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Fri, 04 Dec 2020
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How the MEAN psychologists got us to comply with coronavirus restrictions

mind control
Introduction

The British public's widespread compliance with the Government's draconian diktats has arguably been the most remarkable aspect of the coronavirus crisis. The unprecedented restrictions on our basic freedoms - in the form of lockdowns, travel bans and mandatory mask wearing - have been passively accepted by the large majority of people. Despite the lack of evidence for effectiveness of these extreme measures, and the growing recognition of their negative consequences, it seems most of us continue to submit to the ongoing restrictions on our lives. Why have we witnessed such capitulation?

A major contributor to the mass obedience of the British people is likely to have been the activities of government-employed psychologists working as part of the 'Behavioural Insights Team' (BIT). After outlining the structure and stated remit of the BIT, I will describe the strategies deployed by this group of psychological specialists to shape our behaviours in line with the Government's public health approach to coronavirus. In particular, I will highlight the four main tactics used in their COVID-19 communication campaigns to 'nudge' us towards compliance: a focus on the MESSENGER, EGO, AFFECT and NORMS (or 'MEAN' as an acronym), providing specific examples to illustrate how these influencers were put to work so as to get us to obey the Government's directives. Finally, the questionable ethics of resorting to these psychological interventions to promote compliance with an increasingly contested public health policy will be addressed.

The Behavioural Insights Team - structure and remit

The BIT was conceived in the Prime Minister's Office in 2010 as 'the world's first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural science to policy' (Hallsworth et al., 2018). It is collectively owned by the UK Government, Nesta (a charity that views itself as an 'innovation foundation' and a 'champion of radical thinking'), and BIT's own employees. According to the BIT website, their team has rapidly expanded from a seven person unit working with the UK government to a 'social purpose company' operating in many countries around the world.

Chess

Tactics: The psychology behind the Trump-Biden debate interruptions

Trump Biden Debate
© Getty Images
US President Donald Trump • Former VP Joe Biden • 2020 Presidential Debate
The real psychological power of interrupting may lie in the way that it disrupts the other person's thought patterns. So, when US President Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden in the two debates, there was a lot more going on beneath the surface than simple rudeness.

The US Commission on Presidential Debates muted the microphones of President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden during portions of their second and final televised encounter on October 22, in order to prevent the candidates from interrupting each other. The panel's decision followed the widespread negative audience reaction to Trump's extensive interruptions in the first debate on September 29.

But there is a powerful hidden psychology behind the tactic of interjecting and interrupting. Could these two experienced campaigners - and Trump especially - have used it to their advantage in an attempt to appear more dominant and assertive?

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MindMatters: Our Place in the Cosmos, and Why the New Atheists Are Wrong

as above
Today on MindMatters, Harrison and Adam use one of David Ray Griffin's recent books as a jumping-off point to bring together many threads from previous episodes. What is our place in the cosmos? What can the study of nature tell us about ourselves, and about the cosmic mind? From the smallest bits of 'matter' and energy, to animals, minds, and meaning, we tie together our previous discussions with Ken Pedersen, John Buchanan, James Carpenter, along with ideas from Gurdjieff, Ibn Arabi, Stoicism, Jordan Peterson and more, to attempt an initial answer to the question.

Along the way we discuss the merits of the anthropic principle and 'fine-tuning', the self-destructing arguments of the new atheists, one of Rupert Sheldrake's coolest ideas, and why importance is perhaps the most important thing for philosophy.


Running Time: 00:58:44

Download: MP3 — 53.8 MB


Hearts

Chimps pare down their social circle in later years

chimpanzee
© John Lower/Harvard University/PA Science editor
Three male chimpanzees grooming together.
There is more that comes with older age than greying hair and wrinkled skin. When humans reach their later years, they favour more established friends and their social circle is pared down.

Now, for what appears to be the first time, scientists have seen the same behaviour in another species. More than two decades of observations of chimpanzees reveal that older males choose to hang out with their long-term friends at the expense of other relationships.

"What we've shown is that chimpanzees and humans share the same pattern of social ageing," said Zarin Machanda, a primatologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts. "We know that as humans age, their social networks shrink but their social bonds grow stronger, and we see the same thing here in chimpanzees."

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Info

How the brain recognises objects

To recognise a chair or a dog, our brain separates objects into their individual properties and then puts them back together. Until recently, it has remained unclear what these properties are. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have now identified them - from "fluffy" to "valuable" - and found that all it takes is 49 properties to recognise almost any object.

Brain Studies
© Shutterstock
The human brain breaks down the environment into a total of 49 properties, which are sufficient to categorise all objects. Depending on how similar the observed object is to a known category, it is then recognised as a dog or, for instance, a piece of furniture.
We live in a world full of things that we have to identify and classify into different categories. Only when you are able to identify the things around you, you can communicate with others about them and act in a meaningful way. If we see something in front of us that we recognise as a chair, we can sit on it. Once we have identified an object as a cup, we can lift it up and drink from it.

