Those Students Again

I got a book in the mail yesterday. I couldn’t remember why I ordered it. From Amazon. I guess it was delayed or something. The title was, “The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence,” by some guy named Gerald Huther.

Then I remembered. The word “empathy” cued me.

A while back an article appeared in the L.A. Times reporting the results of a study at the University of Wisconsin indicating that today’s students are more lacking in empathy than ever. Or more precisely: the results of this thirty year study indicate and I quote:

From 1979 to 2009, college students’ scores on empathic concern and perspective taking declined overall. There were no substantial changes in fantasy or personal distress.

Converting the changes in scores to percentiles, researchers found a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% decrease in perspective taking through the years.

Ok, this does not sound so good, but I don’t really trust this kind of study. So I decided to take the test, if that’s what it’s called, given to students, something called the“Interpersonal Reactivity Index.” It has 28 questions. You can take it if you want to find out how empathic you are (as if you didn’t already know).

I found questions like:

Other people’s misfortunes do not usually disturb me a great deal. (on a scale from 0: does not describe me very well to 4: describes me very well).

Give me a break. Sure I was a pretty upset kid, but as a college student I might have marked this zero just to be perverse. I mean I would have known that I was supposed to feel from the misfortune of others and just because I was supposed to I would have said I didn’t feel anything for the misfortune of others. I mean, screw the unfortunate. I am tired of hearing about those kids in China.

I am not a scientist so maybe the test has checks on this sort of perversity that I don’t know about.

Or maybe, kids growing up today have not been told they are supposed to feel something for the misery of others. In which case, no perversity at all was involved in their marking this question zero. If so, then the kids were not being perverse. And that’s a bit scary.

Narrativity Types

philosophybites.jpgI ordered a book on Hegel’s dialectic and yesterday I read some philosophy online. That’s a bad sign. I am probably getting depressed. But the news of the world drives me nuts, and I can’t read fiction anymore. So it’s best to concentrate on something utterly irrelevant, like philosophy. Though I do have trouble concentrating, or maybe that’s the point. If you are going to read philosophy at all you have to concentrate because it is so damn irrelevant.

In any case—I don’t know how–but I ran across an article by Galen Strawson called “Against Narrativity.”

He argues there are roughly two types of self experience as follows:

The basic form of Diachronic self-experience is that [D] one naturally figures oneself, considered as a self, as something that was there in the (further) past and will be there in the (further) future – something that has relatively long-term diachronic continuity, something that persists over a long stretch of time, perhaps for life. I take it that many people are naturally Diachronic, and that many who are Diachronic are also Narrative in their outlook on life.

If one is Episodic, by contrast, [E] one does not figure oneself, considered as a self, as something that was there in the (further) past and will be there in the (further) future.

Strawson suggests that the second form of self-experience has come to be overlooked with the recent fashionable emphasis upon self experience as narrative, and further that some have come to feel the experience of self as narrative is morally superior to that of the episodic. Or: one ought to be Diachronic and seeking to weave a narrative from one’s experience. The episodic type, with little sense of self as related to either past or future, appears, how to say, ethically immoral.

Interestingly, he describes this type as “happy go lucky” and goes further to suggest being “happy go lucky” does not indicate a moral deficit but is probably the expression of genetics and early childhood experience.

Strawson says he experiences himself as more like the episodic. And this poses a problem for me. I just don’t think of philosophers as particularly happy go lucky. Though it’s not impossible I suppose to be a happy go lucky philosopher.

I found reading Strawson a bit irritating. As a teacher, I have long subscribed to the notion of the bildun, of the development of self through time, and to have that I think one must feel that one existed in the past and will in the future (at least for a while). And I would suggest that having an episodic sense of self-experience does not necessarily make one happy to lucky. One can be damned depressed and have no sense of future or past selves.

In the course of kicking around Strawson, I came across a nice site called “Philosophy Bites” that features pod casts of living “philosophers” on their areas of specialization. If one wishes one can hear Strawson giving the basic outlines of his argument.

Anti-Cathexsis, Or, Withdrawal Continued

I am fond of the word “cathexis,” perhaps because it is fun to say or appears sort of mysterious. As in what the hell does that mean? I associate it mostly with Freud though I don’t think he made it up.

