Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar and the Noble Savage

I saw the movie Avatar last weekend and wanted to comment on its “noble savage” theme. The movie is set on Pandora, a moon over 4 light years from Earth. The movie is about the conflict between human colonists on Pandora and the native inhabitants, known as “Na’vi.” The protagonist is a paraplegic human named Jake Sully, whose mission is to gain intelligence on the Na’vi. Jake infiltrates the Na’vi by utilizing an “avatar,” a Na’vi body with a human consciousness. The Na’vi are “tree people,” whose home rests on a large deposit of a valuable mineral. The humans want the Na’vi to relocate; the Na’vi resist. Jake, as a combination human and Na’vi, is caught in the middle of the conflict.

The movie portrays the Na’vi in a sympathetic light compared to the humans. The Na’vi, similar in many ways to Native Americans and other primitive tribes, are seen as “noble savages,” whose idyllic way of life is threatened by greedy, mechanized humans. They are one with nature, able to communicate with animal and plant life on Pandora. Writer/director James Cameron (whose previous credits include the Terminator series and Titanic) isn’t trying for a balanced viewpoint here—everything about the Na’vi is good, while everything about the humans (with the possible exception of scientific research) is bad. This black-and-white viewpoint is similar to Star Wars, except that the conflict in Star Wars was more abstract.

Are actual savages as noble as the ones portrayed in the film? Is there something worthwhile about their way of life that was lost in the era of European/American expansion and colonization? While modern life has many advantages and material comforts, it seems to be missing something spiritually. This spiritual malaise is connected with severe psychological problems in artistic and other sensitive people. As I say in my Triumph of Dullness post, certain central aspects of modern life have caused major problems in sensitive people. These things include artificial magnetic fields in the bedroom, the transportation revolution, and artificial time. Primitive man didn’t have to worry about those things.

I want to focus on one aspect of primitive people that is also emphasized in Avatar, their sense of place. Tribal people have a sense of connectedness to their immediate environment, their home, in a way that modern people can’t understand. The Na’vi have a spiritual connection with their home tree, and abandoning their home is not an option.

Our modern world, replete with casual relationships between humans and their environment, has encouraged a stream of migration and relocation that has gone on for centuries. We took away the Native Americans’ land and pushed them onto reservations. People have emigrated from their homelands to American and other places, and have further relocated within their adopted countries. Many jobs require relocation. We do what we have to do in order to improve our material well being. But does all this migration have a price?

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says “there’s no place like home,” and longs to get back to Kansas, her home. This indicates that even among modern people there’s some connection to, and longing for, home. No matter how often we have to move, we still long for a place to call home, for a stable location where one can always return to. My human magnetoreception hypothesis provides another argument for remaining at home. People who are sensitive to the geomagnetic field feel best when at (magnetic) home. North of home they feel negative symptoms, and south of home they feel positive symptoms. If they move too far from home, they’ll have severe symptoms, and have difficulty functioning without the aid of drugs.

While we can sympathize with those who are forced out of their homes, it’s also important to look at the other side. Whatever the motivation, whether it be the desire for more living space, or building roads, train tracks, structures, or any other kind of development, growth sometimes requires that some people move out to make way for "progress." If centuries ago we had accepted the currently fashionable idea that Native Americans had a right to their homeland, there would have been no United States. We would never have been able to expand our country, to farm the land, to build railroads and cities, i.e. to build a nation. While there are some people who would rather that the U.S. never have existed, I’m not one of them. While James Cameron can extol the virtues of primitive people, much of the technology he uses in his movie rests on inventions made in the U.S. These inventions would never have come into existence if Americans in the seventeenth through nineteenth century had believed, along with Cameron, that savages were noble, and that the Indians had a right to their land.

In conclusion, let’s give the savages their due, but let’s also give civilized man credit for building a post-industrial world that, while imperfect, has led to advanced technology that many of us would be loath to part from.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thoughts on the DSM-V

I’ve been reading about the debate over the upcoming DSM-V, the new version of psychiatry’s reference manual, and wanted to express my own opinions. I think that a utilitarian criterion should be used to evaluate not only the DSM, but psychiatry as a whole, including the prescribing (and overprescribing) of medications. By this I mean: does this diagnostic manual or treatment properly diagnose and treat people with psychiatric disorders? Does it falsely diagnose and improperly treat people by diagnosing them with disorders that they don’t have?

I’ll make an assertion that people with full-blown (out-of-control) schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and OCD are better off medicated. To be medicated, they must first be diagnosed, so an instrument that aids in correct diagnosis is useful. The first two editions of the DSM came out when psychiatry was still heavily influenced by psychoanalytic theory. As a consequence, they had vague, unreliable categories (e.g. neurotic vs. psychotic), and contained spurious speculation on etiology. Since psychoanalytic treatment never helped patients with serious disorders, these early editions of the DSM were pretty much useless.

Robert Spitzer led the development effort of the major revision of the DSM, known as the DSM-III, which came out in 1980. (Interestingly, Spitzer is a critic of the upcoming DSM-V.) The DSM-III largely abandoned the psychoanalytic orientation of its predecessors. It abandoned any attempt to classify by etiology. It created the symptom-based, multiaxial categorical system which, with some changes and extensions, was incorporated into the DSM-IV in 1994. The DSM-III helped psychiatrists make more reliable and valid diagnoses than past editions. It must be remembered, however, that without any knowledge of etiology, and without any valid diagnostic tests, there would always be less reliability and validity than with physical disorders.

