JOLTY welcomes back Dr. Joel Weinberger to delve deeper into the conversation surrounding the unconscious mind. Are your thoughts shaped solely by your values, environment, and morals? Or is there more at work here?
Maggie Wilkinson: Welcome to Jolty, a podcast to help you lift your perspective above this Jolty moment and focus on the ultimate direction of our business and personal lives. Hi, I’m Maggie Wilkinson, CEO of Athena Global Advisors, and I’m excited to reconnect with long-time friends and amazing futurists Faith Popcorn and Adam Hanft as we talk to Dr. Joel Weinberger about the unconscious mind. So with that, let’s jolt.
Adam Hanft: Dr. Joel Weinberger, just a bit of background on him. First, he is an old friend of mine. We’ve worked together on many consumer projects where his insights were invaluable. He’s a professor at Adelphi in psychology, and he is a terrific analysist of the unconscious mind, unconscious processes, that’s his area of specialization, why we do what we do without realizing what we do. It could be no better time to have him on. So with that, hello, Joel.
Faith Popcorn: Hi, Joel.
Joel Weinberger: How are you, Faith?
FP: And then we have Maggie here. Maggie Wilkinson, CEO of Athena Global. And you know Adam. Can we talk about sex?
AH: Thank you, Faith, for that transition.
FP: Thank you. It’s a little hard transition, but it’s always interesting to people.
AH: It was well-executed.
MW: Thank you.
AH: So let’s go down the list. Let’s see what other questions we have for Joel.
FP: Okay, so…
AH: The infidelity pill.
FP: Okay, you ask that.
AH: So let’s say there was… Let’s say after Pfizer finished the vaccine, their brilliant scientists decided to work on something else, and that would be an infidelity pill. So if you could get your significant other to take it, you could do whatever you wanted and there would be absolutely no consequences. So…
FP: That was a Black Mirror episode, I think. [chuckle]
AH: I think it might have been, but do you think people would act in a different way? Just to get back to last week, if there were no consequences… Yeah.
JW: You’re asking would people be unfaithful if they could get away with it and knew they could get away with it? Is that the question?
AH: What we use to call a business trip.
JW: In my field we call it a conference.
AH: Right, exactly.
JW: I have to think about that. Let me give you a… I think there’s certain people that just would not do that, and there are certain people that do it anyway, so obviously they’d be happy with that pill because now they…
FP: What about the other people, the middle people?
JW: The middle people is what I’m wondering about. The suggestion is what prevents them is fear, and if you take away the fear, they’re gonna do it. There’s a theory of evolution says there’s two ways to propagate your genes. One is you make sure that your offspring grow up healthy and stay alive. Which means you have to be around, which means you have to nurture them. Or you just spread your genes all over the damn place and you have a bunch offspring and some of them will survive. So these are two reproductive strategies, and apparently, if you believe the theory, they’re mixed in our population, I wouldn’t call it randomly, but genetically, they’re there.
JW: And some people are built to have a bunch of kids all over the place, and other people are built to watch their own. I remember where I grew up, I grew up in the South Bronx, and I remember one kid telling me there what a great father he had, because on Christmas, he visited all of his children no matter where they lived. I remember I was, I don’t know, about 12 or 13, I thought, “That doesn’t seem right to me.”
FP: Was it Queens or on Brooklyn? Or…
JW: No, he was traveling all over the country.
FP: Another world.
JW: The way, I remember it. Like he’d be…
FP: Maybe he was just bragging, Joel.
JW: Yeah, but I don’t think I would brag about my father that way.
FP: No, his father was just bragging.
JW: To his son?
FP: To his son, yeah. Mine is bigger than yours.
FP: And more far-flung.
JW: But his son took it as a wonderful quality of his father, that he wouldn’t forget any of his children, no matter where they were, he showed up on Christmas to visit them all.
FP: You were in repression and denial.
JW: It’s bizarro and bizarro.
AH: It’s sort of like Wilt Chamberlain versus Dr. Spock, I get it. [laughter] The question becomes what happens to the children when the father is gone and they’re less likely to succeed, unless the tribe takes care of them?
