September 2010

I want to share a couple of articles I recently came across that, I believe, speak to the core of what ails America today but is too little discussed. The first was in Newsweek under the ironic headline “We’re No. 11!” The piece, by Michael Hirsh, went on to say: “Has the United States lost its oomph as a superpower? Even President Obama isn’t immune from the gloom. ‘Americans won’t settle for No. 2!’ Obama shouted at one political rally in early August. How about No. 11? That’s where the U.S.A. ranks in Newsweek’s list of the 100 best countries in the world, not even in the top 10.”

The second piece, which could have been called “Why We’re No. 11,” was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.

“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.’ ”

There is a lot to Samuelson’s point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Ask yourself: What made our Greatest Generation great? First, the problems they faced were huge, merciless and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism and Soviet Communism. Second, the Greatest Generation’s leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice. Third, that generation was ready to sacrifice, and pull together, for the good of the country. And fourth, because they were ready to do hard things, they earned global leadership the only way you can, by saying: “Follow me.”

Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”
Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America not only via cheap labor and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.

In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we’ll be No. 11!

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN (September 11, 2010)

Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero.

That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation. They are fed by the kind of bigotry exhibited by the would-be book burner in Florida, and, sadly, nurtured by people in positions of real power, including prominent members of the Republican Party.

The most important sight at ground zero now is Michael Arad’s emerging memorial. The shells of two giant pools are 30 feet deep and are set almost exactly in the places where the towers once were.

The huge waterfalls around the sides, the inscribed names of victims and the plaza are promised by the 10th anniversary next year. But two 70-foot tridents that were once at the base of the twin towers were installed last week. The museum will be built around them by 2012. And the first 16 of 416 white swamp oaks were planted on the eight-acre surface.

Surrounding that memorial will be a ring of commercial towers — eventually to be filled with workers, commuters, shoppers, tourists, the full cacophony of New York City. The tallest skyscraper is now a third of the way up. The developer Larry Silverstein has one of his skyscrapers taking shape — this one by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The bases of two more are finally beyond the planning stage.

The first outlines of Santiago Calatrava’s elegant PATH station are visible. Giant white ribs and other structures that will support the birdlike hall are moving into place. The temporary PATH station shuttles 70,000 commuters a day through the construction site.

After years of political lassitude and financial squabbling, rebuilding at the site began in earnest two years ago. That was when Mayor Michael Bloomberg exerted his considerable muscle to make sure the memorial is finished by 2011. At about the same time, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey established more control of the site. The authority and the mayor turned out to be a good team.
That cooperation and the visible progress are such a contrast with the way some political figures have been trying to use the Sept. 11 attacks to generate antipathy toward all Muslims. For weeks, politicians — mostly but definitely not all on the right — have been fanning the public controversy over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from ground zero.

Then, Terry Jones, a minor preacher in Florida, managed to create a major furor by scheduling a ritual burning of the Koran for Sept. 11. Alarmed by hyperbolic news coverage, the top general in Afghanistan, the secretary of defense, the State Department and the president warned that such a bonfire would endanger Americans and American troops around the world.
It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones’s antics with the Muslim center.

In both cases, he told ABC News, “Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.” The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.

It is a good time to remember what President Obama said on Friday, echoing the words of President George W. Bush after the attacks: “We’re not at war with Islam. We’re at war with terrorist organizations.”

By NYT. (September 10, 2010)

Ted Genoways was just 31 when he took over as editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review in 2003, determined to propel the storied but old-fashioned literary magazine at the University of Virginia into the 21st century. Three years later he made good on his promise. The tiny journal won two National Magazine Awards and six nominations — up against perennial glamour titles like The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine and Vanity Fair — and Mr. Genoways was hailed in national literary circles for his spunk and vision.

But by this summer, things had gone dangerously south. Mr. Genoways had become alienated from his small staff, some of whose members repeatedly complained to the university president’s office about his absences and his attitude. His initially warm relationship with the university’s English department — whose renowned creative writing division includes novelists and poets like Ann Beattie, John Casey, Rita Dove and Deborah Eisenberg — had cooled after he sought a position there and was summarily rejected.

