Welcome to the Psychosphere

May 30, 2008

BEN Well, you said you were fighting. He slapped you around because you were rebelling against his authority. There may have been some unresolved Oedipal conflict.

VITTI English! English!

BEN Oedipus was a Greek king who killed his father and married his mother.

VITTI Fuckin’ Greeks.

BEN It’s an instinctual developmental drive. The young boy wants to replace his father so he can totally possess his mother.

VITTI What are you saying? That I wanted to fuck my mother?

BEN It’s a primal fantasy…..

VITTI Have you ever seen my mother? Are you out of your fucking mind?

BEN It’s Freud.

VITTI Well, then Freud’s a sick fuck, and you are too for bringing it up.

BEN It’s………

From  the film Analyse This.


This week I listened to the BBC programme Case Study about the one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous cases, Little Hans. For those of you who are not familiar with this case, Little Hans was a boy who had a horse phobia. When he was younger, he had seen a horse die in the street. A logical conclusion would have been that this had traumatised the young boy. But of course that was far too easy for Freud. The horse was in fact incidental. According to Freud, Hans feared horses because horses move. And movement in the unconscious represents copulation. When Hans thought about horses moving, he was really thinking about his whole set of Oedipal desires and castration fears, and that’s why he developed his phobia.

            While these days Freud’s ideas have little scientific credibility, they have become an insidious presence in our society. We can see this in a number of ways. There is all that meaningless psychobabble that has become part of our language – issues, baggage, dysfunctional, closure, empowerment and low self-esteem.

Another worrying phenomenon is that of victimhood. There seems to be no area of human behaviour that cannot be blamed on some form of addiction – Internet,  consumer debt, sex, and junk food. Personally, I like former psychologist Tana Dineen’s rather cynical formula:


But it’s not just the counsellors who are jumping on the bandwagon. Politicians and compensation lawyers are also there. They seem to be saying that humans are powerless to make decisions. At least with religion when people sin, they do penance. Now they get sympathy and therapy because they are not the ones to blame. It’s society or the fast food restaurant the credit card company.

We must also consider some of the damaging effects caused by the application of some very half-baked ideas over the last century or so. A number of areas spring to mind. The case of mothers with autistic children who were said to have caused this disorder by being too cold. Or what about the idea proclaimed in the fifties and sixties that psychoanalysis couldcure even schizophrenia simply by talking? Finally we have what known as repressed memory therapy (RMT). This is a type of psychotherapy which assumes that problems such as bulimia, depression, insomnia and excessive anxiety are due to unconsciously repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. For its adherents a healthy psychological state can only be restored by retrieving and ultimately confronting these repressed memories of sexual abuse. These ideas have proved influential in Hollywood but in the real world parents have been sent to prison for allegedly abusing their children. I think you will also be a bit sceptical when you hear that these dubious techniques have also proved to be very effective in getting patients to “remember” alien abductions and satanic rituals, which these patients had been unaware of before going to therapy.

            I know life is complicated and there are many people who are genuinely suffering from mental distress. But I really feel that that this kind of nonsense adds absolutely nothing to our welfare and the sooner we jettison them the better off we will be.

My favourite Links #8

May 30, 2008

The Philosopher’s Magazine has an excellent section of interactive philosophical games. You can play online and you get feedback. Tests include: The Philosophical Health Check, Do-It-Yourself Deity and Taboo



A Collection of Euphemisms

May 30, 2008


Action movies. (=violent movies)

Air support.  (=bombing)

Ambient replenishment opportunity  (=A shelf-stacking job)

At her Majesty’s pleasure (=in prison)

Corporate entertainment.  (=prostitutes)

He has been asked to leave the country due to involvement with activities. incompatible with his diplomatic duties here. (=spying)

Inexpensive dresses for mature women with the fuller figure. (=Cheap frocks for fat, old women)

It fell off the back of a lorry. (=It was stolen)

John Holmes, actor in a niche market.(=porn actor)

Stress and duress tactics. (=torture)

The estate agent says the house needs some attention.  (=It’s falling down)

The Minister looked tired and emotional. (=He was drunk)

The negotiations were very frank. (=The two sides were about to start a fight)

The patient is in a stable condition. (=In a coma)

The Prime Minister was economical with the truth.  (=lied)

The property is in easy reach of good communications. (= It’s next to a motorway or airport)

The terrorists were neutralised.  (=killed)

There was a negative patient care outcome. (=The patient died)

We had our dog put to sleep. (=killed)

Where can I wash my hands? (=Where’s the toilet?)



