The Interbrain: a wi-fi or a net?

Browsing the net I have indirectly run into the new book (about to be released) of Digby Tantam, a British Professor of Psychotherapy. The first traces toward the book were not promising at all: some article in the International Business Times (India Edition) reported that „Human brains act like Wi-Fi”. Great, I said, another like hunter article with either no content at all, with overstretched conclusions or a commentary grossly distorting some background research. But at least I can write a short post about how modern and/or social media distorts scientific results, I thought.

So I clicked and yes, at first the content of the article has just seemed to confirm my suspicion. No reference to any research or proper written source: a supreme act of evil in my eye. Moreover, at some point the article said that Mr. Tantam claims that there are „direct connection between our brains”. Great, what comes next, telepathy? But a newspaper article is not a proper representation of the author’s statements – especially if the journalist is not able to write his name once properly, but misspelled it two times in two different way… And there were also interesting points as well: the importance of nonverbal, subconscious perception of other peoples’ emotions and their focuses of attention. We all are constantly aware of the moods and intentions of people around us – obviously a very useful feature for one’s survival and success. Humans are social beings after all. Obviously it won’t make our brain wi-fi, it will make more of a part of a larger net, if you are forced to use a metaphor. Regardless, the scientific article in the background may be interesting, I said, so lets’ find it.

There came the surprise: I could not find any related recent article from Mr. Tantam at the beginning. But my hunting instinct was already on, so after a time I discovered that the article was probably linked to his new book, The Interbrain: Embodied Connections Versus Common Knowledge. Luckily I was able to look into it and could see that there is no nonsense there: no telepathy, not even wi-fi, but well based research and conclusion about the idea that human beings are endlessly connected by a continuous interplay of non-verbal communication, of which we are unaware. The channels of these communications are the eyes, nose, skin and ears. All inputs from these sources are subconsciously processed and used by everyone’s brain, potentially creating a network of connected feeling and low-level awareness. If you think about how much the feelings of our family members immediately affect us, causing either happiness or misery, you can understand the validity of the conclusions. And all of this automatically, without a conscious thought. Quoting from some summary: “Considering social smiles and the way emotions can spread from one person to another, he explores the research that shows how our brains are linked and draws out the implications of the interbrain for our understanding of empathy, social communication, psychology and group behaviour.”

The book may have several interesting fundamental contributions to our own topic (the scientific answers to the meaning of life):

  • The author openly speculates about the meaning of life. The connections built and knowledge gained unconsciously have several results, and of these results “…the experience of transcendence is one and this might be the root of spirituality and indeed what many people would consider the meaning of life.” So the meaning of life may be obtained unconsciously. Interesting idea, deserves further research.
  • The Interbrain significantly influence our feelings and behaviour. But this influence leaves less room for conscious decisions and, indirectly, free will. At least partly we are dragged up and down by invisible forces. It is hardly new: most of our thinking (data processing and decision) process is also not conscious, and most of the physical and biological processes of our body is deterministic. Nevertheless these new unobserved influences are direct, personal and targeted free-will-limiting factors. They can even be (and probably are) exploited to manipulate our behaviour and decisions. The first step to solve a problem is to see it.
  • We have always knew that a potential answer to the meaning of life is our relationship to other people, friends, family or to a group. It is not just a logical conclusion, it is also our deep feelings about these connections. Now we partially understand why we have these gut feelings.

 

And I also have a gut feeling that this book may deserve a proper post-publication review sooner or later.

 

Laszlo

The Meaning of Life Team

The dark side of the attention-based economy

Once upon a time, human needed food and shelter most. Then they lacked security from diseases and wars. They wanted to have love, to join a family, group, to belong to a community. From this community, they also wanted to gain prestige and self-esteem. The lucky ones who got even these things might wish for self-actualization too.

Yes, you remember well. These things are coming from the Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. It is not easy to achieve all these aims, fulfill all these needs. However, at least some problem seemed to be solved recently: lack of information, lack of community, lack of groups and people to connect with, thanks for the internet and the modern social media providing the technology connecting people on the other side of the globe.

Is this all well now?

Definitely not. It turned out that too much information through the net can also have material side effect: lack of or limited attention time span. In case of too much information and too much connection opportunity you have to decide that for what you will use your limited time. Moreover, your time has become a prize, a currency in itself. Whoever can grab and hold your time and attention can use this time to try to sell you something. Or he can sell your time to other sellers: what do you think Facebook, Google, and all celebrities are living on and profiting from? Yes, from your time and attention.

The business model is very tempting. The information flows freely and abundantly. You are receiving one fabulous story after another. You have access to news and articles of all kind, both Google and Facebook offer you free services: search engines to reach the global knowledge base of humanity and a useful platform to keep in touch with your friends and people interested in same things than you. The same goes to Twitter, Snapchat; you name them.

However it all comes at a price: they try to monopolize your attention with smart solutions, deviously designed “useful” applications and with algorithms knowing your tastes and habits better than you do. Computer game addictions are just the tip of the iceberg: obviously they are mostly useless, obviously they are developed to make you spend money in them or become a platform for ads and obviously they distract you from the reality, where you can have a meaningful life and where you can achieve you real (not virtual) aims and desires. In most cases, the “information” provided by them turns out tabloid-level “news,” celebrity stories or outright marketing and product placements. Even more useful applications and facts can distract and disturb you so much that your useful intelligence can drop by 10 IQ points. These providers and applications have become so efficient that even their designers may decide to break any link with them.