Then on July 30, the review’s managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, took a gun to a coal tower on the outskirts of town and killed himself, an act that some of Mr. Morrissey’s friends and family attributed partly to stress in the workplace — even going so far as to lay that stress publicly at Mr. Genoways’s door.
Now the 85-year-old review is in limbo. University officials have canceled the winter issue and closed the offices until an investigation into the staff’s complaints is complete. Mr. Genoways is fighting for his job, his reputation, his $134,000-a-year salary and his legacy as the editor who helped put the review on the literary map far beyond the “academical village” founded by Thomas Jefferson, where William Faulkner, a pipe between his teeth and a Tyrolean hat on his head, once strolled as writer-in-residence.

“I was hired to steward an old and valuable institution,” said Mr. Genoways, his hands folded in his lap during an interview last week. “Until anyone tells me otherwise, I still see myself in that role.”
His fate could hinge on the results of the investigation, which may be completed by the end of the month. In announcing it on Aug. 19, the university’s new president, Teresa A. Sullivan, said in a statement, “The review will, I hope, provide a factual basis for understanding this workplace and deciding what corrective actions, if any, the university should undertake.”

In the last few weeks, returning faculty and staff members — still reeling from the violent killing of a female university lacrosse player in the spring — have been shocked to arrive back on campus and watch the aftermath of Mr. Morrissey’s death playing out on blogs and in the national media. The Hook, a newsweekly here, ran a cover article on Aug. 18 reporting that the 52-year-old Mr. Morrissey had asked the university to intervene in the workplace situation in the months and weeks before his suicide, but his pleas had not been addressed in time.

Carol Wood, a spokeswoman for the university, said that mediation had been discussed with Mr. Morrissey and was planned.
Many of Mr. Genoways’s contributing writers have spoken out publicly on his behalf, attesting to his character and professionalism. But his support within the university appears to be more limited. Since Mr. Morrissey died, Mr. Genoways said, “I’ve only heard from one faculty member regularly.”
From its founding as “a great serious publication wherein shall be reflected the calm thought of the best men,” The Virginia Quarterly Review has kept its offices on the stately grounds of the university. Its home at the Jeffersonian center of the University, at 1 West Range, is steps from the iconic Rotunda and the preserved and showcased room at 13 West Range where Edgar Allan Poe lived as a young student.
When Mr. Genoways was brought on as editor, he replaced Staige Blackford, who had served as editor of the review for 28 years and was days away from retiring when he was killed in a car crash. Over the decades Mr. Blackford had nurtured relationships with the members of the faculty, many of whom frequently wrote for the magazine. Mr. Genoways began his time as editor by doing the same, inviting professors to meetings and asking for their input on the magazine’s design.

Lisa Russ Spaar, a professor in the English department who knew Mr. Genoways when he was a graduate student at Virginia — earning his M.F.A. in poetry writing — said that he initially dazzled the literary world on campus with his energy and passion.
“I do think that Ted was very interested in making V.Q.R. more competitive,” she said. “He wanted to move it from being a reader’s-reader kind of quarterly to being something that was bold and took risks.”
But after Mr. Genoways was denied a position in the department, his relationship with the faculty became strained, a situation that some faculty members saw as a missed opportunity.
“There are certain ways in which the journal can draw on the kind of contacts and expertise and advice that the faculty of a university can provide,” said Jahan Ramazani, a professor of English. “And in turn, the faculty can benefit from a relationship with V.Q.R.”
Mr. Genoways’s relationship with the members of his staff was deteriorating as well. Beginning last fall, they said, he was showing up in the office only a few days a week for a few hours a day. He was lax about returning their phone calls. He began transferring more editing duties to them.
“Ted was rarely in the office, he would rarely answer e-mails to us and he would not tell us about major decisions,” said Sheila McMillen, an editor who has been placed on paid leave while the university conducts its investigation. “When we would attempt to talk to him, he would get angry and extremely defensive.”

John Casteen IV, a friend of Mr. Genoways’s who is a volunteer on the magazine’s poetry board — and a son of the former university president, John Casteen III, who hired Mr. Genoways — was skeptical.

