Friday, September 18, 2015

News From the Neighborhood

For the foreseeable future, and probably well beyond that, the future of humans in space (if any, which is a big question) will occur in our cosmic neighborhood: the solar system.

And we really are exploring it, even if manned observation is only in the close Earth orbit of the international space station.  Far-flung instruments continue to produce new knowledge--as well as some great photos.

The most recent photos come from Pluto, a world that has generally gotten little respect until now.  Small and remote, demoted from planet status, so only a few scientists dare stake their careers on studying the meager information available, at least until the New Horizons spacecraft mission.

The latest photos show a world "more Earthlike than anyone could have imagined," in the words of this excellent National Geographic piece, and yet very alien--fogs and glaciers of nitrogen instead of water, mountains that formed in some mysterious way, and so on.  Yet it is not the bald featureless globe of prior illustrations.  It is a place.  Be sure to click on the photos here and at the NG piece--they're breathtaking.

Also this week:"NASA's confirmation of the existence of a vast global ocean on Enceladus casts a spotlight on Saturn's icy moon as the most potentially habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it," in the words of another excellent piece, this one at the Daily Galaxy.

It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen [in the form of ammonia], and an energy source," said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Besides Earth, he says, "there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims."

Yet it is not the only really good candidate for finding life in the solar system.  (The others also are moons rather than planets. This Daily Galaxy piece is a good summary, with links.)  It's news like this that prods my intuition that some form of life outside the Earth will be discovered in my lifetime.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Unreality Show

Just remember that I am not blogging about the 2016 elections.  But in previous posts that mention it, a theme emerged that has continued: the Republican candidates are insane.

This was the often an implicit theme in coverage of the second GOPer "debate," this time on CNN.  It was overt in Jonathan Chiat at New York Magazine, whose report was headlined At Second Presidential Debate, Republicans Try to Out-Crazy Trump, and Succeed.  He concluded: "The [R] party’s decades-long flight from empiricism and reason shows no sign of abating. Alas, from Trump to Rubio to Carly Fiorina, it is filled with talented demagogues well suited to pitch America on nonsense."

The New York Times editorial board later said pretty much the same thing in an editorial entitled Crazy Talk At the Republican Debate: "Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.

It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will."
New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz turned to Strangelovian gallows humor as he headlined his report on the debate Millions Watch American Democracy’s Final Episode: "American democracy, a long-running institution whose popularity endured for over two hundred years, drew millions of viewers to its final episode Wednesday night.

 While the official ratings for democracy’s finale will not be available until Thursday, initial reports indicated that a larger than expected number tuned in to witness the last moments of the nation’s system of government. Network executives had warned that the final episode was not for the squeamish, but many viewers were still shocked by how dark and apocalyptic it turned out to be."

Borowitz followed up with a column entitled  Fact Checking Reveals G.O.P. Debate Was Four Per Cent Fact: "According to HonestyWatch, a Minnesota-based fact-checking organization, over the course of three hours the Republican candidates served up between eight and twelve facts, not including their names and job descriptions."

Also in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson (who is a reporter rather than satirist, at least in intent) began her report:  "With about fifteen minutes to go in the G.O.P. Presidential debate last night, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, it looked as if it might be hard to pick a low point. The candidates had, after all, been squabbling for almost three hours, long enough to foster fantasies of using Reagan’s Air Force One, which was onstage, as an emergency-escape vehicle."

Margaret Hartmann at New York culled the coverage on each candidate.  One of her choice quotes from others:"Trump came out swinging — but ended up missing. Not only wasn't he substantive — again — but he made some pretty bizarre statements. " —SE Cupp, CNN.

There was one question about the climate crisis in this debate (which brings the number of questions in both debates up to one), and not surprisingly the ignorance and fact-free denial were universal.

