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:: Wednesday, November 05, 2003 ::

Meaning

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The quotation below is from the University of Birmingham's Corpus Centre. Great stuff!

Language is not a mirror of reality, nor is it a mere reflection of some universal 'mentalese' or 'language of thought'. Meaning is socially constructed in the discourse, in texts that shape and reshape continually the complex interactions among people and the institutions they establish. It is in texts that the members of a discourse community negotiate the meaning of what they say. Meaning isn't stable. Every new contribution to the discourse can bring about change. The Centre for Corpus Linguistics investigates meaning as a social phenomenon.



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I prefer to think that meaning is socially constructed. However, as one develops through the usual school systems, it becomes apparent that meaning is more dictated out of a dictionary than socially constructed. It may seem as a who cares issue, but when defining medical definitions, meaning is of vital importnace. What is health, for example. If one is living in a war zone, then paranoia and hyper-vigilance would be healthy behaviours to have. Yet, if one is living in a bucolic environment, then paranoia and hyper-vigilance would seem unhealthy.

Aphasia (language impairment from brain damage) is good example of a medical condition whose definition is better served out of the emergence of social interaction of aphasia sufferes and their care givers than by that defined by health professionals alone. In fact, the World Health Organization of the United Nations defines aphasia in a diagnositic manner rather than from sufferers point of view .

And so, what is considered healthy for a young person in Canada or the US? Is that not a problem facing many if not all teenagers? If I have to deal with young university students again, what could I say that would express my concerns when I was going through this time? There is so much going on then. Everything is new.

Some basics of the underlying unawareness of the majority of citizens would be in order. Firstly, understanding the world through how your brain works is the best way to go. Do you have a friend who has a learning disorder? 15% of males do, so you probably know someone. Do you know someone who has been abused or is being abused? Who doesn't? But the strategy of life is balancing the denial of the horrors of life with its realities. Dwelling on illness will just make you ill.

And with new neuroscience discoveries, we now know that during the teen years, particularly 13-15, people go through very dramatic brain development, only compararble to that during the first 6 years of life. And so, during these 2 years, the elimination of neuron connections is very active. So, one can think of this as a "use it or lose it" period where if one is not using their brain for challenging activites, then fewer neuron connections will be sustained.

As well during these 2 years, the prefrontal dorsal lateral cortex is undergoing dramatic development. This area of the brain is responsible for higher order reasoning as well as decision making, among many other things. It is sometimes likened as the Chief Executive Officer of the brain. Likewise, the corpus collussum, the amygdala and cerebellum are also going through changes. Here is graphic of these regions and what they do.

And so, this biological development is taking place and there is no awareness of it in the schools. What a nightmare! You can find out more about the teenage brain here from a PBS documentary. Great stuff! There is also some education policy making advice from Jack Shonkoff of Brandeis University which is oriented around discoveries in neuroscience. His book is online.

And just as important is the denial of childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse where 20% of people in the US are considered to have been abused, and many develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This has huge impacts on behaviour such as splitting, disassociation and psychosis which impacts everybody especially if the negative results of abusive behaviour are reinforced and encouraged in society such as psychotic competitiveness or dramatic behaviors.

Related to this is that the Canadian Department of National Defence came out with a report on (PTSD) in 2002 where it was claimed that up to 2/3 of military families have someone in the family who suffers from PTSD. That means that mental illness is the norm for these families! That, the meaning that they negotiate with each other would have the symptoms of PTSD (e.g., flashbacks) be tolerated as being normal. "You're just having nightmares, just like your Dad."

Well, if this is true for Canada where our military families are so few, then imagine how many are affected in countries with large military forces and enforced conscription. That's pretty much the rest of the world.

And now, if we combine these two nightmares, an adolescent undergoing radical brain change and being raised by a PTSD family then there is no wonder that we live in a mad world of violence and war.

A great example of this comes from Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations. He describes the Tamil uprising in the 1980's where teenagers, the Tigers, actually led the revolt which resulted in Muslims toppling the Buddhist government in Sri Lanka. There are other examples of teenagers being involved in wars (some NGO's are doing some good work to end the recruitment of child soldiers), and so it would seem that addressing social issues from war to education reform with the findings of neuroscience is what people are looking for.

