Tag Archive: psychology


**What follows is the result of unease. A spontaneous reflection on observation. Wondering what happened to the vagabond? Read on, friend. It was in this moment that I realized the vagabond was gone.**

I began this blog as an experiment in some respects. I had no real intention of making it any more than it was destined to be.

So much has changed (the words of a million introspects across our world) since I began this frame for words.

The dark man in jeans and brown fleece jersey is jumping and dancing as if he really is happy. The music doesn’t judge him as it does me, I suppose. I find myself reading Pathfinder, Candle in the wind, and other posts from my past.

He’s jumping side to side now as the masses wale out the words on the screen. I think I’m the only one sitting.

He really seems happy, that man over there. In the isle. He’s clapping his hands.

I’m typing a message on my cellphone. Legs are crossed and I wonder if the usher notices how out of place my frown is. Why is his face so blank? She must ask herself. Except she doesn’t look at me.

Purple backdrops, flashing greens and blues. A man on stage who sings with passion. His face is illuminated in the spot-light. I can see every move he makes. His expression is sincere.

What does he look like when he is alone at home later in the evening, I wonder. Is he still smiling then? Does the dark man keep on dancing?

What about me – do I keep the same blank expression once home and alone? In the dark of my apartment, without purple lights to flare my emotions?

I think I mostly do – but it’s not as if I want to be this way.

No longer am I the vagabond. But did he die or is he merely dormant – or maybe I left him in Thailand, left him to wander the streets of Bangkok till the day he dies – having already died to me.

Who am I now? No longer a vagabond or a traveler or a wandering pathfinder. No longer a missionary or a dreamer. Not a romanticist or a student.

Now just a steel ball in a glass-cad maze, rolling this way and that. A rolling stone gathers no perspective. Or so they should have said, not while rolling in a maze at least.

**An inner dialogue whilst sitting in a church one day.**

For a long time I have considered myself an introspective person, and I have attributed what wisdom I posses to this attribute. Others have noted before me that the self is the greatest opportunity to understand the social world and its behaviours for the reason that the self is always around to be observed. In fact of all people, we cannot escape only ourselves. Of course any scientific observation of an n = 1 sample group may be questioned – but we can escape this paradox if we apply experiment on what we have discovered through introspection to others in our world. Social experimentation. Interaction with people as a way to prove hypotheses of human behaviour theory.

I have been considering self-control and the role and extent of autocracy of the personal will on one’s own behaviour. As such I began looking for research material on the subject, which lead me to BF Skinner and the work I will start to summarise and perform exegesis upon below.

But first a short word on Burrhus Frederic “B. F.” Skinner:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

B.F. Skinner – Harvard Professor of Psychology

 B.F. Skinner was an american psychologistbehaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974. Most notably, Skinner invented “radical behaviourism” and even more interestingly the “Skinner Box” or what is more officially called the “operant conditioning chamber”:

 “The box had a lever and a food tray, and a hungry rat could get food delivered to the tray by pressing the lever. Skinner observed that when a rat was put in the box, it would wander around, sniffing and exploring, and would usually press the bar by accident, at which point a food pellet would drop into the tray. After that happened, the rate of bar pressing would increase dramatically and remain high until the rat was no longer hungry.”

Credits to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

Now some thoughts on the book itself.

Chapter one has some interesting ideas. It begins with the question “Can science help?” and goes on to elucidate on the goods and bads of the scientific era (these past few hundred years) in which there has been an exponential increase in scientific discovery. Skinner’s position is that natural science has developed so fast as to leave the science of human nature behind – thus causing imbalance in our world.

Humanity develops its understanding of technologies which have major effect on our social world and it discovers and defines laws and relationships in the natural world by which we can predict the effects of natural processes (enabling such things as atomic bombs and aeroplanes through nuclear fusion and fluid mechanics in aeronautics) but we do not apply the same drive and energy into discovering and defining the laws and relationships in the world of human nature with which we could predict the outcomes of our scientific creations (such as Hiroshima, 9/11, etc).

Skinner goes on to argue against those who rebel against the idea that human behaviour can in fact be understood through defined laws and relationships. On a side-note, it amazes me that the world has come so far and yet our common understanding of human nature is still mostly agnostic. We all agree on principles such as gravity but we don’t all share agreement on what motivates human decisions.

Why is it that advances in the hard and pure sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology are pursued so vehemently and yet the very thing that drives those motivations and the thing that will inevitably make use of them remains esoteric? Psychology, philosophy and religion have much to say on these questions, but their consideration is diminished in light of technological advancement. Perhaps science will slow down in a century or two and a renaissance like age of psychology, philosophy and religion will emanate instead. The utopian satirist author Samuel Butler plays on this idea in his novel Erewhon, where ‘the instruments and products of science were put into museums – as vestiges of a stage in the evolution of human culture which did not survive.’

