Monday, 29 June 2015

New issue of the Human Givens journal out now

What's inside this issue:

Editorial: The intention behind focusing attention

How we are: 
News, views and information: Role of the amygdala • teenagers and risk • belonging • triggering forgetting • false memory • predicting suicide • thinking versus feeling • language and perception • bystander effect in children • writing as therapy • expectation • inattention • playing up for dad • loneliness and social pressure • addictions • depression and falls • job loss • boredom and schizophrenia

The pleasures within life’s limits 

Pat Williams takes a truly epicurean view

The uses and abuses of hypnosis

Ivan Tyrrell warns of the dark side of what we know as a powerful therapeutic tool

 “If the doors and windows are locked, try the keyhole” 

Martin Dunne thinks laterally to help a woman refusing to face her anorexia

“I’m only here because they wanted me to come” 

Jo Ham works hard to engage a nervous client not willingly attending therapy

Seeing beyond sight loss 

Denise Winn talks with Tom Pey about the major challenges of helping young blind people to get their needs met

Ethical dilemmas of working with older people 

Declan Lyons and Therese O’Carroll take a human givens approach to the ethics of caregiving for older people

A little bit special 

Sandra Robilliard makes new sense of her life, after discovery that she is on the autistic spectrum

Helping couples cope with their struggle for a child 

Emma Charlton uses a human givens framework for the fertility support group she co-facilitates

Sandwell’s trailblazing mental health service: the update 

Ian Walton describes the inspirational results of changed primary care practices, part inspired by the human givens approach

PLUS: Book Reviews

Find out more about the Human Givens journal and subscribe here.

Monday, 22 June 2015

HG Library: Our playful species - Ivan Tyrrell talks with Desmond Morris

Ivan Tyrrell discusses with Desmond Morris why human beings became creative symbolisers and why so many artists lead dysfunctional personal lives. This interview is from the Human Givens Journal Volume 20, No 2, (2013).

Interview with Desmond Morris - Our playful species.

Ivan Tyrrell (left) and Desmond Morris (right)

TYRRELL: I greatly enjoyed your new book, The Artistic Ape, which features over 350 fascinating artworks from across the world to illustrate your exploration of the evolution of art over the past three million years. It touches on so many topics of interest to me – not only art history but also the origins of creativity and why we humans have the urge to transform what we see. Yet, back in the 1960s, you were mocked for saying in your groundbreaking book, The Naked Ape, that we had not only basic animal needs but also more complex ones.

The Artistic Ape
MORRIS: Yes. I got into enormous trouble for saying that humans have a lot of inborn qualities beyond basic survival ones such as feeding and mating. We are the most playful species, and our brains are designed in such a way that they require continual activity. The worse thing you can do to human beings is put them in solitary confinement with nothing to do.

TYRRELL: Absolutely: a terrible fate to contemplate.

MORRIS: I think there are two categories of givens, to use your excellent term: the essential ones, like breathing, feeding, drinking, temperature control and so on – those are class A givens because, without those, you quickly die. The class B givens, which are the ones that you’re interested in, make you thoroughly miserable if they are not met, but don’t kill you.

TYRRELL: Some people kill themselves when class B needs aren’t met, though.

MORRIS: Well, that’s right. So let’s say that from slightly miserable through to clinically depressed and suicidal is the range of conditions you suffer from if your class B givens are not satisfied, and they are the ones that have been ignored. No one can ignore the class A givens. But, back in the 50s and 60s, learning psychologists argued that everything else is conditioning. They thought that we came into the world as a blank slate and society wrote everything on it. When I said that this was wrong and that we had a whole lot of other needs, I was vilified.

TYRRELL: You say in your new book that art began with a need – to celebrate a special occasion.

MORRIS: Quite so. Life for a herbivore is just non-stop solitary eating whereas, when you kill a large animal, you suddenly have a feast to enjoy and you want to celebrate the knowledge that the tribe isn’t going to starve. So the feast became hugely important to our hunter–gatherer ancestors. Our playful primate brains couldn’t do what lions do – sleep for 16 hours after a hunt and a meal – that didn’t suit our type of brain. We had to celebrate! To make this a special occasion, we started singing, dancing, painting our faces and telling stories. That, I believe, was the root of art. I can’t prove it but when you look at child art, and at the extraordinary artistic creativity throughout all cultures, producing art seems to have become an innate need. We have to visually improve the environment and make it more interesting and this has come out of that early need to celebrate I think.

