Miss HT Psych's Musings

"Quotation is a serviceable subsistute for wit." - Oscar Wilde

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I am a MA1 student in the History & Theory of Psychology. My interests are in intelligence, gender and feminist critiques of psychology.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Innate Intellect

I was sitting on the bus this morning, reading my latest academic challenge (Frames of Mind, by Howard Gardner), and I realized something. Two views I hold are logically inconsistent. I believe that human beings, by their nature (barring any unforeseen accidents, developmental issues, etc), have a capacity for consciousness and reason. If you want, you could call this ability genetic, however I'm not sure that I would. As you might have been able to tell from my previous entries, I'm still not fully convinced by genetic theory (I don't find it as convincing as, say, gravity, so I allow for alternative explanations). Let's just leave it as the ability is somehow, in some way, inherited. I also believe that other aspects of humanity are inherited in similar fashion: our ability to walk upright, our height, our hair colour, our eye colour, etc. Yet (and here comes the inconsistency) I am unwilling to admit to a hereditary basis to intelligence. Why? From my experience, admitting to this also means admitting to certain other unsavoury ideas: that there is the possibility of gender and race differences, that a person's IQ may actually define their potential, that intelligence may (one day) be heightened at a 'genetic' level prenatally. I don't like any of these ideas. However, I am unable to deny this point:

Human intelligence is inherited.

Now, before you think I've fully lost my mind, let me explain the rationale behind my new assertion. As I said earlier, I believe that human consciousness and the capacity for reason is hereditary, to some extent. However, it is well documented that many environmental influences hold sway over it's expression. Some of the most catastrophic occur prenatally, or at the chromosomal level. Hence we see the profound developmental delays of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Down's Syndrome, among others. After birth, we have witnessed the effects of lack of nourishment, lack of human contact, and lack of education. All of these environmental effects can prove disastrous to a child, forever stunting their potential. So, I am not stating that our DNA holds within it our precise IQ score, or even it's possible range. I am simply stating that the mere potential for human intelligence is inherited. Perhaps it is simply the ability to be conscious... perhaps reasoning is a simple by-product of that ability, and "intelligence" is a socially-constructed entity with no real meaning. Perhaps...

Secondly, like Howard Gardner, I believe that our notion of what constitutes intelligence is fatally flawed. If intelligence is what intelligence tests measure, why are intelligence tests so poorly predictive of success in life? Why is it that those we consider to be 'genius' quite often perform very poorly in school and on intelligence tests? All of these issues, among others, should be enough to tell us that intelligence is not simply the skills that get us through school. IQ can not be represented as a single number resulting from one's answers on a paper and pencil test. Intelligence comes in many forms. Is a surgeon smarter than a mechanic? No. They are simply different jobs, requiring different sets of skills. Why does the mastery of certain skills gain status, and others lower that status? Every one of them is useful, and fills a needed role in our current society. So, I think that a view of multiple intelligences is much more logical.

Finally, I don't think that it is possible to assess group differences based on the expression of 'intelligence'. Let me give you an example. Few people would argue that the basic skills required for competition in athletics are rooted in 'good genes'. Yet... how do we continuously improve athletic performance? We have not found the limits of human athletic potential because we continuously find better methods of training. It is the environmental conditions that determine athletic performance... good coach, enough training time, proper diet, proper training program, etc. It is through advances in our environmental conditions that allows our athletes to continuously improve... not improvements in our gene pool. In the 1960s, it was believed that women could not do triple jump because it would permanently displace their uterus making them unable to have children. Yet women compete today with no harm to their bodies, and keep improving. It was also thought that women could not run longer than 800m, or they would pass out from exertion. However, as training techniques for women improved, this idea was dispelled. Now women compete in the marathon alongside men. It has even been suggested that as training for women improves to the level that men's training is at, women may even outperform men in the marathon because women have greater stores of endorphins (because we have to go through childbirth). So, why should these same ideas not hold true for intelligence? As conditions improve for women (around the world) and other racial groups than white people (in North America, Europe, etc), than we should see a leveling out of academic performance. Individual differences exist, certainly, but group differences will become marginal or non-existent. Maybe different populations will show different profiles in their multiple intelligences, but if we view each kind of intelligence as equally beneficial and status-worthy, then those differences won't matter. However, as it is today, group differences are absolutely impossible to determine. Environmental conditions between genders and races are simply nowhere close to equal. Unless competitors are competing on the same footing, it is impossible to tell who is performing better. Yet scientists do this every day. It is, quite simply, unethical to proclaim group differences when we are aware of the staggering environmental differences between groups. There's no other way to put it.

