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Comments on Edith Packer's Psychology Lectures

Comments on Lectures on Psychology: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions by Edith Packer (Objectivist and wife of George Reisman).

So far I've read the first 3 chapters, which cover core evaluations (I think this chapter is worth reading, even though I think it exaggerates some things), "Obsessive-Compulsive Syndrome", and happiness.

Suppose a child concludes: “No one cares about me.” This apparently calls for another conclusion—this time, about the child himself. For example, that “There must be something wrong with me.” And then, if the child feels that there is something wrong with him, he may conclude that life has nothing to offer him.

If no one cares about you, that doesn't imply something is wrong with you. People might have no idea whether you're good, bad or neutral, and be focused on their own lives.

Being flawed doesn't mean life has nothing to offer. No one would conclude that without some other bad ideas playing a significant role.

Most children do not share many of their important thoughts and emotions with their parents. For these reasons, there are very few people who reach adulthood without having some core evaluations that are at least partially mistaken.


You have heard people say about some person, “He overcame his terrible background and became a famous doctor.” This does indeed occur. There are some inspiring examples of people developing sound core evaluations even after many severe childhood injuries and becoming not only successful, but also happy, as adults. But in most cases, a child whose experiences lead him to feel continuous self-doubt, fear, guilt, and loneliness, will embrace some type of mistaken or irrational core evaluations.

The unstated premise here is that famous doctors have great core evaluations. Actually great doctors (or any other speciality) are usually just good at the one thing and pretty screwed up in general. It's more common that a great doctor has a conventional marriage full of standard flaws than that he has a great marriage.

The first thing that has to be done is for the patient to discover the original concrete experiences—usually painful ones—which caused him deep injury. Then the concrete experiences have to be reconnected with the evaluations that subsequently developed into the patient’s core evaluations.

No! Causes and solutions are different things. Knowing childhood causes often doesn't help much with solutions.

Now, in principle, an individual could go through this process [of identify and improving core evaluations] by himself. But, in my opinion, the process should in fact only be attempted with the aid of a competent psychotherapist.

This is authoritarian and really hostile to the capacity for individuals to act effectively to improve their own lives. It says to put your life in the hands of psychological authorities and don't dare to try to make progress on your own.

Being an authoritarian is normal in general, but it's worth pointing out coming from an Objectivist author who sat on the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The second attitude the happy person developed as the result of his egoism, along with that of responsibility for his own happiness, is his acceptance of the fact that he must expend effort in the pursuit of what is important to him.

When he was little, the effort simply consisted of such things as persisting in trying to convince his parents to give him the toy he wanted or in trying to learn how the toy he has been given works. Later, it consisted of such things as making the discovery that if he wants to learn to ride a bicycle, he has to put some effort into learning how to keep his balance when riding it. Similarly, in school, when he began to study more difficult subjects, such as fractions and decimals, and later algebra and geometry, he realized that there is pleasure in being able to understand, but that the pleasure follows only after the expenditure of the necessary effort.

Eventually the happy person learns that the more effort he puts into something, the more expert he becomes at it and the more he can enjoy the activity. His repeated successful application of effort in thinking and action results in his discovery that the process of exerting effort is essential to enjoyment, even if in the beginning it feels like drudgery. This discovery leads him to realize that exerting effort is the key to his ability to achieve his values. And then, since he recognizes that effort is what achieves his values, he connects pleasure with exerting the necessary effort itself. Later, since the effort is usually expended in learning, he becomes able to connect pleasure with learning. Finally, expending the effort to acquire knowledge in general brings him a sense of enjoyment because he experiences knowledge as the key to achieving values. And his expenditure of effort is punctuated by jolts of happiness as his efforts bring him successes in learning new things. Thus effort, learning, and knowledge become values to the happy person—values that consistently provide him with joy in his everyday life.

This is my favorite passage so far. I added the italics.

if you know a person who claims to have a good, rational philosophy, but is unhappy, the likelihood is that his actions are not consistent with that philosophy.

No, the likelihood is that he's mistaken about having a good, rational philosophy. That's very rare. It's also rare for one's actions to be consistent with his stated philosophy (good or not), but it's a big mistake to simply accept claims that anyone (let alone an unhappy person) has a good, rational philosophy.


Obviously, the more severe cases of sexual self-doubt require the specialized knowledge of a therapist.

Another authoritarian comment which tells people they're incapable of solving their own problems and require experts to tell them what to think and do. And we're told this is obvious!

Update 2:

I finished the book. Parts are pretty good but it's also dangerous. Beware psychology! Even especially good pscyhology like this still contains major dangers.

Elliot Temple on June 3, 2018


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