Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Lars Iyer - philosopher and author on his new book Wittgenstein Junior



Lars Iyer is the author of the novel WITTGENSTEIN JR (2014). He has also written a trilogy of novels, SPURIOUS, DOGMA and EXODUS, which has received rave reviews in nearly all major literary publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Spectator and The Believer.

Lars Iyer has also written two scholarly books on the work of Maurice Blanchot, and teaches philosophy at Newcastle University, UK.






The unruly undergraduates at Cambridge have a nickname for their new lecturer: Wittgenstein Jr. He’s a melancholic, tormented genius who seems determined to make them grasp the very essence of philosophical thought.


But Peters—a Northerner surprised to find himself among the elite—soon discovers that there’s no place for logic in a Cambridge overrun by posh boys and picnicking tourists, as England’s greatest university is collapsing under market pressures.


Such a place calls for a derangement of the senses, best achieved by lethal homemade cocktails consumed on Cambridge rooftops. Peters joins his fellows as they attempt to forget about the void awaiting them after graduation, challenge one another to think so hard they die, and dream about impressing Wittgenstein Jr with one single, noble thought.


And as they scramble to discover what, indeed, they have to gain from the experience, they realize that their teacher is struggling to survive. For Peters, it leads to a surprising turn—and for all of them, a challenge to see how the life of the mind can play out in harsh but hopeful reality.


Combining his trademark wit and sharp brilliance, Wittgenstein Jr is Lars Iyer’s most assured and ambitious novel yet—as impressive, inventive and entertaining as it is extraordinarily stirring.










How to Tell Who is Lying to You - The Latest Psychological Research




Syria's UN envoy has condemned what he called a "tsunami of lies" being told by some members of the United Nations Security Council. Bashar Jaafari is arguing Syrian forces were not to blame for a massacre in which 108 people were killed and 300 injured, but for which the UN blames heavy weapons by Syria's government.

In the face of what can seem like a 'tsunami of lies' on every horizon, we appear in dire need of the skill to spot who is actually telling the truth, to keep our heads above the rising tide. For example, the Leveson Inquiry continues to pursue the facts, yet some newspapers now prefer body language analysis when reporting what witnesses have said, apparently in order to glimpse the reality behind the words.

The latest psychological research on deception detection casts doubt as to whether the way the inquiry poses questions is likely to penetrate the defences of dissemblers.

It may come as a surprise that so-called experts are not good at spotting lying, but a review of 39 scientific studies by Professor of Applied Social Psychology, Aldert Vrij, a world authority on the science of deception, reveals an average accuracy rate of just 56.6% - in other words for over a third of the time lies go undetected. Men and women are no better than each other, Professor Vrij reports, and professional lie catchers such as police officers and customs officers are generally no superior to the lay public in detecting deceit.

One of the reasons we are so bad at spotting deception is there are widespread erroneous beliefs about what behaviours betray the telling of lies. For example, one of the commonest mistakes is that liars increase their body movements, the famous shiftiness, gaze aversion and fidgeting of a dissembler. In fact scientific research on this demonstrates the opposite is more true, liars more often decrease their body movements and tend to hold your gaze.

So can we learn from the psychological research into deception, to improve our ability to detect deception, and can these techniques help inquiries such as Leveson to sift fake answers from truth?

In fact there are many psychological strategies pioneered by experts such as Professor Vrij, who is based at the University of Portsmouth, which would help us all become better lie detectors, and many are detailed in his book Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (published by Wiley). Space only allows two to be mentioned here, both of which are notable in their absence from the style of questioning thus far in the Leveson Inquiry.

The first is called the 'Baseline Method', and it's based on the important principle that there is in fact no one behaviour that is universally characteristic of liars, but when any particular individual starts to stray from the truth, various cognitive, emotional and physiological processes kick in, which it is possible to detect.

But you can only spot these if you already have the 'baseline' of how someone behaves when they are telling the truth, and then compare that with the moment when you wonder if they have begun to lie.

