What is ideology? Where does it come from? How does it operate? How can it present such a danger to negotiating the perils of The Crisis? We have built a common understanding of the brainworld, you and I, and how it works. Oh, you may not agree with me entirely, but we have a language in common at this point and we can apply this perspective to answering these questions. What I want to do in this post is to show that most people most of the time are driven, not by an effort after truth, but an effort after meaning, and it is this latter process that leads to the formation if ideology among families, bands, tribes, clubs, churches and nations. In short, wherever hairless apes gather, there is the breeding ground of ideology.
But I think the best way to approach ideology is to first come to some kind of understanding of what truth is. For it is in the inherent tension between truth and meaning within the brainworld that the dynamics of ideology arise. You see, one cannot know the truth of things without establishing the meaning of things, but establishing the meaning of things can happen with little or no reference to truth. (My late friend Shelley Higgins used to chant, "What the f**k is he talking about? What the f**k is he talking about?" when I would lose her in one of these loops. Bear with me... It’ll be worth it.).
What does "truth" mean? (HA! We’re already into the thick of it. Of course you know what "truth" means. We both understand something about the word "truth." What I am attempting to do is reach a COMMON understanding of "truth" in each of our brainworlds so that when I talk about truth, we both understand what I am saying in the same way. And right there we have the roots of ideology – the social standardization of meaning. I am attempting to exercise control over the meaning in your head so that you come to see things as I do.)
Anyhow, let’s get on with it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "truth" derives from an ancient root which connotes being faithful to one's friend or commander, characterized by good faith, keeping one's promises, keeping faith with a covenant (as in the related word "truce"), being firm in one's allegiance, being loyal, trustworthy, and constant. It is associated with the qualities of honesty, virtue, and trustworthiness, so being a "true" or "truthful" person meant in olden days, as it still does today (consider our contemporary phrase "being true to one’s word"), that one could be trusted in word and deed -- being characterized as being "true-hearted" or a "truepenny" (being a coin of genuine value). The word also connotes that one's statement is consistent with the facts, is in agreement with reality, represents things as they really are, or matches the description of the way things are. In other words, the root refers to "telling the truth" in both the sense that what one says is consistent with reality, and is consistent with reality as one knows it to be and without deceit (i.e., both a subjective and an objective connotation of genuineness). The root of the word also refers to agreement of an act or statement with respect to some standard, rule or pattern – it is "as it should be," or correct. Notice right here the historical ambiguity in the meaning of truth: (1) truth relative to reality, and (2) truth relative to a socially standardized point of view.
Modern English is, of course, a very nominalising language. We tend to make things out of activities, objects out of processes, nouns out of verbs. In trying to understand the relations between the experiencing brainworld and reality, it is often more accurate and revealing to speak of the verb "to true." Used as a verb, instead of as a noun or an adjective, the word true is, like so many of our more familiar words, a metaphor which is rooted in the experience of physical and mechanical activity. In this case, the term implies architectural activity. To say a wall or joist or window frame is "true" means that it is accurate as measured relative to a plan or some measurement like a plumb line or a level. When in the proper configuration, the wall may be said to be "in true." And used as an active verb we can say things like "trueing a door," the connotation being an activity that makes the door true relative to the wall in which it has been inserted. One may "true" something by adjusting or shaping it into accurate conformation with a pattern or plan. To "prove something true" is to verify it in relation to something else. And a tool or device used to true-up something was once called a "truer."
Etymological lesson finished for the moment. Henceforth in these posts I intend to use the term "true" in a very technical way. Hereafter, trueing refers specifically to the functions of the brainworld that produce a world of experience that is accurate with respect to our sensory and somatic interactions with reality. Trueing is a property of the inherent organization of the brain and drives the development of models of reality from their nascent organization in infancy to ever more complex, mature and accurate knowledge of self and world. The universal, even archetypal appeal of truth for all peoples derives from the inherent and experienced drive of neural cells to organize their internal order in such a way that critters anticipate and fulfil their anticipated experiences in interactions with the world. Moreover, any neuropsychological, technical or cultural process by which experienced reality is brought into greater accuracy relative to the experience of reality is called a truer.
A "scout" is a person sent ahead to obtain more accurate information, and is thus a cultural truer. A West African griot or "praise singer" who is constantly updating the history he recounts in story and song is a cultural truer. Journalism at its best may be considered a cultural truing institution. Moreover, a camera, a tape recorder, a telescope, or a seismograph may be considered technical truers, for they are devices used to increase the accuracy of our knowledge of the world. But the primordial truer of course is the brainworld itself, or more specifically those neurophysiological processes that develop, alter, augment, correct, and disconfirm knowledge as a result of interacting with the world. On this account, technical and cultural truing may be considered evolutionary elaborations of neurophysiological truing – that is, technical truers augment and extend the limitations of unaided sensory truing, while cultural truers institutionalize these natural processes within individuals to bring them under the control of social processes.
