Archive for September, 2008

Last One I Caught Was A Yellow Swallowtail, I Think…

September 26, 2008

  While out in Maine I went into a really neat gallery/used book store.  There were many volumes I tried to convince myself to buy, but in the end walked away with only two:  A Rorschach Workbook and Child Rorschach Responses – both published in the early ‘50s.

  Yep the images above are five of the ten official Rorschach Ink Blots. Aren’t they beautiful?  Luscious I’d have to say.  Whoops, did I just reveal something about the depths of my psyche?

  A brief investigation courtesy of Google showed that the Test is still given though probably not nearly as frequently as fifty years ago.  And that there is no dearth of skeptics.  I remember discussing Rorschach with an elderly psychologist a few years ago and found him to be defensive, but yet still an advocate.  He held that so much data had been amassed over the years that the normative boundaries could reasonably and clearly be defined.

  No matter what, administration of the test must be interesting, especially after the accumulation of considerable experience.  The subject’s response is called a “Performance” because “The Rorschach test is based upon the assumption that behavior is meaningful and that when a person is presented with unfamiliar, nonstructured material, he will behave in his own individual way”.  

  A subject is initially given a vague instruction such as: “People see all sorts of things in these ink blot pictures; now tell me what you see, what it might be for you, what it makes you think of.”  The examiner then begins to present the ten cards from a deck which is always stacked in exactly the same order.

  Once the subject begins (hopefully ) to expound, the examiner takes careful, precise, and detailed notes.  How long it takes to react to each card is recorded as well as how long it takes to complete a response. 

  Then, “An inquiry, following the performance proper, is conducted to obtain sufficient information so that a response can be scored correctly.”  The examiner asks just enough questions to determine: where on a particular blot something was seen; essential info regarding form, movement, color, and/or shading of each discrete perception per card; content clarification if needed.

  All of the above is scored using a complex system of annotation to “facilitate the analysis of the record as a whole”.  A bar graph is created with the ‘determinant’ categories – movement, color, shading etc.  across the x axis and frequency of related responses on the y axis.  The result is called a Psychograph.

  Location categories are tabulated by percentage: location responses of a specific sort, (whole card, large detail, small detail) are divided by total number of responses.  So if thirty total responses were given of which eight were takes on the whole image on a particular card, then that score would be 8/30 or 27%.  These figures are compared to the “expected” percentages.

  “Normal expectancy” is that 20-30% involve the whole card; 45-55% large details; 5-15% small details; and less than 10% a combination of large details, small details, and some portion of the white space.

  Content is given one of three denotations.  ‘Popular’ if typical; ‘Original’ if rare, but good with respect to form and content; and ‘Bizarre’ if very rare, nebulous, and conceptually deficient.

  The Handbook includes many sample responses for every category.  As one might expect, there is incredible range – soup to, uhm, nuts.  My favorite thus far (with consideration to the maintenance of a certain decorum in this space…) is from the ‘Content’ category for card #8 which is the upper right most above: “The pink is the evil which is slowly destroying the good in the World.  Evil is triumphing and destroying the good”.  Whoa.

  Child Responses covers ages two to ten with age group specific observations made in six month increments up to the age of six.  It is filled with an incredible amount of detail.

  For example at age five: the total number of responses is slightly fewer than the two preceding ages; 58% of responses include the whole card; “content categories shift again to a more mature group… animals, objects, humans.  First age plants and trees are not an outstanding category.”  Sex difference not marked at this age.  Colored cards are much preferred. “All the dark ones don’t look so good.”

  What’s a typical response to card #8 from a five year old girl?  “I don’t know what this is.  Another butterfly.  Or a piece of candy.”

  How could this not be fun with kids? “Results of the present investigation point clearly and unmistakably to the conclusion that many types of response which are considered pathological or at least suggestive of disturbance in the adult occur quite normatively and characteristically at certain ages in the child”.

  Yes, I suppose that one’s early, florid imagination is usually trimmed (like that dang lawn) by the demands of life.  First half of one anyhow.  Well to recall Shunryu Suzuki’s observation in Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few”.

  I don’t know about you, but I’m fixin’ to break out my butterfly net again pretty soon…


September 19, 2008

  The persistence of vision is an interesting phenomenon.  It’s a conjunction of physics and biochemistry that allows our visual stream of consciousness to be seamless.  Like how the scene behind a picket fence looks essentially unbroken if you ride by quickly.  Or how a movie appears continuous rather than a succession of cells.

  It’s all because the biochemical transmission of nerve responses from retina to the back of your brain is much slower than the transmission of light.

  I’ve long wondered if there is some sort of analogue in our memory banks.  Long periods of separation from friends or loved ones often seem to disappear into some sort of synaptic negligibility.  You pick up where you left off almost as if it had been in mid-conversation.

  Recently however, I’ve begun to believe Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is what is operative.  It basically holds that all pertinent facts about something unseen cannot be known with precision – only probabilities.  And that actual observation can yield surprise.

