The Journal of the Mega Society
Issue #194 June 2013
Ronald K. Hoeflin
The Mega Society was founded by Dr. Ronald K. Hoeflin in 1982. The 606 Society (6 in 106), founded by Christopher Harding, was incorporated into the new society and those with IQ scores on the Langdon Adult Intelligence Test (LAIT) of 173 or more were also invited to join. (The LAIT qualifying score was subsequently raised to 175; official scoring of the LAIT terminated at the end of 1993, after the test was compromised). A number of different tests were accepted by 606 and during the first few years of Mega’s existence. Later, the LAIT and Dr. Hoeflin’s Mega Test became the sole official entrance tests, by vote of the membership. Later, Dr. Hoeflin’s Titan Test was added. (The Mega was also compromised, so scores after 1994 are currently not accepted; the Mega and Titan cutoff is now 43—but either the LAIT cutoff or the cutoff on Dr. Hoeflin’s tests will need to be changed, as they are not equivalent.)
Mega publishes this irregularly-timed journal. The society also has a (low-traffic) members-only e-mail list. Mega members, please contact the Editor to be added to the list.
For more background on
Mega, please refer to Darryl Miyaguchi’s “A Short (and Bloody) History of the
—the Editor’s High-IQ Societies page—
—and the official Mega
Noesis is the journal of the Mega Society, an organization
whose members are selected by means of high-range intelligence tests. Jeff
Ward, 13155 Wimberly Square #284, San Diego, CA 92128, is Administrator of the
Mega Society. Inquiries regarding membership should be directed to him at the
address above or:
Opinions expressed in these pages are those of individuals, not of Noesis or the Mega Society.
Copyright © 2013 by the Mega Society.
Copyright for each individual contribution is retained by the author unless otherwise indicated.
Here's another issue of Noesis. This issue contains:
· A very interesting account of a visit to the Seychelles by Jeff Ward,
· An article by Mega Society founder Ronald K. Hoeflin on the application of his theory of categories based on Stephen Pepper's ideas to musical notation,
· An account by Jay Wiseman of dealing with an attacker on the street in San Francisco,
· An article on the psychotherapy of automotive repair by Howard Schwartz,
· And two short pieces by May-Tzu (Richard May).
As no one else expressed an interest in running for office our present officers are reconfirmed in office. The next election will be held at the end of this year.
We continue to have a strong need for publishable material for Noesis, from Mega members and others. Submissions are welcome but our editorial standards are high. The deadline for Noesis #195 is September 15.
On September 21, 2012, I sent the
following message to some e-mail lists and
a few friends:
Today I saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the back of a 747 on its final journey before its installation at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
My wife and I climbed Indian Rock, the main attraction in the park of the same name in north Berkeley, and saw it flying low overhead. There were only about 20 people on top of the rock so we didn't have to deal with crowds. We didn't get any pictures but seeing it with our own eyes created a very strong impression and there'll be plenty of photos available soon.
I didn't expect that it would be such an emotional experience to see the shuttle so close at hand.
One of my friends, David Gallo, sent this issue's cover image, taken from the Marina Green in San Francisco.
The State House in Victoria, Seychelles—seat of the President of
Seychelles. In the colonial period it
was known as the Government House and served as a seat of the colonial administration. The building
was erected in 1911. This picture was taken in early 1970s by Dino Sassi - Marcel Fayon, Photo Eden
LTD. Public domain according to the law of the Seychelles.
The Seychelles is a far flung archipelago in the Indian Ocean east of Tanzania. It is composed of 115 islands, many of which are small and uninhabited. Actually all of the islands were uninhabited until a small group of French settlers and their slaves arrived in Mahé and other islands of the central group in 1770. They were successful in raising several tropical crops and more settlers and slaves continued to arrive over the next several decades. In 1814, the British seized the islands, and they remained under British rule until independence in 1976. Although English is the official language and is widely spoken, a majority of the inhabitants speak of version of French Creole as their first language. Total population of the country is approximately 87,000. About 90% of the inhabitants live on Mahé, home of Victoria, the country’s capitol. Most of the rest live on Praslin, La Digne, and other islands of the central group. The climate is tropical rain forest. On the edges there are many beautiful beaches while the interiors are primarily granitic hills, some with steep cliffs. Jungle vegetation prevails.
We visited Mahé for four days in November, 2012, arriving and leaving on a round trip flight from Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. We stayed in the Albizia Lodge (now called Albizia Lodge Green Estate) in the southern part of the island. This accommodation proved unsatisfactory for several reasons (see my review in www.tripadvisor.com under Mahé, B&Bs), but we were unable to change because it was high season and every other place was full.
We chose to visit by Victoria by taxi. Taxis are rather expensive in the Seychelles, but the alternative, renting a car, is also expensive and rather dangerous. The problem is that the roads are narrow, winding, full of pedestrians, and generally without curbs or shoulders with steep, dangerous drop-offs next to the pavement.
Victoria is a small town, and most places are within easy walking distance. There are some good restaurants; we especially liked the Pirate Arms. We also tried Le Rendez Vous, but the food was so-so and way overpriced. The Natural History Museum is worth a look, but our favorite place was the Botanical Garden at the edge of town. The Botanical Garden features numerous trees and other vegetation, some native and some not. Various palm tree species grow there, including all six indigenous to the Seychelles. Numerous fruit bats flutter though the forest canopy in one corner of the park. There are some steep sections, but the entire footpath network can be walked at a leisurely pace in a couple of hours.
One of the iconic features of the Seychelles is the giant tortoise, today found in only one other place in the world, the Galapagos Islands of the Pacific. However, the original population of tortoises on Mahé, Praslin, and the other centrally located Seychelles islands was wiped out long ago. The tortoises there today are entirely in captivity and were brought from Aldabra, a remote Seychelles island where about 150,000 giant tortoises live today but almost no humans. Biologically, there is almost no difference between the Aldabra tortoises and the extinct ones from the central islands. Sadly, Aldabra, a UNESCO world heritage site, is currently off limits to visitation because of the Somali pirate threat. We saw about two dozen tortoises in the Botanical Garden of Victoria. The group included tortoises of various sizes, the younger ones being large but noticeably smaller than the older giants. To my untrained eye, they looked the same as the Galapagos giants that I saw a few years ago. However, the shells of the Seychelles giants are all dome shaped, while in the Galapagos some species have saddle shaped shells.