Truth and Language
Wow! Now wasn’t that a clever exercise in linguistic manipulation? Bet you never thought of the word truth in this way, or even bothered to think about what the word really implies. If you are like most folks, you just took the word for granted, like you do "eggplant," or "democracy." And, if you are more or less average in your vocabulary, you have tens of thousands of other words in your head the meanings of which you take for granted. You take them for granted primarily because you learned most of them while you were still a kid. You normally didn’t decide, "aha! I need a word for this new thingy" and then invent one: "This will hereafter be known as a ‘gwigmer’!" You very likely learned a lot of the connotation of the word "truth" you have in your head by getting caught-out lying – your Mum demanding you "tell the truth right now!" Somehow in your upbringing the individual quest for truth in reality, and speaking the truth within a social context got mangled. Yet the root experiences of the reality of truth are so fundamental to the unfolding of experience that the source of all truing is lost sight of. But before we get into the phenomenology of truing, let us stick with the linguistic aspect a while longer. This is important for understanding the roots of ideology.
Language is very much at the heart of trueing among hairless apes, and for very sound evolutionary reasons. Humanity is a species of social primate, and more than any other big-brained social animal, we humans depend upon communication in the formation and sharing of our experience. Language evolved over the course of human evolution in order that members of social groups could share experiences vicariously (= participation in the experience of another person). As we have seen in previous posts, much of the activity of the brainworld in mediating experience is given to the integration of memory into current sensory activity. And for hairless apes, much of the material stored in memory was not experienced directly, but was derived vicariously from parents, teachers, peers and others in the group. Our heads are choc-a-block with secondhand experiences – experiences we read about or heard about – experiences perhaps that never actually occurred in reality.
Sharing experiences seems to be uniquely vital to human adaptation. Other species of primates with big brains, like our closest relatives the chimpanzees, do not seem to need to communicate in a manner sufficiently complex to share much in the way of vicarious experience. Honey bees do of course – they have evolved ways of communicating the location of food resources so that other members of the hive can help collecting the goodies. Yet we humans do it so effortlessly we take it for granted – just as honey bees do I imagine. Our friend can go off on a vacation to the Bahamas and return to describe his experiences in such vivid detail that we almost feel we have been there. More than that, his description of the places he has been become a part of our own internalized view of the world. We may end up knowing a great deal about the Bahamas without ever setting foot on one of the Caribbean islands.
And herein lies the clue to why language evolved among humans -- namely, because the hominid brainworld evolved the capacity to model reality in a way that transcends the limits of immediate perception. Picture if you will a species like ours having a brain capable of modeling a vast world of experience, but with no means of communicating experiences to each other.
Social action, and hence society itself would simply not be possible. As we have seen, a primary component of experience is interpretation, and without a body of socially standardized interpretations (meanings) the experience of group members would diverge to such an extent that no one would share a common experiential world. Social coordination of internal brain states (models) and external social action would be impossible. Thus language evolved in concert with the remarkable expansion of our brainworld as a mechanism for coordinating socially shared features of individual knowledge.
As long as a social species shares pretty much the same cognized world, and a capacity to model an environment not much greater than the field of direct perception, then the need for communication remains rudimentary – like for birds and honey bees. Communication is limited to transmitting information such as where the food source is, the presence of a predator, the type of predator, an inclination to move, to copulate, etc. But once the capacity of the brainworld expands to the creation of a cognized world bigger, ore complex and transcendent of immediate perception, then more complex forms of communication had to develop in order to maintain the advantages of a social adaptation.
Obviously, with an increase in the reliance upon vicarious experience in adapting to reality, the issue of the accuracy and honesty of reported, vicarious experience emerged as an important factor. The biological roots of the sense of honesty and accuracy are to be found in the everyday testing of information derived by communication in the crucible of direct, individual experience. If our friend describes the beach he played on in the Bahamas, how are we to evaluate the accuracy, the truth, of his report? After all, he may be lying. He may have gone to Disneyland instead and may never have been in the Bahamas in his life. This, of course, is the crux of the problem of truth and language. Verity in communication is also rooted in the biology of the evolving brain. As Pinker (1995:265) notes, all languages on the planet exhibit the universal property of querying the truth-value of utterances.
Indeed, some researchers have suggested that the ability to deceive others and dissemble during communication is a sign of advanced intelligence in a species. Some authorities have even argued that self-deception may have evolutionary and adaptive value. And it is true that chimpansees can dissemble while monkeys cannot. Be that as it may, as reliance upon vicarious experience increased in the formation of human knowledge, the issue accuracy and honesty of reporting of vicarious experience became more and more crucial to adaptation. With modern humans, recognition of truth and falsehood in communication is a cultural universal. The possibility that people can and do lie is also universally recognized. There is no such thing as a human society that does not acknowledge the value of truth over falsehood. Moreover, no matter how the concepts are culturally symbolized and elaborated, all the world's languages have words that easily gloss "true" and "false," "truth" and "lie."
Truing and Development
Despite the admitted adaptive importance of truth judgements about communication of vicarious experience, a major failing of philosophical accounts of truth is that they tend to be limited to logical evaluations of statements and propositions. Truth theorists continue to focus on language and logic despite a history of phenomenological reflection that shows the critical importance of grounding any theory of truth in the judgements and intuitions occurring within direct experience – knowledge constructed by the brainworld to correspond, not with other statements, but with the perceived world as it arises in perception.
