Monday, March 8, 2021

“The Man Devoured by Ogres”

 I love this story! I just referenced it for a friend. So I figured I'd post here for easier access to share in the future. I may or may not of revised the text. I can't recall. I used it as a piece of literature a couple times teaching when discussion the topic and theme of identity. Here is the text I'd share.

I got the story and text from The Man Who Wasn't There by

An allegory about a man who was devoured by ogres first appears in an ancient Indian Buddhist text of the Madhyamika (the middle-way) tradition. It dates from sometime between 150 and 250 CE and is a somewhat gruesome illustration of the Buddhist notion of the true nature of the self.

“The Man Devoured by Ogres”

A man on a long journey to a distant land finds a deserted house and decides to rest there for the night. At midnight, an ogre enters carrying a corpse. He sets the corpse down next to the man. Soon, another ogre in pursuit of the first arrives at the deserted house. The two ogres begin bickering over the corpse. Each claims to have brought the dead man to the house and wants ownership of it. Unable to resolve their dispute, they turn to the man who saw them come in, and ask him to adjudicate. They want an answer. Who brought the corpse to the house?

The man, realizing the futility of lying to the ogres—for if one won’t kill him, the other one will—tells the truth: the first ogre came with the corpse, he says. The angry second ogre retaliates by ripping off the man’s arm. (What ensues gives the allegory its macabre twist.) The first ogre immediately detaches an arm from the corpse and attaches it to the man. And so it goes: the second ogre rips a body part off the man; the first ogre replaces it by taking the same body part from the corpse and attaching it to the man. They end up swapping everything—arms, legs, the torso, and even the head. Finally, the two ogres make a meal of the corpse, wipe their mouths clean, and leave.

The man, whom the ogres have left behind, is extremely disturbed. He is left pondering what he has witnessed. The body that he was born in has been eaten by the ogres. His body now is made up of body parts of someone else entirely. Does he now have a body or doesn’t he? If the answer is yes, is it his body or someone else’s? If the answer is no, then what is he to make of the body that he can see?

The next morning, the man sets off on the road, in a state of utter confusion. He finally meets a group of Buddhist monks. He has a burning question for them: does he exist or does he not? The monks throw the question back at him: who are you? The man is not sure how to answer the question. He’s not sure he’s even a person, he says—and tells the monks of his harrowing encounter with the ogres.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Why CBT?

My Personal Journey into CBT


A close friend recommended The Coddling of the American Mind. It is well worth reading. It gives interesting analysis regarding society and more specifically young/younger people who grew up with the internet and social media. Click here for my book review.

Coddling had a chapter on CBT. After that chapter, I noticed how negative and distorted my thoughts are. That lead me to the book Feeling Good which lead me to other CBT resources.

The shortish version, I took a depression test, Burns Depression Checklist, a few weeks ago when I started Feeling Good and ranked mildly depressed. A few days ago, I retested and scored normal but unhappy (that's an improvement! haha). There are several variables that I cannot isolate to explain my improved mental health. For example I went on vacation to Oregon and California, spent lots time with family and friends, enjoyed sunny 70 degree days, reflected on negative thinking of myself and friends, and learned about CBT, So it is impossible to say what caused what, but I consider the learning and thinking about CBT useful. Now I would like to formally follow the CBT guidelines and process to see if it can further help.

I'm creating a series of writing prompts and activities to act as a workbook. Then I plan to discuss the ideas I write about with a friend, who may or may not know my purpose. The writing and talking will be my pseudo therapist. I'll continue to monitor my depression and see how it goes. At the bottom I shared free resources I found. The references are the books I've read or listened that taught me what I know about CBT.

Why CBT?


  • It's scientific and empirical.
  • Studies suggest CBT can be as effective or more effective than leading medications to treat many mental illnesses (there is conflicting evidence and criticism of results).
  • It's training for your mind.
  • Subjects/participants can be their own therapist.
  • Self help helps.
  • Anyone can benefit.

