Research Finds That Intellectual Humility Can Make Us Better Thinkers & People; Good Thing There’s a Free Course on Intellectual Humility

We may have grown used to hearing about the importance of critical thinking, and stowed away knowledge of logical fallacies and cognitive biases in our argumentative toolkit. But were we to return to the philosophical sources of informal logic, we would find that we only grasped at some of the principles of reason. The others involve questions of what we might call virtue or character—what for the Greeks fell into the categories of ethos and pathos. The principle of charity, for example, in which we give our opponents a fair hearing and respond to the best version of their arguments as we understand them. And the principle, exemplified by Plato’s Socrates, of intellectual humility. Or as one punk band put it in their Socratic tribute. “All I know is that I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t know nothing.”

Intellectual humility is not, contrary to most popular appearances, reflexively according equal weight to “both sides” of every argument or assuming that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. These are forms of mental laziness and ethical abdication. It is, however, believing in our own fallibility and opening ourselves up to hearing arguments without immediately forming a judgment about them or the people who make them. We do not abandon our reason and values, we strengthen them, argues Mark Leary, by “not being afraid of being wrong.” Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, is the lead author of a new study on intellectual humility that found “essentially no difference between liberals and conservatives or between religious and nonreligious people” when it comes to intellectual humility.




The study challenges many ideas that can prevent dialogue. “There are stereotypes about conservatives and religiously conservative people being less intellectually humble about their beliefs," says Leary. But he and his colleagues “didn’t find a shred of evidence to support that.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that such people have high degrees of intellectual humility, only that all of us, perhaps equally, possess fairly low levels of the trait. I’ll be the first to admit that it is not an easy one to develop, especially when we’re on the defensive for some seemingly good reasons—and when we live in a culture that encourages us to make decisions and take actions on the strength of an image, some minimal text, and a few buttons that lead us right to our bank accounts. (To quote Operation Ivy again, “We get told to decide. Just like as if I’m not gonna change my mind.”)

But in the Duke study, reports Alison Jones at Duke Today, “those who displayed intellectual humility did a better job of evaluating the quality of evidence.” They took their time to make careful considerations. And they were generally more charitable and “less likely to judge a writer’s character based on his or her views.” By contrast, “intellectually arrogant” people gave writers with whom they disagreed “low scores in morality, honesty, competence, and warmth.” As a former teacher of rhetoric, I wonder whether the researchers accounted for the quality and persuasiveness of the writing itself. Nonetheless, this observation underscores the problem of conflating an author’s work with his or her character. Moral judgment can inhibit intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness. Intellectually arrogant people often resort to insults and personal attacks over thoughtful analysis.

The enormous number of assumptions we bring to almost every conversation with people who differ from us can blind us to our own faults and to other people’s strengths. But intellectual humility is not genetically determined—it is a skill that can be learned, Leary believes. Big Think recommends a free MOOC from the University of Edinburgh on intellectual humility (see an introduction to the concept at the top and a series of lectures here). “Faced with difficult questions,” explains course lecturer Dr. Ian Church, “people often tend to dismiss and marginalize dissent…. The world needs more people who are sensitive to reasons both for and against their beliefs, and are willing to consider the possibility that their political, religious and moral beliefs might be mistaken.” The course offers three different levels of engagement, from casual to quite involved, and three separate class sections at Coursera: Theory, Practice, and Science.

It’s likely that many of us need some serious preparation before we’re willing to listen to those who hold certain views. And perhaps certain views don't actually deserve a hearing. But in most cases, if we can let our guard down, set aside feelings of hostility, and become willing to learn something even from those with whom we disagree, we might be able to do what so many psychologists continue to recommend. As Cindy Lamothe writes at New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, “we have to be willing to expose ourselves to opposing perspectives in the first place—which means that, as daunting as it may seem, listening to friends and family with radically different views can be beneficial to our long-term intellectual progress.” The holidays are soon upon us. Let the healing—or at least the charitable tolerance if you can manage it—begin.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Carl Jung Psychoanalyzes Hitler: “He’s the Unconscious of 78 Million Germans.” “Without the German People He’d Be Nothing” (1938)

Were you to google “Carl Jung and Nazism”—and I’m not suggesting that you do—you would find yourself hip-deep in the charges that Jung was an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer. Many sites condemn or exonerate him; many others celebrate him as a blood and soil Aryan hero. It can be nauseatingly difficult at times to tell these accounts apart. What to make of this controversy? What is the evidence brought against the famed Swiss psychiatrist and onetime close friend, student, and colleague of Sigmund Freud?

