Psychological profiles with ‘Whoever Fights Monsters’ by Robert K. Ressler

American criminologist Robert K. Ressler served for the United States Army and that country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ressler explains his career in the book he wrote with Tom Shachtman, namely Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI. Whoever Fights Monsters offers insight into the real life formation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. It was Ressler‘s work in the formation of this unit as well as the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) that, along with the methodology and thinking behind those programs, that interested me in the Whoever Fights Monsters book.

Whoever Fights Monsters 2(Robert K. Ressler, left, and Tom Shachtman, right)

Ressler described his work in contributing to the formation of the BSU, which in part started with the thinking that helped coin the term serial killer. (The definition from Psychology Today is included in the link contained in the previous sentence). Much of that psychology is performed based forensic analysis of crime scenes, the evidence gathered at those scenes, and the collected wisdom of the thinking of criminals in the past. Beyond this means of making cases against criminals, much of what fascinated me in reading this book was the interviewing of convicted serial killers in gaining insight into what makes those that have committed crimes tick.

Whoever Fights Monsters 3(Friedrich Nietzsche‘s warning to interviewers)

The insight of dividing criminals into organized, disorganized, or those that switch between default forms was intellectually interesting. The subject matter was rather dark, and certainly not for everyone. The Thomas Harris book (and subsequent movie) The Silence of the Lambs was inspired by information sharing that Ressler briefly described in Whoever Fights Monsters. The television series Criminal Minds on the American Broadcasting Corporation in the United States also owes something to the methodologies of the BSU.

Perhaps my timing in reading this book during the fall was inspired by the autumn season. The diminishing hours of daylight each day played their inspiring role. That Halloween would soon be approaching with the return to standard time rather than daylight savings time also played a role. I give Whoever Fights Monsters 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, November 5, 2017

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Vision Overcomes Hardship in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning introduced me to the writing of Viktor E. Frankl, a 20th century psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. In the mood for seeking larger meaning, vision, and an inspiration for a recent testimonial for overcoming adversity with psychological strength, I was drawn to Frankl‘s best-selling work.

I found the reminders and echoing of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in the treatment of Frankl‘s Man’s Search for Meaning reassuring. Frankl builds his logotherapy with an awareness of Kierkegaard‘s will to meaning. That Frankl further counterpoints Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler by arguing not for drives of pleasure or power but for meaning strikes me as a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Mans Search for Meaning 2(Viktor E. Frankl)

The book itself starts first with not so much of Frankl‘s experiences in the concentration camps throughout Europe during World War II as an exploration of some of the personality profiles of those that experienced the concentration camps. The editorial consideration here was not as much to downplay personal narratives of those that had come. The decision was to offer something different.

Man’s Search for Meaning then introduced the psychiatry of logotherapy. The edition that I was reading was a later version that aimed to make modifications based on the learning and growth within this branch of psychiatry, which again advanced upon focusing on meaning rather than “not the drive to sex or pleasure, as Freud theorized, or power, as Nietzsche and Adler argued” (www.goodtherapy.org).

Friedrich Nitezsche was a philosopher in his own right that focused in no small part on human drives and passions as central to a meaningful human experience.

Mans Search for Meaning 3(People define meaning!)

A powerful aid and benefit that I took from Man’s Search for Meaning came with the exploration of logotherapy. In discussing self-actualization and experiencing meaning, Frankl mentioned three different ways to discover meaning:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

The first of those is self-explanatory. Offering the world a new thing like a smartphone, or a best-selling book, or the means for two friends that later become husband and wife, are examples.

The second could involve experiencing the goodness of an act of kindness, the truth of an uplifting statement of gratitude, or the beauty of the autumn colors as leaves change from green to golden, brown, or red. Loving another person offers meaning and connection of its own.

When facing circumstances that you cannot change and which cause tangible pain, anxiety, or both, your approach to that pain can transform the experience of suffering into bearing witness to that pain and transforming it into a human achievement. The example Frankl offered on this score was that of an aging medical doctor who had been suffering greatly after his deceased had died. There was comforted when he realized that his wife’s passing first meant she would not suffer the grief that he was feeling.

I came away with the reward of new insight and encouragement. Viktor E. Frankl further rewarded me with a deeper structural understanding of psychiatry along with distinctions between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  I give Man’s Search for Meaning 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, October 15, 2017

To shrug would be wrong with Andrew Solomon’s ‘Noonday Demon’

To shrug would be wrong. Andrew Solomon‘s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression deserves so much more. Noonday Demon brings so much advocacy, scholarship, and personal truth to its tale that I cannot help but recommend this highly for those with an open mind and feelings.

Noonday Demon examines depression, mental illness, and anxiety. He explores a number of his own experiences with the disease, as well as that of his mother. The non-fiction narrative looks into other cases upon which Andrew Solomon is familiar and conversant. This is the first book that I’ve read that treats this subject both firsthand and with some academic rigor (at least from my reckoning).

There were several areas that stuck with me as noteworthy and memorable. I will quote a few passages that were forceful and compelling.

Noonday Demon 2(Andrew Solomon)

Solomon quotes George Brown at the University of London, a founder of Life Events Research, on the nature of depression and anxiety:

“Our view is that most depression is anti-social in origin. There is a disease entity as well but most people are able to produce major depression given a particular set of circumstances. Level of vulnerability varies, of course, but I think at least two-thirds of the population has a sufficient level of vulnerability. According to the exhaustive research he’s done over 25 years, severely threatening life events are responsible for triggering initial depression…Depression is a response to past loss and anxiety is a response to future loss.

Ellen Frank from the University of Pittsburgh gets into the potential causes of depression, in a sense almost blaming those who suffer for their illness:

“I do not believe that if the causes of your problem were psycho-social that they would require a psycho-social treatment nor that if the causes were biological they would require a biological treatment.”

Solomon pulls no punches in his unapologetic disagreement for this as well as for the weak evidence for claiming that these suggestions indicate a path for returning those suffering back to health.

“It’s fashionable for psychiatrists to tell you first the cause of your depression…and second, as if there a logical link to cure; but this is poppycock.”

Solomon takes on the notion of self-medicating as a means of trading the pain you do not understand for one that you do. Emotionally, I find it hard to judge the decision-making, even though I hope for better.

“Pains are not destiny. If you take drugs, you do it deliberately. You know when you’re doing it. It involves volition. And yet, do we have choice? If one knows that there is ready relief for immediate pain, what does it mean to deny oneself?
     Part of what is so horrendous about depression and particularly about anxiety and panic is that it does not involve volition. Feelings happen to you for absolutely no reason at all.
     One writer has said that substance abuse is the substitution of comfortable and comprehensible pain for uncomfortable and incomprehensible pain, eliminating uncontrollable suffering which the user does not understand in favor of a drug-induced dysphoria which the user does understand.
     In Nepal, when an elephant has a splinter or spike in its foot his drivers put chili in one of his eyes and the elephant becomes so preoccupied with the pain of the chili that he stops paying attention to the pain in his foot and people can remove the spike without being trampled to death. And in a fairly short time the chili washes out of his eye.
     For many depressives, alcohol or cocaine or heroin is the chili, the intolerable thing the horror of which distracts from the more intolerable depression.”

After describing four types of suicide, and then staking out approval for one particular type, Solomon brings the case home by paraphrasing Sigmund Freud:

“Freud himself said that we have no adequate means of approaching the problem of suicide. One must appreciate his deference to this subject. If psychoanalysis is the impossible profession, suicide is the impossible subject.”

The bringing together of a compelling narrative is Solomon bringing his argument together for recognizing that there is a politics of mental health. The cases strikes me, as a layperson, as strong. While this argument aims at speaking to the people of the United States, the case for helping a demographic in need is emotionally compelling.

“The question of what constitutes mental illness and who should be treated rides very much on the back of public perceptions about sanity. There is such a thing as sanity and there is such a thing as madness and the difference is both categorical and dimensional, of kind and degree. Ultimately there is a politics of what one asks of ones own brain and of the brains of others. The problem is not so much the politics of depression as our failure to recognize that there is a politics of depression.
     A particularly disturbing recent op-ed article [at the time of writing] in The New York Times written by a psychiatrist at a conservative think tank in Washington in response to the new Surgeon General’s report on mental health proposed that helping the mildly ill would deprive the seriously ill as though mental health care were a finite mineral resource. She stated categorically that it was not possible to get unsupervised people to take their medications and proposed that those mentally ill who end up in prison probably need to be there.
     At the same time she proposed that the 20 percent of the U.S. citizenry who carry the burden of some kind of mental illness in many instances do not need therapy and therefore should not get it. The key word here is need because the question of need turns on quality of life rather than existence of life.
     It is true that many people can stay alive with crippling depression, but they can also stay alive, for example, with no teeth. That one could manage okay on yogurt and bananas for the rest of ones life is not a reason to leave modern people toothless. A person could also live with a club foot but these days it is not unusual to take measures to reconstruct one.
     The argument in effect comes down to the same one that is heard over and over again from outside the world of mental illness, which is that the only people who must be treated are those that pose an immediate expense or threat to others.”

