Sunday, June 17 , 2018, 4:02 pm | Mostly Cloudy 67º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 93) — Primary Set of Operating Premises

Dear Pinky and Spike:

Discovered: The Primary Set of Operating Premises (PSOP).

My last letter prompted inquiries all to the effect, “What’s with the podcasts and divorce?”

I’ve asked myself the same question before writing the last two letters and again as I start this one. The point of these letters is to publish bite-size bits of information, not otherwise accessible, to help people find their own way through a divorce that can be described as “good,” “wise,” “sound,” “decent,” “intelligent” and many other positive adjectives.

People going through divorce change. It’s an extraordinarily vulnerable time in life. There will be pain and there will be suffering — both of which are part of a normal and reasonably well-understood grief process.

The goal of the wise divorce, the intelligent divorce, the prudent divorce, the decent divorce is to be a “better” person at the end than you were at the beginning. That’s it — the whole enchilada!

You have to define “better” for yourself.

The podcasts I’m describing in these letters are engaging, entertaining and instructional — and they can gently loosen the mind so it has a better chance of making deliberate changes that improve the way it operates.

People who “work” at their grief try to understand it, so they have a chance to discover, examine and reconsider deeply held ideas and beliefs, some of which they didn’t know they had. Old beliefs that are wrong or not useful can be discarded and new beliefs can be integrated into what I’ll call one’s “Primary Set of Operational Premises” [Pee-SOP?]. For example, a deep belief in a notion of fundamental fairness is one that usually gets a good going over, and it rarely survives without significant modification.

                                                                        •        •

One of my deeply held beliefs is that lifelong learning is possible and an essential part of a "good life." Easy learning adds to what I already understand. Real learning involves the “upgrading” of my PSOP. I resist. The field of "decisional science" is hot, especially when applied to making money. There are several recent books that describe the so-called “confirmation bias” and why it is so extraordinarily difficult to change another person’s mind — and almost as difficult to change your own.

Now, back to grief. It’s possible to avoid its effects: You can squish them with drugs and alcohol, which is exactly what addicts do.

You can deal with the various emotional states grief visits upon us in ways that are essentially childlike. When overwhelmed with anger you can pick a target (guess who?) and strike out. When caught up in the frustration of the false bargaining stage, you can design tactics to impose your will on him/her and experience the illusion of “winning.” In the depression stage you can withdraw and pout.

Some people seem to be born with the capacity to shield themselves from the effect of grief. I think of them as stoics and imagine a capacity to “compartmentalize.” Grief is shoved into a cargo container and shipped out on the good ship “Stiff Upper Lip.” This could explain how some people can experience profound loss and continue to function as before. Is there a cost? Many years ago I sat next to a woman on a plane. She was in her 70s and, when I told her what I did, she said she needed to get away from her husband of many years. She explained, “He has never suffered, which means he’s not fully human. I can’t stand it.”

In contrast to the stoic, when a man who wants to understand himself is enveloped by anger, he realizes that the anger isn’t about its apparent stimulus. (Guess who?) It’s his and it is about him. He has a rare opportunity to come to a better understanding of his PSOPs and what he wants to do about them. He can decide if he wants to renew the subscription he’s had since birth to the cultural bias that makes anger the “safe” emotion for men to express. He could also make active decisions about when he’ll redirect it, when he’ll tap into its energy, when he’ll express it and when, if ever, he’ll feed it and let it slip like dogs of war.

The three podcasts I’m promoting gently open my mind to new possibilities. They deliver additional information on subjects I’m familiar with. They may also suggest a cogent worldview that includes ideas that have never occurred to me or plant seeds that will grow into a cognitive dissonance between a new idea or apparent fact that seems to be “true,” yet is in direct conflict with something in my PSOP. I’ll call this the “gravid mind.” It is uncomfortable because it’s frustrating, but it portends the birth of a new idea or an improved version of an old one.

                                                                        •        •

The Brain Science Podcast is a one-woman production by Virginia (Ginger) Campbell. She was an undergraduate engineering student before going to medical school, and she’s currently an emergency room physician. I imagine her at a small hospital near Somewhere, Alabama. There’s not a lot of action, and her shifts are 24 or 36 hours long. She’s a voracious reader of nonfiction. She has lots of time to read at work; neither her engineer husband nor anyone on the hospital ER staff is at all interested in the things that fascinate her.

So, she created a podcast as a vehicle to talk to — not just anyone — but to the authors of the books she’s been reading. The people she interviews have at least four things in common: (a) They are articulate and there is something in the way they use language that tells you they are very bright. (b) They are enthusiastic about the work they are doing. (c) They present both statements of fact and new ideas during each interview. (d) None is a know-it-all jackass. They are the opposite; they are clear about what they think they know, and what they think they don’t know, and they are modest about both.

If you have a reaction to Ginger’s Southern accent, it’s about you, not her. She is very bright and quick, and she’s always well prepared. If she’s talking to an author, you can be sure she’s read the book with care — and she’s often read the entire oeuvre. She designs questions in language accessible to her lay audience, and she doesn’t use scientific terms without defining them. When she’s talking to another physician, it would be easy for them to slip into technical terms they both understand as a way to avoid the challenge of explaining the issue in everyday language. Ginger doesn’t fall for it. It takes longer, and it’s more difficult, but Ginger gently insists that her guests explain the new in terms of the known.

The program is now on episode 110. The most recent 25 podcasts are free. Ginger has finally decided to charge for content after giving away her time and energy for several years. The cost for a “premium subscription” is $4.99 a month. A program transcript is $1.

After listening to a couple of programs from the most recent 25, you’ll know if you want to part with $5 to be able to choose from among the first 85.

» 43. Robert Burton, M.D., On Being Certain

Burton has done a lot of good work on decision-making.

» 44. Daniel Siegel, M.D., Meditation and the Brain

Siegel is a UCLA super star — one of his many interests is the neuro-scientific evidence for attachment theory. He’s a founder of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. There is, at this site, the only set of “guided meditations” I’ve been able to tolerate; they are done by Diana Winston, a MARC staff member.

» 45. John Ratey, M.D., About ADD

» 33. John Ratey M.D., Exercise and the Brain

Ratey was one of the first physicians to publish books about ADD for a lay audience. He has the condition himself, but it hasn’t prevented him from graduating from Harvard Medical School and joining its faculty.

» 26. Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself

This is an excellent introduction to the hot topic of “neuroplasticity” or “It’s never too late.”

» 82. Michael Gazzaniga, Who’s In Charge? Free will and the science of the brain

Gazzaniga is UCSB’s superstar. He’s been at the leading edge of neuroscience for at least 30 years. He was recruited from Dartmouth to become the head of UCSB’s Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, and he’s been named to deliver the William James Lectures in Psychology at Harvard, which may be something like the Nobel Prize for psychology. I’m reading his book, Human. My one word positive review is: irreverent.

» 100. Alvaro Fernandez, SharpBrain’s Guide to Fitness

I liked this guy. He’s got a product to pitch, but he does it gently.

» 105. Michael Merzenich, M.D., Soft-wire: How the new science of brain plasticity can change your life

Afterthought: Is this new field of neuroscience being led by scientists who are brilliant and need to be on edge? Or is this an academic enterprise energized by guys who were not or who would not do well in either the medical or academic status quo? I spent a couple of minutes looking at credentials: Burton, Seigel and Ratey are graduates of the Harvard Medical School. Merzenich graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and teaches at the UCSF Medical School. Doidge’s Ph.D. was awarded by Columbia University and Gazzaniga’s Ph.D. came from Cal Tech. This isn’t the second string.

Your friend,

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >