessness – “buying books for the class,” “sister with cancer,” – all kinds of reasons are introduced into the contestants’ profiles as if to build up the moral justification for the zero-sum immorality that follows. What a Mandelian display of the Machiavellian in us!

Thank you, Howie, for edutainment!

Hand grabbing money photo available from Shutterstock

Paradox of Buddhist Self-Immolation

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Buddhist self-immolation is once again in the news.

But here’s the paradox of it…

Buddhist doctrine of Anatta says: “there is no self; self is an illusion.”

If there is no self, there is nothing to sacrifice.

Thus, self-immolation is not a self-sacrifice (because there is no self to begin with).

Thus, the idea of a self-sacrifice is an illusion even if an act of self-immolation is reality.

Life is a burn of dialectic contradiction, one way or another.

Metabolically, existentially, politically.



Last Pages, First Impressions

Monday, December 10th, 2012
Morning Shoot

A Moment of Brightness

I am a voracious non-fiction reader, a binge-reader, you could say.  Most of the books I buy are random finds (from used book stores, thrift stores; or when following a chain of associations with the help of  Whenever I buy books in the physical (rather than virtual) world, I often start from the back.  I browse the last three or so pages of the book – not because I want to know how something ends, but because a book is like a life and its last pages are like the last few breaths: there is something powerfully evanescent about that, a unique kind of intimacy, a moment where the author finally lets go of the pen and returns to the original blank space of the mind-page…

Knowing how we part ways is a good introduction to each other.

So, let me share the last few pages of “Reinventing the Meal,” in case we – reader and author – never meet on the first page.

You are an amazing transmutation machine. You can take in carrots, candy bars, baked beans, bread, plums, porridge, hamburgers, or herrings—and turn them into living energy and whatever body parts you need. A carrot takes light, air, water, and earth, converting them into a crunchy, pointy, orange vegetable, and you turn this carrot into a moving, intelligent, seeing, human being. What an amazing world!

Gregory Sams, Sun of gOd

The big meal-wheel has been spinning, mostly mindlessly, without much frontal-lobe supervision, for at least as long as there has been life on this planet. Our collective evolutionary history is a survival treadmill. Life has been in the business of inventing and reinventing ever-new metabolic cycles, with life-forms finding sustenance in each others’ waste, learning how to squeeze every morsel of energy out of their environment, climbing the pyramid of the solar economy through predatory competition, and also working out mutually beneficial symbiotic energy trusts.

We, the human animals, are the first species to talk about the ethics of eating our fellow life-forms. …

Time to Be (Timeless) is Now

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Within any given Now there is a mini-Past and a mini-Future and a mini-Now.  And within that mini-Now there is its own mini-Past and its own mini-Future and its own mini-Now.  And each and every one of these mini-Pasts and mini-Futures and mini-Nows is one and the same continuous Eternal Now that Ever is.  Time to be (timeless) is always now: take a moment to notice a moment.

Related: The Thin Ice of Presence

Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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