Thursday, July 21, 2022

Body Mass Index --Is the BMI For Real, or is the B for Baloney?


The Controversy:

The Body Mass Index is a common graph used for determining what a patient’s “normal” weight should be, based on their weight and height. Nevertheless, some have claimed it to be outdated, unscientific, inaccurate and even racist. Yet many doctors and weight loss authorities still use it and feel it is reliable. What is it and is it accurate?

 I recently had a visit with my new doctor. Some people dread going to the doctor, but I’ve always looked forward to it. I’m generally pretty healthy. I used to be an athlete, and I still try to keep in pretty good shape. Not great, but pretty good, and usually a little better than my age bracket. A visit to the doctor is normally uneventful, and sometimes even complementary. (Full disclosure: I carry a bit more belly fat than I’d like to, which I credit to years of working long hours, and I’ve got a touch of osteoarthritis from an old car injury). When the COVID lockdown ended, I started hitting the gym nearly every day for an hour or two, and I put on a good bit of muscle, even if I didn't burn much fat.

 I wasn’t surprised when the doctor told me, “You have to lose weight!” In fact, I heartily agreed, “I know! After a year in lockdown I could certainly stand to lose about 20 pounds.”

 “NO! You have to lose 50 pounds! You’re almost morbidly obese!”

 Obese?! For once, I was at a loss for words. Was he even looking at me? There was no one else in the room, but what he was saying didn’t make sense. I’m not a terribly large person, I’m only 5 foot 5”. Twenty pounds lighter and I’d look pretty good. 25 pounds would be pushing it a bit, but FIFTY POUNDS? I’d look like skeleton. Sure I’m a bit chubby, but obese? Morbidly obese?!  

 “It’s THE BMI! BODY MASS INDEX!” he snapped, “It’s your body composition!”

 I thought quickly. “Are you looking at the scale for women, maybe?” I asked, even though he was quoting out of his head. He told me it was the same for men and women. The only factors to consider, he said, were weight and height, but that didn’t make any sense to me. A woman my height might reasonably be much lighter than I am, if she had delicate bone structure and very little muscle or fat. Aside from my spare tire, I’d added enough muscle to my chest and shoulders since the COVID lockdown that the new jacket I bought only a year ago didn’t fit over my shoulders anymore.

At this point, red flags were going up in my mind. I’d never had a doctor say anything like this to me before, and for me, his judgement was coming into question, because what he was saying didn't sound scientific. “You know muscle is heavier than fat?” I felt compelled to ask. He insisted that it didn’t matter. It was all the same, he said, only height and weight mattered. I was flummoxed. 

As far as he was concerned, there was no more to discuss. BMI was everything there was. All of this shook my faith in the doctor, but maybe he was right and I was wrong. He was the doctor after all. Could I actually be the thinnest obese man in history?

As I left the office, I suppressed the urge to eat an entire pizza in protest, and decided to learn a bit about the BMI when I got home.

I Have to Educate Myself
As a motivational coach, I’ve dealt with a lot of weight loss clients. I deal with their feelings and motivations, but I leave the technicalities of weight and diet to their health care professionals. I can help the clients get over their mental and emotional hurdles, but I don’t tell them what goals to reach for. So I knew about the Body Mass Index (BMI), but I didn’t know the specifics.

What little I did know was that the very concept of “body composition” is the ratio of muscle to non-muscle tissue, and for practical purposes of weight loss, what mattered was the percentage of fat versus non-fat, and it’s common knowledge that muscle weighs more than fat of the same volume.

I also knew there were other variables involved. Gender matters. Males tend to have denser bone and muscle than females as a result of hormonal changes at puberty. Another thing to be considered is age. A 20-year old is usually going to have a stronger metabolism and naturally fitter body than a 40-year old, even if the 40 year old exercises a whole lot more, and I’m 60! (I don’t look a day over 58, though). Race and genetics are another issue that has to be factored in. Different ethnicities store fat in different ways and in different parts of the body, and may not offer the same weight/height ratios.There are probably other specific variables as well.


There it is, the BMI chart. And sure enough, It says I’m vastly overweight. But you know what? It might say you’re overweight too! You’ll notice there’s no accounting for any of those other, obvious, variables. I thought there might be a more sophisticated version of the chart and searched for it on the web, but there aren’t any. Maybe the doctor was right, but to my mind, simple common sense says this chart is both incorrect and also unscientific--two variables, height and weight, simply aren’t enough to accurately gauge a person’s health. 

It didn’t take me long to discover a whole lot more. There’s a lot of material about the BMI available, but it wasn’t the dry science I was expecting.

The Quetelet Scale
Are you Belgian? Are you more than 150 years old? If you answered “no” to these questions, the the BMI may not be right for you!

The BMI, was originally known as The Quetelet Scale, after it’s creator was Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet (1796-1874). Quetelet was possessed of one of those brilliant, inquisitive, scientific minds which this period in history produced so many of. He focused his considerable mental powers on many aspects of the natural sciences and the arts, but his two greatest passions were astronomy and mathematics. Stars aside, He felt that numerical statistics could capture and describe the idealized perfection of nature (which he believed to be graphed as a bell curve). He further felt that once that mathematical ideal was established from a small pool of data, it could be generalized out reliably to a much larger population. To that end, he compiled statistics on all kinds of things, including crime rates, marriage rates and, since he was artistically inclined, perfect human proportions. He came up with the formula for the ideal human body based on the formula: weight x height2. In other words,  'the weight increases as the square of the height' This formula was based on measurements from the humans he happened to have at hand, and is sort of the way you's measure the volume of a milk bottle. He published his findings in 1830, and the numbers have not been revised since. 

