Blog ๐ŸŽค

Moral appeal

“… politics is politics, and Labour’s rhetoric has to offer something to middle class people, if it is going to be elected. But it doesn’t have to offer to them what suits their own unreflective self-interest without qualification: being human beings, they are open to a degree of moral appeal.”
– G. A.ย  Cohen (Nov, 1997) “Socialism and Equality of Opportunity”, Red Pepper

Dysrationalia — if you disagree with me, off with your head

Some quotations from a critique of (an early version of) Stanovich’s theory by Sternberg (1994). Firstly, theory:

“Why do we need a theory? Because we’ve had too many fly-by-night constructs in the abilities business, and we don’t need more of them. We do need serious new constructs — and the way to present them is via a theory […] — and construct validation of that theory.”

What is an irrational belief?

“In the real world, few problems truly lend themselves to the kind of deductive (rational) reasoning we learn in logic classes. The vast majority of problems are inductive, so that arguments can be stronger or weaker, but not logically valid or invalid. I am afraid that Stanovich has fallen into a trap that of labeling people as “dysrational” who have beliefs that he does not accept. And therein lies frightening potential for misuse. And if you disagree with me, off with your head. Here, it’s a joke. Historically, it’s not.”


Robert J. Sternberg (1994). What If the Construct of Dysrationalia Were an Example of Itself? Educational Researcher, 23, pp. 22-23+27

Understanding unconscious processes is easy…

“Six decades ago our psychoanalytically oriented predecessors wrestled with the problem of formulating a credible account of the unconscious. Paradoxically, perhaps, having gathered such convincing evidence in recent years to support the existence of extensive and elaborate nonconscious information processing, contemporary psychologists now are faced with precisely the reverse problem. A major challenge confronting modern psychology is the need to develop an adequate account of the nature and function of consciousness”

Williams et al (1997 [Cognitive psychology and emotional disorders, 2nd ed.], p. 260), via an article by Mick Power (2000) in the Psycholologst

… trying to do the right thing …

Republican New York State Senator Roy McDonald changes his mind and decides to support same-sex marriage legislation in New York:

You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.

I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.

(From the Star Spangled Staggers)

On programs to help disadvantaged children

“… what actually happens in the course of many programs that claim to set out to remedy disadvantage is that target children are forced to spend time doing things they are not good at and deprived of opportunities to practice doing things they are good at. This is bad enough by itself. But the seriousness of the problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of the talents they might have developed cannot … show up on most of the tests developed by psychologists and are thus unable to register in most of the evaluation studies conducted by psychologists. Worse, these evaluations are largely framed and conducted within a reductionist, single-outcome focus rather than a comprehensive or ecological evaluation framework. In the end, this whole network of interlocking activities contributes to the autopoietic process that is heading our species toward extinction.”

Raven, J. (2005). More Problems With Gap Closing Philosophy and Research. American Psychologist 60(9), 1041–1042.

Haven’t mentioned free will for a while…

In an introduction to psychodynamic ideas, Jonathan Shedler writes (p. 42):

“If behavior were unavoidably determined, there would be no reason to practice psychoanalytic therapy or, for that matter, any form of therapy.”

Although I’m not sure about free will, I don’t think this is a necessary consequence of having no free will. And it’s important that there is a reason for clients who reject free will.

Suppose we have no free will. Two claims are difficult to refute:

(1) We experience stuff, some of it fun, some of it not. The phenomenological feeling which goes along for the ride doesn’t seem to care about free will. Related to this, I think it’s interesting that we still go to the cinema and read books even though we know the ending has already been decided: we seem to derive great pleasure from finding out what happens next. โ€œYou should go on living โ€“ if only to satisfy your curiosity” – Yiddish proverb.

(2) Chatting to people partially determines our future experience (sometimes positive!) and behaviour.

So, therapy may just be another link in the big causal network in the universe. Hopefully it’s more likely to improve someone’s life than other links, however unavoidable and predetermined going to see the therapist and its consequences might be.

Why (British?) experimental psychologists hate psychoanalysis(?)

From Whittle (1999, p. 240; I’m remaining silent on my opinion here—I just found the paragraph made me grin.)