Moreover, the trueing of knowledge relative to reality is evident in the activity of other animals. It is clear that we evolved a neurocognitive system designed to true an internal model of the world, and that this function of the brain is primordial and predates the evolution of language by millions of years. Indeed, it is now clear that animals as simple as honey bees operate upon an internalized brainworld which generates a kind of map of their environment and which develops in individuals over the course of their lives. Thus it is to the relationship between experience and reality that we must refer to understand the primordial roots of truth, not to the relations among sentences in utterances and texts. For it is in the direct experience of trueing that we all obtain our fundamental intuition of truth – the intuition that makes such a profound mark upon those from whatever cultural background who value truth in everyday life.
Truing is integral to the development of the brainworld in children. The role of behavior in trueing is fundamental, especially, as Jean Piaget argued, in the early development of babies. The trueing of knowledge in the course of early development is a wired-in, biological process. In numerous works throughout his long life, Piaget developed the view that knowledge is a property of the internal biological organization of the brainworld and the body, a property serving primarily to regulate the relationship between the being and its environment.
A major trend in the evolution and development of the human brainworld was the "progressive escape from dominion by the most accessible perceptual features in the environment" (Gold 1987:27). Cognition, in other words, provides a buffer of meaning that stands between sensory input and action output. Intelligence, in the Piagetian sense, refers both to the complexity of organization and the accuracy of internal, neurocognitive models. Moreover, Piaget realized that the most important aspects of reality for adaptation are often those that are invisible to the senses -- a major theme in the traditional cosmologies of peoples all over the planet -- so that consciousness as it develops strives for adaptive accuracy in modeling both the visible and the invisible aspects of the world. As Piaget showed, this regulatory function of the brain manifests an essential tension between the demand for adaptive responses to the environment on the one hand, and the demand to maintain internal integrity of neural organization on the other hand.
Because of the polarized tension between adaptation to reality and the necessity for maintaining internal organization, our brainworld strives to regulate its own internal organization in a way that simultaneously addresses this tension. Both of these properties you see are necessary for the survival of animals that – like hairless apes – rely for their survival upon an internal world of experience in dynamic interaction with reality. The tension between the demands of adaptation and internal regulation keeps neurocognitive systems relatively open to the environment while using energy resources to develop these structures through the course of life.
Our understanding of the dual demands of adaptation and organization grounds our understanding of the biological basis for trueing within the very organization of our cognitive being. Knowledge is the function of neurocognitive systems that are open to what we would now call negative and positive feedback, negative feedback being defined as information that has the effect of conserving and reinforcing structures in the brainworld, and positive feedback being information that results in changes in these internal structures. It is precisely within the context of this dynamic and complex system of feedback into neurocognitive systems that we want to situate our quest for primordial origins of "truth." For as Piaget himself noted, the truth is not simply a copy of the world – there is no such thing as knowledge of the world that is not constructed by the knowing brainworld – nor is truth a property of the world apart from the process of knowing.
The Effort After Truth
Alright. Time to pull it all together again. We have said that most people’s awareness of truth has to do with statements. Is some claim true or false. Is it true with respect to the facts? Or is it true with respect to some system of knowledge. Consider the statement:
Guido the Great is the one true prophet!
Is it true or false? You bet its true. Statements just don’t get much truer. It is profoundly true in fact... if, of course, you happen to be a member of the Cult of Guido the Great and believe in the pronouncements of Guido as reported in the holy scriptures called the Book of Guido. On the other hand, if you happen to be a member of the Cult of Franny the Fairy Princess, you might find the above statement to be not only false, but blasphemous. Why, because it contradicts the sacred text, Franny’s Musings.
But we have gone on to say that the primordial meaning of "truing" comes from direct experience by the brainworld of the real world. Truing is the process by which neural models seek to adjust their information to information from the senses. Primordial truing is wired-in, is pre-linguistic in evolutionary origin, and is fundamental to human development, as well as development in other animals with brains. Humans everywhere have wired-in to their brainworld an effort after truth that is part and parcel to the drive of the organism to adapt (remember: find food without becoming food). This is the power of the brainworld, to adjust the internal world of experience so that it anticipates events in reality in an accurate way. This is truing in action. I walk along the path, humming a tune and looking at the birds, and WHAM! I trip over a root I did not see. I did not see the root because I wasn’t paying any attention to the act of walking. The robot was walking while I (the watcher) was busy with the birds, and I only shifted awareness back to walking to see what had tripped me and to make sure it didn’t happen again. Now I know there are impediments on this path – the world and its damned obduracy again! Now I can go back to walking and watching birds, but with a new sense of caution, watching the path a bit closer to avoid such impediments. In other words, the higher cortical structures controlling my perambulation have been trued.
Every moment of consciousness is a test of the accuracy of the brainworld. Our consciousness literally feeds forward into the next perceptual epoch with a set of expectations that reality may or may not meet. The more accurate our internal models, the more likely reality will "rise" to meet our expectations. We take a breath... and low and behold the air is there to fill our lungs – so automatically that we are rarely aware of the activity at all. But if there is suddenly no air (this can happen while scuba diving), then we become suddenly alive to our peril. We literally breath into the future, and too we walk into the future. We pick up a foot, move it forward and bring it down, fully expecting solid ground. But it could be quicksand, or a depression we failed to see. Again, we come instantly aware of our peril. In other words we are always prepared to adjust our expectations -- true our models – in response to positive feedback from the world. How often have you thought, "I’m not myself today!" Well, of course you were your Self. You might not have been acting and feeling within the bounds of your ego-expectations. So we feed forward into our own being – we watch ourselves extend our boundaries of identification and we learn – we true-up our internal model of our Self. We feed forward into an encounter with our own transcendental being.