Certain analysis of this situation goes so far that modern media effectively limit your free will (as it limits your effective IQ). There are well-supported arguments that Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will. It is not just that modern media may have influence can distract you from real activities. There are arguments that they can hijack your brain: modern media specialists and marketers know too much about our brain and behavior. Using this knowledge they can tailor and title articles and messages to grab your attention and influence your behavior. They don’t even have to be perfect: analysis the results of an actual campaign and using A/B testing methods, they can correct their mistakes during flight. They can even cancel whole campaigns in the middle and try it from a different angle. Without their knowledge, budgets of few million dollars, tools and methodologies it is difficult to resist such campaigns.

Quite a dark picture, isn’t it? Where is the meaning of our life if we have become puppets of the puppet masters/gurus of the online social media?

Fortunately, this situations is not so severe. So far we have presented only one side of the coin, the pessimistic one. On the other hand:

  • The whole situation is partially coming from a positive development: scarcity of the information has practically vanished. It is not bad. With having an internet connection, you can have access to most of the information you need to gain a new skill, solve a problem or reach a practical aim. We can contact our loved one remotely in seconds now. In the Middle Ages sending a letter could have taken weeks or months, affordable to nobles only. Every bean has its black: we have to suffer some consequences of our luck of living in an information age.
  • Even the attention-based economy has its bright side: we have a scarce resource of the economy, our own time and attention. And there is a competition for this resource. We just have to use this resource wisely. Don’t sell it cheaply: don’t click on links, ads, picture and videos unless they serves your actual needs. Don’t click on any title without info on the content. Learn the most common clickbait titles and the related trash media organisations to ignore them! Don’t believe in bombastic, promising advertisements – make them work more hardly for your attention! The situation is familiar to the labour market. You control our workforce: don’t jump to the first job offer, choose a job with the best fitting terms, if you can. In the online social media paying your bill doesn’t depend on your quick decision. Just the opposite: you will pay less if you click more carefully. This competition for your attention can mean that you can get what you really want. This is actually happening: advertisers must (and already do) tailor their messages to the suitable audience. You just have to be even more selective.
  • For most of the population, the situation is not favorable right now. People are stuck to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and their computers and mobile phones, regularly ignoring reality. There is the learning curve here, however. People can learn their lesson in a hard way, having traffic accidents due to their unwise mobile phone usage. But they can be simply bored sooner or later, realizing that all those chats, posts and likes lead to nowhere. It may be just a childhood disease; we may outgrow it with more accumulated personal experience.

 

So what is the moral of the story?

Use your intellect, learn the nature of the beast and you will easily have the upper hand in this game. You just have to realize that the aces are with you already.

 

The Meaning of Life Team

Is our future bright?

 

As per Max Roser’s article on Our World In Data The short history of global living conditions  there was a tremendous improvement in the human living conditions from 1800 to date. The data he presented seems correct, impressive and persuasive. Does it mean that our future is bright, and we just have to wait until our Meaning of Life will be discovered as our knowledge increases, created by some future discoveries and inventions or just simply become an unimportant question as all our problems will be solved?

 

To make it easier for the readers to understand the transformation in living conditions that humanity has  achieved, the author of the article made a summarizing visualization in which he imagined this 200 year history as the history of a group of 100 people to see how the lives of them would have changed if they lived through this transformative period of the modern world.

 

 

In spite of these data, people do not think that the world is becoming a better place. A recent survey asked, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” In Sweden, 10% thought things are getting better. In the US, they were only 6%. And in Germany, only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

Our first reaction to these “new” facts may be just shouting:  “Hey You All, wake up! Don’t believe that mass media, with all those reports on catastrophes, terrorism, wars, and economic crises, are telling you the truth! Our world and our living conditions is better than ever!” And, yes, we may actually be telling the truth; we know that practically all media distorts reality heavily. In order to gain an audience, they show far more negative news (such as murders) than we can actually experience in our own life. Recent articles are describing how the media creates a  “social reality” or  “social perception of reality,” sometimes quite far from the actual  events, the frequency of actual events, or the actual effect of real events to our life. So, yes, people can actually wake up and fear less as the world is a better place than currently perceived.  The article also explains why we can’t perceive these positive developments.

The false negative perception may also affect our thinking regarding the meaning of life. If we believe that the world is going in the wrong direction, we start worrying about our future and start thinking about whether the whole suffering is worth the effort… Now, however, we know that we are going in just the right direction. Just a little further and we may find ourselves in an Earthy paradise! Yee!

Unfortunately, it is not so simple (as usual…).  First of all, we must check the sources, the reliability and relevance of the data presented, then we can think about what other living conditions can be examined, of which evolutions are not so encouraging. But the two most significant reasons are as follows:

  • Some of our current most difficult problems are direct consequences of the above past successes. Vaccination, decline of child mortality, and poverty (larger consumption per capita) have directly led to the current large population increase and extensive usage of natural resources. Therefore, our success is indirectly leading to a major environmental problems. No cross no crown. Nothing is for free.
  • Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is essential to understand WHY these past developments have happened. If the factors behind the progress are not sustainable, if it would reverse, or if the positive effects of these factors are declining (the law of diminishing returns), then we may find ourselves in deep trouble in the future.

So, based on these data and their careful analysis, we can say,  yes, we can have a solid hope for the future. But then again, we should avoid arrogant confidence at any cost; we should  keep our powder dry.