Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Psychological Neoteny and NPD

Professor Bruce Charlton, of the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, via Discovery News:

People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.

Like we hadn't noticed?

This phenomenon is called "psychological neoteny." A fancy name for pychological immaturity, the failure to ever form a "finished mind."

In its natural state, the human brain and mind naturally reach full development in the early twenties - after a person's education by his or her parents and society is complete and he or she is out on their own in the world.

This isn't to say that no subsequent changes take place in the brain: it changes throughout life. But normally, these later changes do not add to, or detract from, the brain's capabilities. Nor do they alter the established framework of the mind. Personality is fully formed, and personality disorder can no longer be aquired. Or, it seems, cured.

At that point, a normal person's mind becomes a garden, not wide open spaces anymore. A garden is a cultivated place with a wall around it. And gates. Not just any old seed that blows in on the wind is allowed to take root and grow there. In other words, this mature mind has gatekeepers at the eyes and ears that examine ideas before letting them in. These gatekeepers reject ideas that are illogical, ideas that cannot be true because they conflict with known facts and experience.

This is a stable, rational mind that isn't easy prey for every Pied Piper that comes along.

But think what a hindrance such a "finished" mind would be during a child's school years. The very process of education discourages the formation of a finished mind.

According to Charlton, it rewards "child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge" and "requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."

In other words, it works the mind into a very moldable mind, an easily educable one, an easily influenced one, one that seldom engages in critical thinking about what a trusted source of information says.

This is why I am always somewhat suspicious of a leader who targets the young. Yes, of course, it was the young students who cried out for democracy in China, and it is the young students crying out for freedom in Iran. The young happen to be right in those cases. But it was also the young students who ran after Adolph Hitler by the thousands, filling the streets as a major force in bringing him to power. The Taliban are the young. In fact, the word "taliban" means "student." The list of such examples of mislead herds of the young goes on and on. Communists throughout the world habitually exploit the gullibity of students to pour them by the hundreds of thousands into the streets as pseudo democracy - that is, "power to the people" rioting in the streets, OVERpowering the action of whole electorate in the voting booth.

The chief cuplret, according to Charlton is the "cognitive flexibility" of the unfinished (immature) mind.

"Cognitive flexibility" - typical academic fuzzy abstraction. It is being flexibile about what you know. Not a virtue.

It's the ability to know a thing one day and, at the drop of hat, without any deliberation, just unknow it the next. Presto chango, now you know something else, something contradictory, instead.

I once witnessed an amazing display of cognitive flexibility among a bunch of teachers (ducking a wildly swinging axe). Boss had a blast alternating between two conflicting versions of an event. Sure enough, immediately after he stated or implied Version B, there was no evidence to be found that any of these teachers had ever even heard of Version A, let alone had believed it. Two days later, he would then mess with their minds by switching back to Version A again. Immdeiately they had all always known this version of the truth and had never even heard of Version B. Cognitive flexibility.

This talent of cognitive flexibility is what makes young people (and immature people) so vulnerable to peer pressure.

Normally, in the classroom (or in any natural learning experience), cognitive flexibility is a good thing - so long as the information source is trustworthy. For example, until today, I may have had the wrong idea about viral replication in a host cell. Now the professor says something that contradicts what I thought about it. I will instantly erase my incorrect belief. The thought that he might be lying or fast-talking me never crosses my mind.

But what if he were a professor of the humanities instead? Should I trust him that much?

In either case, I am not a student anymore. So, I no longer have the intellectual habit of just swallowing whole whatever an "authority figure" says.

Even Charlton. He errs. Cognitive flexibility isn't used only to accept new ideas. It can just as well be used to cling to cherished myths in the face of proof that they are wrong.

For example, if you want to believe that 9/11 was an inside job, cognitive flexibility will let you fight off the truth by swallowing whole any illogic or even a false fact that yesterday you knew better than. Just erase what you knew yesterday and replace it with some claptrap about an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.

The result is believing people, no matter what they say, because of who they are, not because they have any real credibility or make any sense or state arguments that hold up under scrutiny. In other words, mix cognitive flexibility with a motive for intellectual disonesty and you have have a lethal drink.

Charlton and others who espouse this theory of psychological neoteny attribute it to higher education. And higher, higher education. And higher, higher, higher education viewed as a virtue for never ending. That is why, he says, psychological neoteny is characteristic of the highly educated. He claims that many never achieve mental adulthood. The results include a retention of child-like behaviors like slavishness to fashion/peer pressure as well as sensation seeking and novelty seeking behavior that prefers sensational and novel ideas to the obvious.

The perpetually educated make wide-open-mindedness a virtue. A wide-open mind is boundless wild spaces - not a garden - where anything blowing in the wind can take root and grow. Apparantly even the wildest, common sense defying ideas.

Obviously, malignant narcissists have a terminal case of cognitive flexibility, but my point here is a question: Does psychological neoteny partly explain the behavior of academia and the mental healthcare establishment?

Like children, they get mad at people who don't buy what they are selling about NPD and psychopathy. They overreact, getting all upset and worried, worried, worried about what they view as the wrongthinking of others. (They seem to view disagreeing with them as far more evil than anything the narcissist does.) They try to control/suppress this heresy. You can see this on message boards and blogs. As I've said before, many will try to tell you that, though you've lived with a narcissist for 20 years, or though you ARE a narcissist, you know nothing about NPD. Absurd. They are so far gone they will tell you that you aren't "qualified" to say anything about it based on your experiences with narcissists.