 

Assumptions in CBT


  • People see reality subjectively.
  • Thoughts, emotions, behavior, and autonomic responses are all interconnected.
  • Brains can be trained to change emotions and behavior.
  • Cognitive distortions lead to negative mental health.


Disclaimer and Criticism


Every book or talk shares some version of this disclaimer. I doubt anyone expects a blog post from a blog with the word rant in it to solve all their problems in life, but just in case. This blog post and or any resources I share are not a substitutes or replacements for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of mental health conditions.

CBT is not a cure all treatment. CBT is a useful process that has helped many people treat many mental health conditions.

Although CBT has decades of research supporting it, there is conflicting evidence and plenty of criticisms against the findings of CBT. The wiki criticisms is a good place to start if you want to question CBT. There aren't double blind controlled studies of CBT, so it is difficult to identify why or how effective CBT is compared to other treatments. With that in mind, CBT can be useful if people accept the assumptions and follow the process, put in the work. Some people may put in the work and not benefit, and that's how treatments go.

Statistically speaking, CBT is way better than nothing. So if you're unhappy and not actively doing anything, keep reading. CBT could be a great starting point. It's also a great alternative to medications.

CBT The Basics


In one sentence, CBT is an intervention to improve mental health. It evolved from psychotherapy, behavioral psychology, and cognitive psychology. CBT is related to mindfulness and shares philosophical ideas with stoic philosophy. Over 2000 years ago, Epicteus said, "People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." For the last four hundred years, Hamlet (Shakespeare) has been telling audiences, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Those are also decent one sentence summaries of CBT. CBT's ideas are not new. Connecting the ideas of psychology and philosophy with the scientific method to measure a therapies effectiveness is what CBT brings to the stage. For decades CBT has been a leading practice in psychology and mental health.

"Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has its own ideology—its own preferences. It’s grounded in Western empiricism, the value of rationality, [and] the power of the scientific method. It’s not saying that emotions or passions are bad or wrong. It’s really about striking a balance between rationality and passion or emotion." [4] CBT is "built on a solid foundation of neurological and behavioral research. CBT is an approach almost anyone can use for promoting greater mental health and improving one’s quality of life." [4] By focusing on thoughts and behavior, CBT "trains brains to improve motivation, management of emotions, and our interpersonal skills." [4]

The assumptions are people have subjective responses to reality and that thoughts, emotions, and behavior are all connected. The main idea is that thoughts, behavior, and feelings effect each other and by changing one you change the others. The two models below capture the relationships best.


One critical aspect of thoughts are identifying cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thinking that lead to mental health issues. Everyone should learn the cognitive distortions and try to avoid them. (Cognitive distortions are my favorite concept in CBT)

During the therapy sessions, the CBT therapist provides and teaches multiple tools and skills for patients to use. The therapist tracks and measures the progress. CBT is an empirical study of what works and doesn't work. The therapist and patient work together to find what makes the patient feel better, good, or less bad. "One coping behavior is not necessarily better than the other. It depends on what needs to be done at the time, CBT data helps by allowing you to analyze your preferred coping styles and determine whether or not you’re selecting the most adaptive strategies." [4] "[The] emphasis [is] collaboration and active participation." [3] The end goal is for the patient to become their own therapist. "This is a form of self-help, because any form of self-improvement is a form of self-help. But there aren’t any shortcuts or magic. The CBT process can be quite difficult; it takes practice and commitment." [3]

The Plan

Over the past few years, I've had reoccurring bouts with mild depression. I never saw anyone, so that is a self diagnoses. My learning and preparation has been geared toward mild depression. For anyone using this as a guide or starting point, what I made could easily be adapted to treat other mental health issues. The Self Help Pamphlets I found are especially useful in providing quick and specific information for many of the most common mental health issues.

My plan is to focus on behavior. My plan and the preparation for my plan are actions/behaviors I took. The reading, writing, and discussing are all behaviors. These behaviors will affect my thoughts and emotions and hopefully improve my mental health. All this started from learning and identifying cognitive distortions, so part of my focus be changing and improving my cognitive distortions.

When I finish, I will share my workbook here.

