Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

I don’t deny there is a beauty in fog.

But when I looked out the window this morning and saw that the vineyard covered hillside had disappeared, the word “obscured” popped into my head.

Fog “obscures”. It prevents us from seeing the world so clearly. It draws the horizon closer, sets a nearer limit to our perception.

Well, with that in mind, I spotted an article in Wired magazine……”To fight disinformation we need to weaponise the truth

Through social media, mainstream media and mass media, we are being manipulated on a daily basis. We are bombarded with propaganda and advertising, trying to get us to think what someone else wants us to think, to buy what someone else wants us to buy, to believe what someone else wants us to believe, to vote they way someone else wants us to vote.

When I started this blog over a decade ago I chose the title “Heroes not Zombies” because I had an idea that we tend to drift through life on autopilot, but that if we wake up, become aware, and claim the authorship of our own stories, then we become the heroes of our own stories. But, of course, it’s not just that we drift along on autopilot, it’s that we allow others to sit in the driving seat.

So, here, in that Wired article, is a wake up call, but also a kind of education. The author explains how we are being manipulated.

Cybersecurity researcher Ben Nimmo describes Russia’s approach in terms of the “4Ds”: dismiss critics, distort facts, distract from other issues, dismay the audiences. And indeed Russia has been leading the way in using disinformation-based warfare against other nations. But others are now joining them.

The article is worth reading but I thought I’d summarise the 4 “Ds” here. Just so they are nice and clear. Just so that I don’t forget them.

  • DISMISS critics
  • DISTORT facts
  • DISTRACT from other issues
  • DISMAY audiences

So, as you browse through your timelines on your social media accounts today, or read the headlines on the front pages of the newspapers, or watch the news on TV, why not write these four words down on a post-it and see what the messages you are reading look like in the light of the 4Ds?

Read Full Post »

Last weekend we heard a tremendous noise. It was like thunder, or maybe an earthquake, but the storm hadn’t arrived yet, and we’d felt no earth tremors. When we went outside to look we saw this…..

(and for comparison, this is how the wall looked before it fell)

My first thought was thank goodness nobody was hurt. Quickly followed by remembering how many times in the last five years I’ve stood at the very top of a tall ladder trimming this vine. So, lucky it didn’t fall while I was doing that!

Practicalities aside, I’m quite surprised by the strength of the emotional impact of this collapse.

It feels like a huge loss. Over the seasons, I’ve watched the phases of this incredible vine, from leafy green, to reds and golds, to the phase where the leaves fall and the bright yellow stalks are left behind, to the purple berries on bright red stems becoming more obvious as the leaves and stalks fall. I’ve heard the sound like waterfall as the millions of seed pop out from their capsules and cascade down the wall in late summer. I’ve heard the really loud buzzing choir of thousands of bees gathering the pollen in peak summer. I’ve seen the blackbird pair make their nest and spend several minutes hopping around the grass trying to figure out where they’d put it. I’ve seen the handful of nests left behind in the winter. I’ve seen flocks of starlings descend on the purple berries. In short, the collapse of the wall, taking the vine with it, feels like the collapse of an ecosystem. And ecosystem which became part of my everyday experience. That feels like a tragedy. But, probably, the wall will be rebuilt, and, in time, the vine will recover. On the other hand, maybe the neighbours will decide not to build such a big wall after all. What then? We’ll see.

It also feels like an ending. Maybe because we are rushing towards the end of a decade, in the midst of environmental, social and political upheavals, but I happen to be reading an edition of a French journal which is featuring “collapsologie” – the phenomenon of “collapse” and the various experts and thinkers who are reflecting on it. So, probably my current reading heightens my sensitivity to this wall collapse feeling like an ending. But added to that, our landlord sold the neighbouring field earlier this year and now someone has started building a house just on the other side of the fence. So I can see heaps of stones and earth on two sides of the garden now. It feels like these last five years of open, tranquil living might be about to end. Of course, what comes with endings are beginnings…..so my mind turns now to “what next?”, “where next?” and “how to live?” (as it often does, to be honest). This mixture of endings and beginnings sure feels unsettling, as, I suppose does all change. There are the gradual changes which we only really notice in looking back, but there are the more substantial, sudden, or at least, relatively quick ones, where it all feels more acute, more powerful, more vivid.