“The description of Ted’s behavior is totally inconsistent with anything I ever saw when I was in the office,” said the younger Mr. Casteen, who has contributed articles on poetry to the review.

Mr. Genoways acknowledged that the office dynamics had grown tense, but said that he had successfully argued for pay raises to compensate for the staff’s increased work. While he was spending more time out of the office, he said, he was busy working from home.
“They may have seen me working on V.Q.R. less,” he said. “But in the last year to year and a half the amount of work I’ve done on V.Q.R. has been at times overwhelming.”
Mr. Genoways also said he was increasingly worried about the magazine’s finances. The endowments, heavily invested in the stock market, have suffered, he said, and a fund of about $800,000 had been spent down by more than half as Mr. Genoways invested in the kind of long-form journalism and color photography that contributed to its rise in the magazine world.

The staff members began to grumble over the editorial direction of the magazine. It was too dark, too gritty, too morose, they said, with too many articles about war and conflict and death. Mr. Genoways, who frequently sent reporters to Iraq and Afghanistan, made no apologies for the content.
“If the subject matter was dark, to me it was never presented in an air of despair,” he said, acknowledging that the magazine’s subscription numbers, which now hover around 2,400, were falling about the same time. “So were everybody else’s in the country. I didn’t see those things as related.”
Molly Minturn, an associate editor, insisted that Mr. Genoways had created a “toxic work environment” that the university did not do enough to repair. Mr. Morrissey, described by his co-workers as a gentle person who never graduated from college, read voraciously and organized his life around work, seemed to have been affected the most by the tension.

By July, Mr. Morrissey, who struggled with depression, appeared to be despondent over his interactions with Mr. Genoways, Ms. Minturn said. After she told university officials that month that she feared Mr. Morrissey would harm himself, they did not act quickly, she said.
“The issue here is the way V.Q.R. was managed, and the questions that remain unanswered,” Ms. Minturn said. “I’m hoping that this investigation will answer them.”

By JULIE BOSMAN (September 10, 2010)

There is a story about Bertrand Russell giving a public lecture somewhere or other, defending his atheism. A furious woman stood up at the end of the lecture and asked: “And Lord Russell, what will you say when you stand in front of the throne of God on judgment day?” Russell replied: “I will say: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but you didn’t give us enough evidence.’ ”

This is a very natural way for atheists to react to religious claims: to ask for evidence, and reject these claims in the absence of it. Many of the several hundred comments that followed two earlier Stone posts “Philosophy and Faith” and “On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response,” both by Gary Gutting, took this stance. Certainly this is the way that today’s “new atheists”  tend to approach religion. According to their view, religions — by this they mean basically Christianity, Judaism and Islam and I will follow them in this — are largely in the business of making claims about the universe that are a bit like scientific hypotheses. In other words, they are claims — like the claim that God created the world — that are supported by evidence, that are proved by arguments and tested against our experience of the world. And against the evidence, these hypotheses do not seem to fare well.

But is this the right way to think about religion? Here I want to suggest that it is not, and to try and locate what seem to me some significant differences between science and religion.

To begin with, scientific explanation is a very specific and technical kind of knowledge. It requires patience, pedantry, a narrowing of focus and (in the case of the most profound scientific theories) considerable mathematical knowledge and ability. No-one can understand quantum theory — by any account, the most successful physical theory there has ever been — unless they grasp the underlying mathematics. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves.
Religious belief is a very different kind of thing. It is not restricted only to those with a certain education or knowledge, it does not require years of training, it is not specialized and it is not technical. (I’m talking here about the content of what people who regularly attend church, mosque or synagogue take themselves to be thinking; I’m not talking about how theologians interpret this content.)

What is more, while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not. I would guess that very few people in the world are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories. Why? One obvious reason is that many lack access to this knowledge. Another reason is that even when they have access, these theories require sophisticated knowledge and abilities, which not everyone is capable of getting.