The question still remains however, is human nature subject to behavioural theory and prediction? What percentage of human behaviour is a categorical response to external stimuli and what percentage is not? Experiments like Skinner’s box and Pavlov’s bell suggest some relationship. Skinner’s next chapter begins to dig into this “Science of Behaviour” as he tries to show the extent to which the study of people’s actions are subject to the same methodology as is used in the hard sciences.

I aim to determine from his theories the relationships between and key principles behind free will and self-control.

Lastly, here is a brief interview with Skinner:

** Writer’s note: for at least 3 years I have wanted to pen some of the thoughts that were resultant from my struggles with depression in the past. I have literally thousands of notes scrawled all over the place from during and after those periods of depression all representing bits and pieces of the over all understanding of life, pain, happiness and meaning. The subject matter and the thought in it’s entirety was always too large for me to sit down and write about. I have managed to begin to collect and make these thoughts tangible though, the full account will only come out in time in numerous writings, but here for a start (I am pleased to have made) is the first. Regard it for what it is, beware of the presuppositions you encounter it with in your own mind and read it to the end or parts of it will be misunderstood.** 

What to do with my life… a question that makes my heart faint and threatens my happiness within seconds of beginning to stroll down the path the thought takes me on. I write from feelings of anxiety and fear that I must battle fervently for the sake of my happiness which I owe to to God and myself as a Christian. One of the rules of being a Christian that people forget concerns happiness. We are obliged and we have a duty to be happy or at least not unhappy, or rather a better word would be ‘joyful’ despite any circumstances and irrespective of our surroundings. There is a story related through a letter from Paul the apostle to the church in ….. of a group of christians who are said to have rejoiced in their persecutions. Their homes were ransacked and they were saddened and hurt by it but remained joyful.

There is an interesting duality here in the underlying life of a true christian. Christianity recognises that there can be sadness alongside joy. I have not come across any other teaching or philosophy that recognises this as yet besides those of christianity. I have experienced this duality of emotion for myself and this gives me confidence in my belief in it’s truth because I can not deny my own personal experience, knowing that I am not delusional or psychotic as some might suggest in offense of these assertions. There have been times when I have been sad and not at all joyful. At these times it would seem that there was none of the duality of which I speak – only a double portion of sadness perhaps, something deeper than mere sadness in fact: depression; despair; despondency. These feelings I would argue are unGodly feelings not acceptable to God. What this means then is that times of real depression (psychologically recognised depression) are also times of sinfulness in the person who is depressed. This thought needs patience and tact to deal with though for what needs to be understood is that being depressed is not usually the abject fault of the person who is depressed. In fact it is usually mostly the exact opposite and the very core and poison of depression is this; the state of being unable to change one’s own fate and the feeling that one could not have avoided it. The feeling of helplessness; the inability to pull oneself out of one’s own shadow of despair or to have avoided the initiation or continuation of it’s vicious cycle.

These thoughts come from someone who has been clinically depressed and recovered twice in his life time. Once as a sub-10 year old and once as a 21- year old. Here is what I believe in light of what I have said thus far stated clearly before I explain myself more precisely:

I believe that it is sinful to become depressed and it is a sinful way of life to live in depression and hence one should realise one’s deserved fate: to face judgement for this sinfulness.

but…

…and here is the definitive and most important point following this assertion: details forthright, God forgives those who surrender to the realisation of their guilt and who repent and he gives them the power to change their lifestyle and world such that they may find freedom from the depression they have acknowledged their guilt for.

Let me attempt to build upon and clarify these above remarks. I believe that the perfect person (who would be a perfect christian) would be able to fend off and avoid depression despite their circumstances and the events that may afflict them. Even with depression – a disease that seems to attack and take over a life with almost no fault of the person being afflicted, the person does have some ownership in the situation. Though this ownership may be very small – if they had spent their entire life being perfect, praying continuously, preparing their mind and heart tirelessly in all they did and had they been setting their mind on the things above (God and His consciousness of reality – this being the knowledge that all will turn out for good in the end), if they had done this, no matter their situation they would not have fallen into depression.

The first step out of depression for an imperfect person then is the realisation that one has some ownership in one’s situation. The realisation and acceptance that “I am guilty and this is partly my fault” is important and difficult and possibly very painful. The second and more important step out of depression is realising that this is ok and normal – that it is a worldwide truth that is true of every human being that has ever been. The depressed person should realise that to have ownership in this failure to be joyful is part of who they are as a human being, just like everyone else. This step leads to the next step which sets the first wrungs of the ladder out of the ditch of depression in place because the next step is very good news. The news is that the very one who set the standard (God) by which one must judge oneself a failure has long ago set out a plan to forgive the failure and sin of depression as well as bring the depressed person out of the depression they have ownership in through this forgiveness. This is possible because this forgiveness is that which provides opportunity for the one who does the forgiving (God) to provide the power needed to break free from the clutches of the depth and darkness of depression. Since it is God who set the standard by which one must condemn oneself – God himself is only free to help one out of depression once the crime and sin of falling into and living in depression as been forgiven and eradicated.

Freedom from deserved guilt is the first step on the ladder out of depression.