Professor Vrij quotes a real-life example of a videotaped police interview with a murderer being asked to describe a whole day, not just the key moment the police believed he committed the homicide. Detailed analyses of the tape revealed a sudden change in behaviour as soon as the suspect started to describe his activities during the particular time of forensic interest. It was the contrast between his description of times when he didn't have to lie as he spoke, as no crime had occurred then, compared with the period the police were most interested in which was significant.

During his description of the part of the day when the police knew the murder had occurred, he spoke slower, added more pauses, and made fewer movements, compared to the baseline, the other parts of the day the police had patiently asked in detail about. He met the victim and killed her during the period where his behaviour changed when covering up.

Professor Vrij cautions that often interrogators misunderstand the true subtlety of this research finding and misapply it. Crucial in the use of the baseline technique is that correct parts of the interview are compared. Unfortunately, too often in police interviews 'small talk' at the beginning is used to establish a baseline. This is an incorrect way of deploying the technique as small talk and the actual police interviews are totally different situations. Both the guilty and innocent tend to change their behavior the moment the actual interview starts, not least because both are bound to become more nervous then.

Another psychological technique for better spotting lies pioneered by Professor Vrij and colleagues is called 'Devil's Advocate'. Interviewees are first asked questions inviting them to argue in favour of their personal view (eg "What are your reasons for supporting the US in the war in Afghanistan?"). This is followed by a Devil's Advocate question that asks interviewees to argue against their personal view (eg "Playing Devil's Advocate, is there anything you can say against the involvement of the US in Afghanistan?").

The 'Devil's Advocate Question' is an attempt to flush out what the interviewee truly believes, as if they are lying about their position on the war in Afghanistan, for example, the Devil's Advocate Question is actually what they really believe, but are covering up. As we think more deeply about, and are more able to generate, reasons that support rather than oppose our beliefs, this leaks out during the answer to the Devil's Advocate Question.

In effect, for liars the Devil's Advocate approach is a set-up where they first lie when answering the opinion-eliciting question, and are then lured into telling the truth when answering the Devil's Advocate question. Normally we aren't very good at giving reasons for a position we don't hold, so most people aren't good at being a 'devil's advocate' in this situation. Liars however are caught out because they now tend to give fuller and better answers in response to being asked to be a devil's advocate than non-liars. Using this technique Professor Vrij and colleagues found 75% of truth tellers and 78% of liars could be classified correctly.

But before we are too quick to judge those in the headlines who find themselves accused of lying, the psychological research indicates that ordinary people tell an average of 1.5 lies a day, but this rate can climb dramatically because how likely you are to deceive depends a lot on the situation you find yourself in. For example, studies find that 83% of students would lie to get a job and 90% are willing to lie on first dates to secure favorable impressions.

Raúl López-Pérez and Eli Spiegelman, academic Economists, point out in their paper entitled Why do people tell the truth? Experimental evidence for pure lie aversion, soon to be published, that one of the downsides of living in an acquisitive free market economy is how much we constantly gain materially by providing false information.

From doing our accounts, auditing, insurance claims, job interviews, negotiations, regulatory hearings, tax compliance, and all sorts of other situations we stand to gain if we lie, these economists point out, and indeed we are penalised if we are honest.

Given all the incentives to lie, López-Pérez and Spiegelman from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Université de Québec a Montréal, believe the more interesting question is not why do we lie, but instead, why do some people tell the truth? Perhaps more precisely, why do some stick to the truth even when it's not in their interests?

In their research 38.76% of subjects taking part in their experiments, chose to tell the truth even when they would suffer a penalty as a result. López-Pérez and Spiegelman come up with an intriguing new theory of lying where they believe there is a minority of the population who suffer from what they call 'pure lie aversion'. This means some tell the truth because of an innate abhorrence for lying.

López-Pérez and Spiegelman argue this is a significant force behind honesty which has hitherto been neglected by science. It's certainly a factor we should perhaps look for more in our politicians, but then again, maybe we get the lying leaders we deserve because we're constantly seduced into voting for the best con artists. Perhaps all electorates should become more educated in Professor Vrij's techniques before casting their vote.

