Reflections on Psychology: Naturalism

I have been reading from the book “Turning Freud Upside Down” and read in the first chapter about the implications of naturalism for the study and practice of psychology. I do not remember the author’s names, but they describe that naturalism is the philosophy that all phenomena in the universe is governed by laws and that every event follows an antecedent cause. While I am most likely oversimplifying this philosophy and leaving out some key points, it is interesting that psychology rarely examines the paradoxes between research, theory, and practice. If naturalism were applied to psychology, then we would assume that all human actions are caused by antecedent events, and that human actions are predetermined. Naturalism in this sense seems contrary to free will, or the idea that if a human being makes a choice she could have had the option to choose otherwise. In the future I hope to write a formalized deductive argument in favor of naturalism, because as I have learned it is easiest to challenge the assumptions underlying commonly accepted points of view when they are broken down into their basic components. 

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Reflections on Psychology: “Genetics of Promiscuity”

This blog post and subsequent blog posts are not necessarily meant to be read by others or to be overly scrutinized by critics. Rather, I am trying to develop my internal desire to study psychology by writing about topics that interest me, and blogging seems to be the least stressful way of doing this. I still do not know what topics I will decide to write about, but regardless it is good practice for me in order to prepare myself for graduate study.

Today I read an article in “Psychology Today” written by Dr. David DiSalvo entitled “Valentine’s Day Special: What Neuroscience Says About Love”. The article is very informative in describing the specific chemicals that may be involved in influencing the brain while a person is in love. What I would like to focus on, however, is the concept of their being a significant genetic component to “Promiscuity” and “Monogamy”. The author alludes to a study (which I have not read) of sexuality in voles. He states that voles are 99% genetically similar, yet there are seemingly two types of voles: those that have monogamous relationships and those that are promiscuous. By injecting these promiscuous voles with oxytocin and vasopressin, the promiscuous voles become monogamous (I do not know if there was a 100% success rate). While intriguing, results like these should be carefully scrutinized before claiming that this study can be analogous to human behavior. He states, however, that when promiscuous human beings inhale the aforementioned chemicals, that they appear to become more “empathetic”, “cuddly” and “sensitive”. The effects of the hormone are temporary, however. Only two studies of the hormone with small sample sizes support the conclusions. 

Before I delve into the study itself, I would just like to give a generic rundown of why it is important not to just accept the conclusions of these studies at face value. As already mentioned by the author, human beings are much more complicated than voles and the clinical effects of the hormones are not the same. Similarly, human beings should not be reduced to just their genetics and chemicals in the brain. What sort of factors, other than genetic predisposition, can account for differences in promiscuity and monogamy?

1. Cultural/Societal Influences: Promiscuity is more common in certain subgroups of the population, and this can most likely be attributed to social customs rather than pure genetics. For example, from what I have heard (I have no source study to cite) the rate of divorce and promiscuity within certain minority or poor populations is significantly higher than those in other populations and those from richer socioeconomic backgrounds. Very few people, however, would dare argue that these differences are based on genetic differences between racial groups. The voles, however, do not have as complex socio-economic disparities between each other. Another brief example is looking at the differences in the occurrence of AIDS and HIV. Some nations have a much higher occurrence of AIDS than other countries. These countries tend to be poorer and have less education about sexually transmitted diseases. While it is true that richer nations have more access to contraceptives, it is possible that education about sexual diseases can reduce the desire to be promiscuous. If I were to conduct a study that shows a significant decrease in promiscuous behavior among individuals who received substantial sexual education, where then would the assumption be that promiscuity is mostly a genetic trait? What about studies of religious conversion, in which a lifetime of promiscuity, drug abuse, and even physical abuse can be reversed without the assistance of externally administered hormones?

2. Environmental Influences: Influences such as parenting style can affect a person’s long term behavior, especially in the context of sexual behavior. A person who is raised in a family where the parents are promiscuous and the child is sexually abused, certain values and schemas are reinforced in the brain’s neural pathways (supposedly) which in turn create long term effects on sexual behavior. It would be important to find research that examines whether or not early childhood sexual abuse or values modeled after promiscuous parents, siblings, or friends can have just as strong an effect on promiscuity than oxytocin. 

3. Choice Influences: Human beings are endowed with the ability to choose to behave one way or another. While many people disagree with this (naturalists who assume all material interactions can be reduced to laws of nature). While the studies cited by DiSalvo look at promiscuous behavior as shown in a lab setting, they do not take into account qualitative studies of individuals who have changed from promiscuous behavior to monogamous behavior. One only needs to attend a religious meeting, an AA or SA meeting to see that a lifetime of habitual behaviors can be changed without the assistance of externally administered hormones. 

4. Lab influences: The voles were most likely born and raised in labs, separated from their natural environments. The human beings who were given oxytocin were also studied in a lab setting, under the assumption that showing pictures of an emotionally jarring situation and having the individuals rate their empathetic feelings on a scale of 1-10 (I am not sure if that is the exact scale used in the study) is the equivalent of reducing promiscuity in male human test subjects. It leads me to wonder if scientists were to administer the hormone to voles in the wild and observe their behaviors if they would get the same results. And it would also make me wonder if there would be substantial changes in relationship satisfaction once the individuals left the lab and continued on with their lives. 