Advertising Slogans Quiz

May 30, 2008

Which companies were responsible for these famous advertusing slogans?

1.       Because I’m worth it.

2.       The best a man can get

3.       The world’s favourite airline

4.       Connecting people

5.       I’m lovin’ it

6.       Hello boys.

7.       Finger lickin’ good!

8.       WASSSSSUP?!

9.       Vorsprung durch Technik

10.   The World’s Local Bank

11.   It Gives You Wiiings

12.   It’s the real thing

13.   Just do it.

14.   Life’s Good 

15.   Once you pop the fun don’t stop.

16.   Power is nothing without control

17.   Where do you want to go today? 

18.   Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach

19.   Put a tiger in your tank

20.   A diamond is forever.

21.   Pure genius

22.   Don’t Leave Home Without It 

23.   Impossible is nothing.

24.   Probably the best lager in the world

25.   The make-up of make-up artists.

My Media Week 31/05/08

May 30, 2008

In Our Time. The wonderful Melvyn Bragg show has a programme about probability. There are of course a lot of references to gambling, which was fundamental in the development of probability theory. (PODCAST)
Here is a link to the show’s archive.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/inourtime_archive_home.shtml The

The Telegraph has an article on romance and train travel. (ARTICLE)

The Independent had a piece about Ted Hagee, a rather frightening Christian Zionist. (ARTICLE)

The Onion has an article about women’s career choices. (ARTICLE)

The Cato Institute has an interview with Anna J. Schwartz, an economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York City. Schwartz, who was born in 1915, is perhaps most famous for her work with Milton Friedman. Here she looks at the banking crisis and the role of the Fed. (PODCASTS)

Confessions of a Half-baked Libertarian

May 25, 2008


A fellow teacher at the Bank of Spain described me as a half-baked libertarian. Now if you look up half-baked in the dictionary you will find the following definition:


§  poorly planned: not well thought out and likely to fail

§  unintelligent: lacking the ability to act with reason and common sense


       That doesn’t sound too positive, does it? But I quite like it anyway. I certainly prefer my ideas to some more “fully-baked” ideas that have been applied throughout history. I realise that no ideology is perfect and that utopia is not an option. I have some libertarian tendencies but I don’t buy into the ideology lock, stock and barrel. This is for two reasons.


1.  I disagree with some of the points they make.

2.  I realise that some of them are just not practical.


       What I do believe in is limited government intervention whether it be in the economy or in moral questions. I tend to judge politicians by the results they achieve and not by the intentions they proclaim. Having said that politics is complicated and there are no universal panaceas. The political process is about compromise and about exerting influence on politicians. Businessmen are very adept at using this process. There is an idea that what they want is deregulation to be allowed to get on with what they want. This has a lot of truth to it. But they are also perfectly happy to receive subsidies, see tariffs imposed on foreign competitors and to benefit from antitrust regulation which protects them from more successful rivals. The case of subsidies is a fascinating one. Many groups are very good at conflating their interests with the interests of the general public. They are of course highly motivated to do so because their benefits are extremely concentrated; while the costs are spread over a lot more people who are thus less motivated to protest. I would like to see a drastic reduction in agricultural subsidies but I won’t be holding my breath until it happens.


       Of course the free market will not create a land of milk and honey where everything is available in abundance. But I think our experience of government action should make us very wary of what happens when governments intervene.


My Media Week 25/05/08

May 25, 2008


Laura María Agustín’s new book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, is undobtedly provacative. It tries to explode several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims, and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest.’ (ARTICLE)



Alan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what the Fed really does and the political pressures facing the Chair of the Fed. He describes and analyzes some fascinating episodes in U.S. monetary history, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the gold standard and ends the conversation with some insights into recent Fed moves to intervene with investment banks. (PODCAST)



This week the BBC had a programme about how the financial crisis is affecting central bankers. It includes words of wisdom from Jean-Claude Trichet. (PODCAST)



Julian Baggini looks at free will and how it relates to the application of justice. (ARTICLE)



The polyglot linguist, Alexandra Aikhenvald, describes linguistic typology: classifying how languages are structured and comparing them to ascertain recurrent patterns and variations. (PODCAST)



Professor Niall Ferguson’s analyses the world finacial system drawing on the ideas of the French Naturalist Jean Bapiste de Lamarck, who argued that organisms alter and adapt in response to a changing environment. He applies this framework to our current, uneasy financial climate and asks: are we on the brink of a great dying? (PODCAST)



Donald Boudreaux critically analyses some green initiatives. (ARTICLE)