Writing is an activity I enjoy, and discussing my reflections with friends or family will add social interactions that I have ignored more since moving to the east coast. Both of these aspects could be beneficial in themselves. Those are behaviors I hope to take that will influence my emotions and thoughts. Hopefully all this starts and keeps a positive feedback loop with my thinking, emotions, and behavior.

Free Resources

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Skills Workbook (pdf)
Feeling Good Podcast (podcast)
Self Help Pamphlets for varying mental health issues

References

  1. Feeling Good (book)
  2. Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety (book)
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain (audio lectures, The Great Courses)
  4. Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond (book)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Read or Listen to The Coddling of the American Mind

I'm listening to The Coddling of the American Mind. It started off as an article in the Atlantic with the same title. It continues now as a website with a similar title, https://www.thecoddling.com/.

I'm only ~25%. But the ideas are challenging me in a good way. I'm reflecting on how I can utilize cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to improve my mindset.
 

I recommend the book! But below is an audio version of The Atlantic article to give a taste of the ideas. The website has a lot to offer too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

UFOs for Dummies

I was recently sent an FBI file as evidence that UFOs are real and suggestive that aliens/life forms from another planet have visited Earth. You can click on the link to see for yourself. It is a real document from the FBI. Of course it's not readable which adds to the conspiracy.


UFOs are real. There are flying objects that people cannot identify, making those flying objects unidentified. You cannot prove that UFOs have or haven't visited Earth. And if you think the government is lying or covering up a conspiracy, then there is no way to falsify that belief. But if you are skeptical, logical, and scientific, you will agree that there isn't any reliable evidence that other lifeforms have visited Earth using a flying object during human's recorded history.

I don't want to spend too much time on this because I doubt the intended audience will either read it or considered the ideas.

Anyone who wants to have a serious talk about UFOs needs to consider the scientific explanations for UFOs and conspiracy theories in general.

One of my academic idols is Michael Shermer, and he loves the topics of UFOs and conspiracy theories. He had three UFO authors on his podcast recently. Here are the episodes I would recommend. I'd watch or listen to them in the order I shared.

Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO

The youtube video below starts ~24.5 minutes which is when the UFO discussion picks up. The guest/author is a religious scholar who was a ufologist. Dr. Halperin shares fascinating theories about Men in Black, witch hunts, and Atlantic Slave Trade's connections to UFOs.

American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology

Dr. Diana Pasulka is also a religious scholar.


They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers

The youtube video below starts at ~31 minutes which is most relevant to the FBI files, and they talk discuss it for about 15-20 minutes. The guest/author is a science journalist.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Facebook v Twitter

Introduction

facebook and twitter both suck. In a group chat I got into a lengthy debate over which social media is more evil, twitter or facebook. At the time I argued, facebook sucks more than twitter.

The debate started because my friend shared a podcast I wasn't interested in listening regarding facebook. Instead of ignoring his recommendation like the rest of humanity would, I said, "If you have data, I'd like to see it. Otherwise I'm not interested."

The argument took many side streets and detours. In the end, I'm not sure anyone was persuaded to modify their opinion. After further investigation, I may have. See the decision for my current judgement.

Affirmative position

My friend argued and supported the claim that facebook is more evil than twitter.

Here is a quote from an Atlantic article that was references several time in our debate:

"Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags."

I have objections to some of this evidence, but I'll acknowledge facebook has a lot more negative media and reports. This is suggestive evidence. I asked my friend what it would take to change my friend's mind, and he said damning evidence of twitter. I found a few things, but nothing worth sharing or comparable to facebook.

My friend's argument and stance are both reasonable. If there was an evil metrics we could measure, I would agree those discrepancies in reports alone would make facebook a heavy favorite in the evil match up.

My Biases: The utility

I have tried and failed to have intellectual conversations and debates on twitter. The character limitations and culture of instant communications is terrible for thoughtful discourse.

When I produced and hosted a podcast, I used twitter a lot trying network. And I 'd say that was almost worthless. Certainly a waste of my time. In hindsight, I should have bought ads, and used that twitter time to produced a better product.

