sandygautam

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Sandeep Gautam is a psychology and cognitive neuroscience enthusiast, whose basic grounding is in computer science.

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The Sculptor and the Sandman: A novel as much about psychosis as about the human condition

Last night I somehow got inspired, brushed my manuscript that was written about 6 yrs earlier, and in a span of just 4-5 hrs was able to create a sell able paperback book out of it, all thanks to new publishing tools like the lulu.com. Of course, the manuscript, had been read/ re-read, revised and edited by me, all these years, so I’m sure the quality of the product would be great.

Some of you may be aware that I write prose and poetry and have a poetry focussed blog called The Fools Quest. Perhaps, the right place to promote my novel, The Sculptor and the Sandman, would be that blog, instead of the mouse trap; but then again, that novel is as much a piece of fiction, as it is a psychological treatise- my view of what psychosis is, how it manifests and what some of the triggers may be. The tale is grounded in my undersantding of the psychotic condition and I am sure that my readers with exclusive interest in the psychologcial aspects would still find reading that novel worthwhile. Of course, I know that many of your are multi-dimensional, and value arts, as much as science, and reading the novel would be an artistic pleasure in itself- even when not being bogged down by the psychological aspects and the truth or falsity of my depiction of the psychotic condition – the novel can be enjoyed in its own right . Reading it may also help you connect with me on a different level- exposing aspects of myself that were never apparent while reading the mouse trap.

As always I would love feedback, reviews etc and would sincerely request that you give the novel a try. The paperback edition is priced at $10.80 and a downloadable version is priced at $2.50; I am sure it would prove value for money and you will end up buying further copies for your friends and recommending it to others. It is at present just available at lulu.com , but soon will be available at all other major stores like amazon.com.

You can read an excerpt from the novel at the lulu.com site and here is the blurb from the back cover:

The sculptor and the sandman is a fable set in the India of the twenty first century. A tale of passion, obsession, madness and rebellion, the story revolves around how the protagonists move in and out of madness, competing as well as caring for each other, and how their life becomes inextricably twined with that of the narrator, a coconut water vendor.

A tale in which episodes of frank psychosis seem more understandable and reasonable than the unbearable normality of everyday life, the tale is a grim reminder of how misunderstandings and malice work together to weave the different strands of our life together and how silver linings are present in the darkest of clouds hovering over the horizon.

Seen from another perspective, the tale documents different approaches to find meaning and value in this modern world, a world devoid of absolutes. One approach may seem more absurd and futile than the other, but perhaps it is not so much about the ‘right’ value system or frame of meaning, as it is about the need for ‘a’ value system or a frame of meaning- to each his own cross.

Please, Please, Please do read the novel (for that you’l need to buy it!), share it with others( if you indeed like it) , recommend/review it on your blogs and do send me comments, either using this page, the lulu reviews page etc or by directly sending your comments to me at sandygautam@yahoo.com, even if the comments are not positive or encouraging. Any feedback is much better than no feedback. Depending on the feedback, I have the sequel to the sculptor and sandman already in draft stage but I need some reassurance as to whether the efforts are worthwhile and whether  there is a need and appreciation for this type of writing.

Best of Tweets: 17-06-09

Haiku to a Summer LeafImage by Springsun via Flickr

Here goes: 

  1. fear elicits herding & social proof/desire the need for distinctiveness/oh! the tyranny of persuasion heuristics http://bit.ly/ZTQis #scaiku
  2. good acts were constrained/ bad acts were free/ the paradox of initial moral intuition http://bit.ly/13ky8o #scaiku #haiku #morality
  3. Edge: HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? By Lera Boroditsky http://ff.im/-3ZKxC
  4. A Better Mood Broadens Your Field Of Vision http://ff.im/-3QAq4
  5. The Top 10 Existential Movies of All Time http://ff.im/-3Jyj7
  6. lifeless and mechanical /or conscious and impotent/ a zombie or a madman? http://bit.ly/187qqT #haiku #scaiku #consciousness
  7. hyper-systematizing, greater attention to details and savantism RT @anibalmastobiza: Talent in autism: http://bit.ly/xjIb7
  8. @mocost re: svante paabo, the article is decent; may be look for emergent linguistic behavior in mice housed together? http://bit.ly/19CEi3      
  9. must read:Lehrer on ‘big picture’ science journalism and the ‘narrow picture’ but more demanding actual scientific work http://bit.ly/fDD1z
  10. Joshua Knobe‘s new paper on how moral and causal reasoning are shaped by imperatives of counterfactual thinking http://bit.ly/1vE9y  
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What it is like to be a zombie?