I feel now that I have resolved my logical inconsistency with sufficient rationale that I don't feel troubled by it any longer. Also, I think that this new point of view is not subject to the old pitfalls of a belief in hereditary intelligence. Does it pass the test?

Miss HT Psych

NOTE: For those of you interested in Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, here's a couple useful links:
* Project Zero
* Howard Gardner at Project Zero
* Thinkers: Howard Gardner
* The Psi Cafe: Howard Gardner

Friday, July 07, 2006

Tuesdays with Morrie

Have any of you ever read one of Mitch Albom's books? I started with The 5 People You Meet in Heaven. It was given to me as part of a birthday gift. The book is wonderfully easy to read... short, and completely enthralling. It tells of an average man's death, and his first stage of heaven where you get to meet the 5 people who explain your life to you. After reading it, I got to wondering who my 5 people would be... who are those people you know (or didn't) that shaped your life? I'm not really sure, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

The second of Mitch Albom's books I read was leant to me by the same person who gave me the first book. This one, Tuesdays with Morrie, is also about death... sort of. It takes place around a man who is dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and a man who was once his prize student in university. It is a true story.... Mitch Albom is the prize student. The book outlines the lessons he learned from his dying professor, Morrie Schwartz, in the last weeks of his life. Lessons about love, marriage, forgiveness, responsibility, fear, life and death. Mitch asks Morrie all the questions which plague our generation... why do we place our careers above our families? Why don't men cry? Why do we feel such pressure to be young, beautiful, and thin? Why doesn't money make us happy? How does one make a marriage work? Are having children worth it?, etc. The answers are always simple, and full of the wisdom and clarity of a dying old man. In the end, it all comes down to love. We need love, from the moment we are born to the moment we die. We are afraid of giving ourselves over to our strongest emotions... we are afraid of what it might mean, what might happen, what if it's not returned, what if it is? So, we turn to other sources to replace that... careers, money, toys. But none of those things make us happy... none of them love us back. When we love ourselves and others, we do things that make us feel good. We take jobs that are meaningful to us in some way. We try not to be mean to others, or exploit them for our own ends. But his greatest treasure to share... "once you learn how to die, you learn how to live." In all it's simplicity, I think it's one of the truest things I have ever heard. When you're dying, you learn what is or was important to you. Your family. Your memories. It's not your possessions, or your stock portfolio. It's what you learned, loved and did. It's those whose lives you touched, and those who touched you. All the rest is unimportant, and distracts us from what we really need... love.

Both of these books are beautifully written, and have the added bonus of being short (if you're like me and have little time to spare for pleasure reading). I highly recommend reading them both, but if you have to start with one, start with Tuesdays with Morrie. I don't think anyone can read these books and not be moved somehow.

Miss HT Psych

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Weekend getaway... sort of...

Well, I got back from Ottawa on Monday night relatively unscathed. Sure, I had a bit of a sunburn, and I'd had 12 hour days out at the track with about 5 hours sleep to run on each day. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. The kids were great! We didn't have any problems with curfews, and they were always on time to leave for the track. They stayed out of the sun and were always ready to warm-up without us coaches bugging them. I also ran into a few old friends that I hadn't seen in years, made a few new ones, and got a coaching job offer (that I turned down because I like my club). Beyond that, it was an exciting weekend...

To start with, on July 2nd we took a driving tour of Ottawa. We didn't have time to get out of the car and do any touristy stuff, but it was great to get my first real-life look at the parliament buildings, the archives, the war museum, and the canal.

As for our accomodations, they were alright. We were staying in the residence at Algonquin College. All I could think was... wow, these rooms are alot nicer than the ones I got at Western! :) Although, as with any hotel/residence room, the pillows were flat, the room was horribly freezing, and the blinds didn't block enough of the morning sun, so sleep was not really an option.