A celebration wasn’t just a playful thing – it was beyond that; it also cemented the social bonds of the tribe. You only have to look at the present hunting ritual of the football match to see the way supporters are cemented together by their love of Darlington United or whatever. If it is their club, they care desperately about the goal being scored, because the scoring of the goal is a metaphorical killing of the prey. And, if they win the cup, huge celebrations occur. The passion and emotion that goes into a simple ball game is extraordinary because it recreates that ancient circumstance and gives people a chance to celebrate.

This whole story of elaborating the environment through art, making everything more attractive, more colourful, more complicated, more exaggerated, seems to me to be so deeply engrained that you have to start thinking, well, maybe this is a given too – a deep seated innate need. I don’t see it as an emotional need; I see it in terms of brain activity – the human brain abhors inactivity. One way it adds activity is in what I call adult play: the arts, scientific research, all the activities that we look upon as our greatest achievements are really just forms of adult play. We are exercising the brain and keeping the brain busy and, if you don’t do that in some way or another, then you cannot flourish.

TYRRELL: Yes. What we talk about is the innate need to be physically and mentally stretched in several ways. A busy brain is a healthy brain. We find meaning in activity.

MORRIS: It’s a tremendously important given. I have travelled all over the world, 107 countries now, and haven’t yet found a culture where this need for meaningful activity or play doesn’t apply. I was in an extremely remote part of Africa once, where the people were scratching a living, just surviving; their houses were a few sticks. It was the most appalling inhospitable place I had ever been to; the temperature was about 130 ̊F. They had no belongings – just a couple of spears, a cooking pot and a few goats. Then I looked at their loincloths and they were covered in beads. One particular one had a button and zip fasteners stitched into it; these would have been scraps of rubbish they found somewhere.

TYRRELL: Isn’t that strange? And it goes right the way back. Some amazing 30,000 year-old bead costumes were uncovered in a burial site near to Moscow. There were thousands of ivory mammoth beads and it was estimated that each one of them took an hour to drill!

MORRIS: The thing is, provided your tribe has the basic survival needs covered, food, shelter and so on, the primate brain won’t let people sit around doing nothing. It isn’t designed that way, so, once you are beyond survival, you have to keep your brain active or you become stressed.

TYRRELL: But what about these tribes in South America that spend hours lying about in ham- mocks? A lot of people seem to be content to do very little – in our culture too.

MORRIS: Yes, I have one of those hammocks; it took a girl three years to make. It’s a work of art. I am thinking of some tribes in Columbia, which shut a girl away when she first menstruates, allowing her out only at night, to be washed by her mother. She is isolated in a room and has to stay there for her teenage years making a hammock. It is the most beautiful thing, a creative artistic act, rather than something for resting on. When she has finished her hammock, she is released and there is a ritual dance in which she bumps into young men and knocks them over and, after the dance, she chooses one of them and I suppose they get to use the hammock. But, as for doing very little, yes, there are some tribes who at a very early stage discovered narcotics and magic mushrooms and all these other natural narcotics. The one way that you can overcome the human brain’s need for activity is to drug it, and narcotics have been used for centuries for that.

TYRRELL: You mentioned child art earlier. I found your descriptions in The Artistic Ape of the innate progression of child art fascinating.

MORRIS: It is. A colleague of mine went all over the world giving children paper and pencils and found that, at certain ages, they all draw exactly the same things. She was absolutely astonished. They all start by scribbling, then eventually get round to drawing a circle, then put marks inside the circle. Then they gradually organise those marks into a face and have legs and arms coming out of it. This behaviour is universal, as is drawing the sun with rays coming out of it – wherever you go, if children draw the sun, they draw rays coming out of it. But these rays don’t exist in nature!

TYRRELL: So why do they draw them?