One day was spent on Praslin, an island accessible by a half hour ferry from Mahé. The Mahé ferry terminal is within walking distance of Victoria. On Praslin, we were greeted by several taxis offering a tour of the island. After negotiating a price with one of them, we were driven to Vallée de Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent several hours exploring the primeval forest on foot. It is home to several endemic birds and the giant Coco de Mer tree, a type of fan palm with huge leaves and the world’s largest coconuts. This tree grows in only one other place in the world, nearby Curieuse Island. It rained briefly a few times, but the forest canopy is so thick that very little water reached the ground. We finished the day with a visit to Anse Lazio, considered one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It is picture post card quality with pale sand flanked by turquoise water, a fringe of palm trees, and a jumble of granite boulders at each end.
Ronald K. Hoeflin
See Dr. Hoeflin's "The Life and Thought of Stephen C. Pepper, American Philosopher" in Noesis #193.
In his well-known paper titled "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language" (originally published in German in 1932, translated in A. J. Ayer's collection of papers titled Logical Positivism published in 1959) Rudolf Carnap remarks near his conclu-sion that "Metaphysicians are musicians without musical ability," meaning that their verbiage "achieves nothing for knowledge and something inadequate for the expression of attitude."
If we take metaphysics to consist in some significant measure of a theory of categories, then the gap between knowledge and expression can become somewhat less awesome. We can see this in the domain of music by analyzing music notation in terms of our theory of categories based on the ideas of Stephen Pepper.
Wikipedia has an article titled "List of musical symbols," where the list given is as follows (numbering added):
1. Lines: e.g., the horizontal lines for different pitches and the vertical lines for separating measures.
2. Clefs: e.g., the bass and treble clefs.
3. Notes & rests: whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc. (rests we might group under the next heading).
4. Breaks: e.g., breath pauses for vocalists.
5. Accidentals and key signatures: e.g., sharps and flats, and the key signature for C major.
6. Quarter tones.
7. Timer signatures: e.g., three-quarter time.
8. Note relations: e.g., glides and glissandos.
9. Dynamics: e.g., pianissimo, fortissimo; crescendo, diminuendo.
10. Articulation: e.g., staccato.
11. Ornamentals: e.g., trills.
12. Repetition and codas.
13. Octave signs.
14. Instrumental specifics.
We can classify these types of notation in terms of our symbols for a cybernetic theory of categories as follows:
D: 2. Clefs
DA: 5A and 6. Accidentals and quarter tones
A: 5B. Key signatures
AG: 9. Dynamics
G: 3A. Notes
GQ: 10 and 11: Articulation and Ornamentals
Q: 8. Note relations
QD: 12. Repetition and codas
DG: 13. Octaves
AQ: 7. Time signatures
DAGQD: 1. Lines
Not-DAGQD: 3B and 4: Rests and breaks
D': 14. Instrumental specifics
2. Clefs can be classed in D since, like 0 in Peano's axioms, they trigger or initiate each line of music, telling the musician where to center his performance of that line, such as the F note for the bass clef.
5A and 6. Accidentals and quarter tones can be classed in DA since they trigger a drive, D, to modify the note that the key signature would normally lead one to anticipate, A, for that particular note on the page.
5B. A key signature provides one with an anticipation, A, as to what scale is meant to dominate the music, a scale that can be modified by the preceding accidental or quarter-tone notations, as when one sharpens or dulls a knife blade that one anticipates will thereby better serve the cutting job it is to be used for
9. Dynamics might be classed in AG if we think of the loudness with which notes are played as involving how forcefully they must be produced, as by the hands striking the keys on a piano, where the anticipation, A, of how much loudness is required leads to the striking of the keys as goal objects, G, with sufficient force to produce the desired effect.
3A. Notes are the basic goal objects for the musician just as numbers are
the basic goal object for number theorists.
10 and 11. Articulation and ornamentals such as staccatos and trills might be classed in GQ since they modify the sound of a note, where the note is a musical goal object, G, and the modification is like a spice that is added to a food to alter its quiescent taste, Q.
8. Note relations might be classed in GQ since they indicate which notes as goal objects are to be played successively in such a way as to produce a flowing quiescent sound, Q, analogous to combining ingredients in a recipe as culinary goal objects, G, in a certain manner in order to produce the desired quiescent taste and texture, Q.
12. Repetition and coda might be classed in QD since the completion of
some line of music is the quiescence of that line or melody, Q,
while a repetition or a coda notation triggers the drive, D, to play
the melody again or to complete it with some final phrase or
13. Octave notation tells one to play the ensuing notes an octave (or possibly two or three octaves) higher or lower, and hence is a trigger or drive, D, to perform notes at a different octave level than the written notes would otherwise normally indicate. There is no reference here to repetition or dramatic completion of a former melody or line of music, Q, so that the D stands alone.
7. Time signature might be classed in AQ since there is always a temporal
gap between an anticipation, A, and its quiescent fulfillment or
non-fulfillment, Q, as in reaching for a glass of water, A, and feeling the
water's thirst-quenching properties, Q. Time signatures tells
the musician how much time is to be alotted for each measure so
that the quiescent completion, Q, of each measure can be properly
1. Lines might be classed in DAGQD since they lay out the grid on which the entire set of notes is to be performed, just as a football field lays out the grid on which a football game is to be played, such that all the legitimate notes are encompassed by the musical lines, just as all the legitimate actions in a football game are encompassed by the lines of the football field, where DAGQD symbolizes every aspect of a musical action or an athletic action or any other action.
3B and 4. Rests and breaks might be classed in not-DAGQD since they indicate that a musical, football, or other action, DAGQD, is to be interrupted, the "not" aspect. When a ball goes out of bounds in football, for example, the action of that phase of the game comes to an end temporarily, just as a rest or break in music indicates a temporary cessation of musical note-performing activity.
14. Instrumental specifics, such as notations specific to the playing of a guitar, can be classed in D', where the prime symbol after the D indicates a particular genre of musical instrument that one has a drive, D, to perform with.
Last night a man physically attacked me on a San Francisco street. He lost.
