Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 347 of 365: The Subtle and the Overt

I tend to go mad sociological on the essays I submit to websites. My most recent essay is a polished up version of a blurb I attempted a few times on this blog, about "girl" versus "women" and the power of semantics. While a few of the comments are painfully misogynistic, what really got to me was the reminder of all the times I've made the mistake of reading the comments section in any essay or article. To this day, I remember a guy completely disregarding the notion that our society has a blasé attitude toward sexual assault because, "Bars are filled with men high-fiving each other over their recent rape."

And, again, maybe it's because I have a bit of a background in things like semantics and sociology, but this shit drives me insane. However, I have to recognize it's not mankind's fault: we are influenced by the subtle, but look to the overt when figuring out influences.

Ready for some fun neurological talk? No? Well, shit. You're outta luck.

Why? Because I'm about to talk about the Split Brain Experiments. These experiments were done on people who had their corpus callosum (aka the communicating channels between the left and right hemisphere) removed. The people originally had said corpus callosum removed because they were epileptic and doctors hope essentially breaking up the left and right hemispheres. And, for the most part, it did. But doctors were curious what the side effects would be.

In many of these experiments, they would show something only to the left eye (so that only the right hemisphere would register it). For example, they would show the word "walk" to the left eye. This would cause the person to get up and start walking. The scientists would then ask the person why they were walking. Unfortunately, the left side is in charge of coming up with rationale. And, with the corpus callosum severed, the right hemisphere can't communicate, "hey, I saw the word 'walk' and did what I was told."

So what does the left hemisphere do? Lie. And convincingly.

This happened every single time they would show something to the right side of the brain and then ask the participant why they were doing what they were doing. The left side would craft this incredible story of why they chose what they chose, did what they did, thought what they thought.

And the kicker is that the participants wholeheartedly believed the rationale. To them, they really were getting up to get a soda, or picked up a picture of a chicken because chicken can be a type of food, etc, etc.

This is an extreme example, but all I have to do is bring up the bump/crash experiment again -- or any number of experiments that show how the slightest shift in authority, or peer opinion, or even a change in what pictures are hung up in the room -- to remind everyone that the brain is influenced by the subtle, but we look to the overt for influences.

Why? Because it looks bad if we say, "Yeah, the tiniest change in verbiage is what affected my overall mood." The human brain has evolved to value looking like we're in control of at least our own shit (pretty hard to secure a mate and move up in the tribal social ladder if you look like any little thing can control you). So when it comes to figuring out influences, our brain looks to huge matters -- because what makes you look like you're more in control? A subtle shift in cultural values, or a giant neon sign saying, "DO THIS OR DIE"?

I know the world can't be filled with people who wax philosophical and sociological way more than is healthy (guess what I do while driving my car? Spoiler alert: it's not texting or playing Candy Crush). But, the same way I feel like the world would be a better place if we could all just admit that we're not biologically programed to be nice, the world could stand a better chance of changing if we all admitted that we are influenced greatly by the subtle, but we look to the overt when figuring out said influences. And the real irony here is that we can usually process out the overt, but we internalize the subvert.

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