Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, Google Scholar) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited (Amazon) and After the Rain: How the West Lost the East (Amazon) as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He was Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (February, 2001 – April, 2003), CEO of Narcissus Publications (April, 1997 – April 2013), Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician (January, 2011 -), a columnist for PopMatters, eBookWeb, Bellaonline, and Central Europe Review, an editor for The Open Directory and Suite101 (Categories: Mental Health and Central East Europe), and a contributor to Middle East Times, a contributing writer to The American Chronicle Media Group, Columnist and Analyst for Nova Makedonija, Fokus, and Kapital, Founding Analyst of The Analyst Network, former president of the Israeli chapter of the Unification Church‘s Professors for World Peace Academy, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (1979-1982). He has been awarded Israel’s Council of Culture and Art Prize for Maiden Prose (1997), The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies (1976), and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American Embassy in Israel (1978), among other awards. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia (September, 2017 to present), Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies) (April, 2012 to present), a Senior Correspondent for New York Daily Sun (January, 2015 – Present), and Columnist for Allied Newspapers Group (January, 2015 – Present). He lives in Skopje, North Macedonia with his wife, Lidija Rangelovska. Here we talk about psychological growth.
*Previous interviews listed chronologically after interview.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: One fundamental aspect of life is change. All this begins with emotions and motivations. What are the basic emotions and motivations behind human action?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: Emotions are a subspecies of cognitions. Watch this video to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMqT56189Ag
All emotions are directional (goal-oriented) and induce action. All actions result in change. Therefore, all emotions lead to change and are transformative.
Jacobsen: Why are emotions primary for action?
Vaknin: Non-emotive cognitions are always subject to cognitive distortions and biases, are altered by the action of psychological defense mechanisms, and lead to a departure from reality (impaired reality testing). They are not helpful when it comes to survival. In a way, cognitions are a negative adaptation, from the point of view of evolution.
Emotions are more directly accessible to the mind in a non-intermediated way. They are less prone to mislabelling (in mentally healthy people). They are a more reliable guide and a trustworthy compass. Consequently, emotions are more intimately and immediately linked to action.
Jacobsen: What are the types of changes possible to the human nervous system now, whether introduced experientially, chemically, or otherwise?
Vaknin: The human CNS (Central Nervous System) is largely neuroplastic. It is responsive to repeated identical stimuli and learning. It is closely integrated with all the elements of its dual environments: the internal (for example : the gastrointestinal system) as well as the external. Every single dimension and manifestation of the human experience can be reprogrammed efficaciously using chemical substances, foods, light, sound, words, and other inputs.
Jacobsen: How far could functional reliable manipulation of the structure of the nervous system be taken in this century?
Vaknin: We are on the threshold of being able to create “designer CNS (nervous systems)” which will be responsive to idiosyncratic job descriptions and incorporate adaptations reactive to specific environments.
Simialry, soon we will learn to induce neural growth even in the brain and grow brains in a dish.
Finally, within a few decades, we will be routinely backing up our minds into external storage, the way we are doing with our smartphones today. Applications would be able to tap into these uploaded consciousnesses and data mining them both for commercial and medical purposes.
Jacobsen: There’s a phrase in North America. “You can’t change other people.” Can these changes internally be facilitated by external sources to a reasonable degree, or is the common sense wisdom truly more wisdom than folly?
Vaknin: After age 25, people rarely, if ever, change in fundamental ways. It is folly to try to transform your intimate partner, for example.
But, psychiatry and bioengineering are marching towards artificially engendered changes in personality, character, temperament, and mind. Neural implants, man-machine interfaces (cyborgs), tailored psychedelics and psychotropics, Immersive reality environments like the Metaverse – will all have irreversible impacts on the brains of willing (and unsuspecting) subjects.
Jacobsen: We’ve talked about religion and associated delusions. Some practices within religions induce real, lasting neurological change. If carving out the nonsense, and if keeping the practices, could these practices become part of robust, routine therapeutic techniques/modalities to create changes in patients’/clients’ lives – probably already being done?
Vaknin: Yes, it is already being done. Psychology is a brand of secular religion, of course, not a rigorous science by any stretch of the phrase. It makes use of many mind control and brainwashing techniques long deployed by institutional religions and sects. It leverages delusions and metaphors (ego, anyone ?) the same way the Church does.
Watch this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJqgR0VuUU8
Jacobsen: Even as a militant agnostic, you note the freethought movements more on the defensive now. What happens to the central nervous systems of true believers in religions throughout life – or in religious conversion experiences – to make religion overwhelmingly enchanting, and reason and science non-starters, in general?
Vaknin: Practice makes neural slaves. Religion, cunningly, insists on routines that consume the believers’s lives and rewire their brains. It becomes literally hardwired. It is not a question of enchantment – more a type of verbal surgery. Faith is an alien implant that snatches the systems of body and mind. It is an infestation with adherence to delusions replacing critical thinking.
Jacobsen: What are the most evidenced means by which to create lasting psychological growth and positive neurological change in one’s life for greater mental wellness in practices, in diets, in activities and hobbies, and the like?
Vaknin: The secret is self-love. Not narcissism which is a compensation for self-loathing and an inferiority complex – but profound, all-pervasive self-love.
Self-love is a healthy self-regard and the pursuit of one’s happiness and favorable outcomes. It rests on four pillars:
1. Self-awareness: an intimate, detailed and compassionate knowledge of oneself, a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, others’s roles, and threats
2. Self-acceptance: the unconditional embrace of one’s core identity, personality, character, temperament, relationships, experiences, and life circumstances.
3. Self-trust: the conviction that one has one’s best interests in mind, is watching one’s back, and has agency and autonomy: one is not controlled by or dependent upon others in a compromising fashion
4. Self-efficacy: the belief, gleaned from and honed by experience, that one is capable of setting rational, realistic, and beneficial goals and possesses the wherewithal to realize outcomes commensurate with one’s aims.
Self love is the only reliable compass in life. Experience usually comes too late, when its lessons can no longer be implemented because of old age, lost opportunities, and changed circumstances. It is also pretty useless: no two people or situations are the same. But self-love is a rock: a stable, reliable, immovable, and immutable guide and the truest of loyal friends whose only concern in your welfare and contentment.
Jacobsen: What happens to one’s capabilities to change one’s mind throughout the lifespan?
Vaknin: It diminishes dramatically and falls off a cliff after age 25 when the brain is fully formed. Confirmation bias sets in together with dozens of cognitive distortions (such as the Dunning-Kruger effect and the base rate fallacy). It is hopeless. The adult min dis an echo chamber, fortified behind the firewall of reality-reframing psychological defense mechanisms.
Jacobsen: When is it right or wrong to change one’s mind?
Vaknin: The only rational test is whether a change of mind enhances self-efficacy (is positively adaptive). It is all about survival. If altering your thinking enhances your chances to survive or thrive – you should, regardless of whether you find the transformation palatable or not.
Of course, many would disagree with such blatant utilitarianism. Parents sacrifice their lives for their children, for example. Soldiers and firemen and policemen do the same for the greater public good. On the face of it, these are irrational acts that beg for a seachange of mind.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Vaknin.
Vaknin: As usual, thank you for your thought-provoking questions.
Previous Electronic ‘Print’ Interviews (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)
(In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal: June 22, 2020)
(News Intervention: June 23, 2020)
(News Intervention: January 26, 2022)
(News Intervention: January 28, 2022)
(News Intervention: January 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 2, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 11, 2022)
(News Intervention: April 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 21, 2022)
Previous Interviews Read by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 26, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 29, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 31, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: February 3, 2022)
Image Credit: Sam Vaknin.