Storytelling As A National Security Issue?

darpaDavid Metcalfe writes on Modern Mythology:

“If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine.”

—William Casebeer of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Despite the fact that it’s readily apparent Mr. Casebeer has never tried cocaine, DARPA’s current interest in narratives is an interesting development at an agency known for unique scientific inquiries. On April 25 and 26th DARPA held a conference called Narrative Networks (N2): The Neurobiology of Narratives. The purpose of this conference was to follow up a Feburary 26th event which sought to outline a quantitative methodology for measuring the effect of storytelling on human action.

We owe much of the early development of the internet to DARPA, along with remote viewing, remote controlled moths, invisibility cloaks and other wonders of the contemporary age. Now they’ve got their sites set on stories, and we can be assured that, in the near future, there will be some fatly funded scientific justification for what we already know. I mean, come on, Modern Mythology and Weaponized just published The Immanence of Myth exploring this very topic, and I assure you there’s more in there than a tiny hit to get you inspired.

And that’s the unfortunate thing about these scientific inquiries, they’re always years (usually centuries) behind the times. I seem to recall an author who spent his entire career developing this theory, and effectively influencing television, film and music with his ideas. Who was that? Something about word viruses? Oh, yes, William S. Burroughs. Who in turn got much of his inspiration from other thinkers like Brion Gysin, Alfred Korzybski, and really beyond all this name dropping, what true poet or writer doesn’t understand the fact that their writing takes on an effective reality?

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  • Wanooski

    Can’t have narratives running around loose out there that conflict with or contradict the official narrative. That
    could be “dangerous”.

  • Wanooski

    Can’t have narratives running around loose out there that conflict with or contradict the official narrative. That
    could be “dangerous”.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Can’t have narratives running around loose out there that conflict with or contradict the official narrative. That
    could be “dangerous”.

  • http://twitter.com/humpjones Humpasaur Jones

    An outstanding article.

  • http://twitter.com/humpjones Humpasaur Jones

    An outstanding article.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    “If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine.”

    Certainly the Osama Bin Killed story was one such “hit” for the gullible Homeland public. The WMD stories Bush told certainly had their desired effect.  In fact any story called news fits the bill.

  • BuzzCoastin

    “If I were a betting man or woman, I would say that certain types of stories might be addictive and, neurobiologically speaking, not that different from taking a tiny hit of cocaine.”

    Certainly the Osama Bin Killed story was one such “hit” for the gullible Homeland public. The WMD stories Bush told certainly had their desired effect.  In fact any story called news fits the bill.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    In other words: Here at Darpa we believe people are dumb enough that words can cast spells on people to control them.

    Truth can sometimes have some magic to it I must say…

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    In other words: Here at Darpa we believe people are dumb enough that words can cast spells on people to control them.

    Truth can sometimes have some magic to it I must say…

    • Anarchy Pony

      Stories do control people, how do you think people attain their worldviews? They do it through the stories told by their society, by their religion, whatever. Humans don’t have instincts we have belief structures and worldviews that tell us how to react to the world around us, these stories and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation, through story telling of various kinds, whether it is in church or history class or a movie theater. If this cycle is broken then the new generation will have some serious problems and have to invent its own belief structures.

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        Cant disagree with any of that, more subtly I was talking about the silliness of their apporach. The “neurobiology” of narrative… or the secret world of documenting what stories are like “cocaine” and what are not. Its not different than the super secret magic of spells. When really its just the reality of the human condition… somethings are believable, some not, some truthful some not, some will piss someone off and give them a cocaine like reaction, and some not….

        I do get the feeling however that the cycle is broken a bit… the new generation will not have to entirely reconstruct new belief structures, but a lot of bones will be picked up from old worldviews to create something not seen before

        • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

          “When really its just the reality of the human condition…” – exactly. One thing that I hadn’t taken into consideration when I initially wrote this is that most of DARPA’s initiatives are proposals from contractors or academics looking for funding.

