General Psychology Lectures podcast episode 5

30 05 2006

Episode 5 of the General Psychology lecture series is available for download. It covers sensation – particularly vision & hearing.

Download the podcast using this link to subscribe (if you have iTunes).

If not, subscribe to the following feed:

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National Geographic on shamanistic healing

28 05 2006

Mind Hacks points me toward a National Geographic story about the use of a hallucinogenic healing ritual in Peru (with a photo and short video clip) Here are some excerpts with my comments:

According to [psychiatrist and pediatrician Charles] Grob, ayahuasca provokes a profound state of altered consciousness that can lead to temporary “ego disintegration,” as he calls it, allowing people to move beyond their defense mechanisms into the depths of their unconscious minds—a unique opportunity, he says, that cannot be duplicated by any nondrug therapy methods.

This “ego disintegration” was described as the way alcoholics can be freed from their addiction, and is the basis of the “12 Steps” which Bill Wilson and the other founders of Alcoholics Anonymous developed in the 1930s. American philosopher cum psychologist William James, in his landmark volume The Varieties of Religious Experience, also describes such an ego disintegration as a part of profound, transformative religious “conversion experiences” (see specifically Lecture X).

The article describes some current thoughts about the chemical compound used in the ritual:

Most ayahuasca researchers agree that, curiously, the compound appears to affect people on three different levels—the physical, psychological, and spiritual—complicating efforts to definitively catalog its effects, let alone explain specific therapeutic benefits. Says Ralph Metzner, psychologist, ayahuasca researcher, and editor of the book Sacred Vine of Spirits, “[Healing with ayahuasca] presumes a completely different understanding of illness and medicine than what we are accustomed to in the West. But even from the point of view of Western medicine and psychotherapy it is clear that remarkable physical healings and resolutions of psychological difficulties can occur with this medicine.”

The article profiles Hamilton Souther, a Californian who traveled to Peru (after a vision) to learn the healing rituals and become a “shaman” (I do not like that word used outside its original context of Asian shamans) himself:

Hamilton explains it this way: Everyone has an energetic body run by an inextinguishable life force. In Eastern traditions, this force, known as chi or prana, is manipulated through such things as acupuncture or yoga to run smoothly and prevent the buildup of the negative energies that cause bodily disease, mental illness, and even death. To Amazonian shamans, however, these negative energies are actual spirit entities that attach themselves to the body and cause mischief. In everyone, Hamilton asserts, there is a loving “higher self,” but whenever unpleasant thoughts enter a person’s mind—anger, fear, sorrow—it’s because a dark spirit is hooked to the body and is temporarily commandeering the person’s mind. In some cases, he adds, particularly evil spirits from the lowest hell of the “astral realms” take over a person permanently—known as full-blown demonic possession—creating a psychopathic mind that seeks only to harm others.

The article describes some of the process and consequences of the healing rituals:

But the curious should take heed: The unconscious mind holds many things you don’t want to look at. All those self-destructive beliefs, suppressed traumatic events, denied emotions. Little wonder that an ayahuasca vision can reveal itself as a kind of hell in which a person is forced—literally—to face his or her demons.

“Ayahuasca is not for everyone,” Grob warns. “It’s probably not for most people in our world today. You have to be willing to have a very powerful, long, internal experience, which can get very scary. You have to be willing to withstand that.

”Everyone receives a plastic basin—known ominously as a “vomit bucket”—and a roll of toilet paper for wiping our mouths after puking; this can be expected during most ceremonies, unless, as the shamans say, people are used to suppressing their feelings. Many mistakenly think that holding back emotions is a sign of strength and control; actually, Hamilton says, it’s the opposite. Avoidance, a refusal to face painful feelings, is a weakness; unless this suppression stops, a person will never be healed of physical and psychological issues.

Hamilton is standing over me now, rattling his chakapa, singing his spirit songs. Inexplicably, as he does this, the darkness backs off. But more of it comes in a seemingly endless stream. I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Hamilton calls over one of his helpers—a local woman named Rosa—with directions to hold me down.

“Tell the spirits to leave you with ease,” Hamilton says to me.

“They won’t!” I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make.

The shamans believe that whenever a traumatic event happens to us, we lose part of our spirit, that it flees the body to survive the experience. And that unless a person undergoes a shamanistic “soul retrieval,” these parts will be forever lost.

(I have been present during what I think was a “soul retrieval” ritual after a traumatic event, and know an individual who drowned, and had to have the soul brought back.)
There is some reference in the article to something my partner is working with: the notion that there may be some quantum theoretical implications in this work:

Shamans will tell you that during an ayahuasca cleansing they’re not working with the contents of a person’s hallucination but are actually visiting that person in whatever plane of reality his or her spirit happens to be. We are not, they insist, confined to the reality of our five senses, but can transcend it and enter a multidimensional universe.