He was not a doctor. He didn’t know much about medical or structural variations or about human anatomy, and he didn’t intend the Quetelet Scale to be a diagnostic tool. It was more of a philosophical exercise.

The Quetelet Scale enters a New Century
Ancel Benjamin Keys (1904 – 2004) was another brilliant scientist of a different century, and a trailblazer in the field of nutrition. We can credit him for the our modern understanding of the relationship of cholesterol to heart disease, the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and a number of other discoveries which have become the cornerstones of modern nutritional science. He helped formulate special meals for the soldiers in WW2 based on their caloric needs and it’s rumored the (in)famous K-Ration of WW2 got the “K” in Keys’ honor. 

One of his grandest research projects was the Seven Country Study, which charted the relationship of diet and longevity (particularly heart disease) in seven different countries over a period of several decades. He followed the health histories and measurements of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people over the years in order to get a large sampling of data. In order to process and quantify all the data he was collecting, he chose the Quetelet scale out of convenience, because out of all the existing scales for body mass, he felt the Quetelet Scale was mathematically the most complete, and therefor, convenient for his purposes. When he published some of his findings in 1972, he included the Quetelet Scale, which he renamed The Body Mass Index. But he was clear that it was really only useful for processing large amounts of demographic data, not for use on individuals. 

Today
So there we have it. An academic exercise conducted by Belgian astronomer nearly 200 years ago in the search for mathematical perfection, picked up in 1972 as a convenient demographic tool. It does not figure things like muscle vs. fat, activity level, age, gender, nutrition habits or an individual’s genetic variations. It simply calculates the volume of a human body as if it’s a jam jar. 

So why on earth would modern doctors today, people of science, take up this bit of outdated ephemera when modern tools and methods could provide better data? To be fair, a lot of medical experts neither use nor endorse it. Many have come up with better alternatives. Yet some doctors have accepted it without questioning it’s obvious flaws. Many sources on the internet present it as simple fact without any discussion of it’s failings. According to what I’ve been able to glean, many medical schools are still teaching it, and the students are accepting and absorbing it (even though their own eyes are probably giving them contradictory data!). So why would medical schools promote something that one’s own sense contradicts?

I don’t know. According to some of the sources below, the BMI was picked up and endorsed not by medical experts, but by health insurance companies who felt is assessed the health risks of their customers accurately (and with a good safety margin for the company, I’d imagine). Apparently, a lot of people who teach it never even thought to question it. It’s just been passed along by tradition.  

Are There Better Ways To Measure Fat?
If you want to get an accurate gauge of your weight and health, it goes without saying that you should consult with a health care professional who is trained and qualified. They will know the best course of action for you regarding testing, and for helping you reach your own health and fitness goals.

 There are a number other more thorough body mass indices. One that attempts to address the shortcomings of the BMI is the ABSI (A Body Shape Index). The ABSI was created at City College of New York, with an initial pool of test subjects that included over 14,000 people, and it has since been reaffirmed with even larger sample groups. It is still a generalization, but at least it includes more of the obvious, important variables: age, gender, waist diameter as well as height and weight. If more exacting tests are needed, there are a number of them. I’ve listed the common ones below.

Body Composition Testing Methods
Skinfold Caliper Test-- This is a very common test with athletes and body builders, and is considered to be an easy and fairly accurate test for measuring subcutaneous (beneath the skin) fat. It uses a special caliper which pinches the skin in several specific places around the body to measure the thickness of the fat underneath. The thicker the pinch, the more fat. These measurements are then calculated to get an overall average. It can also indicate which parts of the body have the most or least fat stored in them (which can be an important finding in certain situations). There are several obvious shortcomings of this test. It can’t measure fat stored deep inside the body, only under the skin. It can also be inaccurate if too much or too little pressure is applied with the calipers, or if the pinch is too big or too small. Individuals may also have more or less dense skin, regardless of the fat beneath.  

Bioelectric Impedance Analysis-- This utilizes a device that sends an imperceptible electric current through the body, and measures the amount of electrical resistance the body offers. Since fat has a greater electrical resistance than muscle or water, measuring the resistance will tell how much fat is conducting the current. For the test, several electrodes are attached to various parts of the body. The test itself can be done fairly quickly. Some sources feel it’s reliability is questionable, just because there are so many things that can potentially throw off the results--exercising before the test, dehydration, skin temperature, room temperature, medication, etc. Nevertheless its fast and convenient and a good starting point. There are even home devices you can hold between your hands, although their accuracy seems questionable. 

Hydrostatic Weight Measurement--  This is also considered a very accurate measurement of body composition, though some sources indicate it’s considered a bit old fashioned, perhaps due to the complexity of test. An individual’s weight is measured before the test (dry), and then the individual is submerged in a tank of water and weighed again. The theory behind it is that fat is more buoyant than non-fat, so the individual will weight less when submerged. By noting the difference between the wet and dry weight, they can get a pretty accurate measurement of the actual amount of fat by weight.

Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA)-- This involves a special scanner that creates an X-ray imaging of the entire body that also measures the density of the various structures--bones, organs, fat and muscle. This is obviously an extremely accurate way of measuring and seeing the fat in different places, and it can also measure density of bones and other organs. It generally takes about 15 minute or less to do.

Thoughts About The Other Controversial Points
In fairness, the BMI isn’t entirely inaccurate, either. It was based on measurements taken from “average” (not physically active) 19th century Belgian men, who tended to be somewhat smaller, and lighter due to the their diet and living conditions. So while modern 20-21st century American and European people across the board are a bit bigger and heavier, the BMI does seem to be more accurate with younger, less physically active women (physical activity tends to add muscle mass and throw off the accuracy).

A number of sources (including a few of the links cited below) state the BMI to be “racist.” By now we’ve established it isn’t a reliable index for any other group except 200 year old Belgians. I don’t know if Quetelet even knew that different human genetic groups had different anatomical specifics, but most likely, he didn’t know or consider it. He wasn’t a medical man. However it’s fair to say it’s application by modern medicine to a broad range of race and body types is, at least, misguided.

When I was discussing this with someone, they asked why the gender discussion is only in terms of male and female and ignores more of the gender variations that are accepted in the 21 century. I have no answer to that, since I didn’t find any data about that. I imagine that this is why it’s important to have qualified professionals interpret the data, and that we’ll see more variation in the future.

 
***

Note that this article is purely for information and perhaps entertainment value, and is not intended to provide medical advice or diagnose anything. Always consult with the appropriate, qualified professionals about all your health concerns.

***

FURTHER READING:
Quetelet and the BMI
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolphe_Quetelet

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17890752/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-bmi-accurate

https://academic.oup.com/ndt/article/23/1/47/1923176
(This excellent article has a much more detailed historical and scientific discussion than most)

https://www.businessinsider.com/bmi-is-bogus-best-way-to-tell-if-youre-a-healthy-weight-2016-9

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439

https://www.cnet.com/health/nutrition/why-your-bmi-just-isnt-that-important/

BMI And Race
https://elemental.medium.com/the-bizarre-and-racist-history-of-the-bmi-7d8dc2aa33bb

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265215

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bmi-for-black-women

https://www.cnet.com/health/whats-the-difference-between-bmi-and-body-composition/ 

 Ancel Keys and the Seven Country Study
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancel_Keys

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Countries_Study

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31338844/

Better Body Weight Measurements
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5612697/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-71302-5

https://www.absicalculator.eu/

https://www.absi-calculator.com/

Fat Calipers
https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/measure-bodyfat

https://www.verywellfit.com/calculate-body-fat-by-measuring-skinfolds-3120273

https://www.fitstream.com/articles/how-to-measure-body-fat-using-calipers-a38

http://www.linear-software.com/online.html
(web page has built in calculators for six different methods)

Bioelectric Impedance Analysis
https://www.verywellfit.com/bioelectrical-impedance-analysis-bia-3495551

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioelectrical_impedance_analysis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4118362/

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-35

X Ray Imaging
https://radiology.ucsf.edu/blog/dxadexa-beats-bmi-using-x-ray-exam-measure-body-composition-fat-loss

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079847/

https://health.ucdavis.edu/sports-medicine/resources/dxa-info

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0261561405002098

Hydrostatic Weight Measurement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrostatic_weighing

https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-hydrostatic-underwater-weighing-3120276

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Report: Fundamentals of Psychology in Context, Third Edition by Kosslyn and Rosenburg (c) 2007

 

Fundamentals of Psychology in Context, Third Edition
by Kosslyn and Rosenburg (c) 2007

I don't know how you spent your lockdown, but (after a long period of doing not very much) I decided to use the time to take some on-line classes, and one of them was revisiting Psych 101, and this was the textbook. Right from the top, it should be noted that this is the third edition. There is a more recent fourth edition, renamed Introducing Psychology: Brain, Person, Group. 

When I took classes like this on college, textbooks were a source of dread. They were heavy, expensive, boring, and for all of that, never seemed to provide answers so much as confusion, since they never quite agreed with what the teachers taught, leading us to wonder if they even read these things themselves. Well, times change, and now I'm an old weirdo who actually likes to read textbooks and academic materials, no matter how dry they might seem. And so, as soon as I got the book, I started from page one and read the whole thing. 

A great deal of thought seems to have gone into the structure of this book. Every Intro to Psychology course outlines the basics of this discipline, including history, neurology, and different theories, and this book is no different. To it's credit, it's written in a very readable style. Each chapter explores an element of the mind sciences, and each chapter builds on the information in the chapter before it, so it's very logical, and the examples of behavior are taken from examples we all know about including sports movies and public figures, like Tiger Woods and Jackie Chan. Starting with chapters on basic neurology, there are chapters which attempt to clearly define and explain sensation and perception, memory, motivation and emotion, etc. At the end of each chapter there's a 15 question multiple choice quiz (with answers) as well as some topics to inspire further discussion. I probably would have hated that in college, but I found the quizzes very helpful for reviewing the information. on top of that, the publisher offers additional, downloadable material on MP3 to listen to on the go (I have not accessed any of that). every page also highlights key phrases, and marginal notes synopsize important points to make studying easy.

