Free thought and official propaganda : delivered at South Place Institute on March 24, 1922
“Manwhile the whole machinery of the State, in all the different countries, is turned on to making defenceless children believe absurd propositions the effect of which is to make them willing to die in defence of sinister interests under the impression that they are fighting for truth and right. This is only one of countless ways in which education is designed, not to give true knowledge, but to make the people pliable to the will of their masters. Without an elaborate system of deceit in the elementary schools it would be impossible to preserve the camouflage of democracy.
… It must not be supposed that the officials in charge of education desire the young to become educated. On the contrary, their problem is to impart information without imparting intelli- gence. Education should have two objects : first, to give definite knowledge — reading and writing, languages and mathematics, and so on ; secondly, to create those mental habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments for themselves. The first of these we may call information, the second intelligence. The utility of information is admitted practically as well as theoretically ; without a literate population a modern State is impossible. But the utility of intelligence is admitted only theoretically, not practically ; it is not desired that ordinary people should think for themselves, because it is felt that people who think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative difficulties. Only the guardians, in Plato‘s language, are to think ; the rest are to obey, or to follow leaders like a herd of sheep. This doctrine, often unconsciously, has survived the introduction of political democracy, and has radically vitiated all national systems of education.
You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees.
An evil system never deserves such allegiance.
Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil.
A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.
~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and ilis not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”
~ Nobel laureate Lord Bertrand Russell (1920) “Why Men Fight: A Method of Abolishing the International Duel” pp. 178-179
Full text (ebook) available on the Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/55610
“It must not be supposed that the officials in charge of education desire the young to become educated. On the contrary, their problem is to impart information without imparting intelligence. Education should have two objects: first, to give definite knowledge — reading and writing, languages and mathematics, and so on; secondly, to create those mental habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments for themselves. The first of these we may call information, the second intelligence. The utility of information is admitted practically as well as theoretically; without a literate population a modern State is impossible. But the utility of intelligence is admitted only theoretically, not practically; it is not desired that ordinary people should think for themselves, because it is felt that people who think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative difficulties. Only the guardians, in Plato’s language, are to think; the rest are to obey, or to follow leaders like a herd of sheep. This doctrine, often unconsciously, has survived the introduction of political democracy, and has radically vitiated all national systems of education.”
The term “liberty” is etymologically derived from the Latin libertatem, which can be translated as “civil or political freedom, condition of a free man, absence of cohersion”; cognate to liber “free” and libertas “freedom” (cf. library). Ex vi termini, “cognitive liberty” is semantically synonymous with “the right to psychological and neurocognitive self-determination“. It implies that human creatures have the universal right & freedom (viz., sui iuris) to control and determine their own psychology, i.e., their neurophysiological/neurochemical and cognitive processes, emotions, and all aspects of consciousness. The concept is thus essential to the universal principle of freedom of thought (Article 91 of the Human Rights Act 1998) which in turn forms the basis (s.c., a condicio sine qua non) for the right to freedom of speech/expression. As Erich Fromm succinctly articulated it: “The right to express our thought, however, means something only if we are able to have our own thoughts; freedom from external authority is a lasting gain only if the inner psychological conditions are such that we are able to establish our own individuality” (Fromm, The fear of freedom, 1942; pp.207-208). This quotation echoes Søren Kierkegaard: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
Self-determination is a cardinal principle in international law (jus cogens).2 Given the significant recent advances in psychology, the neurosciences, computer science, and artificial intelligence, cognitive liberty is becoming a topic of great concern for all human beings. This website is specifically dedicated to this timely topic and provides information from a diversity of sources (an integral interdisciplinary approach is adopted to elucidate the topic from a plurality of perspectives). Insights derived from psychology, the cognitivesciences, and the neurosciences enable the manipulation and control of cognition and consciousness, oftentimes specifically targeting unconscious processes. Moreover, advances in computer science and cybernetics (e.g., Bayesianalgorithms/deep learning convolutional neural networks) enable science to systematically tailor and “steerEtymological backgroundIn ancient Greek the word for 'steer' is 'kybernan' which in turn forms the root of the term 'cybernetics' coined 1948 by U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener. The construction is perhaps based on 1830s French cybernétique 'the art of governing'. In an academic context cybernetics is the theory or study of communication and control. In general, cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. The Latin term 'gubernare' (to direct, rule, guide, steer, govern) has the same etymological root. The word 'governor' and 'goverment' are both related.” information (the flow of perceptual input) to affect cognition and emotion (and consequently behavior) in prespecified and highly predictable ways. Especially unconscious psychological processes can be effectively exploited because humans are generally unaware of the programmatic excitability of unconscious mechanisms. This imbalance creates a power-differential between those who know how the human mind can be manipulated (viz., the financial power elite which utilizes media and a large segment of academic science for their purposes; cf. Mausfeld, 2017) and those who do not posses a detailed understanding of psychological manipulation and behavior modification techniques (i.e., the general populous). The list of evolutionarily built-in psychological weaknesses (vulnerable psychological exploits) is long and has been extensively studied by several generations of scientist, particularly in the domain of behavioral economics (i.e., Kahneman & Tversky’s “heuristics & biases” research agenda).