Yet another reason — and the one I am interested in here — is that most people aren’t deeply interested in science, even when they have the opportunity and the basic intellectual capacity to learn about it. Of course, educated people who know about science know roughly what Einstein, Newton and Darwin said. Many educated people accept the modern scientific view of the world and understand its main outlines. But this is not the same as being interested in the details of science, or being immersed in scientific thinking.

This lack of interest in science contrasts sharply with the worldwide interest in religion. It’s hard to say whether religion is in decline or growing, partly because it’s hard to identify only one thing asreligion — not a question I can address here. But it’s pretty obvious that whatever it is, religion commands and absorbs the passions and intellects of hundreds of millions of people, many more people than science does. Why is this? Is it because — as the new atheists might argue — they want to explain the world in a scientific kind of way, but since they have not been properly educated they haven’t quite got there yet? Or is it because so many people are incurably irrational and are incapable of scientific thinking? Or is something else going on?

Some philosophers have said that religion is so unlike science that it has its own “grammar” or “logic” and should not be held accountable to the same standards as scientific or ordinary empirical belief. When Christians express their belief that “Christ has risen,” for example, they should not be taken as making a factual claim, but as expressing their commitment to what Wittgenstein called a certain “form of life,” a way of seeing significance in the world, a moral and practical outlook which is worlds away from scientific explanation.

This view has some merits, as we shall see, but it grossly misrepresents some central phenomena of religion. It is absolutely essential to religions that they make certain factual or historical claims. When Saint Paul says “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain” he is saying that the point of his faith depends on a certain historical occurrence.

Theologians will debate exactly what it means to claim that Christ has risen, what exactly the meaning and significance of this occurrence is, and will give more or less sophisticated accounts of it. But all I am saying is that whatever its specific nature, Christians must hold that there was such an occurrence. Christianity does make factual, historical claims. But this is not the same as being a kind of proto-science. This will become clear if we reflect a bit on what science involves.

The essence of science involves making hypotheses about the causes and natures of things, in order to explain the phenomena we observe around us, and to predict their future behavior. Some sciences — medical science, for example — make hypotheses about the causes of diseases and test them by intervening. Others — cosmology, for example — make hypotheses that are more remote from everyday causes, and involve a high level of mathematical abstraction and idealization. Scientific reasoning involves an obligation to hold a hypothesis only to the extent that the evidence requires it. Scientists should not accept hypotheses which are “ad hoc” — that is, just tailored for one specific situation but cannot be generalized to others. Most scientific theories involve some kind of generalization: they don’t just make claims about one thing, but about things of a general kind. And their hypotheses are designed, on the whole, to make predictions; and if these predictions don’t come out true, then this is something for the scientists to worry about.

Religions do not construct hypotheses in this sense. I said above that Christianity rests upon certain historical claims, like the claim of the resurrection. But this is not enough to make scientific hypotheses central to Christianity, any more than it makes such hypotheses central to history. It is true, as I have just said, that Christianity does place certain historical events at the heart of their conception of the world, and to that extent, one cannot be a Christian unless one believes that these events happened. Speaking for myself, it is because I reject the factual basis of the central Christian doctrines that I consider myself an atheist. But I do not reject these claims because I think they are bad hypotheses in the scientific sense. Not all factual claims are scientific hypotheses. So I disagree with Richard Dawkins when he says “religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”

Taken as hypotheses, religious claims do very badly: they are ad hoc, they are arbitrary, they rarely make predictions and when they do they almost never come true. Yet the striking fact is that it does not worry Christians when this happens. In the gospels Jesus predicts the end of the world and the coming of the kingdom of God. It does not worry believers that Jesus was wrong (even if it causes theologians to reinterpret what is meant by ‘the kingdom of God’). If Jesus was framing something like a scientific hypothesis, then it should worry them. Critics of religion might say that this just shows the manifest irrationality of religion. But what it suggests to me is that that something else is going on, other than hypothesis formation.

Religious belief tolerates a high degree of mystery and ignorance in its understanding of the world. When the devout pray, and their prayers are not answered, they do not take this as evidence which has to be weighed alongside all the other evidence that prayer is effective. They feel no obligation whatsoever to weigh the evidence. If God does not answer their prayers, well, there must be some explanation of this, even though we may never know it. Why do people suffer if an omnipotent God loves them? Many complex answers have been offered, but in the end they come down to this: it’s a mystery.