Otherwise, the coverage was about as insipid as this "debate" apparently was.  On my Google News page, the topic was dominated by "listicules"--the six big moment, the 10 quotes, the five takeaways, seven ways the debate changed the race etc.  By late today, the conventional wisdom was that dangerous demagogue Carly F. was the winner.  Trump's trumpeting being muted.

The world hangs by a thin thread?  What if something goes wrong with the psyche?  Welcome to the Republican Party.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Psych Out

“Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”
FDR 1945--his last speech, prepared but never delivered.

"Nowadays particularly, the world hangs on a thin thread....We are the great danger.  The psyche is the great danger.  What if something goes wrong with the psyche?  And so it is demonstrated to us in our days what the power of psyche is, how important it is to know something about it.  But we know nothing about it. Nobody would give credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man had any importance whatever."
C. G. Jung
interview in English, 1957

Professional psychology in its current form has taken some withering hits lately.  In July there was the report that revealed (in the words of the Washington Post story) "Leaders of the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in coercive interrogation programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Friday."  

It was asserted years ago, and more recently proven, that several psychologists helped torturers during the Bush administration.   This report showed that such psychologists were highly influential in the organization.  But after this report was issued, the APA did not apologize, but defended what it did. Eventually it cleaned house and passed a binding resolution forbidding its members to do anything outside international law.

In August another study made news when a group of psychologists attempted to replicate 100 previously published psychological studies, and most of the time could not.  Their conclusions couldn't be proved, or they were overstated.

This is a kind of internal failure, within contemporary psychology's own assumptions and rules.  These failures were attributed in various technical ways as well as the inflation of results for gain and fame.  Some of the technicalities, other scientists claim, apply to all kinds of medical and other scientific research, so that most research findings are dubious.

But contemporary psychology's bullshit factor is so high for other reasons, many of which are identified by the eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan in his remarkable and predictably ignored 2012 book, Psychology's Ghosts.  Some of the established and therefore repeated mistakes are the failure to recognize and consider context (class, culture, situation) and the hidden biases that define healthy and unhealthy.

For example, Kagan writes: "Too many papers assume that a result found with forty white undergraduates at a Midwestern university responding to instructions appearing on a computer screen in a small, windowless room would be affirmed if participants were fifty-year-old South Africans administered the same procedure by a neighbor in a larger room in a familiar church in Capetown.”

This is not drollery: American university students of European background were the main subjects for more than 2/3 of the papers published in six leading journals between 2003 and 2007. There are usually a small number of participants, yet universal conclusions are offered.

In my review of this book, I add a corollary factor from my own experience: how the participants are chosen, and what that means.  I offer as an example the famous Yale Miligram experiments that purports to prove that people will obey authority figures to the point of causing painful shocks to others. Accidentally in New Haven at the time, I inquired about participating in what I'm pretty sure was one of those early experiments, but I ultimately refused.  Why I was interested, and why I refused suggests other factors that seem to cast questions on these conclusions, and to my mind invalidate them.

In these ways, psychology seems to invalidate itself as a science.  (Some believe that all of the so-called social sciences are pseudo-sciences.)  Psychology's attempt to measure behavior in order to predict it or modify it (often with drugs) is a failed and pernicious project.  It is based in part on trying to ape the methods of so-called hard sciences, depending on experiments and so-called controlled studies and deductions.  Why this doesn't work for anything as complex as human beings was eloquently explained, off-the-cuff, by the late great Jane Jacobs.  Basically, science can deal with just a few variables, and not with connections.  Science and psychology as they are predominantly practiced, deal with averages and quantities.

What contemporary psychology ignores is the psyche.  That just never comes up.  There's the brain and there's behavior.  The mechanism and the output.  It's either falsely mechanistic or falsely quantitative.

The psychology of Jung has been left behind and forgotten.  But it applies to individuals, not averages or quantities, not mechanisms.  In his own inductive science, through seeing patients and through introspection, Jung created conceptual tools that can help people examine and understand themselves enough to make their own changes in behavior.