López-Pérez and Spiegelman also found that those who lied were significantly more likely to believe that others would lie as well. This means the more our politicians and authority figures, even friends or colleagues lie, the more deception will continue spreading.

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist based in London and Aldert Vrij (PhD) is a Professor of Applied Social Psychology who has published almost 400 articles and 7 books on the above topics, including his 2008 book Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (published by Wiley), a comprehensive overview of research into nonverbal, verbal and physiological deception and lie detection. 


This podcast has been made on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK) by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

For more general podcasts visit: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/discoverpsychiatry/pod­casts.aspx

Direct download: raj_persaud_in_conversation_with_lars_iyer.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm UTC

Was Shakespeare a Psychotherapist?

Why was Shakespeare performed inside Broadmoor Hospital - a high-security psychiatric unit?


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen


Festivities on the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth celebrate the writer's literary and story-telling skills, but recent academic studies suggest the Bard may have anticipated Sigmund Freud, and even modern neuroscience.



One new review entitled, 'William Shakespeare as Psychotherapist', suggests that this canon of work could even teach us how better to understand ourselves.



Recently published in the 'International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies', the investigation suggests that, as there was no counselling available during Shakespeare's time, so in this especially troubled era, these plays may have provided a kind of shared experience for the audience, which could be the equivalent of modern psychotherapy.



The author of the study, Paul Coombe, a psychotherapist who worked in London, but who is now based in Australia,  argues that Shakespeare's Globe Theatre spectators endured a great deal sufferinglove and loss. The plaguethreat of sentence of death or imprisonment, public executions, massive neonatal mortality rate and warsall meant life was especially precarious at that time. Henry VIII came to the throne of England in 1509, and some 80,000 people may havedied on the gallows during his reign.



Modern stories, films and plays may also serve to distract us in troubled times, but Shakespeare dug deeper, and helped his audience confront their own unconscious.



Psychoanalysts, including Sigmund Freud himself, have interpreted a great deal of hidden meaning and deep insight into the human condition in Shakespeare's plays. For example, some psychoanalysts see special significance in the title of Hamlet, written in approximately 1601, given Shakespeare's own son, named Hamnet, died in 1596.



At the heart of Shakespeare's plays appear conflicts and torments that the central characters declare publicly. In particular his tragedies seem to pose a key question as to how much each of us is doomed to follow a destiny etched in our personality, rather than freely to choose to reverse our fate.



Coombe contends that the Bard understood how flawed our characters could be. In the tragedies people move inexorably in one direction, identifying with just a single passion.



Coombe reports that Shakespeare himself seems to develop his understanding of conflict: so that in his earlier playtension occurs between characters or groups, while in later worksthe key intricacy becomes internal conflict within the hero. Endings are contrived so that the audience is struck by the tragic lossesbecause the hero contributes profoundly to his own downfall.




Coombe contends that this kind of perspective provided opportunities for the public of the time to reflect upon the relevance to their own lives. Coombe also quotes Harold Bloom and Frank Kermode, eminent Professors of Humanities and English in the US and the UK,  who contend that there is a sense Shakespeare invents the modern human. His characters over hear themselves, and reflect on their own thoughts. Perhaps the way we can perceive and think about ourselves as autonomous individuals today, first arrives with Shakespeare. Maybe his contribution even paves the way for introspection and psychotherapy.  



Perhaps the acid test as to whether Shakespeare can really counsel was when he was performed at Broadmoor - a maximum security special hospital for those with severe mental illnesses, who have committed serious crimes, such as homicides.



The late Murray Cox, an eminent psychotherapist, introduced Shakespeare to Broadmoor, ensuring that dangerous emotions of desireenvy, despair, insanity, homicide and suicide, as portrayed in plays such as Hamletand Romeo and Juliet, were performed before an audience which included some who had murdered, and perpetrated other destructive acts.