Science too has its share of mysteries (or rather: things that must simply be accepted without further explanation). But one aim of science is to minimize such things, to reduce the number of primitive concepts or primitive explanations. The religious attitude is very different. It does not seek to minimize mystery. Mysteries are accepted as a consequence of what, for the religious, makes the world meaningful.

This point gets to the heart of the difference between science and religion. Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world, but it does not try and do this in the way science does. Science makes sense of the world by showing how things conform to its hypotheses. The characteristic mode of scientific explanation is showing how events fit into a general pattern.

Religion, on the other hand, attempts to make sense of the world by seeing a kind of meaning or significance in things. This kind of significance does not need laws or generalizations, but just the sense that the everyday world we experience is not all there is, and that behind it all is the mystery of God’s presence. The believer is already convinced that God is present in everything, even if they cannot explain this or support it with evidence. But it makes sense of their life by suffusing it with meaning. This is the attitude (seeing God in everything) expressed in George Herbert’s poem, “The Elixir.” Equipped with this attitude, even the most miserable tasks can come to have value:Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws/ Makes that and th’ action fine.

None of these remarks are intended as being for or against religion. Rather, they are part of an attempt (by an atheist, from the outside) to understand what it is. Those who criticize religion should have an accurate understanding of what it is they are criticizing. But to understand a world view, or a philosophy or system of thought, it is not enough just to understand the propositions it contains. You also have to understand what is central and what is peripheral to the view. Religions do make factual and historical claims, and if these claims are false, then the religions fail. But this dependence on fact does not make religious claims anything like hypotheses in the scientific sense. Hypotheses are not central. Rather, what is central is the commitment to the meaningfulness (and therefore the mystery) of the world.

I have suggested that while religious thinking is widespread in the world, scientific thinking is not. I don’t think that this can be accounted for merely in terms of the ignorance or irrationality of human beings. Rather, it is because of the kind of intellectual, emotional and practical appeal that religion has for people, which is a very different appeal from the kind of appeal that science has.

Stephen Jay Gould once argued that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria.” If he meant by this that religion makes no factual claims which can be refuted by empirical investigations, then he was wrong. But if he meant that religion and science are very different kinds of attempt to understand the world, then he was certainly right.

Tim Crane is Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of two books, “The Mechanical Mind” (1995) and “Elements of Mind” (2001), and several other publications. He is currently working on two books: one on the representation of the non-existent and another on atheism and humanism.

Her car is racing at a terrifying speed through the streets of a large city, and something gruesome, something with giant eyeballs, is chasing her, closing in fast. It was a dream, of course, and after Emily Gurule, a 50-year-old high school teacher, related it to Dr. Barry Krakow, he did not ask her to unpack its symbolism. He simply told her to think of a new one.

“In your mind, with thinking and picturing, take a few minutes, close your eyes, and I want you to change the dream any way you wish,” said Dr. Krakow, founder of the P.T.S.D. Sleep Clinic at the Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences center here and a leading researcher of nightmares.
And so the black car became a white Cadillac, traveling at a gentle speed with nothing chasing it. The eyeballs became bubbles, floating serenely above the city.
“We call that a new dream,” Dr. Krakow told Ms. Gurule. “The bad dream is over there” — he pointed across the room — “and we’re not dealing with that. We’re dealing with the new dream.”

The technique, used while patients are awake, is called scripting or dream mastery and is part of imagery rehearsal therapy, which Dr. Krakow helped develop. The therapy is being used to treat a growing number of nightmare sufferers. In recent years, nightmares have increasingly been viewed as a distinct disorder, and researchers have produced a growing body of empirical evidence that this kind of cognitive therapy can help reduce their frequency and intensity, or even eliminate them.
The treatments are controversial. Some therapists, particularly Jungian analysts, take issue with changing nightmares’ content, arguing that dreams send crucial messages to the waking mind.