A woman and I had agreed to meet for a dinner date. Her plan was to go on to a popular club located in San Francisco's Tenderloin district afterwards but, aging boomer that I am (I'm 63), I felt that just meeting her for dinner was enough of an evening for me. There is a steak house on Powell street, just a few blocks from the club, that I have eaten at many times. We agreed to meet at the club's entrance, on the south side of Eddy street just a bit east of Taylor street, at 7:30 pm and walk to the steak house. Afterward, I would walk her back to the club and then head home. All good, right?
I left my place a bit early because I had some shopping to do beforehand. There is a new law in San Francisco that requires most retail stores to charge ten cents for a bag unless patrons bring their own, so I brought along my own brown paper bag from home. (Hey, ecology and all that good stuff, right?) I had enough time to make two of my three planned purchases, arriving at the club's entrance at 7:28 with my Bag-o-stuff. (I am something of a punctual sort. A habit burned into me by my days in a military academy during my early teens.)
The club's security guard, a rather large fellow, arrived a few minutes after I did. (The club's doors open at 8:00.) He and I talked for a bit. My date arrived about ten minutes later.
A man was walking closely behind her, intensely trying to engage her in a conversation. She obviously did not want that to happen. Apparently she is not good at parallel parking on the left side of the street (Eddy is one-way in that area) and asked for his help in parking her car. After he did so (reportedly going up onto the curb and bumping another vehicle in the process), he apparently concluded that she was inadequately generous in rewarding him for his assistance and decided to press the matter.
After she, I, and the security guard all made it clear to him that she wanted nothing further to do with him, he walked about 30 feet east on Eddy street and stood there. Just to mention it, he was about five feet, eight inches tall, medium build, had a beard with some gray in the front of it, and was wearing (get this) a black hat. Me? I'm six feet and weigh 225.
She and I talked for a few minutes, then headed east on Eddy street towards the steak house. As we passed him, Black Hat again accosted her and once again began trying to engage her in conversation. We both told him to back off. He didn't.
At the corner of Eddy and Mason, she and I crossed to the north side of Eddy street. He followed closely behind. After she and I crossed, we continued north on Mason street. He continued to pester us despite both of us telling him repeatedly to go away. Finally I said, “I'm calling 911,” took out my cell phone and dialed the number. As I did, it occurred to me that doing that with him standing just a few feet away from me might not have been the tactically shrewdest thing to do, but there you have it. Upon seeing me making the call, he swore a few obscenities and retreated back around the corner onto Eddy street. I hung up before 911 answered and she and I continued up Mason street. Problem solved, or so I thought.
Maybe 10 to 15 seconds later, Black Hat comes back around the corner with a paunchy male companion. (I suppose it could be fairly said that I have at least a bit of a paunch myself.) I start to get a Very Bad Feeling About This in the pit of my stomach. Black Hat again accosts my date, now loudly accusing her of being drunk (???) while Paunchy walks up to me and asks me what's up. I calmly ask Paunchy how he's doing (I am quite pointedly not showing that I'm feeling any fear or anxiousness), and while I'm talking with him Black Hat suddenly throws a punch at me.
I see it coming out of the corner of my eye and jerk away a bit. The punch glances off the right side of my neck. My glasses fly off my face and I see them fracture into numerous pieces when they hit the sidewalk. I stagger away a bit, off-balance, and Black Hat comes after me yelling, “I'm going to kill you!”
I've carried pepper spray for years. I carry it in a particular place—in my left-front pants pocket, just in front of my wallet, where I can draw and fire it within seconds if needed. Dork that I am, I've even practiced my “pepper spray quick draw” on occasion.
At this point, he's about six to eight feet from me and closing aggressively. Feeling eerily calm, and almost as if things are happening in slow motion, I draw my pepper spray, aim it right at Black Hat's face, and fire. I made a point of choosing a canister that uses a “cone” pattern of spray rather than a “stream” pattern like what comes out of a squirt gun because it's easier to hit one's target with a cone-type spray pattern. I have the satisfaction of seeing his head become enveloped in a dark orange cloud of pepper spray from about his collarbones on up. A solid hit. I remember thinking, “Well, I guess now I'll find out if this stuff works or not.”
It occurs to me that if the spray doesn't work I'll likely have to fight him. I certainly can't run off and leave my date alone. Given that I'm substantially bigger than Black Hat, and a black belt, and have definitely been in (possibly more than) my fair share of fights before, and the fact that he just got sprayed, I'm concerned but not actually afraid of fighting him. Still, you never know how these things will turn out—plus the whereabouts, intentions, and actions of Paunchy are at this point completely unknown to me, so that's not good.
I luck out. Black Hat staggers for a second, puts his head down, and runs away. Paunchy is nowhere to be seen. My date is seriously shaken up but uninjured. It's over.
A male passer-by points to my cell phone lying on the sidewalk which I'm dangerously close to stepping on. (How it got there I have no clue. It must have fallen out of my belt holster during the fracas.) My Bag-o-stuff is also on the sidewalk, now ripped in several places. (How did that happen?) I pick up my phone and Bag-o-stuff. A nice lady helps me pick up the pieces of my glasses that we can find.
My date and I walk a few steps up Mason street and enter a nightclub. I note with approval the large security guard at its entrance.
My date orders a drink. I decide to pass. The club is too noisy to speak on the phone so I step just outside of it and again call 911. I speak with the operator, tell her what happened, and answer her questions. Then, the modern age being what it is, I make a Tweet about what happened. (My Tweets also go to my Facebook page.) A patrol car arrives about five minutes later. I flag it down.
My date and I tell the officers what happened. I also mention to the officers that the spray I used contains a dye that will glow brightly under ultra-violet light. They carefully note that. Then, given that Black Hat knows where her car is parked and our concern that he might take revenge by vandalizing it, the four of us walk back to it. It seems unharmed. The officers ask for our ID (including, the times being what they are, our email addresses), take a picture of me and another of my broken glasses frame, ask if I need an ambulance (Naw, I'm OK), and give me some paperwork.
I'm now featured in SFPD Case # 130-363-180. I also receive some paperwork informing me that I can be reimbursed for medical expenses and lost income resulting from the attack from the state's Victim/Witness Assistance Program. (Note: I believe that all states have a similar program.) Let me add that the officers seemed very concerned and were quite courteous.
