Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Long Overdue Post

It's been months since my last post here - unfortunately (or fortunately depending on one's perspective) I've gotten very busy work-wise, which has meant a general slow down of book progress.

The majority of my work is in marketing and for the most part I have been working with Momentum Worldwide in New York and GamePlan out of Austin, Texas...my old stomping grounds.

That's not to say all work on the book has stopped. Right now I am reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, which has a number of interesting insights that will surely make it into the book.

I've not been very proactive in trying to secure interviews due to time constraints but I did just get turned down by Daniel Dennett (after months of back and forth e-mails he said he simply doesn't have the time, sigh).

I am also contemplating a different title for the book! I really like "Curing the Human Disease" but it might not have the sizzle you need these days. Or perhaps it isn't direct enough about the content of the book itself. Like an HTML link I guess we need to know what a book is about from the title alone.

At any rate I am just thinking about it right now - not ready to put a new title out there yet!

Things may slow down a bit for the holidays which should mean more focused book time. So perhaps it won't take me another three months to write a post.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Learning from mistakes

A recent MIT study found that people are far more likely to repeat mistakes rather than learn from them - and that it is our successes that we seem to gain the most insight from. Really interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. I think we assume or like to think that we'd learn from failure but apparently that is much harder to do!

In this blog post, addiction specialist Stanton Peele discusses the failure of programs like Scared Straight (where kids are exposed to hardened criminals in prison environments) to actually result in behavior modification. Again...as adults we assume that this would work - that a kid would not want that life. But, it doesn't.

It just demonstrates how important empirical data in the design of educational programs, and how lacking this is from our approach to teaching and learning.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bifurcated Decision Making

The Dana Foundation today published an interesting and illuminating review of the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.

The book, obviously, is all about how we make decisions and the emotional vs. rational processes that go into decision making. Mr. Lehrer apparently spends time discussing the different centers of the brain that are responsible for processing information that goes into decision making. Scott Heuttel's (the reviewer's) response to this is essentially, "Wait a minute - it's not so simple." His point is that recent research has indicated that rational thought is not eliminated when the prefrontal cortex is taken out of the decision making chain.

This is where I am lucky, in a way, not to have the PhD after my name. While I have to strike a balance between keeping things simple and not blowing up the science, I'm not expected to have the same background in neurology of these gentlemen. That said, I do discuss in detail the bifurcated decision making that happens in all of us - but my point of view if more focused on the genetic and instinctual vs. cognitive/rationale processes. And I'm not going to try and slice up which part of the brain handles each process - that's above my pay grade!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Disease of Hatred

Wow two weeks since my last post, bad writer, bad!

As many people have, I have been following the latest media brouhaha about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates by the Cambridge police and the ensuing allegations of racism, which President Obama inadvertently (and dumbly) fueled in his press conference remarks.

The talking heads have been talking about this "disease of racism" which continues to scourge us. I would suggest - and this is to be explored at length in the book - that the disease isn't racism, that is a symptom. The disease is hatred - a trait that can be used with great destructive force.

I'm not talking about the kind of hatred of certain foods that stops you from eating them - or even the kind of hatred we might feel towards someone who has hurt us. The destructive disease of hatred comes from our human desire to destroy a group that is different and therefore perceived as threatening to our survival. It's the hatred of immigrants. It's the hatred of gay people. It's the hatred of Muslims.

These all come from the same place - that emotionally charged fear of the "other" - the other tribe which may encroach upon our territory. Human's are inherently afraid of those that are different and it causes us to hate them...which enables us to lose our empathy...which makes it easier to harm them. It's a pretty vicious cycle.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Thought vs. Action

I was going to do a video post today but I am on this new medication and it's making me a bit loopy! Not sure I would be entirely coherent on video. Hopefully the two cups of coffee and iced chai I've consumed will help me along in writing this...

I've spent the last few days transcribing my interview with Rabbi David Gelfand (yes I know it was 2 months ago!). While my book is a secular look at the seven deadly sins, I can't ignore the religious context nor the role of people's faith in guiding their morality.

