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    Archive for October, 2007

    The Freudian Trance, part 1

    Monday, October 29th, 2007

    Freud was known to poo-poo hypnotism, which is ironic considering the trance he has placed Western civilization under for almost 100 years. Here’s an example:

    We love good stories. It’s like we’re wired to tell them, to hear them, to make them up.

    The earliest cave paintings seem to be stories of the hunt. We are story making machines.

    And, we’ll hold onto a good story even in the face of evidence that it’s dramatically wrong, if the evidence doesn’t provide a better story.

    One story we love is the Hero’s story… we love and adore the victor. We also attribute qualities to the victor that s/he may not have had.

    Freud is a victor. His theories permeate society (Google “Century of the Self” +BBC and watch this provocative documentary series).

    But, just because his stories won, that doesn’t mean they were the best or that he was correct.

    For example: One of Freud’s contemporaries, Rudolf Meringer, mapped out a simple explanation for most verbal blunders and slips of the tongue. He identified a handful of specific errors that recur in almost every language and, just as important, noticed which ones do not occur. For example, we’ll often swap the first phonemes of words (e.g. “I bought a lottle of biquor” for “I bought a bottle of liquor”) but not the last ones (e.g. “I bought a bottor of liqttle”), and when we make swaps the new words sound like they could be real words.

    In short, Meringer concluded that slips and blunders were merely processing errors. It’s difficult to produce language and, therefore, or not-perfect minds make predictable mistakes. That is, we’re quite mechanistic, but not perfect machines.
    But the story that we are machines is not as compelling as Freud’s story about verbal blunders, namely, that these gaffes revealed our hidden, secret, repressed, real thoughts that, like steam from a kettle, have accidentally escaped. For Freud, a verbal gaffe is a battle between good and evil, right and wrong, inner and outer.

    This is, clearly, a much more engaging story (Freud, in fact, cherry-picked specific examples from Meringer’s research to “prove” this unconscious escape theory). Meringer’s doesn’t stand a chance.

    Freud’s story is so much more engaging that even when it seems blatantly obvious that Meringer’s is a simpler explanation, a more robust and testable theory, and, much more likely to be closer to the truth… we can’t drop the notion of a “Freudian Slip,” and it’s almost impossible to hear George W. Bush talk about the “erections in I lack” (instead of “elections in Iraq”) and not believe that he just inadvertently revealed his hidden agenda and that he really invaded Iraq because of some issue that could have been solved with Viagra.

    More about this Freudian Trance (or is it a nightmare) soon…

    (and thanks to Michael Erard and his book Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean for introducing me to Meringer… and, um, like, you know for a wonderfully entertaining read)

    The Integration of Bowling and Life

    Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

    I loved bowling when I was a kid. If I couldn’t get a ride to the lanes from my parents, or the mom of a sometimes-friend (the time being “when I wanted to go bowling”), I would walk the 5 miles to the alley.

    And if I didn’t have any money, I’d pick up trash around the parking lot in exchange for a couple of games.

    And I’d watch bowling on TV whenever it was on — this was when bowling got prime time coverage.

    Earl Anthony was one of the greats playing then. Earl was the first bowler to earn $1,000,000. He won 41 Professional Bowlers Association titles. I watched a lot of interviews with Earl… and not once did anyone ask him “How do you get bowling to carry over into your daily life?”

    Bowling was something Earl did during the day, like eating, washing, driving, talking, and many other verbs. But I never heard Earl say anything like:

    “Well, I was having a fight with my wife, but thanks to the replacement of the thumb-hole in my ball, and some added swing strength, I was able to resolve the tension faster than one of my perfect 300 point games!”

    The idea that bowling would actually carry over into the other area of his life seems silly.

    So, why do we think that it makes sense when people ask meditation teachers, “How do I integrate meditation into my daily life?”

    The technical answer to the question is simple: Just meditate every day.

    But that answer won’t suffice because it’s not addressing the real question, the question under the question, which is:

    “Will meditating fix the parts of my life I don’t like?”

    I want to have more money, have fewer fights with my family, and have a better job.

    I want to get stuck in the grocery store line behind a guy trying to pay for each of his 25 items with a different credit card, and feel nothing but boundless love and compassion, rather than imagining how far up his colon those cards could go with the right broomstick to push them.

    And I want to make these changes in my real life by using a technique developed by celibate monks who left the real world because it was an obstacle to their practice.

    There was a period in Western meditation history, about 20 years ago, when many of the articles in magazines were from the teachers who were asking, “How is it that I’ve been meditating for decades, and had all these incredible experiences, and I still can’t hold a job, have a happy relationship, or enjoy good health?” I know more than a handful of meditation teachers who spent as much time in therapy as they did on their cushions.

    I have a friend who is a big-deal Tibetan monk (btw, everyone should have a friend who’s a big deal in some religion — you get to hear first-hand about how the religion biz is not what most people think). He recently said to a group, “If you take almost all meditators out of their cave or monastery and put them in a shopping mall, they can’t calm their minds either.”

    This notion that meditation is a cure for what (you think) ails you, rather than simply a skill, like bowling, seems to create a rash of unrealistic expectations… which will have to lead to disappointment when you’ve spent an hour in the Bliss of Emptiness, and then blow up at “Robert,” the Dell Tech Support guy who takes another hour asking you to repeat your service code before he can incorrectly diagnose your hard drive problem.

    And, frankly, after talking to Robert, rather than meditating more with the hopes that you’ll handle it better next time, you might want to go hurl some bowling balls down the alley as hard as you can! There’s nothing like the sound of a strike.





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