Why Controlling the Masses Through Media No Longer Works
As the Internet takes over from broadcast television, we find ourselves in a new psychological ecosystem—and people's ability or failure to adapt explains the last two years of American politics.
Jordan is now in his 17th year of building disruptive technology companies, and is the co-founder and CEO of Neurohacker Collective.
Early in his career, he helped start the online digital video revolution as co-founder and CEO of DivX. After somewhat successfully navigating two financial crises and an IPO (and going down in flames at Stage6), he left the helm at DivX to return his attention to the big picture. He tried his hand at capitalism – combining Angel investment at the sharp edge of the Schumpeter wave — with participation in a number of think tanks and institutes; most notably, the Aspen Institute and the Santa Fe Institute where he served on the Board of Trustees for five sweet years.
This exposure led him to the conclusion that humanity is in the midst of a world historical transition which will likely kill all of us (see Mad Max) but just might end in a truly amazing future (see Star Trek). Getting there is going to require many things of us – most notably a significant upgrade of our individual and collective capacity for thought and action.
Although he has long benefitted from entheogens, Jordan had not spent much time on nootropics or other Neurohacking techniques. After one week on an early NHC stack, he was convinced about the power and potential of this new technology and co-created Neurohacker Collective to bring it to the world.
JORDAN GREENHALL: I don't want to go into the history but there's actually a really neat history of exactly why and how a particular set of ideas became so important in the latter half of the 20th century. I'll give you just one example, but the idea of operational management, which was innovated during the heat of World War II and largely to do things like make strategic decisions about how we were going to go about moving ships across the Atlantic or run bombing raids on Germany using statistics, actually applying statistics to analyze the effectiveness of different approaches and then therefore making decisions based on statistics. And so operational management was very effective in the military theater and the people who had learned those techniques after the war percolated out into the broader economy and started applying those techniques in things like deciding how to run their businesses. So that's the basic framework of the order that we built up until now.
Now, the idea of the blue church is trying to get a sense of what it is that is the essence of the control structure. By control I don't mean necessarily anything bad I just mean the mechanism by which we're able to make collective decisions and engage in effective collective actions, the thing that holds our decision and action structure together. The control structure that still is the one that we're operating under that came out of that timeframe and the proposition is that in addition, and this is one piece but it's a very important piece, that there's a dominant role played by the structure of media. We're actually in the process of breaking that apart right here so this is good. We know that there's a particular dynamic associated with the kinds of media that are broadcast where one individual or group, because of the nature of the medium, so for example broadcast television in the day of three networks there was only three people who got to be the anchors who communicated out to the entire population. It was a massive asymmetry between the speaker and the listener and there's no interaction. So I am in the position of listening, you're in the position of speaking and there's 30 million of me and one of you.
Now, that's actually a very important dynamic. If you don't understand the fact of that and its importance you're going to have a very hard time understanding what actually happened during the latter half of the 20th century as in particular television emerged as the dominant medium displacing radio and newspapers. And by the way, you also have a hard time understanding what's happening now has the Internet is now emerging as the dominant medium replacing television. Just understanding that transition and what it implies and means at a deep level is sort of fundamental for predicting future states.
So using sort of television as the metaphor I then looked back and said all right are there other things that we see that look like that? And it's actually quite interesting that, for example, school has a very similar shape to it in the sense that you've got one speaker, a large audience and a very little interactivity, particularly like the university setting where there's a lecture and there's 500 people in the lecture hall. That is effectively the same thing as television in the sense that the relationship of information flow is effectively the same. This is important both from sort of the social dynamics as well as the psychological dynamics because if as a child your primary relationship to how you engage in culture is one of almost certainly being a pure receiver then your psychological development, your set of assumptions and habituations and how you adapt to the world will be associated with that environment. You're adapting to your local environment and this implies a certain set of sort of deep psychological structures. So we get a relationship between the mechanisms and techniques and potentialities of broadcast as a concept, so school, television, fill in the blank, and the behavior strategies, the habits and even the capacities of the individuals in the social layer.
So when you get to the mid and late '90s you're actually dealing with a society that could be understood as the society of broadcast and that has implications for how decisions are made. So the society of broadcasts is characterized by what you might call the Encyclopedia Britannica model or the Walter Cronkite model where you have a set of hierarchical structures where the individuals who have permission, authority and responsibility for speaking, for having authority are selected in some fashion to be positioned at the top of the broadcast hierarchy and then the rest of us defer to them. And so somebody has written an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica or some group of people, some group of experts who have been nominated in some fashion to be positioned as experts and at best take that responsibility very seriously, they pull the total set of questions back into their centers of excellence so they're having conversations in academic environments and groups that get together in think tanks, they produce an authoritative statement of what is in fact our collective opinion around this particular object. They then disseminate it through a broadcast medium and the rest of us listen to it, cohere around it and say okay that's what we do and then move forward.
So a major piece, not the only piece but a major piece of the transition that we're going through is precisely the fact that the decentralized communication infrastructure, sometimes known as the Internet and all of its manifestations and mobile and everything else, radically changes that dynamic. So the Internet is characteristically symmetrical meaning that the number of people who can speak is effectively everyone. Obviously there's not an even distribution of audience among everyone, but it's not structurally locked in. And the relationship between speaking and receiving has become intrinsically or at least intuitively bidirectional.