A novel approach (as far as I know) is the book's stress on evaluating ever element of mind and behavior from The Three Levels of Analysis-- brain, person, and group. It's an excellent way of analysis because most things work on all three of these levels at the same time. The level of the Brain is or course neurological and neurochemical, the level of the Person deals with, of course, the person, their behaviors and feelings, and the level of the Group, which involves how those psychological elements help (or hurt) the individual interact with the society around them. Too often we can develop a microscopic or macroscopic view and lose sight of the whole picture, so the frequent use of this model through the chapters is excellent training for thinking in this discipline. 

The authors have extensive credits and credentials in their field both in neurology and psychology on staff at Harvard and several others Ivy League institutions. They also have extensive book credits for psych text books.

A few gripes: As a hypnotist, I'm always a little disappointed at how dismissive, if not actually hostile, many psychologists are (except the ones who have learned hypnosis. They usually love it). This book touches on hypnosis only very lightly and in an off hand way. They mention that it might help with memory, it might help with sports performance. No serious discussion of it as a scientific therapeutic modality (though in fairness, that may be more appropriate for a more advanced course).

While the various principles and studies the authors give are all extensively backed by scientific data, as you would expect for a science text, some of it seems a bit.. rushed? Remember when you had a deadline for a paper and you threw in a bunch of examples but didn't really document or explain them them clearly? I kind of got the feeling the authors were working against a deadline. with the advent of Google and the internet, I, or you, can now fact check for inaccuracies (for example getting the dates wrong for Kohlberg's Dilemma, a study of morality and emotional development. They reference related data from 1969 and 1994, while the actual study was from the mid 50s, and that one decade is makes a huge difference. The 1950s was for the most part still the paleolithic era, and it is apparent in some of the roughness of the way the data was organized. The following decade or so would be literally revolutionary, in the sciences as elsewhere). There are minor things and probably corrected in the more recent edition of a book that covers a lot of ground.

A more general gripe, is not with the book but with the standard "academic" way this subject is taught. Looking back at it now, and with years of experience tiptoeing through people psychs, as well as years of experience trying to appeal to people's feelings when working in advertising, I'd much rather hav a class that explored the concepts first, and left all that history and mechanics to more advanced classes. For one thing, the history is a lot more interesting when you have a firm grasp of where the practice is today. For another a person has better retention of the facts when they can fit all that into a fleshed out concept. Save the history and the minutia for later.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Book Report: The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simons (c)2009

The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simons (c)2009

The famous Invisible Gorilla video has been a favorite of people studying cognitive behaviors, as well as just a really fun and interesting video to share with your friends. If you haven't seen the video, or if you want to watch it again, I've embedded it below. There's also a second, follow up video, in case you'd like to see the effect applied with some variation, or if the first video didn't work for you. Go ahead and click on it now, and then I'll continue the discussion below. It's short, so be sure to give it your full attention and follow the directions for best results.

 

 
 

There you go. Were you surprised, or did you catch it? In a nutshell, we are always presented with more data than our mind can consciously process. Nevertheless, we always think we can catch it all.

(I have to say I had some frustrations with this book, but I'll get to those later in this article. First let's explore what the book covers). 

The gist of the book is that we can fall victims to various "illusions" that compromise our ability to make good decisions, and we don't even know it. Just as many people fail to see the gorilla, many people are unaware of the illusions that affect our judgement, and these illusions actually make us think we're making better decisions than we are. (Fans of the mental sciences know of these as "cognitive biases" and there are over 200, but the authors only deal with the most prevalent ones). 
The Gorilla video, introduces us to what they call the Illusion of Attention. We assume the more closely we pay attention, the more accurate our perceptions will be, but the videos demonstrate that close attention can actually foil our complete perceptions of a situation.  

There are several of these "illusions" that are explored very thoroughly, with historical cases and experimental data to illustrate how these illusions are responsible for making us deviate from the right decisions while believing we are correct. We learn about the Illusion of Memory, whereby we assume the more detailed our memories are, the more accurate we think they are, the Illusion of Confidence, whereby we assume the more confident person to be the more correct one, when in fact, sometimes the less correct a person is, the more confident they are, and several other cognitive illusions which are good to know. The book concludes with presentations of situations where we are encouraged to spot the illusions at work and a strong case for making deliberate, well thought out, scientifically based decisions in our everyday life.

My Issues with This Book
There were three big klinkers that stuck out about this book:
--Denial of the Existence of the Subconscious Mind
--Reduction of All Decisions into Right and Wrong
--Overemphasis of Experimental Procedures

Denial of the Way The Subconscious Works
This is a book that, like a number of other popular books (including Vedantam's The Hidden Brain and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink covered elsewhere in this blog) uses elements of cognitive sciences shine a light on our everyday thinking. 
 But while the other two books seek to shine a light on the sometime mysterious processes of the subconscious mind, the authors of these book really deny the existence of the subconscious entirely, and, in a manner which reminded me of several of my older, stuffier, college professors, insist that any decision that is not made with slow, conscious deliberation, is simply wrong, and for me, as a hypnotist runs counter to what I know to be demonstrably true. 

