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Mon, 11 Dec 2023
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Leading biologist explains why you can so often sense when someone is looking at you even if your back is turned

© Kathleen Hankins
'Sherlock Holmes'
Have you ever felt you were being watched? Almost everybody has. It's a scientific phenomenon that is universal.

More than 80 per cent of women, and nearly three-quarters of men, questioned in Britain, the U.S. and Scandinavia, say they have experienced it — turning around to find someone staring at them, or looking at someone from behind who turned and looked back.

Numerous studies have proved that the sensation can be reproduced under rigorous laboratory conditions. Those who watch people for a living, such as private detectives and celebrity photographers, have no doubt it's real. Professionals who use long-range lenses, including paparazzi and snipers, know the moment when the target senses their gaze and looks straight at them.

It's well documented in literature. Here is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, describing it:
"At breakfast this morning I suddenly had that vague feeling of uneasiness which overcomes some people when closely stared at, and, quickly looking up, I met his eyes bent upon me with an intensity which amounted to ferocity."
I have even interviewed people who believe they owe their life to it. William Carter, leading a patrol of Gurkhas on an anti-terrorist operation in Malaya in 1951, said:
"I had an uncanny feeling that someone was watching me ... the sensation of something almost gripping me at the back of the neck. I turned around and there, about 20 yards away, was a chap in uniform with a red star on his cap, gazing hard at me. He was bringing his rifle up and I knew one of us was going to be killed. I shot him before he shot me."
The ability can improve with practice. Some teachers of martial arts train their students to become more sensitive to looks from behind and to discern their direction.


Truth-speaking and the technocratic cabal

mask and shadow
Truth-speaking (or truth-telling) is not the same as truth. At least not in the familiar sense of a correspondence between what is stated and the state of affairs to which it corresponds - the so-called correspondence theory of truth. Or, for that matter, the coherence theory of truth, which judges the truth of statements by the criterion of whether it coheres with the body of statements within which it functions.

There are several other such theories of truth, for example the pragmatic theory of truth, which assesses truth in the light of what supposedly true statements do, or by their consequences for action (ancient Greek 'pragma': 'thing done'; 'act'; 'deed').

Truth-telling, or in ancient Greek, parrhesia, is something different. It is what one does when you tell or speak the truth exactly as you experience or perceive it, with no punches pulled. You don't have to call the proverbial spade a shovel (unless this is what it takes to get through to your interlocutor), but you have to speak truthfully without holding back. This is particularly relevant for speaking (or writing) in public, where you run the risk of exposing yourself to harsh criticism.


Scientists revisit Solomon Asch's classic conformity experiments with surprising results

brain head
In a compelling revival of a classic social psychology experiment, a new study has found that group pressure significantly influences individual decisions, not just in simple tasks but also in expressing political opinions. This modern replication and extension of Solomon Asch's famed experiments of the 1950s provides new insights into human behavior. The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

Over 70 years ago, Solomon Asch conducted a series of groundbreaking experiments that fundamentally changed our understanding of conformity. Asch's experiment was straightforward but powerful. He invited individuals to participate in a group task where they had to match line lengths.

Unbeknownst to the main participant, the rest of the group were confederates — people in on the experiment. These confederates gave deliberately wrong answers to see if the participant would conform to the group's incorrect consensus or trust their own judgment. Astonishingly, Asch found that a significant number of people chose to conform to the obviously wrong group decision rather than rely on their own perceptions.

Fast forward to the present, and researchers at the University of Bern decided to revisit and expand upon Asch's seminal work. Their motivation was twofold. Firstly, they wanted to see if Asch's findings, primarily conducted with American students, still held true in a different cultural and temporal context. Secondly, they were curious to explore the impact of monetary incentives on decisions and how this dynamic plays out in more complex decision-making areas like political opinions.


The attack of the pseudo-men

man working out
I went to the local mall this weekend and seeing all the pseudo-men and pseudo-women walking around and seeing all the glittering products attempting to appeal to these people, I thought that I had to write an article about it.

I chose the pseudo-man to focus on because I am a man myself. (I have my man-faults, but attempting to be a pseudo-man I don't think is one of them.) I also am not convinced being a pseudo-woman is all that prevalent in the culture. Although girls that appear to be pseudo-girls are common, that, in my humble opinion, is an entirely different thing.

"Pseudo" in this context implies "trying to be something you should be, but aren't."

What I see going on with young pubescent girls shows no attempt to be something they should be, they don't seem to have any desire to be healthy, well integrated "girls." It is more like they are trying, and for the most part succeeding, to be something the culture is defining for them. Which isn't very pretty (literally and metaphorically).

I don't feel there are many pseudo-women because women who are trying to be mature women generally succeed. Some don't, I realize that, but I don't see it as being as major of a problem as what I see happening with men.

Comment: Don't miss: Tonic Masculinity


The competency crisis is upon us

© Getty Images
Colliding Futures
The glue of expertise that held our complicated social machinery together is coming apart, yet we continue to shift more and more responsibility to failing institutions. The outcome won't be pretty.

Our current managerial elite predicates its rule on the notion of expertise. Americans once believed that "popular will" granted a ruling class legitimacy, but that story has been replaced with one of scientific knowledge and credentials.

