the value of non-evidence-based practices

Probably because I spent so much time around rats, I find reductive explanations of things appealing. Fruit flies find alcohol more appealing after sexual frustration. Are humans deeper than Drosophila? In that light, I thought this was an amusing paper:

Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding.

Humans devote 30-40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences. What drives this propensity for disclosure? Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. Moreover, individuals were willing to forgo money to disclose about the self. Two additional studies demonstrated that these effects stemmed from the independent value that individuals placed on self-referential thought and on simply sharing information with others. Together, these findings suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure.

What if psychotherapy works because it’s fun to talk about yourself, and fun things cheer people up?

Schneiderman’s Lacan obituary has a great description of what’s fun about it:

Free association is precisely what you do not do in normal conversation–at least not if you wish to continue having normal conversations. It is certainly a discipline, since it requires that the analysand say anything that comes to mind without regard for the relevance of the remark or for whatever pain its articulation may produce. This discipline is acquired slowly and with difficulty; it is extremely rare that an analysand knows how to do this from the beginning. If he does, he is probably trying to impress his analyst.

Free association is not only a discipline; it also represents a transgression. It transgresses the normal rules of conversation and in this sense gives a feeling of great freedom…In being a transgression of rules that are the stuff of normal human intercourse, this kind of speech produces an experience that makes the subject feel godlike. To have the privilege to say anything you like to someone else is not within the realm of possible experiences as lived by mortals. This aspect of psychoanalytic experience is extraordinarily appealing, and once people have gotten a taste of it it is extremely difficult to give up. It is certainly one of the important reasons why people choose to do psychoanalysis.

The analyst’s encouragement to verbal incontinence permits the analysand to get away with saying things that he would never say normally. The analysand is requested to be impolite and uncivil, not to mince his words, especially as concerns his interlocutor. Courtesy and the amenities of normal communication are out of place here, as are considerations for the feelings of the listener.

That passage isn’t “objective” in the sense of the fMRI paper, but I’d say it’s insightful. It’s not like anyone who wasn’t a scientist working in the last century was an idiot, and people couldn’t accomplish anything before. Epistemological pragmatism all the way…

For this reason, I think it’s fruitful to read psychoanalytic theory or Buddhist legends I know aren’t true. I’m pretty sure the science people I used to know would consider that absurd. It’s not the same as equating some tribal cosmology with, um…cosmology, either. Mindfulness is trendy among psychologists. Surely there’s something to be learned from the thousands of years of experience of the cultures who invented the practice. Isaac Newton was big into alchemy, and his insights are acknowledged.

It deepens the experience of meditation to know you’re doing “shikantaza,” and to know what that has to do with the “silent illumination vs. koans” controversy 1000 years ago, and how that relates to modern Soto and Rinzai. Learning old-fashioned psychoanalysis stuff deepens the experience of psychotherapy. Thinking about the default mode network or memory reconsolidation deepens the experience of both.

It offends some people to admit the legends aren’t true. It offends other people that legends or unfalsifiable things exist. It offends me that curiosity is discouraged.