Yesterday, in a conversation with somebody who knows more than most people about the human brain, that somebody referred to the brain as "a cognitive miser." At first, I assumed that he meant a phenomenon David Eagleman (at least I think it was he) has addressed: Our brains filter out the great majority of external stimuli because, if it didn't, we would be overwhelmed, unable to respond to all of it at once, and end up remembering far more unimportant stuff than the important stuff we actually need.
But no, he wasn't thinking along those lines, even though he identified one of the brain's primary functions as to protect us. He was referring to the way the brain receives information and puts it in virtual drawers, or what he called "buckets." We categorize the world and evaluate things based on whether they might be harmful or beneficial to us. Categorizing helps us learn associatively: New Object X is similar to Familiar Object Y, and Y is good, some X is most likely good too. This is also an aspect of the brain's protective function.
The downside, as I observe it, is that our brave new Web-Wide World exposes us to more stimuli and information than our brains can properly process. Too much of the information is inaccurate or incomplete, and we need Snopes or some equivalent as a third-party bullshit detector, but that's a side-issue. If our brains do not have time to figure out which bucket something belongs in, we tend to winnow down the number of buckets we use.
Too often, that number of buckets is reduced to two. We stuff information haphazardly into buckets labeled "harmful" and "beneficial." Perhaps later we'll devote the time to examine something and categorize it appropriately, but perhaps we won't.
Two Buckets, One Narrative Box
Perhaps the speed of the flow of information is less impactful than the way our corporate media function as abusive parents: telling us what and how to think, punishing us for daring to think outside the boundaries they establish or to ask the "wrong" questions. Our educational institutions, from Kindergarten through university, are often guilty of following that same model. Thoughts that deviate from the prevailing narrative, that are difficult to associate with anything familiar, are shunned, and those who think them are ostracized.
This "cognitive miser" metaphor and its implications go a long way toward explaining what my interlocutor called "black-white thinking," or the binary/dichotomistic thinking, against which I have railed in this-here blog.
Some otherwise very smart people fall into the trap of dichotomistic thinking. In the US, some people even smarter than those very smart people are busy spinning and maintaining the dichotomistic narrative: e.g., the Cold War dichotomy, with America the avatar of all that's GOOD, and Russia all that's BAD. Within that narrative, it is easy to see everything that opposes the US and its neoliberal imperialism as BAD—and, by extension, Russian in origin.
This is like...if I say I'm not a fan of the Houston Texans, and you reply that I must therefore like the Dallas Cowboys, who are paying me to say I'm not a Texans fan. Illegal Fallacy of False Alternatives, 15-yard penalty, replay the down.
America its them bad Russians.
The paradigm of Democrats GOOD, Republicans BAD is also detrimental to society at large and independent thinking in particular. It implies that if you disagree with the Democrats, you must be a Republican, or at best a Republican stooge. It implies that it doesn't matter whether the Democrats you elected to Congress vote like their Republican colleagues. Drone attacks? Deportations? Austerity measures? Thousands dying every year due to inadequate health insurance? As long as Democrats are doing it, it's all good, right?
Caity, Glenn, and Liberal Trump Derangement Syndrome
And yes, we're talking about narratives in light of a recent post from Caitlin Johnstone. Caity has become a leading amateur theoretician on the power of narrative, and on how narrative helps the establishment control information and ideas (and thus, in this Information Age, the world). But the present post is also inspired by this recent Twitter conversation involving Glenn Greenwald—even more so by the replies (read them if you dare):
I don't watch much TV, so I don't know enough about this guy Nance to judge whether he's a propaganda tool or not. What I do know is:
The Truth Is Out There, Outside Your Comfort Zone
It all comes back to these very important facts, which I hope will not need links to substantiate:
Americans, on the world stage we are not the Good Guys. I can say that because I have this amazing power called thinking for myself. It's not that difficult, really; you can do it too, if you have the courage to step outside The Matrix. I see and use more than two buckets. More to the point, the separateness of your buckets is an illusion carefully crafted by your own Cognitive Miser: Those buckets are connected, forming a trough. Very little in this world is all good or all bad.
As my friend Kate BionicDance Fahr has said literally thousands of times, "Don't run on automatic. Instead, please--think!!!"
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.