Truth be told, it does not look good for Jung. Unlike Nietzsche, whose work was deliberately bastardized by Nazis, beginning with his own sister, Jung need not be taken out of context to be read as anti-Semitic. There is no irony at work in his 1934 paper The State of Psychotherapy Today, in which he marvels at National Socialism as a “formidable phenomenon,” and writes, “the ‘Aryan’ unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish.” This is only one of the least objectionable of such statements, as historian Andrew Samuels demonstrates.

One Jungian defender admits in an essay collection called Lingering Shadows that Jung had been “unconsciously infected by Nazi ideas.” In response, psychologist John Conger asks, “Why not then say that he was unconsciously infected by anti-Semitic ideas as well?”—well before the Nazis came to power. He had expressed such thoughts as far back as 1918. Like the philosopher Martin Heidegger, Jung was accused of trading on his professional associations during the 30s to maintain his status, and turning on his Jewish colleagues while they were purged.

Yet his biographer Deirdre Bair claims Jung’s name was used to endorse persecution without his consent. Jung was incensed, “not least,” Mark Vernon writes at The Guardian, “because he was actually fighting to keep German psychotherapy open to Jewish individuals.” Bair also reveals that Jung was “involved in two plots to oust Hitler, essentially by having a leading physician declare the Führer mad. Both came to nothing.” And unlike Heidegger, Jung strongly denounced anti-Semitic views during the war. He “protected Jewish analysts,” writes Conger, “and helped refugees.” He also worked for the OSS, precursor to the CIA, during the war.

His recruiter Allen Dulles wrote of Jung’s “deep antipathy to what Nazism and Fascism stood for.” Dulles also cryptically remarked, “Nobody will probably ever know how much Prof. Jung contributed to the allied cause during the war.” These contradictions in Jung’s words, character, and actions are puzzling, to say the least. I would not presume to draw any hard and fast conclusions from them. They do, however, serve as the necessary context for Jung’s observations of Adolph Hitler. Nazis of today who praise Jung most often do so for his supposed characterization of Hitler as “Wotan,” or Odin, a comparison that thrills neo-pagans who, like the Germans did, use ancient European belief systems as clothes hangers for modern racist nationalism.

In his 1936 essay, “Wotan,” Jung describes the old god as a force all its own, a “personification of psychic forces” that moved through the German people “towards the end of the Weimar Republic”—through the “thousands of unemployed,” who by 1933 “marched in their hundreds of thousands.” Wotan, Jung writes, “is the god of storm and frenzy, the unleasher of passions and the lust of battle; moreover he is a superlative magician and artist in illusion who is versed in all secrets of an occult nature.” In personifying the “German psyche” as a furious god, Jung goes so far as to write, “We who stand outside judge the Germans far too much as if they were responsible agents, but perhaps it would be nearer the truth to regard them also as victims.”

“One hopes,” writes Per Brask, “evidently against hope, that Jung did not intend” his statements “as an argument of redemption for the Germans.” Whatever his intentions, his mystical racialization of the unconscious in “Wotan” accorded perfectly well with the theories of Alfred Rosenberg, “Hitler’s chief ideologist.” Like everything about Jung, the situation is complicated. In a 1938 interview, published by Omnibook Magazine in 1942, Jung repeated many of these disturbing ideas, comparing the German worship of Hitler to the Jewish desire for a Messiah, a “characteristic of people with an inferiority complex.” He describes Hitler’s power as a form of “magic.” But that power only exists, he says, because “Hitler listens and obeys….”

