Tuesday, May 08, 2007

yes, I realize how insane this sounds

I've been extremely depressed lately, and the only thing which perks me up is reading "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" by Philip Zimbardo. "Huh?" you might think. "What the . . . ?"

How this works: this book is so enveloping and so thought-provoking, that it makes me feel that it is good to be alive in a world where there are such interesting things to read and so much to learn. This book is making me want to make a visit to the local medical library so I can find the journal articles listed in the endnotes. I haven't been so involved in a topic in years.

In college, I took a number of psych classes, but it seemed to be 99% crap. I've never bought the artificial id-ego-superego thing, or all that Freud nonsense, such as penis envy. While taking a course in "Theories of Personality", I concluded it was all bunk and invented my own "Theory of Personality", known to my college friends as "the Weirdness Scale", which I contended was just as good as any of the theories covered in my class. Zimbardo, however, is on another level.

Currently I'm reading a chapter about obedience. Here's one insight: it has been conclusively shown that people tend to obey others in their life most when they act out of character. This is a big part of why abused women obey their abuser: the acts of abuse are "out of character." We tend to have a gut reaction that if someone who is normally intelligent and loving acts abusively, then there must be some core truth to their atypical reaction and we should fall in line. (Sadly this makes me think of the one time I lost it with Iris Uber Alles and screamed at her after a morning of conflict, and she instantly scurried to obey. At the time, I made a joke of it, saying "Who knew bad parenting was so effective?", but it's an illustration of the abuser being a persuasive authority figure. For the record, I didn't lift a hand-- I just raised my voice -- but yelling angrily is out of character for me).

The last book I read which was anywhere near so absorbing and thought-provoking was "The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2" by Jane Poynter. That was a book which gave me material for thought for days and made my mind buzz in a hundred different directions. In the end, did that book change my life? No, not beyond making me squabble with my husband over whether the Biosphere 2 had any scientific import, but it gave me some happy hours of reading. I suspect these authors are hoping to change the world significantly, and I doubt it would be meaningful to them to learn that they have assisted one middle-aged sot in killing time, but anyhow, cheers, Professor Zimbardo and Ms. Poynter. Thanks for the books!


Anonymous said...

Did you read Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin?

It's the book that did to me what you are describing.

If you haven't read it, you'll love it because it's also full of experiments which measure animal intelligence and emotion. And Temple Grandin is Autistic and the book is very fascinating in that it gives scholarly insight into the workings of the typical human brain, the atypical human brain and the animal brain.

So, if you have kids, or animals, or a brain, this book is awesomely informative.


Silliyak said...

I liked Tao of Physics, not that I understood all of it, and it made my head hurt.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I haven't read her book yet, but I read a fascinating profile of Prof. Grandin in the New Yorker years ago. What an interesting person she is. Designing slaughterhouses seems like such a bad fit for an animal lover, but she has made the last moments of many cows less stressful through her work.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Silliyak, one of the weird things about me is that many of my love objects have been physicists (and the part that makes me shudder is that my own father has a bachelor's in physics, ewwww, I hate the implicit assumption that arises from that). As an undergrad I was briefly dating a physics major who was doing a minor in philosophy and who had the idea of writing a combination of physics and philosophy. Then he discovered that his vision had already been achieved by someone else in 'The Tao of Physics', and he was quite irked (but loved the book). The Sober Husband, another physicist, however, is dismissive of it.

Anonymous said...

Drunken, she is fascinating, and she does address the discrepancy between being a meat eater and an animal lover in her book (although probably not to a vegetarian's standards.)

The book is such a fast and fun read. I hope you will read it soon. I know you'd love it.