[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 
Warner Brothers.

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 
fighting for.

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 

Howard Bloom
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 
21st Century
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, 
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
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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