Jorge asked an intriguing and somewhat scary question yesterday. Have our minds been hijacked?
I fired back by saying, “Possibly.” I continued my response by saying this is a question I’ve asked myself many times in the past, because we are largely the products of our environments. Humans are more vulnerable to conditioning than most of us feel comfortable admitting.
Jorge said he has been thinking about paradigms and paradigm shifts as they come about. In other words, the way a communication medium is used by a particular person or group has the power to greatly influence not only our beliefs and opinions, but the manner in which we form them.
I recalled an important lesson I learned several years ago during a stay in India. Millions of Indians are born and raised in Hindu households. The result being millions of people who view the world through the lenses of their particular Hindu religions.
I observed some discussions among various Hindu friends regarding the merits and demerits of particular Hindu schools of thought. These discussions reminded me of similar discussions about the merits and demerits of particular Christian schools of thought or denominations that American Christians routinely have among themselves. This was an epiphany to me. I had known intellectually that we are creatures of our culture, but the comparison snapped that knowledge into a crystal clear focus. This realization caused a major paradigm shift in my mind about beliefs.
Jorge mentioned that he experienced a similar paradigm shift after he moved from his Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles to his present home in Colorado. The languages and the cultures are different enough so that he was able to observe how they influence the mindsets of people within each of them.
In that Jorge and I agree that environment and culture influence the ways we understand the world, we explored and compared how various ways of communicating and learning influence our concepts of reality.
We can all relate to how we become immersed in a very good book. We don’t just see words, we mentally project ourselves into the hearts and minds of the characters of the stories. Hence, a really good writer can effectively influence the thinking of her readers.
This effect is magnified when we attend a great stage play, watch a movie, or view a television drama. For a certain amount of time, we experience, first hand, the points of view of people other than ourselves.
With the advent of the Internet, social media, and automatically customized viewing preferences, the ability of communications technology to reinforce or change our paradigms is vastly increased. We increasingly find ourselves isolated in our own perceptual bubbles. Our intellects and reasoning abilities become impaired and unchallenged. Our intellectual softness makes us more vulnerable to being mentally manipulated.
Jorge mentioned that these factors make us more prone to believe conspiracy theories and idle gossip. As we consume more of this information, our worldviews or paradigms are formed and reformed. So far, the Internet has shown itself to be the most efficient way to influence great numbers of people in very deep ways.
Sometime in the near future we will have low cost, widely available virtual reality at nearly everyone’s fingertips.
Virtual Reality or VR is like supercharged movies, television, and video games all wrapped up in a singlularly efficient package. Our brains will experience this new medium in greatly enhanced ways.
As is the case with all tools, VR could be used for good or for bad. The boosters of VR say that this will improve how we are educated, work, and are entertained. We will be able to consume and express creativity in new ways. On the other
hand, VR in the hands of unscrupulous people will be able to mold people’s beliefs in powerfully destructive ways.
Jorge says he also worries that VR that is used in unmindful ways could cause mental illness in the minds of particularly vulnerable individuals. This would cause great harm and distress to those people.
I said that conspiracy theorists will have a field day as they discuss the motives of the technocrats who create VR hardware and programs. Who will oversee the products of this up and coming technology? How can we be sure that the producers are ethical and have no underlying agendas in mind?
If political and religious beliefs can be solidified by reading material and select Internet sites, how much more effective will VR be in furthering such aims?
Jorge wonders about this: As VR becomes commonplace and familiar, we will undoubtedly become less vigilant. This means it will be easier to indoctrinate great numbers of the population. What will this mean for the future of healthy skepticism? Who will hold the enlightening torch of true inquiry? Will it be possible to “deprogram” anyone who has been exposed to VR produced by unethical programmers?
I noted that Jorge’s concerns about VR are another dimension about increasing worries about technology overtaking its human overlords and “singularity”. What happens when artificial intelligence gains control over virtual reality? Are we on the brink of utopia or dystopia?
Jorge looked at me and said, “These technologies are as important as the development of atomic bombs. Maybe more so.”
I concurred, saying that “We’re talking about what makes us who we are inside our minds. We must proceed with great caution.”
My pal then suggested we go outdoors. “We should go for a walk. I need a huge dose of actual reality.”
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this somewhat unsettling thought from speaker and writer, Charles Eisenstein: “We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the Earth, a new experience of being human.”