The following application provides a synopsis of numerous cognitive biases that are well documented in psychology:
Open ‘Cognitive Bias Codex’ application in a lightbox modal window (you can zoom via the mouse-wheel)
The psychological and technological developments alluded to are unprecedented in the evolution of the human species and have far-reaching implications for life on this planet as a whole, for it is obvious that human behaviour is having a significant negative impact on the “Earth system”. The relatively new terms Anthropocene and Holocene are used in this context of destruction and mass extinction. These terms refer to an important psychological, self-reflective insight that science has developed, namely that human behaviour is destroying the global ecosystem. Since human behaviour is driven by psychology, it is crucial that people are free to think in order to choose a more rational course of action. Freedom of thought must be encouraged. Currently, a large section of society is being transformed into mindless, conformist consumers through the mass media and other cybernetic methods of psychological programming. This manipulative modus operandi seriously hinders the unfolding of virtuous human potential (in contrast, primitive egocentric cognitive schemas are constantly reinforced in the ego-driven system of consumerism based on wish fulfilment, gratification, ingestion, introjection, consumption, competition, comparison and other egoic human “drives”). Indeed, the term homō consumens has been proposed as a more appropriate replacement for homō sapiēns; a clearly self-inflated nomenclature etymologically derived from the Latin sapere and thus meaning the wise or rational human being – taxonomically speaking, precisely, homō sapiēns sapiēns – duplicating anthropocentric hubris.
Coat of arms of the Fabian society: The wolf in sheep’s clothing
The turtle as a metaphor for slow societal change (gradualism)
The boiling frog analogy & Sôritês paradoxon
The boiling frog is an analogy describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is thrown suddenly into boiling hot water, it will immediately jump out. However, if the frog is put in cold water, which is then slowly and gradually brought to a boil, it does not perceive the danger, sit still, and is therefore be boiled to death. Transferred to human cognition & behavior, the analogy could be interpreted as follows: If the environment changes gradually (microgenetically) in an incremental step-wise fashion, humans have great difficulty recognizing the change because each step in the sequential evolution of the system (i.e., the change in the environment) is not drastic at all. Over a longer period of time, however, the system changes significantly, and the cumulative long-term effect of numerous small changes has extreme consequences. So the question is: When does the system change from stable to chaotic, i.e., from “from lukewarm to boiling hot”. Per analogiam, the demarcation criterion between hot versus cold (chaotic versus stable) is not clearly defined. In the cognitivesciences this ambiguity is discussed under the header “vagueness of attributes”.3 In philosophy, this is an ancient paradox known as Sôritês paradoxon (aka. the problem of the heap).4 The paradox is based on the seemingly simple question: When does a heap of sand become a heap? When does the system “switch” from being life-sustaining to lethal?
Sôritês paradoxon can be expressed as a conditional syllogistic argument (modus ponens). N.B. You can replace the variable “grain of sand” with “toxic chemical molecules” in the context of environmental pollution; or with the “cutting down of individual trees” in the context of global deforestation; or with the “loss of species” in the context of anthropogenic reduction of biodiversity; et cetera pp.
1 grain of sand does not make a heap.
If 1 grain of sand does not make a heap, then 2 grains do not either.
If 2 grains do not make a heap, then 3 grains don’t.
If 999999,99999 grains do not make a heap, then 1 million grains don’t.
∞ ad infinitum…
∴ Ergo (Therefore)
1 million grains don’t make a heap.
