Category Archives: Mental health

Thinking Stoically about Emotions.

Dr John Sellars, Lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway.

Surely, when we think of Emotions, we imagine the most intensive ones. And rightly so, Seneca claimed that emotions were “temporary madness”. Surely, when we think “stoic”, we imagine someone unfeeling, perhaps even unwell. This is how Dr Sellars started his presentation, not necessary wanting to provoke any reactions but wanting to share his learning from Stoics. In particular, the fact that emotions are a product of judgement. What he explained to us is that “pathe”is more accurate word for affection and passion, therefore not naturally controlled “emotions”. Dr Sellars suggested stoical solutions to how to manage our emotions. The audience was captivated and this was expressed in variety of questions: is there an end product for stoicism such it is eg. in buddhism? How long does it take to train yourself to be “virtuous” person? Can becoming rational reduce empathy? One might ask if we get our answers. To some extend whatever, one has taken from this lecture, it might bring some element of satisfaction, change of intentions or simply broaden our minds. It was an excellent lecture!

Edgar Jones: The Psychology of War: from shell shock to post-traumatic stress disorder.

edgar jones2018’s Williams Project programme began with a visit from Professor Edgar Jones (Professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at King’s College London) to talk to the students about “The Psychology of War: from shell shock to post-traumatic stress disorder.” Professor Jones currently works at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience and is based in the Maudsley Hospital, which initially opened as a military hospital and then eventually as a psychiatric hospital. His talk covered mental health from both the past and today; firstly, soldiers during the First World War, with many cases reported after battles such as the Somme and the 3rd Ypres. Pictures were shown to the WP cohort of the shell-shocked soldiers of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, showing how war often had a deeper psychological impact after seeing physical trauma. He explained how after analysing data, he and his team found how psychological injury was closely linked to physical injury and that it spiked much higher after large amounts of fatalities/injuries (often higher than the number of deaths). Professor Jones then went on to discuss how many of those impacted by the Blitz bombings suffered from PTSD; despite shell shock having similar symptoms, PTSD is distinguished by the sufferer experiencing a deeply traumatising experience. He then went on to compare these with more modern-day events, such as terrorist attacks like the 7/7 bombings, and more recently the Manchester arena attack. Professor Jones explained how the media often misuse the term ‘panic’ when describing rational behaviour in the face of real threats, and in this way distort the responses of the public. ‘Panic’ is defined as irrational behaviour, rather than just being scared and running for safety.

After a detailed Q&A with some excellent questions, the talk came to a close and several students joined the professor at dinner for continued discussion about both the talk as well as life at university. This was definitely a profound and thought-provoking talk for all, and it really showed what an impact mental health can have in times of war and distress. Thank you Professor Jones for a great start to WP 2018!

Further reading:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/a-traumatic-history/20267#.WlciySN0fZp

Howard and Mitchell Essay Prizewinners 2017

Nearly a hundred Chigwell pupils, staff and parents attended the annual presentation of the winning essays in the Howard and Mitchell Essay competition. This competition is open to Year 12 students, whose essays, initiated, researched and written independently, enter either the Howard (arts and humanities) or Mitchell (maths and sciences) contests.

This year’s winners were (Mitchell) Zuzanna Borawska, on “From Gutenberg to printing organs – the amazing story of 3D printing”, and (Howard) Olivia Mendel-Portnoy, on “To what extent was the improvement of treatment of patients in Bethlem Royal Hospital from 1815-90, due to the York Retreat?” Both talks were expertly prepared and confidently delivered, and the subsequent wealth of perceptive questions allowed the presenters to reveal how much they knew beyond what they had said in their talks. The presentations were followed by a dinner, which ended with some wise and witty words of advice from 2006 Howard winner, and now TV screenwriter, Laura Neal.

This year’s table competition was to produce the best map of Central London from memory.

Alan Dronsfield: A chemical, medical and social history of cocaine

On Tuesday 3rd November, the Williams Project welcomed back Professor Alan Dronsfield from the University of Derby to give a talk on the historical uses of cocaine. As we had learnt from his previous talks at the WP, Professor Dronsfield is a clear, experienced speaker whose keen interest in his topic is infectious.
Professor Dronsfield opened his talk by showing us six pictures of famous historical people who had taken cocaine in some form; Thomas Edison and even Queen Victoria among them. This helped him make the point that cocaine was once a common thing, before we were fully aware of its dangers. He told us that teas containing cocaine were common, and that the original form of the drink Coca-Cola contained a form of cocaine. However, he also explained that one form of cocaine had incredible medicinal value, specifically for dentistry purposes. For in the time before the mouth-numbing injection you can get today, you had to have your fillings done without anaesthetic, which was very difficult for the dentists. However, some scientists discovered that, by injecting cocaine into the patient’s mouth, they wouldn’t feel any pain and would even be a bit euphoric. This became common practice for quite some time before better methods were discovered which didn’t have such effects on the brain. Professor Dronsfield finished his talk by showing us a graph of lots of common recreational drugs and how they compared in terms of harmfulness. Cocaine was actually found to be less harmful than heroine, crack and, surprisingly, alcohol.
Professor Dronsfield’s talk was well-presented and very interesting, and we look forward to having him back again in the future.

