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Limited Perceptions and Dangerous Crossroads
A response to a fellow academic heretic
Last year, in a desperate search for sane thinkers, I plugged into Substack and quickly found a parallel universe of truth-telling scribes, igniting in me hope for humanity once again. One of these Substackers was a certain Good Citizen who was writing The Good Citizen - an academic who demonstrates a depth of understanding and wit that I really appreciate. We exchanged a few emails and I’ve been following the Good Citizen ever since. I know very little about him personally, as he doesn’t know much about me either, but he’s a sharp mind, acutely perceptive and presents ideas worth listening to.
Good Citizen has written to me on the topic of “New Religions at a Dangerous Crossroads,” a rather expansive subject in which many topics orbit the treacherous black hole know as “the religion of scientism”.
Have a read of his letter first so you are orientated for my reply.
Hello Good Citizen,
Thanks for your letter. You’ve certainly given me a lot to respond to. What I might do is respond in shorter bursts and attempt to stick to a single line of thought - please interject at any time. Eventually I hope to touch on all the areas you’ve mentioned, or maybe we will go on other tangents together. Whatever it is, my perspective will be of a neuropsychobiological one, and therefore a naturally limited, but I’m keen to see how you are able to fill in the gaps for me, and I for you.
You start with thoughts about skeptics, heretics, or ‘conspiracy theorists’ who diverge from the dominant beliefs of the culture. My first thought is, are they diverging or is the culture diverging (possibly through a powerful sub-culture subversion campaign) from what was social norms? We have to be careful and alert to the possibility that the dominant belief may not have been (or is) the majority belief, but the system of thought that has had the most influence over the most people - eventually becoming a dominant belief or at least having the appearance of such.
There are many illustrations: the wisdom of mass vaccination in the middle of a pandemic; the sudden inferiority of natural immunity compared to vaccine priming; panic about rising temperatures and droughts in the midst of record breaking low temperatures and floods; the idea that being stripped of assets, privacy and freedom is somehow leading to a utopian happiness; and so on. Could it be that at one time everyone was on the same page and due to some deficit of propaganda-absorbing propertiesin the minds of skeptics, these poor individuals just get left behind compared to the ‘progressive’ mind? If this is the case then the skeptic is just holding ground while the ‘progressives’ are off to Neverland.
Sorry I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me lay some foundations, starting with perception.
We all, I assume, agree to the fact that our perceptions are very limited and it would be foolish to make absolute statements from incomplete evidence. Yet we do this all the time. We all fall for the illusion that what we see and know is the nature of things.
“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)
Let me tease this out a bit (I’ll try not to get too technical), because an awareness of our limitations is important - our sensory limitations are both metaphorically and literally related to belief. I’ll start with sensory limitations as what we sense is the building blocks of what we finally think we know.
Our visually dominated perception lags real time by about 350 milliseconds, and after cognitive processing leading to any sort of conscious response we have about a half-second to a second delay - in other words we are perpetually living in the past. What we do see with our eyes is only a fraction of what’s out there - seeing a range of around 310-1100 nano-meters with only 3 types of cone cells (birds have 4 and can see a greater range of colours, while certain insects can see frequencies invisible to us). We’ve also got a big blind spot at the back of each eyeball that our brains just make up something to fill in the gap (just as our brains smooth out the darting of our eyes - there’s a lot of ‘smoke and mirrors’ going on subconsciously to give the impression of the continuity of reality). Sounds in the near fieldtravel to us slower than light but is processed faster than vision, but the raw data is out of sync so our brains delay conscious perception of sound and vision and do a synchronizing trick so it all seems to be happening at the same time (the illusion is lost when the sound source is too far away). Like the colours we see the sound we hear is only a fraction (20-20K Hz) of of the 0-160K Hz audio range out there. It’s the same story for smell, compared to a dog our sensitivity to scents is maybe 100,000 times less. And we are similarly limited with taste and touch.
Our sensory perceptions are within a narrow band, we don’t have direct and raw access to what’s ‘out there’ and although about 100 bitsof sensory information can be processed a second we can only consciously work with 3-4 bits a second. That’s a huge throttle when dealing with the world. Nevertheless our brain sorts out this sensory information into a perception of realty that makes sense to us. Information is simplified, organised, categorised according to biases in our brains. That perception is unique to each and every one of us (because we have unique neural architecture, like we have unique fingerprints) and so everyone’s ‘reality’ is slightly different.