His Voice is nothing other than his own unconscious, into which the German people have projected their own selves; that is, the unconscious of seventy-eight million Germans. That is what makes him powerful. Without the German people he would be nothing.

Jung’s observations are bombastic, but they are not flattering. The people may be possessed, but it is their will, he says, that the Nazi leader enacts, not his own. "The true leader," says Jung, "is always led." He goes on to paint an even darker picture, having closely observed Hitler and Mussolini together in Berlin:

In comparison with Mussolini, Hitler made upon me the impression of a sort of scaffolding of wood covered with cloth, an automaton with a mask, like a robot or a mask of a robot. During the whole performance he never laughed; it was as though he were in a bad humor, sulking. He showed no human sign.

His expression was that of an inhumanly single-minded purposiveness, with no sense of humor. He seemed as if he might be a double of a real person, and that Hitler the man might perhaps be hiding inside like an appendix, and deliberately so hiding in order not to disturb the mechanism.

With Hitler you do not feel that you are with a man. You are with a medicine man, a form of spiritual vessel, a demi-deity, or even better, a myth. With Hitler you are scared. You know you would never be able to talk to that man; because there is nobody there. He is not a man, but a collective. He is not an individual, but a whole nation. I take it to be literally true that he has no personal friend. How can you talk intimately with a nation?

Read the full interview here. Jung goes on to further discuss the German resurgence of the cult of Wotan, the “parallel between the Biblical triad… and the Third Reich,” and other peculiarly Jungian formulations. Of Jung’s analysis, interviewer H.R. Knickerbocker concludes, “this psychiatric explanation of the Nazi names and symbols may sound to a layman fantastic, but can anything be as fantastic as the bare facts about the Nazi Party and its Fuehrer? Be sure there is much more to be explained in them than can be explained by merely calling them gangsters.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Power of Introverts: Author Susan Cain Explains Why We Need to Appreciate the Talents & Abilities of the Quiet Ones

Ours is a loud culture of nonstop personal sharing, endless chatter, and 24-hour news, opinion, and entertainment. Even those people who prefer reading alone to the overstimulating carnival of social media feel pressured to participate. How else can you keep up with your family—whose Facebook posts you’d rather see die than have to read? How else to build a profile for employers—whom you desperately hope won’t check your Twitter feed?

For the introvert, maintaining an always-on façade can be profoundly enervating—and the problem goes far beyond the personal, argues author Susan Cain, reaching into every area of our lives.

“If you take a group of people and put them into a meeting,” says Cain in the short RSA video above, “the opinions of the loudest person, or the most charismatic person, or the most assertive person—those are the opinions that the group tends to follow.” This despite the fact that research shows “zero correlation” between being the loudest voice in the room and having the best ideas. Don’t we know this all too well.




Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a book about leadership for introverts, the group least likely to want the social demands leadership requires. And yet, she argues, we nonetheless need introverts as leaders. “We’re living in a society now that is so overly extroverted,” she says. Cain identifies the phenomenon as a symptom of corporate capitalism overcoming predominantly agricultural ways of life. Aside from the significant question of whether we can change the culture without changing the economy, Cain makes a timely and compelling argument for a society that values different personality types equally.

But can there be a “world where it’s yin and yang” between introverts and extroverts? That depends, perhaps on how much credence we lend these well-worn Jungian categories, or whether we think of them as existing in binary opposition rather than on a spectrum, a circle, a hexagram, or whatever. Cain is not a psychologist but a former corporate lawyer who at least seems to believe the balancing act between extroverted and introverted can be achieved in the corporate world. She has given talks on “Networking for Introverts,” addressed the engineers at Google, and taken to the TED stage, the thought leader arena that accommodates all kinds of personalities, for better or worse.

Cain's TED talk above may be one of the better ones. Opening with a moving and funny personal narrative, she walks us through the barrage of messages introverts receive condemning their desire for quietude as somehow perverse and selfish. Naturally solitary people are taught to think of their introversion as "a second-class personality trait," Cain writes in her book, "somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology." Introverts must swim against the tide to be themselves. “Our most important institutions," she says above, "our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts, and for extroverts' need for stimulation.”