The symptom-based model of the DSM-III and DSM-IV sets up fairly steep criteria by which to diagnose someone. For example, click here for the DSM-IV criteria for a major depressive episode. Of course, if you go to a PCP and tell him that you’re depressed, in less than a minute he’ll write you a prescription for an antidepressant, but the DSM states what criteria this PCP should be using. It also states the criteria by which patients need to be evaluated to be diagnosed in research studies. This is important because in order for drugs to be approved, they must first go through clinical trials on patients diagnosed with the disorder that these drugs are supposed to be treating. The fact that once they’re approved, they can be prescribed off-label for other disorders is a separate issue that I won’t take up here.

Enough about the history. Let’s ask the question: with the current DSM-IV, are people who should be diagnosed and medicated actually diagnosed and medicated? I think the answer is yes. If Jim has bipolar disorder, and has some means (insurance or self-pay) to see a doctor and to purchase drugs, he’ll be diagnosed, and get the drugs he needs. It’s possible that Jim doesn’t want to see a doctor or take drugs, but that’s a separate issue. No diagnostic manual can “treat” that problem (assuming that it is a problem).

The scary thing about some of the proposed revisions to the DSM-V is that they will expand the number of diagnosable disorders. This will in turn expand the use of drugs to people who don’t need them. I don’t think that this is a good thing. There are already too many people taking drugs who don’t fit the diagnostic criteria of the disorder for which the drugs were originally approved. An example of this is the unconscionable use of drugs approved for adults in children, sometimes very young children.

What psychiatry desperately needs is a more scientific basis. It needs better diagnostic tests, and a better understanding of etiology. These will in turn lead to better treatments. In the 15 years since the DSM-IV came out, while there has been some great research going on, there hasn’t been a major breakthrough. So the DSM-V is not going to help things, and will probably hurt things. Hopefully by the time the DSM-VI is published, there will be some breakthroughs. We can only hope.

Ben Bernanke—A Creative Leader

In my Triumph of Dullness blog post I say that there aren’t any contemporary creative geniuses in the arts and sciences. Creativity can be exercised in other fields, however, most notably in business or political leadership, and technology. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are two names that come to mind as geniuses in technology management. Those of us who are old enough to remember life without the PC or Mac realize how much our lives have been transformed by these devices. When I was in high school in the early 1980’s, the early versions of PC’s and Mac’s were available. There was no Internet, however, and we still did our term papers on typewriters. I couldn’t imagine using a typewriter now.

It’s much rarer to find intelligently creative political leadership. FDR was a good example of a creative leader, who guided his country through two of the biggest crises of the last century: the Great Depression and World War II. There was no guidebook to follow, no historical precedent, so FDR had to improvise. While you can disagree with specific policies or programs, by the time he died in 1945 the U.S. had defeated Hitler in just 3 ½ years, and was on its way to defeating Japan. World War II also ended the Great Depression.

After reading Time Magazine’s Person of the Year article, I have to conclude that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is a creative leader. In the fall of 2008, the world financial system ground to a halt. The housing bubble had burst, and a Depression 2.0 was a real possibility. Instead of responding in predictable ways, such as only lowering interest rates, this scholar of the Great Depression did some creative things. These had never been done before on the scale that Bernanke did them:
  1. Coordinating rate cuts and other interventions with central bankers around the world
  2. Buying up commercial paper, mortgage-based securities, and other debts.
  3. Bailing out troubled banks and other financial firms.
One can disagree with specific actions, such as some of the bailouts, but that’s the case for any leader or policy maker. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we were threatened with an economic depression. If Bernanke hadn’t acted, we could have 25% unemployment now, instead of 10%. It’s easy to blame people for disasters that actually happened; it’s harder to praise them for disasters that didn’t happen. A good example of this is that we haven’t had any terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Our national security agencies deserve credit for this, but they’re rarely praised. For the same reason, Bernanke deserves recognition for the disaster that didn’t happen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Updated "Are You Sensitive?" Page

I updated my Are You Sensitive? page on my website to clarify some of the points, and provide better explanations.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feedback I'd Really Like to Have

I’m starting to get feedback now, and I appreciate it. While I’m happy to get any feedback at all, let me explain what I’d really like to get. I want people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and OCD/tics to tell me if they relate to anything I’m saying on my website. I ask some questions on my Are You Sensitive? page. Read through these questions, and think about your answers. If you'd like to share your answers, go ahead and comment on this blog posting.

Additional information that would be helpful to know:

--Whether or not you’re currently on medications.

--What disorder you’ve been diagnosed with, where you grew up, where you live now, and your approximate age.

Since I understand that people are reluctant to reveal personal information, especially about their mental health, I’m changing a setting on my blog to allow anonymous comments. Please don’t provide any identifying information in your comments (e.g. name, phone #, address, email, etc).

Since people are busy, I don’t expect you to answer all these questions, or spend a lot of time writing out your comments. Make your comment whatever length you’d like.