On that topic I think the Rabbi made an important distinction between Christianity and Judaism which may be obvious to others but which lit up a lightbulb for me. Gelfand explained that one of the core differences between the two religions is in how they adress human sin. Christianity, he explained, believes that people at their core are sinful and that they must change their heart in order to act virtuously. Judaim, on the other hand, believes that people must act virtuously first in order to change themselves.

So, while a Christian can be guilty of sin just for thinking about it, a Jew isn't guilty unless they act sinfully - and it's changing how we act that can change how we think. The action comes first, rather than the character change.

The Jewish perspective on this really resonates with me...I do believe this discussion will make it into the book.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Current Events and the sin-traits

It's kind of amazing to watch the hoopla every time a politician is busted having an affair. The news this week of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford running off to Argentina to spend time with his lover is the latest in many, many scandals involving political figures and the lust trait.

Why does a church going guy like Sanford cheat? Why does a super-intelligent guy like Bill Clinton get caught with his pants down? It's this powerful sin-trait - this lust that drives intelligent, good people to do damaging things. I'm not excusing it - but my book will explain it.

In other recent new take the horrible crises happening in Iran right now. I, like many, was shocked when Ahmadinejad was reelected for President of Iran...and I had my doubts about the veracity of the election. I couldn't help but wonder if his desire for power - driven by the vanity trait - caused him and Khamenei to ignore the real count and announce his win. History is littered with examples of narcissistic sociopaths abusing the will of the people to serve their own needs. My interview with Steven Pinker highlighted some examples and the psychology behind this type of behavior.

The seven sin traits so affect what happens in society and do so much damage. I'm hoping that my book will shed a little more light on the subject and provide some useful actions we can all take to mitigate this damage.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Neurotic reality

I am reading Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death, a fascinating examination of human existence which one the Pulitzer's in 1974 (sadlly, two months after he died of cancer).

It's not an easy read - I've been picking it up and putting it down for a few months, actually. Just about every page could require a days thought if you were to let the mind dwell. I'm sorry this guy is no longer with us, he really has some amazing insights. Thankfully there is a foundation dedicated to his work.

One of my favorite areas of the book is Becker's analysis of human neurosis. He basically says (and cites many sources, his favorite being Otto Rank) that people develop neurotic tics and behaviors so that they can focus their attention away from the big questions of life and death and meaning and the terrible realities of human existence. He paraphrases a great Sigmund Freud quote where Freud essentially says, "when you cure the neurotic of their neuroses they are then faced with the far more terrifying prospect of dealing with reality."

I think there's a lot of truth in that.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Science vs. Religion

I've been enjoying with great interest the work of the John Templeton Foundation. I recommend checking it out if you are interested in the complex relationship between science and religion.

I'm not explloring that relationship somewhat explicitly in Curing the Humam Disease as there is a scientific basis for the seven deadly sin-traits which have been defined by the church.

What I have found so interesting in the Templeton work is their effort to expel the myth of centuries-old conflict between the Catholic Church and scientific progress. That is a semi-recent phenomenon. In many ways the church respected and supported the efforts of many of history's greatest scientific minds.

In addition to looking at the 7 sins through the lens of both religion and science, my project is going to look at the role of government and brain scientists in shaping human behavior. I'm looking forward not only to writing about it but having a robust public debate on that topic :)

Anway I highly recommend the Templeton Foundation newsletters, lot's of deep and interesting stuff these.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A book chat with Bill Maher

I know it's been awhile since I posted...sorry about that! I am working on a big marketing project and my time has been severly limited.

Thanks to some mutual friends I did get the opportunity to chat with Bill Maher about my book yesterday. We had a really interesting discussion about the role of government and religion in guiding how people in society will act upon their "sin traits."

Bill was really generous with his time and said nice things about the project. But unfortunately he didn't want to be quoted in the book. He explained that he is constantly getting requests for interviews and feels like he is too out there - spread too thin. And that every time he's interviewed it feels like he is giving a little piece of himself away.

