Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Reading, Personal Development, & Empathy

September 2, 2016

A great deal of emphasis in education is placed on  the so-called STEM disciplines.  STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  I agree with this emphasis, and have correctly argued that psychology is one of these STEM disciplines, and technology can certainly enhance instruction in these disciplines.  However, some critics have noted some downsides of technology.  Actually it is how technology is used rather than technology per se that constitute these downsides.  One author titled his book “The Dumbest Generation” and cites evidence that book reading, especially the reading of good literature is on the decline.  Sherry Turkle in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” argues that the smartphones are a means of staying connected most of the time, and that these phones are used in placed of conversation.  At professional conventions you see attendees seated in a group, concentrating on their smartphones and not interacting.  The bottom line that emerges from reading both these books is that information is timely, but is used in a superficial manner.  Human interactions are largely superficial, and little of this information reaches the level of understanding or knowledge.

Another growing concern is that technology will result in more and more of the population losing jobs.  It is interesting to note that one of the strengths of humans versus machines is our ability to be empathetic.  It is also interesting to note that one of the best ways of developing empathy is through literature.  So it appears that the current use of technology is taking us away from developing empathic skills when it is exactly these skills that give us an edge over technology in the performance of technology.

David Denby’s book “Lit Up:  One Reporter, Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives” justifies the importance of reading and the proper teaching of literature.  Here is a quote from the Introduction:  “A child, read to and talked to, undergoes an initiation into a useful life; she may also undergo an initiation into happiness.”  Later in the Introduction he wrote, “the liberal arts in general, and especially reading seriously, offer an opening to a wider life, the powers of active citizenship (including the willingness to vote).”  He continues, “ Every great civilization, including ours, has had a great literature and great readers.  If literature matters less to young people that it once did, we are all in trouble.”

Indulge me in a personal note here.  Fortunately I began school in the first grade and was not forced into pre-school.  Consequently I had an additional year, at least, of freedom, of which many of my peers were deprived.  However, my Mom did read to me.  I vividly remember three books that she read to me:  Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, and Touchdown Pass.  Touchdown Pass was a story about a high school football player, Chip Hilton and his teammates at Vally Forge High School.  This book was written by Clair Bee who wrote a whole series of books about Chip Hilton and his friends playing football, basketball, and baseball in both high school and college.  After I did learn to read, I reread these books myself, and I read all of Clair Bee’s books.

When my Mom read me these books, I just marveled and all the information and enjoyment that came from these black symbols on a page.  Today, my Mom would be reading me these books on an iPad, which would have been just as effective.

Denby attended 10th and 12th grade English classes at three different schools over several years.  Beacon was a special school in a run down building on West 61st street in Manhattan.  James Hillhouse  High School, was an inner city school in New Haven (the city where Yale University is located) with a largely poor African American population.  Mamaroneck is in a wealthy New York suburb.

The teaching techniques varied among the teachers, but they each had these features in common.  The teachers had an inordinate amount of patience and continued to challenge the students to think about the books and to participate actively in class.  Written journals were kept by students throughout the school year  100% success was never achieved, but successes were clearly achieved in all these schools.

Frankly I was envious of these students.  I wish I had had instructors like these not only in my high school classes, but also in my University classes.  “Lit Up” clearly is an accurate title because many of these students were indeed “Lit Up.”

I concluded that there are ingredients that were essential to the success of these efforts.  The correct teachers are the most important.  These teachers need not only to have incredible patience, but they also need to be able to creatively challenge students, and they need to have a good knowledge of literature.  Moreover, they need to be given the freedom to choose their own reading lists.  Defining a required reading list, by any entity other that the teacher teaching the class, would be counterproductive.

I hope that educators read “Lit Up” and try to encourage the type of teaching exemplified in the book.  The need for this human touch is especially great in the technological era, and the rewards in terms not just of test scores, educational achievements, and jobs, but also in terms of meaningful and productive lives would be enormous.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Another Post on Psychology as a STEM Discipline

September 1, 2016

HM likes to address this topic at the beginning of the school year.  Psychology is officially a STEM discipline.  STEM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and these are the disciplines highly prized for our economy.  Many are probably surprised that psychology is a STEM discipline because they think of psychology in a clinical sense and often confuse these psychologists with psychiatrists.

Well there is a scientific version psychology, parts of which are frequently termed neuropsychology because of the neurological structures and brain imaging techniques that are used.  For the student interested in science psychology is recommended because it crosses many levels of science.  Some psychologists image the brain and make recordings and measurements of the brain.  Cognitive psychologists study perception, memory, decision making, problem solving, and creativity.  Social psychologists study how groups of people interact.  Organizational psychologists study how organizations work and prosper.  Each of these sub-disciplines of psychology has special methodologies for dealing with these problems.  There are also mathematical psychologists and engineering psychologists.  HM had the privilege of serving as President of Division 21 of the American Psychological Association (APA) which is the Division for Engineering and Applied Experimental Psychology.