Their perspective is not unlike that presented by quantum theorists, such as David Bohm, who describe a holographic universe with coexisting realms of reality. To Amazonian shamans, there are an infinite number of such realms, each as distinct from one another as London or Paris, each inhabited by beings with certain appearances, abilities, and customs. To become a master shaman, they contend, one must learn to negotiate these worlds, to enlist the assistance of their various denizens, to become comfortable working in places of light and darkness.

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One student’s search for identity

26 05 2006

Chris Ladd, a student at Skidmore College, produced this quite excellent film that explores identity from various perspectives. It includes an interview with Sheldon Solomon, one of the originators of Terror Management Theory.

Click to see “i” a short film by Chris Ladd.

Thanks to The Video Rambler for this.

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Episode 4 of the General Psychology podcast

25 05 2006

Attention Podcastees! Episode 4 of the General Psychology podcast has been posted – It covers Memory.

Go get it! Subscribe to this URL in iTunes:


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Schacter’s “Seven Sins of Memory,” and an alternate view

23 05 2006

The weblog “Developing Intelligence” covers Daniel Schacter’s seven sins of memory, and proposes an alternative model:

In contrast to Schacter’s “seven sins of memory” (1999), I argue that all types of memory inaccuracy arise from three distinct types of memory system failure: those of maintenance, of search, and of monitoring. Failures of maintenance include problems involving prospective memory (“forgetting to remember”), rapid forgetting, and absent-mindedness. Failures of search include retrieval-induced forgetting, tip-of-the-tongue phenomena, and amnesia. Failures of monitoring include source misattribution, memory biases, and suggestibility. Finally, other memory inaccuracies may actually result from interactions among multiple sources of failure.

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Site illustrating the neurobiological processes of street drugs

22 05 2006

Mind Hacks pointed me toward a quite good site on the neurobiological actions of street drugs. Have a look-see.

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Mental Health and Airline Employees

20 05 2006

A New York Times article covers the stress-induced problems airline employees (and passengers) are experiencing…
Rough Summer Is On the Way for Air Travel – New York Times:

“Everybody’s stressed. Everybody’s feeling it,” said Bryan Hutchinson, a former baggage handler at United Airlines who now works in a joint airline-union program to counsel workers suffering from stress or other emotional problems.

Above gate B-22 at Denver International Airport, with smells from the Quiznos sandwich stand below filling his office, Mr. Hutchinson receives a steady stream of burned-out looking United employees.


Easy days are rare. An arriving plane is delayed. United shifts an outbound flight to a smaller plane. Thirty passengers are bumped. Some become irate.

And at the end of the shift, a gate agent “shows up in my office and says, ‘I’m whacked out,’ ” Mr. Hutchinson said. He refers some workers to mental health professionals, and offers others strategies for coping: Take a couple of deep breaths; go vent to a co-worker.

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General Psychology Lecture Podcast Episode 2

18 05 2006

Episode 2 of the Summer 2006 General Psych podcast is available. It covers History & Systems of psychology, and a brief discussion of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Download it here, or subscribe to the feed in iTunes.

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A diary written by a 19th century asylum inmate

18 05 2006

The insane asylums in the 19th century were not so much hospitals as they were prisons with abysmal treatment. A new Project Gutenberg book, originally published in 1882, has a good description of the ways the inmates were treated. It also gives some good insights into the experience of the writer in discovering her own illness.

Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum by Mary Huestis Pengilly – Project Gutenberg:

There is a Miss Short here–a fair-haired, nice-looking girl; she stands up and reads in the Testament as if she were in Sunday-school, recites poetry, and tries to play on the piano. I did not think her much out of order when she came, but she is now. She has grown steadily worse. Her father came to see her, and she cried to go home with him. I wished very much to tell him to take her home, but Mrs. Mills did not leave them, and I dared not speak to him. She has grown so much worse, she tears her dress off, so they have to put leather hand-cuffs on her wrists so tight they make her hands swell. I say, “Oh, Mrs. Mills, don’t you see they are too tight, her hands look ready to burst–purple with blood.” She paid no heed: “It does not hurt her any.” Yesterday she tied a canvas belt round her waist so tight that it made my heart ache to look at it. I am sure it would have stopped my breath in a short time; they tied her to the back of the seat with the ends of it.

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General Psychology Podcast Back In Action

17 05 2006

I am updating my General Psychology Podcast again. Each class’s lecture should be available a day or two after the class. Use it to review your notes, or to catch up if you have to miss class.

Episode 1 is now available. You may subscribe to the enhanced podcast using iTunes (which will allow you to view the images also) — Subscribe to either of the following URLs:

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