Remaking Our Brains

BLOG #15, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REMAKING OUR BRAINS
April 15, 2015

This was the weekend of our annual Conifer Kiwanis Reading Celebration for the third-graders who attend six mountain elementary schools here in the Colorado Rockies. Also for a large consortium of homeschoolers.

Before we honored the kids for their reading improvement, I gathered close to 90 third-graders on the floor around me, and urged them to make reading central to their lives. Since I poured thirty years of observation and research into my 1992 book, TV on Trial, and one of my main doctoral concentrations had to do with the relationship between reading and writing, and since those areas have remained central to me during my entire academic teaching career, I felt this occasion offered me a golden opportunity to plant seeds in these young minds.

I pointed out to them that there are two ways they can feed their brains: Reading and Electronic Imagery. Reading has been with us clear back to ancient times, but most significantly since the advent of printing, some six centuries ago. Electronic imagery is much more recent: around the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of moving pictures.

Today, electronic imagery has become so ubiquitous it increasingly has pushed reading onto the ropes, with some even questioning whether it can survive at all.

So, I pointed out to the third-graders that there are two significant differences between reading and electronic media: Reading is a creative process; electronic imagery tends to be creative only for those who create it. Reading is connotative. In other words, every time a person opens a book and begins reading, something exciting happens: that person’s brain shifts into its creative gear as the reader cranks out non-stop inner imagery that has the potential to actually change the brain into a powerhouse.

I introduced two contrasting word processes: “denotative” and “connotative.” Denotative has to do with the dictionary definition of a word. Let’s take, for instance, the word “father”; the dictionary definition is “a man who has begotten a child.” That’s all there is to it.

But the connotative process is so explosive it borders on the mind-numbing, for it has the potential, over time, to remake the brain. I pointed out that as you read the word “father,” if you have a loving father you adore, the mental image you create will tend to mirror that; but what if you have an abusive father? That would contribute to a much darker mental image. And no two readers ever create exactly the same mental imagery from the same words! For each individual is one-of-a-kind. That is why cloning would be such a terrible thing. As a person reads, word after word after word triggers the creation of mental imagery in the reader’s brain. So much so that just one book has the potential to create seismic differences in the reader’s outlook on life. But that’s not all, by any means. Each author writes in a different way from other authors; this is why Google enables teachers to catch plagiarists so easily, and why it borders on the impossible that an anonymous writer can long remain anonymous. The reader reads works by Alcott, Tolkien, Blume, Milne, Seuss, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Twain, or Martin Luther King, Jr.—; those stylistic differences are stored in inner templates, each of which may be drawn from when the reader begins to write herself/himself.

Depending upon whether the reader reads from a wide variety of books, stories, essays, etc. written by authors worth reading as opposed to stalling out on mental pablum; the former is likely to develop into a powerhouse and the latter into straitjacketed narrowism.

* * *

But what if individuals read no books and little of anything else, and instead feed the mind with electronic imagery (the norm for untold millions today), what happens to their minds? When one is watching television, cinema, video, or other electronic genres, whether one person is watching a given source or a billion people are watching it, every last one is internalizing the same picture! Reason being that the receiver’s brain has had nothing to do with the image’s creation—someone else did that. In fact, the receiver’s brain is completely bypassed: BAM! The image is blasted into the receiver’s brain. But it is not internalized for it is a foreign object. It is a self-standing entity that just sits there. Over time, as these foreign objects take up more and more space in the receiver’s brain, that person all but loses the creative potential that individual was born with.

In the collegiate freshman composition classes I’ve taught over the years, I’ve seen replayed the two species again, again, and again. When I tell a class, “Take out a blank piece of paper. We are going to write. . . . Now write!” It matters little whether I give them a subject to write about or let them choose, the results are the same each time: the reader, having all the internalized imagery of many authors’ books and stories synthesized into the memory banks, stylistic templates too, can hardly wait to start writing—and then the pen races across the page. The non-reader, almost invariably, just sits there glassy-eyed, like Bambi on ice. Since there is precious little in their brains that wasn’t created by someone else, there isn’t much they can draw from. And since they don’t read, they don’t know how to write either. Structurally, they are equally at sea. Since electronic imagery explodes at them from all directions, little of it structured, their thought-processes tend to be equally unstructured and disjointed. This is also true when they speak in public.