Although there are marketing psychologists, if you are interested in marketing it might be better to study marketing in a Business College.  If you are interested in how others think and feel, you might be better advised to study literature or drama in college.  Literature is known for fostering empathic understanding, which might be more of what you are interested.  Although HM has not seen any literature on The benefits of studying drama, he has a hunch that the study of and participation in drama might have similar benefits.  However, if you are interested in the scientific study of humans, then psychology would be a good choice.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Domains of Knowledge

May 20, 2016

Healthymemory has used this phrase in at least one prior blog post and feels it incumbent upon him to elaborate.  Healthyemory has argued that it is science or rather the scientific method that is responsible for the rapid advancement of the species.  However, Healthymemory has also argued that there are other domains of knowledge and that to be stuck in one level of knowledge is to be an intellectual runt.

Perhaps this can best be illustrated by healthymemory’s  academic discipline, psychology.  This is scientific psychology as opposed to clinical or counseling psychology, although those disciplines can and do make use of the scientific method.  Psychological science is practiced in a wide variety of areas.  Let us start at the bottom and work our way up.  At the most molecular level are psychologists who do studies with animals, then take biological assays of the brains to see how the brains changed as the result of learning.  Then there are studies in which electrodes are placed in the brains of animals and research is done to determine which structures accomplish what.  Human brains are studied using EEGs and a variety of brain imaging techniques to examine how the brain functions.  As a result many cognitive psychology programs are renaming themselves as cognitive neuroscience programs.  Then there are studies of human learning, memory, language processing, concept formation, problem solving and so forth.  At the group  level studies are done regarding the interactions among individuals and team performance.  There are also industrial and organizational programs, which study psychological processes in business and industry.  Moreover this listing is not exhaustive.

Each of these areas use scientific methods, but the scientific method needs to be applied differently depending upon the specific area of investigation.  Studying these different areas provides a wide understanding of the scientific method.  Healthy memory’s personal experience working with many scientists and engineers, is that they understand how to do good science in their specific areas, but that this knowledge often does not transfer to other areas of investigation.  This is why healthy memory argues  that scientific psychology is a good major if the goal is to develop a thorough knowledge of the scientific method.

However, Healthymemory argues that if you want to understand people, then literature would be a better method.  Literature increases empathy, the ability to think and feel as others think and feel.  As everyone is different it is best to read literature dealing with as many different people as possible.  This constitutes an important domain of knowledge that is important for interacting with our fellow human beings.

Theater is a related discipline that develops the same strengths.  This is particularly true if one actually gets into acting where the requirement is to be, to think and act like a specific individual.

Then there is music, which involves the sense of hearing.  And music provides enjoyment and access to a wide range of emotional feelings.
Then there is dancing and learning to express oneself through movements of the body.

And there are athletics each with its own domain of athletic skills.

This list could go on and on, and we could discuss and argue as to what activities, areas of knowledge should qualify as domains of knowledge.

Perhaps the simplest cut is between science and the humanities.  Much has been discussed and argued about these two cultures.  The important point is that they exist and they both need to be appreciated. Another domain, which needs to be included, is the spiritual domain.  Religions and beliefs are present in all cultures, and they provide another needed domain of knowledge.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Importance of Fiction

November 16, 2011

An Article1 in Scientific American Mind extolled the value of fiction in understanding others and in learning to empathize with others. It presents a variety of data, both behavioral and brain images, that support this contention. I also find this intuitively plausible. Fiction takes one into the minds and feelings of others. You develop a sense of the characters in the piece as to what motivates them and why they do what they do. The article reminded me of an old television series, Remington Steele, about two private detectives, one who has an encyclopedic knowledge of movie plots. Any given case they need to solve reminds him of a relevant movie plot which led to the solution of the crime.

I’ve long thought that an understanding of Shakespeare’s plays would provide an very thorough understanding of humans and their interactions. Certainly, Shakespeare is not required, but I don’t think that all fiction provides this understanding. Tom Clancy writes thrilling novels, but his character development is a tad thin. The fiction that is beneficial in helping us to understand and to interact well with others has characters who reveal their thoughts and feelings.

My degrees are in psychology, and I believe that many students choose psychology as a major because they want to understand and interact well with others. I think these students would both benefit more and enjoy more a major emphasizing literature. I think that too many of us psychologists are not as well practiced in interpersonal skills as we should be (I exclude clinicians and counselors here). But I do think that psychology is a good major for someone who wants to understand science. Psychologists study everything from individual neural cells to large groups of people, and they need to know experimental design, statistics, and mathematical modeling. Unfortunately, the understanding of students in the physical sciences and engineering tends to be constrained to their respective disciplines. I hurry to add, however, that I know many personal exceptions to this statement.

I become extremely annoyed when I do not here psychology in the category of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math ) disciplines as it is regarded as a soft discipline. Psychology is involved in all these disciplines. Moreover, when you consider the critical problems we face today, you should find that most fall into the so-called soft areas of science.

1Oatley, K. (2011). In the Minds of Others. Scientific American Mind, November/December, 63-67.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.