Back to the Past and Into the Future
Tell me about your mother…
In which we once again join Aaron Sommers, wayward graduate student in the liberal studies program sometime during 2002 in college as he enters a world full of carrots and sticks and Greek tragedies. Otherwise known as the field of psychology. In this episode, Sommers, armed with his baccalaureate in Psychology and little other credentials, signs up for a seminar restricted for doctorate students. The registrar attempts to correct this. His professor overrides this effort. Sommers thus continues as a student in the class amidst consternation of university administration. He receives wisdom from professor.
Sometime around the year 2002, I enrolled in a class called PSYC 974: Advanced Seminar/History of Psychology.
At the time, I was in the M.A.L.S. program at UNH.
The class—sorry—“seminar” was taught by one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
There were around ten of us. Professor Wang Chung started off by explaining the seminar. Well, sort of…
He said (in no particular order):
- That he was a recent hire. But instead of adjunct or even assistant level, he was hired as a full professor off the bat (he didn’t tell us this—some guy told us this before class started). It was impressive—if not weird—sort of like professor Chung himself.
- Professor Chung told us he named the class “Advanced Seminar” because the Psychology Dept. eschewed the title of “seminar” for any classes, or so he was told, so he thus decided to use it. Also, apparently 800 was the highest number/level a course could go, so he “raised the roof.”
- Professor Chung—Wang, as he awkwardly insisted we class him—specialized in “The History of Psychology. “
Now, let me stop here and try to explain what in the Hell that means.
Psychology is the alleged study of the mind and process therein–and the study of the history of this field is without a doubt a road littered with some of the strangest, most demented, subnormal, fascinating and scary studies and cast of characters you will never have the misfortune of meeting.
Case in point: John B.Watson, the so-called, “Father of Behaviorism.”
First off, “Behaviorism” is just a dressed-up name for the age-old carrot and stick.
You do what I ask and you will be rewarded. If you don’t do what I ask, there will be consequences.
Over time, the scenario was played out in various Ivy League classrooms, government-sanctioned laboratories, droll text books and within the heads of many depraved men. Watson took if further by looking at the human mind as an Etch-a-Sketch and wanted to prove if you knew how to behaviorize you could make anyone afraid of anything or, alternately, not afraid of anything. The possibilities were endless. Therefore, so were the dangers…
Some myopic mistakes by Watson:
- Underestimating the power of the heritability of some behaviors.
- Overestimating the influence of conditioning—Operant or Classical—on the mentally ill.
- Forgot about Freud.
- He believed in training. If you start flabby, you can end up cut. If you are born insensitive, you can be molded into a poet. Basically, the guy wanted to use classical conditioning (fancy term for rewards and punishment) for any situation he could. And he did.
- He was the guy who claimed if you gave him ten babies then he’d give you a lawyer, a doctor, a criminal, a painter, an electrician, etc.
- He is best known for his experiment on an unfortunate 9 month old boy, “Little Albert.”
Here he first watched as the kid associated white fur with pleasant things, like the beard of Santa Claus. Then, through stimuli like loud noises, he made the kid freak out every time anything white and furry came into view. He thus proved he could change behavior, it was last, and it only need stimulus and effect. There were a bunch of variations to the experiment.
- Basically, Watson turned Pavlov (guy who rang bell each time he fed the dogs and then just rang the bell and the dogs salivated) into an intellectually efficient machine, bent on “molding” anyone.
- Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but a fat man is always fat.
- The advertising industry ate what he did up.
- Governments, too.
- Used a catchy slogan “not more babies but better brought up babies”
The best part of Wang’s class (he hated to be called “Dr. Chung” or “Professor Chung”) was that you never knew if Wang was for or against these guys. He just presented what they did and how they did it.
There was no right or wrong, per se, besides the cases when these guys lied, cheated or were total dicks. To be fair Wang called them out on it, and his rage was expressed in the most eloquent, delicate yet potent way a man of wisdom can.
When provoked, I guess…
Speaking of provocation, we didn’t talk much about Sigmund, but when we did it went like this:
“No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.”
SIGMUND FREUD, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
Well, he is “The Father of Psychoanalysis. But who is the mother?
Freud’s “discovery” of the unconscious was more of a wake-up call to all of the uptight Europeans whom still thought about dirty things but denied it and never would talk about it.
In Freud’s opinion the mind of a healthy person resembles an iceberg, with the real needs buried out of view, the acceptable ones front and center and the superego at the tip, the authority.
But in fact the superego (as I see it) is the sun, holding the power the melt the iceberg, to shape it, while the ego is the edges (jagged or smooth) of our consciousness (our everyday functioning) and the id is the icy waters below that either harbor beneficial organisms like plankton, something in-between like a dolphin, something threatening like a shark, or, in the unfortunate state, nothing at all in a bleak, frozen abyss. But that’s just how I see it…
We also watched a cheerful movie called The Snake Pit.