          So in some ways the folks at DARPA are really just being sold on an idea that’s already been played out in a number of different ways, and I think the selling point is the neurobiology angle. Throw the word neuroscience in there, add the prospect of using fancy medical devices, and suddenly a common place idea becomes something worthy of funding.

          To compare it to remote viewing again, if the SRI folks had gone up to them and said “We want a couple of million dollars to study clairvoyance” it probably wouldn’t have gone very far. But get a bunch of physicists together and say “We want to study remote viewing and non-local causality,” then you’ve got a pitch that can get some cash.

          So ironically this probably got funded using the very narrative manipulations they’re studying.

          • Joseph

            “So ironically this probably got funded using the very narrative manipulations they’re studying.”

            That isn’t actually ironic, FYI. Not to be pedantic about it or anything.
            The people at DARPA aren’t being “sold on an idea.” They are developing one. It’s an idea which actually we don’t have yet. Do you know what the word “quantitative” means? The idea that we could measure out the effects that storytelling has is pretty interesting, and something worth throwing some peer-reviewed studies at, IMO. 

            Neurobiology is another word which has actual meaning beyond the discomfort and fear it causes you to feel (expressed as cynical disdain and arrogance). Neurobiology is not a discipline which exists solely for the purpose of tossing the word around to get funding (which you obviously, and understandably, would rather have for yourself). 

            Neurobiology has something to say about the effect of cocaine on the brain. It suggests that many of our day-to-day pleasurable activities have similar effects on our neurons. That such activities could include storytelling is not an indication that Casebeer lacks experience with Cocaine, but rather is instead an interesting possibility which has sparked many intelligent minds to action.

            I guess what we all know from your writing is that you have tried cocaine and consider yourself somewhat of an expert about it. Oh, and you’re selling a book on the subject which avoids those big words above. The only thing I am confused about… given the level of your writing here, why didn’t you go for mocking the guy’s name?

            Alright I will stop now; that is more snark than I really needed to do this morning, but there it is. Enjoy.

          • Jamie Lee
          • Joseph

            Apparently I struck a nerve. Good!

          • Jamie Lee

            If so, the nerve is simply frustration at the idea that by being a wise-ass on the internet you’re doling out some kind of wisdom. Come down off the mountain (or high horse) and you might find some comrades (that can still actively disagree with you through vigorous discussion). Real communication only occurs between equals. If it’s being shunted off because you feel superior, then you might want to examine that.

            Anyway. I really like the way Takei says “douchebag.” 

          • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

            : ) Yeah, I know what quantitative means. Thanks for the schooling though it’s good to be reminded of the detailed nuances. I admit I enjoy poetic renditions of reality rather than mathematical theorems so I have an inherent bias. I studied under Dr. William Hirstein, so I also have some small sense of what neurobiology is as well. 

            A couple of points – “It’s an idea that actually we don’t have yet” – considering the history of experimentation in this area that’s not really true. We may not have had the technology to get pictures of it, but there have been centuries of research in this area. Also, neuromarketing has been around for awhile, and this is no different, it’s just spun to be weaponized.

            “Neurobiology is another word which has actual meaning beyond the discomfort and fear it causes you to feel” – Perhaps it wasn’t apparent in your reading of my article, but my discomfort is with the organizations and individuals who are using neurobiology, and the ethics of this use, and not with the field itself. My only discomfort with neurobiology is that considering our current cultural standards and emotional development we’re not responsible enough to handle what it uncovers.

            “I guess what we all know from your writing is that you have tried cocaine and consider yourself somewhat of an expert about it.” – A good point in terms of how Casebeer meant his statement, but also look at it from the other end of experience itself. I personally don’t like cocaine, and reading a story has never made me feel like staying up all night with my teeth grinding while I twitch and talk streams of fast paced nonsense. Well, ok, maybe the fast paced nonsense, but I’ll skip the grinding and twitching.