The plays were put on with no financial benefit, by professional Shakespearean companies, and performances were followed by a ‘therapeutic trialogue’ between actors, patients and clinicians. This is all described in an editorial entitled, 'Psychotherapy, religion and drama: Dr Murray Cox and his legacy for offender patients', published in 2007 in the academic journal, 'Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health', by Harvey Gordon (a psychiatrist), Mark Rylance (an eminent Shakespearian actor) and Geoffrey Rowell (a bishop).



But beyond being a kind of psychotherapist before the profession was even invented, is it also possible that Shakespeare might have been an early neuroscientist?



Entitled, 'How Shakespeare tempests the brain: Neuroimaging insights' using the latest brain scanning techniques - Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - a new study finds that a particular literary technique of Shakespeare's,  elicitssignificant brain activation beyond cerebral regions classically activated by typical language tasks.



The authors of the study, James Keidel, Philip Davis, Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz, Clara Martin and Guillaume Thierry, argue that Shakespeare’s grammatical exploration forces his audience's brains to take a more active role in grasping the meaning of the dialogue.



The investigation from Bangor University, Liverpool Moore University and Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, was partly inspired by the authors' observation that beyond Shakespeare's formidable prowess at 'illustrating the inner life of his characters', through the way he expresses their thoughts, his particular use of language might also illustrate a special ability to get inside the audience’s mind.



This study, recently published in the academic journal 'Cortex', investigated how Shakespeare exploits linguistic expectations, such as how well-crafted poetry generates its effects by lulling readers into a false sense of security. Rhythm and rhyme feed fundamental needs for monotony, symmetry and surprise. A feeling of knowing what is coming next, only for these expectations to be dashed with an unexpected word or phrase.



An example of this word play is Shakespeare’s frequent use of 'functional shift' - the use of aappropriate word in ainappropriate role. For instance, when describing to Othello the invented affair between Cassio and DesdemonaIago states: “O, tis the spite of hell... to lip a wanton in a secure couch, and to suppose her chaste”. This contains two examples of 'functional shift': (a) the use of the noun ‘lip’ as a verb meaning to kiss/copulate; and (b) the use of the adjective ‘wanton’ as a noun to represent Desdemona.



Their finding of increased brain activity beyond traditional brain language processing areas by Shakespeare's literary technique, leads the authors to conclude that lines such as,“To lip a wanton in a secure couch” may be working at twolevels.



Iago uses vivid language to ferment the Moor’s anger. But Shakespeare also neurologically disturbs the audience, by violating linguistic expectations.



From the standpoint of the listener, the 'Functional Shift' is correct yet wrong. The shifted word fits the overall meaning of the sentence, but its 'syntactic illegalityjarsThe authors of the brain scanning research found this effect leads to widespread increases in cerebral activity, compared to if a more routine phrase was used.


As a result, the new study concludes that Shakespeare achieves a kind of ‘neurological tempest’.

Category:(1) Articles -- posted at: 11:07am UTC

Psychotherapist Shakespeare. Was Shakespeare a Psychotherapist?

Was Shakespeare a psychotherapist?

Raj Persaud in conversation with Paul Coombe

Paul Coombe is a psychiatrist and individual and group psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. He was formerly Consultant Child Psychiatrist at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne. He was also the Overseas Senior Registrar in Psychotherapy at the Cassel Hospital, London from 1990 to 1993. He is the Immediate Past President of the Australian Association of Group Psychotherapists and member of the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australia.

The reason we are talking to Paul is that this year marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and Paul has recently published an academic paper entitled 'William Shakespeare as Psychotherapist' in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies (Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 10(4): 334--348 (2013))

Paul describes several arguments from the academic world including the startling claim that Shakespeare invents the modern human by creating characters such as Hamlet who think hard about themselves and publicly discourse about their inner lives and conflicts. In a sense then Shakespeare paves the way for us to contemplate ourselves and perhaps even therefore anticipates psychotherapy. 

For more information see this accessible article:




Why was Shakespeare performed inside Broadmoor Hospital - a high-security psychiatric unit?


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen



Direct download: raj_persaud_in_conversation_with_paul_coombe_1.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 10:30am UTC