Sunday, January 5, 2014

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 5 January
Sigmund Freud:  marvelous story-teller

I've come to the conclusion that philosophy is going to be my science.  I simply haven’t the time to patiently wait for physicists to develop their hypothesis, design and run their experiments and then analyze the results in order to arrive at some conclusion.  I won’t be around to enjoy their final act.  What I intend to do, instead, is to brush up on what is already known and then, using my best efforts, extrapolate from these facts in order to fashion my own ending.  The careful, earnest nature of my effort should qualify my thoughts as being mildly philosophical.  Of course, I could be very wrong in the conclusions I draw but, for me, the greater danger is to have lived life without having drawn much of any conclusion at all.  I would like to go on record as having said something more than a short parting word on my tombstone.

I am immersed with reality but I respond to only carefully measured snippets.  These are mostly simple impressions about how I feel after glancing at a colorful shirt, partially untucked.  What is the meaning behind that downturned mouth?  Soil is rich.  Soiled is diseased.  Hug the woman with smiling eyes.  Price checks add forever to an already too long line.  I make it a rule to only add and subtract when it comes to math.  Health comes first unless it tastes really good.

Anyone remember B. F. Skinner?  His friends called him Fred.  I think he said something to the effect that people have no inner life.  There is only this biological organ called the brain that processes information as it is designed to do.  I think his study of pigeons led to this idea.  It’s easy to think his parties are a pretty stale affair.  What lively nonsense can one expect from someone making a living as a scientific behaviorist?  Actually I’d go to his party were I lucky enough to be invited.  These guys can really surprise you.  He’s probably got a bowl of dried prunes in place of Doritos just to get a few startled laughs.  Hey everyone!  The party’s moved to the bathroom. 

Have you ever seen a toad smoke a cigar?  When’s the last time you saw a photo of Sigmund Freud?  Don’t let the beard fool you.  I bring him up only because he made his reputation selling us on the richness of our own inner lives.  I can’t help wake from a dream without thinking of my own gurgling subconscious.  I’m far more fascinating than I would have ever thought thanks to Freud.  There’s a family quarrel going on right now within my head and my id and my ego are barely speaking to one another because of it.  It turns out I’ve been fantasizing about sex since the age of six months.  What’s not to like about Freud?  Now here’s a guy you might think would throw wild parties.  The fact is, though, he’s anal retentive – very big on punctuality.  Can you imagine all his guests showing up precisely at eight?

Fred Skinner thought Freud a hopeless romantic.  Freud always saw neurotic behavior as a symptom of some deep inner maladjustment that needed intense investigating.  Skinner said Freud was weaving fairy tales.  Fred would have flunked any of his students that wanted to analyze mental processes when they should be measuring neural brain activity.  You don’t waste time putting someone on the couch and play word games in order to solve their problem.  You work directly at modifying their behavior – positive rewards to encourage the desired response and a dose of punishment to discourage unwanted actions.  How do you think they get rats to run a maze in record time?  For extreme problems a couple of prescription pills can work to get your brain back in its proper chemical balance.

I’d like to rethink the party invitation.  If Freud would only invite me during office hours and I could come and sit on his couch.  He’d smoke cigars while I drank coffee.  We could swap stories about our childhood.  I suspect he has a truly droll sense of humor.  I’d look forward to our weekly talks.


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