Feel free to also comment on your experiences with the information on my Steps You Can Take and Further Research pages.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gone with the Wind

I just watched the 70th anniversary DVD edition of Gone with the Wind. Earlier this year, I had read the novel for the first time. I loved both the novel and the film. Since the story is probably familiar to most of my readers, I won’t try to summarize or review it. I want to use it as an example of a standard by which I evaluate contemporary culture. In my Triumph of Dullness blog post, I said that we don’t have any contemporary geniuses. We have people writing novels, and people making movies, but these novels and movies aren’t in the same universe as Gone with the Wind. A great historical novel requires a combination of engaging story, interesting characters, plot, vivid historical details, and clear style. There may be some contemporary novels that have some of these elements, but none have all the elements that Gone with the Wind had. Many contemporary novels try to substitute sex, violence, foul language, and other gimmicks to make up for their lack of literary quality. A great epic movie requires a great story, great acting, cinematography, music, direction, and all the other elements that made Gone with the Wind so fantastic. Contemporary movies have access to better technology, which makes for gee-whiz special effects, but these effects cannot hide the movies’ lack of quality storytelling, direction, and cinematography.

Ironically, Gone with the Wind was about how a once-great civilization (antebellum South) was destroyed in just four years of war. The creative fecundity that characterized what was otherwise an awful time (the 1930’s) helped engender the novel and movie Gone with the Wind. Creative achievement of this high order is, like the antebellum South, gone with the wind.

In my Triumph of Dullness blog post, I mention how there’s a lack of ambition among potential creative geniuses. There’s also a lack of mentoring, role models, inspiration, and any other social aspect of creative accomplishment. I want to focus on these social aspects, because it’s directly relevant to the publication of Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell, the book’s author, was a Southern journalist who wrote a rough draft of the novel between 1925 and 1930. She had no desire to seek publication, however, and stashed away the manuscript in her apartment.

In 1935, Mitchell met MacMillan editor Harold Latham, who was in Atlanta to scout for promising writers. Her duty was to show him around the area. She gave him her manuscript, which he read on the train back. He recognized the book’s potential, and arranged for her to get an advance, in order to finish the novel. The rest is history.

Contemporary fiction writers can recognize just how much has changed since then. Major publishers don’t send editors around the country looking for new talent. They don’t give out advances to first-time authors with unfinished manuscripts. They, in fact, do everything possible to discourage wannabe authors. They make them finish the novel before even trying to get a publisher. They then force writers to get an agent, a difficult and arduous process that most people don’t want to go through. Even after getting an agent, there’s no guarantee that the agent can sell the book to a publisher.

Publishers will say that economic conditions have changed, that they can’t afford to publish books by unknown authors, most of which fail commercially. It’s true that traditional publishers are losing money and that they can’t conduct business the way they used to. My point is not to blame publishers but to comment on how things have changed in the last 70 years. It’s doubtful that Margaret Mitchell had the ambition to do the things that writers need to do today to get published. There are probably many talented contemporary writers who have started a novel, perhaps a very good novel, who would have been published in an earlier era, but are never going to be published today.

There are other social aspects of creative achievement that are relevant. Gone with the Wind (the book and movie) inspired thousands of writers, directors, actors, and other creative people to write books and create movies. The lack of any contemporary Gone with the Winds has resulted in the lack of inspiration for potential writers, directors, and actors to achieve anything.

There’s a painting that visually represents this transmission from genius to lesser creative people:

I like this painting, entitled “Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce,” by Anglo-American painter Benjamin West (1738-1820). The painting shows the winged male genius inspiring his female devotees. These devotees are engaged in various creative pursuits, the most prominent being the painter. In reality, a genius doesn’t have to directly interact with people he influences. For example, Mozart strongly influenced Beethoven, although they were together only for a short time, if at all.

What we need are one or two Margaret Mitchells who can inspire thousands of others to begin a rebirth of a glorious literary tradition that is, today, gone with the wind.

Friday, December 4, 2009

200 Hits Per Day--But Virtually No Feedback

My site went live on October 25, 2009. From November 8 until yesterday (Dec 3), I’ve averaged 209 hits / day, over a 26 day period. This is measured by Awstats, a program that processes server logs, and that strips out hits from robots. I’ve been doing Google Advertising, and many of the hits are coming from this advertising (both from searches and content sites), but 44% of the hits (in November) came from direct address/bookmark/link in email. The hits are coming from all over the world, although the vast majority are from the U.S. The top 10 countries in hit count in November are as follows:

United States      1900
India                    436
Great Britain        352
Canada                344
Australia              284
Romania              216
Philippines           160
China                    98
South Africa          77
Russian Federation 75

I’ve only gotten one piece of feedback, a message in a bipolar discussion forum. As to why I haven’t gotten more feedback, I have no idea. Any guess would be speculative, so I won’t even try.

I didn’t know what the response would be when I went live with the website. I expected that if I got a lot of hits, that I would get some feedback. Another real possibility was that I would get few hits, and no feedback. The combination of 200 hits per day and virtually no feedback was probably the least likely possibility in my mind.

In my Triumph of Dullness blog post, I say how it’s difficult to start from scratch. There is very little encouragement in our society for truly creative ideas. There are no movements, no role models, no mentors, and no heroes. It is extremely difficult to generate interest in a crazy idea like human magnetoreception, especially when I’m unknown and have no credentials. It would have been hard in more creative past eras, but I would have had a better chance of finding a mentor or advocate. The fact that my website has been generating hits is encouraging, since it implies that some people are interested in finding out more about my ideas.