My date and I drive to a nearby paid, monitored parking lot and go on to our steak dinner. (Hey, priorities are priorities. Am I right?) During the meal, I notice that my neck is starting to ache. Apparently the blow aggravated some old neck injuries I have. Fortunately, I pretty much always have some naproxyn in a small pill bottle that I carry, so I take some. The steak house nicely gives me, at no charge, a plastic bag to put my ripped Bag-o-stuff into.
Afterwards, I walk my date back to the club, carefully avoiding most of Eddy street. She goes inside and I talk with the security guard for a bit about what happened. He's very concerned and will remember what Black Hat looks like. I then return home, again avoiding Eddy street, without further incident. Upon arriving home I avail myself of “liquid pain medicine” until I feel OK again. Then I watch some TV and go to bed. Life goes on.
I've had a few woudda/shoudda/coudda thoughts about the incident since it occurred, about what I might have done differently—but, candidly, not a lot. I'm also not feeling especially emotionally shaken up. I guess that emotion got burned out of me during my EMS days. It occurred to me after a bit of reflection that Black Hat may have been trying to punch me in the throat rather than in the face like I first thought. If so, and if he had landed that punch as intended, I might have been in very bad shape. Hey, nothing like being lucky, right? I'm feeling a little sore today, but only a little. Am going to a party tonight. My date has thanked me and invited me to dinner at her place.
Thanks to some superglue and rubber bands, I've jury-rigged my glasses back together so that they're wearable but I look even dorkier than usual. (I wasn't sure that was possible.)
In response to my Tweet, dozens of people have responded on my Facebook page, and via other means, with sympathies, prayers, offers of support, and virtual hugs (oh, and tips as to where inexpensive glasses can also be obtained). Bless 'em all. End of report.
A Tae Kwon Do exhibition by Jay Wiseman
and his student, Kevin
Langdon, at the First IQmenical Conference in Berkeley, August 1984
Supplemental Pepper Spray Geekage
A few years ago, I devoted some time to the serious study of pepper spray. Pepper sprays (there are a very wide variety of them on the market) are rated level one, level two, and level three, with level three being the hottest and strongest. One noted brand of level three spray is named Sabre Red. A company named Galls that mainly sells police supplies sells a 2.0 ounce can of Sabre Red that sprays in a cone pattern. Because the cone pattern requires less precision to use under stress, it's the recommended spray pattern for civilian self-defense. (Tell me about it!) While most sprays of this size only contain about ten seconds of spray, the Sabre Red contains about 30 to 40 seconds worth of spray. Also, it will fire whether it's held upright, sideways, or even upside down.
Here is the URL for that particular item:
This is the model I recommend, carry, and give to people I care about. The cops asked to see it so I showed it to them. One remarked, “That Sabre Red is no joke. It's what we carry.”
Newer models are using a gel form of pepper spray that reduces how long the spray lingers in the air, making it more suitable for use in a confined space such as a crowded subway car. The gel also apparently fires farther and is less affected by wind. The Sabre company is now also coming out with “blue face” versions of their spray that dye an assailant's face bright blue. When Sabre Red comes out with a gel-based, “blue face” version that fires a cone pattern and weighs no more than 2.5 ounces, I'll probably start carrying that.
Here's a FAQ about pepper spray, including how its strength is calculated:
Interestingly enough, because its propellant is inert, pepper spray can even have an off-label use as a small fire extinguisher, although I'd think twice before using it as such in a confined space.
Pepper spray canisters weighing 2.5 ounces or less are legal for civilians to carry in California:
My understanding is that pepper spray is legal to carry in all 50 states, but some states do have laws in place about them.
Something to consider, eh?
Dialogues on Overextended Ideas1
In small towns and villages, people lived life together and helped each other out almost every day. In cities and suburbs people’s daily lives became much more separate.2 In particular, many of the normal troubles of life were no longer handled by friends, neighbours, and relatives. Increasingly, help came in the form of services offered by various agencies and professionals. The professionalization of normal troubles created a market for "studying" all kinds of problems3, as well as a need for credentialed experts who could solve them.
Psychology was hit particularly hard, in this regard: Clinically, psychology had its beginnings in the treatment of pseudo-physical illnesses like hysteria, or auditory/visual hallucinations.4 Initially, physicians won a political victory over the clergy in a battle for custody of the English Mad-houses and those within them. And Psychiatry became a new medical specialty. A new kind of doctor treated illnesses that were `mental’.
As urban development continued, various kinds of psychotherapists found themselves called upon to ‘treat’ such things as violence, loneliness, problems in marriage, juvenile delinquency, crime, sexual dissatisfaction, over/under eating, child rearing, low self esteem, addiction.5
Their original medical model of illness and treatment was stretched to its limits.5 More and more, what they needed were ideas and skills that could deal with almost any conceivable human problem.6
What follows is a demonstration of the versatility that has been achieved. Using well-known concepts, and tricks of the trade—an average therapist with moderate skill will probably never encounter a human problem (s)he cannot “treat.”
Witness then—the power of language
to mask ignorance with apparent competence and certainty—without automatically
signaling a sense of humility or constraint. Listen in on a session of
psychotherapy to help a man whose car won’t start.
Therapist: How do you do, could you tell me a little about what brought you here—a little background about yourself and your life up until this point?
Client: Well, my car won’t start; this happens a lot. I want it to start. I mean I can’t get to work, I’ve gone to mechanics to repair it for years; but sooner or later it breaks again. I need to get it running and stay running.
Therapist: Is that all you want to relate?
Client: Yeah, that’s the beginning and end of it. If you just let me know how to keep it running I’ll be very happy with the outcome, and that will about do it.
Therapist: Well I wonder if you can notice something. You came in with a problem and immediately wanted me to solve it for you—some expert, somebody other than yourself, as if you somehow had nothing to do with the matter, as if you were powerless to affect the remedy yourself. You were totally at the mercy of some problem bigger than you were, that was creating pain and suffering in your life, troubles, and problems, all of which you had to endure. So you came to me to complain about these problems and to have me make them go away—you see what I’m getting at?
Client: Well—I mean, look, I don’t know about cars. I mean, I’d be glad to fix it myself if I knew how but I don’t. And besides I’ve got some money and I’d rather have an expert do it right than fool around and waste time and energy monkeying with it myself, you know what I mean?
Therapist: Wait a minute—let’s back up here a little. It’s your car, isn’t it? I mean it’s the car you drive in, the one you bought, and the one you’ve been living in for years now. And you think you don’t know about it and I do? Who could better know about your car than its one and only owner?