:: David 9:40 PM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Tuesday, November 04, 2003 ::
More on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Military


Here's an old story I found on canoe.ca regarding post traumatic stress disorder and the challenges that the military brass has to face up to in order to change. To me, this would incredibly improve society and it is what is holding us significantly back, even more so in the US where so many families are or were military families. Anyhow, maybe the US military won't change any time soon, but can't the mass media outlets?


Dealing with post-traumatic stress needs tough action


By JOHN WARD -- Canadian Press


OTTAWA (CP) -- If the military wants to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, dubbed the occupational hazard of the Forces, it's going to have to get tough.

Dr. John Service, executive director of the Canadian Psychological Association, said it will take a concerted effort by top leaders to change the attitudes and the military culture to persuade soldiers that the syndrome -- known in short as PTSD -- is a real injury, not an excuse for slackers. Service said it can be done.

"It's going to take a long time, but if the top brass and the middle management folks, those majors and colonels and the like, if they really grab hold of this thing they could make tremendous change in a short period of time.

"But it is something they're going to have to stick to. They're going to have to stick to it for years, it's going to have to be part of the culture."

In the mid-1990s, amid a series of scandals over sexual harassment in the military, the generals decided to crack down. They ordered military police to hunt down and prosecute harassers. There were high-profile courts martial, including one of a colonel decorated during the Gulf War.

Gen. Maurice Baril, then the top general, announced bluntly that anyone who couldn't deal with women in the military had better get out. Such decisive action is needed to deal with PTSD, said Service.

"That's the kind of thing that has to be done that changes cultures very quickly."

Andre Marin, the Canadian Forces ombudsman, released a powerful report last week calling PTSD the occupational hazard in the military and urging more resources be devoted to helping its victims.

Once known as shell shock or combat fatigue, the disorder carried a deadly stigma for soldiers. But the military brass now agree with Marin and say they're already working hard at helping those with the syndrome.

Lt.-Gen. Christian Couture, assistant deputy minister for human resources, said the Forces take PTSD seriously.

"First of all we need to effect a cultural change," he said. "We need education. People need to know what operational stress injuries are...the symptoms, the effect on an individual.

"By recognizing that this is real, then we hope to eliminate this kind of stigmatization or being put aside."

The general said senior officers want to stamp out the idea that PTSD is really a clever form of malingering.

"That's unacceptable."

Marin said the Forces have made progress. But there's more to be done.

"PTSD is not a new problem, nor is it one that can be avoided," he wrote in his report. "It is the cost of Canada's continued involvement on the world stage as a nation committed to preserving peace."

Marin said there are many unknowns in dealing with occupation stress and its tragic fallout.

The disorder can leave soldiers fearful, depressed, unable to carry out their normal tasks. No one even knows how many soldiers are suffering, because there is no national database.

Some estimate three to five per cent of soldiers coming home from tough overseas missions can have it. Others say it's up to 15 per cent.

One military psychiatrist estimated that up to half the returning soldiers suffer some sort of mental upset if not full-blown PTSD.

Why this seeming epidemic?

Marin suggested that the best soldiers are most susceptible because their professionalism and compassion are overstrained by horrific events. Service suggested that while the syndrome has existed for years, people are more willing to acknowledge it.

"We can only speculate, but certainly one of the issues is that we're detecting it far better than we ever did before," he said. "It's like other situations such as spousal abuse or child abuse, it's being better reported and better identified.

"I think that people are taking in more seriously."

A key to helping victims is to get soldiers to admit they've been wounded, that mental injuries are as real as a missing limb.

Roméo Dallaire, the general who led the disastrous UN mission in Rwanda during the 1994 massacres, came home sorely wounded in spirit. His depression eventually forced him into retirement, but not before he spearheaded the first efforts to win acceptance for PTSD.

Defence Minister Art Eggleton said Dallaire started the change in the military culture. Marin said he will revisit the situation in nine months, a move Eggleton welcomed.

Service said the military has made progress.

"They just need to do a better job of it and they need to do it probably with more resources but to say they haven't been concerned and attentive to it is incorrect in my opinion.'

:: David 11:24 PM [+] ::
... Comment

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