Very roughly, he seemed to mean by it “the investment of psychological energy in an object” (person, place, thing, belief, idea, activity or basketball team).

Recently, I cathexed with the L.A. Lakers.

More recently, my cathexis has weakened, and not just with the Lakers, but sort of everything. Nothing seems of much interest.

I am used to–while in withdrawal–mysterious aches and pains, muscle contractions, dry mouth, skin outbreaks, but this anti-cathexis may be the worst of it.

After the Lakers took the championship, the LA Times produced an entire section devoted to the Lakers and their struggle towards victory. Time was, I would have devoured that section immediately. But now in anti-cathexsis, I just let the section lie there and I have since thrown it out.

No cathexsis.

I suppose more mundanely I could say that I feel as if I am walking around in the fog. Details are not distinct. Trying to make out what’s there is just too tiring.

I could say that, but I like the word “cathexis.”

Klonopin: .25 wafer

Having made the mistake in the past of trying too rapidly to withdraw from a med, I am taking a very prudent approach this time around.

Turns out the .25 dose of Klonopin (clonazepam) comes in a wafer designed to dissolve upon the tongue, in case I guess, one is without water.

In water the wafer dissolves with the touch of a spoon. I have seen this happen.

Each day I measure out a cup of water. Exactly. Pour this in a regular cup and dissolve the wafer. Then I take out a tablespoon of water, and drink what’s left in the cup.

I have been doing this for some time now. I took out four tablespoons this morning.

There are 16 tablespoons in a cup.

I go down a tablespoon every forth day. So the way I figure it–though I am not good at math–I will be down to nothing in that cup towards the first of July.

So far…though I don’t think I am in the worst part yet–the going has not been too rough. Fatigue of course, in the later afternoon and early evening, plus some increased muscle tension in the pelvic floor, plus odd sensations in the feet and legs. Par for the course so far. Additional moroseness, of course. But not severe at this point.

Also while I am eliminating the .25, I will remain on the .5 dose at night to get to sleep. So at this point, I won’t be going through the worse of it. That being TOTAL withdrawal.

Instead, after I am done with the .25, I plan to start cutting back on the 75 milligrams of Wellburtin per day.

So as I have said, my project this summer, the core of it, is to withdraw if I can and see what’s there.

And, oh, the psoriasis around the borders of my nose has broken out. That happens with changes in meds.


I have been taking Klonopin since 1993 for anxiety. At first I ran 1 milligram a day: .5 in the morning, .5 before bed. But the stuff wore me out so much during the day, I cut the morning dose down to .25. And I have been at that dosage for maybe ten years. Now I am trying to reduce the .25 morning dose.

Unfortunately, Klonopin belongs, along with Valium, to the benzodiazepine family of drugs. These drugs are addictive and not mildly. If a person should make the mistake of going cold turkey, he or she could put him or herself a risk for any number of nasty things up to and including seizures.

I didn’t know any of this when I started taking the stuff and I don’t recollect anybody telling me. I could have paid more attention I suppose, but frankly I was grateful. After ten years or more of insomnia, I was happy to be able to get to sleep. And the Klonopin helped with that. It got me to sleep, though over the years I have experienced quite frequently extended episodes of waking up way to early, like at 3 in the morning. A ghastly time to be awake.

But Klonopin is like alcohol. The longer you take it the more more you need to achieve the same “high” or whatever it is you are aiming for. I am fairly convinced at this point that I suffer tolerance withdrawal. Daily! I mean the dose I take no longer achieves the effect it once did, and the Brain wants More. So I go into withdrawal. Daily. Usually at around 11:30. The energy continues to drop, and after lunch, I am useless and aching.

The usual “cure” for tolerance withdrawal is to up the dose. But I don’t want to up it. I want off it. But given the side-effects of withdrawal, one has to move very, very slowly. I am dissolving my morning tab of .25 in a cup of water. I am slowing removing one tablespoon at a time from that cup. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, and at my current rate, it will take a month for me to get off the .25.