Furthermore, even in the business world, non-readers are handicapped. Studies have shown that when employing CEOs test them to see which applicant would be the best fit for a job, they are often given a task composed of, say five, steps in which to reach desired completion. Deliberately and unannounced, the CEO leaves out a step. So a reader moves from step to step: A to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, and E to F—only D to E is left out. The reader reaches this abyss, is puzzled , but doesn’t give up. Since the reader has developed a part of the brain scholars call the “library,” in which the brain talks to itself, the applicant, much like a spider, launches filaments out into the void, seeking for a terminus on the other side. Sooner or later, one of the filaments touches solid ground; the applicant now bridges to the other side and moves from E to F, and completes the task. The non-reader never can complete the task. Even when both applicants are college graduates with 4-point grade A averages, the results are still the same. A neighbor of mine, an executive himself, and a veteran administrator and employer, when I shared this study with him, explained, “So that’s it! I’ve long wondered why some top graduates could problem-solve and others failed so dismally. It makes sense!”

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Sadly, our society has yet to recognize just how essential reading is to life and career success, even in areas that are not generally considered as demanding a reading background.

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club – “BRAVE NEW WORLD” and “BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED”

BLOG #19 SERIES 4
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #19, 20
ALDOUS HUXLEY’S BRAVE NEW WORLD AND
BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED
May 8, 2013

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The Book of the Month that follows the tripartite “Paralysis of the American Mind” series had to be a heavyweight, preferably a book that would build on the three previous blogs. For this, I reach back to two books featured in my 1968 thesis for my masters in English degree from Sacramento State University: Plato to Orwell, a Study of Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Utopias in literature depict idealized happily-ever-after societies, each written during time-periods in history where such societies appeared possible in real life societies. Dystopias, on the other hand, depict anti-utopias (unhappily-ever-after societies). I chose five: Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes, Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, and Orwell’s 1984.

Of these, Huxley’s fictional world mirrors most accurately the world we see in our everyday news. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), novelist, short-story writer, essayist, poet, critic, and dramatist, was born into one of England’s most illustrious literary and scientific families. Brave New World was first published in 1932 and Brave New World Revisited in 1959. Unlike George Orwell who predicted in 1984 that the future would be modeled after dictators such as Stalin, Huxley felt a world characterized by hedonism and pleasure would endure a lot longer.

Easily one of the most significant 25 books of the last century, these two books should be on the Bucket List of every thoughtful reader. The first is fiction, the second is a chilling essay. In Brave New World, as you read from page to page, you will wonder how it was possible for Huxley to foresee the world of today so clearly. Originally, however, Huxley felt it would not become a reality until 632 years after Ford (a hybrid term combining Henry Ford and assembly line sameness and Sigmund Freud’s dethroning of God and Christianity). Instead, only 27 short years after he’d written Brave New World, Huxley was horrified to discover it was beginning already and would be a reality by the 21st century.

Note some of his predictions in Brave New World (the title taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Miranda responds to seeing other men besides her father for the first time, with these euphoric worlds, ‘How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. . .”). Only Huxley flips those four words upside down meaning-wise, almost as though he was mocking Miranda’s naivette. Upon publication of his dystopian bombshell, overnight Huxley assumed world-wide prominence, and he has retained it ever since.

So what will you find?

• Pneumatic women (who give themselves indiscriminately to anyone and everyone) are to Huxley the logical result of contraceptives and the lowering of physical barriers to free sex resulting from mankind’s turning away from Christianity and monogamy.

• Ford (Ford/Freud) is deified above God, and is considered the culture’s founder/god.

• Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Centers where babies are cloned. According to their predestined places in society, the babies are given more or less oxygen. Betas are given the most oxygen, followed by those with less: Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.