In order to carry out this mapping and make sense of our environment, we have to constantly compare the input to our senses with the information we have already learned. To do this, the brain breaks down an object into its individual properties, compares them with those that are already known, and puts these properties back together. Depending on how similar the observed object is to a known category, it is then recognised as a piece of furniture or a vessel. So far, however, it has remained unclear how we consider things to be similar or less similar. In other words, what are the characteristics that make us recognise objects?

Brain

Neuroscience can help us understand why free will is real

free will
Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don't seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will:
If you've read this site, you'll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don't have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn't give it to us either.

Hossenfelder doesn't pull any punches:

"This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out."...

QED!

Jerry Coyne, "Sabine Hossenfelder says we don't have free will, but its nonexistence shouldn't bother us" at Why Evolution Is True
Both Coyne and Hossenfelder are atheists, materialists, and determinists — a sort of intellectual dark triad — and their beliefs are scientifically and logically uninformed. They use denial of free will to prop up their materialist and determinist irreligion. It is not science; it is an ideological project, without a shred of science or logic to back it up.

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MindMatters: Susannah Hays Interview: Polyvagal Theory, Gurdjieff and the Evolution of Man

susannah hays
In recent years researchers like Stephen Porges have brought a newfound understanding of the body's all-important polyvagal system to greater and deeper awareness. The tenth cranial nerve, or vagus nerve, has a great impact on the health of major organs (including the brain), and even direct impact on a human being's 'higher' functioning. Interestingly however, is the historic fact that the wandering nerve has also been the subject of research and speculation for hundreds of years, among the scientists of the West - as well as the mystics of the East.

This week on MindMatters we discuss a new development in research that seeks to bring together these seemingly separate subjects with Susannah Hays, MFA PhD. In her doctoral thesis and subsequent paper 'Nature as Discourse: Transdisciplinarity and Vagus Nerve Function,' Dr. Hays lays out not only the historical precedent for polyvagal system research, but also what the great teacher and mystic Gurdjieff may have been seeking to do with his exercises - and where a broader look at all of this information may be leading us towards. Join us as Dr. Hays takes us on a transdisciplinary journey through Gurdjieff, polyvagal theory and more.


Running Time: 01:14:50

Download: MP3 — 68.5 MB


Boat

We were made for these times

Image
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

Chess

The curse of game theory and why it's in your self-interest to break the rules of the game

Nash/von Neumann
© Libertad Digital/Wikipedia/KJN
John Forbes Nash, Jr. • John von Neumann
Game theory, the mathematical theory of games of strategy, was developed by John von Neumann in several successive stages in 1928 and 1940-41, according to his book Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour which he co-authored with Oskar Morgenstern.

The crux of the theory is that an individuals' behaviour will always be motivated towards achieving an optimal outcome, which is determined by self-interest. An assumption made is that the players in such a game are rational, which translates to, "will strive to maximize their payoffs in the game". In other words, it is assumed they are motivated by selfish self-interests.

Over the years, other contributors such as John Nash (Nash equilibrium) and John Maynard Smith (evolutionary stable strategy) have added to the theory and we are now at a point where it is considered by many to be an essential tool when modelling economic, political, sociological or military behaviours and outcomes, and is taught as such in many prestigious universities as something pretty much set in stone.

But what if we have made a terrible mistake?

After all, it is acknowledged by the theorists themselves that the entire functioning of their model relies upon the assumption that we are governed by rational selfish behaviour, and that they feel confident about this assumption since reality has apparently confirmed this fact to them. But what if this game is not objectively mirroring a truthful depiction of us? What if this game has rather, been used as a conditioning tool, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a positive feedback loop?

How can we know what is true? How can we know what kind of a person we truly are and not what we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as?

Info

Study on decision-making behavior - Nerve cell activity shows how confident we are

Snack Choice
© AG Mormann/Uni Bonn
The participants had to choose between two different snacks: The further they moved the slider to the left or right end, the more confident they were in their choice.
Should I or shouldn't I? The activity of individual nerve cells in the brain tells us how confident we are in our decisions. This is shown by a recent study by researchers at the University of Bonn. The result is unexpected - the researchers were actually on the trail of a completely different evaluation mechanism. The results are published in the journal Current Biology.

You are sitting in a café and want to enjoy a piece of cake with your cappuccino. The Black Forest gateau is just too rich for you and is therefore quickly eliminated. Choosing between the carrot cake and the rhubarb crumble is much trickier: The warm weather favors the refreshingly fruity cake. Carrot cake, however, is one of your all-time favorites. So what to do?

Every day we have to make decisions, and we are much more confident about some of them than others. Researchers at the University Hospital Bonn have now identified nerve cells in the brain whose activity indicates the confidence in decisions. A total of twelve men and women took part in their experiment. "We showed them photos of two different snacks, for example a chocolate bar and a bag of chips," explains Prof. Dr. Dr. Florian Mormann from the Department of Epileptology. "They were then asked to use a slider to indicate which of these alternatives they would rather eat." The more they moved the slider from its center position towards the left or right photo, the more confident they were in their decision.