Bamboozling Power

Carl Sagan viewed the Confidence Trick, or Bamboozling, as an important concept. It is. And not just because it explains why people goose step behind dictators, superstition and other insane ideas. The basic mechanisms behind bamboozling also explain not just the problem of Free Will, but how the mind itself arises.

Paraphrasing Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

One of the most alarming meta-lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, or spectacularly enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth, we can’t even find the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. It’s best to ignore it, to reduce our pain. So we ignore it. Once you give in to a charlatan, or to madness, it’s very hard to get common sense back.

Bamboozling: An Enemy Of Rationality

Bamboozling: An Enemy Of Rationality

In practice, it’s even worse. Charlatans reign through institutions. If the institutions have been themselves bamboozled, the effect is much amplified. This is what happens in places such as North Korea. Hitler is a famous case. Again and again, in history, obvious charlatans bamboozled their subjects into extinction.

Other cases are closer at hand: the much celebrated North American educational system is still trusted. Yet, it is the Trojan Horse of plutocracy unleashed. Higher education is so expensive that only a small percentage of the population can afford it for their children, without crushing debt (tuition in the top universities is above pre-tax median family income: $54,000 at Harvard). It’s bamboozling on an Academic scale.

Recently the Wall Street Journal revealed that, after spending more than six figures paying for an education, learning to fly, “airline pilots face a new danger: minimum wage”. Great bamboozling at work here.

Don’t worry: the owners of the airlines are making a fortune, and a galaxy of profiteers make good money from the so called private universities, be it by just exploiting their sport franchises.

Why do we react to bamboozling with denial?

It’s in the nature of neurology. It’s a case of colossal mental inertia, intrinsic to the nature of minds.

Neurology, whatever its details, is something built from the outside. The environment determines its nature. However, once a neurology is built, it’s built. The environment, in the past (that’s where the connection with Free Will is) has built it. In the past.

A neurology is not build like a software program. An incarnated neurology is built like a dam: once it’s built, it’s built. If rain does not fall anymore, and the lake dries up, the dam is still there.

Neurology is not just very hard to change. It is made for this environment that built it. If the environment changes, the changed environment cannot rebuilt it from scratch, for the simple reason that it already exists.

A mind is as a sand castle. Once it has been built, and the builder, the environment, changes, or moves away, it stays behind, and decays. It’s the simplest observation, it has momentous consequences.

Intellectuals, paradoxically, tend to be bamboozled, because they are often too busy with the mental task at hand, to become more than a cog in the machine (some have revolted: the most famous example was Sakharov, a great Soviet physicist who helped built the H Bomb, but then turned against his masters with devastating efficiency.)

I have been bamboozled personally more than once, big time, typically by large, honorable scale institutions, and the small critters that serve them inside, like bacteria in termites’ guts.

Once we have been taken by some confidence trick, can we rebuild our minds enough to reject it?

True, one has demonstrated in experiments on mice, that neurogenesis is necessary for learning, and happens at all ages. So neurogenesis, the fabrication of neurons is always active. Maybe we could use that to rebuild our minds?

No. Most of the brain has been established long ago, during youth. One may be able to change the details, it’s much harder to rebuild a functioning machine, than to make it from scratch.

Is there a way to mitigate the ease with which one can get bamboozled? Yes. To learn to take one’s knowledge and certainty, with a grain of salt. To practice the “WHAT IFS”, systematically. To teach the mind the yoga of doubt. Any sure thing that can be bent, should be bent, with “What Ifs”.

It’s not easy to learn this meta-learning. Systematically not just what is true, but why it is true (why the alternatives have been ruled out) ought to be taught. (Some say there is no time for this, but then children are taught only half a day, and often in too boring a fashion. Exposing children to “What Ifs” makes it much less boring, because that’s what our neurologies are made for.)

Thinking Is Most Human, & Thus, The Hardest Thing

Thinking Is Most Human, & Thus, The Hardest Thing

The yoga of doubt can even be extended to the realms of emotions. Emotional geometrodynamics is actually one of the interests of sports. Many sports involve states when one is at war. Even somebody who dives in apnea has to fight. Against her, or his self, when they desperately want to breathe. Going to war in normal society is not just abnormal, but discouraged. In sports, it’s encouraged.

However, some of the most pervasive Confidence Tricks are not just made possible by denial, as Carl Sagan says. Denial is what they sell. Take Christianity (or Islam). What the Christian institutions sell is an unbelievable story, yet, if one believes in it, it’s most comfortable. All we have to do is be good, and believe (that the Confidence Men and their sacred texts tell the truth). Then we will be rewarded.