This is the effort after meaning at its rudimentary level. And it is repeated within the organization of each level of cognition up to and including ideation, imagination, theorizing and all the other forms of meaning mediated within the advanced, cortical portions of our brainworld. The natural human tendency is to true-up ideas, images, feelings, beliefs, and so forth by either direct encounter with reality though personal perception and action, or vicariously by way of the experiences reported by others. One anthropologist who worked with the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa reported that this Bushmen hosts had formed a theory about the contrails they saw high in the sky that went north to south and then south to north. They hypothesized that white people on the northern and southern lands bordering the vast desert had built great cannons and fired huge toilet paper rolls with messages to each other back and forth. This satisfied their quest for an explanation, but when the anthropologist told them about the huge flying machines that traveled very high up, so high that it was very cold and froze the water vapor streaming from their engines, the Bushmen readily gave up their toilet paper theory of contrails in favor of the new explanation from someone who claimed, not only to have seen these flying machines, but had ridden in them across the desert. In other words, even at the group-cultural level, the people true their views in response to new, though vicarious, and valued experience.
The effort after truth is in the service of adaptation – wired-in from our earliest days as infants to allow our internal models to grow in intimate interaction with the way things really are.. But there is another drive to consider as well, and that one has to do with meaning. Once again, it is instructive to trace the word back to its original roots. In Old English the term means to tell, to say or to complain about something. Throughout much of its history of use, it has connoted intention, presuming something, to have an opinion about something, or to have thoughts about something. A "meaningful glance" is a facial signal intended to transmit information. If something is meaningful, it is symbolic of something, it stands for and expresses a greater significance. An act may be significant and have purpose which is not actually contained in the act, but only interpreted by the observer."He is well-meaning" implies his intention and intended significance behind an act are good. Meaning, thus points directly to the intentionality of consciousness. We express and do out of understanding and knowledge. I am intentionally manipulating the symbols on this page in order to transmit the information in my brainworld to your brainworld. I can only do this via symbols. And as we have said before, if the symbols I use do not penetrate to meaning in your head, then there is no communication ("communication" from the Latin root "to make common"). To express something in common, there must be a lot of meaning we all hold in common in our heads.
The effort after meaning, then, is the drive to make things meaningful within our brainworld – it is the organizational imperative we were talking about above with respect to Piaget’s understanding of development. We have seen that every moment of consciousness pairs patterns of sensory pixels with information stored in memory. The information stored in memory is originally neurognostic (wired-in, inherited meaning) and later developed meaning. Let’s recall how this works. There is a distinct pattern arising in my sensorium. It is a dog. In fact it’s not just any dog, but it’s my dog Toby. Pattern + identification. Fast as the pattern arises there is the recognition. If I was calm enough and attentive enough I could discern the arising of the sensory pattern, and a split second later the ID-ing of the form as "Toby." But there is nothing "out there" about the real dog that says to me, "Hi, I’m Toby." Rather, the distinct pattern that Toby impresses on my senses is recognized – literally RE-cognized. Hence, in a way, everything in the real world that we can sense -- including Toby for me, and me for Toby -- is a symbol. Things bounce or emit energies that my senses pick up. They present as patterns in the field of pixels, and these patterns penetrate into the brainworld and activate meaning stored there in "in-formed" neural models. Hence everything that I sense and identify within my stream of consciousness is a symbol, for the patterns from reality present only partial information about themselves, and my memory provides the rest. The words you are scanning are symbols. The monitor is a symbol, the chair you’re sitting on is a symbol, and you are a symbol to your own Self. "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" These are questions about meaning. Put in other words, "Who am I to myself?" "What is my purpose here?" "What is the intention and significance of my being to myself?"
Once again, the prime directive of the brainworld is to constitute before itself a meaningful world that allows the animal to find food without becoming food. Every normal act of consciousness is inherently symbolic (philosophers like to say "hermeneutic" or "interpretive"). The prime directive is accomplished by making everything and every event it can sense a symbol, and it organizes as much information about each and every symbol it can, while at the same time organizing all this meaning into a single coherent understanding of the real world and all the other things and happenings encountered in the real world. I like the metaphor of a kid’s magnet: You remember how you would put iron filings on a piece of paper and move them all over the paper, and make nifty patterns using a magnet underneath the paper? Well, think of the magnet as the symbol and the iron filings as the organization of information that becomes activated when the symbolic pattern penetrates into the brainworld.
We hairless apes get a lot of the meaning we store in memory from our culture. In fact, some anthros define "culture" as an information pool which members of the group have access to. We are, as we anthros like to say, "enculturated" into a whole vast library of meanings – into the information pool. We are often biased by our cultural conditioning when we encounter novelty. We run into something new and very likely there’s already meaning in our brainworld we project upon the novelty, and POOF... novelty all gone! Morever, during the normal course of events, we attend novelty only so long as we master it and relegate it to the familiar. But watch out here! (Alarm bells ringing in the background!) Remember, the real world, including our own being, is transcendental relative to anything we can know about it. There is always more potential meaning than we are typically satisfied with. We tend to pay attention to novel things and happenings only so long as we render them familiar. "Oh, yeah... been there, done that, added it to my tee-shirt collection."
