Do you wish you could edit your responses? Do you sometimes later wish you had said something in a certain situation? We all have wished we had said or done something we did not do. Maybe some one has asked you a question and later, you realize your answer was less than honest; or your response was judgmental and you have unwittingly excluded yourself from an desirable relationship. Sometimes we are given openings into relationships we do not see until later and think: "Oh, if I had only said (or done) that". Perhaps there is an attitude we can adopt to remain open to life's opportunities. An attitude in which the meaningful nature of our lives would be spontaneously expressed?
If we acknowledge the importance of attitude in our lives, we must first ask: What is attitude, and then, what are the origins of my attitude?
As to the first question, " What is attitude?", a fair description would be: It is a conscious or unconscious display of an individual beliefs, opinions and intentions as expressed in one's posture and demeanor. Demeanor often comes to mind when we think of attitude and with demeanor we naturally think of manners. Attitudes vary from the subtle to the obvious. Belligerent, aggressive or conversely-shy and withdrawn attitudes are easily detectable. Often people appear so one-dimensional that we can accurately refer to them as positive or negative. Attitude can be affected for both positive and negative results.
As to the second question: What are the origins of my attitude? The best way to find the answer to this question is to is to view your attitude in different lights or circumstances.
Events in our lives challenge our attitudes . We may value a positive attitude. We may see the importance of attitude in our own happiness, there are times in life when it is difficult to maintain a positive attitude. I think this has more to do with where and how we believe attitude originates. If we believe the origins of our attitude lie in the conditions of our temporal existence, then we are subject to the vicissitudes of daily life. The weather, health, economic and social conditions can all effect our attitude if we believe these conditions are the basis of our happiness. We can instead realize, or understand that the basis of our happiness is established before our birth. We can accept or allow that happiness is our essential inheritance. This is not to say we can ignore the outward conditions of our lives and expect to be happy. Acting in ways that are contrary to the facts of life or choosing to ignore them will make the road to happiness very rough indeed. And this is not to say there will not be times of adjustment: grief, hardship, sickness, and old age are all times when we evaluate the basis of our attitudes.
At this point, I think it serves us well to consider what we are in essence. Let us examine the totality of our existence in the context of time. The who, what and where we were, are and will be. In conventional thought we think of our existence as limited to our life span. For this post I would take our existence to mean something more than our life span. There is past, present and future. In the context of this post, I would have us look at our existence at the time, before our birth , during our life and after our death. Limiting our considerations to the physical realm and what can be observed by the empirical eye; it could said we are a mass of free floating atomic particles that came together in an organized fashion at the time of birth, maintained this government of atoms and then after a period of time reverted back, via the compost pile or similar conveyance, to the state of free flowing atoms. Life, the Tibetans teach us, is a period of time when the essential elements of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire are balanced. At all the times in our existence there is inherent energy. There is energy in "our" atoms before our birth during our lives and after our deaths. There is chemical energy in the attraction of our parents, and hopefully in our conception. There is the energy as manifested by the heat of our living bodies and finally the composting of our dead bodies. Underlying all this chemical energy is of course the atomic energy in the atoms that compose our bodies living or dead. We have know since early in the twentieth century that matter is, at its simplest form, energy. So it would seem, energy is not something added but rather coexistent with the matter, the substance of our bodies, in our temporal and eternal existence.
For the purposes of this post, let us see ourselves as a conduit or an instrument through which the unique form of energy called life is expressed. Taking this analogy further, and postulating air as life's expressive energy, imagine yourself as a tuba, saxophone or an oboe. The sounds you express, as air passes through you, is how you live your life. We know that the individual shape of a musical instrument dictates what sound it will make. Continuing this analogy would speak to the importance of the shape of our bodies and specifically of posture. We do have control of of our posture, but it is much like the control we have of our minds. In Zen practice the importance of posture is understood. In the in the first Zen lesson we are taught how to sit, the the second how to breath, but that is for another post. Of particular importance, we are shown how to hold our spine while sitting. In Zen there is great emphasis on the correct way to sit. In Mahamudra meditation the focus is on how you do sit. If you find yourself sitting all hunched over, then there you are - you've found yourself! And isn't that what you were looking for? The posited truth in both practices is that posture is attitude expressed physically and an enlightened attitude is the expression of enlightenment.
Most young children have no awareness of posture. I see pictures of myself as a young child and I see myself relaxed, sitting squarely with a nice straight spine. As I grew older, say from age 9, I remember affecting a posture. I consciously slouched a bit. I did this for two reasons. The first reason was, I had grown taller than my class mates. I felt a sense of otherness, so in an effort to be a part of those around me I bent over. The second, was, I had seen pictures of James Dean and Elvis Presley and their slouching postures. This way of holding myself drew me into conflict with my father and in a sense was my first act of independence. My posture, though a constant source disagreement and anger with my father, became a habit and did not change until my early adulthood. At that point I was exposed to the practice of Yoga and different forms of dance. In my study of dance, I found it important to modify my acquired slouching posture. With considerable stretching and strength training, I was able to compensate for what had become my habitual posture. Though my interest in dance waned, the lessons I learned regarding posture remain. These lessons inform and corroborate my continuing practice of Yoga. My body still bears the marks of the posture of my early life ( my formative years). My natural stance is now somewhat stooped but with my Yoga I maintain flexibility and therefore some choice in the matter of my posture. All this by way of saying that through my practice of Yoga I have found a way with effort to remain open to the inherent energy of existence.
This post does not address the question of what we do with the energy inherent in our existence. It is to acknowledge there is this energy and it is available. We need to recognize it and make ourselves available to it; not to block it with attitudes or "posture" that narrow our existence. We all will have difficulties life. Degrees of difficulty are not important but attitude in these times of difficulty is. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by hardship, whether real or imagined, the meaningful nature of our lives remains obscure. It is the face of adversity that molds our attitudes. It is how we hold ourselves, our stance, our posture in the light of this face that forms our character and it is in character we find the freedom to become ourselves.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

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Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.


Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
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