Dual-use neuroscience: Neuroscience can be used to promote people's freedom and creative potential - and it can be used to control and exploit people. Like any powerful scientific method, it is a Janus-head.
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
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:
- The Ultimate Revolution – Lecture by Aldous Huxley (Transcript/HTML5)
- Neeoliberal indoctrination – Prof. Rainer Mausfeld (PDF)
- Education as a system of indoctrination – Prof. Noam Chomsky (Video)
“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.”
Bertrand Russell (1922) “Free Thought And Official Propaganda”
Full text available on the Internet Archive:
by Christopher Germann (December 2018)
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 cognitive sciences, 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., Bayesian algorithms/deep learning convolutional neural networks) enable science to systematically tailor and “ ” 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, per definition, 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:
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 cognitive sciences 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“).
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 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.
For further information see my 2018 paper entitled: Sôritês paradoxon: Contextualism & borderline vagueness
The etymology of the term “Cognition“
See also: www.etymology-of-creativity.ga
Cognition :: cognoscere ::
co [together] + gnoscere [to know]
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.
“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 public mind, 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.
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— 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