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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Jul 22, 2023

"Technology is based on the premise that there can be an optimization of things through algorithmic understanding. ‘Ones and zeros’ data can be manipulated and thus produce an optimal outcome which is a lovely idea for certain kinds of things. It's not necessarily, in my opinion, the best idea for the psyche or for happiness or for developing a life that's meaningful. I think a psychological mindset is slightly different in that our colleagues are really concerned with being with the person, making meanings, suffering sometimes through difficult things, so there isn't just an automatic assumption as there is in the tech mindset that we're trying to optimize for whatever it is that's good. It becomes very philosophical in the end… What is optimized? What is good? Why should we do it? There are all these kinds of questions that one may ask the technology mindset person: Why would we want to hack our nutrition or our mental health in order to become stronger or better? It is a little problematic, I think, as an end goal." 


Episode Description: Nicolle begins by describing her journey from being a math teacher in the inner city to then becoming a consultant in the early days of the tech revolution. She shares the ethical concerns that led her to shift her interest to the mental health field and her eventually becoming Dean of the School of Professional Psychology and Health at California Institute of Integral Studies. While there she observed that "analysts think differently." This led her to seek to train as an analyst while also utilizing her familiarity with the tech mindset to create bridges with those in each field. We discuss the differences in ways of thinking between technologically immersed individuals and those with a psychological orientation - keeping in mind that each has much to learn from the other. We consider the dangers in the developing technological world, which include matters of privacy, distractedness, and a capacity to sit with suffering. We close with Nicolle sharing her vision for the future, which includes analysts playing a part in developing ethical approaches to the upcoming new developments. Her podcast is titled Technology and the Mind.


Our Guest: Nicolle Zapien, Ph.D. is a licensed MFT with 20 years of clinical experience. She is a post-seminar candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC). She serves on the Ethics committee and the Visiting Scholar committee at PINC and also on APsA’s committee for public information. From 2015 to 2019, Dr. Zapien served as Professor and Dean of the School of Professional Psychology and Health at California Institute of Integral Studies, overseeing 6 clinical training degree programs and 5 training clinics. There, she served on the IRB and chaired the research committee. Prior to her clinical work, Dr. Zapien spent a decade as a consultant designing, conducting, and/or overseeing over 200 quantitative and/or qualitative studies for industry clients and non-profits. Some of these studies employed user experience and human factors design methods to optimize the user experiences of technology products and services delivered via smartphones, tablets, websites, or kiosks. She has authored 2 books and several academic articles on themes associated with human decision-making, ethics, and phenomenology.


Recommended Readings:

Bednar, K., & Spiekermann, S. (2022). Eliciting Values for Technology Design with Moral Philosophy: An Empirical Exploration of Effects and Shortcomings. Science, Technology, & Human Values. 


Frankel, R. & Krebs, V. (2022). Human Virtuality and Digital Life: Philosophical and Psychoanalytic Investigations. Routledge: New York, NY.


Greenfield. A. (2021). Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life. Verso: New York, NY.


Marshall, Brandeis Hill (2023). Data Conscience: Algorithmic S1ege on our Humanity.John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.


Millar, I. (2021). The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence. Palgrave MacMillian: Cham, Switzerland.


Turkle, S. (2022) The Empathy Diaries. Penguin Press: New York, NY.