The bias is deep, reaching into the classrooms of young children, who are now forced to do most of their work by committee. But when introverts give in to the social pressure that forces them into awkward extroverted roles, the loss affects everyone. “At the risk of sounding grandiose,” Cain says, “when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.” Paradoxically, that can look like introverts taking the helm, but out of a genuine sense of duty rather than a desire for the spotlight.

Introverted leaders are more likely to share power and give others space to express ideas, Cain argues. Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks exemplify such introverted leadership, and a quieter, more balanced and thoughtful culture would produce more leaders like them. Maybe this is a proposition anyone can endorse, whether they prefer Friday nights with hot tea and a novel or in the crush and bustle of the crowds.

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How Buddhism & Neuroscience Can Help You Change How Your Mind Works: A New Course by Bestselling Author Robert Wright

Buddhist thought and culture has long found a comfortable home among hippies, beatniks, New Age believers, artists, occultists and mystics. Recently, many of its tenets and practices have become widely popular among very different demographics of scientists, skeptics, and atheist communities. It may seem odd that an increasingly secularizing West would widely embrace an ancient Eastern religion. But even the Dalai Lama has pointed out that Buddhism’s essential doctrines align uncannily with the findings of modern science

The Pali Canon, the earliest collection of Buddhist texts, contains much that agrees with the scientific method. In the Kalama Sutta, for example, we find instructions for how to shape views and beliefs that accord with the methods espoused by the Royal Society many hundreds of years later.




Robert Wright—bestselling author and visiting professor of religion and psychology at Princeton and Penn—goes even further, showing in his book Why Buddhism is True how Buddhist insights into impermanence, delusion, ignorance, and unhappiness align with contemporary findings of neuroscience and evolutionary biology.

Wright is now making his argument for the compatibility of Buddhism and science in a new MOOC from Coursera called “Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” You can watch the trailer for the course, which starts this week, just above.

The core of Buddhism is generally contained in the so-called “Four Noble Truths,” and Wright explains in his lecture above how these teachings sum up the problem we all face, beginning with the first truth of dukkha. Often translated as “suffering,” the word might better be thought of as meaning “unsatisfactoriness,” as Wright illustrates with a reference to the Rolling Stones. Jagger's “can't get no satisfaction,” he says, captures “a lot of the spirit of what is called the First Noble Truth,” which, along with the Second, constitutes “the Buddha’s diagnosis of the human predicament.” Not only can we not get what we want, but even when we do, it hardly ever makes us happy for very long.

Rather than impute our misery to the displeasure of the gods, the Buddha, Wright tells Lion’s Roar, “says the reason we suffer, the reason we’re not enduringly satisfied, is that we don’t see the world clearly. That’s also the reason we sometimes fall short of moral goodness and treat other human beings badly.” Desperate to hold on to what we think will satisfy us, we become consumed by craving, as the Second Noble Truth explains, constantly clinging to pleasure and fleeing from pain. Just above, Wright explains how these two claims compare with the theories of evolutionary psychology. His course also explores how meditation releases us from craving and breaks the vicious cycle of desire and aversion.

Overall, the issues Wright addresses are laid out in his course description:

Are neuroscientists starting to understand how meditation “works”? Would such an understanding validate meditation—or might physical explanations of meditation undermine the spiritual significance attributed to it? And how are some of the basic Buddhist claims about the human mind holding up? We’ll pay special attention to some highly counterintuitive doctrines: that the self doesn’t exist, and that much of perceived reality is in some sense illusory. Do these claims, radical as they sound, make a certain kind of sense in light of modern psychology? And what are the implications of all this for how we should live our lives? Can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?

