Friday, May 18, 2012


Overcast Day

 Dr. John Cacioppo was given a highly laudatory introduction by Dr. Art Kohn of Portland State.  I ran into Art at Peet's recently.  He's a Wanderer like me.

Art made the case that humans suffer more for psychological than technical reasons these days.  He saw this as a potential snub to engineers, but I didn't take it that way.  Means we're doing our job.  If your physical needs are being met and your remaining issues are psychological and/or metaphysical, that's a huge step.

Dr. Cacioppo doesn't exactly draw a mind/brain line like Bucky does, but the same dichotomy between conditioned reflexes on the one hand, and consideration / reflection on the other, bears some similarities, especially where mind-over-brain is concerned i.e. reprogramming or upgrading one's pattern of responses (or response-abilities).

The empirical studies John has been engaged with over the years have sharpened the focus on humans as social animals who tend to waste away when self perceived as cut off from their fellows.

"Perceived" because sometimes so-called objective measures of one's degree of isolation come out differently, and in any case never correlate as closely with diseases and discomforts the way self perceived isolation does.  One is one's own best judge and/or worst enemy in these situations.

Heart attacks are more deadly when induced in lonely rats, he warns.

How to fight back against loneliness?

If you're forced into masking your identity and getting reinforcement for a persona you're not, that may be alienating.

I felt the absence of philosophy, which used to have more to say about the human condition, before getting run over by computer science.  Philosophers would tease apart the many components of loneliness and help build vocabulary, in itself a way of fostering communication and fighting back.

I wanted to ask an anthropological question about ethnicities that accepted communication with the dead.  You're a lot less lonely when you have lots of ancestors to chat with, or at least feel observed by.  To what degree are belief systems isolating?  Might not belief in ghosts mean less loneliness, greater mental health?

Instead I picked up another thread in anthropology:  his recent service to several US Army forts, to help them study and deal with high suicide and depression rates.

Given the way Madison Avenue and others leverage the herd instinct to boost insecurities, with various products the answer, and given wars are sold to the public as products, with the same appeal to our insecurities and worries (nurtured and refined for this purpose), I was wanting some reassurance that he wasn't just a motivational psychologist in disguise, trying to get soldiers to escape from freedom as dutiful slaves with no minds of their own.

Dr. Cacioppo replied that the army was sincere about its concern and responsive to his requirement that all the research stay open and unclassified.

Another questioner asked if he was "embedded" and he demurred, saying that's not how it was.

The loneliness suffered by insurgents, insurrectionists and subversives, might also be addressed by his trainings (he doesn't lead them himself and they go for eight hours).

He's not trying to stop that percentage of humans who buck the herd, deviate from norms, uphold new ethics.

Terry explained I was Quaker, so stereotypically concerned about the treatment of freaks (including peace freaks) and weirdos at the hands of so-called "normal" people ("the herd" to crib from Nietzsche).

Trevor joined me for this event, including the Heathman dinner (where much of this dialog occurred).  This was also my birthday dinner (54).  The waiters were kind to me, gave me lots to drink (Trevor and I were bussing home anyway, took the 15).

Elizabeth Braithwaite, in the meantime, joined Tara at Cleveland High, to experience debate culture and bid on a cake at silent auction, a fundraiser for the Cleveland Cannibals.  They got me a good one from Helen Bernhard's.

I liked it that Dr. Cacioppo recommended serving food to people in need as a way to enjoy the benefits of community.  It's a two way street in that you get to eat too, on many levels. FNB has been like that.

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