So that was a long way of saying our sensory input is limited, our perception is therefore limited and some of it fabricated, and our sense of reality is unique (it may be very close to many other’s but biased and unique nevertheless).
Now it’s from this simplified, limited, sometimes fabricated perception that we base our understanding of the world - flimsy as it is. And so a corollary of this limited perception is the narrowing of higher order cognitive processing that leads to ideologies and biases on the social/communal level. From basic sensory input to grand ideas about how society should be organised there is a plethora of limiting factors. Given you perceive only a fraction of sensory data presented to you, let’s consider other factors that shape how you see the world: Out of the almost 130 million books that have been published, how many have you read? Out of the 195 countries, how many have you seen? Out of the 7,100 languages on earth, how many do you speak? Out of the 7.7 billion people on the planet, how many do you know? Books, places, languages, people - these are all powerful elements that shape the way we see the world and if we are honest with ourselves we have to agree that even the most well read and well traveled multilingual professor of sociology will have experienced just a small slice of the world. Immersion in a culture, language, family, ideology, geography, and so on takes years, if not a lifetime, to fully appreciate - most people I know have only a handful of years and one life to be immersed in anything.
Let me circle back around…
Based on our extremely limited perception of the world we make bold and absolute statements about how things are, and/or how they should be. We do this because we like assurityin simple linear models (clarity) that agree with the majority (for safety/survival reasons). When there is a threat (exclusion from the tribe, some mortal danger, Kamala Harris becoming President, etc) our field of awareness narrows, perceptions simplify, and our brains are looking for that assurance in a simple linear model of reality that brings the tribe together - there’s safety in that strategy.
There’s a good reason we are often likened to sheep and that’s because there is safety in numbers. We have romantic notions of being the lone eagle but we are wired to be more like herding sheep. When presented with a threat (say a killer virus) we hone in on the most salient information for survival (say a miracle vaccine, lockdowns, masks) and our model of reality and the world quickly forms around the new survival information(like obey the government or you will likely die from the killer virus or at the very least kill grandma). Taken to the extreme, as we have seen, such mind sets can take on a religious or even cultish zeal - admittedly such extremes need to be strategically underpinned and fed by a massive psychological operation of fear.
… I’m still circling back around …
But what of the skeptics, heretics, and ‘conspiracy theorists’ who diverge from the herd mentality of safety culture? In part I believe they have a greater tolerance for ambiguity, don’t buy into simple linear models as easily as most and for whatever reasoncan see a greater danger than the herd have seen. This, more often than not, leads to alternative herds of like-minded individuals who start to travel in a different direction from the masses, or simply stand still.
I’m afraid I’ve taken too many word to express my first point, and that is, we have a limited perception, when there’s a threat this limitation is used up in threat-reduction posturing that looks rather like a frightened herd of sheep.
Next time I’ll get on with it and address some of the points you made about group think, science, religion/atheism, cults, and the crossroad we find ourself at.
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Let’s call this PMS (Propaganda Malabsorbtion Syndrome), a condition less common than the other PMS but can be just as painful but also necessary for cleansing.
closer than about 15 meters - the synchronization is known as the horizon of simultaneity. Beyond that range there is still a large window of expectation for visual stimuli to be quickly accompanied by auditory information (think of lightening & thunder).
not ‘bits’ as in 8 bits make a byte, but rather simple ‘chunks’ of information.
Intriguingly if you wear glasses that invert visual information (so you see everything upside down) for long enough your brain will correct for this and you will eventually see things the right way around. Then if you take the glasses off everything will seem to be upside down again. In a similar ploy of manipulation, when we remember something we’ve seen our brains will make up a whole lot of the details around the few elements that were actually encoded, so as to give the impression of a compete pictorial memory of the scene. We only encode the important elements and/or what we’ve been focusing on. If you’ve even seen the video where people are playing basket ball and you are asked to count the passes, you will be completely blind to the guy in the gorilla suite dancing through the players - you didn’t see him and your brain didn’t encode him. The idea that the brain is like a recording tape that’s recording everything that’s going on is a complete fallacy.
Neural paths of least resistance. A neurological expression of bias.
An important question as language very much dictates how someone processes cognitive information and therefore how they see the world.
especially our left hemisphere which we are now prone to lean toward
which never represent fully a non-linear complex reality
unless of course the danger signals are all manipulated by propaganda for an evil agenda to manipulate the masses.
there’s a whole science around mental consistency that is involved here but it’s probably too much to go into at this point.
There are actual reasons to talk about but maybe in a future letter.