Last Week’s Links

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity

You’ve certainly seen the ads for genetic tests that will help you discover more leaves for your family tree. While many people are happy to discover far-flung relatives they never knew about, others are distraught to learn that their parents or grandparents aren’t who they thought they were.

This article from The Atlantic discusses a Facebook group founded by a woman whose DNA test delivered disturbing results. “The DNA test didn’t erase her happy childhood memories, but it recast her entire life up to now.”

How We Create Personal Myths (and Why They Matter)

In graduate school I took a course called something like Identity and Personal Mythology, which centered on the fact that we all create a personal mythology, or life story, to make sense of our experiences and to create our sense of self, our sense of identity. There’s a whole subgenre of psychology examining this field, which is known as narrative identity theory.

In this article self-described data nerd Angela Chen describes how, despite her preference for data over narrative, she came to realize that she, too, has a personal mythology that has shaped her life.

To resist narrative is to resist the brain itself. Sometimes we must do so, to avoid the clean, satisfying story that may be too simple. But I was wrong to think I could escape defining the narrative in my own life. We are always creating and searching for meaning, whether we recognize it or not.

Caves all the way down

Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?

Philosopher Jules Evans article begins with this assertion:

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. Research into the healing potential of psychedelics has re-started at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, and is making rock stars out of the scientists carrying it out. Their findings are being reported with joy and exultation by mainstream media – on CNN, the BBC, even the Daily Mail. Respectable publishers such as Penguin are behind psychedelics bestsellers such as Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind (2018), which was reviewed enthusiastically across the political spectrum.

Evans is an academic, policy director at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London. Here he explores, with an academic’s vigor and rigor, the history of the nature of psychedelic mystical experience, begun by Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception. He uses his own psychedelic experiences to examine the differences between science and theology to conclude:

To use the language of secular psychology, psychedelics seem to reliably take people briefly beyond their customary ego and to allow the contents of their subconscious to emerge. Even if you’re not mystically inclined, that process can still be very healing.

How the West became a self-obsessed culture

It’s common to hear Eastern and Western cultures contrasted in a way that goes something like this: Eastern cultures focus more on society collectively, while Western culture emphasizes the individual.

In this article Sean Illing interviews Will Storr, a British writer and author of the recent book _ Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us_. As Illing explains, Storr’s book is about a phenomenon psychologists call “collective narcissism”:

An individual narcissist is someone with a deep need for validation, someone who thinks they’re great and resents anyone who doesn’t recognize their greatness. Collective narcissists … are “a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired and validated by others.”

Collective narcissism is a fashionable idea these days in psychology, and it’s linked to psychologists’ larger concern about a “narcissism epidemic” — more and more individuals with an inflated sense of self.

Storr has some ideas about how a culture emphasizing self-esteem has gotten us into the self-absorbed position we’re in today. Read his advice on how to find happiness and fulfillment despite the way our culture has made us think about ourselves.

Down with the larks: on the virtues of sleeping like a sloth

A Gallup poll in 2013 found that Americans sleep, on average, 6.8 hours a night, with 40 per cent getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, teenagers get a little more than seven hours of sleep a night, while actually needing at least nine. Yet society continues to function … if only like a frail, untuned clock.

Joel Frohlich reports on the health drawbacks of chronic sleep deprivation.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown