Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

A Clockwork Orange

This is one of those books I’ve been wanting to read for a long long time. I heard about it when I was in uni from a course-mate, who swore it was incredible.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess doesn’t disappoint and is a real horrorshow of a book. Narrated by Alex, who speaks with the Natsat slang, the initial pages you are trying to work out what the various words mean. But after a while you get the hang of it, and become real horrorshow. With his malchicks and devotchkas, droogs, moloko plus, veshches and all that cal.
The Ludovico Technique mentioned in the book bascially creates negative associations to ultra-violence, and any violence at all in fact, though conditioning. In their effort to employ aversion therapy on Alex, and make him sick with nausea to the point that he’d rather die when seeing/experiencing any violence at all, Alex becomes much like one of Pavlov’s dogs, unthinkingly reacting to stimuli. This is one of the questions raised in the book – is a human still human if he has no choice. Even though Alex is now incapable of doing evil, and is thus socially acceptable and law abiding, is it morally right for the state to create a clockwork orange? To deprive him of choice?
On a larger scale, the clockwork occurs on a societal level in general. In the last chapter, Alex ruminates about his life since leaving prison, and finds that in all likelihood, even though he grows out of his enjoyment of ultra-violence, the next generation of youths, and the next and the next, will also go through that whole stage. It cannot be helped, and will go on to the end of the world – like clockwork. A rather bleak picture, but on a less extreme scale, doesn’t that already happen now? The young have to still learn by making their own mistakes, even if their parents warn them and tell them the dangers. One has to go through the whole period of “growing up”.
Another interesting thing I found was the balanced point of view the book gives. That while the state was painted in the most horrible light, attempting to use inhuman techniques to rehabilitate criminals, the opposition was no better. When Alex was released from prison, and came across people who were strongly opposed to the ways of the government, they themselves were no better. They wanted to use Alex as a symbol of the state’s evil, but they felt he didn’t look ragged or tortured enough. They wanted to make him worse, to give their cause that extra oomph. They played on his weakness (which only came about because of the “rehab”) and drove him to the point where he tried decided to commit suicide. What better headline than “Government Drives Man to Suicide”?
It is clear to see that one can go too far in fighting for a cause, and forget the person at the heart of it. Alex kept asking “what about me?”, a question which was promptly ignored by all sides. After being a symbol, after the fighting, what happens to the person? I think that is a question that must seriously be grappled with.
The book is excellent in that it doesn’t give you answers straight out, but really provokes you to think about polemical issues like morality, choice, power and control, etc.
A highly recommended read.

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Ceci Est Ma Femme

I finished the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks!

Yes, its one of those books that I’ve been reading on and off for a while. It’s a highly interesting book, especially if you are interested in psychology!

Split into four parts, it looks at ‘losses’, ‘excesses’, ‘transports’, and ‘the world of the simple’.

For ‘losses’ the books focuses on right-hemisphere lesions/syndromes, which generally have effects which are difficult for the so-called ‘normal population’ to relate to. Left brain lesions can readily be localised to specific regions in the brain, and result in effects that are easier to comprehend. For example damage to Broca’s area can affect the ability to construct complex grammatical sentences. Also, patients are aware of the problem. But for right hemisphere damage, patients display remarkable anosagnosia, not realising that they have a problem at all. And it is even more difficult for us to understand what the world looks like from their point of view. For example, how is it that someone can genuinely see not see his wife’s head, but see a hat instead? Lost in a world of abstractions, this man could not see a glove as a glove, he did not recognise it. Rather when examining that specimen, he described it as “a continuous surface infolded on itself with five outpouchings…a container of some sort”, he couldn’t even guess at what it might be a container for – he couldn’t recognise the shape of the hand. And he really didn’t know, didn’t feel, that there was a problem!

Or how does it feel like to feel like your body does not belong to you, where if you do not look at your hand it will wander off on its own; where you can only control your movements if you look at your feet as you walk, look at your hands as you take something?

The topics on excesses and transports were equally interesting, but i think the most moving part was the last topic which looked at mentally retarded people. Often the ‘normal population’ sees them as being unintelligent, incapable, not being able to ‘fit in’. But as the author has found, “while they may be ‘mentally defective’ in some ways, they may be mentally interesting, even mentally complete, in others”, or even gifted in specific areas. But in the effort to make them behave in ‘socially acceptable’ ways, they are forced to do menial jobs, to conform to ‘normal’ behaviour. And in so doing, many lose their giftedness, and possibly their centre. An alternative to consider is to nurture the gifted abilities, along with an empathic relationship, to help the person develop to his/her full potential. Is it really a ‘small price to pay’ to sacrifice their giftedness in order to make them conform to society?

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