Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Knowledge without Deeds is Dead

As my research project develops, one of the issues that comes to the forefront is that there is a divide between theoretical research and actual practice. Tens of thousands of psychological articles are published every year but perhaps only about 1 in 100 actually impact practice in some shape or form. It seems that researchers in psychology are spending all their time delving deeper and deeper into understanding an issue without every taking the time to work out how it could affect actual practice. Although we can get into trouble by making recommendations without proper theory to base it on, psychologists simply can't neglect this part of research.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm So Left Brained

I first must warn you this is hardly profound or insightful (am I ever??) but you may get a kick out of it all anyways.

So in my neuropsychology class it had been suggested that people have assymetrical facial expressions. I just reviewed about 20 pictures of me and I am now convinced that the right side of my face is more expressive than my left. I have a "good side." And if I remember right, facial expressions are contralateral (but it could be ipsilateral) and so this is just confirmation that I am left-brained (logical).

If you want to test this out go to my profile and look at my picture (my right side is on the left in the picture). If you can't tell by my smile then look at the creases in my cheek.

Actually this may explain why I think I look better in pictures than I do in the mirror. In pictures my right side of my face is on the left side but in the mirror my right side is on the right side. Now our right hemisphere processes facial expressions better than our left hemisphere. And since the left visual field (which would see the right side of my face in pictures) connects with the right hemisphere, it would make sense that I would appear happier and better looking in pictures than in the mirror. Haha - this all must sound so vain!!! Well I found it interesting and so you may too.

I should not I just watched A Scanner Darkly, a Philip K. Dick novel turned movie, that talks about split brain stuff which sorta triggered my desire to check this out for myself.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Indifference on Genocide

Pastors, political activists, and concerned citizens beware! Alerting others to mass atrocities may not be the best manner to engender concern and compassion to people in need, according to a recent research article. My suggestion to the natural human reaction to be overwhelmed by mass suffering would be to focus specifically on an individual case of suffering rather than presenting numbers of how many people are actually suffering. I don't think preaching at our need to become sensitive to the actual numbers will work - that is to say I don't think you should force your numbers on people to make them comply. Instead, by focusing on an individual it becomes possible to address larger concerns regardless of this phenomenon.

Not Crazy, Just Insane

I often wonder what it means when people refer to another's behavior as being "crazy"? If you ask them you will get a variety of responses ranging from doing risky behavior to following their dreams to hearing voices. Obviously there is no consensus on what constitutes crazy behavior. And, in my opinion, any time a word has such a vague meaning we should be hesitant to use.

Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." While I don't think we need to start thinking of ourselves as crazy or insane, I do think it can help us when we recognize that we do things that might be a little crazy - or perhaps irrational is a better term.

I think of all the times I have thrown a tantrum in the hopes that I will make somebody listen to me and how rarely it works. I think of all the times I've procrastinated only to be miserably stressed out later. And the list of old mistakes can go on and on. Those mistakes would certainly qualify under Einstein's definition of insanity.

I like to admit that I'm a little insane. While I don't think calling myself crazy is helpful (because it is so vague) I know what I mean when I say I'm a little insane. This kind of joking self-deprecation keeps me humble and eases the discomfort I feel around my mistakes. And if I can laugh about it, then I can share about it and allow others the chance to encourage me to change.

I'm not crazy, just insane.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Anger and Fury

I hope you first read my previous blog on Resentment before reading this as it sets up the distinction between anger and resentment. I begin with Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger, do not sin." This surprises some who associate anger with sin. But there are numerous records of people in the Bible, including God himself, who use anger to make an appropriate action.

Anger is an internal marker that something is not right. Now I nearly added "with the world" but I quickly recognized that would not be exactly right. I can become angry at the good works of others because of jealousy, greed, and a number of reasons. And this is important because we must not assume that, when we are angry, some injustice has been done to us. As I said in the previous blog, we must begin with self-reflection. Once we know ourselves then we can proceed in the confidence that what we want to reconcile is actually a problem with the world.