Should there be more help? Is there no help because people choose to not understand? This is the political animal that Solomon says exists. To shrug at this would be wrong. My call to you is one of awareness; compassion; pressure applied smartly and in astute ways.

Noonday Demon 3(Quotation from Noonday Demon)

I too, am saying that I rate this book highly. I give Noonday Demon 4.5-stars out of 5 stars.

Matt – Friday, July 14, 2017

The Year of Magical Thinking offers personal grief and mourning

The Year of Magical Thinking offers personal grief and mourning following the cruel reality of Joan Didion‘s loss of her husband and fellow author, John Gregory Dunne, just as the new year was due to turn from 2003 to 2004. This came on the heals of their daughter, Quintana, having taken seriously ill just before Christmas that same year. The Year of Magical Thinking represents Didion‘s taking this deeply personal series of events, and the year that followed, to mourn, then grieve, and really to reflect through the blows that these big real things in their full magnitude meant to her, her feelings of love for her husband and daughter, and mixtures of feeling responsible, abandoning, abandoned, and the many steps of reconciling to her new reality over the course of the year that followed.

The Year of Magical Thinking 2

This personal telling of the shock of instant mourning and reluctant grieving begins with the awareness that Dunne and Didion had just come from the hospital where their only daughter Quintana had just been placed into a medically induced coma. This necessity had been the result of septic shock having resulted a runaway pneumonia infection. Didion and Dunne had been discussing whatever trifle had been between them over dinner. Per this recounting from The New York Times, “Dunne slumped in his chair with one hand raised, dying so suddenly that for a moment his wife mistook the event for a failed joke.”

Despite the really heart wrenching subject matter of losing her husband like this, and subsequently coping with the coma and numerous complications of her daughter’s condition, could lead you to surmise that The Year of Magical Thinking was a downer of a tale. While dealing in heaviness, Didion uses much of her experience as an accomplished writer to bring forth a much more real, matter-of-fact, and understated yet expressive and personal accounting of the true feeling that underpins these experiences.

The Year of Magical Thinking 3

As the October 2005 account from Robert Pinsky of The New York Times indicates, Didion‘s:

“manner is deadpan funny, slicing away banality with an air that is ruthless yet meticulous. She uses few adjectives. The unshowy, nearly flat surface of her writing is rippled by patterns of repetition: an understatement that, like Hemingway’s, attains its own kind of drama. Repetition and observation narrate emotion by demonstrating it, so that restraint itself becomes poetic[.]”

The effect is to share a deeply personal story of trying to process her new, sudden, and real experience. Didion aims to process her reality, and shares examples of facts she must have come into contact with yet didn’t process until much later. The processing experience for Joan Didion was partly to write to really discover, through that process, what she thought, felt, indeed feels (in the first person of a person in 2005) about her new, raw, and unanticipated reality. The deeper qualities of those feelings are revealed with an intelligence that I truly appreciated.

Back to The New York Times:

“In relation to her daughter’s life-threatening illness, involving a second coma and crisis after one recovery, Didion reflects on the class of very successful people who believe “absolutely in their own management skills,” the power of telephone numbers: the right doctor or donor or politician. This language of privilege that knows its resources, too, becomes at a certain point an evasion: everyone alive, all of us, are at best temporary kings.”

It isn’t an obvious conclusion from The Year of Magical Thinking that, for the year following her husband’s death or her daughter’s ongoing illness, that the new reality of Joan’s singular existence without John, or in the effort to bring about Quintana’s restored health, that Joan has not really completed the grieving process. She certainly has started to come to grasp with her circumstances, and still feels some sense for impractical responsibility for things she clearly couldn’t have controlled. She has made headway in actually understanding components of her husband’s death that will have set her, Joan, onto the path of recovery.

The Year of Magical Thinking 4

Not really having read other narratives of mourning and grief, it is a hard field to hoe for me to really say that I wanted more or less from this first person account. The spare writing style was personally gratifying, and I appreciate the feelings reflected in this forthright narrative. The material is emotionally hard, though not in the graphic sense. I appreciate the direct style of this more than some others might.

My rating is 4-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Sunday, May 14, 2017

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. As revealed in the biography of Dittrich by Penguin Random House, Patient H.M. largely tells the “true story of Henry Molaison, an amnesic who became the most studied human research subject ever.”