            You’ve actually uncovered an interesting point here, no amount of quantizing is going to get down to the real experience of the story. I was aiming to point that out here: “What was once an art-form will suffer yet
            another reduction into a somewhat less effective means for moving
            markets, and manipulating populations.” and here “What we need today is the actual passion of the storyteller, which is the direct encounter with the mystery of storytelling that will be missing from any state funded exploration of narrative theory.”

            The cliche of Oppenheimer, or really the moral lesson of Oppenheimer, is a shadow looming large over this whole thing. Lab tests are one thing, but effective use within the culture is something altogether different.

            I would recommend Jacques Ellul’s work Propaganda – The Formation of Men’s Attitudes as a primer for how this will be used, and the likely consequences of it’s use.

            “Alright I will stop now; that is more snark than I really needed to do this morning.” – that’s a confabulation, since you obviously had some extra snark in there that had to get out. ; )  But it’s good to release those feelings, especially since in this case you’ve helped me deepen my understanding of this topic, and how something like this gets support in the scientific community. It may help to relieve some of the tension, however, if you recognize that you have these feelings and openly embrace them rather than denying they are sitting under the surface. Some guided meditation can help with that. : D

            “cynical disdain and arrogance” – is there any other way to write a polemical argument?

            I also write about alchemy & hermeticism at http://theeyelessowl.wordpress.com please feel free to shred my arguments there as well, some of the most engaging discussions have been with those who disagree. I have an article where I get pretty down and dirty on Kurzweil, comparing him to a 19th century spiritualist obsessed with communicating with the dead, which you may find particularly repellent and full of holes to poke at. A spiritualist and pro-transhumanist already had a go at it and it was very enlightening.

            All the best my friend.

          • Jamie Lee

            >>”cynical disdain and arrogance” – is there any other way to write a polemical argument?

            Yes, actually.

            Though it’s an art that seems to get sadly little use on the internet. 

          • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

            This is true. 

          • Joseph

            I’m not sure what you mean to suggest when you say that I confabulated (what an odd word choice), than I had extra snark to get out, or that I am denying my feelings. I didn’t have any extra snark to get out; that was my last statement made this morning, and saying so was revealing rather than denying my feelings. More arrogance and now, with your sage advice to undergo guided meditation, condescension.
            I am obviously in disagreement that scientific research done by the state somehow means that it is automatically tainted against productive use in society. I mean, do I have to point out the venue where we are having this discussion exists thanks to the same organization about which you are concerned? I also disagree that doing these studies will somehow remove mystery that we need, or that it will strip authenticity and passion from the storyteller. There are a lot of ways that this research can help us, not least that it can help us understand ourselves and our universe better; and what greater good can there be than that?And yes, you can certainly make polemical arguments without cynicism and arrogance. 

            Thanks for the book recommendation, which I have now put on my list; and thanks for inviting me to criticize your blog writing. I’ll drop in when I’m feeling a snark attack coming on.

          • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

            I was just joking with you Joseph on the confabulation and guided meditation. That’s why I had the winky emoticon thing, and the open mouth emoticon thing. Confabulation, neuroscience…maybe it was a bad joke.

            See my little avatar/blavatar/disquis or whatever pic, I’m all smiley. I’ve got a little hat on. Fun times my friend, not bitter times.

            It’s not that this will strip away mystery, I’m saying that anything produced by the state/corporation will not have mystery. It’s going to be the same as reading corporate copy. We’re not dealing with a genius like Ben Franklin here…we’re dealing with contemporary folks that have an unfortunate lack of cultural mooring and extreme amount of naivete. 

            Although I do have to say some of the best corporate copy I’ve read, pristine in its corporate copy’hood, is from a few high price boutique government consultancies.