There is no more struggle: submission is the key to heaven, and if we die, alleluia!

Thus life can be experienced as a happy dream, or torpor (as Marx noticed). However the Con Men (= Confidence Men”), in particular the Plutocrats, can rarely find a balance of exploitation. So at some point, the dream turns into a nightmare. The dam breaks, the sand castle is wiped out by a tsunami, and the great passion of revolution sweeps the land.

We can’t just cultivate our garden (whatever Voltaire said). When the wave comes, all gardens get washed away; we have to run. Given enough time, the wave always comes, and washes civilization away. Right now it’s just washing the biosphere.

Although the destiny of humanity is not clear. However, passion, in practice, is all the destiny we need. Yet not all passions are good. Passion for violence has to be diverted (hence the obsession with watching team sports, war by proxies). But passion for truth ought to be indulged in ever more. Be it just to save the biosphere.

Patrice Aymé

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28 Responses to “Bamboozling Power”

  1. Andy Outis Says:

    Andy Outis‎ to Patrice Ayme


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Patrice Ayme Thanks. A Lot. Very interesting. This is getting better all the time… I am hesitating between an essay on Free Will and one named Nazi Plutocrat Perkins, for tomorrow…
      The subjects are actually related…


  2. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Chris Snuggs I’ve been saying for years that all kids at school should do a course of BSR&A : bullshit recognition and analysis, focussing on: Who is saying this? What is their background and track-record? What is their motivation? What is their agenda? Is it hidden? What in their spiel is fact and what is opinion? What is the evidence for what they claim as fact? Are their conclusions based on logic and verifiable fact? How much self-interest is involved in their conclusions? Are they rationalising? To my knowledge, no such course exists, but until the plebs can dissect the glib utterances of the elite, the former will always be shafted by the latter.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Chris: Yes, well, we agree on this 100%.

      The funny thing, as I already pointed out in the essay, is that students would be much motivated that WAY. Because Bull Shit detection in central to intelligence, which is at the core of humanity. There are no such courses, because it’s the elite, more exactly, the plutocracy, that is in charge of molding the minds of the plebs. (There are good elites, like meritocratic elites; plutocracy is the nasty kind.)

      (We agreed also on Switzerland feeling legitimately irritated by TOO MUCH immigration… Also Switzerland lovers like me, approve of it.)


  3. Alexi Helligar Says:

    “Once a neurology is built, it’s built. The environment, in the past (that’s the connection with Free Will is) has built it. In the past.”

    Alexi Helligar Patrice, it seems to me that the past is as probabilistic and indeterminate as the future. Any existent neurology is only an abstraction of the past — it is always going to be incomplete and uncertain. (with regards to “neurology” I think I know what you are referring to here, but your meaning is not clear)


  4. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Patrice, the definition of “neurology” is as follows:
    Neurology is the branch of medicine concerned with diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with disorders of the nervous system.

    This is why I am unclear as to your meaning.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Alexi: Neuro-logy is the logical system neurons naturally build. Neurologie “scientific study of the nervous system,” 1680s, from Modern Latin neurologia, from Modern Greek neurologia (1660s). Neuro means “nerve”.

      We don’t know what neurology is in full, by far. We know enough to know no computer can reproduce a single neuron. In full. (Human Brain Project and the like use simplified model trying to partly model synapses and neurons with computers.)


  5. Patrice Ayme Says:

    I side with Chris on this one. The past is in principle more determinable than the future, for sure. Although Quantum Physics causes problems (in three ways: from indeterminacy, delayed choice, entanglements.) The future, simply, does not exist. The past has a final condition, the present. The future has no initial condition (Quantum Physics again).


  6. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Patrice Ayme as a lover of history, I am not surprised by your biased towards the past as existent. If that works for you, great. I don’t see that viewpoint as essential.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Whatever you mean by “existent” Alexi, is not necessarily what I mean. As I said Quantum causes three basic problems about what the present, even at a “point” is. Actually “points” are a problem too…


  7. Alexi Helligar Says:

    As for the modelling of neurons, It is possible that neurons might not be the most efficient conduits of consciousness. The brain, like many human organs might be sub-optimal and overly complex.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I am not saying anything about neurons and consciousness. I just said we can’t even understand, let alone model, a single average neuron (motor neurons are another story…. And even then, they are studied heavily, even in the spine (of chicken and turtles).