Client: Well In particular, many of the normal troubles of life were no longer handled by friends, neighbours, and relatives. Increasingly, help came in the form of services offered by various agencies and professionals. The professionalization of normal troubles created a market for "studying" all kinds of problems, as well as a need for credentialed experts that could solve them—uh—I can change a light or something but I don’t really know why the damn thing isn’t starting.
Therapist: You see often when people come to us and say they ‘can’t do something’ what they really mean is they ‘won’t.’ You betrayed your feeling a bit already when you referred to your car as ‘that damn thing.’ You even talked about not wanting to waste time and energy trying to fix it even if you could. Now with an attitude like that about your car, no wonder you don’t have it running—it’s a wonder it ever ran at all. You apparently don’t like your car; you’re in fact quite angry at your car for not starting and causing you all these problems. You don’t even think it’s worth ‘wasting time and energy on.’ But what more important things could there be to do in this world than getting to know your very own car? So you make a few mistakes that some expert might not make. What’s wrong with that? I mean that’s the way you learn. Then you would know about your car and how to start it—not some mysterious guru out there whose advice you have to take on faith. Would you like me to help you get to know your very own car?
Client: Well I guess I see what you mean. If I learned how to fix it then I wouldn’t have to depend on somebody else—I guess that would be a better approach in the long run all right. But I mean wouldn’t I have to buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of tools and have a garage and spend all kinds of time on weekends doing this stuff—I mean wouldn’t it be better even in the long run to just let somebody else mess with it?
Therapist: You see how you avoid responsibility for your car—looking for all kinds of ‘good’ reasons not to learn about it? We have a saying in psychology. When somebody gives ‘reasons’ why they don’t know about their car it’s always a lie. The only true reason why they don’t know about their car is that they don’t want to know.
Client: Okay, so why don’t I want to know?
Therapist: Now we are starting to get somewhere. Consider that you have been using words like ‘bother with,’ ‘damn,’ ‘mess around with’—in connection with your car. There’s two things we can notice from this. First, people, by and large, don’t want to really know about their cars when they come to us. They just want their troubles to go away so they can live a carefree life. They don’t really want to learn.
Client: You mean I’m like a lot of people—most people don’t want to learn?
Therapist: That’s right, and like most people you probably are afraid to find out why your car won’t start. That’s why you would rather have me fix it—so it will run and you will never know why it wouldn’t take you places. But let me tell you: if you don’t know why it wouldn’t take you places, it might start for a while but the problem will come back again and again until you dare to understand it.
Client: Why in the world would I be afraid to learn about distributors or batteries?
Therapist: Because you are afraid your car is a bad car—a lemon, a clunker. You really don’t like your car; you’re clearly angry at it, mad—you want to push it away, get on with other things—not look at it. The last thing you ever dreamed you could do was really enjoy it—enjoy exploring it and being with it. You believe your car is a bad car. And as long as you believe that, you will be afraid to look under the hood. If you are afraid, you will make up reasons why you can’t—you will get whiplash of the neck so you can’t bend down. Other things will be more important. You probably won’t even notice that, at bottom, there is fear.
Client: But I don’t understand. So I found out that my car was a mess and the radiator was bad and the engine needed a valve job and so on. At worst I would have to get a new car. I mean that’s no picnic—but it’s better than spending a lot of money for nothing on repairs only to junk it later.
Therapist: Exactly—but that’s your intellect talking. Of course it is rational to want to know the car for better or worse. But your emotions aren’t rational. When your emotional self is confronted with ‘let’s look under the hood,’ it’s like a little child or a pet: all it knows, all it can respond with, is ‘I don’t want to; I’m afraid; I hate that old car.’ Your emotional self doesn’t know about reasons; it can’t think about long-term results—it just knows how it feels about doing something in the moment.
Client: So how did I get to be afraid of my car and why do I secretly believe my car is bad?
Therapist: Well before we tackle those good questions let’s back up a bit. The reason you are afraid to find out, the reason you don’t want to find out that your car is bad is that you, like most of us, identify with your car. You see you live with it, you sit in it, it takes you everywhere, it’s your constant companion. So quite naturally you come to feel that you are your car—that it is part of WHAT YOU ARE. So if your car is bad that means you are bad—there’s something wrong with you—it is you that won’t start—you see?
Client: Yeah I get it—the car sort of reflects on me, so I don’t want it to be a lemon ’cause that makes me look bad, right?
Therapist: Exactly, so the first step in daring to examine your own car is to see very clearly that you are not your car. Your car is just a car—something that you ride in, a box of steel and plastic. Without you, your car does not run, however without your car YOU still run. Cars may come and go—they aren’t permanent, but their owner remains. Just because a car doesn’t start—you’re still basically a beautiful, loveable, owner. If you see that—I mean, really see it—then you’ve taken a giant step towards being able to accept your car not running—instead of condemning it.
Client: Okay, I think I’ve got that. It’s not running. I’m okay, you’re okay, but the car’s not running—that’s just the way it is.
Therapist: Fine, now we can go further. Now you’re at the point where you can accept your experience of the car, without condemnation, without denying it, and you’re willing to learn—you’re not running to external authority figures.
Client: Right—so why doesn’t it run?
Therapist: Uh, not so fast—there’s that defensiveness again. Let me assure you that the answer to your question is in you, yourself. You came to me, seemingly unable to discover why your car didn’t start. But the truth is that you already know why your car doesn’t start. The answer to all questions is always within ourselves, not somewhere outside of us. If we are only willing to give up our resistance and look—the answer will be found to be in us all along.
Client: All right already, so I know how to fix it—how do I find out what I already know but I don’t know I know it ’cause I don’t want to look at myself or my car?
Therapist: Well, once you are prepared to look, then the way in—astonishingly enough—is to make a complete about face, and take the exact opposite attitude to your former self. You think you are trying to find out how to fix something. So you think you should look for something that’s wrong. The first step is to give up that attitude entirely. How can you learn or be open when all your looking and listening is controlled by a rigid preconception of what the problem is?
Client: I shouldn’t try to find out how to fix it—if anything’s wrong?
Therapist: Did it ever occur to you that there’s nothing to fix, that nothing is in fact wrong with your car? If you examined a car in perfect shape looking for something wrong, you wouldn’t find out much about how it works would you?