I am sure many of you are already familiar with Nagel’s perennial question ‘what it is like to be a bat?  (see this one with some added commentary too). Today I propose to ask a slightly different question ‘what it is like to be a zombie‘? That may seem absurd at the outset, as in many people’s mind Zombies are synonymous with no consciousness. I beg to differ. As I have already indicated in my last post on major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain, there is an easy problem of A-consciousness and there is a hard problem of P-consciousness. I have already tried to breakup A-consciousness in its parts and  I similarly think that P-consciousness is much more that qualia (qualia I envisage as more grounded in sensory or perceptive systems). So given the fact that most zombies are behaviorurally indistinguishable from normal humans, and given the fact that most people who argue for zombie models of humans (that ‘there is no one home to watch/direct the picture’) do still endow the zombie and themselves with the A-consciousness aspects – they do not deny that a representation is made and is consciously available for processing (the theater of consciousness) , it is reasonable to speculate that although lacking full P-consciousness, it would still be something like to feel like a zombie. Let me draw an analogy, in some dissociative disorders, one starts seeing the world as unreal (derealization)  and the self as unreal (depersonalization) ; yet even though one believes oneself to be unreal there is still something it is like to exist in that ‘unreal’ state.

Similarly, though one may model oneself and others as zombies, still it would be something like it is to be in a state that thinks and believes that one is a zombie and also acts accordingly. I am making a leap here. I am assuming that awareness or modeling of ones A-conscious experiences leads to or affects one’s phenomenal consciousness. Thus, in my view , someone who models oneself and others as a zombie, would have a different sort of P-consciousness or what it feels-to-be-like, than a person who models oneself and others as sentient agents  and his P-cosnsciousness would be of a different nature.

Now consider the problem we face when confronted with a world which is deterministic and chaotic at the same time, and which is inhabited by agents which seem to be unpredicatable and constrained at the same time. I have already indicated elsewhere, that people may form tow types of model- one is a statistical/ deterministic model that they may apply to the world; another is a probabilisitic/agentic model that they may apply to the self (as well as other sentient beings).  If one keeps these domains of folk-physics and folk-psychology separate, all is hunky dory; all hell breaks lose (pun intended; zombies are correlated with dead apocalypse scenarios in popular culture) when one applies a deterministic  model (that fits the world) to the self/others. Similarly all hell breaks loose, when one applies an agentic/indetrminsitc model (that fits the sefl/others) to the world.

For today, we will focus on the problem of modeling self, and leave the problem of modeling world for a later day. A self may act differently in many similar/same situations. If it acts the same on each occasion, given the same situation; we can easily say that the situation causes the action. This poses no problem for the zombie (I will refer to a zombie as a person whose self/other conceptualization is as that of oneself/others as machines), as one has a deterministic rule that defines the self- (given situation A-> action B), and thus one can keep one’s model of self as-a-deterministic-being consistent. On the other hand, if the situation A sometimes leads to action B, but at other times to action C, then one has to explain the variance in the behavioral output. Consider first the problem of explaining the variance between-subjects. Given the same situation A, subject Z acts in way B while the subject Y acts in way C.   There is considerable variance. If one assumes all selves as created equal, then all should have behaved similarly. Either one has to grant an extraordinariness and uniqueness to all selves, or if one has a statistical  and ordinary nature of human beings, one has to grant that the subject given the same situation, should have behaved identically. But we all see that there is considerable variance.  This variance is individualistc and one may try to explain this between-subjects variance using subject’s personal history (prior conditioning: a behavioristic model; or repressed emotional experiences/memories: psychoanalytical theory), one may also look at subject’s common ancestral history and use that to explain behavior (genetic differences: evolutionary biology; cultural differences : anthropology ) or one may even look at his holistic experiences and use that individualistic experiential history as a basis for explaining behavior ( consider two identical twins that because of their different sampling of environment may end up as differently conditioned etc). Phew that covers all the major psychological theories that I could remember.