Anecdotally, I haven't benefited from twitter.

On the other hand, facebook is useful at times. I have bought and sold items on markertpalce. I have had intellectually stimulating conversations, both with strangers and friends. Still, there are other sites a lot better than facebook of intelligent discussions.

Of course, I have witnessed a lot of stupidity, discrimination from both facebook and twitter. and both are huge echo chambers.

Anecdotally, facebook has a lot more to offer me.

My biases: fake news and elections

There is no evidence that fake news on facebook effects elections, and some evidence that it doesn't. By fake news, I mean intentionally manipulating people with false information. Changing opinions with accurate/honest information is great.

The main idea is that most people who consume fake news, are already very polarized politically, therefore the influences from facebook's newsfeed, and fake news isn't changing people's vote at the ballots.

If I had access to a better database I might find more evidence for or against facebook. But most of the evidence I could access on google scholar supports my previous bias. "People are much more likely to believe stories that favor their preferred candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social media networks." An Italian study concluded: "Our findings support the view that exposure to fake news (i) favours populist parties, but also that (ii) it is positively correlated with prior support for populist parties, suggesting a self-selection mechanism." We could link studies on political advertising too; I should look into those later.

(Fun finding: there is a third-person perception phenomena that "individuals believed that fake news would have greater effects on out-group members than themselves or in-group members.")

There is softer evidence that, "Facebook, Twitter, and Google go beyond promoting their services and facilitating digital advertising buys, actively shaping campaign communication through their close collaboration with political staffers. We show how representatives at these firms serve as quasi-digital consultants to campaigns, shaping digital strategy, content, and execution. Given this, we argue that political communication scholars need to consider social media firms as more active agents in political processes than previously appreciated in the literature." This isn't directly related to fake news, but it shows how tech companies weld power.

It is clear that companies have agendas, lobby, donate to parties and candidates, and have influence. Maybe future data will reveal more accurate outcomes on social media platforms and manipulating elections.

Measuring outcomes

I don't think about companies being evil. I do a cost benefit analysis, informally, and decide to use a service or buy a product. I have both a facebook and twitter account. I hardy use either, but at times they provide more benefit than cost to me, so I use them.

Does facebook take advantage of people not reading terms of agreement? Maybe, but that is part of the cost of a "free account." Nothing is free. To change my bias experience, I need to know outcomes.

For those who don't know the price of a social media account, it is your data and receiving advertisements. The more time people spend on facebook the more data facebook gathers and the more ads facebook sells. Of course facebook wants people to spend more time on facebook. That is how they run their business.

I want actual outcomes of users of both social medias. Expanding and seeking profits isn't a value criteria for me. facebook isn't a necessity, people can choose to use or not use the service.

Is twitter or facebook more likely to produce a negative effect in the person's life? Is a young person more likely to join a terrorists group, become a cult, attempt suicide, get bullied, or fall into depression on facebook or twitter? This is the some of the data I'd want to know to make a decision about which is more evil, or which is a worse platform for people's well being. 

My Findings

facebook is a lot more like a dictatorship than twitter, click here for other fun facts about the two social media services. Zuckerburg has 53% voting power over the company while Dorsey has 2.34% of the company (both based off their shares in the company).

A 2014 study found that, teens who were bullied online were bullied more on facebook (39%) than twitter (22%) according to a 2014 study (Cox. (2014) "Cox 2014 Internet Safety Survey." The Futures Company). A 2017 UK report on bully found that facebook is a lot worse than twitter, see graph below.


 

I couldn't find any hard data on suicides or terrorism between facebook and twitter. There is a book I want to read about social media and the increase in mental health, depression, and suicide, so maybe I'll find more studies or data to add. Pending future studies or existing studies, a cumulative case against facebook is made..

The decision

I haven't discussed or researched positives. So there is a chance that could swing the debate. My biases lead me to a similar feeling as my utility, but without data that inclination is worthless. The bullying data is enough to override my personal experiences.

facebook sucks more than twitter.