Client: What in the hell are you talking about? Do you expect me to believe it really does start? I’m not hallucinating, doc—I’m telling you it doesn’t go!
Therapist: I know this is a hard thing for you to accept. And it’s true in terms of your own experience; the car won’t start and that means, to you, that something must be wrong with it. And of course since that’s your experience, it is real to you.
Client: You mean if you tried to start the damn thing it would go?
Therapist: No, no you don’t understand. I’m sure that if I started it, as far as you were concerned, it wouldn’t go—nobody could make it go now, as far as you can see. That’s not the point.
Client: Well then, damn it, what is the point?
Therapist: Perhaps it is best to look at it this way—we want you to look at your car with fresh eyes—not with motives, categories and goals that were conditioned in you from the past. We want this because we want you to learn things that are genuinely new, not just extensions of the past. Perhaps when you look without goals, and motives, and problems to solve, you will find out something that will let you start your car—perhaps not. Maybe you will find out your car is better off not starting—who knows. There’s no anticipating the results when you really look with an open mind. As long as you are controlled by results you can’t really look.
Client: Are you crazy, or am I crazy? You mean you’re going to show me how to learn about my car but I might not learn anything that will make it go?
Therapist: Well, I see that possibility upsets you. You might take that as a clue about your hidden agenda. Perhaps I can make this journey seem a little more reasonable to your intellect: you start with a problem and the solution is unknown. It could be, paradoxically, that to arrive at the solution you need to abandon your definition of the problem, i.e., car won’t start. The solution can never be found by looking for things that are wrong. It might be you need to notice something that can only come into view if you freely, without motive, examine what is going on.
Client: Okay—that’s a little better—I mean you had me worried for a minute. So I shouldn’t be so goal-orientated at first or I might not notice something important—okay?
Therapist: Yes—so we solve the problem by, first, forgetting the problem and just examining ourselves and our car. One of the tricks we use in psychology is to follow the threads of the original problem—not as a problem—but just as something that happened—and see where they lead.
Client: What do you mean by ‘threads?’
Therapist: Well, for example—you come in here with a car that is not working, that you experience as causing you troubles, that you apparently are incapable of fixing. This situation makes you very mad, you are angry, frustrated, you want to change it—you go to an expert to alter the whole thing. Let’s just take these as a set of your experiences and try to find out what is behind them.
Therapist: Let me throw something out to you and you can try it on and see if it fits.
Therapist: Did your parents own a car when you were little?
Therapist: Did their car stall sometimes?
Client: Yeah—it was a real lemon—Cal Worthington sold it to them and did they get taken.
Therapist: I see, and at what times did the car not go—I mean—did it not take you places you wanted to go, for instance?
Client: My God, it didn’t take anybody anywhere they wanted to go—sure. I was late for a baseball game once ’cause the neighbours had to drive me, and I was late for class a few times.
Therapist: And how did that make you feel?
Client: Well I felt shitty; you know I mean why did this have to happen for me. I ended up getting a tardy slip for being late and it wasn’t even my fault.
Therapist: Would you say that made you mad?
Client: Sure it made me mad.
Therapist: At the car?
Client: Well, not exactly at the car—more at the asshole teacher for not being fair.
Therapist: Did the car ever cause trouble in the family?
Client: Sure. I mean, dad was bitching about how much money he had to put into it, and how it never worked anyway.
Therapist: I suppose you didn’t like all that bitching and bad atmosphere, huh?
Client: It was a drag all right.
Therapist: The car was almost a bit like you to them maybe—put lots of time and money into it but didn’t work well?
Therapist: Never mind—in other words there was a car very much like this one that caused a lot of trouble in your family when you were little, right?
Client: Right—except that it was a Ford and mine is a Plymouth, and Fords are a lot worse than Plymouths let me tell you.
Therapist: Fine, we have a concept in psychology called transference. It means that sometimes we react to people and things in the present as if they were people and things that existed in the past.
Client: Yeah I know about that—projection or something, right?
Therapist: Right—in essence. So it seems to me that your dislike for your car, your anger at it—may not really be because it won’t start—although that might have triggered it.
Client: Yeah, you implied that before as if—if I could face it, I was really upset for some other reason. So what reason?
Therapist: You see you really weren’t mad at your car, you were mad at your parents’ car. You were treating your own vehicle as if it were an object from the past, and expressing all the things you never were able to express in the past about this object, to the object in the present.
Client: Come again?
Therapist: You, sir, had an object in your family—a car—that caused all kinds of pain and troubles for your parents and you at a tender age. Your parents treated it as intrinsically ‘bad,’ so you, as children tend to do, adopted the attitude of your parents: you blamed IT for all the troubles, and disliked it as they disliked it. For so young a child you probably didn’t even understand the concept of ‘a lemon’ or ‘having been taken,’ or what was so bad about dad missing work. But you felt their emotions and understood that this object was blamed and disliked.
Client: Okay, maybe so—maybe I really didn’t know if the car was really fucked up—I just took their word for it.
Therapist: To you, cars were always your parents’ car. Every car or most cars probably reminded you of your parents’ car. Irrationally, emotionally, you made the connection `car’— ‘something bad,’ ‘something that causes troubles.’ You see you never really disliked your car at all—it was your parents’ car—a car you saw in innumerable cars in the present that was the real object of your hatred. This hatred probably never got expressed at the time because to hate a lemon that your father bought was to openly show disgust for your father and his buying such a thing. After all if dad’s lemon was bad, dad was bad for buying it—yes? So this hatred was repressed.
Client: You mean that’s why I secretly was afraid that if I looked under the hood my car would be a lemon—because my dad’s was a lemon and I thought this one was like dad’s?
Client: So this one may very well not be a lemon, right?
Therapist: Precisely. You need not be afraid of finding out the terrible truth any more—that secret belief of yours was always a lie—even your dad’s might have been all right—but you didn’t know that at the time—all you heard was him saying angrily, ‘lemon,’ ‘lemon.’ Once you are free of the lie, then it becomes possible for you to really see and appreciate your car—not some phantom from the past.
Client: That’s a relief—and here I thought all along I’d have to buy a new one after you showed me how to examine the thing.
Therapist: It’s always freeing when you disburden yourself of something that is false.
Client: But one thing still bothers me.
Therapist: What’s that?
Client: It still doesn’t start! I mean it’s not a lemon or anything but how come I have one that doesn’t start?