JW: Well, there’s that and it’s what… In this particular case, what happens to the children when it’s not Christmas? He’s not there the other 364 days. So the idea is if I produce enough of them, some will make it to adulthood and that’s all I need. It’s kind of like the insect logic. I’ll just produce innumerable children, some will survive, some will not, but my genes will be propagated. And I don’t really care about the individuals. I only care about my genetic legacy, so to speak.
FP: Maggie, you had a question, right?
MW: Yeah, I think that was true for Charles Lindbergh. Didn’t he have many, many, many children?
JW: Is that right?
MW: Yeah, all over the world.
AH: I didn’t know that.
FP: That’s why he had to learn to fly. So I was wondering… I was reading this article about, let me get this right, OSO… Other significant others. Which is a community, not particularly about sex, but you know how your spouse or your significant other can’t fulfill everything. They either find your business boring or they find you boring or they don’t like to eat fish or some horrible thing. And if you live in a community with OSOs, you will find people in the community, friends that you can go for a walk with, my spouse or my other hates to walk, or will hold my baby in the right way or whatever. I think it is a… Well, you could also call it a kibbutz. I don’t know. I think it’s a wonderful theory. I’m just in love with it, and I wanna know what you think, Joel.
JW: Well, there is a problem with that. First of all, on paper it sounds good, but the problem is this, that emotional infidelity is thought of by a lot of people as worse than physical infidelity.
JW: yes. I’ve asked my class this question, because there was a research, turns out to be wrong, about 20, 25 years ago, that argued that men dislike physical infidelity more than they dislike emotional infidelity and women are the other way around. And the logic was the man never knows whose child it is, and the woman needs the support to bring up the child. So therefore they’re worried that the man will spend the time with the other person. And the man is worried that he’s bringing up genes that are not his. And for a while, they raised… The men would raise their hands at physical and the women would raise the hands emotional. Now everyone raises their hands, emotional. The men and the women.
JW: It changed. Yeah.
AH: Yeah, yeah. So was that… I think it was Shirley Glass, who did a lot of the work you’re talking about with emotional infidelity.
FP: Well, would that bother you so much if your wife had a bestie? Suppose it was a same sex bestie, that wouldn’t bother you?
JW: It depends if I’m not getting the attention that I wanna get when I wanna get it.
FP: Is it ever enough for you, Joel? I mean, really?
JW: I’m not quite the bottomless pit, but maybe so. When I was in grad school, I remember… A propos of, what you’re saying, I became friendly with a married woman in grad school. And we were just friends. That was it. And I remember her… She said her husband told her… If she went and talked to him about something he’d say, “Talk to Joel. Joel will talk to you about that…
JW: And I don’t wanna talk about that.”
FP: It’s like all these…
JW: And I remember thinking at the time, I don’t think this is good for you.
AH: No, but were you worried that the husband thought of you as asexual then?
JW: Yeah, I think he thought of me as emasculated because I was a psychologist.
AH: Yes. Like you were no threat. He wouldn’t have said that if it was Clint Eastwood.
FP: I don’t think it’s about sex. I do think it’s about people falling in love with their friends, not sexually… Really loving their friends can cause some jealousy. But that’s why I love other significant others, why can’t you fall in love with your friend?
JW: You can. I’m just saying that people can find it threatening. My wife’s intimacy, emotional intimacy ought to be first and foremost with me, and she feels the same way, the other way.
AH: I didn’t know it was supposed to be a competition. To me if the emotional availability to the OSO is so dramatically deeper than the personal connection with the spouse, it becomes a problem.
AH: But if she’s generally or he’s generally emotionally available, and it’s not that striking of a difference, I don’t think it’s a problem.
FP: But you know what, there are certain things that you’re so not interested in. Let’s say that if your other finds another that is really interested in that thing, aren’t you relieved?
JW: Well, I’m not worried about my wife straying particularly, so I think I would be relieved. And she does have friends of that sort. But the literature says that emotional infidelity is a big worry to people. So there’s a line.
FP: That’s what breaks a lot of…
JW: Yes. What happens when she’s in distress, who’s she gonna call?