When I picked up this book, I expected to be reading a rather dry examination of cognitive and perceptual sciences, perhaps with a dose of neurology thrown in, so I was surprised that they used the "invisible gorilla" as a metaphor for several cognitive biases. Moreover, Malcolm Gladwell, and his books are mentioned a number of times, and by the end of the book, it seems that at least one of the purposes of this book is a refutation of Gladwell's Blink. (In a nutshell, Blink examined how those instantaneous, subconscious decisions are made. Gladwell, is a careful, insightful writer, and researches and explains everything. There is nothing we have to take on faith. His book offers both situations where these fast decisions work when even science has failed, and also cases where intuitive decisions failed badly. (Gladwell's examples include the Getty Kouros, a celebrated "ancient" work of art discovered to be a fraud based on one expert's intuition, as well as the tragic case of Amadou Diallo, shot 40+ times by undercover cops whose instincts went horribly wrong). The book Blink explains the mental mechanics behind these and other situations, what works, what doesn't and how they can be improved. 

The Invisible Gorilla keeps stressing that any quick, intuitive decision is going to be less accurate, but they don't really explore why in any great depth. We are led to understand that conscious, well deliberated, decisions are reliable when nothing else is.

Why is this problematic? In a perfect (may I even say, academic?) world, we could deliberate on every decision before committing to action, but in real life, we'd never survive. So many of our most necessary decisions have to be fast, and are often done under stress. Imagine you're driving on a busy street and a child darts out in front of you. Do you hit the breaks and risk the car behind you smashing into your rear, or turn your car into another lane and possibly collide with another car? There's no time to evaluate the options! 

The Invisible Gorilla dismisses unconscious decision as baseless, emotional or the result of an unconscious bias, but in fact, subconscious functions of the mind are very specific and have their own logic, different from the conscious mind. Most pertinent, the subconscious mind can maintain and process and enormous amount of simple data at the same time without the conscious mind being aware of it (right now, your subconscious is monitoring all kinds of environmental data, like room temperature, the feeling of the chair you're sitting on, the things around you, etc. It's also aware of internal things, like the operation of your internal organs, but won't bring that information to your conscious mind until something needs attention, like your stomach needing filling or your bladder needing emptying. On top of that, it also maintains all kinds of thoughts and memories and the associations between them). The subconscious mind doesn't handle many complicated or abstract thoughts, but it does compile sets instantaneous behaviors based on conscious behaviors and their results. Going back to our example of driving, a beginning driver has to consciously deliberate on everything he does behind the wheel, from parking brake to steering wheel, but with practice, all those behaviors and their results get compiled into instantaneous actions that most experienced drivers never really even think about anymore. 

Reduction of All Results Into Right or Wrong
Since instinctive decisions are short and fast, they can't be as all-encompassing as a consciously deliberated decision. They may not always be the best possible decision, but many times, we don't need the perfect solution, just good enough. The book tends to view all outcomes as either right or wrong (like a professor grading exams!) even when the data they quote shows a broader range of results. In my earlier example of the child running out in front of your car, lets suppose you were afraid there was a car behind you, so you turned into the next lane and had a minor collision. Not a good outcome, but you avoided hitting the little kid in front of you, so you still achieved your goal, albeit at the cost of your fender. Even when you reexamined the scene and discovered there was actually no car behind you, and you would probably have been better off stopping short, you still didn't make the wrong decision, just the best possible one in the time alloted. The only wrong decision would have been to hold off making a decision while you examined all the possibilities. 

Overemphasis of The Experimental Method
Fairly early in the book, they compare data collected from actual events ("empirical") versus data taken from controlled experiments, and decree that only experimental data is reliable and valuable due to the controls scientists have in the lab. HUH? Experiments are usually based on empirical data. If you can't observe something already extant (or at least hypothesize it), you cant set up an experiment to examine it further. It's generally accepted that both are important sources of information and both have a certain value, and each has it's limits. For me, this idea was the most unexpected and questionable part of the whole book, and smacks of academic ideology as opposed to science.The authors are correct when they say that experimental data can be very accurate, since the experimenters can control all the elements of the experiment. But one of the most obvious failings of the experimental method is that the researchers can't factor in any element that they're not aware of, even if it's a major influence (For example, once upon a time, scientists didn't even know of the existence of germs. Scientists like Pasteur, Lister and Semmelweis experienced a lot of condemnation from their scientific peers for trying to justify basic sanitary practices). Weirdly, later in the book, they offer several other situations where experiments would be impossible to construct, wither due to ethical reason, magnitude, or the number of variables. 