Therapist: Ah, you’re starting to get some insight into yourself. That’s a very important question. There’s another idea we use in family therapy called ‘negative love.’ It refers to the fact that we want very much to love and be close to our parents. We have an essential need for this closeness. Now there are many negative situations in our family that occur. Paradoxically, to recreate this closeness we often recreate these very negative situations. That may have been the only situation you knew: but when you reproduce one of these negative family scenes, at least on an emotional level, you feel close to mom and dad again.
Client: So I might buy a car or arrange for it not to run and give me trouble, so it will be familiar, like a family situation, and I would feel part of the family again?
Therapist: Tremendously, right—you are really starting to open up now.
Client: But why troubles—why didn’t I reproduce some positive scenes?
Therapist: Tragically there is a greater tendency to indulge in the negativity. It’s like this: If dad bought a bad car and you bought a good one then you would be outdoing him—you would be better than him. As a child you couldn’t do that or you would risk losing his love. It’s almost as if you were saying, ‘See dad, I have a lemon just like you, I didn’t outdo you. NOW WILL YOU LOVE ME?’
Client: I see.
Therapist: It’s worse than that. We tend to take on the traits, and reproduce the situations, that we actually hated as a child because we had to repress that hate. One way to conceal that you hate something is to become it yourself—you see? If you hate people that are sloppy but you want desperately to love them, then you might become sloppy too. Then, you see, you don’t feel that bad about sloppy people any more, ’cause you know how it is to be that way yourself.
Client: Well this is a lot to take in but I think I get the drift of it. There’s just one thing about it though. I didn’t ruin the thing, or purposely buy a bad one. How did I arrange for a car that would act just like dad’s?
Therapist: Interesting metaphysical question. I don’t know how the details work but you actually create your own external reality from within. A man who thinks he is accident-prone will have accidents: a person who believes he is lucky will win often in poker. Someone with a desire to be murdered, sooner or later will attract somebody who wants to kill him. But let me guarantee you one thing—if you change your inner programming the outer world will change automatically.
Client: So how do I get it to start?
Therapist: Once you really don’t need to have a bad car around to feel close to the family, the car will start, or you will get another. I don’t know how the details will work out—but things will change. And if the situation doesn’t change—then you know that on some level you really haven’t given up the desire to have a lemon.
Client: So I couldn’t have fixed it at first, ’cause I really didn’t want it fixed?
Therapist: Precisely—you were secretly delighted it didn’t run. While you said you couldn’t fix it—in fact you wouldn’t. You might have even in some way used your knowledge of cars—the knowledge you claimed only I had—to have broken it to begin with. These things are insidious you know! Quick starting for a week, delaying tune-ups—who knows how you did it?
Client: So now what do I do?
Therapist: Well the way to let go of an attachment is to experience it from a different perspective.
Client: How do I do that?
Therapist: Remember I said that when we learned about you, your car, and the relationship you and it had together—we might not arrive at the idea that it should run?
Client: I remember; it seemed goofy at the time.
Therapist: Now wanting it to run and getting angry when it doesn’t—you see—is all part of the programme—the script of feeling and acting just like dad and you did in that family scene—the scene that makes you feel so much a part of the family.
Client: Got you.
Therapist: So you might try enjoying not starting the car—this is your car not your dad’s. Get in and unsuccessfully turn the starter a few times. Don’t treat it as a problem—just experience it as something to do—like playing tennis.
Client: I don’t think I’m going to like that.
Therapist: Well then perhaps you’ll like the sound—just turn the starter and enjoy the sheer energy—the sheer music of that ‘whee, whee’ sound it makes when the engine doesn’t turn over. It’s not as if turning that key always has to be looked on from two, limited, bleak alternatives—start or not start. Turning the key can be an isometric exercise for your fingers; it can make musical rhymes with the starter motor—who knows what other alternatives there are?
Client: I don’t want isometrics, I don’t want car music—I want the damn thing to turn over.
Therapist: Well this sometimes happens—you are very attached to a certain self-destructive way of working with your experience. Sometimes this can be overcome with humour. You might notice as you get mad and frustrated when it doesn’t start, ‘Well there I go again getting frustrated like always over this little key turning in this tiny, tiny slot—it’s kind of funny how dramatic I get about it.’
Therapist: Yes, humour can often give us just enough distance from ourselves and our reactions that we can see our way to treating a solution in a more creative and loving way.
Client: I don’t think it’s funny that my car hasn’t started all week.
Therapist: Well then treat it as tragic. You find it disappointing—okay blow it up—make it bigger—just how bad can you feel about it? You may never fix it—nobody may know what’s wrong. Perhaps you will starve to death for want of transportation to the market. Perhaps you are furious at the car—so furious that you want to kick it—swear at it—pound it—show it how a beautiful human being responds to a trusted car that won’t start.
Client: Well that sounds more like how I feel all right.
Therapist: You must be careful here not to condemn yourself for hating your car. Accept your feelings, get them out and then go through them to understanding.
Client: Understanding what, for Christ’s sake?
Therapist: I think if you try what I am suggesting, you will discover, not just intellectually but on an emotional level, that it’s not your car but your father’s car, that is making you angry, goal-orientated and consequently ‘stuck’. Once you see that, your reaction should subside.
Client: You mean it will start?
Therapist: No, but you will start to feel less angry and frustrated if it doesn’t—you will gain some measure of objectivity about the situation.
Client: What good will that do?
Therapist: Well, once you have vented your repressed anger and obtained some objectivity, then you will be ready to attempt to forgive your car.
Client: Forgive my CAR?!
Therapist: Exactly—remember I told you that inside and outside are not different but the same—that external events reflect inner programming?
Client: How could I forget?
Therapist: Well, many, many of my patients find that the moment they give up caring whether their car starts—the moment they forget their ego attachment—that moment and only that moment is the moment when their car will start.
Therapist: Really—I could give you story after story—be they Chevrolet owner, or the owner of a Dodge Dart. What I am teaching you is one device that facilitates your letting go. First you vent your anger, then you understand the transference, and then you must forgive.
Client: So how do I forgive my car?
Therapist: Well it’s not really your car you will forgive. Remember your car is but an endless replay of the drama of your dad’s car. So you have to really come to understand why your dad’s car didn’t start. Once you understand, you will have tears and compassion for that poor old lemon. It was just programmed like you and your father. It didn’t want to make you trouble, to get you mad, to make you late for school—but it had to—it was following its programming.