I do understand and it's cool, though it's too bad because he had some great insights...and of course he was funny as hell!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It Takes More Than A Village

I have conducted (and continue to conduct) loads of research for Curing the Human Disease.

I've got pages of notes from interviews with smart people, internet bookmarks up the kazoo and tons of books with natty, highlighted pages. I am using the research to directly inform some of the concepts in the book but also as a kind of background hum of thinking that inderectly impacts it's themes.

I just finished reading Hillary Clinton's It Takes A Village, which she wrote when she was first lady. I found the book really interesting and well thought out (not the liberal diatribe some have accused it of being). Clinton interestingly visits some of the same themes as Curing the Human Disease, though her focus on children is different than my book's primary look at adult behaviors and motivators (why is it that all first ladies have thif kids/family focus? Is it like a Queen Mum thing where they are the nation's top mom?).

It Takes a Village also speaks explicitely about Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, which I have also been researching and including in the book. That is both cool and kind of intimidating - do I now have to rethink that content because it's also in her book?

The other thing about Clinton's book is how on-target it is in illuminating many of the problem's in American society. She nails the causes of the economic downturn that now afflicts us - from the lack of corporate regulation to rampant consumerism to failing educational systems.

This book was written in 1996...and it sold really well but I guess people didn't really take the thinking seriously? Were they too distracted by the Bill/Monica scandal? Or - in these modern times can a book really instigate societal change? That's a tough one to answer. Maybe It Takes a Village moved the needle a little - it's hard to prove. It's scary though because I am writing my book because I want to improve our world I'm wondering if that's a futile effort!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Twitterbaby

Yes I have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, add DaxDax if you want to follow my randomness and occassional posts related to this book journey.

I've actually been using it for years but only recently in earnest. Dreop me a "tweet" if you add me!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Evolutionary Nature

I was pleasantly surprised to read David Sloan Wilson's response to the Templeton Foundation Conversation question: Does evolution explain human nature?

As Wilson does in his answer, I have been addressing our ability to change as the psychological equivalent of an immune systems ability to grow and adapt based on the needs of the environment.

One of the tenants of my book is that evolution has provided us with the 7 "sin traits" as survival mechanisms, but that we must change, evolve and adapt beyond these traits to survive in a modern world. We're born afflicted with these conditions which helped us survive through the ages but which may not serve us too well anymore.

It's nice to know I am not the only person who has connected the adaptability of the immune system with the potential for the brain to change and grow. (And yes, I've asked him for an interview.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BookEnds

If there are any other aspiring writers (especially of nonfiction) reading this, I thought I would pass along a great resource on developing a book proposal.

The BookEnds blog is a great overall for any aspriring writers :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A writer's demo

I've been working on my nonfiction book proposal - something I've recently uncovered the need for. A first time author needs to give literary agents a sample of what he or she has in mind in the hoped that they will then shop the work around to publishers.

It's kind of like being a musician: you create a demo of your songs and then try and get a manager or lawyer to take you on and get your stuff in the hands of record labels (or at least that's how it used to be when the music industry wasn't just American Idol). Then if the labels like it they will work with you to get the material ready for release.

So I've been working on my demo, and I think it is coming along. Thankfully there are tons of resources to help (way too many, actually). Here are a couple that I've found helpful:

BookEnds - "What is a book proposal for nonfiction writers"

Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada's "Make yourself irresistible"

I'm also ordered Larsen's "How to Write a Book Proposal" and "Publicize Your Book" by Jacqueline Deval. It's a lot of info but I'm sure it will help!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Interviewing challenges

I had a lovely interview with Rabbi David Gelfand in Manhattan this week (which I *did* shave for! See my previous post...) I am consistenly suprised and appreciative of the time and generosity of most of the folks I've interviewed for this book. Curing people of their most basic flaws is no light subject!

