If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

George Vaillant, M.D. on the global implications of human happiness and mental health; lecture clip with Dr. Caldicott


Happiness is everyone's birth right

Happiness is everyone's birth right

George Vaillant, M.D. is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and at the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He has spent the last 35 years as Director of the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard University Health Service. The study charted the lives of 824 men and women for almost 70 years, charting adult development, schizophrenia and other personality disorders. Read What Makes Us Happy? from the June Atlantic Monthly. Dr. Vaillant’s latest book is
Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith, published by Doubleday Broadway in 2008. Vaillant has also written Adaptation to Life, The Wisdom of the Ego, The Natural History of Alcoholism and The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited, and Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Read a review of Aging Well.

Dr. Caldicott and Vaillant cover many aspects of mental health and happiness, and their ramifications for the whole planet. She asks him how he became interested in researching happiness, after they reminisce about mutual involvement in 1980’s antinuclear activism. Vaillant describes the Harvard study, and Dr. Caldicott remarks about her fascination in learning about the men in the study at different stages of their lives. Vaillant broke with tradition to focus his study on healthy, well-adjusted men, and he found similarities in the resilience and coping mechanisms with people who have overcome addictions or dealt with scizophrenia. He notes how future happiness cannot be predicted from childhood and early adulthood. Vaillant talks about one of the study participants and his non-conformist attitudes, and whether he was in fact living a productive life in his own way. They touch on the Stonewall riots in New York City, a milestone in the gay right struggle, which occurred in 1969 (Vaillant gives the date as 1971).

George Vaillant, M.D.

George Vaillant, M.D.

Dr. Caldicott ponders if some seriously mentally ill people have more clarity and understanding than sane people. Vaillant responds by pointing to the overemphasis on left-brain, rational thinking at the expense of “the heart” in the modern world.
Dr. Caldicott mentions her experience giving lectures about nuclear war, and the striking difference between the comments of the men and women who approach her after she speaks. She notes the difference in brain structures between women and men, and in how they communicate and process emotions.

As they explore mental health in the context of social responsibility, Dr. Caldicott mentions Nazi Germany and the German people’s compliance with the horrors committed, and the importance of the Nuremberg principles. She moves the dialogue to the legacy of Robert McNamara, and
Dr. Caldicott illuminates her experiences collaborating with McNamara on antinuclear work. Read the article they wrote together in 2004, Still on Catastrophe’s Edge, about U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons maintaining the constant danger of global nuclear war in the 21st Century in the absence of complete disarmament. Dr. Caldiott mentions the work of Dr. Berry Brazelton, who has been honored for his work in pediatrics.

Next, Dr. Vaillant talks about some of the fascinating conclusions in his book Spiritual Evolution, and how we can experience more positive emotions. Dr. Caldicott shares her experiences with dying patients, and how their values often transform as the end of life approaches. Vaillant describes the differences between negative emotions and positive emotions, and how our emotional state alters our worldview and relationships with others. He discusses recent scientific findings about how people can experience the peaceful or euphoric states they might temporarily experience taking mind-altering drugs by engaging in constructive behaviors that involve helping others.

For more information about Dr. Vaillant and his work, read his article Mental Health in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Also see the articles The Talent for Aging Well and Happiness, Dissected: Can We Learn More About Happiness From Genes Or Lives?

In the last 10 minutes of this week’s program, we hear an excerpt from a speech Dr. Caldicott gave in Brattleboro, Vermont in April to support efforts to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. She states empathically how important it is to close the reactor, which poses an enormous risk to the local community and all of Vermont. She notes how the elementary school right next to the plant was paid for by Entergy, a company that makes nuclear power plants. Read the August 6 article Group calls for probe of Entergy. Also see Leaving Dirty, Dangerous Power in the Past which lists reasons to close Vermont Yankee.

It could have been a meltdown:  2007 cooling power collapse at Vermont Yankee reactor

It could have been a meltdown: 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee reactor

Exelon, another nuclear energy concern, donated over $200,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to pressure him to support nuclear power. Read the July 8 article Obama Makes Nuclear Compromise to Pass Clean Energy Bill. Read an article from 2008, Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama in Senate.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents atomic energy companies and promotes nuclear power, has been very busy building political support to build new American nuclear reactors. See the July 24 news article Nuclear Industry Donations Target Moderate Democrats.

Dr. Caldicott says that opposition to nuclear power and wanting to close the Vermont Yankee plant is preventive medicine, and should not be obscured by talk of money. Dr. Caldicott calls the reactor a “cancer factory” and a “bomb factory” and explains why. She illuminates how the radioactivity of uranium increases by staggering orders of magnitude when used in the plant, and how a meltdown of Vermont Yankee would render Vermont permanently unin-habitable. The 2007 cooling tower collapse at the plant is a reminder how easily a reactor like Vermont Yankee could blow up and melt down.

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