Now lets focus on the problem of explaining within-subjects variance ; given the fact that the Situation is the same (situation A)  and the subject is the same (subject Z), why does the same subject react differently to the same situation (acts in ways B and C). This is a relatively hard problem. One could deny the problem itself and claim that no situation is identical, but hey we are doing armchair philosophy right now, and we have already agreed to the premise of existence of a same situation A when we discussed between-subjects variance above, so it doesn’t hurt to concede that the situation A can be same for subject Z, but he may still react differently in ways B and C. None of the above psychological approaches, if applied in a strict, causal deterministic sense can explain the same subject Z reacting differently to situation A , as the subject Z’s personal history (conditioning, repressed memories) or ancestral history (genes, cultural influences) or even previous experiences and choices remain the same and thus should ideally have led to the same behavior. I am making an assumption here that situation A is repeated twice or more in succession (closely in time) so that one cannot counter and say that conditioning (to take an example) has changed in meanwhile due to situation A itself and thus, as the subject Z (at time t=1) has changed to an extent (by delta effect of situation A on the ‘earlier’ subject Z at time t=0) , so he may react differently at tome t=1 from how he reacted at time t=0.   What we are really doing is doing away with a term of the equation; we are saying subject Z is not constant (it  keep changing- self as constantly changing- a Buddhist philosophical premise and also favored by many in psychology) , but in the spirit of Camus’s Absurdity argument in Myth of Sisyphus, I am not satisfied with doing away one of the variables of the equation itself, so let us see, where this model of self-as-a-deterministic-being leads us to. Now that subject Z remains the same for two iterations of situation A, how can one explain the variance that results in action B at one time and action C at the other. One can again try to dissolve the equation by claiming that there is no unified self in space (earlier argument was that there is no unified self in time- it is a constantly changing in time self) – that is we are not a single self , but made up of many different selves- some conscious, some unconscious etc. Different selves may compete with each other and whoever wins at the moment, directs the show. Again assuming different selves cohabiting the same person doesn’t really feel what-it-is like to-be-oneself , and apart from some multiple-personality disorder (DID) this has not been frequently reported; but more importantly . Granting multiple selves to subject Z  again vanishes one of the terms of the equation, and I am not interested, I want to stay and see where my inquiry takes me to.

If the situation is same, the subject is same and a single one, than what explains the within-subject variance? One has to grant unpredictability to a self that was assumed to be deterministic to begin with. One can now take two routes, either resort to the magical mumbo-jumbo of quantum world and indeterminacy and uncertainty; or  stay in the deterministic world but look at complex systems/ chaos theory etc to explain the apparent indeterminacy.  I believe a zombie will prefer the second route and model the self as a complex-system/chaotic self. One could say that the self/ others are still completely determined, but due to an initial ‘butterfly flapping wings effect‘ the self seems or appears to be unpredictable and will continue to remain unpredicatble because of that ‘original sin’. The original sin may be how the infant took the first breath, whether he cried or laughed when born; what the time of conception was etc etc. Whatever may be the initial condition that escaped measuring, it leads to an unperdicatble self, a chaotic self that one cannot measure in the present and thus cannot predict in the long term- a self that is as fickle and as perdicatble as the waether.

There are important implications to seeing / modeling the self as a chaotic system. That leads to a diminished sense of agency / responsibility as perhaps there is not much one can do to correct the original sin and thus modify/ change ones long term behavior. This diminished p-consciousness of agency and the consequent differential experiences of sensations/ perceptions should also lead to diminished qualia or what-it-feels-to be-like feeling.  Maybe the zombies do feel really like zombies- mechanical and chaotic- going along the life stream in a mechanical , predetermined manner- seeing all and understanding all, even acting and reacting, but feeling impotent and lifeless, perhaps just fulfilling a role which has been scripted by someone else (the initial butterfly flapping its wings or the original sin).

This is a good point to stop, but I would like to thank Melbren, a reader of this blog, who commented on my last post and asked me if I would re-define , give a new name to Autism spectrum disorders. Thta made me think and somehow led to this post. But first his comment:

Very cool post. And I love your blog. I am trying to think about this particular post in terms of your psychotic spectrum–most specifically as it relates to autism. But I am impeded by an overwhelming feeling that if we have a new spectrum–we’ll need new terms. The term “autism” has outgrown its usefulness, don’t you think?

For one thing–if we are to use the framework of a psychosis spectrum–I think there will be a lot of people currently diagnosed with autism who are, in fact, organically more biased toward the opposite end of the spectrum. However, such individuals may still have “stereotypies” that we have come to associate with the term “autism.”

That being said–if you were appointed “word czar of the day,” and, as such, had the authority to scrap all of our conventional terminology and come up with “new and improved” terms that are more in alignment with a psychosis spectrum–what new terms would you choose?