As you know from reading this blog I am talking to people who study the human mind, as well as theologians who can speak with some degree of expertise about human values systems. So far I've interviewed a Southern Baptist pastor, a former Catholic priest, a Jewish Rabbi and a Hindu priest.

One of the big gaps right now is the Muslim perspective. As the Rabbi and I discussed this week that is particularly challenging because of the loaded political and cultural baggage placed on Islamic leaders these days. It's too bad because I'd love to chat with a really traditional Imam - and I've reached out to a few with little response back. Perhaps they are suspicious of my motives as a non-Muslim American, I dunno. I really just want to get their perspective!

Well, I will keep trying...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Video blog!



This is my first attempt at a video blog post. Not sure why the audio is a bit out of sync, I recorded it straight into the computer!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Middle madness

I have a pretty good flow happening in terms of the book outline. Well...I have a strong beginning (where I'm integrating theological, evolutionary and neuropsychological thought about human sin) and a cohesive ending, where I get into the "cures" for humankind's seven deadly vices.

The challenging bit right now is the middle! I've accumulated some great insights on the role of culture, religion and government in shaping people's behavior but it's proving very difficult to organize into a compelling narrative.

It will happen...just have to take all this research and find the story for this second act (to use a screenwriting analogy).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Project Overview

A few friends have rightly pointed out that I don't have a basic overview of this book on this blog! Yeah that might have been something to do as a first post, ha ha.

Anyway here's the general overview as it stands today:

We are sick.

We can’t help it – we’re born this way. Humans share a powerful genetic foundation that enables our survival but also the burden of tremendous flaws. Each of us deals in some degree with all seven of these so-called deadly flaws, the “sin traits” of pride, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth and jealousy. They affect the decisions we make, our relationships with others and our role in society as a whole. Human sin traits are powerful drivers that are at the root of almost all of mankind’s greatest ongoing challenges: violence in the Middle East, global climate change, a world economy in crisis, rampant poverty and disease in Africa, to name just a few.

Curing the Human Disease is the first book to examine the evolutionary and biological basis for the sin traits and how each manifests itself in modern society. It takes a look at how different cultural forces can mitigate sinful behavior and how people can make significant changes in themselves and help those around them. It asks (and answers) the question, "Recognizing that we are fundamentally flawed, what do we do about it?" The book incorporates thousands of years of religious and philosophical thought along with the latest neuroscientific research, with insights and ideas from exclusive interviews with the world’s leading sociologists, psychologists, theologians, neurologists, anthropologists, historians and political scientists.



Ok I hope that helps...let me know if anything is not clear!

Friends and families

It's good to have friends and a big family...I've developed a large group of people over the years that I trust and who get excited about what I'm up to.

I say this because I've been reaching out to the people I know asking for help with connections to people I might interview for the book, research leads and any publisher/agent connections. A lot of people are offering great insights!

It seems that writing a book isn't just about typing words but also networking and marketing and cajoling. I'm not complaining...it's an interesting journey.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Luxurious distance

Wow I went over a week withouth posting in this thig...sheesh!

The reality is that my marketing consultant / day job life took up tons of time this past week. So aside from reading a few relevant books during my travels (and doing a lot of highlighting), I've been pretty much ignoring the book until today.

One nice thing about taking time away from writing is the luxury of perspective. Rereading some of the work thus far today has illustrated the need for distance every so often - some of it was a real mess and I was too close to it to realize!

So today was spent editing and incoporating a few new ideas, mostly in the "Born to Sin" chapter (where I discuss the evolutionary and bioligical basis for sin). I'm hoping this week will give me more time to continue the work but life's adventure may have another plan for me...we shall see :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A dream come true?

Over the past month or two I've been chatting with a few publishers about my book and the interest level has been suprisingly high!

And then today to my shock I got my first publishing offer...they even sent a design of what the cover might look like!!

Check it out!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sloth

The sin of Sloth or laziness is not something I deal with much - in fact quite the opposite, I can be a bit of a workaholic.