Some of these tools I explored in the series on this site called The Climate Inside.  Concepts like the shadow, projection, denial, that individuals can use to examine their own psyches and behavior (with or without professional help), and come to their own conclusions. But today even more than in 1957, "no one gives credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man had any importance whatever."

Today's psychology is about treating humans as machines.  Most often as computers, "hard-wired" (often by Evolution) and fixable through tricks or drugs. Machines can only be altered from the outside.  But we are not hard-wired (there are no "wires" for a start), any more than our brains are telephone exchanges, or clocks, or our bodies are dynamos--all dominant metaphors of past ages.

Psyche is another word for soul.  Jung saw it as unfathomable, but we could learn something about it--not just from science but from untold centuries of stories and dreams, including the great cultural dreams called myth.  From the arts and humanities, and from minds that make the arrogant and often naive pronouncements of today's psychologists just so much simplistic nonsense.

There's a reason psychologists were so eager to sell out to government torturers--that's a very big client, and today's psychology is all about clients.  It's so obvious from the level of research that they are all about providing information on behavior and how to manipulate it for advertising, marketing and less subtle forms of persuasion and manipulation.  It's clearly a short walk to the best ways to inflict pain.  Today's psychology has no soul.  

Yet here we are, at a time when it is crucial for us to understand ourselves--without a psychology worthy of the name.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Political Climate

As we continue to see in the North Coast sky reminders of forest fires still raging, there are a couple of unexpected political changes internationally in advance of the Paris meetings on the climate crisis, with perhaps more to come.  What they may mean is unclear, but they do offer interesting possibilities.

The biggest news so far is the ouster of one of the world's biggest climate crisis denial blowhards, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  In Australia's parliamentary system, the PM is the leader elected by the majority party, in this case called Liberals.  In what was essentially a party coup, they replaced Abbott with Malcolm Turnbill.  He'd probably be considered a liberal Republican in pre-1980s US.  He is not a global heating denier, and specifically opposed Abbott's position.  He's announced however that for now he's staying with the enacted policies backed by his party.  But he is likely to be more open to negotiations in Paris.

Another surprise was the Labor Party in the UK electing a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  Initially given no chance of winning, Corbyn ended up with a nearly 60% majority.  He is considered far left, harking back in some ways to Labor's post-WWII roots, but in other ways his views are not so easily classifiable.  He stood out among the Labor candidates by speaking clearly and directly about the issues.

 Right now Corbyn is given no chance of leading Labor to a majority and himself to Prime Minister, but where have we heard that before?  In any case, there's no UK election before Paris conferences in December.  But he supports efforts to address the climate crisis, and his voice may help push the UK conservative government to a stronger role.

A more directly meaningful change could come from October elections in Canada. The current PM, Stephen Harper, has pretty much taken Canada out of real action to address the climate crisis.  He's been the PM of Oil.  Mostly for other reasons he's become vastly unpopular, but it's not clear what kind of policy will result from this election, since, as the Toronto Star noted, in this country with the longest Arctic coastline, global heating has not been a campaign issue for anybody, and the candidates are quiet or coy about their proposed policies.

  But the timing is such that a saner approach to the Paris meetings may result, from Canada as well as Australia.  That seems to be the view of this Washington Post article.

It must be added that in both Australia and Canada, as in the US, efforts outside national policy are being made to confront climate crisis challenges.  These include major progress in clean energy in Australia, and grassroots and organizational advocacy and action in Canada.

Politics is in many respects an unreal world that can markedly affect the real world.  The news in that real world continues to be urgent: a widely reported study outlines the very dire consequences of burning the fossil fuel known to exist, especially in rising sea levels that would inundate the world's major cities, and the growing speculation that this year's El Nino and other factors are triggering and will trigger a big jump in global temperature.

All this in the waning days of the summer that is almost certainly to be declared officially the hottest on record globally and in the US.  A summary of the summer's climate news in a new column at the Atlantic.