This all comes around the the finale of the book where they advise that the only sensible decisions we should make in our lives are the fully thought out sort. Sure, but when the traffic is bad, we don't always have that opportunity.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Book Report: Psychonavigation Techniques for Travel Beyond Time by John Perkins (c) 1990

Psychonavigation: Techniques for Travel Beyond Time, by John Perkins (c) 1990

Background Information: Many of the books on this blog are a bit unusual. Many of the authors of these books are a bit unusual. The author of this book may be a bit more unusual than most of those. Many of John Perkins' books discuss metaphysical traditions and the indigenous cultures he learned them from. But his main claim to fame is his book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," in which he describes his rise from a Peace Corps dropout and butterfly collector to an agent of the NSA utilizing economic incentives to manipulate third-world leaders. It's a fascinating and thought provoking book, even if the NSA has denied a lot of his claims. He has founded several non-profits devoted to environmental issues and indigenous cultures, and offers speaking engagements around the world.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Perkins_(author)
https://johnperkins.org/

 The core of this slim book is a meditational method to move around in your imagination in order to reach and communicate with some sort of a spirit or ancestral guide. It's a fun and potentially useful practice. But just as engaging is the story of the cultures from which the author has learned these methods. They include South American Tribal cultures and East Asian societies.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Book Report: Mental Dominance by Julien Ochorowicz (c)1990-1887


Mental Dominance by Julien Ochorowicz (c)1990-1887

Background information: This was originally published in 1887 as "La Suggestion Mental" ("Mental Suggestion").
The author, Julien Ochorowicz, was a leading psychologist, inventor and philosopher of his day. At the time, psychology was a budding science, and included more philosophy and spiritualism than what we think of as psychology today.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Ochorowicz

If you have an interest in telepathy this will offer both some interesting scientific discussions and also practical theories and exercises to try for yourself. It's also very interesting a a view into a slice of hypnosis history when "modern" Braid-style hypnosis was taking over from Mesmerism.

The current edition (1990) mentions that it's been "updated," so I can't say for sure how much of the book is the original, and how much has been "updated." (There are a few references to telephones and television which made me highly skeptical of it's authenticity, but according to the Ochorowicz Wiki page, he experimented with early forms of telephone and television in the late 1800s!). 

Before we go farther, it's useful to get the historical context in which the author was working. More modern, suggestion-based hypnosis was beginning to dominate the psychology world, but older Mesmerism would still have been very common. What that means is that while there was more of an acknowledgement that trance and other mental states could be brought about by verbal suggestions as is practiced with hypnosis.. Mesmerism, the older science, believed that the trance was produced in the subject by the force of the Mesmerist's will which was projected into the subject's body via a magnetic fluid that was a kind of invisible psychic energy. Telepathy and other forms of psychic communication and healing were common parts of Mesmeristic belief and practice.

According to the author's Wiki bio, he worked with a number of the members of the Society for Psychical Research, which included some of the top scientists and thinkers of the day, and seems to have been a mix of skeptics and true-believers, united in applying the latest scientific methods to psychic phenomena. So it's presumable that he pulled his data from a fairly large and well documented pool of information and experiments. 

A big part of this book, or this edition, since I don;t know how closely it relates to the 1887 edition, is to identify a working methodology for mind-to-mind communication. It's pretty thorough, and offers plenty of exercises to experiment with. 

From the top, it's interesting that, presumably after experimentation, he identifies the ideal mental state as a "monomaniacal trance" which is a trance state resulting from focusing on a single thing to the exclusion of all else. This would be the kind of "modern" hypnotic trance that was used by James Braid (who suggested the term "monoideaism" --focusing on a single-- as a better name for hypnosis). Orochowicz further designates two degrees of this monomaniacal trance-- a slightly deeper, more passive one for recieving, and a slightly more active one for transmitting. 

Different scenarios are described, but it is particularly interesting that he observes that while a suggestion may be received, it may take some time for it to emerge from the subconscious of the receiver and be perceived or acted upon. He feels that a strong, persistent suggestion will be transmitted more effe3ctively than an overly intense one, and that combining the mental suggestion with some kind of physical action will be more effective than the mental suggestion alone. 

The Fourth part of the book offers exercises to strengthen one's "Animal Magnetism," which include things like visualizing and moving energy through the body, controlling your sensations of cold and heat, self-discipline and controlling emotions, etc. 

In an interesting procedure for psychic persuasion of others, the author distinguishes two parts of persuasion: Preparation and Ultimatum. (The procedure involves preparing by cultivating one's energy for a long time before your expected encounter with the person you want to persuade. When you meet them, hold overwhelmingly positive feelings, and hold your desired idea in your mind the entire time, and even imagine hugging them in you mind. Finally you make a definitive statement (mental, presumably) and they should be persuaded!). 

Another interesting observation is that these kinds of suggestions can take a longer amount of time than most other authors indicate. For a simple suggestion, this author advises 3-4 weeks of preparation, while a meaningful change of behavior may take 6 months of daily hour-long suggestions. Presumably this was backed up by some experimental data(?). 

There's a big section on finding and influencing your soulmate. I find it rather hard to believe that this was part of Ochorowicz' original manuscript, but most likely a contribution of the 1990 edition. Still, it is an interesting discussion and follows the Authors basic methodology. And again, a much longer commitment is recommended-- 40 daily sessions, with a minimum of 15!

Finally, there are a number of visualization exercises to strengthen focus and imagination, and, hopefully, one's psychic abilities. 

I can't say I've had the level of discipline to try these techniques as recommended, but if you have had results, I'd love to hear about them!


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Almost Everything You Have to Know About SELF HYPNOSIS

So many people are curious about self hypnosis that I figured I'd put down some of the things I always tell people, and I hope I cover all the basic questions that you have. If there's more you'd like to know, please comment or email me. 

