Neurology And The Case For War
How predictive programming works
I wrote this essay in 2005 while considering how the people of the U.S.A. had been fooled into going to war by obvious lies that had been fully exposed before the wars started. While I had the Iraq war foremost in my mind at the time, the principle can be applied to so many ways in which the mind of the masses has been programmed. I considered updating the end of the essay to reflect what I have learned since. I decided against it, as the past two years have illustrated my point far better than anything else I could say on the matter.
When a child is born they have hundreds of billions of neurons only tenuously connected to each other. As a child receives stimulus from the ever active world it's neurons begin to fire. When a neuron fires, in a child or an adult, it looks for another neuron close by to send it's signal too. As an infant, these connections are being newly created. Our neurons like to be linked to each other, so once a neuron finds a buddy, they like to stay together. Thus, we form neural networks, also called pathways. As we age, our neural networks become much more rigid. That is, when one neuron receives a new stimulus, rather than look for a new friend, or create an entirely new pathway for that stimulus to travel, it just goes down an existing pathway. This is why, as we age, more and more people seem familiar to us. They are triggering neural pathways that have become more entrenched over the years. This is why, as we age, we become more set in our ways, more afraid of change and more difficult to teach. (Do not despair. There are ways to keep your mind limber but it takes some work.)
This is why, in our early years we are so impressionable. When I was five years old, helping my mother fold towels, she mildly chastised me for folding the towels wrong. Only ten years later did I realize that there is no internationally accepted standard for towel folding. My mother simply had her own system for organizing our towel closet that required the towels be folded to a certain size. To this day, when I fold towels, there is a voice in the back of my head nagging me about the right way to fold towels.
It is through this process of neural network formation that an infant goes from it's earliest stages of perception, where it primarily sees only vague differences between light and dark, to a complete world view and the ability to transform perception into interpretation, understanding and action. The ability to compose intricate poetry and build empires or design skyscrapers or even just read a book all begin with these early neural networks and continue to build on this foundation.
Most of the neural activity that goes on in our body is not noticed by our conscious awareness. We would be overwhelmed by the trillions of details. Yet every facet of our existence is related to our nerves. Our heart learns to beat, our lungs learn to breath, our pituitary and hypothalamus glands learn to regulate our bodily functions in relation to the formation of these neural networks, all without say so from our waking consciousness. This is what the psychologists refer to as the subconscious. Our earliest experiences, going back to our time in the womb, form the way our innermost thoughts move and transition from one to the next, only surfacing in our consciousness long after they have passed through countless inner connections.
A group of nerves receive a stimulus, either from within the body or from without. Those nerves send signals to the next nerves, which then pass them on through our existing networks, networks we are not aware of. How far the signals travel varies, from a few inches to miles. Most of that activity we are not aware of and we do not control. Eventually the nervous response sends it's signal back to our conscious mind and we have an idea. It may be a simple idea like, "HOT!" or it may be a complicated idea like the one I am writing about now. The path of the idea is untraceable and often very long. Only the very beginning and end of the path are known to our waking minds.
Before the advent of television, radio or photography, every stimulus that came into the senses of an infant, child or adult, every neural stimulus, corresponded to a substantive physical reality. If you wanted to see a herd of buffalo, you had to go to the prairie and look at them, or at least a painting. Even a story teller was a real, physical entity that could only affect you directly with the sounds and body language he used. Thus any world view, any subconscious thoughts, any stimuli, passed through a neural network created by the stimulus of a real object.
As we have progressed technologically we have been able to create images more and more distant from the physical reality they are meant to represent. With early television everything that was filmed was a reality. The script may have been written by a human being and therefore limited to his interpretation of reality, an interpretation based on his own process of perception, interpretation, understanding and action. But everything that occurred had a three dimensional reality. It appeared on the television screen to the viewer as two dimensional and so was somewhat more distant from the physical reality that governs our lives.
The baby boom generation was the first generation raised on television. From a young age, when they had many neurons but few neural networks and were beginning to build the networks that would be with them for the rest of their lives, these people were exposed to television. The images and sounds from the television entered their senses and began to create new neural networks in the impressionable young minds.
Of course it is easy to say, "What is on television is not real. Everybody can see that." But the stimulus enters the mind of an infant or toddler. It forms a pathway and the more often a new stimulus travels down that pathway the more entrenched it becomes. The more entrenched a pathway becomes the more likely it is that a new stimulus will be attracted to it, like the wheels of a cart to the grooves in the path. Even if our waking mind can discuss with itself or others the difference between physical reality and the images and sounds created for television, our brain's pathways are there and information travels from our waking mind into the labyrinth of these pathways until it comes back out as an idea.
As I mentioned before the baby boom generation is the first to have had so many of it's neural networks formed from the stimulus of light and sound we call television. Thus they can watch something on television and feel that it is somehow more real than that which they experience in their daily lives. The stimulus from the television enters into a complex network of nerves that is deeply entrenched. It seems so real to us because it is so familiar. It so closely resembles the bulk of our early experience, our years in front of the television, that the conscious words we speak, "It's just television," have very little power over those miles of networks just below the surface of our awareness. Within our own nervous system, they are real.
Thus we can be captivated by a made for television presidential candidate or argument for war. No matter how much information we have available for our conscious mind, we can see a John Wayne look-a-like on television and believe he is real. We can believe that what got John Wayne out of all those scrapes will also get us out of our scrapes. We may be able to say to our waking mind, "John Wayne did his stuff in movies, with scripts and multiple cuts and stunt doubles. It was all made up." But the neural networks his movies left behind are so deeply entrenched that much of what his viewers now perceive with their waking minds quickly enters those networks, only re-emerging miles later as the vague feeling, "A tall man in a cowboy hat and boots who walks with a swagger and speaks with a drawl seems so secure and stable and unflappable and wise. He must be able to lead us."
"If John Wayne says them's bad injuns, they must be bad injuns."
The advent of personal computing and digital technology have allowed us to create images and sounds even more removed from any tangible reality, more removed from the laws which govern our true reality. A young child growing up today can form neural networks even less functional for the world outside of make-believe than those we've got. I will be watching with great curiosity, and not a little trepidation, what sort of fabrications this next generation will convince themselves of.
Thank you for joining me in the conversation,
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