The Bald Man (phalakros) paradox is another allegory which illustrates the point: A man with a full head of hair is not bald. The removal of a single hair does not make him a bold man. Viewed diachronically, however, the continuous, repeated removal of individual hairs inevitably leads to baldness. However, it is unclear when the “critical boundary/limit” is transgressed. In the psychology of reasoning, this is termed the continuum fallacy. The informal logical fallacy pertains to the argument that two states (i.e., cold vs. hot; falsum vs. verum) cannot be defined/quantised as distinct (and/or do not exist at all) because a continuum of states exists between them (cf. many-valued logic/fuzzy logic). The fundamental question whether any continua exist in the physical world is a fundamental question in physics (cf. atomism). Deterministic Newtonian physics stipulates that reality is atomised and corpuscular (in Greek atomos means uncuttable). Per contrast, contemporary quantum physics is based on the notion of non-discrete states (i.e., quanta), since the notion of continuity appears to be invalid at the smallest Planck scale of physical existence (i.e., continuous fluid-like substances, spread throughout all of space-time). The binomial Aristotelian law of the excluded middle (principium tertii exclusi) is challenged by recent empirical results in this domain of inquiry (cf. Prof. Erich Fromm on “paradoxical logic“).
Conditional Sôritês paradoxon in symbolic logic:
Mathematical Induction Sôritês paradoxon:
Linguistically, the Sôritês paradoxon was very aptly formulated by Black in 1937:
A symbol’s vagueness is held to consist in the existence of objects concerning which it is intrinsically impossible to say either that the symbol in question does, or does not, apply. …Reserving the terms of logic and mathematics for separate consideration, we can say that all “material” terms, all whose application requires the recognition of the presence of sensible qualities, are vague in the sense described. — M. Black (Vagueness: an exercise in logical analysis, 1937)
In the context of visual perception (i.e., psychophysics) Lord Bertrand Russel stated the following:
It is perfectly obvious, since colours form a continuum, that there are shades of colour concerning which we shall be in doubt whether to call them red or not, not because we are ignorant of the meaning of the word “red”, but because it is a word the extent of whose application is essentially doubtful. — B. Russell (Vagueness, 1923)
Figure 1. Sôritês paradoxon in visual brightness perception.
Figure 1 illustrates Sôritês paradoxon applied to visual perception (based on Russel’s argument). Adjacent luminance differences (e.g., tick-mark 1 versus 2) are indistinguishable by the human visual system while larger contrasts (e.g., tick mark 2 versus 3) are easily distinguishable.
“In this paper i offer a critique of the recent popular strategy of giving a contextualist account of vagueness. such accounts maintain that truth-values of vague sentences can change with changes of context induced by confronting different entities (e.g. different pairs through a sorites series). i claim that appealing to context does not help in solving the sorites paradox, nor does it give us new insights into vagueness per se. furthermore, the contextual variation to which the contextualist is committed is problematic in various ways. for example, it yields the consequence that much of our everyday (non-soritical) reasoning is fallacious, and it renders us ignorant of what we and others have said.”
Litman, L., & Zelcer, M.. (2013). A cognitive neuroscience, dual-systems approach to the sorites paradox. Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence
“The principle of stability now says that if sentence is true/false in a model m, then has to stay true/false if m is getting more precise. formally, let m = d, i be a refinement of m = d, i . then it has to be the case that for all : (i) if vm() = 1, then vm () = 1. (ii) if vm() = 0, then vm () = 0.”
Campbell, R.. (1974). The sorites paradox. Philosophical Studies
“The premises that a four foot man is short and that a man one tenth of an inch taller than a short man is also short entail by universal instantiation and ‘modus ponens’ that a seven foot man is short. the negation of the second premise seems to entail there are virtually no borderline cases of short men, while to deny the second premise and its negation conflicts with the principle of bivalence, if not excluded middle. but the paradox can be dissolved without resort to degrees of truth or any non-classical system of logic. if some true predications can be semantically uncertain in a sense suitable for defining borderline cases, the second premise can be denied without denying the vagueness of ‘short’ or reintroducing a sorites paradox along with higher order borderline cases.”
Hyde, D.. (2011). Sorites Paradox. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Show/hide publication abstract
“The sorites paradox is the name given to a class of paradoxicalarguments, also known as little-by-little arguments, which arise as aresult of the indeterminacy surrounding limits of application of thepredicates involved. for example, the concept of a heap appears tolack sharp boundaries and, as a consequence of the subsequentindeterminacy surrounding the extension of the predicate ‘is aheap’, no one grain of wheat can be identified as making thedifference between being a heap and not being a heap. given then thatone grain of wheat does not make a heap, it would seem to follow thattwo do not, thus three do not, and so on. in the end it would appearthat no amount of wheat can make a heap. we are faced with paradoxsince from apparently true premises by seemingly uncontroversialreasoning we arrive at an apparently false conclusion., the hooded man: you say that you know your brother. yet thatman who just came in with his head covered is your brother and you didnot know him.”