Thomas Lockley

Alan Dronsfield

Lynne Russell (Restorative Justice 4 Schools): resolving conflict, telling the truth, taking responsibility

Lynne Russell spoke about how her organisation works with schools to help young people manage their behaviour. Restorative justice ‘not only allows the harmer to see the impact of their behaviour but also allows the “harmed” person the opportunity to see if they contributed to the conflict in anyway by their own behaviour. Both participants are then able agree their own joint contract of how they are going to treat each other in the future, this gives them a personal stake in the success of the contract.’ Hard-hitting videos from offenders who had had to confront their victims reinforced the power and effectiveness of this approach. A really interesting, and moving, afternoon.

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Alex Wade: “The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man”

This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.

However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?

A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.

Thomas

Alex Wade at the WP

Alan Dronsfield and Ann Ferguson: “Mother’s little helpers: Valium, its discoverer and discovery”

Professor Dronsfield, an old friend of the WP, and Dr Ferguson (retired Consultant Anaesthetist) presented a double-act on this widespread drug.

Ann told us about Leo Sternbach, the discoverer/inventor of valium: how, as a Jew, he escaped the Nazis in Central Europe and began a new life in the US working for pharmaceutical company Roche. Alan explained how, while here, he invented a series of tranquillisers, including diazepam, marketed as “Valium”, which is celebrated in the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. He stressed how luck and persistence were the key ingredients to Sternbach’s success, rather than “genius”: Einstein was right.

A fascinating and wide-ranging afternoon: it’s really interesting when scientists such as Alan and Ann are able to combine technical chemistry with the history and social context behind important developments.

Mr S. Goodfellow and colleagues: “P4C”

Chigwell’s philosopher-in-chief and four Remove students (Adam Goriparthi, Max Humphreys, Tom Lockley and Michael Newman) led the Williams Project in a demonstration of the P4C (Philosophy for Children) method. We watched a ‘stimulus’ video about a near-death experience, in small groups generated questions we’d like to discuss, voted on the two we’d like to consider in more depth, and then had an open discussion on these two. Our two chosen questions were: “Can near-death experiences be medically explained?” and “If there were such a thing as life after death, why would there be life after death?”.

A really interesting afternoon. Mr Goodfellow’s P4C club will restart in September (Tuesdays of Week A, 4:15, RS1).

Howard and Mitchell Essay Competition – prizewinners’ presentations

Cordelia Griffith (Howard Essay winner) and Katie Marshall (Mitchell) gave excellent presentations on their essays to a packed library, and dealt with some probing questions with cool skill. Cordelia spoke on “Does Dicey’s conception of the “rule of law” apply in a dictatorship?”, calmly and lucidly demonstrating how the Nazis, in their attempts to ensure that everything they did was technically ‘legal’, nevertheless broke some of Dicey’s rules about how a decent legal system would operate. Katie (“How close is a cure for Parkinson’s Disease?”) explained clearly and with passion some complex science, and focused on how stem cell research might ‘in a generation’ at least bring about clinical trials of the long-awaited cure to this debilitating illness.
The presentations were introduced by representatives of the judging panels, Graham Dixon and David Gower, who stressed the range and quality of this year’s entries, and the importance of letting one’s academic interests develop in ways not overly restricted by thoughts of ‘career’: the career will follow the interests.
Later the annual dinner was held, where we were addressed by Jessica Beagley (OC and former Mitchell winner). She reinforced the point made by the judges, explaining how her career had (already) taken many surprising twists and turns, from scientific research to political lobbying, yet with the common thread of her interest in physiology. It was a perfect way to end the evening.

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Daisy Thurkettle: “Plant, animal and mineral: aphrodisiacs in Ancient Greece”

The Ancient Greeks and Romans placed a huge amount of importance on their sexual being, and had a keen interest in the biological and psychological mechanisms behind lust and carnal desire. Daisy Thurkettle’s talk at the Williams Project on provided a fascinating insight into the various botanical and pharmaceutical methods that the ancients used to synthesise lust and cure impotence (or perhaps less eloquently, ‘get in the mood’). The talk began on the use of essential oils in swathes in royal palaces, such as Cleopatra (who allegedly bathed in milk and rose), but the audience was quickly surprised to learn that love potions and cures for impotence were not only used by the femmes-fatales and powerful goddesses of myth, but by actual Greek people.
These cures included a mass of vegetables and plants which were, perhaps obviously, considered to have genitally-themed aesthetics (leeks, carrots and terebinth tree, anyone?). However, what really gripped the audience were the variously disgusting, poisonous and cannibalistic ingredients; these included dried human marrow, powdered silver beetle, wolfsbane, skink lizard and the famed hippomane – a piece of membrane found on the head of a newborn foal, which was mixed with milk to create the potion Dido made for Aeneas. Needless to say, any combination of some of these ingredients probably caused more death than arousal.
Miss Thurkettle called on a wide range of texts – fragments by various ‘unknown’ ancient authors, texts by Apuleius (including the famous Golden Ass), Hippocrates, and even the Bible. The overarching message of the talk was that the ancients were actually scientifically wise beyond their time in the discovery of some biologically effective aphrodisiacs, but were also developed psychologically (perhaps unintentionally) in their use of the placebo effect.

Rhea Gupta

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