PMTH NEWS                                                                12/16/99

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The activity of philosophizing was, [for Wittgenstein], distinctly therapeutic -- 
it can help to prevent us from 
institutionalizing our words.
Newman & Holzman
The End of Knowing, p.113

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Do Postmoderns Need Training Wheels?
Lois Shawver

I think it was Lynn Hoffman, some time ago, who introduced the term training wheels to describe the function of training in postmodernity.  This fits my notion, too.  If postmodernity is an incredulity towards metanarratives, that is a skepticism about those grand theories that seem to have everything wrapped up, that doesn't mean the grand theories are totally useless.  Hoffman and myself would repackage these theories as training wheels, something we use for a while and then go beyond.  After all, if therapists don't have some mastery of the theories then they won't be able to talk with other therapists. Surely this would undermine their confidence in the critique of grand theories. 

Still, some people do recommend that students have no training at all.  In 1981, I picked up an article (by Hynan) published in major journal that argued that because research had shown that theoretical orientation had no impact on the usefulness of therapy,  therapy teachers should completely stop teaching therapy theory to students.

I thought Hynan article was quite misguided so I wrote  a response arguing for Hoffman's training wheel concept for theories of therapy  (or my version of the training wheel concept since Hoffman had not yet given me this felicitous metaphor).  My point, and I think Hoffman's point, was that even if the theory was overgeneralized and full of holes, it provided a starting point.  Sometimes we need to learn ways to do things just to get started.  Later we can break free and develop better ways.  The concept of a kid using training wheels to learn to ride a bicycle is a good metaphor for this.  Another might be learning a word that is mispronounced or mispelled.  One still learns the concept.  Later one can correct the concept.

Is therapy like this?  Do student therapists need training wheels?  Well, I have long thought so, but recently Val Lewis presented PMTH with what I thought was a rather eloquent argument for allowing more untrained inventiveness in students.  She noted that artists sometimes manifest an untutored genius.   Why can't therapists sometimes manifest untutored genius? (Click here to read her full argument.)

Perhaps they can -- but there is a problem here.  There are students who think their work is untutored genius while the rest of us shake our heads is dismay.  How are we to decide what untutored genius is?  If you are a client, would you consider going to a neighbor who thought his untutored way of doing therapy was sheer genius?  The artists Lewis reminded us about were recognized by the public for their art.  But the public isn't available to evaluate the therapist.  They can't go crawl into therapist office like a little mice and to watch the untutored geniuses at work.

Still, I think Lewis has her point.  Surely every therapist who has supervised beginners recognizes that some people come with more, what shall I call it, "skill?"  "talent?"  That is, some people seem to be naturals at creating working relationships and fostering inspiration.  This is no small thing, because none of our theories tell us exactly how to do this.  To some extent, we are all dependent on skills we picked up without being "tutored" in them.

But Lewis' point is not the only be point to be made here.  Maybe a few geniuses don't need special tutoring but what about the rest of us?  Our resident therapist-artist, Ed Epp, said this:

 I do believe that there are the born geniuses in art as well as in therapy. And the artist examples you gave certainly didn't need art classes. But then there are the rest of us. 

Indeed!  What about the rest of us?  And, if all the people who want therapy are dependent on genius therapists, then there are not likely to be enough therapists to go around.

Lewis answered back, though, in an interesting way.  She said:

 I have no problem with art schools as long as they don't insist that there is only one or two ways to learn to be an artist.

So, do you see the problem?  If genius is fettered by excessive rules, what a shame to force it into our imperfect training molds!  On the other hand, not every therapist can be a genius.  Also, those who are true genius, do not necessarily know themselves, and we cannot necessarily detect them.

I think this means we need new postmodern guidelines for training in postmodern modes of therapy.  What I would like to see is teaches both teaching theories as training wheels, but at the same time, encourging people to eventually pick and choose from a variety of theories to establish their own preferred style.

I still feel that the training wheel concept is the best way to go for now, but I would like students to think of them as provisional guidelines. to be dismissed after getting the hang of things.

Did you take the theories you learned as a student in this provisional way? Do you think students can learn theories in this provisional way?

Postmodern Politics
Lois Shawver

One of the major threads in PMTH as of late has been on the politics of Fred Newman and the organization that he seems to have founded.   This was stimulated by Jerry Shaffer bringing a right-wing magazine article to our attention on Lenora Fulani.  (Click here to read the article.)  On the front of the magazine (you can see the picture  if you click above) you will see a caricature of Fred Newman  together with sometimes presidential candidate Lenora Fulani.  Fulani and Newman work together towards political ambitions.  And, you'll recall, Fred Newman is considered postmodern and supported by many people on PMTH.

