Monday Miscellany: Bobulating, Addiction, Empathy

1. I may be occasionally gruntled or hinged, but I’ve got nothing on Robby’s wordplay.

I love discombobulating words; and recombobulating them; really, bobulating them in all sorts of ways. Though especially in ways that make new poetries possible, or lead to new insights about the world and its value.

I’m very fond of the approach of restricting myself to common words (Up-Goer Five), and of other systematic approaches. But I think my favorite of all is the artificial language Anglish: English using only native roots.

2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, sparking a discussion about addiction and recovery. Aaron Sorkin writes a tribute, and Mind Hacks has a wonderful wrap up:

Addiction has a massive effect on people’s choices but not so much by altering the control of actions but by changing the value and consequences of those actions.

If that’s not clear, try thinking of it like this. You probably have full mechanical control over your speech: you can talk when you want and you can stay silent when you want. Most people would say you have free will to speak or to not speak.

But try not speaking for a month and see what the consequences are. Strained relationship? Lost job maybe? Friends who ditch you? You are free to choose your actions but you are not free to choose your outcomes.

For heroin addicts, the situation is similar. As well as the pleasurable effects of taking it, not taking heroin has strong, negative and painful effects.

This is usually thought of as the effects of physical withdrawal but these are not the whole story. These are certainly important, but withdrawing from junk is like suffering a bad case of flu. Hardly something that would prevent most people from saving their lives from falling apart.

 3. Writing about research is important–and it matters who you use as the baseline.

4. Filed under: Hunh: The Difference Between “Significant” and “Not Significant” is not Itself Statistically Significant

5. I tried to make the appropriate skeptical response face to this, but my facial muscles weren’t up to it: is long term psychoanalysis better than other psychotherapies?

6. This post on empathy and being a standardized patient…yes. If you read nothing else, read this.

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say “going through the motions”—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.

This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

7. …and now that you’ve read one thing this week, you should read another: Scott’s response on seeming and being empathetic.

One of my mentors taught me the important technique of having a tissue box near me at all times. If someone gets into an emotional situation, I unobtrusively place the tissue box closer to them, which signals that I suspect they’re upset and I’m okay with it, without bludgeoning them over the head with the fact. Sometimes questions work: “Are you okay?”, “Is there anything I can do to help?”, “Do you want to talk about this more, or do you want to move on?”

And part of what I had to do was unlearn my habits from communication classes and empathy exams. In the exams your goal is always very virtue-ethics-y: to demonstrate that you are The Kind Of Doctor Who Feels Empathy. In real life, your goal is consequentialist: there’s a person in pain in front of you, and you need to figure out how to help them. In what I think is C. S. Lewis’ phrase, you need to get out of your own head and do what’s best for the patient. Which sometimes involves reference to the content of my own head – all psychiatrists know that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most powerful weapons in medicine – but only if the patient cares what’s in there.

8. This is the Mental Elf blog. Say what you will about needing food and shelter, but I think I could subsist on puns and mental health research.


  1. lpetrich says

    Anglish? That reminds me of a science-fiction story from a few decades ago, “Uncleftish Beholding”:

    For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

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