Cognition: That which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge.
mid-15c., cognicioun, “ability to comprehend, mental act or process of knowing,” from Latin cognitionem (nominative cognitio) “a getting to know, acquaintance, knowledge,” noun of action from past participle stem of cognoscere “to get to know, recognize,” from assimilated form of com“together” (see co-) + gnoscere “to know,” from PIE root *gno- “to know.” In 17c. the meaning was extended to include perception and sensation.
1375–1425; late Middle English cognicioun < Latin cognitiōn- (stem of cognitiō ), equivalent to cognit(us), past participle of cognōscere ( co- co- + gni-, variant stem of gnōscere, nōscere, to learn (see know) + -tus past participle suffix) + -iōn- -ion
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the publicmind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.” (Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928)
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Horace Liveright.
Bernays, E. L. (1936). Freedom of Propaganda. Vital Speeches of the Day, 2(24), 744–746.
L’Etang, J. (1999). The father of spin: Edward L. Bernays and the birth of public relations. Public Relations Review, 25(1), 123–124.
“That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach. … The public must be put in its place, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.” (Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapter XV)
Lippmann, W. (1920). Liberty and the News. Museum.
Lippmann, W. (1970). The Phantom Public. Politics.
From 1930 onwards, Brecht became part of a wider complex of projects exploring the role of intellectuals (or “Tuis” as he called them) in a capitalist society. A Tui is an intellectual who sells his or her abilities and opinions as a commodity in the marketplace or who uses them to support the dominant ideology of an oppressive society. ] The German modernist theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht invented the term and used it in a range of critical and creative projects, including the material that he developed in the mid-1930s for his so-called Tui-Novel—an unfinished satire on intellectuals in the German Empire and Weimar Republic—and his epic comedy from the early 1950s, Turandot or the Whitewashers’ Congress. The word is a neologism that results from the acronym of a word play on “intellectual” (“Tellekt-Ual-In”).
According to Clark (2006): “… the critique of intellectuals which Brecht developed… around the notion of ‘Tuismus’ engages a model of the public intellectual in which the self-image of the artist and thinker as a socially and politically engaged person corresponded to the expectations of the public.”
Clark, M. W. (2006). Hero or villain? Bertolt Brecht and the crisis surrounding June 1953. Journal of Contemporary History.
Hunt, T. C. N.-. (2004). Goodbye to Berlin: For 200 years, German thinkers have shaped British intellectual life – but their influence is fading fast. The Guardian.
“It is very useful to differentiate between rational and irrational authority. By irrational authority I mean authority exercised by fear and pressure on the basis of emotional submission. This is the authority of blind obedience, the authority you will find most clearly expressed in all totalitarian countries.
But there is another kind of authority, rational authority by which I mean any authority which is based on competence and knowledge, which permits criticism, which by its very nature tends to diminish, but which is not based on the emotional factors of submission and masochism, but on the realistic recognition of the competence of the person for a certain job.”
― 1958. The Moral Responsibility of Modern Man, in: Merrill-Palmer. Quarterly of Behavior and Development, Detroit, Vol. 5, p. 6.
“Rapid advancements in human neuroscience and neurotechnology open unprecedented possibilities for accessing, collecting, sharing and manipulating information from the human brain. such applications raise important challenges to human rights principles that need to be addressed to prevent unintended consequences. this paper assesses the implications of emerging neurotechnology applications in the context of the human rights framework and suggests that existing human rights may not be sufficient to respond to these emerging issues. after analysing the relationship between neuroscience and human rights, we identify four new rights that may become of great relevance in the coming decades: the right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity, and the right to psychological continuity.”
Rose, N., & Abi-Rached, J.. (2014). Governing through the Brain: Neuropolitics, Neuroscience and Subjectivity. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
“This article considers how the brain has become an object and target for governing human beings. how, and to what extent, has governing the conduct of human beings come to require, presuppose and utilize a knowledge of the human brain? how, and with what consequences, are so many aspects of human existence coming to be problematized in terms of the brain? and what role are these new ‘cerebral knowledges’ and technologies coming to play in our contemporary forms of subjectification, and our ways of governing ourselves? after a brief historical excursus, we delineate four pathways through which neuroscience has left the lab and became entangled with the government of the living: psychopharmacology, brain imaging, neuroplasticity and genomics. we conclude by asking whether the ‘psychological complex’ of the twentieth century is giving way to a ‘neurobiological complex’ in the twenty-first, and, if so, how the social and human sciences should respond.”
Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. — Henry David Thoreau
"Expand Thy wings, celestial Dove, brood o`er our nature`s night on our disordered spirits move, and let there now be light."
~ Charles Wesley
The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
— John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.
— Benjamin Franklin