Well I am consumed by this book right now, writing and researching for hours upon hours each day. I'm trying to take a day or two off just to reset the mind once in awhile, usually during the week.

The good news is that I am starting to see some heat around the book. I've just had a few more people agree to interviews. And I spoke at a marketing conference this past week in Las Vegas (City of Sin?) and was integrating some of the concepts of the book into my presentation and discussions with other folks in the marketing world. There seemed to be a lot og genuine interest in the topic and concepts...so I'm excited!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This blog and an ongoing dialog

I created this blog to track my progress in writing this book, and a few people have nicely decided to follow along :)

Primarily though, while I am conducting research and in the writing process, I just wanted a place to store thoughts that won't make it into the book, and to reflect upon the journey itself.

My hope is that if I get published, this can be a record of everything leading up to the publishing date but that it then may grow to an ongoing center of discussion about topics and themes raised in the book.

In the meantime I welcome comments and will respond when possible, even to negative ones! I will say, though, that I'm unlikely to respond to anonymous comments. If people want to participate in the discussion they should to do so openly!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anarchy in the USA?

You can't really write a book about human sins without touching upon value systems. I've spent the day researching and writing about human morality. As with so many things...it's amazing how different we all are and yet how much we share.

Every person has a unique set of values and we filter our perceptions of the world through our value systems. But somehow most of us manage to get along! I live in New York and while New Yorkers are not the most outgoing and friendly people in the world, it's amazing that all of us are able to be fairly civil to each other.

It's our innate need not only to survive as individuals but as groups and communities that work. Anarchy just wouldn't work!

Monday, March 16, 2009

People's time

A number of people have turned down my request for interviews, for a number of reasons.

I certainly understand that people are busy and that they have their own lives and pursuits, so I don't begrugde anyone who says "can't do it" to my request (though some are nicer about it than others).

I do wonder, though, if I would have better success with them as an reporter for the New York Times or 60 Minutes. This might be a real-life example of the vanity trait affecting the development of this book!

Ah the trials of a 1st time writer :P

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Getting answers

My originally conveived structure for Curing the Human Disease was that the majority of the book's focus would be on the Seven Deadly Sins, with a chapter devoted to each.

However that is not where things are headed. First of all, there are quite a few books on the sins which will do a more in-depth and probably better job at exploring each sin. Secondly, my book is really about why we are the way we are - essentially using the seven sins to explain a set of shared human traits.

Then I am getting into the questions of "so what do we do about it?" I'm happy to say that I didn't know the answer to that in the beginning of my journey but I think I am getting somewhere with it. I am seeing commonalities across my research and interviews that are very interesting and insightful...I don't want to sneak peak too much here but I am starting to get excited :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chemistry vs. cognition

I am doing research on lust today and have delved into the brain chemistry behind this sinful trait.

It turns out that there are hormones driving lust, as there are for romantic desire and long-term romantic love.

As the chemical level, lust is driven by the hormone testosterone - in both men and women. Someone who is very lusty tends to have an increased output of testosterone. And in fact drugs that lower testosterone levels (like Depo-Provera) tend to also reduce libido.

Romantic desire has more to do with dopamine levels and long-term love is connected to a hormone called oxytocin, which is also involved in the feelings of love we have for our family and close friends and even feelings of affection towards strangers (kind of funny how similar the word sounds to oxycontin).

It's interesting to recognize how much chemistry is involved in our development of feelings. It begs the question - are we in control of our hormones or do they control us? As in - do I make the decision to be in love after which my body will produce oxytocin to support that decision, or, is the oxytocin released on it's own based on other factors, causing me to be in love?

I am going to address this question of chemistry vs. cognition at some length in the book. I suspect that our conscious and unconscious minds have more to say about what chemicals our bodies produce than we might suspect. It's a tricky question but one I am looking forward to exploring.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The interdisciplinarian

What's so interesting about my journey in working on this book is the various disciplines that I am drawing from.