I think that if my website continues to generate 200 or more hits per day, then it’s likely that at some point, people will start talking about it. The more hits, the more people who are introduced to my ideas, the better chance that a few people will mention it in blogs, forums, Facebook, or other online media. Some feedback may be negative, and some positive, but both types of feedback will be a means to generate badly needed online “buzz.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Triumph of Dullness

Read the following poem, written in the early eighteenth century by English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744):

In vain, in vain,—the all-composing hour
Resistless falls: the Muse obeys the Pow'r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand oppressed,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is night.
See sulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heaped o'er her head!
Philosophy, that leaned on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defense,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries all.

This poem, entitled "The Triumph of Dulness [sic]," and the larger work to which it belongs, The Dunciad, have been referred to as a "mock apocalypse." They describe the end of the world in a humorous way. The Dunciad is a complex work, containing many layers of biblical, Greco-Roman, and eighteenth century British political and cultural allusions.

To help the contemporary reader understand the "Triumph of Dulness" poem, I'll explain some of the allusions. The "sable throne" symbolizes night and chaos. Medea was a sorceress in Seneca's Latin tragedy, who summoned monsters outlined in heavenly constellations as she prepared to murder her children. Why did she murder her children? She did it in revenge of their father's infidelity. Medea finally escaped into the heavens in a chariot drawn by dragons, after which her husband concluded that there were no gods.

Argus had eyes over all his body, which slept in rotation to keep a constant watch. He was set by jealous Hera to keep watch on Io (Zeus' mistress) to prevent her husband Zeus' infidelity. Hermes was able to put out all Argus' eyes at once, allowing Zeus to fool around unwatched. Hermes' putting out all Argus' eyes is symbolic of the lack of perception and vision in society.

Casuistry (deceptive argument) is heaped over the head of Truth, forced Truth to flee to an old cavern. Philosophy has abandoned heaven (God—the first cause) and shrinks to its second cause (mechanical necessity, or causation). By doing this, philosophy disappears. "Physic" (natural sciences) and "Metaphysic" (philosophy) are dependent on each other, leading each to circular reasoning. "See Mystery to Mathematics fly" refers to the vain attempts to "prove" the mysteries of religion by mathematical reasoning. They (truth, religion, philosophy, natural science, and math) die. Religion blushes, veils her sacred fires, and morality goes down the drain (implying that morality is grounded upon religion). The final lines refer to an apocalyptic ending of the world, brought down by chaos and anarchy.

Let's interpret "The Triumph of Dulness" in the context of our present age. Has dullness triumphed in our time? In Pope's words, "Art after Art goes out, and all is night", and "Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires". Also, "Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!" There is neither art nor wit in contemporary culture. If you go to a movie, turn on the TV, go to an art gallery, concert hall, or playhouse to watch and/or hear anything new, stupidity, incompetence, and mediocrity reign. Creative achievement, the "human spark," the "glimpse divine," exemplified in history by Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Beethoven, is nowhere to be found. This makes for a dull society.

For the last fifty years, there has been very little major individual creative achievement. It's true that every year there are new products and inventions, new scientific discoveries, and new technologies (e.g. cloning, medical advances, new computer technologies, new software, new books, new music, etc.). The problem is that these advances have been made by relatively minor, unknown people or groups of people. None of these people compare to the giants of the Western art and science tradition. If they did compare, then they would be as famous or more famous than these giants.

Is it a public relations problem? It's true that the media mainly reports bad things. Maybe someone is a genius, but the media only wants to report on the latest murder-suicide. The media is a problem, but it's unlikely that a genius would go unnoticed in today's age of individual glorification and celebrity. Actors, sports stars, popular musicians, and politicians certainly go noticed. Einstein today would likely be more famous and in the media spotlight than he was in his time.

Why this dearth of creative genius? Consider this quote: "Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings." C. Archie Danielson's pithy metaphor compares intelligence to a bird's ability to fly. Intelligence, like wings on a bird, can cause the individual to soar. Intelligence can also help uplift society by means of the products of intelligence.

Bird without wings cannot fly. The potential for flight is present in the bird's genetics, but without wings it cannot actualize this potential. Intelligence without ambition has the genetic potential to do constructive things, but the person cannot do it. The bright person sits on his or her ass and watches TV or plays video games.

A better quote would be: "Creativity without ambition is like a bird without wings." Creativity is not the same as intelligence. Creativity is coming up with new, original ideas, works of art, or inventions. From the point of view of society, creativity is much more important than what intelligence alone can do. Creative geniuses are intelligent, but have something more than intelligence (i.e. high IQ scores alone cannot predict creative achievement—or else everyone in Mensa would be a creative genius). Intelligence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for genius.

There is certainly a lack of ambition among potential creative geniuses. These birds are not growing the wings that they need to fly. Why don't they have ambition? There are environmental factors in modern society that have robbed virtually every potential genius of any ambition. One of these factors may be the lack of structure, standards, and morality in contemporary society, a descent to Hobbes “state of nature.” This condition, known as “hyperindividualism,” i.e. every man out for himself, undercuts the prestige and altruism motivations that induced creative people to achieve in the past. Both prestige and altruism are important motivators because creative work in the arts and sciences is usually not financially rewarding. Another related factor is that our information-age economy gives bright people so many more opportunities for high-paying careers than it did in the past. Most of these careers (e.g. business, law, medicine, and technology) don’t provide the opportunity for creative achievement in the arts and sciences.

