Forfeiting Freedom by Mass Neurological Dysregulation

In order to maintain political freedom in the United States, a prevalent number of American brains must be capable of understanding, adhering to, and fighting for a secular scripture: the unalterable Declaration of Independence, which defines God-given rights, and the Constitution, which provides the legal framework for a limited government that enables individuals to actualize those rights.  This methodology of freedom-keeping is similar to religion in that it is based on following exalted documents.  But unlike authoritarian forms of religion, there is no excommunication for negating those writings.  We are free to forfeit our freedom.

Benjamin Franklin warned about keeping our republic because he recognized that it is almost impossible for a group of people to maintain a functional constitutional republic in the long run.  Due to survival imperatives, the brain is designed to take a place in a herd-like group that follows a leader rather than to be directed by written ideals.  In addition to that hardwired tendency, chronic severe stress dysregulates natural brain states and undermines the higher functions necessary for scripture-driven freedom.  During war, famine, and other disasters, the brain becomes less able to direct behavior according to written ideals and laws.  Even moderate stress or toxicity dysregulates the brain over time.

In recent history, a new experience to the collective American brain -- television -- may be making freedom-keeping even more difficult.  This educated speculation, about a large group over a long period of time, is based on scientific research that reveals that exposure to television produces an overall effect of "down training" brain states from normal waking beta frequencies to slower alpha frequencies, as well causing the withdrawal of gamma states.  Beta waves are associated with the rigorous thinking, reading, planning, and self-control necessary for scripture-driven behavior, while alpha waves are associated with relaxation and suggestibility.  Gamma waves are believed to be associated with unifying voluntary attention and the integration of cognition with abstract ideals.

Most analyses of the tragedy of President Obama's re-election, with its aim of turning the American people into a government-dependent herd, focus on sociopolitical trends such as media bias, indoctrination by government schools, or assertive disabilitism, which sees half of our population dependent on government for the basic needs of food and medical care.  In this light, Obama's re-election is usually seen as a triumph of progressivism over constitutional conservatism.  It is also a cliché among conservatives to call liberalism a mental disorder.  And the eagerness of liberals to exchange constitutionally protected, God-given rights for government control does seem insane.  But neither sociopolitical trends nor the psychiatric model, with its reliance on behavioral classifications and psychoactive medications, tells the whole story.  The whole story includes the changing condition of the collective American brain.

Maintaining political freedom is about not only what is happening "out there" or medical models of mental health.  Freedom can be maintained in a society only if enough individual brains are neurologically robust enough to care about and act upon foundational ideals.  Evidence suggests that television may be increasing the number of Americans who do not have those requisite neurological capabilities.

The brain is an electro-mechanical machine "entrained" by its environment.  The science of brain states and brain dysregulation provides another perspective on why so many Americans are escaping from freedom.  Research, beginning in the 1960s, suggests that mass brain entrainment to television over a long period of time has made Americans aliterate, mentally dull, and credulous.

The brain adjusts at the speed of milliseconds to innumerable inputs from both the internal and external environment.  Brain states are classified according to the frequency of brain waves being produced.  A dysregulated brain is less able to respond to environmental demands.  It is predictable that brains entrained to direct involuntary attention to electronic screens for hours at a time will become functionally dysregulated when confronted with "reality."  The following (very simplified) table summarizes the brain wave frequencies of interest in this essay.

Classification

Frequency (Cycles per Second)

Associated Functions of Consciousness

Gamma

40-70

Fastest brainwaves. Associated with neural synchrony or "unity of consciousness," voluntary attention, higher cognitive processes, advanced intelligence, compassion, self-control, and happiness.

Alpha

12-38

Associated with relaxation and closing of the eyes. Often described as a light trance or meditative state, alpha waves correlate with increased suggestibility. Too much alpha produces depression, withdrawal into fantasy, and inability to focus and think.

Beta

8-12

Dominant state of normal waking adult consciousness, enabling focus on external environment, motivation to action, goal orientation, and social interaction. Also associated with reading, logic, and critical thinking.

 

Television's power over the brain resides in the "orienting response," a reflex first described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927.  This ancient survival mechanism forces the brain to pay attention to novel stimuli -- especially movement.  Stimuli on a TV screen are known as formal features because they constitute the form rather than the content of the stimuli.  They repeatedly trigger the involuntary orienting response, thereby maintaining a state of involuntary attention in the viewer.  This phenomenon was described by Henry James in 1890, decades before the science of brain waves: "Voluntary attention is always derived; there is no such thing as voluntary attention sustained for more than a few seconds at a time. No one can possibly attend continuously to an object that does not change" (1).