So, I was a little surprised, a couple of days later, when I looked at the remains of the wall, and saw blue sky, and, somehow it seemed brand new. Somehow I knew I’d never quite seen that extent of blue sky in that direction before. It inspired me to take a photo –

Then later that day, after sunset, when I went out to close all the shutters (which has been part of my ritual of living since I moved here five years ago, shutting the old wooden shutters on all the windows at night, and opening them all to let the sun stream in, every morning). I looked up and the sky was absolutely clear. A deep, wide, all-encompassing black, studied with millions of sparkling stars. I’ve seen that many nights in my time here. We are right at the end of a village and there is very little light pollution, especially after midnight when the single street light goes out for the rest of the night. I looked up and reflexly spotted the small handful of constellations which I know so well, and have known even since I was a teenager. Then I looked at the sky where the wall had been and I saw a vertical line of bright stars. I immediately thought they must be part of a constellation but it wasn’t one I’d ever seen before. I know it won’t be a “new” constellation, just formed, but it was new to me. In fact, I think this might be the first time in my life I’ve spotted a constellation I didn’t know the shape of before I looked. Do you know what I mean? It’s one thing to see the shape of a constellation on a star chart then to seek it out in the night sky, but this was the first time I remember seeing a group of stars in the sky and thinking “that must be a constellation”. What a thrill!

It turns out the constellation is “Aquila” and I’m pretty sure I’ve never ever heard of it. It means “The Eagle”, the bird which carried the thunderbolts of Zeus. Usually, according to what I’ve now read, it’s visible fairly high in the sky in the summer, but at this time, in midwinter, you only get a glimpse of it just above the horizon before it disappears for the night.

Wow! What a mix of emotions indeed! This wall collapse has certainly got me thinking about the whole “constellation” of feelings of loss, sadness, disturbance, and uneasiness, combined with thoughts of the future, of potential, of possibility, of discoveries and experiences still to come, of the unpredictable, messy complexity of life here on Earth.

 

Read Full Post »

I came across a Royal College of General Practitioners document recently – “Fit for the Future” – It is a vision of General Practice in the UK for 2030. There is a lot in it that I’d support but one of the statements is this –

An overhaul of the GP-patient record into a personalised ‘data dashboard’, accessible by healthcare professionals across the NHS, and that will draw on data from the patient’s genomic profile and wearable monitoring devices.
Now, maybe you read this and it excites you, but it made me stop and think “Hang on a minute! A ‘data dashboard’?”
I remember a line from the English philosopher, Mary Midgely, in her book, ‘Wisdom, Information and Wonder’.
One cannot claim to know somebody merely because one has collected a pile of printed information about them.
She wrote that back in 1989, and it’s clear that, since then, we have, to some extent, replaced the piles of printed information with hard drives full of data. But the point remains the same – you won’t know somebody just by looking at data.
One of my roles when I worked at the ‘NHS Centre for Integrative Care’ in Glasgow was to train young doctors in holistic practice. They’d be allowed to spend as long a consultation as they wanted with a patient then they would come to “present the case” to me. In other words, they’d consult their notes (often several A4 pages of notes) and tell me what they’d learned about the patient. At times what they actually communicated to me were detailed descriptions of the patient’s symptoms. Sometimes so many symptoms in such detail that the amount of information was quite overwhelming. By the time they’d finished I would find myself saying “Well, you’ve told me a lot but I don’t know who this person is'” I had no picture of the patient, their life, how illness came into it, how they’d coped, or the effects the illness had had on them, their family and their friends. A holistic case history is not a “pile of printed information”.
Data, or information, as Midgley pointed out, makes “much better sense when [it has] a context”. The context is revealed by the story. I don’t see how you fully understand a person without hearing their story.
Yet, one junior doctor told me she was being taught elsewhere “Never believe patients. They lie all the time. You can only believe the data” (meaning the results of investigations). That appalled me. What kind of Medicine can we practise if we think “patients lie all the time”? What kind of Medicine can we practise if we distrust their personal, unique stories, but trust only in “data”?
Now, I’m not saying that data isn’t useful. It can be. It would be daft to ignore that. But putting data up front and centre to the point where it replaces the relationship and the story? That’s my fear. That someone will think, “all we need is good algorithms and they will deliver all the right answers once we feed the data in.”
I’m sceptical. It doesn’t seem rational to me. It doesn’t seem realistic to me. And it risks shoving aside human values and the crucial importance of relationships.
Then, just yesterday the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, put forward an aspiration for every newborn child in the UK to have their genome sequenced.  Interestingly, a poll of doctors revealed – “>2000 responses. Only around 10% of doctors would find genetic data more useful than postcode in planning the care for a newborn baby.”
I think we have to claim the ground for the importance of the unique human story. If, as doctors, we fail to consider the environments and circumstances of an individual life, we will fail our patients.
Data without contexts has some use, but it is not a full understanding of, or even a “knowledge of”, a patient.

