< Back to the Academic Writings of Tory Hoff
Ongoing Reflections on Various Topics
Dr. Tory Hoff, Psychologist
Where to start?
HistoricalIt seems to me that Christ included just about everyone in his community, except the arrogant.
perceive a parallel between some theological concepts out of the
Judeo-Christian tradition and current psychological theory. For
instance, the idea of original sin now has its manifestation as the
psychoanalytic concept of primary narciissism. Also, the Old Testament
prohibition against idolatry now appears within attachment theory. Idol
worship involved what in psychological language is called a bad
and unhealthy attachment with an object, one which takes the place of
an attachment to an intangible being. Modern attachments to things that
we make are misguided if we end up understanding ourselves in terms of
the things that we make. On one hand it was useful to understand brain
function in terms of the telephone system including the switchboard,
and it has become useful to understand brain function in terms of
the computer software that some of us make. On the other hand, however,
something is lost if our primary way of comprehending ourselves is in
terms of the things we make.
The above reflections presume
that during the last three thousand years of Western history,
theological thought and its language have evolved into psychological
thought at its language. As I indicate above, they are in some cases
referring to the same phenomenon in human experience but from different
perspectives. To elaborate further, private psychological experience of
the kind we know today did not occur the further back in Western
history we search. As others such as Julian Jaynes have noted, people
were apt to experience their thoughts as due to external forces. A
person was a locale for thinking and feelings, but such
experience was not necessarily attributed to oneself. For lack of
better words, thinking and feeling was attributed to intangible forces
or beings, sometimes conceived as being spirits. As this kind of
personal experience slowly became less communal and more private, and
as self reflection and self observation developed over the centuries,
thinking and feeling became more attributed to oneself. This resulted
in the slow emergence of a psychological perspective. at the core
Greenblattt presents interesting relflections. What is missing from his
reflections is a sense of the developmental aspects that permeate this
fundamental story. He misses a sense of the way that the writer or
writers projected a sense of their own personal origins to the origins
of humans. In other words, the story of Adam and Eve contains a
rudimentary sense that the history of humanity has its paralllels in
individual human development, one in which an age of innocence and self
reflection are lost.
to Greenblatt, it is Augustine who first gave a literal interpretation
of the first chapter of Genesis. For me this brings us to the subject
of the origins of "literal" interpretations of anything. Augustine was,
in my estimation, like King David and perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci,
hundreds of years ahead of his time, when evaluated in terms of
psychological reflection. Apparently David's relationship with Jonathan
is the earliest recorded friendship in Western history, in that he had
a strong personal bond and comraderie with someone outside his
clan. For this to occur, he necessarily needed to transcend current
mores and customs. Regarding Augustine, his historically precocious
personality was most evident in his Confessions. This self reflection
was much more sophisticated and elaborate than that expressed in any
other documents preserved until, say, autobiographical reflections that
began to appear in the 12th century. As well, Augustine, his style of
self reflecdtion perhaps qualifies him as the western world's first
neurotic. His precicious abilities in regards to self observation also
inclined him to acquire a new kind of objectivity whereby truth was
that determined by the observer.
The concept of literal truth also
requires that the holder to be literate. That is, the primary of visual
reading is now assumed to be the resoervoir of truth. The words contain
their own interpretation and debate is thwarted because the "literal"
truth is assumed to be unequivocal fact.
Those who wrote the first
chapter of Genesis had no sense of words being literal. First of all,
as Martin Buber emphasized in his translaltions, the further back one
goes in the bibilical record, the more they are fundamentally spoken, and remembered as part of an oral tradition..
Like prayer, the oldest biblical accounts were spoken words, and only
later did they evolve into written words.
In sum, the idea of
lilteral interpretation is a relatively modern invention that attained
full form as part of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.
biblical interpretation, there are two opposites that are misguided,
one being the literal perspective and the other holding that the
biblical account consists of stories that are more fictional and
fanciful than anything reliable. Exegetical interpretation tries
to focus on what the writers of the various books on the Bible meant to
communicate when they wrote what they wrote, which means understanding
the context of a particular passage and imagining the tacit assumptions
and beliefs of the writer. To consider the books of the Bible to
be fictional writing represents a kind of denial, a simplistic way to
dismiss that which is apriori perceived to be not logical and not true.