The track was amazing. We were at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility... my childhood hero! I got my first-ever coach's pass (I thought this was a big deal, although no one else probably thinks so). There were so many high-class athletes there... even a few Olympians! The races were amazing... but the best race by far was the Senior Men's 1500m (20+ years old). Pretty much everyone there agreed... Ontario has an amazing bunch of distance runners coming up onto the international stage. Another great race was a make-shift one at the end. A bunch of Master's men (35+ years old) wanted to break the national record for the 4x400m relay, and we watched them do it in grand style. They obliterated the existing record (3:50) by running a 3:29 all by themselves. If you've never competed before it is difficult to understand just how hard that is to do. If you're racing by yourself with no one else out there pushing you, it's really hard to give it your best go. So breaking the record by that much was phenomenal. Everyone that was left in the stands by that point in the day were on their feet cheering these guys on. It was intense...

Anyways, I'll post a link to the pics when I get home from work... apparently I forgot to bring my jump stick with me... guess I need a bit more recovery time! :)

Miss HT Psych

Here is the link to my photos, as promised!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Weekend Update

Hi all!

Well, I know I've been gone a long time, and I apologize. Unfortunately this has been a bad couple of months for little old me on the personal front. Just to give you a taste:
  • My Dad had a couple of strokes
  • My Grandpa is dying of a fast-moving cancer, and the doctor's have been unable to do ANYTHING for him... no surgery, no chemo, no pain relief...
  • I broke up with my common-law boyfriend, and have been scouting new places to live, trying to fairly distribute jointly bought items, etc.

On the lighter side of things:

  • I jumped through all the administrative hoops and officially handed in my thesis proposal
  • My first single-authored poster is ready to go for APA in August (the division I submitted to is only doing posters this year)
  • I have a first-authored encyclopedia article coming out (and I got paid for my troubles!)
  • My job is going well (assisting with research in forensic psychiatry)
  • I turned 26 (eek! Officially more than a quarter of a century old! LOL!)
  • I joined the ranks of academics who have gone near-sighted due to too much reading and typing at their computers... I have two pairs of funky glasses!
  • I started coaching with a track club... my group consists of highschool middle-distance runners (400m, 800m, 1500m). My first big away meet as a coach is this weekend in Ottawa... how about that?! The nation's capital on Canada Day! It's going to be nuts...

So yeah... blogging was about the last thing on my mind, amidst that and all the other general life-stuff.

Just in case any of you are interested a couple of people I know have started up a psychology blog of their own. Check them out at: Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower. You'll find alot of the subject material is likely to be similar to this blog, as we gravitate in the same academic circles. Although, they are trying to reamin anonymous, so if you also know one or more of them, please don't blow their secret identity. I guess they just like the idea of having a superhero-esque secret alter-ego, or something.

Hope you all are having a great summer! I'll post when I get back on Monday!

Miss HT Psych

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Apathy Culture?

Last week, my office-mate gave me a copy of an on-campus produced magazine. The title? “Apathy Culture”, which York certainly has in spades. As I was reading it, I came to ask some of the same questions as the authors: is our generation really as apathetic as older generations think we are? If so, why are we consumed by apathy? If not, why can’t others see our passion?

To start this journey, I went to the source of all internet knowledge… WIKIPEDIA! :) Our generation has been predominately defined by the explosion of grunge music and by its idol, Kurt Cobain. So I started with looking into grunge culture. Here is a sample from the Wikipedia article on “Grungers”:

“Though it is a generalization, grungers do not tend to be as politically motivated as the punks and hippies were. Whereas the hippies were motivated by love and a humanitarian desire for a utopian society and the punks where motivated by 'bomb the state' anarchism, grungers in truth do not really have any such motivations.”

Hmmm… an interesting sentiment. One that definitely deserves some thought. Certainly, our music, art, etc is not as politically motivated as our predecessors (with some notable exceptions). We don’t burn our bras, hold sit-ins, or stage large-scale demonstrations and protests. But do we really sit idly by?

“[G]runger politics tends to be focused on the individual rather than society at large, with lifestyles choices such as whether to be vegetarian or not or the constant effort to "be yourself" often being more important than the desire to change mainstream society. Sometimes this has negative effects, with some grungers becoming completely self-infatuated and self-obsessed to the point where they will talk about nothing but themselves and their problems.”