Another environmental factor is widespread availability of psychotropic drugs (both legal and illegal) that rob people of their creative ambition (and other things). Marijuana is an illegal example of an anti-motivational drug; antipsychotic drugs are a legal example. The stimulant drugs like amphetamine and cocaine, which target the neurotransmitter dopamine, are especially destructive for motivation. Antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs have helped keep people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia out of the hospital, but their anti-motivational and emotional blunting side effects have prevented these people from achieving anything. With a few exceptions, prior to the 20th century potentially creative people had only alcohol as a means to escape from reality.

Another reason is that it's hard to start from scratch. Other geniuses were part of artistic and scientific movements that were prominent in their time. Michelangelo was a product of the High Renaissance; Newton was a product of the scientific revolution. Today, there are no movements; there's nil. Modernism and Postmodernism are dead. They've contributed nothing. There isn't anything more to rebel against—all literary, artistic, and moral standards are gone. There are no role models, no heroes, and no mentors that can inspire creative people to achieve. This shows the supreme importance of culture and environment to creative achievement. There wasn't much creative achievement in the Dark Ages, even though there were certainly some people who had the potential. It's hard to believe that with today's wealth, living standards, and technology that we're not doing much better than the Dark Ages.

To get a better understanding of why there is no creative genius, it's important to recognize when the problem began. Although it's been glaringly evident since at least the 1960's, the problem began a century before that, according to Charles Murray. In his book entitled Human Accomplishment, Murray dates the problem from sometime in the 19th century. His reasoning is that although there was a great deal of accomplishment in the late 19th and early 20th century, there should have been more, based on the fact that more people were educated and had more opportunities to create than ever before. If we accept his premise, then the explanations mentioned above don't apply, because they refer to environmental factors that came into existence after 1900.

Another perspective is from Eugen Weber, in one of the programs from his PBS series The Western Tradition. This program, entitled “Fin de Si├Ęcle,” used the best of times / worst of times theme to portray life and culture at the turn of the 20th century. On the one hand, it was the best of times for almost everyone. Inventions such as the bicycle, the automobile, the airplane, electric power, the railroad, and the steamboat had transformed or would soon transform the lives of everyone, including the common people. Public education had for the first time provided literacy for the majority of people in the developed world. Economic progress had allowed more leisure time for working people than ever before, and the consumer economy and transportation revolution gave these people more things to do with their leisure time than ever before.

On the other hand, for the sensitive, creative types, it was the worst of times. As a symbol of this, Weber showed Munch’s painting “The Scream.”

Something in the environment was driving creative people to near-madness, leading them to abandon all traditional notions of beauty, logic, coherence, and harmony, which we know today as the avant-garde/modernist movement. The fact that the basic themes of modernism still dominate the arts today, a century later, indicates that the root causes haven’t changed. Artists and other sensitive people are still screaming.

My human magnetoreception hypothesis explains why creative people had such a difficult time with modern life. Let’s assume that potentially creative people are also potentially mentally ill people. The link between creativity and madness is generally accepted by researchers who study creativity. Read Eysenck’s Genius or Simonton’s Origins of Genius for corroboration. There are three aspects of modernity that have hammered people with the genetic predisposition for either creativity or mental illness.
  1. Mentally ill people are highly sensitive to artificial magnetic fields when sleeping. The industrial, electromagnetic/electronic, and computer revolutions have exposed us to all kinds of artificial magnetic fields in our bedrooms. The innerspring mattress, which first became widely used in the 1930’s, is a psychologically destructive invention that exposes sleepers to artificial magnetic fields (from the steel springs). Other harmful magnetic fields are from steel headboards and bed frames, steel building structure, and various electrical and electronic appliances. In recent decades, with the introduction of wireless networks and devices, we’ve become more and more exposed to these fields. Mentally ill people have become psychologically damaged by the sleep disruption caused by artificial magnetic fields.
  2. Mentally ill people are highly sensitive to the geomagnetic field differences between different places on the Earth. The transportation revolution that began in the nineteenth century with the invention and widespread use of the steamboat and the railroad, and accelerated in the twentieth century with the invention of the automobile and airplane, has exposed people to vastly different geomagnetic field properties than that in which they grew up. Our bodies didn’t evolve with the ability to adapt to these differences. Mentally ill people have become psychologically damaged by moving from one city or country to another.
  3. Mentally ill people are highly sensitive to differences in circadian rhythm, the internal daily rhythm that is influenced by sleep/wake time. The industrial revolution began the move toward artificial time and away from the natural/sun clock that people had always used in centuries past. The rise of shift work and the introduction of daylight savings time in the twentieth century further moved us away from natural time. Mentally ill people have become psychologically damaged by their circadian rhythms being out-of-sync with the solar day.
All three factors began to influence mentally ill people in the nineteenth century, then accelerated in the twentieth century. Put another way, our technology is destroying our civilization by psychologically damaging a group of people who in previous eras might have become creative geniuses, but now are not achieving anything.