            Friends of mine work in various levels of the government, national labs, universities, corporations, etc. and I fully respect well intentioned intelligence and military professionals, and even have respect for the skilled tradecraft of those whose agendas I may not agree with. I’m not a proponent of conspiranoia. My basic concern is that at every stage of the game advancements in science such as this have lead down bad ends, and continue to lead down bad ends.

            In fact again using Bruno as an example, who paid for him to write? It was the government of the time…and who burned him alive…same thing (ok, the church instigated it, but they didn’t have punitive powers and required secular authorities for the arrest/execution)

            You’re right, I pointed out that DARPA helped fund the internet in the MM piece, but read what the scientists involved in that have to say about how that ended up vs. what their intentions were. Jacques Vallee wrote an entire book on the failure of that project, and has recently reiterated his disappointment when he tried to explore the topic of crop circles in a forum like this and was greeted with a bunch of weird comments that made no sense to what he said or his tenure as a professional UFOlogist or Silicon Valley insider.

            Look at the video footage of Oppenheimer later in his life…that was a ruined man, that’s what happens when these kinds of project go too deep and end up hitting something that there’s no way to repair.

            No worries, I’m doing some guided meditation on the cynicism and arrogance. : )

            All of Ellul’s books are thought provoking, Technological Society is another one that is good, and possibly also relevant here. If you do some searching on the web I think that a good portion of them are available for free. 

            Now see in all this responding we could have been co-authoring a brilliant exposition of the pros/cons of technological innovation and had an e-book already.

  • Yith

    I am not sure that `virus’ is quite the right metaphor for “addictive stories” that get passed around.

    It seems to me that what makes some stories more likely to spread than others is that they resonate with some set of assumptions and metaphors that a given culture, in a given time and place, uses to make sense of the world.  Some examples:   “natural is better than artificial”; “no pain, no gain”; “if something bad happens, there must be someone responsible”; “if it isn’t popular, it must not be valuable”; “in order to be deep, it must be complicated or difficult to understand”; etc. etc.

    The way to keep a population from being seduced by stories that resonate with such assumptions and metaphors is to arm with with some scientific memes, such as: “when making decisions, do everything possible to keep from fooling yourself — realize that you have biases and blind spots” and “anecdotal evidence is weak evidence”.

  • Yith

    I am not sure that `virus’ is quite the right metaphor for “addictive stories” that get passed around.

    It seems to me that what makes some stories more likely to spread than others is that they resonate with some set of assumptions and metaphors that a given culture, in a given time and place, uses to make sense of the world.  Some examples:   “natural is better than artificial”; “no pain, no gain”; “if something bad happens, there must be someone responsible”; “if it isn’t popular, it must not be valuable”; “in order to be deep, it must be complicated or difficult to understand”; etc. etc.

    The way to keep a population from being seduced by stories that resonate with such assumptions and metaphors is to arm with with some scientific memes, such as: “when making decisions, do everything possible to keep from fooling yourself — realize that you have biases and blind spots” and “anecdotal evidence is weak evidence”.

  • Wanooski

    Stories do control people, how do you think people attain their worldviews? They do it through the stories told by their society, by their religion, whatever. Humans don’t have instincts we have belief structures and worldviews that tell us how to react to the world around us, these stories and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation, through story telling of various kinds, whether it is in church or history class or a movie theater. If this cycle is broken then the new generation will have some serious problems and have to invent its own belief structures.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Cant disagree with any of that, more subtly I was talking about the silliness of their apporach. The “neurobiology” of narrative… or the secret world of documenting what stories are like “cocaine” and what are not. Its not different than the super secret magic of spells. When in reality its just the reality of the human condition… somethings are believable, some not, some truthful some not, some will piss someone off and give them a cocaine like reaction, and some not….

    I do get the feeling however that the cycle is broken a bit… the new generation will not have to entirely reconstruct new belief structures, but a lot of bones will be picked up from old worldviews to create something not seen before

  • David Metcalfe

    “When really its just the reality of the human condition…” – exactly. One thing that I hadn’t taken into consideration when I initially wrote this is that most of DARPA’s initiatives are proposals from contractors or academics looking for funding.