I conceptualize autism as defect whereby people falsely apply a deterministic model (relevant for the world/ non-living things) to the self/others (living things) ; I consider of psychosis as the reverse, whereby one applies an agentic model to the world, thus exhibiting magical thinking etc. Because psychotic spectrum is consptualised in terms of a disability (loss of contact with reality), I would rechristen autism spectrum as the zombie spectrum (loss of contact with agency); of course, If I indeed am the ‘word czar of the day’ I’ll probably rename both as consciousness-orientation (psychotic spectrum)  and reality-orientation (autistic spectrum) and highlight the good aspects of both- shaministic Altered states of consciousness and creativity of schizotypals and the scientific and savantic abilities of the Aspergers. Of course, in a lighter vein, perhaps the autistic spectrum people are ‘muggles’  (believers in ordinariness ) who still have to come to terms with the ‘magic’ (believers in extraordinariness)  of consciousness.

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How Mood and felt Energy are related to thought variability and speed

There is a recent article by Pronin and Jacobs, on the relationship between mood, thought speed and experience of ‘mental motion’ that builds up on their previous work.

Let us see how they describe thought speed and variability and what their hypothesis is:

1. The principle of thought speed. Fast thinking, which involves many thoughts per unit time, generally produces positive affect. Slow thinking, which involves few thoughts per unit time, generally produces less positive affect. At the extremes of thought speed, racing thoughts can elicit feelings of mania, and sluggish thoughts can elicit feelings of depression.

2. The principle of thought variability. Varied thinking generally produces positive affect, whereas repetitive thinking generally produces negative affect. This principle is derived in part from the speed principle: when thoughts are repetitive, thought speed (thoughts per unit time) diminishes. At its extremes, repetitive thinking can elicit feelings of depression (or anxiety), and varied thinking can elicit feelings of mania (or reverie).

Let me clarify at the outset that they are aware of the effects of though speed on variability and vice versa; as well as the effects of mood on felt energy and vice versa; thus they know that one can confound the other. Another angle they consider is the relationship between thought speed/variability i.e the form of thought and the contents of thought (whether having emotional salience or neutral) and investigated whether the effects of speed and variability were confounded with though content; they found negative evidence for this inetrcationist view.

Let me also clarify that I differ slightly (based on my interpreation of their data) from their original hypothesis, in the sense that I believe that their data shows that speed affects felt energy and variability affects affect and that the effects of speed on mood may be mediated by the effect of speed on felt energy and similarly the effect of variability on felt energy may be mediated by its effects on mood.

Thus my claim is that:

  1. Thought speed leads to more felt energy. Extremes of ‘racing thoughts’ leads to the manic feeling of being very energetic (when accompanied with positive mood, this may give rise to feelings of grandiosity- I have the energy to achieve anything), while also may lead to anxiety states (when accompanied with negative affect) in which one cannot really suppress a negative chain of thoughts – one following the other in fast succession, regarding the object of ones anxiety. The counterpart to this the state where thoughts come slowly (writer’s block etc) and when accompanied with negative affect, this can easily be viewed as depression.
  2. Thought variability leads to more positive affect: Extremes of ‘tangential thoughts’ leads to the manic feeling of being in a good mood (when accompanied with high energy , this manifest as feelings of euphoria); while the same tangential thoughts when accompanied by low felt energy may actually be felt as serenity/ calmness/ reverie. The counterpart to this is the state of thoughts that are stuck in a rut – when accompanied with low energy this leads to feelings of depression and sadness.

Thus, to put simply : there are two dimensions one needs to take care of – mood (thought variability) x energy (thought speed) and high and low extremes on these dimensions are all opposites of their counterpart.

Before we move on, I’ll let the authors present their other two claims too:

3. The combination principle. Fast, varied thinking prompts elation; slow, repetitive thinking prompts dejection. When speed and variability oppose each other, such that one is low and the other high, individuals’ affective experience will depend on factors including which one of the two factors is more extreme. The psychological state elicited by such combinations can vary apart from its valence, as shown in Figure 1. For example, repetitive thinking can elicit feelings of anxiety rather than depression if that repetitive thinking is rapid. Notably, anxious states generally are more energetic than depressive states. Moreover, just as fast-moving physical objects possess more energy than do identical slower objects, fast thinking involves more energy (e.g., greater wakefulness, arousal, and feelings of energy) than does slow thinking.