  A week or so ago for example I hadn’t seen oldest daughter for quite some time and stood not far from Casco Bay in wait.  Saw something catch the sun in the distance and lost my balance.  She had the lines of a really sweet sloop, fine sailcloth trimmed tight, on a run, heading towards me at speed.

  I swear last time I saw her she gripped my index finger to steady herself in the surf on the warm gulf shore of Florida.  

  But now, what with Maine’s rugged coast, it was critical that I quickly regain an even keel.  I wasn’t sure whether to tack or jibe or heave to and only at the last minute was, thankfully, after all these weeks, rescued by my navigator. 

  I looked into her compass and found my sea legs again.  We listened together about a candle burning at both ends, briefs, pro bono, and the state supreme court.  First part of her passage may have been tough, but we could tell that her grip on the tiller was firm and her ability to read the wind solid. 

  Soon it was time to shove off.  We sheeted in and  made for  points north.

Flirtatious Attempts at Self Selection

September 11, 2008

  Clear and very cool this morning when I took the dog for a run along the frayed edges of the fog blanketing the river.  I wondered if the commercial fisherman usually there was out in his 20′ jon boat.  I’d never noticed him to have a light and certainly no foghorn.  He’s been there regularly for years and I concluded that he must know how to be safe.

  Dog shot about like a bullet which caused me some angst.  Every year for the past few, at about this time, I come to realize that his sluggishness just days or weeks prior was not due to age but heat.  What a jerk am I sometimes.  Awful when I repeat.

  Previous few weeks it’d been us three boys.  Son took off for London yesterday and so now it’s down to Sauger dogger and me.  Current nature of our crib belies that fact.  We had fun.  Ah well, I’ll get after it and no one will be the wiser.

  Turning away from the river back toward home thought shifted to the concept of ‘no self’.  No self in the sense that one doesn’t have an immutable center, that what you are is largely the evocation of your own evolving particular interpersonal milieu. 

  Andrew had his elaborate DJ setup in our living room and took it all out for a number of gigs while home.  Watching him perform and seeing how the crowd drew enjoyment and naturally fell into its rhythms and beats made me realize that our “own personal interpersonal milieus” are just like bits of music – improvisational jazz.  We’re all instruments playing off each other and the environment.

  Your particular array of pets has inflected your personality in a particular if subtle way.  The sense of your place probably had a greater impact.  You’d be profoundly different had your family been constituted other than it was.  So What?  Take Five.

  Music has always been part of our nature.  “Darwin suggested that human ancestors, before acquiring the power of speech, endeavored to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.  It is because of music’s origin in courtship that it is firmly associated with some of the strongest passions an animal is capable of feeling.”

  (In that regard, this dad watching his son perform couldn’t help but notice a steady stream of alluring young women approach in what sure seemed like flirtatious attempts at self selection.  OMG)

  A “Dr Miller sees music as an excellent indicator of fitness in the Darwinian struggle for survival.  Since music draws on so many of the brain’s faculties, it vouches for the health of the organ as a whole.  And since music in ancient cultures seems often to have been linked with dancing, a good fitness indicator for the rest of the body, anyone who could sing and dance well was advertising the general excellence of their mental and physical genes to a potential mate.” 

  Guess I better work on my moves so that I can bust a really good one some few days hence. 

Note: Quotes above came from my trove of clippings:  9/16/03 NYT

Where’s the Clearasil? Or, uh, Proactiv?

September 5, 2008

  Like just about everybody, I wish I had a whole lot more lettuce than I do, but, hey, life is good.  That’s why, I guess, I wonder about how big of an issue it really should be that the mega rich have become richer at a faster pace than the rest of us.

  Why care?  Most agree, from shrinks, to sociologists, to rock stars that after you reach a relatively modest threshold, the correlation between net worth and happiness rapidly weakens. (Besides, every redistributive effort thus far has failed miserably.  Just ask Gorbachev.  Or even better – Deng Xiaoping.)

  Think how ecstatic you’d be if all of a sudden your desire for more ‘stuff’ evaporated.  And you care less about the Jones.  Think how full your house is of junk that has long not seen the light of day.  Things that still fit and/or are far from the end of their useful lives.

  You’d be able to relax a bit more and enjoy the company of your roommate.  Which reminds me that mine is still away.  And the funny thing is that my friends at the Economist found out and included a bit in the 8/30 issue to help keep my mind on the subject.  (And off of the magazine covers son has left strewn about.) 

  It is a review of a book titled September Songs: The Good News about Marriage in the Later Years.  The author “turns her attention to couples in their 50’s and 60’s and finds older marriage is full of unexpected pleasures”.

  “Older couples expressed lower levels of anger, disgust, belligerence and whining and higher levels of one important emotion, namely affection.”

  “The nest empties.  Retirement approaches… As in late adolescence people once again have to forge an individual identity.  Without a growing family or a career to provide self-definition, older people must answer anew the teenage question, ‘who am I?'” 

  What fun!  Hope I don’t get pimples again.  Wife never had any.

  We’ll have to look in the mirror and see what we see…