    So in some ways the folks at DARPA are really just being sold on an idea that’s already been played out in a number of different ways, and I think the selling point is the neurobiology angle. Throw the word neuroscience in there, add the prospect of using fancy medical devices, and suddenly a common place idea becomes something worthy of funding.

    To compare it to remote viewing again, if the SRI folks had gone up to them and said “We want a couple of million dollars to study clairvoyance” it probably wouldn’t have gone very far. But get a bunch of physicists together and say “We want to study remote viewing and non-local causality,” then you’ve got a pitch that can get some cash.

    So ironically this probably got funded using the very narrative manipulations they’re studying.

  • StillAtMyMoms

    Didn’t old George already foresee this kind of censoring bullshit?

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t old George already foresee this kind of censoring bullshit?

  • Joseph

    Hm, no, I don’t think Wm. S. Burroughs developed a “quantitative methodology for measuring the effect of storytelling on human action.” I don’t imagine Gysin or even Korzybski did so either, not to mention that hypothetical “true poet or writer” who understands the rather obvious fact that, um, writing is real. Er, I mean, “takes on an effective reality,” or something. One thing I do know from reading this article is that there is an unfortunate reality which David Metcalfe’s writing has taken on. 

    Anyway what was that about DARPA again? Sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than whatever crap they are selling at Weaponized. 

    • Yith

      Right on! 

      “Nothing new under the sun”, “the ancients had it all figured out”, and “first you see it in the arts, then it trickles down to the sciences, technology and society writ large”, seem to be prevalent beliefs among certain men and women of letters.

      Although not relevant to the article, another example of this that I find silly is when people suggest that Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla were radical visionaries too far ahead of their times, whose ideas still profoundly influence science and technology.  The reality is that Fuller and Tesla were mostly crackpots with a few good ideas and inventions that would have been discovered around the same time that they did so, if not by them; and I would be willing to concede they were `visionary’ to some degree.

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        Tesla wasn’t a crackpot, he was just too idealistic in this fucked up world, most  of his (but not his more impressive) technologies have been applied, but they’ve been used as just another way to suck money from people rather than increasing free access like his original intention was.

      • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

        I appreciate being put into the category of “men and women of letters,” but more often you’ll find me scrawling expressionist images with a sharpie marker. So I haven’t earned that distinction yet. 

    • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

      Joseph, I wish we could sit down and have a chat face to face over coffee, you’re a beautifully vigorous opponent.

      Disliking, as I do, the threat that unethical applications of science hold for our society I would love to throw crazy ideas at you and have them refuted so I can better hone my discursive skills.

      Have you read Burroughs, Gysin, Korzybski? Just wondering. (edit: I see that some of your other listed comments are in regards to Crowley, so most likely you have read Burroughs, or at least have a passing understanding of his work)

      If you’d like to write a complete rebuttal of this piece, which includes how DARPA and marketing firms will better society with their research goals, I will publish it on my web publication The Eyeless Owl or on Evolutionary Landscapes. Or if you’d like I’ll even co-author a piece with you and submit it to Reality Sandwich, but I can’t promise publication in that instance.

      Yith, that goes for you too.

      By the way, Giordano Bruno, who I also referenced, combines the best of the medieval scholastic tradition, poesis and rampant, arrogant, polemical writing. I highly recommend his work.

      • Anarchy Pony

        Marketing firms have not ever and will not ever, in any way, better society. 

      • Joseph

        Yes, I’ve read Burroughs, Gysin, Korzybski, and Bruno.

        Thanks for the offer to publish a rebuttal. I’ll give some thought to the question of whether I can afford the time investment required. My comments here were just for fun.