The formal features of television (number and rapidity of changing images) have greatly increased over time, and their effects on brain states have been extensively studied.  The interactions are complex, but we know that exposure to formal features that are not perceived as threats to survival causes the brain to downshift from the production of beta frequencies to slower alpha frequencies.  A seminal article written in 1970 by Krugman and Hartley describes how these effects lead to suggestibility and "passive learning."  (Interestingly, Krugman was in charge of public corporate relations for General Electric.)

Another often cited experiment involved beeping subjects randomly throughout the day to track their mental states:

... people who were watching TV when we beeped them reported feeling relaxed and passive. The EEG studies similarly show less mental stimulation, as measured by alpha-wave production, during viewing than during reading.

What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. ... People have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading.

Perhaps even more ominous are the effects of television on gamma wave production.  Research has established that the orienting response drastically reduces, if not eliminates, gamma waves, which are slower than the other frequencies to return.  This effect is particularly marked in children due to higher neuroplasticity, or trainableness, of young brains.  Even brief periods of TV viewing reduce children's language and cognitive abilities as well as inhibitory control.  Research also supports the correspondence between gamma brain states and the ability to voluntarily shift attention.

There is ample evidence that even a conservative estimate of around three hours per day of television watching has drastic implications for our ability to maintain a constitutional republic.  Until the last few generations, the human brain has never been subjected to rapidly cycling orienting response stimuli for hours every day, leading to an easily manipulated, dysregulated brain.  What appears to be America's voluntary escape from freedom may, in fact, have significant involuntary features.

The struggle for freedom has never been solely about ideology.  It requires voluntary focus and willingness to fight for a perfect ideal in an imperfect world.  It is no coincidence that the forces working against constitutionally based freedom seek a dumbed-down, neurologically pacified, drug-affected, media-defined populace.

More research must be conducted to understand the large-scale societal effects of television.  And freedom-loving people need to engage in rigorous forms of brain training for its neurological value before the final autopsy report is written on the American experiment in freedom-keeping.

Deborah C. Tyler is a clinical psychologist who writes about psychology for AT and other outlets, including http://psychologywatch.intylergence.com.


(1) James, H., (1890). 'II'. Principles of Psychology. 1st ed. pp.(416-429).

 

 

In order to maintain political freedom in the United States, a prevalent number of American brains must be capable of understanding, adhering to, and fighting for a secular scripture: the unalterable Declaration of Independence, which defines God-given rights, and the Constitution, which provides the legal framework for a limited government that enables individuals to actualize those rights.  This methodology of freedom-keeping is similar to religion in that it is based on following exalted documents.  But unlike authoritarian forms of religion, there is no excommunication for negating those writings.  We are free to forfeit our freedom.

Benjamin Franklin warned about keeping our republic because he recognized that it is almost impossible for a group of people to maintain a functional constitutional republic in the long run.  Due to survival imperatives, the brain is designed to take a place in a herd-like group that follows a leader rather than to be directed by written ideals.  In addition to that hardwired tendency, chronic severe stress dysregulates natural brain states and undermines the higher functions necessary for scripture-driven freedom.  During war, famine, and other disasters, the brain becomes less able to direct behavior according to written ideals and laws.  Even moderate stress or toxicity dysregulates the brain over time.

In recent history, a new experience to the collective American brain -- television -- may be making freedom-keeping even more difficult.  This educated speculation, about a large group over a long period of time, is based on scientific research that reveals that exposure to television produces an overall effect of "down training" brain states from normal waking beta frequencies to slower alpha frequencies, as well causing the withdrawal of gamma states.  Beta waves are associated with the rigorous thinking, reading, planning, and self-control necessary for scripture-driven behavior, while alpha waves are associated with relaxation and suggestibility.  Gamma waves are believed to be associated with unifying voluntary attention and the integration of cognition with abstract ideals.

Most analyses of the tragedy of President Obama's re-election, with its aim of turning the American people into a government-dependent herd, focus on sociopolitical trends such as media bias, indoctrination by government schools, or assertive disabilitism, which sees half of our population dependent on government for the basic needs of food and medical care.  In this light, Obama's re-election is usually seen as a triumph of progressivism over constitutional conservatism.  It is also a cliché among conservatives to call liberalism a mental disorder.  And the eagerness of liberals to exchange constitutionally protected, God-given rights for government control does seem insane.  But neither sociopolitical trends nor the psychiatric model, with its reliance on behavioral classifications and psychoactive medications, tells the whole story.  The whole story includes the changing condition of the collective American brain.