FP: The one that’s better at comforting her.
FP: I’m thinking there are some marriages that maybe wouldn’t make it with other significant others, could… But it could compensate in a way that the union survives because you’ve found other ways to get some of your needs meet.
JW: The spouse has to meet some emotional need other than the physical need.
AH: Back to the pandemic, right? And divorce. Because a lot of these relationships that flourished before through lunches and cocktails and other [0:09:52.9] ____ coffees couldn’t happen.
AH: What are you hearing in your clinical practice about sort of the shutdown of those interpersonal relationships and the redound effect on the marriage relationship?
JW: Well, we know that divorces are up and spousal abuse is up. I think it’s breaking down according to introversion and extroversion. I’m, believe it or not, more of an introvert than an extrovert. And my wife is an extrovert. And she says, “You don’t care. You’re home alone. You’re working on your computer. You see your patients. You’re writing your books. It doesn’t bother you.” And I say, “Not now, I’m working on my book.” No, I say… She’s right. It bothers her more than it bothers me. She’s out now taking a walk with friends. I go for a walk either with her or by myself. Maybe she has a significant other out there, I don’t know.
FP: She has an OSO.
JW: I think it breaks down by personality. I think it actually does bother me less than it bothers some other people because I’m introverted. So there’s no one around, I don’t care.
FP: But also you have a long… A successful marriage, I’m assuming, that it doesn’t bother you. You’re not…
JW: I’m not worried about losing my wife, if that’s what you’re…
FP: Why aren’t you worried, Joel?
JW: You know, it’s actually a good question because I have had relationships where women were unfaithful to me, and I’m just not built to be jealous. I just believe in people. Maybe I’m stupid, but that’s how I’m built. And so far…
FP: So you were never worried even about the unfaithful ones, right?
JW: Once they were unfaithful, I became worried, but it didn’t last much longer.
FP: You mean, when you found out?
JW: Yeah, when I found that, but I didn’t… And then when I got into my next relationship, I wasn’t worried. It wasn’t like the last one was this way, so I’m wondering about you. It just didn’t carry over. Whereas some people are just natural-born jealous people, I think.
AH: Where does suspicion cross into jealousy? That’s a Hitchcock question.
JW: I always think… I actually call it Weinberger’s Law, ’cause it works every time. If someone accuses you of something and it never occurred to you, they’re doing it.
JW: I’m 100% convinced that that holds.
FP: That’s a dead giveaway.
JW: So my college girlfriend was unfaithful to me and she was jealous as crazy about me.
AH: In HR, they would interview somebody, they present a scenario and they say, “What’s happening?” And if the person says, “Oh, that person stole the paper clips.” Then, you know…
JW: That’s it. So I had a research grant at one time and you have to work the government money and so on and so forth. And it was a break, and I was running people. And then they said, “Okay, give back the money that’s left, and then you’ll order it again next semester.” And I said, “Why don’t I just hold on to it? I’m running people. Why do I… ” And then I got this rant and rave about how I’m embezzling money. And I thought, “Really? I mean, you know that I have the money. What am I gonna do? Run away to Brazil with $2000 and leave my job?” And then I remembered Weinberger’s Law, and I said, “Oh, she’s embezzling money.” Three years later, they arrested her.
JW: Brought her around in handcuffs. Yeah.
FP: Wow. That’s good to know. Well, this is fascinating. Does it drive you crazy knowing how people think?
JW: It drives me crazy not knowing how people think more than how people think.
FP: You don’t mind seeing the bubbles over their head and you’re reading their thoughts.
JW: Well, I don’t think I’m that great at reading thoughts, I know a little more than some people, or better yet, I have terms that other people don’t have. You use common sense and I use special terms. I’m not sure I know any more.
FP: I think you do.
JW: Well, thank you. What I know a little more about is unconscious processes, I think. So what I know is that most people don’t know, they say “A” but they mean “B” or they say one thing, but they do another. That’s really what I’m interested in.
MW: Joel, in your clinical practice based on that, what would be your first sort of marquee question that you might ask somebody to unearth something about their subconscious or their unconscious that they might not be aware of?