Now this shift implies a very large number of differential consequences so we can graph the notion of the impact that it has on power and the relationship between decision making and action taking. But there's also the impact that it has on psychology. The intuitive sense or the way that your brain, in fact even just you're sort of way that you go about making decisions in the world actually has to adaptively change. So the people who grew up in the post Internet environment have a fundamentally different psychological set of structures like deep habitual architectures and expectations of how to most effectively present themselves in the world than people who grew up before them. So what that will mean is two things: one is the set of techniques and approaches that socially evolved in the television or in the broadcast era are suddenly maladaptive in this new psychological ecosystem. So think like the Pepsi commercial that so famously was a disaster. That's very much the kind of thing that is produced by a broadcast intuition. We get to send messages and those messages are things that you receive. But the psychology and the technology of the Internet or of the decentralized or the symmetrical medium is one of no, no we get to critique. We get to directly respond to. And things that feel like they are broadcast or feel like they are quite obviously intending to influence us emotionally we know what that feels like and it doesn't work anymore so we're going to respond to that and our ability to respond swarms around it and breaks it up.
And so this, for example, is I think at least a reasonably good explanation for what's been happening in the political domain over the past 30 or 40 years and certainly over the past two.
When television took over from print and radio as the dominant media in the second half of the 20th century, a hierarchy evolved in which the privileged few with TV camera access spoke to the masses. This top-down dissemination of news and opinion not only shaped information, but it also shaped the psychology of those people, and of anyone who has lived with one foot in the TV broadcast era, and the other in the new dynamic brought on by the Internet. That established top-down directive—and society's conditioning to widely accept what is presented to them by experts—is what Neurohacker CEO Jordan Greenhall describes as the Blue Church: "The Blue Church is a kind of narrative/ideology control structure that is a natural result of mass media. It is an evolved (rather than designed) function that has come over the past half-century to be deeply connected with the Democratic political "Establishment" and lightly connected with the "Deep State" to form an effective political and dominant cultural force in the United States," writes Greenhall on Medium. Greenhall is careful to point out that control is not necessarily always a bad thing: it is how hundreds of millions of individuals are able to make collective decisions and engage in effective collective actions to advance their society.
Greenhall believes the switch from top-down broadcast television to the bottom-up nature of the Internet explains American politics in the past 30 or 40 years, and certainly in the past two years. Broadcast television was asymmetrical: one person, speaking to millions, with no interaction. The Internet is highly symmetrical: everyone can speak and interact, and that is psychologically profound for individual thinking, and the manner in which a society makes decisions collectively.
Top-down media no longer has much sway over the masses because they have been shown an alternative and adapted quickly to it; younger people particularly are intuitively aware when something is being broadcast to influence them emotionally, and it simply doesn't work the way it used to. Take the recent Pepsi protest ad, which Greenhall calls a typical product of broadcast thinking. The bi-directional flow of information that characterizes the Internet is a new psychological ecosystem, one in which individuals can respond and critique the establishment or a phony advertisement openly. Top-down social control has been replaced by bottom-up social swarms.
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New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.
For nearly two centuries, scientists have known that humans descended from the great apes. But it's proven difficult to precisely map out the branches of that evolutionary tree, especially in terms of determining when and where early Homo species first developed brains similar to modern humans.
There are clear differences between ape and human brains. Compared to apes, the Homo sapiens brain is larger, and its frontal lobe is organized such that we can engage in toolmaking, planning, and language. Other Homo species also enjoyed some of these cognitive innovations, from the Neanderthals to Homo floresiensis, the hobbit-like people who once inhabited Indonesia.
One reason it's been difficult to discern the details of this cognitive evolution from apes to Homo species is that brains don't fossilize, so scientists can't directly study early primate brains. But primate skulls offer clues.
Brains of yore
In a new study published in Science, an international team of researchers analyzed impressions left on the skulls of Homo species to better understand the evolution of primate brains. Using computer tomography on fossil skulls, the team generated images of what the brain structures of early Homo species probably looked like, and then compared those structures to the brains of great apes and modern humans.
The results suggest that Homo species first developed humanlike brains approximately 1.7 to 1.5 million years ago in Africa. This cognitive evolution occurred at roughly the same time Homo species' technology and culture were becoming more complex, with these species developing more sophisticated stone tools and animal food resources.
The team hypothesized that "this pattern reflects interdependent processes of brain-culture coevolution, where cultural innovation triggered changes in cortical interconnectivity and ultimately in external frontal lobe topography."
The team also found that these structural changes occurred after Homo species migrated out of Africa for regions like modern-day Georgia and Southeast Asia, which is where the fossils in the study were discovered. In other words, Homo species still had ape-like brains when some groups first left Africa.
While the study sheds new light on the evolution of primate brains, the team said there's still much to learn about the history of early Homo species, particularly in terms of explaining the morphological diversity of Homo fossils discovered in Africa.
"Deciphering evolutionary process in early Homo remains a challenge that will be met only through the recovery of expanded fossil samples from well-controlled chronological contexts," the researchers wrote.