The book extends the exposition into Dittrich‘s grandfather, Dr. William Scoville. The book delves into much of the history of “psycho-surgeries” (read lobotomies) that Scoville and Walter Jackson Freeman II promoted widely and spread with enthusiasm through the 1940s and some of the 1950s. The book Patient H.M. shares how Molaison was lobotomized by Scoville as a “culmination of a long period of human experimentation that…[Dr. William Scoville]…and other leading doctors and researchers had been conducting in hospitals and asylums around the country.” This August 9, 2016 New York Times article is the source of that quote.

Dittrich‘s book explains that Scoville was in part motivated to find a cure for his first wife; Scoville’s wife at this point (there were two) was Dittrich’s biological grandmother. The book confirms that Scoville performed surgery on Molaison, most likely the wife that would later divorce him, and an estimate of thousands of other patients as well. That this was done with the ostensible support of the American medical establishment, even after the legal and ethical condemnations to human experimentation in Nuremburg following World War II, shocks me. See this Doctor’s Trial link for more details. Patient H.M. explores this subject in enough detail that the reader is left to struggle with the ethical mortification imbued in Dittrich’s exploration.

The book goes into some of the history Dr. Suzanne Corkin of MIT, who studied Henry Molaison as a patient for more than 50-years. (Understand that Molaison underwent the lobotomy as an epilepsy patient in his 20s, and lived into his 70s). It was through much of Corkin’s research that awareness of the way memory works in the human mind became known. Dittrich asks some pointed questions about the raw data underpinning Corkin’s research, what she had to gain from information she kept or did not, and the ownership of Molaison’s brain (and the work product governing it) after Molaison’s death.

Patient H.M. is described in this Amazon book listing as a “biography, memoir, and science journalism” book, which is where it aims and largely lands. The storytelling does demand a certain degree of focus from the reader. Many threads of the narrative tend to get explored for periods of time, dropped, and then reappear. I’ve seen commentary from neuroscientists that indicate some of Dittrich’s knowledge is lacking, though the level of information worked for my tastes as a person not trained in medical science.

I came away with more insight into memory and the different ways that it works. The larger stories of Molaison, Scoville, neuroscience in the 20th century, and the meaning this had to Dittrich‘s family, fascinated me. The ethical questions around informed consent and the lines between the research and practice in medicine, trouble me. Upon finishing Patient H.M., my interest in a deeper dive on that last subject.

I would read this book again; I recommend that others read it. My rating is 3.5-stars out of 5, mostly owing to my interest in the subject matter coupled with the author not having taken a firmer stand about his own personal feelings surrounding the morality of his grandfather’s actions.

Matt – Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Top 20 Movie “Memento.”

Top 20 Movie Memento (2000) ranks 10th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. This gem as directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan joins with Interstellar (2014) as the second Nolan movie to be distinguished by a Matt Lynn Digital listing Top 20 ranking. Memento also is the first movie directed by Christopher Nolan to receive significant box office success.

Memento is the story of a guy named Leonard (played by Guy Pearce) lacking the ability to form new memories that is determined to get revenge for the death of his wife at all costs. Being as Leonard cannot recall anything, he takes to the memory aids of tattoos, Polaroid pictures, and handwritten notes to help provide contextual clues to guide his mission of vengeance. These coping mechanisms are, collectively, the central metaphor that viewers of the movie should take as the metaphoric mementos of Leonard’s mission of vengeance.

Memento 2

From the opening credits the film, the audience is introduced to the truly unique and non-linear storytelling methodology that served director and writer Christopher Nolan well in both Memento and Interstellar. With Memento, we see a Polaroid picture of a bloody murder scene becoming undeveloped, which is to say going from developed to the point where the picture first came from the camera. Remember that this movie came out in the year 2000, which was before Smartphones let you take digital photos with the ease that is customary today.

Memento then begins revealing itself reverse chronologically, in alternating scenes of color and black-and-white, wherein we see Leonard killing Teddy/John Edward Gammell in color and in reverse…that is, the scene is moving backwards. First we see Teddy’s glasses, then blood moving in the wrong direction, and then the gunshot moving backwards with Teddy’s glasses returning to his face. Teddy is played by actor Joe Pantoliano.

Memento 4

Moving reverse chronologically, the movie then movies on to the first of a few different black-and-white scenes in the movie, which mostly serve to offer perspective on the condition of Leonard, as Leonard experiences it. These scenes almost had a documentary feel in nature, by which I mean they explained Leonard’s behaviors, deficits, and coping strategies rather than moved the narrative of the psychological thriller along.