Nightmares are important because they “bring up issues in bold print,” said Jane White-Lewis, a psychologist in Guilford, Conn., who has taught about dreams at the Carl Jung Institute in New York.
While Dr. White-Lewis acknowledged that she does not treat patients suffering from severe trauma, she said that if a nightmare is eliminated, “you lose an opportunity to really get some meaning out of it.” Changing eyeballs into bubbles, she added, might have robbed Ms. Gurule of the chance to find out what the eyeballs were trying to tell her.

Nightmares have fascinated and perplexed people for centuries, their meaning debated by therapists and analysts of all schools of thought, their effects so powerful that one terrifying nightmare can affect a person for a lifetime.

A nightmare is “a disturbing dream experience which rubs, bites and sickens our soul, and has an undercurrent of horsepower, lewd demons, aggressive orality and death,” Dr. White-Lewis wrote in “In Defense of Nightmares,” her contribution to a 1993 book of essays about dreams.
From 4 to 8 percent of adults report experiencing nightmares, perhaps as often as once per week or more, according to sleep researchers. But the rate is as high as 90 percent among groups like combat veterans and rape victims, Dr. Krakow said. He said treatment for post-traumatic stress needed to deal much more actively with nightmares.

He and other clinicians are increasingly using imagery rehearsal therapy, or I.R.T., to treat veterans and active-duty troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Last month, Dr. Krakow conducted a workshop on imagery rehearsal and other sleep treatments for 65 therapists, sleep doctors and psychiatrists, including many working with the military. And the technique has drawn more attention from other researchers in the last several years. Anne Germain, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is comparing two treatments — behavioral therapy, including imagery rehearsal, and the blood-pressure drug prazosin, which has been found to reduce nightmares.

Preliminary results from a study of 50 veterans showed that both treatments were effective in reducing nightmares and symptoms of P.T.S.D., she said, though they differed from patient to patient. She is continuing to study what factors may lead to those differences.
Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School who is an expert on dream incubation, inducing dreams to resolve conflicts , and on the connection between trauma and dreams — said she was struck by the growing interest in nightmares as a result of war trauma and torture.
“Within the community of psychologists who have put an emphasis on dreams it used to be about interpretation,” she said. “And now therapists are getting the message that you can influence dreams, ask dreams about particular issues and change nightmares.”

And Hollywood has just produced its own spin on the idea of controlling dreams, with the release earlier this month of “Inception” a thriller whose plot swirls through the darkest layers of the dream world. Underlying the story is the concept of lucid dreaming, another technique used by clinicians to help patients afraid of their dreams understand that they are dreaming while a dream is in progress. Dr. Barrett supports the use of Dr. Krakow’s technique, although she said that ideally the nightmare work should be integrated with psychiatry and behavioral therapies to treat the underlying condition.

Still, Dr. Barrett said, “Barry has made a huge contribution by getting the numbers, getting the statistics and getting the proof that it can work.”
Dr. Krakow’s nightmare therapy typically includes four sessions of group treatment and between one and ten individual sessions, though Dr. Krakow said between three and five sessions are usually effective. (The clinic visits are covered by insurance.)

Patients participate in sleep studies as needed, and do considerable work on their own, using a manual he published to guide them, “Turning Nightmares Into Dreams.”
At the clinic here, some patients, like Ms. Gurule, come in for severe snoring and daytime sleepiness and discover they are suffering from trauma-induced nightmares. Others come with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress or simply report recurring nightmares and discover they also have other sleep disorders.
Dr. Krakow’s latest research, which was presented last month at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, found a striking connection between P.T.S.D. and a variety of sleep disorders. In an analysis of the sleep studies conducted on more than a thousand patients with varying degrees of post-traumatic stress, he found that 5 to 10 other sleep problems may be involved. High rates of sleep apnea, for example, were found even in patients with moderate symptoms of post-traumatic stress. “In the world of P.T.S.D. and sleep, no one is making these connections,” Dr. Krakow said.