Wow… Wikipedia, ouch! That hurts! Okay, no more from you. Now it’s my turn…

For starters, I’d like to clarify a point. The choice to become vegetarian or vegan is not a sign of self-obsession. It is a conscious and ethically-motivated choice… usually. There are those who do it to be “cool” or because they are under the delusion that meat is bad for them and that “the human body evolved to eat meat, so it can just un-evolve in me” (seriously… I’ve actually heard someone say that). However, for the large majority though, the choice is of a moral, ethical and political nature… or a valid health reason such as they are allergic to something in meat (that DOES happen).

From my experience, Gen X and Gen Y are anything BUT apathetic. I don’t deny that our voter turn-out is appallingly low, and that we fail badly on most conventional measures of political motivation. This begs the question of why?

I think that our generation doesn’t actively participate in the political system for a couple of very good reasons. We grew up acknowledging that politicians and “the system” is undeniably corrupt. We’ve witnessed the break-down of the family, religion, and most other traditional concepts. Why would we participate in a system that tries to uphold values we no longer believe in? Why vote for corrupt politicians who do no more than further the corruption? Better yet, why participate in a system that ignores our voice? As students, we have no voice. In Ontario particularly, we have been caught in a war between teachers, administration and politicians for years. The result is that we are now treated as numbers… a product to be built and shipped out for mass distribution. How do we respond to that kind of treatment? We still use our voices, just not in mainstream arenas. Anyone who says that students are apathetic has clearly not gone into a public bathroom, walked down side streets, or turned on their computer and surfed the internet for awhile. We are there, waiting to be seen, waiting to be heard.

Ask around campus and you’ll find that the lack of student voter turn-out has nothing to do with apathy. Most simply do not want to vote for politicians who are corrupt, and fail to represent their interests. If we were truly members of a “democracy” our thoughts and opinions would be fairly heard and represented in parliament. This is not the case. So, many students see their lack of participation as a silent protest. “You want us to vote, then speak to us instead of treating us as a silent, mindless fools!” While I don’t agree with this strategy, I can certainly see the logic in it. Futhermore, there are some who argue that we live in a one-party system. Sure we have the front of the NDP, Green Party, etc, but they're wasted votes, right? The real choice comes down to the Liberals or the Conservatives, and most of the time they are two heads of the same beast... slaves to large multinational corporations and upper-class, white, middle-aged men. Taking the time to go out and vote for that is a waste... it'll all end up the same way anyways. And besides, voting for them implies you condone their actions. Once again, I don't think this is the best strategy, but I understand where they're coming from.

Here's one that really gets me... the newspapers. Personally, I try to avoid them whenever possible. Does this mean I'm apathetic? Ignorant of the world around me? No. It simply means that I'm tired of reading about all the bad things in the world. The news presents a skewed version of reality... I think Bowling for Columbine's section on the media in the US just about covers my feelings on the topic. I feel like it's a constant fear campaign getting thrown at me... or advertisments to make me feel inadequate because I don't own some product. It's hard to sort out what's really going on, and what is selectively chosen and blown out of proportion by the media. I don't put the blinders on... just really selective filters.

So there you have it, folks. I don't think our generation is as apathetic as we're made out to be. We just choose to express ourselves in unconventional ways. What do you think?

Miss HT Psych

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Liberal craziness

After the defeat of the federal Liberal party in the last election, everyone was left wondering 'who will succeed Paul Martin'?

Belinda Stronach announced on Thursday that she will not be running in the leadership campaign. Big shock. As much as I would like to see a female prime minister (well, one that was properly elected), I don't think the country is ready for one. Besides that, who can forget her recent defection from the Conservatives? It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that she's a devoted party member, as a leader should be. That being said, if she had decided to run, I definitely would've voted for her. Maybe next time...

There are, however, plenty of others who are (or are rumored to be) throwing their hats in the ring. Bob Rae (yes, the former NDP Premier of Ontario), Michael Ignatieff, Gerard Kennedy and Ken Dryden, to name but a few. They may not all be experienced, but what they lack in experience they make up for in charisma.

My call? Here's a list of my personal favourites in the race, and my predictions.

Bob Rae doesn't stand a chance. Personally, I have nothing against the guy. I think he'd make a fine prime minister. Unfortunately, Ontario doesn't have fond memories of him. I feel bad for the guy... his run in provincial office was hampered by a long recession. Since he took power then, the outcome, no matter how inevitable, falls on his shoulders. Considering that in any election, Ontario is one of the main areas that must be won, Rae may not be the wisest choice. I'd vote for him, but hey... I'm only one vote.