It’s a movie about a woman, an aspiring writer, who loses her mind and documents her experiences in a mental hospital. Now, I call it a “loony bin” only because the crazy people were the bureaucrats. The doctors, nurses, etc. The other patients (particularly an unforgettable old ldady that randomly sings “Sweet Georgia Brown”) teach her and help her more than any “professional”. The movie came out in 1948 and is much less dramatic and hallucinatory than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and predicted the gridlock and depressing atmosphere of Modern Mental Health Therapies decades before anyone else did.
We also talked briefly about giants like Piaget, Vygotsky, Klein and Erikson. Most of them tried to take the focus away from what goes on in someone’s head (fantasies, fears, etc.) and towards what’s happening outside.
Basically a lot of people looking at how powerful the environment is (especially for children) and dodging the bullets fired from the psychoanalytic pistol. The old-school one, the one loaded with hidden wishes and repressed needs, drives towards Death and a need to put your thumb anywhere. While a few where straight disciplines of Freud, they did break with him on the power of the unconsciousness in the child.
The good that came from this movement included a societal shift towards identifying and providing services to children who need it, because
if it’s true that unexpressed desires get buried alive, neglectful parenting get buried and dies but returns in the form of various nightmarish scenarios on society.
For the record, not one therapist has been able to explain why I expressed inordinate rage and jealousy when Christy Brinkley married Billy Joel in 1985.
Part of it might have been unresolved psyche stuff or just being your average obsessed weird kid.
Either way, good thing Ms. Brinkley didn’t read her mail!
Looking back at the Seminar, I want to thank Wang Chung for what was a great chance to gain insight into Big Egos and Small Schema. Chung was (still is, I am sure) a great teacher and he was as knowledgeable as he was humble.
Everyone in class respected him for this, and I was no exception. How else can you reason I’d write this account over ten years later?
Because I’m neurotic?
 If you want to find out what M.A.L.S. means, read the previous installments of this series.
 Name changed only because if I was him, I wouldn’t want my name dropped in a random blog.
 Not as boring as it sounds.
 Behaviorism. Or as Chuang Tzu said “rewards and punishment are the lowest form of education.”
 Probably behaviorism.
 Definiately behaviorism. Conditioning. Whatever you want to call that carrot and stick.
 Freud when he was coked up.
 Freud on women.
 The “conditioning” here in training isn’t Rocky style, more like repetition until you turn robotic (more like Ivan Frago from Rocky IV, if that works for you).
 But with no personality.
 Definitely not an original one, though.
 Never proved it!
 Santa is inherently creepy anyway, with the sitting on lap of a stranger, “naughty or nice” part, hohoho.
 This is the basic concept and hasn’t changed in 100 years!
 James Watson wrote a book called Psychological Care of Infant and Child (which as you might guess by the title is chock-full of warm parenting techniques) where he essentially told parents to treat all children like little adults. That meant ixnay on the affection, love and praise. Instead, send them off to camps, have them take up hobbies, and reward only the behavior that warrants it. Watson seemed to have been unable to apply it to his own kids—his two sons attempted suicide. One completed the act.
 Fun Fact: “The term “coffee break” originated with a Maxwell House ad campaign John Watson created.
 Any training grounds for new cadets.
 If “better” means a child who only reacts when provokes, only responds when prompted to, and spends no time with introspection or imagination, I’ll pass.
 Wang Chung was very much Show but Don’t Tell when it came to academia.
 Strange Freud would say “like me” assuming anyone else would be even close. The very suggestion of such, however flippant, suggests in itself Freud felt alternately disgusted and drawn to breasts, and made an attempt to reconcile this discord with some kind of middle ground here, but the fact he says “half-tamed” here also tells us he believes at some point the breast (and we have to assume he meant women’s breasts, so don’t think he meant heart or inner thoughts, because he was thinking about what so many men get caught looking at) was tamed, and perhaps the danger is the incompleteness of this “taming” something that Freud found intimidating—something that can support life and, at the same time, smother it.
 To be fair (and honest) Freud was as close to a poet as any of them got, and as such he’s eminently quotable. Two of my favorites: “He does not believe that does not live according to his belief” and, “Words have a magical power.”
 It was an evening class. We were hungry. Some were hung-over.
 Again, the whole “dirty” and “clean” thing, very European, right?
 Back issues available by request.
 I am an only child and resent your assumptions about who I am. Do not front on me because I am better than you!
 Also happens to be name of a band (I think it is Slash and crew).
 The Brain-Eating Opiate Zombie or Meth-Head Monster have become commonplace these days.
 You left out a few others!