Monday 17 June 2019

My lame claim to fame - I'm featured in a Michael Crichton thriller

It's his 2006 novel Next - in which there is a page describing an article I wrote as an editorial for the journal I then edited: Medical Hypotheses.

(A couple of my friends were shocked by this when lying on the beach absorbed in their holiday reading...)

As a result, the idea was picked up and featured by the New York Times as one of their big ideas of that year. And, presumably, because of that - it has been featured in Wikipedia ever since.

I don't think much of the idea, myself. Not one of my best...

This is the text:

British Researcher Blames Formal Education - Professors, Scientists "Strikingly Immature"

If you believe the adults around you are acting like children, you're probably right. In technical terms, it is called "psychological neoteny," the persistence of childhood behavior into adulthood. And it's on the rise.

According to Dr. Bruce Charlton, evolutionary psychiatrist at Newcastle upon Tyne, human beings now take longer to reach mental maturity — and many never do so at all.

Charlton believes this is an accidental by-product of formal education that lasts well into the twenties. "Formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity," which "counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity" that would normally occur in the late teens or early twenties.

He notes that "academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature." He calls them "unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact."

Earlier human societies, such as hunter-gatherers, were more stable and thus adulthood was attained in the teen years. Now, however, with rapid social change and less reliance on physical strength, maturity is more often postponed. He notes that markers of maturity such as graduation from college, marriage, and first child formerly occurred at fixed ages, but now may happen over a span of decades.

Thus, he says, "in an important psychological sense, some modern people never actually become adults."

Charlton thinks this may be adaptive. "A child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge" may be useful in navigating the increased instability of the modern world, he says, where people are more likely to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places. But this comes at the cost of "short attention span, frenetic novelty- seeking, ever shorter cycles of arbitrary fashion, and... a pervasive emotional and spiritual shallowness." He added that modern people "lack a profundity of character which seemed commoner in the past."


Michael Dyer said...

Jose Ortega y Gasset has a fascinating passage where he describes the real source of strong individual personality as a solitude, alone in a field working, or a workshop, or similar that it is only then that one can determine which thoughts are truly one's own and which merely fall into the mind like dust on the street.

I do like your idea that it is related to the receptivity state needed by modern education, though. You say it's not one of your best, but it's pretty good and makes sense. It's also distinct from older forms of education which required receptivity but balanced it with practice and action.

Francis Berger said...

You may not consider it one of your "best" ideas, but my experience in life has shown most modern adults ARE permanently stuck in a kind of "teenage wasteland" - so your claim-to-fame insight is valid as far as I am concerned.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - But at the time I wrote, I regarded this as a Good thing...

I began to change my mind when I had done some research on the possible causation - this was, indeed, a trigger tending towards my conversion the next year.

Marzoco said...

Would you consider this a good thing now as it's more Romantic / individual oriented for people to be testing their own assumptions, forging their own understandings, etc?

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - Don't understand what you are asking.

Marzoco said...

Sorry, I mean do you still consider extended psychological neoteny to be good, or bad?

Chent said...

I guess it is not only immaturity but a specific kind of immaturity.

In old society, adolescence didn't exist. Kids became adults instantly through a rite of passage.

Now kids grow quickly but people get stuck in the teenage years. Adolescence is the longest part of a lifetime.

In adolescence there is freedom without responsibility. Childhood has no freedom and no responsibility. Adulthood has responsibilty and freedom.

The modern society encourages hedonic freedom and lack of responsibility. That is the cause

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I actually read Next back in 2008 -- I picked it up on a whim, not having read any of Crichton's stuff since childhood -- but of course that novel mentions many scientists' names and I didn't particularly remember yours. My earliest blog post that mentions you is from 2009, so I must have ("coincidentally") started reading your blog shortly after reading Next. It looks like the synchronicity fairies botched their timing a bit on this one. If I had encountered you in Next just after beginning to interact with you online, I'm sure I would have been suitably impressed!

Francis Berger said...

Conversely, if the idea played a part in your shift toward Christianity, then it may just be one of the best ideas you have ever had!

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - I used to consider PN socially adaptive. Now I am aware 1. that psychological neoteny it is related to the chosen extinction of The West - it is a part of our implicit self-hatred, our covert self-annihilation (subfertility and mass immigration/ strategic population replacement - we in the athestic West are actively working to destroy our selves, our lineage and our society); 2. that PN is not adaptive, rather it is a symptom of a disease.

Therefore PN is ultimately because people *cannot* grow up (because materialistic atheism nowadays means there is nothing to grow up into); or because they are stuck in perpetual adolescence by their refusal to take responsibility for their souls. And it's a bad thing.

@Chent - In traditional societies growing up was as you describe - an act of submission to the (static) realities of the existing society. Nowadays, there is no static reality to submit to.

SInce the Romantic era, we are supposed to grow up by becoming conscious of, and accepting responsibilty for, our real-selves. It is no longer a socially imposed submission, but must be a personal choice to embrace conscious responsibility in a context taht is divine, not societal.

Because it is a choice, it can be refused, and that is what we can observe - a mass, wholesale refusal to become conscious of the ultimate nature of life, leading to a denial of the utlimate nature of life.

That is why people are stuck - they have chosen to refuse, to block their own spiritual progression - and there is nowhere for them to go - so they just to stay in an unnatural, corrupting state of ever more degenerating adolescence.

dearieme said...

"older forms of education which required receptivity but balanced it with practice and action": that older form bears some resemblance to my chemical education in the long ago. I didn't much like the lectures but mastering lab techniques was great fun.

'Synthesise a few grams of X.' 'No bother.'

'You have two hours to identify the cations herein.' 'Piece of cake.'

'I want a complete quantitative analysis of this; you have three hours.' 'Your word is my command.'

Later we were deemed "advanced" enough that we were meant to do analyses by bunging samples into instruments whose instruction books were unavailable to us, which we had not calibrated, and the results of which we were apparently meant to accept uncritically. 'This is bloody silly' thought I, and devoted my efforts to more satisfying stuff. Goodbye Chemistry.