As to the last question, Wright is not alone among scientifically-minded people in answering with a resounding yes. Rather than relying on the beneficence of a supernatural savior, Buddhism offers a course of treatment—the “Noble Eightfold Path”—to combat our disposition toward illusory thinking. We are shaped by evolution, Wright says, to deceive ourselves. The Buddhist practices of meditation and mindfulness, and the ethics of compassion and nonharming, are “in some sense, a rebellion against natural selection.”

You can see more of Wright’s lectures on YouTube. Wright's free course, Buddhism and Modern Psychology, is getting started this week. You can sign up now.

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Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Provide Doorways to the Unconscious, and Maybe a Way to Predict the Future

It is generally accepted that the standard deck of playing cards we use for everything from three-card monte to high-stakes Vegas poker evolved from the Tarot. “Like our modern cards,” writes Sallie Nichols, “the Tarot deck has four suits with ten ‘pip’ or numbered cards in each…. In the Tarot deck, each suit has four ‘court’ cards: King, Queen, Jack, and Knight.” The latter figure has “mysteriously disappeared from today’s playing cards,” though examples of Knight playing cards exist in the fossil record. The modern Jack is a survival of the Page cards in the Tarot. (See examples of Tarot court cards here from the 1910 Rider-Waite deck.) The similarities between the two types of decks are significant, yet no one but adepts seems to consider using their Gin Rummy cards to tell the future.

The eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung, however, might have done so.

As Mary K. Greer explains, in a 1933 lecture Jung went on at length about his views on the Tarot, noting the late Medieval cards are "really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism.




They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents.” The cards, said Jung, “combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of mankind.” This, too, is how Tarot works—with the added dimension of “symbols, or pictures of symbolical situations.” The images—the hanged man, the tower, the sun—“are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature.”

Thus far, Jung hasn't said anything many orthodox Jungian psychologists would find disagreeable, but he goes even further and claims that, indeed, “we can predict the future, when we know how the present moment evolved from the past.” He called for “an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.” He compared this process to the Chinese I Ching, and other such practices. As analyst Marie-Louise von Franz recounts in her book Psyche and Matter:

Jung suggested… having people engage in a divinatory procedure: throwing the I Ching, laying the Tarot cards, consulting the Mexican divination calendar, having a transit horoscope or a geometric reading done.

Content seemed to matter much less than form. Invoking the Swedenborgian doctrine of correspondences, Jung notes in his lecture, “man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious to the meaning of an actual condition, because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and the condition of the collective unconscious.”

What he aimed at through the use of divination was to accelerate the process of “individuation,” the move toward wholeness and integrity, by means of playful combinations of archetypes. As another mystical psychologist, Alejandro Jodorowsky, puts it, "the Tarot will teach you how to create a soul." Jung perceived the Tarot, notes the blog Faena Aleph, “as an alchemical game,” which in his words, attempts “the union of opposites.” Like the I Ching, it “presents a rhythm of negative and positive, loss and gain, dark and light.”

Much later in 1960, a year before his death, Jung seemed less sanguine about Tarot and the occult, or at least downplayed their mystical, divinatory power for language more suited to the laboratory, right down to the usual complaints about staffing and funding. As he wrote in a letter about his attempts to use these methods:

Under certain conditions it is possible to experiment with archetypes, as my ‘astrological experiment’ has shown. As a matter of fact we had begun such experiments at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, using the historically known intuitive, i.e., synchronistic methods (astrology, geomancy, Tarot cards, and the I Ching). But we had too few co-workers and too little means, so we could not go on and had to stop.

Later interpreters of Jung doubted that his experiments with divination as an analytical technique would pass peer review. “To do more than ‘preach to the converted,’” wrote the authors of a 1998 article published in the Journal of Parapsychology, “this experiment or any other must be done with sufficient rigor that the larger scientific community would be satisfied with all aspects of the data taking, analysis of the data, and so forth.” Or, one could simply use Jungian methods to read the Tarot, the scientific community be damned.

