Saturday, October 4, 2014

Comparing a Group-Mind Trance to a Cultural Amygdala

"I said hard a-starboard"
When archaeologists use the word "cultural" it may not mean exactly the same as when we use it in everyday street talk.

The "Museum of Natural and Cultural History, University of Oregon" excavated caves in Oregon this year, in one pursuit on the trail of ancient culture.

When discussing the culture found in "Paisley Caves" in the state of Oregon (likely the oldest yet found in the U.S.), the word we are discussing is used to describe material in layers of cave soil:
Our emphasis was on the recovery of in situ bone, coprolites and cultural materials ... The upper 80 cm of sediments contained sparse Middle and Late Holocene cultural deposits. Deposits between 80 and 160 cm are, for all practical purposes, culturally sterile though a small hearth and a few artifacts, dated at 8440 cal. BP, were encountered just below a lens of Mazama ash at approximately 120 cm. The oldest and densest cultural remains in the cave were located between 190 and 230 centimeters ...
(NGBPP Research at the Paisley Caves, emphasis added). The words "cult" and "culture" hint that "cultural" can describe physical artifacts as well as ways of thinking.

Thus, the concept of "the cultural amygdala" can seem to be ambiguous at first blush (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala, 2, 3, 4).

But, if we use words that we are more accustomed to, it does not seem quite so ambiguous (e.g. compare: Cultural Trance, More About Cultural Trance, Consensus Trance, Trance, Functional Psychosis, and Culture).

The cultural amygdala works like what psychologists call "group-mind trance" as follows:
American psychologist Boris Sidis wrote of a striking instance of a trance that was not limited to one person, but affected a whole group. He cited the memoirs of Russian writer and journalist Ivan Ivanovich Panaev, describing the riots of military colonists in Russia in 1831. Panaev recounted that in the course of some of the hardest fighting, he came across a corporal lying in the street, crying bitterly. When Panaev asked why he was crying, the young soldier said it was because down the street, a mob was trying to kill his beloved commander, Sokolov. Panaev suggested that the corporal stop crying and go to his leader's aid. A little later, when Panaev himself brought soldiers to help Sokolov, he was astonished to see that the corporal had joined the mob and was beating Sokolov with a club. When Panaev asked what on earth he was doing, the young man replied: Everyone else is doing it. Why shouldn't I?

Immersed in the energy of the mob, the corporal had totally given up his own individuality and control of his own mind. His normal perception of reality had disappeared, and he was locked into the thinking and reality of the mob. The mob possessed a corporate mind that overwhelmed the personal views of all who came under its sway. The "group mind" of the rioters was so strong that even the soldier, who was sincerely devoted to his commander, could not resist it. He was plunged into a group-mind trance in which he was absorbed in the thought and emotion of the group and out of touch with reality as he normally knew it.

Group-mind trance does not occur only in highly charged temporary gatherings, such as riots or lynch mobs. Group-mind trance is a part of the everyday life of each one of us. We belong to various kinds of groups--families, work groups, churches, and other organizations. Each has its own group mind that entrances us, perhaps more subtly than a lynch mob, but every bit as effectively. And in the group-mind trance, we experience all the features of other trance states.

Group-mind trances give us a basis for understanding the macrotrance of culture. We could think of group-mind trances as existing on a spectrum from the family on one end to culture on the other. Culture is the group-mind trance of a whole people, and because it is so pervasive, it remains largely invisible to those who are held in its sway.

The influence of group-mind trances cannot be overestimated.

The trance that is least recognized but very significant in our lives is group-mind trance ... Here the individual becomes a carrier of the values and drives that characterize the group as a whole. While immersed in the group mind, people may think and act in ways that are totally out of character with how they are when separate. Group-mind trance can occur in connection with such groups as one's family, church, or club; at sports events, rock concerts, tenants' meetings, and political conventions; or when involved with the staff at work or friends at a gathering. Group-mind trance forms a bridge to cultural trance, which may be thought of as a group-mind trance on the level of a whole people.
(Are You In a Trance?, cf. Trance Zero: The Psychology of Maximum Experience, emphasis added). We are born into the trance-like dynamics of our culture which builds our cultural amygdala circuits in our brain.