A civilization cannot thrive without creative achievement. There are always problems that require creative solutions. For example, contemporary America is drowning in debt, the war on drugs has been lost, we’re threatened by terrorism, our schools are failing us, prisons are the only high-growth industry, we need a vaccine for AIDS, and we need to come up with alternatives to oil and the internal combustion engine. Combine these problems with the current Great Recession, and it’s obvious that our society is in deep trouble. While there are some good ideas floating around, nothing gets implemented. We need creative geniuses to not only come up with solutions, but figure out how to get these solutions put into practice. Dullness pervades all our political/artistic/scientific life and intellectual discourse. At least during the Great Depression, people could go to Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers movies as a healthy temporary escape. Today, all we have to offer are reality TV shows and rap music. Until we address the connection between our own technology and creativity / mental illness, i.e. until we begin researching human magnetoreception, dullness will be triumphant.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Memoir of How I Developed the Concept of Psychiatric Symptoms as Navigational Tools

Arguably the single most important finding of my human magnetoreception research project is the concept of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools. Negative symptoms (i.e. depressed mood) tell me that (magnetic) home is south of my current location, and positive symptoms (i.e. tics) tell me that (magnetic) home is north. In my site and research paper, I don’t give many anecdotes related to my development of this idea. I intend to fill in this gap in this post.

One of the strangest things about psychiatric disorders is that although they are considered to be diseases, they don’t share many of the characteristics of diseases. For one thing, there’s no obvious pathophysiology, i.e. physiological changes associated with the disease. This is not the case for some other well-known brain diseases. Multiple Sclerosis is characterized by plaques in the white matter of the brain. Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. Both of these diseases are degenerative—i.e. the patient gets worse over time. Psychiatric disorders, on the other hand, are not degenerative. Take as an example John Nash, the subject of the book and movie “A Beautiful Mind.” His schizophrenia gradually improved over time, so that by his mid-fifties he could function reasonably well.

While psychiatric disorders are not typical diseases, I don’t agree with Szasz’s infamous 1961 book that mental illness is a myth. As someone who suffered from mental illness for over 20 years, and having seen how mental illness has wrecked lives and destroyed relationships in my own family, I know how dysfunctional it is. It’s just not in the same category as other diseases.

My concept of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools helps explain this puzzle of mental illness. Psychiatric symptoms are the human equivalent of the animal instinctual response to being north or south of home. Long ago during human evolution, our ancestors probably utilized these symptoms for navigation. Since our primitive ancestors never ventured far from their birthplace, didn’t live very long, and had no exposure to artificial magnetic fields, their symptoms were never too intense. They were strong enough to guide them north or south toward home, but not strong enough to incapacitate them.

At some point, the knowledge of psychiatric symptoms as navigational tools was lost. This probably occurred well before the advent of civilization and written language. Some cultures and tribes considered these symptoms to be the result of evil spirits or demons. Others, like the ancient Greeks, took a more naturalistic approach. Today, the dominant theory is that psychiatric disorders are a result of a chemical imbalance. This imbalance is brought on by a combination of genes and environment. Both the genes causing mental illness and the environment trigger or triggers are unknown (as of 2009).

I accept the premise that genes are part of the cause of mental illness. My human magnetoreception hypothesis explains the environmental trigger. People with psychiatric disorders are unwitting navigators, whose symptoms are guiding them to their (magnetic) home. Since knowledge of the navigational function of psychiatric symptoms has been lost, the navigators (and everyone else) attribute their symptoms to some type of biochemical disease process.

How did I arrive at the startling conclusion that the symptoms of my psychiatric disorder were navigational tools? Before embarking on my geomagnetism research project in late 2007, I had studied psychology, and had gotten a second bachelor’s degree in this subject (my first was in physics). From my study of psychology, I knew about positive and negative symptoms, primarily as they applied to schizophrenia. I thought that I had negative symptoms, in the sense of a chronic mild depression (i.e. dysthymia) and lack of motivation. I also had positive symptoms, in the sense of tics, hypomania, and anxiety. But I had no idea that these symptoms were navigational tools until late 2007, when I began to drive around Utah and surrounding states, paying attention to how I felt differently in different places.

Since many of my readers may not be familiar with the geography of the Western U.S., I’m including a map with some key places I visited coded with letters. Here’s what happened at each of these places.

A) Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC). This was my home during this initial stage of my research project. I used how I felt here as a reference point, to compare to how I felt in the other places.

B) Rock Springs, Wyoming. This was the first place I drove to in search of a geomagnetic explanation of why I felt differently in different places. I drove here on September 20, 2007, because I knew that it was higher in total intensity and inclination than SLC, and I expected that being higher in these two magnetic factors would make me feel better. I stayed in a motel here, and felt in prepeak. I felt more focused and motivated than I did in SLC. At the time, I didn’t know that there was a peak, and that it was only one meter north-south distance. On hindsight, if I had known about the effects of circadian rhythm on peak location, I would have gone to bed an hour later, which would have pushed the peak far south of Rock Springs. I was phase advanced at the time, but didn’t know it.

C) My next trip was to Idaho Falls, Idaho, on September 26, 2007. I wanted to go north to see if even higher total intensity and inclination would make me feel better than I did in Rock Springs. What I found, however, was that in Idaho Falls I felt depressed, unmotivated, and unfocused. These are what I would later call “negative symptoms,” or symptoms of being in the Negative Zone, the area north of magnetic home.