So I found that my realisation and acceptance of responsibility for my part in finding myself in my sorry state of depression became the very mechanism by which God’s forgiveness could rescue me from my depression and sin. In Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Roman church he speaks of this paradox when he talks of how the law came first to point out the sin which only gave more life to sin, being hidden beforehand… but it was only after this stage had been set that Grace, which could only come once the life of sin was brought to light through the law, could take its place in the centre of this stage and put the imposter (that is sin personified) to death and bring the life of forgiveness and positive change (redemption) to the forefront.

So if depression is ungodly, what about sadness? Does christianity disallow one from feeling certain emotions? No it does not, but a dichotomous duality (a duality that consists specifically of two different components) must exist. If there is sadness, there must also be some happiness or joy as well to parallel it. Part of being a christian then is to not let oneself fall into depression, and if one does, to fight and work hard to get out of it and attain joy within the duality again. A christian should strive to keep a sense of joy as one of the feelings in their duality of emotional existence. The other feeling can be anything as long as it is justified within the scope of the teachings of Jesus. Sadness at one’s home being ransacked or destroyed. Anger at the injustice of losing a loved one. (as a side-note, some emotions that are difficult to justify within the scope of Jesus’ teachings: fear; jealousy). These are all ok and good to feel. Part of being a mature human being and part of being what God intended us to be is to feel, to not become a Stoic or a robot. We must have hearts that bleed but countenances that are joyful. 

** Writers note: if you have read this far, my congratulations and thanks. This has become one of my longer writings and longer than I prefer for this medium (blog) so I have ended it here. More will come at a later stage. Peace.**

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

Have you ever watched Dead Poets Society? I watched it first as a much younger version of myself, no doubt because my sisters had rented it from the video store (yeah VHS – retro cool!). Of course I could think of cooler things to watch than what if I’m honest sounded pretty boring… I mean poets? And dead ones? Geez… boring… of course maybe if it was more like ‘The Return of the Dead Poets’ or ‘The Living Dead Poets Society’ or something it would have been more enticing to a 9-year-old, head-in-the-clouds kid like myself. I mean zombies, and poetical zombies… That’s good TV. Anyways, I digress, the movie, right:

So I begrudgingly watched the movie. The grudge slowly turned to awe though, and this may have been when I first entertained the idea of becoming a teacher like the awe-inspiring, oh captain my captain, John Keating (played by Robin Williams).

The Living Dead Poets Society

The Living Dead Poets Society

Much later on, the idea resurfaced when I realised  some time in 2010 that I was not really cut out for industry work as a Mechanical Engineer. I began to truly enjoy my studies and realised the academic life may suite me better. I had a few conversations with a few lecturers that I had at the time with whom I had been impressed. With the information gained from these conversations I began considering the lifestyle that an academic might have. I became convinced that I wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. The lifestyle sounded a lot more like freedom than any industry job I’d come across before.

I had the perfect style of erm, hair, and thinking to be that crazy and eccentric, bushy haired professor that the majority of university and college students love to hate. I could be that tweed jacket wearing, wildly intelligent (or at least appearing so to undergraduates) Prof. who finds potential in a few young minds and moulds and shapes them to become astute, shrewd and wise.

This has become a real passion of mine. Finding young minds and hearts to shape with what I have come to believe are extremely important truths. Truths not only about science or maths or English, but about the world. Philosophy. Religion. Psychology. Truth.

As time went on and the idea of vagabonding grew in substance and passion; this idea of teaching as John Keating did began to merge with the longing I had to travel and see the world, and by doing so; to widen my perspectives with which I see the world. In order to set out to share deep and wise perspectives with young minds, I would have to make sure my own perspectives were not narrow and unworthy of reproduction.

Hence the travelling, teaching, missionary-explorer-vagabond.

This goal for this year has taken shape now with its first phase beginning on the 7th of February 2012, where I will be joining CAPRO, a missionary organisation working to supplement the substandard education of grade 11 and grade 12 students in the largely rural area known as The Valley of 1000 Hills in the Kwazulu-Natal region of South Africa.

I have had many concerns since deciding to follow this path a few months ago, the smallest of which is not money. As many of my friends get jobs and begin to earn money this year as newly graduate engineers and as they begin to pay back their parents for their education, I find myself in a position such that I am completely and totally in the arms of my God who must fulfil his promise to provide for me while I do what I believe he has ‘called’ me to do.

Every now and again however, (with increasing frequency) I find myself quite excited to have jumped into what I have only spoken and postulated about before. The new environment to experience, the new challenges to figure out and battle, the lessons to learn, the young minds to shape and the spiritual strength to gain. All of these things have become of infinite importance to me, and I feel complete peace (most of the time) in giving up a corporate career and all of the security that comes with one this year, in order to chase them down.

I know this whole idea of the Inspiring Professor is very romanticised in the Dead Poets Society movie, but I don’t expect an exact replication, I just expect to make some noticeable difference in a neglected group of young and potential filled students that come out of adverse conditions and may still accomplish great things, if given the chance.

Peace.

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

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