Yet if we decide to make a study of something novel, it would become richer and richer in meaning, and we might discover there is no end to the novelty. It is our consciousness that decides the novel is now familiar and no longer of interest. And if we get further into our study, we may mature into a scientist of that thing – we might become a Rolling Stones-ologist, a bicycle-ologist, a meadowlark-ologist, a rose-gardening-ologist, whatever. And along the way we might find out one of the great lessons any real scientist learns, and that is that what is really important about meaning (often in the form of theory) is all the anomalous evidence that pops up contrary to, or disconfirming the meaning. This is why real science is an interminable dialog between theory and the transcendental nature of reality.
Is there truth without meaning? Absolutely not! To ask what reality is like apart from our knowing it is a self-contradictory question. We cannot know anything about the world without making it meaningful within and for the brainworld. Is there meaning without truth? Sure. There are closed systems of meaning (like in the heads of the true-believers of the Cult of Guido the Great, or of the Cult of Fanny the Fairy Princess. I say they are "closed systems" because their respective statements about the world admit of no contradiction. They are closed to empirical evidence. Their truth value cannot be ascertained by reference to direct experience. Their belief system cannot be trued in the crucible of reality. The Bushmen belief in great cannons firing huge toilet paper rolls was not a closed system, for it would admit to contradiction, and it was dropped when a better explanation (a kind of meaning) presented itself.
So when I speak of the effort after truth, I am talking about an inherent drive in hairless apes and other critters to true-up their systems of meaning by reference to direct experience and observation of the world. But when I speak of the effort after meaning, I am emphasizing the organizational imperative that may trump truth value. One of the great psychological anthropologists, Professor Anthony F.C. Wallace (incidentally one of Gene d’Aquili’s teachers at Penn) was once hired by the government to research human responses to disaster. He found that very often people who experience the massive destruction of tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and so forth often act as though their entire system of meaning had failed. They are frantic to maintain their normal everyday lives. So people would be found doing the weirdest things, like a housewife sweeping the stoop of her house that had blown away during a tornado, or people chatting across the fence about the price of corn while their family lay dead in their yard. One of the interesting things he found was that the primary determinant of whether someone’s meaning system failed was whether or not they had previously experienced disaster of some kind. People who had experienced the horrors of war had far more durable meaning systems, and were able to track reality better. And of course we all know of people who cannot track reality well at the best of times, and who seem to live in their own internal world – they are called "psychotic." All of this has to do with the effort after meaning becoming so predominant, so urgent that the meaning system is virtually closed to testing in reality.
An ideology, therefore, is any system of knowledge about Self and real world that is relatively impervious to truing. The word literally means "a body of ideas," but its connotations often refer to a system of thought that is prescriptive, to be expounded as a proper approach to political, moral or economic activity. As I am using the term, ideology refers to the systems of thought and accompanying texts that support a point of view about the world that has little or no reference to empirical research or direct observation. Ideologies in this sense tend to focus upon a correct interpretation of events, and the "truth value" claimed for ideological statements derive from received wisdom, reference to sacred texts, appeal to authority and other essentially non-rational and non-empirical operations. A good example is the evangelical Christian insistence upon "intelligent design" as the correct interpretation of Biblical scripture, and as opposed to scientific theories of evolution. Both intelligent design and the Darwinian theory of evolution are systems of ideas about reality, but whereas there exists no possible evidence that intelligent design folks would accept as disconfirming ID and affirming evolution, numerous theories about evolution have arisen over the last 150+ years in response to additional evidence from naturalistic and laboratory research. ID is an ideology and the scientific theories of evolution are not
If we understand from our own self-awareness how the efforts after meaning and truth work in concert to produce a meaningful brainworld that is more or less in touch with reality, then we have some appreciation of the capacity of ideologies to wreck harm on people and the planet. We all know there are religious ideologies today that produce crazies by the gross that are more than willing to blow themselves up in order to destroy other who do not believe as they do. But as horrific as this may be, it is merely an annoying and tragic symptom of The Crisis. Far more people die in automobile accidents each year than die from suicide bombings. No, it is the existence of ideologies that concerns us here, for it is the dumbing-down influence of culture generally that co-produces The Crisis. It is quite human of me to believe something or other about the world or about my Self that is (1) disconnected from any effort after truth ("I don’t care what all the girls say, I’m still a hunk!"), (2) disconfirmed by my own experience, yet I continue to believe it anyways ("yeah, I know I’m seventy-five and haven’t seen my penis in twenty years, but all the girls consider me a dreamboat!"), or (3) unaltered even though I also believe in self contradictory views ("Sure I’m every girl’s dreamboat, and yes, I am the proud great grandfather of 15!"). This dumbing-down of the natural interaction between truing and belief is rampant among hairless apes. It does not matter how intelligent some folks are in certain domains of their lives, they are commonly unintelligent in other domains of their life. A particle physicist can be an Einstein at work, and an Archie Bunker at home or in the political and moral domains.