  8. Alexi Helligar Says:

    I don’t know what it means for something we can name to not exist. Everywhere I look there is existence, so “existent” is a default. The past exists but many different versions can leave the same impression on the moment. The reality of the past is a matter for historians, as the reality of the future is a matter for the prophet.

    Sorry to bother you about consciousness, but the only reason we try to model neurons is to understand consciousness as they seem to be an important conduit.

    And “Free Will” is a meta of consciousness.


  9. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Just because politicians want to find out if one can determine scientifically that they have achieved consciousness, they finance brain studies in the USA and the EU……


  10. gmax Says:

    Wow! Even Voltaire’s Candide got devoured this time! His just desserts!


  11. Jon Says:

    This is all well and good, but the people in power don’t want citizens (or thinkers), but rather an unquestioning (or unthinking) populace and education is the key. If they didn’t how could they pull off a monetary and banking system where they create money out of thin air, charge the populace interest to use it, and get away with it for hundreds of years?

    Currently, I’m of the mind that this process began with the Prussians and their education model after serfdom had been made obsolete by the Industrial Revolution. Of course the machine needs the best and brightest, like Sagan, so enough of them are singled out for a real education, then bribed not to let the rest of us in on the secret.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello Jon and welcome to the comments! Yes, indeed, the people in power do not want to share, and education is the key. Molding the minds of the Plebs is primary for the masters. And this extends to media. That is why media stars, from Hannity, O’Reilly (Fox), Rush Limbaugh to Oprah Winfrey are paid a fortune (I’m not saying all they say is wrong all the time, but their general influence is).

      A case in point is the New York Times: I never sent them ONE bad comment (although I have see dozens of drunk comments written by some of their preferred commenters), still they put me on a sort of black, unpublishable list. This is just because the New York Times educative mission is central to New York/World plutocracy, and they correctly believe that my venom is deleterious.

      The story of Prussia involves brutal crusades at inception (conquering the heathens, then fighting, and being defeated by, the Russians when pushing east). After being smacked back by Poland for centuries, Prussia regrew, in part, by leveraging anti-Judaism in the 18C. Then, thank a lot to the Pompadour (Louis XV’s mistress, acting as PM), alliances were insanely reverted, and Prussia became allied to the UK, and a fanatical enemy of France (thus the Enlightenment). That accentuated its madness, and turned it into a barracks system. Viciously anti-Jewish…. And that got extended to all of German speaking areas, after Napoleon’s defeat (so they kept the unification Napoleon brought, but re-introduced anti-Enlightenment measures). Thus Prussia grew by growing the Dark Side… All the way to 1945.

      The private-public fractional reserve started with Florence (the Republic), eight centuries ago. Florence in the end became a plutocracy entangled with the French monarchy/plutocracy. By the 16C, bankers were firmly in command in the Spanish Holy Roman empire, and its main enemy, France. The system has been generalized since, and bankers are rogue civil servants, presently in command.

      It goes without saying that the financial system ought to thoroughly changed. But just a FTT (Financial Transaction Tax) could crack the nut.


  12. Chris Snuggs Says:

    As for Carl Sagan and Newton, the former’s “Cosmos” series was sublime (I’ve just bought the series after watching it in the 80s), and one of the early programmes involves a reconstruction of the life of Johannes Kepler, who was MUCH more of a genius than I had realized, since Galileo and Newton usually get all the credit. Kepler was really a remarkable guy. As was Carl Sagan, and I was very sad when he died somewhat prematurely.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Chris: That some scientists are ignored is of great import. It’s a French scientist, as I detailed many times on my site who discovered the 1/dd law of gravity (Kepler thought it was 1/d). Newton ran away with it later (Newton himself said this). The heliocentric theory was not due to Copernic as much as Buridan (1320 CE). The Church “indexed” Buridan around 1470, when Copernic learned Buridan science in Cracow. Around 1320 CE, Buridan was certainly the most important man in civilization. He had achieved a much higher status than any scientist ever did.


  13. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Good essay. You should make this sentence clearer so I can repost what follows: “Is there a way of the ease with which one can get bamboozled?”

    I would also like to see a clear definition of neurology. To my mind the advantage of neurons is their plasticity.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi Alexi. I just saw this. I corrected that idiotic sentence in the meantime. Sometimes the electronics modify sentences on their own (!). It’s not just a question of crazy changes of the spelling.
      Best I can do for neurology is call it logic of neurons. OK, maybe not very bold, but neurons are so complex, it’s very telling when one ponders, say, dendrites.


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