Anger is a terrific motivator. We do things that we would otherwise would never do - and we do them with flair so as to make sure we are noticed. This is important because we could otherwise ignore the harm that is being done to our selves. And others would never know they were doing something that was hurtful to you! Anger makes sure we take care of ourselves and helps others act with love towards us.

Anger can communicate to others that what they are doing to us is hurtful. Sometimes another person's behavior is completely appropriate but we still respond in anger. For example, some people have different relational styles that conflict - neither is wrong but one person may become angry at the other person. Anger, properly expressed, can communicate that you need the other person to adjust how they relate to you. This can be a wonderful experience that brings two people together as they adjust to the needs of one another.

So what about righteous anger you might ask? Well, first of all, righteous anger assumes character. We should be careful if we ever excuse our behavior simply as righteous indignation. Sure, Jesus showed intense anger and violence but can we assume to know when this is appropriate in our contexts? By taking the posture that our anger is our reaction and not the direct result of another person's actions, we prepare ourselves to find what the evil is in the world and what the evil is inside of us.

If I could sum it all up I would say: Anger motivates people to communicate that they are hurting. The offense may be real or imagined but the hurt is always real. By learning what angers us and learning how to better communicate our anger to others, we can see the world and ourselves truthfully. This truth allows us to better love the world and to be loved by it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Folly of Resentment

"Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die." - Malachy McCourt (for other quotes on anger go here)

I think there are dueling accounts of how we are supposed to deal with anger. The first perspective sees anger as a vice that demands to be extinguished. The second is that anger must not be ignored and must be expressed in healthy ways. I think the problem is that anger is sometimes confused with resentment. While anger involves an emotional reaction, resentment is the unwillingness to let anger subside and forgive the offender. In that light, I want to say a few things about resentment.

I have often tried to change my thinking about an event while I'm angry. It is near impossible. Anger demands that the feelings be dealt with by our behavior. In order to avoid resentment there are a number of steps we can take. For example, I find praying for a person that you are angry at to be extremely useful because deep down it reminds me to love the other person. I simply cannot tell myself the facts about why I shouldn't resent and condemn a person. I need to put belief into action. Perhaps this is why Jesus said "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28

But why change? Why stop resenting someone who you may have spent a lifetime resenting? There are a myriad of reasons. But perhaps the most persuasive is that resentment does more harm to you than to them. We know this but we fear forgiveness will permit people to harm us again and we feel so safe buried in our resentment. But as we forgive, praying for those who harmed us and even doing good actions for them (if it is safe to do so), we actually walk into the light of joy and freedom. We may be hurt again but at least we avoid hurting ourselves.

God, I surrender my hatred to you. I pray that you bless those who have trampled on my spirit and have caused me so much pain. Shower them with blessings. Make them into a light for the world and a blessing to others. And forgive me for my unwillingness to forgive, when I have been forgiven so much. Amen.

Or the 4-word prayer: "Bless them, change me."

I will post later on how to deal with anger in more productive ways.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I was running today and I began to think of 1 Corinthians 13:13: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Suddenly I was also reminded me of the ABC's of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

A = Affect (Emotions)
B = Behavior
C = Cognitions (Thoughts)

Perhaps the connection was a loose one but I thought about how there are similarities between the triads. Faith is rooted in belief so one could call it Cognition. Hope is related to emotions so I saw it as Affect. And love is an action so I thought of it as Behavior.

As I realized that my apparently brilliant connection was probably not as profound as I first hoped, I did realize that the two ways of thinking of life could illuminate one another. I believe that faith is a set of beliefs and therefore something that we have in our mind. But while "good" cognitions are often thought to be positive thoughts about yourself from a psychological perspective, the concept of faith reminds us that our belief is rooted in our relationship with God.