4. The content independence principle. Effects of thought speed and variability are independent of the specific nature of thought content. Powerful affective states such as depression and anxiety have been traced to irrational and dysfunctional cognitions (e.g., Beck, 1976). According to the independence principle, effects of mental motion on mood do not require any particular type of thought content.

They review a number of factors and studies that all point to a causal link between thought speed and energy and between thought variability and mood. More importantly they show the independent effects of though speed and variability from the effects of thought content on mood. I’ll not go into the details of the studies and experiments they performed, as their article is available freely online and one can read for oneself (it makes for excellent reading); suffice it to say that I believe they are on the right track and have evidence to back their claims.

What are the implications of this:

The speed and repetition of thoughts, we suggest, could be manipulated in order to alter and alleviate some of the mood and energy symptoms of mental disorders. The slow and repetitive aspects of depressive thinking, for example, seem to contribute to the disorder’s affective symptoms (e.g., Ianzito et al., 1974; Judd et al., 1994; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991; Philipp et al., 1991; Segerstrom et al., 2000). Thus, techniques that are effective in speeding cognition and in breaking the cycle of repetitive thought may be useful in improving the mood and energy levels of depressed patients. The potential of this sort of treatment is suggested by Pronin and Wegner’s (2006) study, in which speeding participants’ cognitions led to improved mood and energy, even when those cognitions were negative, self-referential, and decidedly depressing. It also is suggested by Gortner et al.’s (2006) finding that an expressive writing manipulation that decreased rumination (even while inducing thoughts about an upsetting experience) rendered recurrent depression less likely.

There also is some evidence suggesting that speeding up even low-level cognition may improve mood in clinically depressed patients. In one experiment, Teasdale and Rezin (1978) instructed depressed participants to repeat aloud one of four letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, or D) presented in random order every 1, 2, or 4 s. They found that those participants required to repeat the letters at the fastest rate experienced the most reduction in depressed mood. Similar techniques could be tested for the treatment of other mental illnesses. For example, manipulations might be designed to decrease the mental motion of manic patients, perhaps by introducing repetitive and slow cognitive stimuli. Or, in the case of anxiety disorders, it would be worthwhile to test interventions aimed at inducing slow and varied thought (as opposed to the fast and repetitive thought characteristic of anxiety). The potential effectiveness of such interventions is supported by the fact that mindfulness meditation, which involves slow but varied thinking, can lessen anxiety, stress, and arousal.

 hat tip: Ulterior Motives

ResearchBlogging.org
Pronin, E., & Jacobs, E. (2008). Thought Speed, Mood, and the Experience of Mental Motion Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3 (6), 461-485 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00091.x
Pronin, E., & Wegner, D. (2006). Manic Thinking: Independent Effects of Thought Speed and Thought Content on Mood Psychological Science, 17 (9), 807-813 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01786.x

Best of Tweets: 27-05-09

Here goes:

  1. Fast, happy, and impulsive I: Speed makes you happy http://ff.im/-35MoD 
  2. Bad drives reactions, Good propels behaviors http://ff.im/-36HFt 
  3. even ‘classical’ radioactivity is random RT @Wildcat2030: Free Will And Quantum Physics: Less Related Than You Think – http://bit.ly/145bEJ 
  4. co-operation as ‘another’ feature/ guiding principle of evolution RT @XiXiDu: The Key to Success? http://is.gd/CjEG
  5. RT @mariapage: RT @news_science: Psychologists find that head movement is more important than … http://cli.gs/zTyZJA #LinkTweet
  6. the improv. nature of web2.0 RT @Wildcat2030: new essay “Wildcat: Jazzing the Beast” The web cultural revolution http://bit.ly/19o2X5
  7. RT @BoraZ: @carlzimmer: .3quarksdaily’s new prize for science blogs. Submit url of your favorite blog post: http://tinyurl.com/re3cjp
  8. Encephalon #71: Big Night http://ff.im/-3fHBH
  9.   The Universal Language of Bird Song – Very Short List http://ff.im/-3fIk3  
  10. Welcome to the Stream: The Next Phase of the Web | Twine http://ff.im/-3gaqN
  11. RT @anibalmastobiza: RT: @DoctorZhivago Why We Stare, Even When We Don’t Want to: http://bit.ly/IOcx5
  12. RT @Wildcat2030: “In search of the black swans” Mark Buchanan comments on marginal revolutionary ideas in science http://bit.ly/UeosV   
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