Other unverifiable claims

Right now I’m reading a book called “The Undiscovered Mind”, which someone gave me because I’m a huge nerd in this area, and I cannot remember which of four possible people gave it to me. Whoever you are, thank you!

It’s fun. I heart this book. The guy who wrote it is not a strict naturalist but a methodical one – and, like me, appears disappointed at the promise of authority that isn’t in the strict naturalist case.  This guy goes around grumping about the limits of science in a way that makes me giggle in recognition. He loves science and scientists, but he likes to poke at them.

 And of course, my other set of totally unverifiable beliefs are regarding the mind, and it’s fun to wander about in this book examining what can be known vs. what can be observed. 

I’m of a vaguely Neo-Freudian bent when it comes to psychology. The basic motivating factor I’ve seen behind much psychological suffering (in women, at least) is shame. Not guilt, whoops I fucked that up so learn and move on, but shame – oh my god I’m abnormal. Scary, bad, vulnerable, going to die, etc.

We store things in our heads with depth when scary: almost drown, and water’s getting flagged with caution. Makes evolutionary sense, doesn’t it? The water can also get stored with other scary things, on the same pathway, as it were, and you get associations formed. Water and snakes. Or maybe it’s stored with something benign and that becomes scary by association – ie: red bikinis.

Anyway, to feel in control the anxiety, many folks code things to take control. It becomes shame: if I weren’t such a red bikini wearing show-off…

These sorts of associations are all over the place. When I’ve gone to therapy at various points, it’s usually because my associative tree is getting in the way of me being me – I’ve decided that love requires pain, for example. I’m just hauling the associative net out and bashing on the connection points and then laying them back down where *I* want them. Red bikinis and showing off no longer come with the threat of near-death. Etc.

I would tend to say this re-programming (behavioral-cognitive with a side of Neo-Freudian shame detection) works for Freud’s “neurotics” excepting the personality disordered, although I think Freud  pinned his ideals of non-neurotic on something that’s more a case study of *Freud* than of humanity.  Freud wanted you to bash open the neural nets and then lay the associations down where he thought optimal because he’d made some massively privileged universalizing assumptions about where people started and where best to go. Sometimes a cigar really IS just a cigar – because the association simply isn’t there. But Freud’s reckoning that his cigar wasn’t on a neural net with fellatio didn’t stop him from assuming other people’s neural nets were in X,Y, or Z shape. So my major critique of Freud was that he rarely met people on their terms; his final goal appeared to be to help everyone become the best Freuds they could be.

Of course, he was the first to go here at all. Pioneers often need to be pretty damn self-satisfied or they’ll stop due to doubt. So I don’t hate the man. And depending on your bent, being the best Freud you can be might be a good goal. However, it doesn’t surprise me terribly that certain sorts of intellects are drawn to long term Freudian psychoanalysis. One’s subconscious is the neverending Cryptic Crossword production machine, and that can be fun. Plus, you get to talk about your penis a lot. Which may be important.

Anyway, I think Catholic confessionals worked like rough psychotheraputic triage, although there must have been some mechanism to getting a person to be open/honest in Confession that I’m not seeing. Only the Catholic, like the Freudian, had a list of ideal roles to replace the original set of shames. *Shudder*. And maybe fundamentalism generally works like this, as long as you’re ashamed of what they’re ashamed of. The more God Fates Hags at the local church, the more repressed witches will flock to it.

Which means that care is important. You have to bust apart your neural nets to put life right for you.

So. There you go – a precis of what I believe regarding the way brains work.  Experientially, I’ve got anecdata, and I’m not alone.

But there’s good reason why the hard scientists call Freud a witch doctor. There’s no way to verify any of this rigorously because it’s hard to create a testable endpoint and timeline. The results are dependent on the unique flavour of the person. It’s like child development: sure, the average age of language acquisition may be 2, but there are kids talking at 1 and others not really chatting until 3. All you’ve got is aggragate observations of population; there’s no “right” answer, regardless of how society likes to pretend there is. Variability in a population is indeed vitally important to evolution working.

Plus, in language development, the endpoint is talking. Freud’s endpoint is better Freuds. Catholic endpoints are better Catholics. Quaker endpoints are better yous for some undefined value of you. We all may think culturally that suicidal ideations are Yucky, but it ain’t necessarily so. If you’re Tim Burton or Stephen King, getting right in there might be important to living. The point is choice instead of compulsion. 

And this all may be, in the end, the effect from which placebo effect grows. It could ALL be placebo, but of course PLACEBO is observational. Placebo’s an amazing claim – people can work physical change just by moving their neural nets around. So it may very well be “placebo”, where “placebo” means  that fucking wild magic we do in our heads where we affect our reality via the way we think about things. 

So, we’re bounded by the unique attributes of a given head. A given geography. And a given science.

Unverifiable claims. Pretty much the stuff I find interesting.


  1. Was it me? That, and the five-star mind book at the same time? Maybe it was me.

    Maybe I’m just trying to take credit for getting you a book you really enjoy.

    Gaines Wingtip, PhD, SSC, BSC, LMNOP

  2. Shocking! It could be you!
    Love you,
    Lipscomb Steeler

  3. It wasn’t me, even though that’s one of my pet subjects too. But I will take it as a recommendation! I will go reserve it at the library right fucking now! All your good ideas are belong to us!

    And I DO like talking about my penis a lot, now that you mention it…

  4. If they don’t have it, you can borrow this one. The author: John Horgan.

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