Friday, November 12, 2010

Science, Not Woo Woo:

I recently blogged about a theory of human psychology (I honestly don't know what to call it) that I hope slowly unfolds on my blogs over the next few years.

I hesitate to discuss this because, as far as I have gleaned, most popularizers of bits and pieces of this truth have something about them that poisons their well, as I see it. (I know poisoning the well and appeal to authority are both logical fallacies; so me appealing to, for instance, Deepak Chopra's "authority" would be as much of a logical fallacy as you writing him off as a crackpot if I try to cite a point of his that I think is valid.)

These popularizers usually take this truth discovery and add in some unprovable quasi or overtly religious "woo woo," as Michael Shermer has put it when discussing his problems with Deepak Chopra.

So I was quite happy to see a news story on this study by Harvard psychologists confirming what I'm trying to get at.

It's about human minds being most happy when in "the moment," in the present, not being "distracted" about the past or the future or about being somewhere else. Indeed a certain timelessness can occur when being in the moment. When not in that moment, when the mind is in a state of worry or stress ("something on your mind that is bothering you") that has to do with the past or the future, it is less than optimally happy.

For those who are teachers and really enjoy what we do, think of how much faster time goes by when we are teaching than when we are sitting in a faculty meeting for the same period of time wishing we were somewhere else. There is something about focusing the mind on tasks for a continuing period of time -- see it as distracting you IN to "the moment" -- that frees it up and speeds up time. I remember friend of mine who worked masonry construction, telling me how much he liked his job, how time flew by when he worked.

Busy minds with lots of mental chatter going on -- though many of them are brilliant -- are less happy.

Psychology is NOT my discipline. So if there is "expert literature" with an academic imprimatur that validates this, I have a lot of learning to do. I'm more interested in philosophy. And I suspect there is more serious work out there from Eastern and Stoic philosophers than the popularizers of this truth in the West (guys like Chopra, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and even the "Judeo-Christian" Roy Masters who tries to popularize these ideas for religious conservatives).

But ultimately this discovery is not justified by appeal to scientific studies or appeal to great philosophers, but rather by personally experiencing this truth. That is, the ideas need to resonate with individuals in an "a ha," "that's right," sense.

This is not about winning arguments or convincing someone you are right. That's a different game.

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