Putsch up or Shut up

In light of yesterday’s putsch. I generally feel perfectly comfortable ignoring Tablet, but a friend reminded me of this: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/trump-and-the-joys-of-hatred

That’s a good analysis (i.e., I agree with it, which makes it “good”).

There is something very deep going on, brainwise, with people so invested in a public personality. Similar to Elvis, the Beatles, Hitler, anyone else who could command an adoring crowd. What is happening in the audience member’s brain? They’re focused intently on the person, and something something mirror neurons, and they start to imitate them and internalize them. Protect them as an element of their own identity; when people feel their identity attacked, they feel the same as if their body were being threatened by wild animals. With rock/pop stars, young women are the most vulnerable (they group-bond very readily), and this might be related to mass hysteria phenomena, as in Salem et alibi (just learned that from a crossword — it means “and other places”! Sweeeet…).

I’ve always believed that all of us have an opera in our headwe’re the hero, of course, and there are villains and all the other stock characters of opera. And the emotions are ridiculously heightened. Of course, it might be an action movie or a comic book—they’re all closely related. High emotions, high stakes, unmistakable heroes and villains.

How do we distinguish between the very compelling detailed, emotional story being told in the opera in our heads from the real world? At one extreme, there are true paranoid or schizophrenic delusions (I’m sure I’m using the terms wrong… sorry) and at the other end… I don’t know where the other end is, though I bet a lot of people (everyone?) thinks that’s where they’re at—everyone believes they are perfectly rational and that they can distinguish reality from illusion instantly and intuitively. I think at our absolute best and most rational (for whatever value of that word) we float in and out of our delusions, and maybe for some the delusions are like John Nash’s voices in his head that he learned to identify as hallucinations, couldn’t get rid of, but learned to ignore. To some degree we can probably switch back and forth, when we’re engaged in an activity that doesn’t bear much emotional freight. But as soon as our identity/emotion hair-trigger is touched, all bets are off. When you hear about subconscious or implicit bias, that’s what is happening. The continual noise in our head includes noises from the actual world and noises generated inside. In the rough and tumble of everyday existence, we’re lousy at distinguishing them. One tool for training that skill is meditation—mindfulness training. I’ve let it slide, I should get back to it.

Our perception is always mediated by what’s actually out there and our brain’s internal sound and light show. And what’s out there is cobbled together from the various bits and pieces retrieved by our senses to give us the comforting illusion of continuity and uniformity. Dreams are a great example of when the information from the world is very muted and attenuated and the noise inside is more vivid in comparison. During the day, it flips around. But it’s never, I think, all one or all the other.

Religion interacts with this system. Hence the conundrum of whose voice that is in your head: your own everyday voice, memory of important voices, or a supernatural entity? The notion that we can hear the voice in our head and interpret it as our own thoughts is sometimes considered a recent (in the history of humanity) innovation. Before that, thoughts were always someone’s voice.

Here’s a great article on how we fool ourselves into thinking we’re conscious (for our naive definition of consciousness, as a unitary mind making conscious decisions based on real-world observations, and then acting on those conscious decisions): https://fs.blog/2017/02/michael-gazzaniga-the-interpreter/

That pesky left-brain interpreter!