Another brain scientist has put it this way:
Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious - what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional. You can't even choose a goal, much less form a plan and carry it out, without a sense that it will satisfy you, not dis­gust you. Fear and anxiety will affect your plans and your ac­tions. You act differently, and plan differently, out of hope and joy than out of fear and anxiety.

Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(The Toxic Bridge To Everywhere, quoting Dr. Lakoff, italics added). The part of our brain that begins to be shaped by our culture early on, continues to be shaped in our adulthood.

Wars and other problems (Titanic Mistakes Using The W Compass) can and do develop from time to time, when cultural amygdala circuits "naturally" function differently in two different cultures:
The "foreigner" is, moreover, outside the principal immediate system of law and order; hence aggression toward him does not carry the same opprobrium or immediate danger of reprisal that it does toward one's "fellow-citizen." Hostility to the foreigner has thus furnished a means of transcending the principal, immediately threatening group conflicts, of achieving "unity" —but at the expense of a less immediate but in fact more dangerous threat to security, since national states now command such destructive weapons that war between them is approaching suicidal significance.

Thus the immense reservoir of aggression in Western society is sharply inhibited from direct expression within the smaller groups in which it is primarily generated. The structure of the society in which it produced contains a strong predisposition for it to be channeled into group antagonisms. The significance of the nation-state is, however, such that there is a strong pressure to internal unity within each such unit and therefore a tendency to focus aggression on the potential conflicts between nation-state units. In addition to the existence of a plurality of such units, each a potential target of the focused aggression from all the others, the situation is particularly unstable because of the endemic tendency to define their relations in the manner least calculated to build an effectively solidary international order. Each state is, namely, highly ambivalent about the superiority-inferiority question. Each tends to have a deep-seated presumption of its own superiority and a corresponding resentment against any other's corresponding presumption. Each at the same time tends to feel that it has been unfairly treated in the past and is ready on the slightest provocation to assume that the others are ready to plot new outrages in the immediate future. Each tends to be easily convinced of the righteousness of its own policy while at the same time it is overready to suspect the motives of all others. In short, the "jungle philosophy"-which corresponds to a larger element in the real sentiments of all of us than can readily be admitted, even to ourselves-tends to be projected onto the relations of nation-states at precisely the point where, under the technological and organizational situation of the modern world, it can do the most harm.
(Certain Primary Sources ... of Aggression ..., p. 319-20, PDF, emphasis added). This difference of culture and its impact was pondered in this series when we considered the impact of a form of culture shock:
For example, let's hone in on that by recognizing for the moment that a person raised in Mississippi on a small farm, then living there through adulthood, will have a different social awareness and cultural Amygdala when compared to a person who is raised and lives their life in the art district of Paris, France.

The more temporary nature of the cultural Amygdala could be envisioned by imagining that the two individuals, one from Paris and one from Mississippi, were relocated in their teens, the person in Paris relocated to a small farm in Mississippi, and the person in Mississippi relocated to the art district in Paris.

The cultural Amygdala hypothesis would predict, upon relocation, a change over time in the cultural Amydala of both individuals as a result of being placed into very different cultures from the one they experienced through their teen years ...
(Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala). The rewiring of cultural brain circuits is automatic over time, but resistance to change, i.e., perpetuating the status quo, is the norm.

This is why the ships of state in various cultures have a difficult time making course corrections, and why the majority of them commit suicide:
Historically, self-destruction is the common denominator for past human civilization, culture, and society:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). As regular readers know, I have posted Sigmund Freud's writings where he indicated that psychoanalysis of groups, including civilization itself, would not prove unproductive ...
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch). Diversity has its benefits together with its drawbacks.

Unless good communication and awareness are part of our cultural amygdala circuitry, an opening for toxins of power to develop arises.

That can cause a dangerous trance like state where those who are on watch miss dangerous threats that develop from time to time (You Are Here).

You might want to read a similar post (Comparing a Meme Complex to a Cultural Amygdala).

On the cultural trance of deniers ...
02:15-02:50 Dr. Chomsky mentions "institutional contradiction" (another word for cultural trance)