Now hope illustrates one principle that therapists are well aware of: you can't change mood directly. You can only change behavior or thoughts and that will in turn change mood. In the same way, hope is clearly emotion that is built upon a foundation of trust. But while psychology often focuses solely on positive emotions, hope illustrates that it is possible to suffer now with the expectation that our future will be bright. Hope does not demand a positive mood now.

Finally, I have always seen love as an active process. While there is an emotional component, love is primarily the act of sacrificing your wants for relationship with another person. But love, unlike behavior, must be done in a relationship. One indicator for depression is social isolation and thus the "behavior" is actually to put yourself into a love relationship. Thus the concept of love reminds us that the most valuable behaviors are those that place us in a relationship (i.e. going out with friends).

I believe that breaking down life into affect, behavior, and cognition is very useful. But it seems that we need a better model of living that actually points to how we should change. Faith, hope, and love are models of living that demonstrate our need for relationship with God, belief in redemption, and, most importantly, to find ourselves in a love relationship with others.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Intentions and Actions

[Originally posted January 04th, 2006. Edited some today. As an update, I feel like I have made some progress in this area. But I still need the reminder.]

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy... Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord - Jeremiah 22:16

This verse symbolizes to me that "to know [God]" means to put our faith into action. It really is a dreadful thing to hear that knowing God (or believing in God) is in our actions. I for one would love it if my faith was measured by my good intentions. I often think that, since I THINK about doing good deeds and quitting bad deeds and really want to do both, I am a good Christian. But this quote is just one example that intentions don't equal belief.

My faith only extends as far as my life is transformed. In other words, the measure of a Christian's faith is in how much love he exudes not in how many rules he follows.

Of course, this verse is primarily about working for the good of the poor and needy. Since I've traditionally not been interested in helping the poor that is what makes this verse a double whammy for me. My religion is about good intentions but it is mostly about good intentions regarding ME. Now I hope to put this passage to heart because it is an area in which I am hardly faithful. But I also wish to encourage those who are Christians to consider how they can assist those in need. At the heart of our religion is a movement to help others, for without helping those in distress our faith will die.

Nicotine Addiction and the Insula

There is a small part of the brain located in the cortex of the temporal lobe called the insula. While previously not receiving much attention, recently it has garnered research interest when a doctor noticed that a patient with a stroke to the insula had completely forgot his previous addiction to smoking. Upon reviewing the records of other stroke victims this finding was proven to be more than just a fluke: 13 of 19 victims of stroke to the insula experienced immediate relief from their nicotine addiction. While nobody is suggesting brain damage as a treatment for nicotine addiction, knowing what region of the brain, and thus the types of neurons and neurotransmitters, could help in treating this addiction, which happens to be one of the hardest to break of all addictions.

Since I am taking a class on substance abuse this quarter, I thought I would share this recent finding. One of the least understood subjects of science is the human brain. We know only a fraction of how it works as a unit and we are constantly learning more. While I don't believe that science will cure all ills, in fact I can see how a cure for nicotine addiction could increase the number of smokers, I do believe that the quest for knowledge is a godly one.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Learning is Doing

As I learn so many interesting things about how we as humans think, sometimes I can keep it at an intellectual level. But this is in spite of everything I believe about learning. I believe that you don't know something unless it changes you. A smoker does not know that smoking is harmful until that knowledge changes their actions. I can know that behaviors that isolate me will only rob me of energy and make me depressed but until I act on that knowledge, I do not really know it.

The difference may seem trivial but I think that incarnating our knowledge into action represents a much higher respect for truth. I am a liar when I do anything that is against the truth. If I know that the truth is one way and I continue on in my old ways, then I am a liar.

Knowledge that transforms us is peculiar. We can learn something as an object and it will remain distant. But when we learn something and let the knowledge change us, that is treating what we learned as a subject which we have relationship with. I rule over and dominate objects but I respect and love subjects. Such a relationship frees us to live authentic lives, according to truth.