If you've ever been formally hypnotized, self-hypnosis is just a matter of reaching that same mental state by yourself. Easy! But if you've never been formally hypnotized, you might not have a clear idea of exactly what hypnosis is, so the first thing we should do is get clear on what hypnosis is. 

Hypnosis
We probably all agree that when we think of a hypnotized person, we imagine someone who has been talked into a state of deep relaxation by a hypnotist, and then given some suggestions that will affect them when they wake up. 

It's worth noting that there are TWO important elements to consider: the trance state that the subject goes into, and the suggestions that are given while he's in the trance state. Trance without suggestion is deep relaxation, suggestions without trance are affirmations

Even though the hypnotist's client looks like they may be fast asleep, the hypnotist is very particular to help them maintain their mental focus throughout the session. If a subject is not mentally focused, how can they be given effective suggestions? (James Braid, one of the 19th century pioneers of hypnosis, preferred to use the term "Monoideaism" indicating that the hypnotized subject is focused on a single idea). They may look asleep on the outside, but they're still mentally focused on the inside. In fact, one of the definitions hypnotists like to use to describe hypnosis is: Physical Relaxation combined with Mental Focus to bypass the Conscious Mind. Mental focus? YES! For this reason, it's virtually impossible to give someone a suggestion that they don't want to accept. You can't sneak much past a hypnotized client. 

The deeply relaxed trance state is useful for delivering suggestions into a person's mind because they're very relaxed and emotionally neutral, and the conscious mind isn't occupied with any thoughts, so they're open to suggestions (as long as they don't conflict with a person's beliefs or morality). 

Typically, a person goes to a hypnotist because they want to change their habits or feelings in some way, get rid of some behaviors or improve others. Sometimes instead of going and having a live session in a hypnotist's office, they'll do a session over the internet or phone, or even listen to prerecorded hypnotic sessions on MP3, CD or cassette (if they still use cassettes!). There is some very good recorded material available on line. The one advantage of a one-on-one session with a  hypnotist is that the practitioner can customize the session to the client's specific needs. Recordings tend to be a little more generalized, but people can get good results from both.

In brief:
A hypnotist CAN:
--Make you feel deeply relaxed
--Relieve Stress
--Engage your mental focus
--Give you suggestions to make the changes you want

A hypnotists CAN'T:
--Compel you to do anything you don't want to do
--Force you to go into an unconscious state
--Make you accept suggestions you don't want to accept
--Make you do things against your will
--Force you to expose your secrets
--Read your mind

Well, that's hypnosis. What about Self-Hypnosis? 

Self-Hypnosis is very similar, but you do it yourself. A lot of people are drawn to the idea of self-hypnosis because they may be shy of committing to a session with a professional, or they may be curious, but not quite yet curious enough to seek out a professional, or maybe they're just do-it-yourselfers. These are all very acceptable reasons. Self-hypnosis can be a very useful and fun activity, and it's possible to get very good results on your own with a little practice. 

With a professional hypnotist, the advantage is that they're like your personal Uber driver-- you can sit in the back seat and they will "drive" your mind to wherever you want to go. With self hypnosis, at first, it's a bit like sitting in the back seat and still trying to drive the car yourself. It feels awkward, but once you get the knack of it you can get very good results.

There are a lot of great resources on self hypnosis. You can find a lot on the web, and there are a lot of good books available (check out the Book Reports section of this blog for some suggestions). Just as with other forms of hypnosis, you're going to want to achieve a state of deep Physical Relaxation combines with Mental Focus. The simplest way is to follow a recorded hypnosis session or a guided meditation. After using it a few times, you'll probably pick up the knack without  needing the recording. 

The most difficult part of self-hypnosis, for most people, is maintaining their mental focus when they start to get relaxed. Another pitfall is that people don't always relax very deeply just because they're not aware of how deep they can go. The third big pitfall is not composing suggestions in the best possible way. This third one can be a bit trickier, since it takes a lot of skill and experience to compose suggestions that are just right for each person.

Physical relaxation can be achieved in a number of ways. Hypnotists sometimes call these deepeners. Here are a few of the common ones:
--Focusing on relaxing every part of your body, one at a time, from the toes up. Especially focus on relaxing the face.
--Count backwards from 100, exhaling and focusing on relaxation with every number.
--Focus on an object like a coin or a spot, a sound (like a word or the sound of a bell) or a feeling in your body, and gradually let go of your awareness of the environment outside your body.
--Repeating a word, poem, prayer or mantra, slowly, to the exclusion of everything else.
--Imagining sinking deeply down into a comfortable feather bed. Alternatively, imagine flying upwards into the fluffy clouds if you're not comfortable with "sinking."

You can also combine several different deepeners, one after another. This is exactly what a lot of hypnotists would do if they were hypnotizing you. These should be able to get you into a very relaxed state, and by itself, that can be a very useful thing, A state of deep relaxation is great for beating stress, and it's often given credit for all kinds of health benefits. With practice, you'll be able to both achieve deeper, more relaxing states and do it faster and more reliably. (When I was learning hypnosis, I used to challenge myself to slipping into a ten minute trance in on my lunch hour, and I would do it sitting on a bench in the noisiest, most crowded place I could find, which was Rockefeller Center in New York). When you're finished, you can count yourself back from 5 to 1 like a rocket taking off, or just gradually wake up normally. Take a deep breath, wiggle your toes and your fingers and blink your eyes. Because hypnosis is a state of focused attention, you can't "get stuck" in trance, although beginners or people who are overtired might occasionally slip into sleep.