What we learned from Shaffer's article was that Lenora Fulani was joining political forces with Pat Buchanan under the umbrella of the Reform Party! Now, here are two people with very different political agendas!  Fulani is a black, pro-gay, very left-wing feminist, and Buchanan represents extreme right-wing values.  How can two people like this work together?  Don't they cancel each other out? 

Wanting some light shed on this question, I watched Fulani on TV Tuesday night.  I came away feeling that this strange combination of candidates may bring some good things.  That's the message, too, of PMTH subscriber George Spears,  who is, I have learned, a founding member of the Reform Party.  Spears sees the Fulani-Buchanan collaboration as  "the greatest chance for true change in America since the signing of the Constitution." 

Maybe.  I'm afraid I don't understand Newman's politics very well, but early this year I visited his East Side Institute where I met and talked with the man.  I even met Fulani, although I didn't recognize who she was.  I must say that I was positively impressed with the see people  -- even though I myself intend to stay on the fringes of their politics.   I am pleased, however, that they can still be friends with unpolitical me.  They seem like, smart, caring, energetic people.  Watch for them.  Don't dismiss them just because some people say they are cultish.  How can one be political without mustering a bit of solidarity and togetherness?  It's a mistake to  confuse that quality of solidarity for "cultishness."

So, I'm watching them, undecided, but hopeful.  Please watch with me.

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Today's Quote
Lois Shawver

Look again at today's quote (in the upper right hand corner of this newsletter):

The activity of philosophizing was, [for Wittgenstein], distinctly therapeutic -- it can help to prevent us from institutionalizing our words.
Newman & Holzman
The End of Knowing, p.113

I agree with Newman, and let me give you a few Wittgenstein quotes this view

109 Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of a language. 

112. A simile that has been absorbed into the forms of our language produces a false appearance, and this disquiets us. 

118. We are clearing up houses of cards.

133. There are different philosophical methods like different therapies.

In the langauge I have come to use, this therapeutic philosophizing is something I, and many PMTH subscribers,  call "paralogy," after Wittgensteinian postmodern author, Jean-Franocis Lyotard.  Paralogy (or philosophizing) is a way of working through problems that disquiet us.


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See You in the Next Millennium!
Lois Shawver

When I was a little girl I used to wonder if I would ever see the new millennium.  It seemed so far away.  In those days I had the habit of looking in the mirror at myself and holding my bushy hair in a certain way that made it look smoother and more controlled.  I thought, somehow, that this was what I would look like when I was grown, when the world was changed to become what was now an unknown future.  Those dreams for me marked the millennium as the symbolic date for the future, the moment that the world matured into a whole different era, an era of the unknown and unforetellable.

But, now, what is most unforellable, I suppose is Y2K.  I have had my PC's all checked out, and I think we will all survive the big day.  But about the rest of the millennium changes, we can only guess.

And my guess is that the the millennium will bring us around the postmodern turn, a step further away from the modernist images that told us that our grandfathers had all the answers, a step closer to our own way of evolving through conversation.  Hopefully we will navigate this turn with some grace so we don't throw out the baby with the bath.  Everything in the past is not trash.  We just want a chance to pick and choose, what part make sense to us, and for the world to allow us to revise the grand theories that are provided to us with our own creative flair. 

Will the world change in this to give this permission to its students?  In just two weeks?  Well, maybe the change won't be complete. 

But in two weeks, yes two weeks!, I'll be guessing what the future will bring with the rest of you while I celebrate this big event.  Personally, I am going to throw a bash of a party.  And, I thought I'd give myself a little time off (and Tom Strong, too, new reporter on PMTH NEWS).  Don't look for the new edition of PMTH NEWS until January 6.  Just think, by then, we'll all know whether the Y2K thing was just a hoax, or the end of coherence everywhere.

In the meantime, here's a toast to all of you, my fellow travelers into the unknown future..

Looking Around Corners of Time
Lois Shawver

I'm not the only one who likes to try to look around the corners of time and envision how things will be.  I thought you'd like to glance through the eyes of someone marveling about electric lights in 1886.  You will see the author giving amazing importance to a few lightbulbs that, today, we scarcely notice.  I think this is hillarious in an odd sort of way.  They are talking about putting lightbulbs on heavy equipment and using it for military defense!  The book included pictures of the heavy equipment holding up these light bulbs.