He refers to his small clinic, in an office park here, as a “bed-and-breakfast without the breakfast.” It has four small bedrooms, with pastel-colored bedspreads and cheerful, serene paintings of fish and beaches. Before bed, the technicians place sensors on the patients to track sleep, breathing and movement.
Dr. Krakow, 61, started out as an internist and then practiced emergency medicine before studying nightmares and possible treatments with colleagues at the University of New Mexico in the late 1980s. With financing from the National Institute of Mental Health, he conducted his first major research between 1995 and 1999, looking at the effect of imagery rehearsal on 168 sexual assault survivors who suffered from nightmares.
The results of a randomized controlled trial were published in a 2001 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Of the subjects, 95 percent had moderate to severe P.T.S.D., 97 percent had experienced rape or other sexual assault, 77 percent reported life-threatening sexual assault and 58 percent reported repeated exposure to sexual abuse in childhood.

The treatment group, 88 women, participated in three sessions of imagery rehearsal therapy, while the control group, 80 women, was on a waiting list and continued with whatever treatment they had been undergoing. Of the 114 that completed follow-up at three or at three and six months, those in the treatment group had “significantly” reduced the nights per week with nightmares and the number of nightmares per week, the paper said. The control group showed small, “nonsignificant” improvement on the same measures. And symptoms of post-traumatic stress decreased in 65 percent of the treatment group, while they either remained unchanged or worsened in the control group, according to the findings.

Along with other researchers, Dr. Krakow has continued to publish further studies on imagery rehearsal, finding that of hundreds of patients treated, about 70 percent have reported significant improvements in nightmare frequency after regularly using the treatment for two to four weeks.
Roberta Barker, 55, was one of Dr. Krakow’s first patients and a participant in the research published in JAMA. Ms. Barker says she was kidnapped in Japan, where she had gone to teach English, and was raped and tortured for three days before escaping. (She suffered extensive physical injuries and now survives on a government disability pension.)

Her nightmares, replaying the horror over and over, were so frightening she could barely sleep. Medications did not seem to work. She was on the verge of suicide.
“I drank enough coffee to float a battleship,” she said in a recent visit to Dr. Krakow’s clinic. “A few times a week I was reliving the entire set of days in one night.”
When Dr. Krakow told her that nightmares can be a learned behavior and that she had the power to stop what had essentially become a habit, she was highly skeptical.
He explained that she could come up with another dream and practice it and that it was possible for her to no longer have the nightmares of the kidnapping and rape.
“No, it’s too easy,” she recalled telling him. “It can’t work.”

Some patients work to change the plot of their dreams; a rape victim who was receiving treatment with Ms. Barker decided to script a dream about confronting her rapist with a baseball bat. But Ms. Barker said she felt she had to come up with an entirely new dream. So she chose birds.
“I’ve always loved birds, wild birds, doves and pigeons and starlings, mountain blue jays,” she said. “I had fed birds, the images were solid, I could hear them flying and talking. Now, instead of waking up screaming, I wake up knowing I’ve dreamed of birds.”

By SARAH KERSHAW (July 2010)

Aristotle once wrote that philosophy begins in wonder, but one might equally well say that philosophy begins with inner conflict. The cases in which we are most drawn to philosophy are precisely the cases in which we feel as though there is something pulling us toward one side of a question but also something pulling us, perhaps equally powerfully, toward the other.

But how exactly can philosophy help us in cases like these? If we feel something within ourselves drawing us in one direction but also something drawing us the other way, what exactly can philosophy do to offer us illumination?

One traditional answer is that philosophy can help us out by offering us some insight into human nature. Suppose we feel a sense of puzzlement about whether God exists, or whether there are objective moral truths, or whether human beings have free will.

The traditional view was that philosophers could help us get to the bottom of this puzzlement by exploring the sources of the conflict within our own minds. If you look back to the work of some of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century Mill, Marx, Nietzsche — you can find extraordinary intellectual achievements along these basic lines.