Being able to achieve a controlled state of deep relaxation any time you want it is a terrific accomplishment all by itself, but if you're trying to make very specific changes and improvements to your habits, you're going to want to be able to give yourself suggestions that will work directly with your subconscious. Crafting effective suggestions can be a much more complicated thing than hypnosis or self-hypnosis. A good suggestion is easily accepted by the subconscious without resistance. If a suggestion makes you feel uncomfortable, that can be a sign to reexamine both your desired goal and the kind of suggestion you''re using. You can't force your subconscious mind to accept a suggestion it doesn't like. For example, a lot of people who want to lose weight will tell themselves "I am now at my desired weight and size." If that feels good, it'll work, but if it doesn't quite feel right, that the subconscious mind saying it can't work with that suggestion. The subconscious mind is very literal, and if a person is unhappy with their weight, just trying to accept that they're now at the desired weight obviously won't do the trick. It may be better to work with a suggestion like, "I am now able to easily changing my habits to lose weight and look better." Do you see the difference? The second suggestion does not ask the subconscious mind to accept anything it feels is untrue. 

My feeling about effective suggestion is that it should encompass as many different kinds of sensation as possible, and be as dynamic as possible. So if I were creating a suggestion to stop myself from smoking, I might say "I feel great about giving up cigarettes!" But I'd go a little farther. I'd think about all those times and places that I usually smoked and then envision myself doing all those things and enjoying them more without the bitter, smelly, dirty taste and smell of the smoke. I'd feel how proud I was that the people around me didn't have to suffer my smoke, and look forward to my lungs feeling strong and clear. You'll notice all the bold, italicized words are dynamic ones. They have emotional power, and words like that really resonate with the subconscious mind.  

How to put it all together-- Practice the deep relaxation work for at least a week or two before trying to add the suggestions, just so you can achieve the trance state reliably. When you're ready to try a little "changework" and you're pretty good at the trance, prepare your suggestions in advance. Write them down, make it as dynamic as possible, and be sure you feel good about them and there's no internal resistance..
Close your eyes and begin your trance process. Go as deep as you are comfortable going, into a safe and neutral state of relaxation where you no longer notice much of the outside world. Enjoy the feeling for a few moments. When you're ready, repeat your suggestion mentally or aloud, and actually imagine living out the suggestion-- feel how it feels, hear how it goes, see yourself and your surroundings. The more vivid it is in your imagination, the stronger it's effect. (If you you feel any inner resistance at this point, make a mental note of it, so you can adjust your suggestion for next time). When you've done it to your satisfaction, and you're feeling good about it, you can come back out of trance. Count yourself back as we described above, or just gradually wake yourself up. Take a deep breath, wiggle your toes and fingers and feel fantastic!

Sometimes people have amazing, immediate results, but just as often it's a gradual process. Most people will require a few weeks of daily practice to make the changes they want.

I hope that provides a clearer view of what goes into self-hypnosis, and even some things you can experiment with yourself. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask me, or your local hypnotists.


 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Book Report: Getting What You Want by. J.H. Brennan (c) 1982

Getting What You Want by. J.H. Brennan (c) 1982

Background Information: J.H. "Herbie" Brennan is a prolific New York Times bestselling author and occultist. He has written over 100 books, including children's books, young adult, fiction and history as well as various occult subjects. 

This is a fun and practical little book about achieving your goals, the kind of thing very popular in the 70s and 80s, and again today. It's well written and well structured, and the author is an excellent and witty story teller, so the book flows. It's worth noting that this book is particularly geared towards jobseekers, but it can be applied to all kinds of things. Every self help book seems to have a guiding principle that the author sets out early, and for this book, the author not only sets it out right at the beginning of the book, but also right on the back page: "Your limitations are imaginary." It may sound kind of airy-fairy, but he very practically approaches how we too-readily accept obstacles that are self imposed and also external barriers that may not be as unyielding as we assume them to be. Part of the aim of the first part of the book is changing your attitudes and your subconscious. Of the subconscious mind, the author says "it's like having Superman for a partner, except that most of the time you don't talk to him, so he lets you go your own way."

The first part of the book includes stories to illustrate the concepts clearly to the reader, and there are several in-depth quizzes to help you self-evaluate strengths and weaknesses you may not even know you had, and to help you more clearly define your goals, so that you can adapt the principles on the book to your specific needs. 

The second part of the book offers the techniques of that the author calls "Power Play." These are various attitudes and approaches for controlling and dominating not only one's own obstacles, but situations too, like job interviews. "Power Play" includes business psychology to position yourself optimally, as well as techniques to fire up your confidence and initiative, including reframes and breathing techniques.

It's a very useful and practical little book and I'm actually surprised that after it's initial 1977 printing, it was only reprinted once in the 80s. If you come across a copy, I'm sure you'll find it a useful!