And ideologies make this worse. There is no such thing as a really intelligent ideology. Ideologies are universally concrete in terms of internal logic (i.e., a concrete, simplistic, often storybook and unidimensional point of view about things), and stupid in terms of any recognition of complex and dynamic systems (little or no recognition of complex causation, indeterminacy, alternative interpretations, so forth). Ideologies admit to only a single point of view, and there is little comprehension of the transcendental nature of reality. And ideologies are commonly associated with intense emotion. "My country right or wrong!" "America, love it or leave it!" "There are believers and infidels (meaning ‘one without faith’), and the latter should be put to the sword!" "Global warming is bad!" "Democrats will spend us into the poorhouse!" "Republicans are uncaring and greedy people!" We’ve all heard these kinds of ideological statements – maybe even uttered them ourselves. They are indicators that, in that domain at least – especially if they are emotionally charged – our cognitive faculties are operating at a really dumb level.
One of my favorite ideological beliefs is the very common American belief that "America is a peace-loving, non-violent nation." If this is not a belief held in total denial of the truth, I do not know what is. The truth of course is that we Americans cannot, as a nation, steer clear of wars. Our whole history since the latter part of the 17th century has been one of warfare, skirmish, and intrusion into the affairs of other nations. Consider the following partial list of our military activities:
American Involvement in Wars from Colonial Times to the Present:
July 4, 1675 - August 12, 1676 King Philip's War (New England Colonies vs. Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Nipmuck Indians)
1689-1697 King William's War (The English Colonies vs. France)
1702-1713 Queen Anne's War (The English Colonies vs. France)
1744-1748 King George's War (The French Colonies vs. Great Britain)
1756-1763 French and Indian War (Seven Years War) (The French Colonies vs. Great Britain)
1759-1761 Cherokee War (English Colonists vs. Cherokee Indians)
1775-1783 American Revolution (English Colonists vs. Great Britain)
1798-1800 Franco-American Naval War (United States vs. France)
1801-1805; 1815 Barbary Wars (United States vs. Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli)
1812-1815 War of 1812 (United States vs. Great Britain)
1813-1814 Creek War (United States vs. Creek Indians)
1836 War of Texas Independence (Texas vs. Mexico)
1846-1848 Mexican War (United States vs. Mexico)
1861-1865 Civil War (Union vs. Confederacy)
1898 Spanish-American War (United States vs. Spain)
1914-1918 World War I (Triple Alliance: Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary vs. Triple Entente: Britain, France, and Russia. The United States joined on the side of the Triple Entente in 1917)
1939-1945 World War II (Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan vs. Major Allied Powers: United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia)
1950-1953 Korean War (United States and South Korea vs. North Korea and Communist China)
1960-1975 Vietnam War (United States and South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam)
1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion (United States vs. Cuba)
1983 Grenada (United States Intervention)
1989 US Invasion of Panama (United States vs. Panama)
1990-1991 Persian Gulf War (United States and Coalition Forces vs. Iraq)
1995-1996 Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (United States as part of NATO acted peacekeepers in former Yugoslavia)
2003 Invasion of Iraq (United States and Coalition Forces vs. Iraq)
Source: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, 3rd Edition. Borrowed from
Interesting, no? Approximately a million and a half Americans have died in all these wars. And I have not mentioned most of the 40+ times over the years that we have militarily intervened in the affairs of South and Central American nations under the aegis of the Munroe Doctrine, or the constant (usually covert) belligerence we have shown post-revolutionary Cuba since 1959. Peace loving? HA! Yet one more example of the dumbing-down effects of political and cultural ideology. There is no other country on the planet that perceives us as "peace-loving," whether they be allies, enemies or neutrals.
As you may or may not know, I am a dual American and Canadian citizen, and have spent half my life living in Canada, and I can assure you that Canadians do not perceive us Americans as "peace-loving." So where do the Americans who are dumb enough to buy into this unrealistic self-identification get this peculiar notion? Simple. They are taught it. They don’t evaluate it by reference to an effort after truth – they don’t go looking for confirmation or disconfirmation of the belief. Rather, it is part of the patriotic, self-referential, rhetoric that they have been fed as children, and nothing has brought that belief into question. And the culture of belligerence doesn’t stop with actual combat. We make a war on everything we don’t like – the "war on drugs," the "war on poverty," "the war on illiteracy," war on this, and war on that. Why not the "healing drug addiction program," or the "Americans reading together program?" No, we reveal our dark natures in the words we use. Yes, we use the terms metaphorically, but why do we think and speak in military metaphors? Why do we not automatically think in peaceful metaphors? The answer is that we do it unconsciously. As C.G. Jung wrote, "...anything we have heard or experienced can become subliminal, that is to say, can pass into the unconsciousness. And even what we retain in our conscious mind and can reproduce at will has acquired an unconscious undertone that will color the idea each time it is recalled."*
Americais, alas, not the only militaristic nation on the planet. There are belligerent nations all over the Earth and wars all over the place much of the time. What makes America quite distinct however is a persistent denial of the fact that we are a militaristic society. Hence the dangerous dumbing-down of our own self-evaluation. Americans are generally unconscious of our fundamentally unconscious militaristic nature, a nature promulgated and perpetuated in part by what President Eisenhower warned us all about in 1961, a military-industrial complex – a sub-culture that profits vastly by our constant round of belligerence and warfare (see the link to Eisenhower’s speech on the right). Consider also how naturally we organize things on militaristic lines. Uniformed police agencies throughout the States are organized along quasi-military lines, with officer ranks, stand-at-attention ceremonies, chains of command, quasi-special forces units ("SWAT teams"). Quasi-military organization is not the only model for police organizations. Even the Germans gave up this model in post-war era policing, choosing rather to organize more along the constabulary lines of England and other countries (thanks for this Karen!). We Americans just automatically think along those lines. Even the early notions of what space colonies might look like to NASA planners was along military lines, until social scientists showed planners there were better and more efficient and productive models. Political races are called "political battles," court trials are called "legal battles," domestic disputes become "battle royals." The militaristic metaphors are everywhere. We love our violent movies, and we think in terms of "good guys and bad guys" with the "good guys" almost always winning the "fight." We are in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment to "bring the battle" to the "bad guys" and make the place safe for democracy. Meanwhile an estimated 300,000 American soldiers are suffering from various mental illnesses (such as post traumatic stress disorder) due to having to face the actual, horrible truth of war. This will cost the American taxpayers billions of dollars and leave life-long scars on thousands of people.