Read Full Post »

I get the chance to see a lot of lovely sunsets in this part of the world. I find them compelling. Every time. I just catch a glimpse of pink in the sky and I’m up looking out the window for a better look, then, as often as not, picking up my camera and heading out to the bottom of the garden.

Well, the other evening there, I just framed the shot, but as I pressed the camera shutter release I slipped a bit. When I checked the LCD screen at the back of the camera I could see the picture was very, very blurred, but decided to keep it and look more closely once I’d uploaded it onto my computer.

Look what I saw…..!

Well, I know, you could argue this is a mistake. You could argue that I failed to capture the sunset as it “really” was. But I absolutely love it.

See how the red colour pours over the vineyards as if it is a pink fog (there wasn’t any fog there.)!

It’s like a painting….a watercolour with the water seeping over the canvas.

It seems transcendent to me – transcendent in the sense that the boundaries are dissolving. There are no hard edges. No barriers. No limitations. It looks fluid, flowing, dynamic, evolving before my eyes.

I started by thinking I’d made a mistake.

But it turns out I’d made something unique. Something I’d never made before. Something very, very pleasing.

What does that say about “perfection”?

What does that say about “creativity”?

What does that say about “serendipity”?

When I saved the image to my hard drive I started to name it, and, without really stopping to think or consider, I named it “Red shift”.

PS that title takes me right back to 1974 and album by Peter Hammill….The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage

Funny the way the mind works…….

Read Full Post »

See this large rock just above the harbour in Biarritz? How does the sea make it to the shore when this rock is in the way?

The most obvious way is to go around it.

And that’s what most of the water does. It makes it way towards the shore, and back out to sea again by breaking against the rock and flowing around each side of it.

That’s one way to deal with an obstacle, with something standing in your way…..find a way around it.

But, wait, look at this…..

…the water has found another way as well.

It goes THROUGH the rock!

I suspect this has taken a very, very long time for wave after wave to make its way through a small crack in the rock, widening the gap slightly every time it passes through. But look at it now. Sometimes when a more substantial wave hits the far side of the rock it flows directly through the gap. Doesn’t happen every time. Just when the waves are big enough.

So, there’s the other solution. Keep going. Keep pushing up against the obstacle, looking for a gap, an opportunity, a way through, and once you find it, come back again and again. Each time, it’ll get easier. Each time the gap will get wider, the way will become broader.

Something else…..this is just beautiful to watch. Mesmerising even. Over the course of a few minutes you can see how the rock and the sea sculpt each other. It’s a delightful relationship.

Oh, and something else……Michel Serres, a French philosopher who died recently, used to describe human beings as “anticipation creatures”. I recently listened to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Onbeing, where the science journalist, Erik Vance, talked about “the drugs inside our head”. He was discussing the poorly understood but fundamentally important phenomenon known as the “placebo effect”, and one thing he said was that our brains are “prediction machines” (well, I hate the metaphor of “machine” applied to living organisms, but you get the point…).

Both Serres and Vance are talking about our incredible ability to spot patterns, so that we can predict the future. OK, not too far into the future, and not with 100% accuracy, but we don’t just notice the world, we anticipate it.

As I stood watching this phenomenon of the white surf gushing out of the mouth in the rock, I was quickly captured by the experience of anticipation, watching the swells on the surface of sea further out, trying to predict which would turn into waves big enough to pour through the rock.

It was hard to stop.

It was delightful.

Read Full Post »

We humans are pretty good at making maps. We do it all the time. Dr Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, describes the three commonest maps we make in the frontal cortex of the brain – a “me” map, a “you” map, and a “we” map. You might wonder about the use of the term “map” there, arguing that we create “images” rather than maps, but let’s not get bogged down on that one. I like both terms (one of my favourite principles in life is “and not or” – 🙂 )

The thing about a map is that it shows contexts and connections. It shows us where we are, where we might want to go, and helps us to imagine how to get there.