For centuries the seven deadly sins were primarily a religious precept but to tell the story through a modern lens I must become a student of psychology, neurology, philosophy, biology, anthropology, sociology, poliltical science, genetics and yes, theology.

This kind of interdisciplinary research is just needed if I'm to give this story the holistic focus it deserves.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Intelligensia

History is littered with genius. And in many instances the most educated people in history have designed our systems of laws and government, our scientific methodologies, our educational systems and even some of our greatest works of art.

It seems that it's only in America and in recent times in which the people who strive for and reach the highest level of educational achievement are subject to the ridicule of the masses. Why is that? Is it the sin envy gone terribly awry?

I bring this up because I'm today transcribing my interview at Harvard University with Dr. Steven Pinker. He is by so many degrees more educated and intelligent than I am and his insights so brilliant - I have a hunch I could publish just the transcription of our interview and it would hit the mark.

I have enormous regard for the well educated, especially those who've managed to remained founded in the realities of the living world, as Pinker has. I will certainly be including many of his words in my book and thank him again for his generosity of time and thoughtfulness in speaking with me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Seven Sin Survey

I've created a quick survey (just 2 questions) about the 7 deadly sins.

If you have a second please respond to my survey!

Thanks :)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Internet - today's writing tool

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman is the first book I've read that actively references information pulled from the Internet - including many direct quotes from Wikipedia.

I don't know how writer's managed to pull together anything comprehensive before the Internet existed. I've just begun reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker which was first published in 1973 - and in it, Becker decries the mountains of research and information that exist in the world and the lack of organization to it all.

Well in a sense with the net and specifically Wikipedia, we now do have an organizing force collecting and updating mankind's ever growing foundation of knowledge. I've been transcribing my interview with Frances Macnutt and I don't know what I would do without Google and Amazon and Wikipedia.

In just the first ten minutes of our chat, Macnutt referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, President Obama's Inaugural Address, a study of the sexual abuse of women in America, John Newton and John T. Noonan's A Church That Can and Cannot Change. Yes I have a basic knowledge of some of these but jumping online and doing just a few minutes of research about each one adds layers of understanding and depth to the interview that would have taken months of research before the availability of the Web!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Writing = hard

Writing a book is very challenging!

This is my first and no, I didn't expect it to be easy. But just getting through a few pages really takes a lot of time, focus, research and some staring out the window to happen (I can see why they always show writers offices with a nice view).

I will say I am enjoying the process but it's a challenge. I'm writing for about four hours a day, which seems to be about my limit of just hands on the keyboard, working it out. However I am always thinking about it, reading or doing research.

I wonder how long this thing is going to take. I should probably set a goal for when to cross the finish line...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Questions about the author

Someone asked me recently, "What will you do if this book gets published and ends up being really successful? What will be next?"

I had no good answer for this. It's related to the question, "Why are you taking this on?"

Both are valid. The real answer is that it's just an idea and subject that fascinates me and I thought it would make a really interesting book. I'd like to get it published but haven't thought beyond that as to what I might do if it is actually successful.

On the other side of it, a reader may ask, "Why you?" I know that if I was picking up this book I might wonder why a musician and marketing strategist is writing a book about human sin and how we should address our most basic flaws.

I'm going to deal with that question in the preface of the book but the short answer is that developing an understanding of how people think and function has been critical to my work both in the artistic and business worlds. People interest me, and that interest translates into a variety of outputs.

And so I move forward on this passion project, and I guess we'll just see what happens next.

Monday, February 23, 2009

People talk

I have this nifty little digital audio recorder that I've been using for my interviews. What I love about it is that I can just transfer the audio file from each interview onto my computer and then do the transcription.

The challenging part (or at least the very time-consuming part) is transcribing each interview. All of the interviews thus far have been between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, but it takes me at least 5 times that to get it all typed out.

I think it is an important process, though, because it forces me to really think about what my interviewee has said. I originally figured I would hire someone to do transcriptions but I'm very glad to be doing them.