So that will be the core of my summer vacation, my basic project. The pains of withdrawal. I don’t know how people who work nine to five and take drugs of this kind could ever get off. I mean how could one work or do one’s job properly feeling utter exhausted and at the same time ready to jump out of one’s skin from withdrawal.

So I am lucky.

Thank God!

That’s over. Another stomach churning season with the LA Lakers. Every year I tell myself I won’t watch again, but I have been following the Lakers since Magic joined the team in 1980. That’s 30 years, that’s a long time. I don’t know now that I can break the habit.

So I watched the game last night and it was a stomach churner. Sure I am pleased the Lakers won, but I am almost as pleased that IT’S OVER, THANK GOD!

I have watched at least half the games in any given season since 1980, some seasons more, rarely less. I am not entirely a fair weather fan. I watched during the Nick Van Excel years with dumb Dell Harris striding the sidelines looking like a department store manikin. I watched when Smush Parker played point guard, and who the hell was Cedric Ceballos?

I have come to my identification with the team honestly I guess. Though I have wondered how watching a bunch of guys run up and down a patch of hardwood while bouncing a ball in front of them could have such an impact on my emotional state. Though when I start wondering about that I am usually getting pretty depressed and losing any sort of hedonic connection to anything. And that’s what the Lakers are, I guess, a connection, hedonic or otherwise, to something. To my kidhood perhaps. I loved the game. It kept me sane and out of trouble in high school. And I kept playing pickup games into my forties, but had to stop when I started getting beat up all the time.

But, thank god, it’s over.

Back in Orlando after a victory, Dwight Howard thanked God; after the game seven victory, Ron Artest thanked his psychiatrist.

That’s the Lakers.

Thank God!

Sleep Apnea Again

Brother Dan continues his struggle with the effects of his stroke. He has been feeling exhausted, especially in the afternoon, and so made a couple visits to his doctor. One visit resulted in an adjustment to his high blood pressure meds; at the second the doctor suggested he get checked out for sleep apnea.

He went in Saturday night for the sleep test where they stick all sorts of electrodes to your upper body and head and tell you, all tangled up in wires, to go to sleep on a strange bed. Dan got to sleep pretty quickly, and at 1:30 AM they brought in the sleep apnea mask for him to try out. That’s a pretty sure sign that the tech detected sleep apnea. If they don’t detect it, they don’t have you use the mask; if they do detect it, they have you try it out to see if it helps.

So now Dan will have to get used to the agonies of the sleep apnea cure, the mask, the air flow machine, waking up with the tube completely around your neck. And there’s nothing quite like trying to sleep with a sleep apnea mask while suffering from a cold.

Still, if it helps him to feel less tired, that’s for best…and maybe more than that is involved because, looking into the issue, Brother Dan came across the results of a study indicating a significant correlation between sleep apnea and strokes.

Sort of scary….

An update: just got off the phone with Brother Dan.  The results of his sleep test indicate that he has 52,8 episodes of disturbed sleep per hour.  This puts him in the range of “severe” sleep apnea.  He will be getting his machine and mask soon.

University of CA Tuition

I don’t expect I will be teaching much longer at UCSB. Retirement approaches. Maybe it’s a good time to be leaving, before the flood, as it were. Though really I would prefer to go more on an up note.

But the UC continues troubled. Once they charged students only “fees.” But now these “fees” have gotten so huge that it seems disingenuous to call them that. They are thinking now…well, maybe, we should be honest and call those fees what they are in fact: tuition.

What you call them, however, is not as important as the rapidity with which whatever-they-are have risen.

Here is a graphic representation:


June 10, 1984

June 10, 1984 was a Sunday and sunny. I remember because that was the day Carol and I got married in the garden of a friend’s house.

The Lakers and Celtics played that day. I didn’t get to watch because I was getting married. The Lakers won, but then lost the series in seven the following Tuesday, June 12.

June 10, 2110 wasn’t a Sunday, but a Thursday. Still it was a sunny day, and once again on June 10 the Lakers and the Celtics were playing.

This time I got to watch the Lakers go down to defeat putting a ruinous cap on an otherwise very pleasant anniversary day.

Man, June 10, 1984 seems like a long time ago. Magic, not the sullen Kobe, was the center of the Lakers and they all wore short pants.

That was 26 years ago.