D) Based on the negative symptoms I felt in Idaho Falls, I decided that I needed to drive south, to attempt to feel the way I did in Rock Springs. By using the magnetic model calculator, I found that Twin Falls, Idaho had similar total intensity and inclination to Rock Springs. I drove down to Twin Falls on September 27, but didn’t feel as well as I did as in Rock Springs. I stayed overnight a few nights in Twin Falls, driving to some of the small towns north and northeast of this city. I felt in prepeak in Rupert (about 75 km east/northeast of Twin Falls), but negative symptoms in Minidoka (about 23 km northeast of Rupert). On September 28, I distinguished between a “Northern Effect” and “Southern Effect,” which I would later change to “Negative Zone” and “Positive Zone.” I speculated on the implications of this for bipolar disorder. I also observed that the feelings go away temporarily while I’m driving (something I would later realize was applicable to sleeping near a cardinal bed angle {N-S or E-W}. The feelings don’t go away when driving if I sleep near a 45 degree bed angle).

The next day (September 29) I found the peak near Twin Falls. By making frequent stops while driving, I realized that the prepeak feelings occurred in a narrow north-south distance range, 2 to 3 kilometers.

E) Wanting to find the peak closer to Salt Lake City (A), I drew a line between Rock Springs (B) and Twin Falls (D), and predicted that the peak should be near Bear Lake. This high elevation, relatively undeveloped resort lake near the Utah/Idaho border had inspired me in September 2006 to write a mystery short story set there. See the pictures below.

In early October, 2007, Bear Lake inspired me to further develop my concept of the psychological magnetic map. It was near the Bear Lake Marina that I first walked the peak. I walked too fast, however, missing the most intense part of the peak (see video). At the time I estimated that the peak was between 30 and 60 meters north-south distance (later revised down to one meter). By walking east and west of the peak, and holding a compass, I realized that the peak extended approximately along a line of magnetic east-west.

By stopping in Laketown and Round Valley, two towns just south of the lake, and then stopping in Logan, which is a further distance southwest of the lake, I began to conceptualize the distinction between the Happy Zone and the Positive Zone. Just south of the peak is the Happy Zone, in which I’m largely free of symptoms, but if I go further south I run into the Positive Zone, in which I feel positive symptoms (i.e. tics and involuntary body movements).

I returned to Bear Lake on October 11, eight days after my previous visit. I found that the peak had moved south 0.9 km in the eight days. This was before I controlled for bed angle, and was likely due to a combination of Bed Angle Drift (BAD) and secular change. Much of my later research involved doing quantitative analysis of the various factors that were associated with peak movement north or south.

The above description covers the initial stages of my research project, in which I identified that my symptoms were navigational tools, leading me to magnetic home. I also found that there was a peak, a short distance of intense feeling that was a north-south transition between different symptom clusters. In future posts I’ll discuss some other anecdotes associated with this project.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Facebook group

I've created a new Facebook group. I'm getting a lot of hits on my website but very little feedback. I'm hoping that people will utilize the group to share their concerns, questions, and experiences vis-a-vis human magnetoreception. For example, has anyone tried the suggestions on the site to find out if they're sensitive to the magnetic field? Are the instructions clear? Do you feel silly looking up at the early afternoon sky? Are you unsure how to read a magnetic compass, or want advice as to what compass to use? Is your spouse balking at the idea of rotating your bed? All these things are legitimate concerns to bring to the group.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Harry Magnet mentioned in a bipolar forum

Harry Magnet was mentioned in a bipolar forum. Harry replied to the post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cognitive-behavioral strategies to manage my OCD

This post is directed toward those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I developed OCD during my last year of high school, and it became a serious disorder during college (combined with tics). At the time, I didn't try to get treatment, and I had no idea that I even had OCD. In my mid-twenties, I began seeing a psychiatrist, and started on a drug called Anafranil, which helped a lot. I was on Anafranil for 10 years, with 2 of those years combined with Zoloft. I combined the medication with my own cognitive-behavioral strategy. I found that existing psychological treatments (e.g. exposure therapy) didn't work very well for me. After 10 years of Anafranil along with my own strategies, I no longer needed medication. My OCD remained sub-clinical, i.e. although I still had an obsessive-compulsive personality, it no longer impacted my functioning. This was 3 years before I started investigating the link between my OCD/tics and the Earth's magnetic field (which I present in my website).

My symptoms were mainly obsessions about philosophical issues. I also had checking and cleaning compulsions. The compulsions weren't as bad as the obsessions. During my early and mid-twenties, virtually any reading or writing could trigger obsessions and tics, which would last for days. I believe that the obsessions derived from my extreme interpretation of the Ayn Rand/Objectivist philosophy. I'll expand upon this connection at another time.

My strategies to deal with the OCD involved refraining from mental suppression and mental forcing. Mental suppression is the willful cutting off of thoughts, images, and feelings as they arise from the stream of consciousness. Mental forcing is the willful forcing of thoughts, images, and feelings that would otherwise have not come from the stream of consciousness. Both of these behaviors are self-stimulatory, addictive, and destabilizing. Daniel Wegner's book White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts is a good source on the futility of trying to suppress thoughts.

To avoid these behaviors, you need to distinguish between mental forcing/suppression, which are internal behaviors, and triggers, which are external behaviors and stimuli. I believe that people with OCD should avoid triggers. Triggers are basically anything that can set off an obsessive/compulsive state. They involve an interaction with the person and his environment (as opposed to a strictly internal thing like mental suppression). As I stated earlier, before I started with medication almost any reading or writing served as triggers for me. Triggers include being in an unclean or disordered environment, and any kind of change or stress. Medication helped reduce the number of triggers, and also the severity and duration of the dysfunctional state that ensued. That's why I support the use of medication to control OCD.

Exposure therapy says that OCD is an anxiety disorder (based on the DSM categorization), and just as exposing anxious people to things they fear helps them (e.g. exposing people with claustrophobia to a confined space), exposing people with OCD will help them overcome their obsessions and compulsions.

There are several problems with the theory behind exposure therapy for OCD. One problem is that OCD isn't really an anxiety disorder. It's usually treated by antidepressants. If it was a true anxiety disorder, it would be treated by anti-anxiety meds like Xanax or Valium. The other problem is that obsessions and compulsions are addictive, self-stimulatory behaviors. One doesn't treat addictive behaviors by exposing the addict to things that can trigger the addiction. For example, one doesn't treat alcoholism by exposing the alcoholic to wine or liquor.

I don't know why some people and therapists claim that exposure therapy is effective for OCD. Perhaps some people with true anxiety are misdiagnosed with OCD. Perhaps others are helped in the short term by exposure therapy, only to have different obsessions and compulsions replace the ones that they were exposed to. Others likely relapse.

I hope the above strategies help some people with OCD. Feedback is welcome.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Peak Experience--Shared vs. Alone

A central element of my research project is the "peak" experience. This is the intense reaction I get when I cross from the Negative Zone to the Happy Zone, or vice versa. You can see a video of it here. Most of the time I drove alone to the peak. My girlfriend at the time helped me create the video. She was behind the camera at the time I crossed the peak. She says that she didn't feel anything when I crossed the peak.

Last July, when vacationing in Utah, I brought two of my friends along with me to the peak. They are both experienced in energy/psychic phenomena. When I went through the peak, they experienced intense reactions, too. One friend could visualize the peak traversing the area we were in. One time, I walked the peak with my arms around each friend. They were shaking almost as much as I was.

I think that their reaction was secondary to my peak reaction, but nevertheless it was intense for them. I'm curious to know if anyone else experiences the peak, either alone or with others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crazy Ideas

I want to talk about crazy ideas. Most crazy ideas are not influential nor socially useful. A good example is the perpetual motion machine. No one has heard of the vast majority of crazy ideas, for good reason.

Some crazy ideas are influential, some are socially useful, and some are both. I want to talk about 2 crazy ideas that came into existence about the same time, at the beginning of the 20th century: Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Freud's theory was influential, but socially useless. He came up with the theory at a time when psychology was in its infancy. He could get away with creating an unverifiable and unfalsifiable theory that captivated and influenced many mental health professionals, including psychiatrists. After a century of practice, there's no evidence supporting his ideas. An enormous amount of time and money has been wasted on psychoanalytic therapy. Experimental psychology has advanced enough now that he wouldn't be able to get away with perpetuating such an unscientific theory today.

Einstein's theory was both influential and socially useful. It laid the groundwork for modern physics, which is behind much of the technological advances in the 20th century. Einstein couldn't get away with a speculative and unverifiable theory like Freud's. The reason for this is that physics had several centuries of development prior to Einstein, and was much further advanced than psychology.

My human magnetoreception hypothesis, in which I claim that my OCD and tics are connected to the Earth's magnetic field, is definitely high in craziness, probably higher than Freud's and Einstein's theories. Whether it will be influential or socially useful remains to be seen. It's not quite as crazy as the idea that my symptoms are caused by the Martians, but it's close. Since I'm writing this in 2009, and there's been over a century of research in psychology, I can't get away with what Freud did. So if no one is able to verify my theory, it won't become influential. In my paper, I list specific experiments that can be done to verify my theory. Even though my data is based on subjective experience, it is still empirical, and can be verified in a double-blind manner. Compare this to Freud's theory, which is pure speculation. Compare it to the Martian idea, which obviously cannot be verified.

The key problem with my hypothesis is that human magnetoreception isn't accepted by scientists. But we know that animal magnetoreception exists, and we know that humans are animals. So there's no reason a priori to reject human magnetoreception. I'm hoping that the necessary research will be done to verify or reject my hypothesis.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why I went public now

Some people may wonder why I went public with a lot of my personal information, including a detailed description of my disorder. The video isn't exactly flattering. This wasn't my original intention. I wanted to find a scientist to work with me and verify if I really have magnetoreceptive ability. The problem is, I'm not aware of any scientist who is actually studying human magnetoreception. Robin Baker studied it in the 1970's and 1980's. Since then, he's moved on to other things. I was able to contact him via his agent, and although he declined to help me, he gave me some valuable advice. He said I need to find other people with similar magnetoreceptive ability. This is necessary for generalizability.

I tried some other scientists who I thought might be interested, but only got one to read my paper. He did not give me any feedback. I decided that it was useless to keep querying scientists about this.

My main marketing goal initially will be to reach out to selected clinical populations: bipolar, OCD/Tourette, and schizophrenia. The reason for this is that I think that these people have magnetoreceptive abilities like mine, but just don't know it. Unlike scientists, who have no incentive to research some half-crazy thing like human magnetoreception, these patients have enormous motivation to learn more about this. Like me, anyone suffering from these disorders wants to feel better. If there is a Happy Zone, as I'm convinced there is, who wouldn't want to find it? While not the Garden of Eden or Nirvana, the Happy Zone is certainly a desirable place to be in.

I think that if enough people claim to have similar abilities, and the techniques I describe in my website and research paper turn out to have beneficial psychological effects, a few scientists may become interested. It will take some time, and there's still the question of funding, but I think eventually research will get started.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Website is up!

The website is up and running! Check it out.