I would like to conclude by saying I am not against the use of oxytocin or other types of hormones in the treatment of psychological disorders, whether they be social anxiety disorders or schizophrenia. What I am wary of, however, is the assumption that because a certain chemical facilitates a certain behavior does not necessarily mean that the given chemical or gene is the foundation of a certain behavior. Any chemical given in excess or substantially depleted will cause changes in behavior and feelings. 

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Citação 12

Na Cidade Vazia, dir. Maria João Ganga

 Neste filme, um jovem esta a tentar sobreviver na cidade de Luanda em Angola depois da morte de seus pais. Durante o filme o jovem tem vários modelos para observar como agir na cidade. Alguns desses modelos sao um pescador e um mecânico que também se vende drogas. O pescador talvez seja uma metáfora da Angola tradicional e os valores que tem. Ele ensina o jovem como viver da terra e é pobre. O mecânico, por outro lado, tem muito dinheiro e amigos, mas ganha seu dinheiro desonestamente e por roubar dos outros. Quase no fim do filme, o pescador fala com a irmã da igreja e ele disse que o jovem vai estar la na manha, e ela pode falar com o jovem que fugiu da sua igreja. Mas o jovem, em vez de ficar com o pescador, vai com o mecânico, e por causa disso o jovem é morto durante uma rouba tentada. Caracterizando estes personagens como metáforas, o jovem pode ser o potencial de Angola, o pescador a humildade, e o mecânico a  ganância. O resulto de ganância será a morte da Angola. 

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Citação 11

“It is one of the ironies of contemporary Mozambican history that the post-independence government of the country did much more to propagate the former colonial tongue than Salazar’s Portugal ever did.” –Phillip Rothwell, Fuzzy Frontiers Mozambique: False Borders – Mia Couto: False Margins

 Esta citação faz me lembrar de uma filosofia que li sobre sociedades que tentam criar uma utopia, mas em vez de criar paz sempre veem algo ou alguém que está  bloqueando o caminho a paz, e por isso são destruídos. Era a mesma coisa para Moçambique pós-colonial. Todos queriam um país unificado e queriam acabar com a guerra, mas ideias sobre “como é que o mundo realmente deve ser” fez divisões entre o povo, e os vários lados do argumento tentavam destruir uns aos outros para melhorar o mundo. Antes da independência, havia revoluções em negritude que valorizou a cultura indígena da áfrica, mas vemos que os moçambicanos depois da independência aceitavam mais ou menos a situação que inspirou a revolução em primeiro lugar.    

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Citação 10

“E não irei permitir que haja a mesma carnificina como no tempo de entronização de Muzila, porque irei atuar já.” –Ngungunhane, Ualalapi, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa, 30

 O romance Ualalapi conta a história de Ngungunhane, um imperador africano que procurou violentamente o poder. Ele queria unificar os tribos da área e parece que ele queria o melhor para seu povo. Em realidade, Ngungunhane e qualquer outro imperador normalmente so pensa em si mesmo, falando de melhorar a situação do povo mas em realidade fazendo mal para aumentar seu próprio poder. Ngungunahne é um exemplo disso quando ele diz em seu discurso que seu irmão deve morrer para garantir que não haverá um luta pelo trono, para beneficiar o povo. Imperadores sempre tentam convencer o povo que o que fazem ee para o melhor de todos e é justo, mesmo que não seja justo.

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Citação 9

“A maldade nasceu antes da humanidade. A culpa cabe às mães mas é de toda a sociedade—sentenciou a mulher” –Paulina Chiziane, As Cicatrizes do Amor, 362

 Neste conto uma mulher se lembra da experiencia que ela tinha dando luz a um bebé ilegítimo e as consequências disto. Quando algumas mulheres veem duas crianças abandonadas, uma das mulheres dá a culpa a sociedade pelos crimes das mulheres. Para mim, esta filosofia de pensar que a situação cria pessoas bondosas ou más não é completa, mas tem um nível de veracidade. Mas ao mesmo tempo não devemos esquecer que humanos tem a capacidade de fazer escolhas, e a ideia que somos controlados por nossas circunstâncias é uma suposição não fundada. Se não fossemos responsáveis por nossas ações ninguém seria culpada e não existe moralidade nem imoralidade.     

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Evento Cultural 3

Eu assisti o filme “Amandla: A revolution in four part harmony.” O filme conta a história da música dos negros na África do Sul durante os anos de apartheid, e a evolução da sua música. Foi interessante para mim ver quão importante a música é para a cultura negra na África do Sul, especialmente em fortalecendo os movimentos contra apartheid. No início da apartheid, a música negra foi uma maneira para contar as histórias horríficas da apartheid e sobre sofrimento. Mas nos anos oitenta era uma mudança na música, e a música representou as frustrações e a angústia dos negros contra os ingleses.  Observei que nossa cultura Americana gosta das histórias de martírio quando pensamos na luta para liberdade civil. Mas os que lutam mesmo e cantam música que sanciona atos de violência para liberdade são deslegitimados  a maioria das vezes (veja os Black Panthers nos EUA). De verdade, talvez a angústia e violência como aconteceu na África do Sul durante a apartheid seja necessária para combater os que tiram liberdade de um menoridade.   

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