Transportable lighting appartus is of greatest imporance in cases of accident, such as the giving way of bridges, etc. Such lighting systems are especially of value for military operations, artillery, attacks, sieges, reconnoitring purposes, etc., etc.  The French and German armies already possess such lighting carriages.  The appartus used at present by the French army consists of forty lamps of the largest kind (i.e., of an intensity of 30,000 normal candle power) intended for the defence of the coast and fortresses....The German army uses Siemens machines, which are driven by steam engines...The steam engine placed upon a four-wheeled frame.  The lamp is placed upon a separate carriage, ...[and] is easily lifted by means of a height of ten meters.
Wormell, R. 
Electricity in the Service of Man
Cassell & Co., London, 1886

Isn't that striking?  Whereas World War II had the atom bomb, 1886 had the light bulb.  Yet, if one side was in the dark, the light bulb could be an effective defence weapon.

I think it is the context of the future that is hard to envision.  Even when people get clues, they don't seem to understand the contextual changes that the future will bring.  For example, people knew Hitler was up to no good, but they could not comprehend the horrible magnitude of what was happening and about to happen.  Look at this author thinking about Hitler and destiny, and leaving us comments that seem to me to be a gruesome understatement of what was soon to come.  This was written in 1936, in a US magazine and before US involvement in the war.  The voice is an American talking about Hitler's Germany described by a diplomat.

Once when a diplomat had told me details of spying, telephone tapping, bribing, following persons who called to earn their identities, I finally exclaimed, "What sort of government is this?"

"It is not a government," the diplomat explained.  "Here gangsters have got control of a great country and have become a world power to be reckoned with."

John L. Spivak
Hitler's Racketeers
Reader's Digest
March 1936

And that was the end of the article.  But what would one expect from the American with so little to go on?  How could people have envisioned what was happening and about to happen?

Still, seeing around the corner of time is possible, to an extent.  It is just hard to imagine the extent of the changes, and the meaning that they will have in our lives.  Take television.  People predicted television long before it was available, but they didn't quite picture how commonplace it would become in our lives.  At the time, movies were fancy dress-up events, and television was envisioned, it seems, as something like that.

at any rate, here is C. C. Furnas dreaming about the advent television in 1936.  (Most people didn't see a television until the middle nine-teen fifties.) 

I am waiting for my television but I cannot live forever.  When I think that the first radio impulse transmission was accomplished by Joseph Henry in 1840 and the first radio broadcast was not until 1920 I feel a little discouraged about the arrival of this television business while my eyes still funciton.  No one has dared even to think of television in natural colors as of yet.

[But] as soon as television becomes a reality for the average American the last frontier of communication will have been closed...

C. C. Furnas
The Next One Hundred Years, 
Reynal & Hitcock, NY, 1936

That dream of television was articulated by Furnas, a civil engineer teaching at Yale.  He could imagine the television but he thought it was the final frontier of communication -- he did not have the slightest glimpse of the internet. 

How about a prediction today about what will happen to psychology in the next century.  This appeared in the American Psychological Association Monitor that arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  The author of this article says:

The question is perhaps not so much what psychology will be in 2100 as whether it will exist as wwe know it.  It is unlikely, for instance, that the subject matters that make up psychology today will be found together in the same academic departments.
Rand B. Evans
APA Monitor, p.29

I suppose this is the time for us to envision the future, too, here on the cusp of this new millennium.  In that spirit, I think our future will find human beings less dependent on the allure of institutionalized authority.  The internet will bring  more grassroots collaboration in all kinds of problem solving, and this will bring easier and more rapid, comfortable but revolutionary change.  Wars will not be needed to make change happen because change itself will acquire a better name.

Poetry or Narrative
Lois Shawver

Mel Snyder shared a paper with us a few weeks ago.  (Click here to see the paper.)  In the course of discussing this paper, she made this statement:

Dear Lois: My experience is that all thinking comes to us. I think what Heidegger may be noticing is that there is no thinker separate from thought, so that even when "you" invite a thought to come to you, that thought of inviting came to you. ...

It relates to what Judy and others have been writing about the possibility of actually experiencing that there is no actual "thinker"; there is an organism in which thinking happens as one of its functions. What do you think?


You know, that is an interesting thought, isn't it?  Sitting here, thoughts float in and out of my mind.  Descartes once imagined a little creature pulling levers in the mind, the little man inside the mind that decides what we are to say and do.  If you toss out that silly image of the little man inside the mind, then the unity of the mind seems to dissolve.  As Mel Snyder's words suggest, the mind becomes the floating in and out of unbeckoned thoughts.

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