The British are notoriously distrustful of theory. Newton was even, famously, distrustful of “hypotheses.” Theory is continental. We think of it as Germanic, and heavy. We think of Hegel and Heidegger. Brits who get entangled in it, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge or R. D. Laing, become incoherent substance abusers with marital problems. Psychoanalysis is full of theory. It has to be, because it is so distrustful of the surface. It could still choose to use the minimum necessary, but it does the opposite. It effervesces with theory, so infectiously that books of theory now bombard us from Paris, New Haven, Indiana, it sometimes seems from everywhere where there is a feminist modern-language academic. This weight of theory is a major reason why experimental psychologists, who are the most deeply British-Empiricist culture that there is, cannot get on with psychoanalysis. How could they possibly? How could people whose habit of mind is to ask of every statement that might have empirical content whether (1) it is statistically significant, and (2), more interestingly, whether there might not be another simpler explanation, possibly stomach these outpourings of prose, of sentence upon sentence of uncertain epistemological status?


Whittle, P. (1999). Experimental Psychology and Psychoanalysis: What We Can Learn from a Century of Misunderstanding. Neuropsychoanalysis, 1, 233-245.

Clinical experience vs. systematic observation

“Psychoanalytic practice has limitations as a form of research. A physician practising internal medicine learns from clinical observations but is not under the illusion of being engaged in research. The physicianโ€™s work, we hope (if we are the patient, that is), is however influenced by the results of research, and his or her reasoning will have been disciplined by scientific training. The problem of using clinical experience as research is well known to be one of induction. Mostly, we tend to confirm our theory-based expectations from our patientโ€™s material. Our memory for material is biased, even our perception is impure. We cannot be pre-Kantian objective observers. Our own discovery of the pervasiveness of countertransference denies us this possibility, even in principle.


“In a paper that I wrote, longer ago than I care to remember (Fonagy, 1982), I put forward the argument that research studies could not and should not be used to test psychoanalytic ideas. If a clinical observation cannot be replicated in the laboratory, there are a host of good reasons why this might be so. Rather, systematic observations could be used to inform us about the psychological processes underpinning clinical phenomena…”

—Peter Fonagy, Grasping the Nettle: or Why Psychoanalytic Research is such an Irritant. Paper presented at the Annual Research Lecture of The British Psychoanalytical Society on 1st March, 2000.

Jonathan Campbell

One of my mentors when I was at Queen’s University Belfast (1999-2002) passed away last year.ย  Below, an obituary in the Derry Sentinel.

DR Jonathan G Campbell who died on July 25th 2010 will be remembered by all who knew him for his dedication to his work and students, his generous nature and his love of keeping active and fit.

Jonathan was born in 1949 and grew up on the family farm in Castletown, St Johnston, Co. Donegal attending Castletown National School. Following the death of his father, Jonathan boarded at the Masonic school in Dublin from the age of 10 after which he went on to Trinity College Dublin to study electronic engineering.

His first job was with the Digital Equipment Company in Galway in 1973. After Galway he went into the research department of Plessey BAE Systems an electronic company in Havant in the South of England. After 7 years he came back to Ireland to An Foras Forbartha in Dublin working on a project making maps from satellite images. He then worked for 9 years in Malahide for a technology company Captec doing consultancy work for the European Space Agency on satellite calibration.

In 1989 he got an academic job with the University of Ulster on the Magee campus in Derry as a lecturer in the Department of Informatics. While there he studied to gain a doctorate. He then moved to the Computer Science department at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2001 he came back to Donegal to lecture in the Computing Department in Letterkenny Institute of Technology teaching computer games and programming. He also did research into pattern recognition and machine learning and supervised PhD students.

Some of Jonathan’s proudest moments were in cricket and athletics. He ran many marathons and cross country events and won some national medals with Raheny Shamrocks and later with the Finn Valley Club. In later years he also took up cycling and most mornings before work went out for a run or cycle in all weathers. He also loved hill walking especially in Connemara. He was an ardent follower of St Johnston cricket team and looked forward to the season starting each summer rarely missing a match.

During his illness he received excellent care from the Sperrin Ward in Altnagelvin Hospital and Culmore Manor Care home. His funeral was held in St Johnston Presbyterian church with a huge turnout out of friends, colleagues, sporting associates and students past and present.

Jonathan will be greatly missed by his sister Jane Bryce, brother in law David, nephews William and Jonathan and niece Sarah.