The interesting thing is trying to capture and approrpiately punctuate the cadence and style of each speaker. I'm noticing a lot about how people talk - one person says "you know" constantly, another drops the "g's" of off all of their "ing" words and yet another starts every sentence with "And..." It's also interesting how many pronouns we use in every day speech. For instance trying to type out a sentence with a lot of "there's," "theirs" and "they'res" gets really confusing! Some people say "someone" where others say "somebody," and everybody seems to say "gonna" all the time.

After doing all of these transcriptions I am going to have to go through each and highlight the most relevant and salient points. Where possible I am going to try and pull in verbatim quotes from the interviews because most of the people I've chatted with have been really articulate and super smart.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Brain Science and Sigmund Freud

I've been chugging my way through Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience and the Unconscious for the past few days and it is blowing me away.

This book is by two French men - psychoanalyst Fran├žois Ansermet and neurologist Pierre Magistretti. I've never really studied psychology or the biology of the mind and this is a master class in the latest clinical research combined with classic Freudian theory. (I am amazed also that Susan Fairfield was able to translate this dense work from French to English - I wonder if she had to understand all of the biological terminology in each language to nail it?)

Aside from the concepts of neural plasticity, which I will definitely get into in the book, two things are really surprising to me:

1 - How much we really do know about how the brain works. I've always thought of the brain as the final frontier of modern science and while that still may be true, the amount of kowledge of brain function and neurochemistry is staggering.
2 - How much psychology is still rooted in what Sigmund Freud had to say 100 years ago. I've always known him as hugely impactful on psychoanalysis but it's amazing how modern neurology is supporting his theories about the interactions between the conscious and unconscious mind.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book for everyone but I am planning to dip into the science of how our brains work and the biological basis for why we all struggle with the 7 sins.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hatred, racism and Abraham Lincoln

I've been working through the sin of hatred and considering Abraham Lincoln's abolitionism as a predecessor to an eventual election of a black president. And with Obama such a fan of Lincoln, he's been in the news a bit lately. I've come to realize how little I actually know about Lincon's life and work.

In doing some research I came across a Lincoln quote that was such a shock because of it's somewhat overt racist language. This will probably make it into the book, though likely as a footnote because it's a bit of a tangent from the major points I'll be covering:

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

I wonder if Lincoln would have voted for Obama for president!

At any rate, I still have great respect for the man and my understanding is that these kinds of attitudes softened within him over the years. But it is still interesting to realize that racism was so prevalent in American society that even the great abolitionist participated in this kind of talk.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interviews and books

In conducting the research for the book I am interviewing quite a few people and obviously doing quite a bit of reading. Here is who I have interviewed thus far:

Spencer Wells: This was my very first interview. Spencer is an old friend who has had quite a career as an anthropologist and geneticist. Anyone interested in the history of mankind should check out his National Geographic special: The Journey of Man (which used to be up on YouTube but it looks like it got yanked, hence no link. It is available on DVD and worth picking up).

Steven Pinker: This is my most recent interview. Dr. Pinker is a linguist and experimental psychologist who is a regular speaker and who's appeared on fun shows like The Colbert Report. I really enjoyed our talk and the guy is just brilliant. He gave a really amazing and hilarious talk to Google that I highly recommend (if you don't mind a few curse words). And check out that head of hair! He's one of a kind.

Nancy McWilliams: Dr. McWilliams is a professor of psychology at Rutgers and is a practicing psychoanalyst. I visited her home office in New Jersey and had a really lovely, in-depth conversation about the seven deadly sins and how they manifest themselves. Her insights will definitely make it into the book.

Pastor Mac Brunson of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville: I took a trip to Florida to interview Mac Brunson and others. I think it's important to incorporate a theological perspective of sin so I'm determined to meet religious leaders from many faiths. I'm not really a religious person but I was really impressed with Pastor Brunson's knowledge of The Bible. This really was an incredible interview that spanned many topics, including just where I think I am headed for eternity!