JW: What I actually do is, after I say, “What brings you here?” and talk, is I listen to the themes. I’m not really listening to the content. There’s always two or three, usually not even more than that, two or three themes that repeat themselves as they talk.
FP: Like what?
JW: “I’m the victim, I’m the hero. Why doesn’t everyone love me?” Someone will say, “I’m late because there was a traffic jam, and I’m always getting stuck in traffic jams and other people seem to always leave at the right time. I never… ” I’m exaggerating it, the themes…
FP: No, you’re not, though. You’re right.
JW: “No one appreciates me,” or whatever the theme is, is what I’m listening for. And the way I get that, since you’re asking, the inside of our heads are organized associatively. They’re not organized logically, they’re not organized rationally. Let’s imagine there’s a jar, and inside the jar are 100 personality descriptions, and 90 of them are engineers, and 10 of them are artists, 90, 10 engineers to artists, and I’m gonna pull one out and read it randomly, okay. “Emotionally sensitive and creative.” Artist? Engineer?
FP: Now, you would say an artist, but it might be an engineer.
FP: Because engineers create and engineers can be sensitive.
JW: You have the right answer for the wrong reason.
JW: And you have the wrong answer. I told you it was 90-10. None of you said, “I’m taking the odds,” because you went immediately to your associative networks instead of to the numbers, and I repeated it. Now, just so you don’t feel bad, I do this with statisticians and they give me artists also, typically. So what you did was you said the stereotype of the artist is the guy in the Big Bang, I mean of the engineer is the guy in the Big Bang and he’s gotta be nerdy and he has no affect and so on, and it’s a man and so on and so forth. And the artist is ethereal and creative and therefore emotionally sensitive, but I said, “90-10,” and you would have to then believe that an engineer couldn’t possibly be creative or emotionally sensitive, and you don’t believe that, so that’s harmless. Artists, engineers, who cares? But if I switch it to black and white, gay and straight, men and women, the same thing happens, except now it’s not harmless. And the reason it happens is because of the associative network inside your head. So those things pop, whether you like them or not.
FP: The unconscious bias you’re talking about.
JW: I’m talking about why we have unconscious bias, that’s right. We have unconscious bias ’cause these associative networks live inside our heads.
FP: But what I was gonna ask you about that is, do you ever recover from your childhood?
AH: The associative network is not just your childhood, it’s the culture…
FP: No, but I think it does lay its ground. Well, that’s what I’m thinking.
JW: The most powerful aspect of your associative network is in your childhood which is influenced by your family and your culture. So you’re actually born…
FP: But do you ever recover from that childhood?
JW: If by recover, you mean totally overcome it, then no.
FP: How about 80%?
JW: What I would say instead is you learn better coping mechanisms, like the coping mechanisms you came up with when you were six, is the best you could do when you were six. It worked as well as it could do when you were six, but now you’re 46 and you have a whole wider variety of coping mechanisms. And what I can help you do, or a good therapist can help you do, is realize that you don’t have to cope the way you coped when you were six, you have a wider variety of coping mechanism and let’s work on what they could be, and now you have to practice them because you’re still used to doing it the old way.
AH: Right, but I would say to that example of artist-engineer, the cultural norms is so massively tilted in one direction that you might have learned it from your parents, but your parents learned it from the culture. It’s different than other biases that are more centered around a particular family dynamic.
JW: Yes, that’s somewhat true, except that racial bias goes back to culture and…
AH: But the racial bias, definitely, but take something like locus of control, the rotors work, which I think is usually relevant in the Trump world, this is like, there’s some people who believe the locus of control is within them, they control their destiny, it’s about luck, and then there are other people who believe the locus of control is society and they have no control. I think an under-leveraged way of thinking about the world from a marketing point of view and other ways, but that I think is very family-centric.
JW: In American culture, we are independent and we make our own decisions in a culture, so culture plays a part as well.
AH: Well, it does.