As noted earlier this month in The Times’s Room for Debate forum, this traditional approach is back with a vengeance.  Philosophers today are once again looking for the roots of philosophical conflicts in our human nature, and they are once again suggesting that we can make progress on philosophical questions by reaching a better understanding of our own minds.  But these days, philosophers are going after these issues using a new set of methodologies.  They are pursuing the traditional questions using all the tools of modern cognitive science.  They are teaming up with researchers in other disciplines, conducting experimental studies, publishing in some of the top journals of psychology.  Work in this new vein has come to be known as experimental philosophy.

The Room for Debate discussion of this movement brought up an important question that is worth pursuing further.  The study of human nature, whether in Nietzsche or in a contemporary psychology journal, is obviously relevant to certain purely scientific questions, but how could this sort of work ever help us to answer the distinctive questions of philosophy? It may be of some interest just to figure out how people ordinarily think, but how could facts about how people ordinarily think ever tell us which views were actually right or wrong?

Instead of just considering this question in the abstract, let’s focus in on one particular example.  Take the age-old problem of free will — a topic discussed at length here at The Stone by Galen Strawson, William Egginton andhundreds of readers. If all of our actions are determined by prior events — just one thing causing the next, which causes the next — then is it ever possible for human beings to be morally responsible for the things we do? Faced with this question, many people feel themselves pulled in competing directions — it is as though there is something compelling them to say yes, but also something that makes them want to say no.

What is it that draws us in these two conflicting directions? The philosopher Shaun Nichols and I thought that people might be drawn toward one view by their capacity for abstract, theoretical reasoning, while simultaneously being drawn in the opposite direction by their more immediate emotional reactions. It is as though their capacity for abstract reasoning tells them, “This person was completely determined and therefore cannot be held responsible,” while their capacity for immediate emotional reaction keeps screaming, “But he did such a horrible thing! Surely, he is responsible for it.”
To put this idea to the test, we conducted a simple experiment.  All participants in the study were told about a deterministic universe (which we called “Universe A”), and all participants received exactly the same information about how this universe worked. The question then was whether people would think that it was possible in such a universe to be fully morally responsible.

But now comes the trick. Some participants were asked in a way designed to trigger abstract, theoretical reasoning, while others were asked in a way designed to trigger a more immediate emotional response. Specifically, participants in one condition were given the abstract question:
In Universe A, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for their actions?
Meanwhile, participants in the other condition were given a more concrete and emotionally fraught example:
In Universe A, a man named Bill has become attracted to his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to kill his wife and three children. He knows that it is impossible to escape from his house in the event of a fire. Before he leaves on a business trip, he sets up a device in his basement that burns down the house and kills his family.

Is Bill fully morally responsible for killing his wife and children?

The results showed a striking difference between conditions. Of the participants who received the abstract question, the vast majority (86 percent) said that it was not possible for anyone to be morally responsible in the deterministic universe. But then, in the more concrete case, we found exactly the opposite results. There, most participants (72 percent) said that Bill actually was responsible for what he had done.

What we have in this example is just one very simple initial experiment. Needless to say, the actual body of research on this topic involves numerous different studies, and the scientific issues arising here can be quite complex.  But let us put all those issues to the side for the moment.  Instead, we can just return to our original question.  How can experiments like these possibly help us to answer the more traditional questions of philosophy?

The simple study I have been discussing here can offer at least a rough sense of how such an inquiry works.  The idea is not that we subject philosophical questions to some kind of Gallup poll. (“Well, the vote came out 65 percent to 35 percent, so I guess the answer is … human beings do have free will!”) Rather, the aim is to get a better understanding of the psychological mechanisms at the root of our sense of conflict and then to begin thinking about which of these mechanisms are worthy of our trust and which might simply be leading us astray.

So, what is the answer in the specific case of the conflict we feel about free will? Should we be putting our faith in our capacity for abstract theoretical reasoning, or should we be relying on our more immediate emotional responses?  At the moment, there is no consensus on this question within the experimental philosophy community.  What all experimental philosophers do agree on, however, is that we will be able to do a better job of addressing these fundamental philosophical questions if we can arrive at a better understanding of the way our own minds work.


Joshua Knobe is an assistant professor at Yale University, where he is appointed both in Cognitive Science and in Philosophy. He is a co-editor, with Shaun Nichols, of the volume “Experimental Philosophy.”