Lately I am noticing a sudden spike in communally provocative social media messages that people nonchalantly forward as if they are innocuous.
This apathy is a product of the illusion we all have about our conscious awareness that appears to be the mind-space we live in. Unfortunately, the new brain (neocortex) is the seat of awareness but not the real executive of our action, making it necessary to understand the role of old brain in making decisions, especially during crisis.
Interestingly, in the fractal world of life where ordering principles remain same at different scales, there is no greater example than human society to understand functioning of human brain in this context.
A society typically consists of masses and elites. Masses are focused on surviving and thus rarely thinking, while elites are not struggling to survive and hence they think and opine.
Elites think, debate, deliberate and provide society with directions that masses tend to follow. Masses have no time or inclination to hinder this process; that, in turn provides elites with an illusion of being in the governing seat.
This arrangement works fine till something survival-threatening occurs. Cometh the war or riots and suddenly masses are awakened. When masses wake up, out comes a whole range of responses that are rapid, automatic, savage and completely out of bound of elite-control. The question is, where do these responses come from?
To answer this question, we have to revisit the phenomenon and notice that elites and neocortex are completely interchangeable, so are masses and old brain. The thinking neocortex is in as much control as elites, because when the chips go down, old brain takes over and autonomous protocols get evoked and executed.
This means that, while masses or old brain appeared busy doing other things, they too were actively forming biases. These biases were not executed while elites or neocortex were in seeming control, but they were constantly getting shaped for a future use. Neocortex and elites are good at learning, but their learning is instantly set aside by old brain and masses when crisis strikes, so how they form opinions is important for us to understand.
All that matters to masses or old brain is survival-threat, as it is the instigating force for both. So, while not in executive control, both are constantly scanning for information linked with survival. This means that small and insignificant looking bits of information or misinformation, if connected with a perceived threat, may turn decisive in forming a bias that can ultimately switch on the auto-mode for both at a distant point in future.
If we look around the world, we have hate-mongers spreading misinformation linked with commonly perceived threats. While we consciously don’t take religious or communal messages going around in social media very seriously, they are not as harmless as we like to believe, because our old brain is scanning and absorbing them to form executive bias for future use.
The most critical point in this phenomenon is that we have no control over it either as neocortex or as elites. All we know is that these wheels turn slowly but certainly grind hard, and we have no handle to stop them. Biases formed in individual or public mind are difficult to change because there is no way of accessing them. As they evolve over time, they can’t change overnight by learning of neocortex or elites.
So, next time you think of forwarding an innocent looking message with such an undertone, think twice. It is entirely possible that it may even deliver a horrible death to someone innocent in a distant future because though unnoticed by you, your old brain is reading everything.