JW: Yes, the family has its own culture, so you’re not wrong. But you still have now had 20 years to practice it, and it’s now how you automatically think, which is another aspect of psychology, that if you practice thinking a certain way long enough, it becomes automatic and kind of locked in. So changing it becomes hard, that’s why I hesitated to answer your question, Faith, not so easy, because if you practice doing it one way for 35 years and now you realize that it’s not an adaptive way, it doesn’t go away.
FP: You never survive your childhood, like you say you can adapt around it, solutions, blah, blah, blah, but the damage, if there’s damage, is there.
AH: I agree.
MW: It’s interesting you say that. I think about as a parent, I used to joke that one of your real jobs is to teach your children how to cope with how they are. I think that as a parent, that’s part of what you recognize with your children.
JW: I think that’s the job. I think you put… I have two kids, and I try, I’m not always successful, to think of my job as figuring out who they are and helping them be that.
JW: As opposed to, you need to be an intellectual and read a lot of books and become a psychologist. That may be them, that may not be them. Who are they and how can I help them be that?
JW: Hopefully, they don’t wanna be serial killers, but on that assumption…
FP: My daughter asked me the other day, she’s 16. I was just saying, would you rather be blind, you know the game… Or blind, or deaf or, you know… She said, “Would you rather be born again or keep living from now?” My first answer was gonna be, “I’d rather be born again,” but then I thought that’s a little insulting to my children, because you know, so I didn’t say that, but that’s some question from a 16-year-old.
JW: A question from a 16-year-old, I would have to think about it because I… My first reaction is when I’m born again, do I remember, ’cause I [0:21:00.5] ____.
FP: Oh, you don’t. She said you don’t remember anything.
AH: Well, getting back to Joel’s two kinds… Two theories of evolution, the people who want to… Who are the good ones and wanna bring up their children, are the ones who truly care. The ones who just care about proliferation of their DNA are less motivated by positive impact on the world. Selfless versus selfish. You could… I mean, it’s Richard Dawkins, you could argue is what separates people.
JW: He said everybody was pretty much selfish.
FP: Yeah, even people that are saving the world, you don’t want the book written about the most people.
JW: I mean, Freud said it was all sex and aggression, so we’re done.
JW: And that everything else flows from that positive and negative.
FP: Isn’t that… You know, feeling like… Recognition being important?
JW: But it’s an offshoot of sex and aggression still. You bring like… If I’m a surgeon, it’s not ’cause I wanna save lives, it’s ’cause I like cutting people open and being covered in blood, and I’ve found a way that society smiles on me for doing that and pays me a lot of money. But my real jolly is I’m cutting you open and I’m having aggression. Maybe I get some thrill out of it too.
FP: And do women have as much as men?
JW: Yes. According to Freud, yes. It’s just expressed differently, it can be displaced and put on to another group, another person, it can be projected, it can be denied, it can end up being somatisized, turned against yourself, all kinds of things can happen. But yes, sex and aggression, according to Freud. I’m not saying I buy Freud 100%, but when people say, “Well, it’s not true,” I say, “Tell me what movies you watched recently and what books you’ve read,” and lo and behold.
JW: You are so brilliant, I just had the best time talking to you.
JW: I enjoyed it too.
FP: Fascinating. Thank you so much.
JW: Thank you for having me.
AH: Thank you, Joel.
FP: See you soon.
AH: Bye, Joel. Bye, take care.
FP: Bye, thank you.
JW: Bye bye, thank you.
FP: What do you think, Maggie?
MW: It was interesting to me that he was willing to really give opinions, I feel like often when I talk to people in his field, and of course I’m doing associative thinking just like he talked about, that there’s not as much black and white in the conversation, a whole lot more gray. So I found that wonderful, actually, to really get his insight and his real thoughts.
AH: Yeah, he was unguarded, he just kind of…
FP: Yeah. Yeah, so natural. Do you know anybody that ever went to him for therapy?
AH: I do know some people, yes.
FP: Did they like it?
AH: Yes, everybody loved him.
FP: I think you could love him. You could really trust him.
MW: I agree.
FP: He’s so non-judgy. You know?
AH: Yes, and he has a sense of humor and he’s self-deprecating and…
FP: Yeah, he’s lovely.
AH: He’s shareable. You can share your content with him, to use a metaphor.
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