As in Jung’s many other creative reappropriations of mythical, alchemical, and religious symbolism, his interpretation of the Tarot inspired those with mystical leanings to undertake their own Jungian investigations into parapsychology and the occult. Inspired by Jung’s verbal descriptions of the Tarot’s major arcana, artist and mystic Robert Wang has created a Jungian Tarot deck, and an accompanying trilogy of books, The Jungian Tarot and its Archetypal Imagery, Tarot Psychology, and Perfect Tarot Divination.

You can see images of each of Wang’s cards here. His books purport to be exhaustive studies of Jung’s Tarot theory and practice, written in consultation with Jung scholars in New York and Zurich. Sallie Nichols’ Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey is less voluminous and innovative—using the traditional, Pamela Coleman-Smith-illustrated, Rider-Waite deck rather than an updated original version. But for those willing to grant a relationship between systems of symbols and a collective unconscious, her book may provide some penetrating insights, if not a recipe for predicting the future.

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The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

A familiar ding comes from your pocket, you look up from what you’re doing and reach for the smartphone. Before you can think, "it can wait," you’ve disappeared into the screen like little Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist. Taken by a ghostly presence with designs upon your soul—your time, emotional well-being, creativity—Facebook. Someone has requested my friendship! You like my video? I like you! Why, I’ve got an opinion about that, and that, and that, and that…. All the little performative gestures, imprinted in the fingers and the thumbs.

Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp, VKontact, Sina Weibo…. Just maybe, social media addiction is a global epidemic, a collection of emotionally, socially, and politically, toxic behaviors. As Suren Ramasubbu reports, “social media engagement has been found to trigger three key networks in the brain” that make us think intensely about our self-image and public perception, create new neural pathways, and release dopamine and oxytocin, which keep us coming back for more little red hearts, tiny thumbs-ups, and diminutive gold stars (good job!).




While the nature of addiction is a controversial topic, it will arouse little disagreement to say that we live—as Georgetown University Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport writes in the subtitle of his book Deep Work—in a “distracted world.” Newport’s prescription will go down less easily. Quit, drop out, tune out, opt out, get out of the Matrix, Newport argues, more or less, in his book and his TEDx talk above. He acknowledges the oddity of being a “millennial computer scientist book author, standing on a TED stage” who never had a social media account and urges others to give up theirs.

Any one of his overlapping demographics is likely to have a significant web presence. Put all of them together and we expect Newport to be pitching a startup network to an audience of venture capitalists. Even the story about why he first abstained could have made him a minor character in The Social Network. But feelings of professional jealousy soon turned to wariness and alarm. “This seems dangerous,” he says, then lets us know—because we surely wondered—that he’s okay. “I still have friends. I still know what’s going on in the world.” Whether you’re convinced he’s happier than the rest of us poor saps is up to you.

As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

Newport names another objection to quitting—the necessity of social media as an essential business tool—then pivots to his book and his commitment to what he calls “deep work.” What is this? You can read the book to find out, or get a Cliff’s Notes version in Brian Johnson’s video above. Johnson begins by contrasting deep work with “shallow work,” where we spend most of our time, “constantly responding to the latest and loudest email and push notification for social media, or text messages or phone ringing, whatever.”

While we may get little endorphin boosts from all of this heavily mediated social activity, we pay a high price in stress, anxiety, and lost time in our personal, professional, and creative lives. The research on overwork and distraction supports Newport's conclusions. The real rewards come from deep work, he argues, that which we do when we have total focus and emotional investment in a project. Without getting too specific, such work, Newport says, is not only personally fulfilling, but valuable “in a 21st century economy” for its rarity.

Social media, on the other hand, he claims, contributes little to our work lives. And as you (or maybe it’s me) scan the open social media tabs in your overloaded browser, and tune in to the cluttered state of your mind, you might find yourself agreeing with his heretical proposition. You might even share his talk on social media. Or decide to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

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Artist Draws 9 Portraits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Experiments to Turn LSD into a “Creativity Pill”

LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by chemist Albert Hoffman in a Swiss laboratory but only attained infamy almost two decades later, when it became part of a series of government experiments. At the same time, a UC Irvine psychiatrist, Oscar Janiger (“Oz” to his friends), conducted his own studies under very different circumstances. “Unlike most researchers, Janiger wanted to create a ‘natural’ setting,” writes Brandy Doyle for MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). He reasoned that “there was nothing especially neutral about a laboratory or hospital room,” so he “rented a house outside of LA, in which his subjects could have a relatively non-directed experience in a supportive environment.”