But America’s militarism isn’t really the point here. If you have two brain cells to rub together, you know all this. I am just giving a very painful example of the dangers of ideology. Warfare isn’t the essence of The Crisis at all, it’s just a symptom. Not even the possibility of nuclear warfare is all that huge an issue compared with what really threatens our survival. Again, arms races and belligerent cultures are just another symptom of the underlying stupidity of hairless apes, a stupidity that IS at the center of The Crisis. The unconscious, culturally perpetuated dumbing-down of our collective brainworlds.
Religion and Ideology
Organized religions are very productive of ideology. And these ideologies are very often socially constructed to placate inequalities and injustices operating in everyday life of a people. Moreover, they foster values in service to a people’s economic system. It is not a coincidence that the industrial revolution took off in a Protestant cultural milieu with its emphasis upon hard work and individual responsibility.. If a society is a two-tiered one with a handful of nobles at the political and economic pinnacle, and the rest of the people in servitude to the interests of the nobles, then the society’s religion will normally justify this class system in some way, and teach a morality that transforms servitude into a righteous occupation. It is not for naught that Karl Marx considered religion to be the opium of the masses. As Marx wrote, "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."
However, that said, the ideological roots of all the major religions in one way or another eschew violence, belligerence and warfare (see the excellent analysis entitled "God and War" the link to which you will find on the right), and embrace peace, love and interconnectedness (more on this in a later post). Despite their non-violent and peace-seeking values, theistic religions are often used by warring nations to justify and forward their belligerent actions – "God is on our side!" And of course fundamentalist crazies are dead-sure that they are doing God’s will by blowing up people in a just cause. And the evidence for God’s favor? Well, success in fighting and faith.
But what do we mean by "faith?" There are two kinds of faith, blind faith and empirical faith. Blind faith is, as the term implies, a belief that is held with no reference to evidence of empirical efficacy – that is, there is no reference to truing. "My country right or wrong!" "Guido loves me, this I know." "Those who fight and die in our Holy War are honored by God, and head straight to Heaven without any time in purgatory." Empirical faith on the other hand is the kind of faith we have in a good guide or map. The map gets us from LA to San Francisco, and all the landmarks noted on the map are right where they are supposed to be. So there is an increasing confidence that the map is, in its entirety, true. Faith grows with experience of the truth value of whatever we place our faith in. Blind faith puts blinkers on our eyes, while empirical faith opens our eyes to the truth of things.
Those who seek God’s grace for their belligerence and violence are appealing to blind faith, not empirical faith. They are "true believers," not seekers after truth. A "true believer" (Eric Hoffer’s term) is a person of blind faith fanaticism who is ready and willing to sacrifice everything, including his/her life, for a holy cause. It was true believers who marched away to war during the Crusades, and it was true believers who brought the Twin Towers down. It is evangelical Christian true believers who will shoot a doctor rather than allow abortions to be performed. The true believer does not appeal to reality for the testing of their ideas, nor to any kind of truing, but rather sees the moral universe as a stark contrast between black and white, good and bad, with no recognition of shades of gray, much less the intelligent acknowledgment that there are alternative points of view on every issue, bar none. For various reasons having to do with frustration and trauma in their lives, true believers are people who have sacrificed intelligence for concrete meaning and purpose – they are folks on a mission!. In pursuing that mission, they have allowed themselves to embrace stupidity, narcissism and violence.
So distrustful of organized religion have people become nowadays that it is quite common for people to distinguish "religion" from "spirituality." What they usually mean is that religion is an organized institution that may not be addressing the spiritual needs of its faithful, while spirituality is the personal quest for an indepth understanding of what the great theologian Paul Tillich called "matters of ultimate concern" -- that is, death, birth, why am I here, what is my nature, what is God's plan for me, so forth. We will come back to this issue in another post, for it relates directly to The Crisis, but suffice to say here that all organized religions began as cults that involved direct, transpersonal, mystical, or "spiritual" experiences of some or all the members.
Science and Ideology
We also need to understand that a scientific theory may become an ideology for the unwary scientist, or the professional (like a doctor) relying upon scientific views. This happens all too often when scientists let their egos become overly identified with a theory, and the effort after meaning comes to dominate over the effort after truth such that they miss the inevitable anomalous data that every theory tends to leave in its wake. But there are always other scientists who will eventually point to the anomalies in public forums and insist that the theory be altered or scrapped. Just like the Bushmen toilet paper roll theory of contrails, they eventually fall and a better theory takes its place. At worst, ideologues die off. I think it was Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, who quipped that science progresses... one funeral at a time.