• Children are raised and educated by the state.

• The filthiest words in the language are “Mother” and “Father.”

• There is no old age; bodily functions are artificially reinforced by medicine; no one shows signs of aging until about the age of sixty, then suddenly the cumulative effects of the drugs take effect and the individual buckles, senility arrives, and usually the individual dies quickly.

• There are ten Controllers who rule over the entire world.

• “Soma,” a drug, is dished out to everyone each day—it increases in intensity as it is sorely needed in a society with all challenges removed. In heavier doses it can be used for trips that can put the individuals into weekend dream worlds [much like LSD].

• Music too is synthetic; sex and music turns Fordism into an inspirational orgy.

• It is dangerous to be too stunted or too brilliant.

• Education begins even before birth in bottles, where specific traits are implanted.

• Babies are conditioned by explosions, electric shocks, sirens, screeching sounds, etc., to be terrified of beautiful bowls of flowers and colorful nursery books. Babies are conditioned to dislike books because otherwise they might question stratified society; and all things beautiful in nature are discredited.

• Babies are conditioned to hate their country but to love all sports.

• All through childhood they are constantly being conditioned to consider all words dealing with home and family relationships as smutty. Lecturers stress the filth and horribleness of ancient families.

• Sayings such as “everyone belongs to everyone else,” “ending is better than mending,” “I love new clothes,” “cleanliness is next to fordliness,” are repeated tens of thousands of times subliminally while children and teens are asleep.

• The insinuating voice repeats these injunctions so many times over so many years that eventually, by adulthood, they harden into the state-ordained philosophy of life.

• History and literature are both downgraded:

You all remember, said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s, ‘History is bunk. History,’ he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk.’

He waves his hand; and it is as though, with an invisible feather whisk, and the dust that was Harappo, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk, Whisk—and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where was Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk—and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom—all were gone. Whisk—the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk. Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, symphony; whisk. . . . [BNW, pp 22, 23]

• Freedom is made to appear as archaic and useless to children and youth. Democracy is “idiotic.”

• Poetical references to the Deity are perverted and attributed to Ford.

• Prior to the establishment of the world state, thousands of culture fans were gassed, museums were closed, monuments were blown up, all books published before A.F. 150 were suppressed, all crosses became T’s. All mention of heaven, God, soul, and immortality were eliminated.

• Another tool of the state is television. Movies have become “feelies” (one holds knobs at the side of the seat, then feels the action as well as hearing it). Even the scent organs are included in these orgiastic productions. Both pain and desire are transmitted electrically. The plots are mostly pornographic.

• Discontented people are exiled to islands where they are locked up with others who dare to question the state.

• Because the state allows all the natural impulses to have free play, there are no longer any temptations to resist!

• Once every month everyone’s system is flooded with VPS (adrenalin, the physiological equivalent of fear, rage, murder, etc.).

* * * * *

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley noted that “Liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even on a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.” [BNWR, 14]

Huxley also articulated his worry about the rapid acceleration of America’s Power Elite; mass production squeezing small businesses out; sociologists hastening the downward spiral of freedom by urging other-directedness and conformity. Also he worried about the disappearance of thousands of small journals and local newspapers. Only chains can economically survive (with the loss of the small men of the press, comes another link in the totalitarian chain). The constant bombardment of the media [just imagine what he’d think today!] results in the assimilation of so much trivia that mankind will find it harder and harder to resist the encroachments of would-be-controllers:

The dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine those techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions. [BNWR, 37]

Huxley maintains that a Hitler would have a much better chance of staying in power in the modern era. Thanks to technological progress, “Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God.” [BNWR, 39]. He also submitted that parents generally fail to realize the extent to which children swallow media propaganda.

Huxley concludes BNWR with predictions that will curdle the blood of any thinking person. Buy both books and slowly digest them. They are available in multitudes of editions.

I quote from the Brave New World Bantam Classic edition of 1966; and from the Brave New World Revisited Harper Perennial Library edition of 1965.