Maintaining political freedom is about not only what is happening "out there" or medical models of mental health.  Freedom can be maintained in a society only if enough individual brains are neurologically robust enough to care about and act upon foundational ideals.  Evidence suggests that television may be increasing the number of Americans who do not have those requisite neurological capabilities.

The brain is an electro-mechanical machine "entrained" by its environment.  The science of brain states and brain dysregulation provides another perspective on why so many Americans are escaping from freedom.  Research, beginning in the 1960s, suggests that mass brain entrainment to television over a long period of time has made Americans aliterate, mentally dull, and credulous.

The brain adjusts at the speed of milliseconds to innumerable inputs from both the internal and external environment.  Brain states are classified according to the frequency of brain waves being produced.  A dysregulated brain is less able to respond to environmental demands.  It is predictable that brains entrained to direct involuntary attention to electronic screens for hours at a time will become functionally dysregulated when confronted with "reality."  The following (very simplified) table summarizes the brain wave frequencies of interest in this essay.

Classification

Frequency (Cycles per Second)

Associated Functions of Consciousness

Gamma

40-70

Fastest brainwaves. Associated with neural synchrony or "unity of consciousness," voluntary attention, higher cognitive processes, advanced intelligence, compassion, self-control, and happiness.

Alpha

12-38

Associated with relaxation and closing of the eyes. Often described as a light trance or meditative state, alpha waves correlate with increased suggestibility. Too much alpha produces depression, withdrawal into fantasy, and inability to focus and think.

Beta

8-12

Dominant state of normal waking adult consciousness, enabling focus on external environment, motivation to action, goal orientation, and social interaction. Also associated with reading, logic, and critical thinking.

 

Television's power over the brain resides in the "orienting response," a reflex first described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927.  This ancient survival mechanism forces the brain to pay attention to novel stimuli -- especially movement.  Stimuli on a TV screen are known as formal features because they constitute the form rather than the content of the stimuli.  They repeatedly trigger the involuntary orienting response, thereby maintaining a state of involuntary attention in the viewer.  This phenomenon was described by Henry James in 1890, decades before the science of brain waves: "Voluntary attention is always derived; there is no such thing as voluntary attention sustained for more than a few seconds at a time. No one can possibly attend continuously to an object that does not change" (1).

The formal features of television (number and rapidity of changing images) have greatly increased over time, and their effects on brain states have been extensively studied.  The interactions are complex, but we know that exposure to formal features that are not perceived as threats to survival causes the brain to downshift from the production of beta frequencies to slower alpha frequencies.  A seminal article written in 1970 by Krugman and Hartley describes how these effects lead to suggestibility and "passive learning."  (Interestingly, Krugman was in charge of public corporate relations for General Electric.)

Another often cited experiment involved beeping subjects randomly throughout the day to track their mental states:

... people who were watching TV when we beeped them reported feeling relaxed and passive. The EEG studies similarly show less mental stimulation, as measured by alpha-wave production, during viewing than during reading.

What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. ... People have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading.

Perhaps even more ominous are the effects of television on gamma wave production.  Research has established that the orienting response drastically reduces, if not eliminates, gamma waves, which are slower than the other frequencies to return.  This effect is particularly marked in children due to higher neuroplasticity, or trainableness, of young brains.  Even brief periods of TV viewing reduce children's language and cognitive abilities as well as inhibitory control.  Research also supports the correspondence between gamma brain states and the ability to voluntarily shift attention.

There is ample evidence that even a conservative estimate of around three hours per day of television watching has drastic implications for our ability to maintain a constitutional republic.  Until the last few generations, the human brain has never been subjected to rapidly cycling orienting response stimuli for hours every day, leading to an easily manipulated, dysregulated brain.  What appears to be America's voluntary escape from freedom may, in fact, have significant involuntary features.

The struggle for freedom has never been solely about ideology.  It requires voluntary focus and willingness to fight for a perfect ideal in an imperfect world.  It is no coincidence that the forces working against constitutionally based freedom seek a dumbed-down, neurologically pacified, drug-affected, media-defined populace.

More research must be conducted to understand the large-scale societal effects of television.  And freedom-loving people need to engage in rigorous forms of brain training for its neurological value before the final autopsy report is written on the American experiment in freedom-keeping.

Deborah C. Tyler is a clinical psychologist who writes about psychology for AT and other outlets, including http://psychologywatch.intylergence.com.


(1) James, H., (1890). 'II'. Principles of Psychology. 1st ed. pp.(416-429).

 

 

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