In the third scene of the movie, we moved back to color and into the scene immediately leading to the opening scene wherein Leonard kills Teddy. The scene moves more or less forward, though there the last bit of this scene is a direct reviewing of the scene that becomes the opening death of the movie. This setting up of the narrative, and the setting of both the unreliable narrator (Leonard) and the murder victim (Teddy) signaled the uniquely Nolan method of storytelling beautifully.

Memento 3

We later learn throughout this film that Leonard was seeking revenge for the death of his wife, as played by Jorja Fox. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Natalie, who plays a villainous role that ranks ahead of the villainy of Pantoliano’s Teddy. Also keep an eye out for Burt (as played by Mark Boone Junior) and Jimmy Grants (as played by Larry Holden). The real genius of the storytelling in this movie is its structure, how the story unfolds and lets us experience Leonard as he experiences his own story, and the plot twist we get at the end of the story in learning about Leonard what he cannot see for himself. That we further get to see a reality that portrays Leonard’s humanity, and the nature of his change through the eyes of Natalie, Teddy, Burt, and Jimmy is pure excellence.

Memento 5

My one complaint about the movie rests in the nature of how Leonard’s illness was drawn incorrectly. Memento aimed to explain Leonard with feeling, understanding, and a sense of getting into Leonard’s head without explicitly narrating this for us, and for this the movie deserves praise. In this process, the film gets some detail wrong. Yinnette Sano from Bryn Mawr College describes Leonard as suffering from anterograde amnesia, or “a selective memory deficit…[wherein]…the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” The film’s emphasis that Leonard had no amnesia is wrong. Further, to suggest that Leonard might be struggling with remembering his identity, his character, and fundamentally who he was, does not ring true. The psychologically complex and emotionally messy part of Leonard, as distinct from the memory loss (aka anterograde amnesia), is fine for me.

Overall, Memento remains the breakout hit that has opened the door for other movies in the Nolan collection that I have truly enjoyed. On its own, Memento works well. Consider checking this movie out for yourself.

Matt – Sunday, April 2, 2017

 

5,863-days to a new career

Today’s post has it’s beginning in early December last year when we had the Kleenex tissue meeting at my workplace. My colleagues and I were told over the course of the morning how my business unit had been sold in a fashion where the jobs would disappear in waves over the coming 18-months.

A small number of us with specific jobs other than my own would be given the opportunity to transfer over. Others would be asked to stay through the 18-months. Most of us would be provided with a 60-day notice and a severance package.

Unlike some of my colleagues, Lynn and I chose to keep this news pretty close to the vest. That is, I waited to see Lynn in person before sharing the news with her or the in-laws. Sharing Facebook friends with other less reticent people, Lynn captured knowledge of the news before my chance to look her in the eye and address concerns that you’d expect to appear in this case. Overall, Lynn understood my rationale and accepted the news pretty well. To this day, the means of sharing the news coupled with sharing my plans for working the problem pragmatically worked. Focusing on accepting the fact of the setback while acknowledging that it hurt seemed to have offered a sense of normalcy and optimism.

Through the time since, Lynn and I have updated our LinkedIn profile, become acquainted with Glass Door, Zip Recruiter, and Indeed as services. We worked with the displacement services to finesse a more professionally written resume; much has changed in the approach to resumes in the 16-years since landing the job I was losing. I reached out to people across my current industry, from school, in Toastmasters. The idea was to network with resilience and a positive demeanor with those in a position to help.

The decisive turn in finding our next opportunity came about three weeks ago when a former boss responded with his willingness to help. In less than a week, I had interviewed with five different people while passing a skills assessment with this company. Over the weekend that then appeared, the group that wanted to hire me extended an offer. Yesterday, news came back that my background check went well. My new role will start in 10-calendar days.

Today was the end of my 60-day notice period. The job I learned would disappear in December ended today, after 16-years and roughly 2.5-weeks. Next week, I get a “spring break” of sorts as I get to enjoy some relaxation before starting in full force in my new adventure. Today, as I joined many of my colleagues in saying goodbye on our respective last day, is emotionally sad, bittersweet, and a chance for saying farewell after 5,863 days.

Life happens. You feel sad, deal with the feelings, and then use the hurt to focus on moving forward. Lynn and I are happy that things are working out for us. Things are working better for us than for others; I am extending help and empathy where I can. Offer thanks for good fortune and support where possible; do the same with a helping hand where practical.

Matt – Friday, March 31, 2017