Janiger wanted his subjects to make creative discoveries in a state of heightened consciousness. The study sought, he wrote, to “illuminate the phenomenological nature of the LSD experience,” to see whether the drug could effectively be turned into a creativity pill. He found, over a period lasting from 1954 to 1962 (when the experiments were terminated), that among his approximately 900 subjects, those who were in therapy “had a high rate of positive response,” but those not in therapy “found the experience much less pleasant.” Janiger’s findings have contributed to the research that organizations like MAPS have done on psychoactive drugs in therapeutic settings. The experiments also produced a body of artwork made by study participants on acid.

Janiger invited over 100 professional artists into the study and had them produce over 250 paintings and drawings. The series of eight drawings you see here most likely came from one of those artists (though “the records of the identity of the principle researcher have been lost,” writes LiveScience). In the psych-rock-scored video at the top see the progression of increasingly abstract drawings the artist made over the course of his 8-hour trip. He reported on his perceptions and sensations throughout the experience, noting, at what seems to be the drug’s peak moment at 2.5 and 3 hours in, “I feel that my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s active—my hand, my elbow, my tongue…. I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling… your face… interwoven… who is….”

Trippy, but there’s much more to the experiment than its immediate effects on artists’ brains and sketches. As Janiger’s colleague Marlene Dobkin de Rios writes in her definitive book on his work, “all of the artists who participated in Janiger’s project said that LSD not only radically changed their style but also gave them new depths to understand the use of color, form, light, or the way these things are viewed in a frame of reference. Their art, they claimed, changed its essential character as a consequence of their experiences.” Psychologist Stanley Krippner made similar discoveries, and “defined the term psychedelic artist” to describe those who, as in Janiger’s studies “gained a far greater insight into the nature of art and the aesthetic idea,” Dobkin de Rios writes.

Artistic productions—paintings, poems, sketches, and writings that stemmed from the experience—often show a radical departure from the artist’s customary mode of expression… the artists’ general opinion was that their work became more expressionistic and demonstrated a vastly greater degree of freedom and originality.

The work of the unknown artist here takes on an almost mystical quality after a while. The project began “serendipitously” when one of Janiger’s volunteers in 1954 insisted on being able to draw during the dosing. “After his LSD experience,” writes Dobkin de Rios, “the artist was very emphatic that it would be most revealing to allow other artists to go through this process of perceptual change.” Janiger was convinced, as were many of his more famous test subjects.

Janiger reportedly introduced LSD to Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley during guided therapy sessions. Still, he is not nearly as well-known as other LSD pioneers like Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, in part because, writes the psychoactive research site Erowid, “his data remained largely unpublished during his lifetime," and he was not himself an artist or media personality (though he was a cousin of Allen Ginsberg).

Janiger not only changed the consciousness of unnamed and famous artists with LSD, but also experimented with DMT with Alan Watts and fellow psychiatrist Humphry Osmond (who coined the word “psychedelic”), and conducted research on peyote with Dobkin de Rios. To a great degree, we have him to thank (or blame) for the explosion of psychedelic art and philosophy that flowed out of the early sixties and indelibly changed the culture. At LiveScience, you can see a slideshow of these drawings with commentary from Yale physician Andrew Sewell on what might be happening in the tripping artist's brain.

Note: IAI Academy has just released a short course called The Science of Psychedelics. You can enroll in it here.

Related Content:

Rare Footage Shows US and British Soldiers Getting Dosed with LSD in Government-Sponsored Tests (1958 + 1964)

Hofmann’s Potion: 2002 Documentary Revisits History of LSD

Ken Kesey Talks About the Meaning of the Acid Tests

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beautiful, LSD-Assisted Death: A Letter from His Widow

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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