[Paleopsych] Jaak--is the lab an antique tool?
HowlBloom at aol.com
HowlBloom at aol.com
Sun Sep 5 03:21:22 UTC 2004
You tossed me an intriguing challenge when you came over to the bloom
brownstone a year or two ago. I've been chewing on it, using it for mindfuel, ever
To make my theories count, you said, I had to be able to translate them into
predictions that could be proven or disproven in the lab. Good point. What
can't be operationalized and what can't be tested isn't science, right?
So for three months I tried to figure out how to put my ideas into lab-able
terms. That isn't easy. These concepts were seeded by 15 years of study in
theoretical physics, microbiology, psychology, religion, history, and the arts.
Many of the questions were tweaked and shaded by riding the rails and
adventuring. Then came the real deal--20 years of fieldwork in popular culture, in
visual art and music, in making superstars, in creating cultural whirlwinds
where there were only breezes before, from making hurricanes of passion in the
real world where a film like Purple Rain by Prince becomes a cultural legacy,
where it becomes the most popular makeout film for hormonally-driven teens who
were born long after the day I had to save Purple Rain from being canned by
In the world of pop culture you do have to demonstrate science's basics,
prediction and control. You are forced to form hypotheses, then make predictions
about the next career move for Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, Bob
Marley, or Joan Jett. An artist's lifetime work depends on whether your
prediction turns out true or false. The gifts or curses that reach the public depend
on your observation, your insight, and your accuracy.
But your hypotheses are often formed by your gut, your intellect, and your
intuition all working in parallel. You can't necessarily explain the things you
suspect, much less the things you know.
The subject matter you're studying is huge...far too huge to squeeze into the
So how DO we test the making of a culture storm in a lab on a university
campus in Boston, New York, Berkeley, or Bowling Green? The answer, it finally
dawned on me was not in trying to shrink hurricanes of mass emotion down to
something that can be replicated in a-pencil-and-paper test given to 60 students
in exchange for credit toward their psychology requirements.
The problem you posed may not be in the nature of ideas generated in the
field, ideas generated by observational and participatory science. The problem
may be in the lab itself.
It could be that the lab is the Oldowan stone tool of science. It has been a
great tool for the last 120 years or so. I could never have formulated my
ideas without what the lab-work of Neil Miller and his proteges gave me in mouse
research. I could never have done it without the work that you have given me
with your laughing, tickled, and play-deprived mice. I could never have done
it without the lab-work neuroscientist like Ed Taub gave me in his work with
But, Jaak, the lab is not the solution, it's the problem. The lab is too
limited to catch most of what human behavior is about. It is too limited to
catch the mas passions that make a Hitler, an Osama Bin Laden, a Beethoven, a
Shakespeare, a Winston Churchill, or an FDR. It is too limited to assess whether
the CIA and the Mossad destroyed the world trade center or whether al qaeda
did it. If al qaida was the culprit, the lab is too limited to tell us what to
do next--what to do to defend our civilization from collapse.
The lab is even too limited to tell us whether our civilization is worth
Are these questions science must address? You bet. So the real question is
this. How do we make a genuine science of human passions, of mass emotions,
of mass perceptions, of popular culture, of high culture, of politics, and of
history. What new tool can we invent that takes us beyond the lab?
One clue is this. There are several real-world measures of mass moods and
mass perceptions. One is the stock market. Another is the real world
interaction that takes place in IMs, videogames, role playing games, and chat rooms.
In the cyberworld, every word and every nuance is recorded. All one needs is
permission from the participants to use the mass of data.
Another advantage of the cyberworld: folks from all over the world kick in.
An online group like the one devoted to the Philosophy of History is based in
Siberia and reaches out to Europe, the United States, South America, and
There are many ways to slice and splice the data. There are many ways to
quantify, if quantification is what you want.
But it's critical to realize that some of the greatest distortions in the
sciences of the psyche have been created by the physics-and-equation-envy that
seize many of us and remove us from the real world.
If quality is what you want (and you, in particular, often do) not just
measurement, then getting our sciences out of the lab and into the real world is
The cyberworld may just be a convenient starting point.
My job, it turns out, is very different. After 20 years at the top of the
star-making business, 20 years of gut-hypotheses, it's time to do something very
difficult. It's time to translate what my muscles and my viscera know into
And it's time to continue to practice the process of shaping human perception
in the real world so an Osama doesn't outdo us by understanding the human
passions far better than we in science do.
It's time to practice prediction and control in the world of tomorrow's
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see:
for two chapters from
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History,
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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