Is Donald Trump's Voice Part of Why He Tops the Poll?

Our ape ancestors might give us insight into the GOP frontrunner's sustained dominance.

America has long promoted the concept of individualism. We might not have invented the idea that the individual matters more than the tribe, but through marketing, wishful thinking, and myriad blends of spiritual musing, we’ve created a religion out of the singular. Problem is that’s not how nature, or society, works. 

Clearly defined social orders are crucial to our species. Pre-agricultural communities might have enjoyed egalitarian structures; once the accumulation of wealth to such vast degrees became possible, alpha males began to dominate. While this may change in the future, for now a pecking order seems ingrained.

Primatologist Frans de Waal understands this well. As he writes in Our Inner Ape, scientists once considered the frequency band of 500 hertz and below inconsequential in speech. Once you remove higher frequencies, lower tones become an unrecognizable mess. Yet research has shown this low hum to be an “unconscious social instrument.” Lower-status animals adjust their timbre to the dominant animal. De Waal goes on:

"In all eight elections between 1960 and 2000 the popular vote matched the voice analysis: the majority of people voted for the candidate who held his own timbre rather than the one who adjusted."

He notes that in 2000, George W. Bush actually adjusted to Al Gore’s vocal patterns. While the latter never achieved the highest office, he did win the popular vote that year. I’m not aware of any analysis regarding Barack Obama’s victories, but his oratorical skills have been undeniable, the focus of both lauded applause and disgruntled dismay.

At a campaign event in Iowa on Saturday GOP frontrunner Donald Trump stated that he would not lose voters even if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone. While the comment has received some attention, at this point such a sentiment coming from his mouth is almost benign. Furthermore, the harsh reality of his statement is that it’s true.

De Waal writes that:

"[N]ot only are we sensitive to hierarchies and the body language associated with them, we simply could not live without them. Some people may wish them away, but harmony requires stability, and stability depends ultimately on a well-acknowledged social order."

In previous ages, Trump’s ascent would have been unlikely given how little support he’s received from the Republican Party. In her response to Obama’s State of the Union, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s GOP-sanctioned reply specifically warned Americans not to vote for the frontrunner. Under normal circumstances, it would be hard for Trump to gain traction. Yet he has something more important under his spell: the electorate.

Sure, he may not have the largest number of overall voters, but he has the support of those he needs: a disillusioned, anti-establishment public fed up with greedy lifelong politicians. Even the Democratic race is spiraling into an anti-establishment fiasco, with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders trying to position the other to seem more "political." Trump’s entire campaign has relied on this tense atmosphere.

Can Trump’s ascent really be based on something as simple as vocal timbre? Fluctuations aside, he has certainly controlled the volume of GOP discourse. Whether commenting on a world event or inventing a controversy he’s masterfully pulled the puppet strings of his opponents in whatever direction he chooses. His many contradictions are overlooked thanks in part to the hypnotic swagger of his certainty.

We like to believe we’re in complete control of every decision we make. Yet our puny cognitive processing power of 120 bits per second is dwarfed by the massive array of autonomic functions our brains and bodies accomplish every second of our lives. Conscious attention is but a sliver of what we call existence. Regardless of how much we’ve evolved from our ape ancestors, we are as much victims to unconscious power dynamics as any other species.

Part of the problem is that we see evolution as a straight line leading to us, rather than a giant tree with innumerable branches spreading in numerous directions. By usurping our connection with nature we think we’ve risen above it. But nature is what created us; we were not molded of some special clay.

As de Waal explains, humans have not evolved directly from chimps or bonobos. Both have influenced us. We are our own animal, subject to our own rules. That said, denying that we are animals is fruitless. Whether Trump has your vote or you’re disgusted by his presence, he has certainly tapped into our primal and cultural ethos and pathos. (I’d leave logos aside in this case.) While his opponents scream from their pulpits about the dangers of electing him, as long as they keep pantgrunting in his presence, they’ll keep solidifying his place as their candidate. 


Image: Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

Derek Beres is a Los Angeles-based author, music producer, and yoga/fitness instructor. Follow him on Twitter @derekberes.

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In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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