Ken Dryden... tough call. He's definitely smart, charistmatic, politically saavy, and has proved his loyalty to the Liberal party. I mean, come on. He quit his position with the Toronto Maple Leafs to run in the 2004 federal election. He acted in the last government as the Minister of Social Development and is the current Health critic in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet. We know Toronto loves him. But is the rest of Canada really ready for a former NHL goalie to assume leadership of one of the three major parties? My bet is not...

My final major contender? Obviously, the rookie heavyweight Michael Ignatieff. He is an internationally known (and controversial) history scholar in the areas of democracy, human rights, security and international affairs. He is currently the critic for Human Resources and Skills Development in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet. Like the others, he's certainly brilliant and charismatic. But the fact remains that he IS a rookie. While he may have mastered the academia game, we have yet to see if he can master the politics game. That being said, he is my pick for winner of the leadership race (for better or worse).

You can catch the official list here. It includes those that are officially declared, possibilites and those that have officially dropped out. Also, the Liberal Leadership Odds blog with all the news, bios, etc. Of course, you could always check out the Liberal Party website, but it's pretty sparse on info. And finally, what would be a reference list without Wikipedia?

Any thoughts?

Miss HT Psych

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Classes Over!

This is an exciting week... my classes for my MA1 year are over! I only have one more essay to write and then I can go back to concentrating on my own work. However, I was particularily impressed with one of my classes, Epistemology for Psychologists: A Critical-Historical Overview. I will actually miss going to this class every Wednesday as it was a chance to express our opinions and debate... basically think for ourselves instead of memorizing and regurgitating. So I thought I'd share a few of the literary highlights with you... these were the papers that really made me think.

Positivism, Logical Empricisim, and Critical Rationalism
Karl Popper - The Logic of Scientific Discovery
  • "Now in my view there is no such thing as induction. Thus inference to theories, from singular statements which are 'verified by experience' (whatever that may mean), is logically inadmissable. Theories are, therefore, never empirically verifiable" (p. 40).
  • "It must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience" (p. 41).
  • "Those theories which are on too high a level of universality (that is, too far removed from the level reached by the testable science of the day) give rise, perhaps, to a 'metaphysical system'... Yet an idea of this kind acquires scientific status only when it is presented in a falsifiable form; that is to say, only when it has become possible to decide empirically between it and some rival theory" (p. 277, 278).
Wilhelm Dilthey - Construction of the Historical World
  • "Every fact is man-made and, therefore, historical" (p. 192)
Hans Georg Gadamer - Truth and Method
  • "[T]he experienced person proves to be, on the contrary, someone who is radically undogmatic" (p. 355).
Dialectical Materialism & Critical Theory
Karl Marx - Theses on Feuerbach
  • "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it" (p. 158).
Karl Marx & Frederick Engels - The German Ideology
  • "Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life" (p. 170).
Critical Social Science and Critical Psychology
Klaus Holzkamp - Experience of Self and Scientific Objectivity
  • "The fact that for lack of firm evaluation criteria one theoretical explanation appears to be just as good or bad as another is surely one of the most important characterisitcs of the present state of affairs in psychology" (p. 71).
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and an Anarchistic Philosophy of Science
Paul Feyerabend - Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Philosophy of Science
  • "Thus science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit" (p. 295).
Feminist Theories of Science
Evelyn Fox Keller - Reflections on Gender and Science
  • "Science bears the imprint of its genderization not only in the ways it is used but in the description of reality it offers - even in the relation of the scientist to that description" (p. 78-79).
  • "Not only does our characterization of science thereby become coloured by the biases of patriarchy and sexism, but simultaneously our evaluation of masculine and feminine becomes affected by the prestige of science" (p. 92).
I know that was fairly long, and I apologize. But, all of these works completely blew my mind. I highly recommend reading them if you ever get a chance. Especially that of Evelyn Fox Keller, Paul Feyerabend and Karl Popper. I think that anyone in science must critically examine and question the foundations of what they do. When you don't, science becomes a tyrannical religion. Those that do critically examine their work may still chose to take part in the religion, but in realizing it's limitations, they cease to make it a tyrrany. It was questioning the authority of the church that made science into a discipline in the first place... scientists must never lose that spirit or they become the institution they denounced.

Miss HT Psych