Passing over the suppression of information and violence to free speech in that, how childish can people get? That's like covering your little ears and stamping your little foot and screaming bloody murder to silence anyone saying anything you don't want them to. Only spoiled brats must make it sound evil to disagree with them. Psychological neoteny.

What "qualifies" them to know about NPD? Book learning, period.

The clinical literature on NPD is highly theoretical, abstract, and general, with sparse case material, suggesting that clinical writers have little experience with narcissism in the flesh.

Exactly. That ain't science. That's conjecture, speculation - and by people with little experience of narcissism in the flesh. In other words, this so-called "clinical literature" is basically just glorified essays based almost entirely on the reading of other glorified essays.

That kind of information isn't superior to firsthand observation and direct knowledge in everyday experience with narcissists - it's INFERIOR. Its sole value is in the ideas it may come up with - which are nothing until scientifically tested.

Worse, what does pass for "research" and "statistics" is so illegitimate that much of it smells like a deliberate attempt to confuse and decieve. By that I mean that experts just don't make the gross mistakes these so-called authorities make.(See The Credibility of Authority for a little enlightment on how little credibility this establishment has on NPD.) For example, they seize upon a logical-error ridden essay with its never-tested hypothesis speculating about the mental health of European royals back to the 12th century as worthy of their general acceptance of this untested hypothsis that NPD is genetically inherited. Experts can't honestly be that stupid, and honest experts would have surveyed the children of narcissists to test this hypothesis long ago by now. So, this is just cognitive flexibility like that oil pipeline in Afghanistan - swallow whole ANYTHING to support your cherished myth in the face of real evidence against it. Similarly they seize upon brain differences in psychopaths as if they don't know that that there are two possible explanations for it: the more likely one they betray no awareness of, and the LEAST likely one they all "know." Again, cognitive flexibility to produce bogus "facts" that shore up a cherished myth.

I don't want to give the impression that all academics and clinicians are so in need of therapy themselves. Indeed, their greatest critics come from among their own ranks. From among their own ranks come the studies that prove how unreliable their explanations, diagnoses, treatment, and "estimates" are.

But their better lights get ignored by the politically correct majority. Research proves that their therapy anti-works, but they won't admit that and quit it. Childishly narcissistic. Research proves that their "blame-it-all-on-society-and-poverty-and-feel-sorry-for-the-abuser" theory couldn't be more wrong (at least in the case of NPD and psychopathy), but they won't know that, either. Childishly narcissistic. For decades they have stubbornly refused to hear those who point out that their reliance on the self-reports of pathological liars is "problematic" = stupid.

Indeed, they don't ANSWER the objections to their view of NPD; they just try to silence those objections. And they seem to be the only ones incapable of understanding what that means.

What's more, how do they attempt to silence those objections? By demonizing anyone who dares to state them - all in the name of saying that it's evil to say that psychopaths and other narcissists act out of malice. And they seem to be the only ones incapable of recognizing such eggbeater logic when they commit it.

They should remember that their job is to ADVANCE knowledge (just a suggestion ;-). If they pause a moment to see and hear themselves, they might notice that they are treating those who do advance knowledge exactly the way the Church treated Galileo.

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At 11:26 AM, Anonymous ricadozy said...

"As I've said before, many will try to tell you that, though you've lived with a narcissist for 20 years, or though you ARE a narcissist, you know nothing about NPD."

My marriage therapist felt that "labels were beside the point" when I tried to bring up the elephant in the room about what was happening in my marriage, the N disease. He also pulled the "eye of the beholder" routine. Who was to say who was the narcissist? Uh, after 18 mos. he knew. When my ex bolted therapy, he looked me in the eye and said in the most serious of voices: "Off the record, do NOT do mediation. You need a lawyer for this divorce. He will try to kill you." Whoa! But I was made to feel crazy throughout therapy. Never once was my ex confronted with his gaslighting, narcissistic ways. It was always, what was I doing to provoke him. Why? It was a total time waste, just treading water and in the end, he left therapy anyway. Why won't docs (gently, tactfully), confront these guys? (Kathy, I have a new blog that links to yours. As a WMNT devotee, I would value any criticisms, suggestions you could give: http://eisforempathy.blogspot.com/)

At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Jordie said...

I once attended a writing course in a college which encouraged psychological neoteny amongst teachers and students.

One of the teachers was a narcissist, and although he wasn't the co-ordinator of the course and had no real authority, he managed to manipulate all the others. The general trend in this college seemed to be the more outrageous and immature your writing, and/or behaviour was, the more attention you got from the system.

Every other teacher I spoke to seemed to be buying into this 'culture' of insanity. I wanted to learn how to write, they wanted to indulge their favourite forms of eccentricity. Yet, ask them about split infinitives, publishing software, or the collected works of their favourite authors and they could sound as mature and intelligent as any Oxford Don.

I eventually grew tired of trying to talk sense to them. Apart from the fact that just being in that environment was enough to do your head in, I wasn't actually learning very much anyway.

Very interesting and helpful post thankyou.


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