By contrast, those adhering to some kind of literal truth regarding
Biblical passages are neurotically holding on to a belief and frame of
reference that cannot tolerate doubt or dissent. Ultimately it is
fear based, and represents the inability to dialogue about
possibilities. It lacks creativity.
Adam and Eve started out naked parallels that all humans and born
naked. The Fall is something involving an awakening somewhat
parallel to puberty. It is misleading to consider this awakening
to be some kind of teenage experience because, the modern teenager is
yet another moderan invention that began to appear in the 19th century
and did not really get going in North America until, say, the 1950's.
Perhaps Rousseau was our first teenager, as evident in the angst
conveyed in his Confessions.
Puberty does involve a break, which
in previous centuries involved a transition to a new role within
society, one usually involving bethrotal and then marriage, as community
events. There was no dating, and few friendships with the
opposite sex, as that too is a modern invention.
PhilosophicalSomething Lost with the Demise of the Classic Theory of Temperaments
classic theory of four temperaments has its origins in medical theory
of ancient Greece. The basic idea was that the human body, and for that
matter everything else was a combination of four humours, which
themselves were combinations of for basic qualities, namely, hot,
cold, dry, and wet. The four temperments were sanguine, melancholic,
choleric, and phlegmatic.
Two basic versions circulated. One
was that the sanguine temperment contained the optimal blend of
humours, whereas the other three were deviations from the ideal blend.
The dominant version was that the four tempermants were all
imperfect blends. Within the Christian community, Jesus Christ
was of course thought to have had a perfect blend of humours.
classic theory started to wane when medical science began to replace
the humoural theory with modern concepts of physiology and
neurophysiology. This occurred in several stages, beginning with
the Scientifiic Revolution of the 17th century and ended with the rise
of neurophysiology in the 19th century.
Meanwhile, a theory of
three temperaments appeared within popular culture, and a version of it
became Sheldon's theory of the ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.
More recently, a theory of five tempermants, or rather five dimensions of temperaments. They are known as the Big Five.
purpose for presenting the above historical summary is that the
theoretical framework for the Big Five is not based upon the belief
that the ideal is a perfect blend of oppositive humours and
temperaments. To state it differently, a blending of
opposites/polarities is not a core aspect.
The point I am
wanting to make is that, although there are factors in our society that
value moderation, we no longer have a theory of personality that
promotes moderation or emphasizes that polar opposites cannot function
together if no middle ground is found. One exception would be the
Mayers-Briggs typology, though the underlying reason is that its basic
categories have their origin in the classic theory of temperaments.
William James: wrote,
truth is that in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate
reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of
reality ahve already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion"
(Varieties, near end of Lecture 3).
James seems to be saying
several things here. To me what he wrote here gets to the centre of why
he was appreciated in his own times, and stilll appreciated today for
his insights into the psychological side of being human. He
managed to find a place for both tangibles and intangibles. He
found room in his thinking for so called objective knowledge yet also
personal knowledge and yet avoided the excesses of each when on their
my own langauge he tried to blend together observer and participatory
information. He was not a polarizing presence. I suspect he
was a more psychologically integrated person than most of us.
In recent years, I have not read much on the subject of sleep. I
could explore the books about it on my shelves, but instead I will
post this email because I am curious what insights my colleagues
have regarding interventions to overcome insomnia.
What I tell my clients is that it is very hard to think oneself to
sleep, but that some people can, in essence, hypnotize or lull
themselves to sleep by doing some kind of mental repetition. In many
cases, however, what is required is that the insomniac, especially
those plagued with a repetitive tune or worrisome thought, move.
Any body movement, it seems to me, increases the possibility that
the "tape" in one's head gets broken. This might be parallel to the
observation that dreams are more likely to be forgotten ("erased")
once we move, even roll over.
The "movement" that seems to most promote sleep for me is a yawn.
That is, if I have been lying in bed for an hour or two, and I
manage to force myself out of bed (rather than simply turning over,
which does sometimes aid sleep), then my best option is to get in
the shower, lean my head against the wall, and let the rather hot
water beat down on my neck. Within a few minutes, I start to yawn,
maybe at first in a constricted manner but eventually I enter into a
full out yawn. After I do this yawning several times, I feel ready
to return to bed, which I do. Almost always I fall asleep within ten
There are of course many other "movements" that seem to help
clients, eg., a certain tea or hot drink, watching tv or reading,
walking a dog, etc.
But I have no recollection of yawning ever being mentioned in "How
To" sleep books.
Although I have not read the book by Paul Green, I have the
following observations about the TOMM (Test of Memory Malingering, by Tom Tombaugh)
I recently finished a med/legal report for a
tort claim. Again I was faced with a defence psychologist or
psychiatrist concluding that my client's responses on the TOMM
suggest malingering. With respect to some of my long-term clients
who I know are not malingering and who for the most part are not
intentionally exaggerating symptoms, this misinterpretation of the
TOMM is having devastating consequences on their lives. For
instance, sometimes their income benefits are cut off, and so are
There are legitimate interpretations regarding why these clients
did not score above the cutoff of 45 on the second administration,
and in some cases scored no better than chance. The common
denominator among them is some kind of cognitive deficit stemming
from test anxiety, distraction, blanking out, etc.
The TOMM, in being named a test of Memory Malingering, lends
itself to this misinterpretation. If it was instead named a Test
Of Memory Motivation, then a more realistic and less prejudicial
name is employed. But for some of my clients the TOMM is not
even a test of memory motivation, that is, of the
desire/willingness/energy to respond to items on a memory test
with as much conscientious effort as possible.
On grounds that memory cannot be tested until a percept is
actually formed and can then be retrieved, for some of my clients
the TOMM becomes first of all a test of attention and
concentration. In his manual Tombaugh himself indicated that he
wanted to ensure that the TOMM did not become a test of attention
and concentration, as he wrote on page 17 that the administrator
is to do things to make sure the subject is attending to each
picture. But for my most traumatized and
depersonalized clients with little self confidence, this is what
the TOMM becomes... a test of concentration.
Although I am admittedly not knowledgeable about the literature
reporting on research involving the TOMM, I find it difficult to
believe that any research I might read would change my reality,
which is that my legitimate clients who are "failing" the TOMM are
doing so because of trauma- or anxiety-related difficulties. As
well, it is clearly outside my reality that any clients
who have been meeting with me regularly for more than a year or so
and who do poorly on the TOMM are intentionally misrepresenting
their abilities and somehow malingering.
These clients come back after their assessments and tell me what
was happening to them during the administration of the TOMM.
Generally they are not focussing on each picture at all. After a
few, they start thinking about their "brain fog" and, for
instance, are worrying about how they will ever get a job again,
given how poorly they are doing. By contrast, in at least one
instance, the psychometrist, it seems, was misinterpreting the
test anxiety behaviour of the client to be a product of the effort
to malinger. Our colleague, I surmise, was informed of this
effort, and wrote the report accordingly... or simply signed it,
whichever the case.
In my opinion one interesting variation on the standard way of
administering the TOMM gives me more information regarding the
lack of an initial percept of the fifty items. On the second
administration, I ask a person who is obviously doing poorly to
indicate after giving a response whether he or she guessed at the
answer or rather felt certain that he or she gave the correct
response. The more they report guessing, the more I have evidence
that many of the fifty stimuli did not register in the first
A reading of the above might lead some listserve members to
conclude that as a treating psychologist I am naive about the
intentions of these clients of mine who perform poorly on the
TOMM. I acknowledge a vulnerability in this area, as I tend to
trust clients until proven otherwise. But I also have very honest
referral sources, so do not expect to get a malingerer. and form
very positive relationships with these clients. The "proof"
regarding who is right, I believe, is in the results. That is, my
reality sets the conditions for the client to heal, whereas the
message that they are malingering stresses them further, both
emotionally and financially, and interferes with their efforts to
recover. But of course if some professional is already committed
to the premise that this client is malingering, then seemingly no
evidence can be presented to reverse this belief.
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