Client: You mean that car didn’t do it on purpose?
Therapist: Of course not—it was just a—
Client: You mean cars have inner programming too?
Therapist: My dear sir, the whole universe is nothing more than different manifestations of consciousness. Everything from inert gases to the most intelligent forms of life are merely different mediums and forms of consciousness.
Client: So my dad’s car didn’t stall all the time on purpose?
Therapist: That’s right, it was following its programming. Cars are rather like children in a way. Just as children, out of trust and love, tend to follow the unspoken admonishments of their parents, so cars tend to act like their owners really want them to act. This might not always be the same as what the owner says he wants in a car. Cars are psychic you know—just like small children. They know what an owner really wants; they can feel it.
Client: Well, doc, I got to tell you you’ve handed me some stuff that was hard to swallow. But frankly this stuff about psychic cars sounds completely wacko to me. I mean do you really expect me to believe all this shit? The fact is the damn thing wouldn’t start. It cost dad a lot of money and a lot of heartache. I don’t care how ‘psychic’ it was, it was a shitty car.
Therapist: I can see you are going to have a tough time with this phase of your treatment. Let me just say this generally. We psychologists have a little maxim about this situation: Every car is guilty but no car is to blame.
Client: Come again?
Therapist: It is true that each car must take responsibility for its functioning, but it is no more to blame for this than the law of gravity is to blame when you fall down and hurt yourself.
Client: Well, I’d have to admit that you showed me that I am mad at cars ’cause of what dad’s car did to him, and that dad’s car sure fucked him over. Now if you can get me to where I think dad’s car was a good car, I guess you could get me to believe anything.
Therapist: Really? Well that’s encouraging; let me try. Let’s forget the metaphysics about cars then, since that seems like a belief system that you have trouble with. Can you accept the idea that a car of a certain type can somehow get attracted to an owner that wants that type of car?
Client: Well sure—like dad unconsciously picks a certain kind of product, right?
Therapist: Right—fine. Now let’s just assume that dad wanted a car that was good at not starting. Now he said the opposite, he said how much trouble it was, how much money it costs him, what a terrible lemon the car was. But let’s just assume that on some level he really wanted that, and so he somehow arranged to have a car that would be a lemon.
Client: Well why would he want a lemon? I mean why would anybody want a lemon?
Therapist: To answer a question like that, we must look at what we call the ‘secondary gain’. I mean what did the car’s not working do for your dad?
Client: Well, let me see . . . he really didn’t like his job and he didn’t have to go to work—at least he could get there late. Wait a minute; he didn’t like shopping with mom much either. In fact, he didn’t like going out much at all. He was kind of a homebody. Wait a minute, wait a MINUTE—the best thing in the whole world he loved was to putter around his wood shop and that’s what he used to do when the car was at the garage getting fixed. He used to say that he might as well keep busy while he waited for the car—cause there wasn’t anything else to do. Why that asshole!
Therapist: You’re beginning to see the pattern. Your car wasn’t a bad car at all—it was a very good car. It loved its owner very much and did just what he wanted it to do. You might say, paradoxically, it was a good car to him by being a bad car.
Client: God damn it, you’re right. That car wasn’t to blame at all for all the stuff that happened to the family and me. It was that lousy, hypocritical, lying father of mine! He was just lazy that’s all. Hell, for all I know he might have busted the car himself. Why that lying creep.
Therapist: So you and your father really didn’t have a bad car, right?
Client: Right, I don’t have a bad car, I had a lousy father—why that sneaky, lazy, hypocritical bastard.
Therapist: You know I think you’ve come a long way towards getting over your emotional attachments to this so-called car trouble.
Client: I think you’re right, doc. It’s really amazing how I see my problems with my car from a whole new perspective. I think I really understand the problem now. Wait ’til I get my hands on that no-good father of mine—wait ’til I tell mom. I mean all these years that creep has been making picture frames in that shop. “I can’t help it, the car won’t start. I have to do something ’til it gets fixed”—that snake in the grass.
Therapist: Well, yes you have a great deal of insight about the car, but I really think you should come and see me again, to deal with your feelings about your father.
Client: I’m going to kill that creep; I’m going to break every one of those damn chairs of his.
Therapist: Could you come back next week for another appointment?
Client: Well, that’s going to be hard. I live pretty far away. Since my car won’t start, I’d have to take the bus.
Therapist: Well, with all the progress we made today, I think you can take it to a mechanic now and expect better results.
Client: Good idea doc, I’ll do that right away.
Therapist: Great. See you next week.
 See Howard Schwartz, “On the Overextension of Ideas” Noesis #191 (January 2011).
2 Among the contributing factors: the separation of work and home, geographical and occupational mobility, the decline in importance of the neighbourhood and extended family, electronic communication devices – especially the new phenomenon of `strangers’. Urban citizens lived, travelled, and worked, daily, in the company of those they knew nothing or little about.
3 One of the main tools used by social "science" to study anything whatsoever is a certain prevalent kind of statistics: Almost anything can be described as some kind of `variable’. Then see which variables are associated with which, and create a theory (story?) about why these variables are connected.
4 Szasz discusses some of this history in parts I and II of Szasz, Thomas. The Myth of Mental Illness. New York: Harper and Row. 1974 See also, Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (eds.) Insanity, Institutions and Society 1800 – 1914. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. Andrew Scull, The Most Solitary of Afflictions: Madness and Society in Britain 1700 – 1900, Yale University Press, 1993.
5 Op. cit., Szasz, pp. 262 – 263. This conclusion is a crisp summary of Szasz’s famous characterisation of psychiatry as dealing with personal, ethical, and social problems in living. As Emerson et al. point out, the problems may be those of the client and/or those of other people that have been dealing with the client. Emerson, R.M., and Messinger, S.L. “The micro-politics of trouble”. Social Problems, 25, 1977, 121 – 134.
6 However, the medical model (e.g., disease, doctor, patient, symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis) was by no means abandoned. Psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) names almost 1000 diseases and syndromes, with prescribed medications for almost any form of human suffering or odd behaviour.
is too far in the future.
Our only hope is whatever hope we have for the past.
Know Thy . . .
I don't know anything until I see myself announcing