The modern political formula frames the world as a complex series of interconnected scientific disciplines that, if managed with a high degree of proficiency, can yield incredible material abundance and miraculous technological innovations. Competency is the key to utopia. Those who are able to obtain prestigious credentials gain the right to rule due to their unparalleled ability to manage complex systems.

But a fundamental shift in our political formula has put the system on a collision course with disaster.

Comment: It was never a matter of 'if', but 'when'. That marker has passed.


On free will, ChatGPT4 blows away atheist Sam Harris

Sam Harris
Several months back, someone emailed me the following:
I nominate Sam Harris for YouTube's prize for "Person with the Best One-Liner Joke except for the fact that he was being serious," for his remark in a 2012 speech: "Tonight, I want to try to convince you that free will is an illusion." [The actual quote used the word "hope" in place of "want to try," but the gist is the same.]
Sam Harris made this remark a few minutes into the following YouTube video:

Yes, the irony here is palpable, and I've long been critical of Harris's view of free will as an illusion (see especially my book Being as Communion).

But rather than refute Harris by pointing out why his statement scores high on the irony meter, I thought I'd ask ChatGPT to do it for me. Here was my prompt to ChatGPT4:
Consider the following scenario: A well-known atheist, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, is about to present a lecture to a university audience on the connection between mind and brain, and in particular on the topic of free will. This atheist, whom we'll call Sam, begins his lecture with the following statement: "Tonight, I want to try to convince you that free will is an illusion." Please comment at length on the irony of this statement.

Comment: Using a language learning model to point out the irony of arguing against free will is quite apropo.

SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: Psychedelics, Sobriety, and Altered States: Processing Reality with John Buchanan

john buchanan
What do altered states tell us about the nature of consciousness? And what can philosophy tell us about altered states? John Buchanan has spent his life trying to find the answers. His book, Processing Reality: Finding Meaning in Death, Psychedelics, and Sobriety, details the story of his history of experimentation and addiction, his path to sobriety, and the insights he has gained into the nature of human experience and consciousness.

A synthesis of Whitehead's process philosophy and Grof's transpersonal psychology, Buchanan's ideas provide a framework for understanding not only the nature of the psychedelic experience and other altered states, but also the nature of consciousness itself and the structure of the cosmos.

See our previous interview with John here.

Running Time: 01:40:46

Download: MP3 — 138 MB


Children may be 'evolutionarily primed' to need more than 2 parents

tribe forest
© Nikhil Chaudhary
A Mbendjele camp in the Congo rainforest.
The childcare system of a contemporary hunter-gatherer community suggests a major pitfall of the nuclear family, and it could hint at why so many parents in wealthy, Western nations feel burned out.

A team of researchers, led by evolutionary anthropologist Nikhil Chaudhary from the University of Cambridge, argues that children may be "evolutionarily primed" to expect more attention and care than just two parents can provide.

Investigating the culture of Mbendjele hunter-gatherers, who live in the northern rainforests of the Republic of Congo and subsist on hunting, fishing, gathering, and honey collecting, researchers found a widespread caregiving network.

Comment: With collapsing birthrates, broken homes, and an atomised, disconnected population, one could say that there's aready sufficient evidence that WEIRD societies run contrary to the innate needs of human beings.

Black Magic

An Initiation into the Reality of Evil

Clark Rockefeller  Christian Gerhartsreiter  psychopath murderer
© Mike Adaskaveg/AP
The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller at his arraignment on kidnapping charges on Sept. 29, 2008, in Boston.
How Walter Kirn's encounter with psychopathy changed his worldview

For twenty years German immigrant Christian Gerhartsreiter pretended to be a Rockefeller. He befriended novelist and essayist Walter Kirn, who ended up writing a memoir about their friendship, and how it all fell apart: Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, published in 2014.

I hadn't heard of the story until watching this interview with Kirn.

When talking about Gerhartsreiter, he says something very revealing. It's an experience many have upon an encounter with evil. When the psychopathic mask falls, when you get a glimpse of the reality behind the carefully crafted PR image, it can change your worldview. Kirn shifted from what we might call a "common psychological worldview" into one more objective, more in line with reality in all its complexity — and with hints of the "supernatural."

Comment: More background on Christian Gerhartsreiter :

SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: Five Myths about Evil: Setting the Record Straight with David Abramowitz

david abramowitz
Are all psychopaths serial killers? Is authoritarianism only found on the political right? Are we all equally capable of evil? Does power really corrupt absolutely? And is evil really "banal"?

Join us today as we discuss the biggest myths about evil with David Abramowitz, the nature of psychopaths and ponerology, and how McGilchrist's brain-hemisphere research fits into the picture.

David Abramowitz has a background in finance and accounting, but an experience with a psychopath set him on a path to research the topic for the next decade. He has read nearly everything there is to read on the subject, and describes a type which he has termed the "passive-parasitic" psychopath. These are the so-called successful psychopaths, the ones you'll find on Wall Street and in Washington. And they're the reason for much of today's pathological political climate.

Running Time: 01:30:06

Download: MP3 — 124 MB