I was in Tordesillas, in Northern Spain, recently and visited the “Treaty House” which displays a number of ancient maps. Here’s one set which particularly grabbed my attention.

It’s a set of panels describing the known world at the time – the world of the “Occident” followed by a set describing the unknown world – the world of the “Orient”. Take a look –

In this first section you can clearly make out Britain (although Scotland hasn’t really become known yet!) and you can see the areas we now call Portugal, Spain, France, Scandinavia and so on.

The next one extends the first one to show Italy, Greece, Turkey, “The Middle East” and also more of the North African coastal countries.

For a medieval map it’s surprisingly accurate. It might even have helped people to find their way from one place to another.

But then check out these two panels of the “unknown”, “Orient” –

At first there are elements we recognise – The Nile, The Caspian Sea, but the further East we go, the more the map becomes an expression of a creative imagination.

Isn’t that fascinating?

I’ve never thought of mapping out what I don’t know before. After all, where would I stop? The older I get, the more I realise how much I don’t know – how much WE (we humans) don’t know. But it might be a fun idea, don’t you think? To sketch out some maps of the unknown…..

The personal maps of “me”, “you” and “we” are constantly being updated, constantly evolving, and we create them from both what we know, and what we don’t know…..from our memories, our present day experiences, and our imaginations.

Map making turns out to be a dynamic and fundamental ability. I wonder how aware we are, on a day to day basis, of the maps we have made, the maps we are making, and the influence they have on our lives.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a common experience I have.

I’ll be sitting in my garden reading and I hear a very high pitched, very distant bird call. I recognise it immediately now, even though I’d never heard it before moving here five years ago. It’s a buzzard. Although the call is quite faint, it catches my attention every time. I’m sure that’s helped by how often it’s silent here surrounded by the vineyards. (Although on other days the machines of viniculture create quite a racket, and a nearby airbase sends up training flights some days more than others)

When I hear the call of the buzzard I look up and peer into the sky to try and locate the bird. It’s not always easy because very frequently they fly so high they appear as just small black dots.

I saw this particular one and whilst often the buzzards circle and swoop on invisible highways in the air, this one appeared to be completely still. It was just hanging there, the way I often see the kestrels do, although they do that much closer to the Earth than the buzzards do.

So I took a photo with my phone.

Can you spot the buzzard?

Hey, it’s a bit like a competition I used to do with my dad. One of the newspapers would print a photo from a recent football match but with the ball removed from the image. You had to place a cross right on the dead centre of where you thought the ball was. The person who got closest won the money. It was called “Spot the Ball”. Well, this is “spot the buzzard”.

Answer at the end of the post ………..

Once I found the buzzard I started to wonder how it could just hang like that in the air. I started to wonder how it could fly with such apparent little effort. I started to wonder why it cried that particular call. I started to wonder what the world looks like from up there. How much detail can the buzzard see? Why does it fly SO high in the sky?

Wonder.

Everyday wonder.

I’ve referred a number of times to the French phrase “émerveillement du quotidien” which I love so much. It pretty much means “the wonder of the every day”. I find that when I get one of those moments, those moments of wonder, that my day feels a better day.

I find that the wondering connects me to awe.

I feel awe….astonishment, delight in, admiration for, whatever it is I’m wondering about. Not least because the wondering doesn’t have any immediate answers for me. Well, obviously, sometimes, the wonder drives curiosity and I later go searching online or in books for more information about whatever it is I’ve been wondering about. But that’s something different, isn’t it? Curiosity and knowledge-seeking. There’s just something delightful, uplifting even, about the process of wondering which doesn’t immediately drive knowledge-seeking, but, instead, creates a feeling of awe.

And here’s what happens next. When the wonder blends with awe I feel myself “taken out of myself”. I have an experience of transcendence…..what Arthur Koestler described as an “oceanic” feeling. I feel an increased, and deepened, connection with whatever is “outside” me, whatever I’m paying attention to. I feel an expansion and a loosening of boundaries. I feel a diminishment of separateness and an enhancement of oneness.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I read yesterday about “spiritual emotions”, especially as they were listed as follows –

  • Wonder
  • Awe
  • Transcendence

What sets off the spiritual emotions for you?

 

Oh, and, yes, as promised, here’s how to find the buzzard………

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »