Posted On 15 Sep 2012
My book How to Survive College Emotionally has just become available for $2.99 as an e-book from either Kindle or Nook.
A few years ago I seriously investigated the idea of becoming a professional speaker. Since I’d had experience for many years teaching undergraduates, I thought about getting booked speaking at colleges and I wanted a book to sell from the back of the room. I wrote the book, but, because I decided that it would be just another job, I eventually dropped the idea of becoming a professional speaker.
There’s nothing different about the way undergraduates may flourish emotionally and the way that other adults may flourish emotionally. So my hope is that any adult who reads How to Survive College Emotionally will benefit from it.
Like other formal educational institutions, college is supposed to test for and develop competence. Especially at competitive colleges, one’s years as an undergraduate are often emotionally intense. The serious questioning an undergraduate should do can stimulate an identity crisis. Serious financial pressures as well as unrealistic expectations about interpersonal relationships typically contribute to the problem.
What should I do with my life? How should I live?
It’s also often a time of experimentation, too. Binge drinking, promiscuous sex, and rampant drug use are popular past times. Judging from informal polls that I myself have taken, sometimes one-third of the students in a class can be on anti-depressant drugs! Sadness, depression, and suicide occur frequently.
Where, though, is a readable, solid book on how to survive college emotionally?
There are some experienced clinical psychologists who have written well about pulling oneself up from being emotionally sub-normal to being emotionally normal. Unfortunately, being emotionally normal still involves riding the emotional roller coaster up and down, up and down, up and down.
The best way to survive college emotionally is to get off the emotional roller coaster.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to explain why that is the case or how to do it. I tried in How to Survive College Emotionally.
Don’t buy the book if you are attached to a 3rd person (he, she or it) behavioral approach. This isn’t a book about how to deal with the emotions of others, which can only be, after all, external objects. It does not consider emotions as things that are merely out there as bits of the world’s furniture. The first person (I) approach is the only one that can really be useful.
Although (as any decent introductory course in the philosophy of science will confirm) most scientists have no defensible position about the nature of science, neuroscientists are addicted to a 3rd person approach.
Consider, for example, Joseph LeDoux: “The essence of who you are is stored as synaptic interactions in and between the various systems of your brain” (Synaptic Self [N.Y.: Penguin, 2002], p. 173.). Other organisms are similar: “all organisms have selves” (Ibid., p. 330).
Of course, for him the causal theory of perception is true: “information about the external world comes into the brain through sensory systems that relay signals to the neocortex, where sensory representations of objects and events are created” (Ibid., p. 103.).
It never seems to have occurred to LeDoux to wonder how he himself knows anything at all about the external world since, according to his own theory, he never perceives it but only perceives messages that he assumes come from it! Since he never observes the originals, he should also have asked himself how he knows there’s a representation between the messages in his brain and those supposed external objects and events? In fact, how does he know he even has a brain?
Should I dare to ask how he knows that “all organisms have selves”? If selves are separates substances, I don’t think any organisms have selves – and, for at least 2500 years, many philosophers have argued for the no-self alternative.
If someone who thinks like LeDoux were to write on the topic of how to survive college emotionally, that person would undoubtedly wind up talking about brain chemistry. He says that the trick is “to treat the mind as an information-processing device rather than as a place where experiences occur” (Ibid, p. 205.). That’s a cool trick! It turns living well into a matter of tweaking brain chemistry.
As I have written elsewhere, “The fundamental error about popular explanations regarding emotions is that they conceive us to be static beings suffering from emotions” (from 5 Ways to Diminish Failure Almost Instantly). LeDoux defines an emotion “as the process by which the brain determines or computes the value of a stimulus” (Ibid., p. 206). Of course, he neither defines what a value is or suggests which values we should adopt.
In fairness to LeDoux, not only might he make a good dinner companion, but also he does provide a reason for ignoring the 1st person point of view, namely, “self-evaluation is problematic as a scientific tool for studying emotions” (Ibid., p. 202). So much the worse for whatever he thinks science is (and, of course, he doesn’t define that, either).
The real problem is not just how to survive college emotionally, but how to survive life emotionally, in other words, how to flourish emotionally.
I happen to believe that flourishing emotionally is impossible or nearly impossible without a healthy brain. There’s no practical issue about that.
Assuming that your brain is normal and healthy, what should you do to survive college emotionally or to survive life emotionally? How is it possible to flourish emotionally?
Here’s what I suggest: work out for yourself defensible answers to the following questions.
Start with a clear, 1st person conception of the nature of emotions. What structure do all emotions share?
Do the common techniques of venting or ignoring work for flourishing emotionally? If not, why not?
Is clear thinking able to help us flourish emotionally?
What is the role of egocentricity in emotions? After all, one person may be wholly unmoved emotionally by an event that someone else cares deeply about and, so, becomes very emotional.
Can common techniques such as fitness exercise or breathing practices help someone to survive college emotionally? If so, how?
What do sages do that the rest of us fail to do? In other words, what can we learn from the lives of those who have actually flourished emotionally?
I provide my answers to these questions in How to Survive College Emotionally.
Are those answers any good?
I encourage you to decide for yourself. Even if you disagree with at least some of those answers, isn’t it quite likely that you’ll come away from reading the book and thinking through its answers for yourself better informed than you were before reading it?
If not, don’t read it. If so, it might be worth $2.99 to you to find out.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it along.
Recommended reading: my How to Survive College Emotionally and my The Fundamental Ideas. If you are serious and want more, I suggest Butchvarov’s Skepticism About the External World and his Being Qua Being.