Chris Bartkowiak: Bartkowiak is a former cop who has spent the last ten years counseling sex offenders in the Jacksonville area. I reached out to him because I wanted to explore the sin of lust and take a look at how people with major issues can change or manage their issues. Bartkowiak also provided a really interesting perspective on addiction overall as well as the criminal justice system. I will probably post a few of his stories up on here as there was just too much good stuff and only so much that is directly relevant to the book.

Pandit Kadambi Shrinathji of the Hindu Society of North East Florida: I had an intense interview with the Hindu priest Pandit Kadambi Shrinathji where we talked about the "6 enemies of man" - which remarkably align pretty closely with the 7 deadly sins. I was amazed by this guy and the amount of time (an hour an a half) and attention he gave me. I was also so impressed by his take on Hinduism itself, a religion I knew so little about going into the interview. The Hindu folks in Northeast Florida are lucky to have this smart, happy and loving guy as their priest.

Craig Kurtz: I met Craig and his wife Sharon at a Carraba's Italian restaurant and we talked in depth about drug and alcohol addiction. I wanted to explore this because, as with the sex offenders, I thought it would be useful to talk about how one works with people that are really in trouble - how they can change and turn their lives around.

Francis Macnutt of the Christian Healing Ministries: Francis Macnutt is an 83 year old former catholic priest who founded and runs the Christian Healing Ministries. Macnutt certainly knew his history and most of our conversation centered on the background of the seven deadly sins and their relevance to modern society. We also spoke in depth about his ministries belief in the power of prayer in healing people both of internal turmoil as well as physical ailments. I was and remain a skeptic, but Macnutt makes a convincing advocate.

I have kind of a massive wishlist of people I would like to interview. The truth is that I could keep on going and going and this thing would never get done! So if I am able to get a few more great interviews I will hopefully be in good enough shape to get this thing finished.

Of course I am also neck deep in Internet research, and I am reading a few insightful books as well. Right now I am somewhere in the middle of Biology of Freedom by Fran├žois Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti , Intelligence Reframed by Howard Gardner, The Seven Deadly Sins by Solomon Schimmel and Hilary Clinton's It Takes a Village. And for fun I'm reading The Outliers (which is inspiring some relevant ideas) and The World is Flat. I've never read so much!

So, that's where I am in terms of interviews and book research at this point. As I mentioned I could keep going and going with this and never actually write a thing so I have to be careful about spreading out too thin. That said, if anyone has suggestions for amazing people to contact, do feel free to drop me a line :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Journey Begins

It is February, 2009, and I've decided to start blogging my progress in the development of Curing the Human Disease.

This story goes back a few months - to early November of last year, when the idea for this book first came to me. The United States was deeply immersed in the election cycle and just about everyone I knew was tuning into the news for hours each day. It was an amazingly dramatic showdown between Barack Obama with Joe Biden and John McCain with Sarah Palin - I was as enthralled as the media.

I've always been fascinated by politics but this was the first time I felt inspired to truly think beyond myself to the problems affecting the U.S. and the world. So, I was thinking deeply about stuff...how do we fix these issues that plague us? Terrorism and violence; poverty and the economic crisis; executive compensation and corporate crime; pollution and global warming. I was thinking - all of these issues we face have human behaviors at their core. We all have the capacity for greed, jealousy, hatred, etc. That means in order to truly fix the challenges we face, we have to address the human issues that we all face, which actually align fairly well with the 7 deadly sins.

And thus came the idea for Curing the Human Disease, which started as a set of questions: Why are we all born with the capacity to do great harm? What does society do about it? How can we "cure" people of these flaws, or at least mitigate them? I started conducting interviews and doing research and thus far it's been a fascinating journey.

I decided to start this blog because as I am traveling on this journey I keep uncovering such interesting bits of knowledge and hearing amazing stories that may or may not make it into the book. I just wanted to talk about some of what I am seeing and hearing here and maybe get a few people interested in tagging along with me.

After this first post I might do a bit of catching up from what I've been doing over the past three months or so - so the timeline may be out of whack until I catch up a bit!