Falsifiable Theories of Depression

I offer a hypothetical.

Suppose that the best, most effective treatment for depression or emotional trauma was to suck it up and get on with your life?

Remember– this is a hypothesis. You don’t have to assume it’s true or that I am saying it’s true. You certainly don’t need to politicize it. I provide it in the spirit of Karl Popper’s idea — which I endorse– that it must be possible, theoretically, to prove any theory false, in order for it to be proven true. It must be falsifiable.

For example, if we assert that a certain bird eats worms, then we must be able to describe a method by which we could prove it false. Let’s say we are able to monitor the bird for every hour of every day for a week and to record with a camera everything that it eats. I think most of us would accept that if the bird never touched a single worm, the theory would be false. That seems silly on one level– don’t we only have to see the bird eat a worm to know that the theory is true? Yes. But that is because we can, theoretically, prove it if it didn’t. We think it’s a silly proof because it is so easy to do, but that’s why it works.

Here’s a more difficult one: preparing for war increases the possibility of war. In order to prove this hypothesis, we need to find an example of how it could be proven false. Let’s say, for example, that there was a country that never prepared for war. Like Costa Rica, which does not have an army. Costa Rica, sitting there in one of the most violent areas in the world, Central America, has never been invaded. Nobody is scared of Costa Rica. Nobody is worried that Costa Rica is going to invade their country and take their gold.

That’s only one example, so it’s not a very strong proof. We do have lots and lots of countries that do prepare for war and have prepared for war and got their wars. We don’t have so many countries who prepared for war and were thus able to avoid war. The big obvious one is the U.S., prepared– on a very large scale– for war with the Soviet Union, which, it would be argued, never happened because the U.S. was prepared. But our proxy nations like Guatemala, Iran, Chile, El Salvador, and so on, were not so fortunate.

Of course, the U.S. does go to war, often.  Point made.

Here’s another more anodyne example: pulling the goalie in the last few minutes of a hockey game does not improve the chances of victory.  Nobody dares to defy this piece of conventional wisdom.  Just imagine the crowd watching the home team trailing by one goal with one minute left and the face-off in the opponents end of the rink and the coach does not pull the goalie.  The crowd– and every sportswriter– would howl with derision.  But unless someone starts doing it regularly–not pulling the goalie– we’ll never know if it’s true or not.  (In fact, apparently in the KHL, Russia’s professional league, pulling the goalie is rare.)  My theory is that pulling the goalie doesn’t increase your chances of winning, but I’ll never be proven wrong, because nobody will test that hypothetical.

Anyway, suppose that you believe that the best way to deal with depression is to go see a therapist, get counseling, maybe some chemicals to adjust the serotonin levels in your brain (an idea which now seems to have been proven dubious). How would you know that was true? Well, you would have to be able to — theoretically– prove it was false.

Here’s the problem. If it is false, you would have a substantial number of people out there who were depressed but took the attitude that it was best to just suck it up and get on with your life…. and were less depressed because that’s what they did. In other words, just sucking it up and getting on with your life can be effective for some people who are depressed.

But here’s the catch: the clinicians and theoreticians and pharmaceutical companies who believe in therapies would say, those people are not really depressed.

Therefore, they are excluded from the sample that we analyze when discussing what works. In other words, the successes of the alternative approaches are simply excluded from the sample, so that only those who seek therapy and receive chemical treatments are in the pool of subjects.

That’s a self-fulfilling hypothesis.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a brilliant standup comedian, a master of improvisation, and an exceptional mimic. He became very famous for his brilliant improvisations– precisely the reason why it became impossible for him to make a truly great film. His talent was not the talent that is useful to a director or writer when creating a film. He made films because Hollywood makes films with celebrities, not actors.

As an actor, I always thought he was less than average, confusing restraint and modulation for character. Hollywood knew what to do with him– in the perverse way Hollywood deals with all original talents: take out all the guts, add some heart-warming dreck, and make the audience feel sophisticated. Make him a saintly, wise, lovable psychiatrist, only barely more believable than Liv Tyler in “Reign Over Me”, who devotes all of his waking hours to a single disturbed math whiz and provides miraculous cures that no one in the real world has ever experienced. Dress him as a woman and set his fake breasts on fire in the preposterous and schmaltzy “Mrs. Doubtfire”: a sure Hollywood winner because our hero is funny and wicked and naughty AND– he loves his family! This was a conceit so fantastical that it took hours and hours of the best make-up crew in Hollywood to make it even remotely not ridiculous. Set him up against cardboard cutout stereo-typed villains — in most of his films, but most egregiously in “Patch Adams”– so the audience feels wonderful about being on the side of people they can’t stand in real life. His roles were emasculated, neutered, homogenized, cleaned up and packaged for mass audiences.

But I would have liked to see him live as Estragon in “Waiting for Godot” (with Steve Martin as Vladimir). But even there, at least one reviewer was ambivalent about Williams’ “stage antics”. (Steve Martin, in the same production, was also dissed by the reviewer, for blending too far into the background, a phenomenon I have noted, in which great comic talents believe that by not being antic they are actually “acting” and creating a character.

Amid all the drivel that always rises to the top upon the death of a popular entertainer, the most ridiculous is that, besides being a great comic, he was also a great actor: he was not. I think people were so impressed by the contrast between his drawn-in, restrained, sedated performances an actor, especially in “One Hour Photo”, that they confused the absence of character expression with the presence of talent.

Williams’ talents were far more suited to secondary characters, dissolute friends, unfaithful husbands, writers and artists, drunks, and bums. So “The Fisher King” was an ideal platform for him– except, they couldn’t stand to have him play a real homeless psycho, so they eliminated all the real-life characteristics of homeless people– the things that make them a real problem to deal with– and sweetened him up and cleaned him up so he was adorable and safe, and thereby obviated the entire point of the movie. The only example of Hollywood doing this worse is “Reign Over Me”– which, it must be admitted, was way more repulsive.

Of all of them– and some were very, very awful– “The Dead Poets Society” pissed me off the most because it was a calculated pitch to audiences who think they have better taste than most people because they will go to a movie with the word “poet” in the title and features scattered readings of one or two lines from poets who are famous for being poets (but nobody too obscure, please, or my friends won’t be as impressed), but who could never actually stand listening to any poem more complex than a limerick.

“Dead Poets Society” was never really about poetry or life at all. It was about admiring yourself for seeing a movie in which a charismatic actor does everything except poetry. He has the pipe and the patches on the sweater and the high brow manners, but if “Dead Poets Society” showed you, for even an instant, the real stuff of poetry, mass audiences would be offended and frightened and would hurry back to their TV sets. The boys themselves don’t live poetry: they admire it like dilettantes, adopting the symbols and manners but none of the substance of a poetic conscious: they completely forget that great poetry is always about something and only the worst, dullest, least interesting poetry is about poetry.

The sad, sad truth is that Robin Williams did not factor in a single movie that mattered.

Robin Williams Least Worst Films (no, you haven’t seen them):

Have you seen “World’s Greatest Dad”?  Now go see “Dear Evan Hansen”.

Un huh.  Familiar, isn’t it?

Uninvited Unknowns

More than half of the female respondents said they weren’t taken seriously because of their gender, one in three had experienced delayed career advancement, and nearly half said they had not received credit for their ideas. Almost half said they had encountered flirtatious or sexual remarks, and one in five had experienced uninvited physical contact.

Here, at their most glib, the high priestesses of feminist grievance take their stand: “flirtations and sexual remarks” and “uninvited” physical contact.

How, I wonder, would you know if you were not being taken seriously because of your gender or because you are inane?

Assume nothing. In a scientific test of these theories you would need to establish some kind of baseline, a control, to measure “taken seriously” against. How do you know you are not just wrong and incoherent?  Or that you are talking about yourself instead of the subject of the conversation?

I certainly wonder how many uninvited physical contacts I would personally experience in an average day. I don’t mind the physical contacts, a woman patting my arm, a man offering a pat on the shoulders. Sometimes, it’s an expression of “way to go” or “careful, I’m crossing behind you”. They are always uninvited. I never invite anyone I work with to make physical contact. Nor do I ever mind if they do.

The Necessity of Secrets

To those who continue to insist that no law-abiding citizen has anything to fear from government surveillance or ubiquitous security cameras or cell phones that constantly report your location to your service provider: please go live in your own country with like-minded people and you can all watch each other all the time.

Better yet, someone needs to organize a group of volunteers to contact one of these congressmen or NSA administrators or FBI or CIA officials and ask for their address and their license number and make and model, and photos, and announce that this person is now going to be followed, 24/7, by these volunteer citizens, because this person doesn’t think the average American citizen has anything to fear from being spied on.