We used to think that science is ideally focused on truth for truth’s sake. This was a naive view of science, as it turned out, for as a number of philosophers of science (most notably Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, and Paul Feyerabend) have shown, there is a great tendency in science to produce ideologies. Well, hell people! Scientists are hairless apes too, whether they have a Ph.D. after their names or not. And their consciousness works just like everybody else’s. They are infected with the illusion of the empirical ego and they identify with their pet theories and methodologies, just like traditional shamans are all bound up in their cosmologies and ritual methods for evoking invisible powers. As I have said, REAL science, when it is real science going on, privileges the effort after truth over the effort after meaning.
But here we have to look briefly at theory and the methods we use to explore the truth value of theories. As the philosophers of science I mentioned above show, often a theoretical position comes with methodological blinkers. Not only does the theory claim to explain something, it also determines how that something is to be viewed. Let me give you one of many possible examples. Much of modern physics involves sub-atomic particles. There are theories of the universe that have to do with these particles. And the methods used to explore particles range from a double split apparatus costing no more than a few hundred dollars to particle accelerators spread over acres of land and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. And you know what? No one has ever seen a particle. No one has seen a quark, no one has seen a boson, no one has seen an electron or a proton or a neutron or an alpha particle. And there are some, like yours truly, who have suggested that there really are no particles in the real world, and that the "particle-ness" of observations have as much to do with the machines we use to observe and measure happenings in the world of the very tiny as they do with what is really there. I will likely have more to say about the physics of the "world of very tiny happenings" in the future. Here, I am just giving an example of how it is hard to get away from the tendency hairless apes have to make sense of what they observe in terms of stable points of view, and ideologies that come equipped with methods of observation that tend to confirm meaning.
So, both religious ideologies and scientific ideologies tend to be overly conservative. The ego wants to know, and it identifies with "its" knowledge – and is this intolerant of uncertainty and change. The history of science is the history of one ego besting another ego in rituals of social status called "conferences" and "peer reviews." If you would like to read a very tragic example of how the ego-wars go on in science, and can thwart the pursuit of truth, read Arthur Koestler’s wonderful little book, The Case of the Midwife Toad.
That said, do NOT make the error of concluding that just because "science" as a social institution is riddled with ideology, that REAL science – that is the doing of science – is equivalent to just another belief system or religious dogma unrelated to reality and full of true believers. This is the fallacy promulgated in recent times by postmodernist philosophers who are characterized by poor research skills and an attitude. No, science, when it is REAL science is a cut above, and it is a cut above because, and solely because, its efforts privilege truth above more stable meaning. As Timothy Ferris has written, "Science is not a static body of dogma, to stray from which is to risk having one’s epaulets stripped off in a ceremony of banishment from the scientific community. It is a self-correcting system of inquiry, in which errors – of which there are, of course, plenty – are sooner or later detected by experiment or by more careful analysis" (pp. 13-14). Mature sciences progress and are cumulative in their data and understanding of their scope. They are not just a jumble of opinions of long dead white guys.
Let’s recap. This has been a heavy post, I realize. But simple at its core. What have I said here? Namely:
1. Truing is a process by which ideas about the real world are kept accurate. Truing is fundamental to our cognitive adaptation, and in the development of cognitive models of the real in childhood. Indeed, when we watch kids learning, it is quite obvious that truing is wired-in to the structure and development of the brainworld.
2. Meaning is all that information we have about whatever arises in our sensorium. What arises in the field of sensory pixels is identified and linked automatically to the field of information stored in memory pertaining to the same or similar things.
3. The efforts after truth and meaning are really two sides of the same functional coin. Whichever side is privileged, the energy will go into truing up ideas or conserving ideas.
4. Ideologies are dogmatic systems of knowledge that have little or no effort after truth incorporated into their belief systems. They stop a state of question, eschew individual inquiry after the truth of things, and are concerned only with tried and "true" answers ("it is God’s will...") and the conservation of belief.
5. And, both organized, institutional religions and institutional science is riddled with ideology, but real science privileges the quest for truth above all other factors (institutional agendas, grantsmanship, pandering of egos, over-identification with pet theories, so forth).
The Crisis is both partially produced by, and is exacerbated by the tendency of cultures to value ideologies (conservation of meaning) more than the effort after truth. It is the cross we hairless apes carry as "culture-bearers." It turns out that our greatest adaptational strategy as a social mammal – culture – may well contribute to our failure to negotiate The Crisis. One of the hallmarks of this adaptational ambiguity is the near universal belief that consciousness and the physical body are to some extent separate, and that consciousness can survive the demise or destruction of the body. This is the impediment we can call "mind-body dualism," and it will be the topic of the next post.
* Jung, C.G., 1964. Man and His Symbols. Aldus, p. 27.
Falk, Dean (1992) Braindance: New Discoveries About Human Brain Evolution. New York: Henry Holt.
Farris, Timothy, 1997. The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report. Touchstone Books.
Gold, Ron (1987) The Description of Cognitive Development: Three Piagetian Themes. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hoffer, Eric, 1951 . The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Harper.
Pinker, Steven (1995) "Facts About Human Language Relevant to Its Evolution." in Origins of the Human Brain. Ed. by Jean-Pierre Changeux and Jean Chavaillon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 262-283.