      • erisiantaoist

        I don’t think Joseph would argue for the moral fiber of the DoD so much as he would argue against the uselessness of this type of research.  For comparison, look at Pavlov’s dogs: Even pet owners who’ve never heard of behaviorism can tell you their dogs start salivating when they hear a can opener or the rustle of the food bag.  But when Pavlov formalized it and published his quantitative findings, the knowledge became useful in a whole host of new ways–for one example, our current best models of animal learning and best machine learning techniques, which inform and improve each other, are directly descended from that scientific study of something everybody knew.

        • http://liminal-analytics.org/ David Metcalfe

          This ties in to some thoughts I had on Yith’s point – ““Nothing new under the sun”, “the ancients had it all figured out”,
          and “first you see it in the arts, then it trickles down to the
          sciences, technology and society writ large”, seem to be prevalent
          beliefs among certain men and women of letters.”

          It seems that these beliefs are prevalent in part because of actually reading the source texts, as opposed to reading secondary or tertiary material.

          Do you think that we’ve actually gained that much from scientific inquiry? (that’s not meant to be a provocative question, just wondering your further thoughts) No doubt there have been benefits, or some functional clarity added, but I know from seeing a friend of mine interact with her dogs that the best responses come from a very interpersonal relationship with the animal. She’s done behaviorist techniques as well, but gained a much better response from a personal communicative technique.

          I guess, in some ways, it really comes down to what your goals are.

          I wonder if we really haven’t lost something in all these studies.  We had to research medieval dog training techniques and how farmers/hunters used to train their animals in order to get something that really worked. Understanding how a farmer or hunter, who is invested in their animal for food and therefore has to have effective training, was much more successful in our experience.

          Maslow seemed to come to similar conclusions as well in his later work, he hated the “medical model”: http://www.adolphus.nl/xcrpts/xcmaslow.html

          Pavlov is an interesting example in that his experiments with dogs were only part of his experimentation, I hate to quote from wikipedia, but it’s a quick reference: “It is less widely known that Pavlov’s experiments on the conditional
          reflex extended to children, some of whom apparently underwent surgical
          procedures, similar to those performed on the dogs, for the collection
          of saliva” – that’s kind of nasty stuff.

          And in terms of ethics, we should also keep in mind it was Pavlov’s later work with stress conditioning that lead to the horrors perpetrated by the psychological establishment through the use of shock treatment, on both witting and unwitting subjects. William Sargant’s work is a good primer on the concept of induced post traumatic stress and conditioning.

          It seems that a lot of the most revealing initial research in these fields was conducted either during the Soviet or Nazi regimes when the idea of medical ethics didn’t apply, which was then later picked up by U.S. or British scientists, who often had to do a bit of under the table work to get further results.

          Is knowledge worth the cost in human dignity?

  • Joseph

    Hm, no, I don’t think Wm. S. Burroughs developed a “quantitative methodology for measuring the effect of storytelling on human action.” I don’t imagine Gysin or even Korzybski did so either, not to mention that hypothetical “true poet or writer” who understands the rather obvious fact that, um, writing is real. Er, I mean, “takes on an effective reality,” or something. One thing I do know from reading this article is that there is an unfortunate reality which David Metcalfe’s writing has taken on. 

    Anyway what was that about DARPA again? Sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than whatever crap they are selling at Weaponized. 

  • Yith

    Right on! 

    “Nothing new under the sun”, “the ancients had it all figured out”, and “first you see it in the arts, then it trickles down to the sciences, technology and society writ large”, seem to be prevalent beliefs among certain men and women of letters.

    Although not relevant to the article, another example of this that I find silly is when people suggest that Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla were radical visionaries too far ahead of their times, whose ideas still profoundly influence science and technology.  The reality is that Fuller and Tesla were mostly crackpots with a few good ideas and inventions that would have been discovered around the same time that they did so, if not by them; and I would be willing to concede they were `visionary’ to some degree.

  • Ianclingingsmith

    Great now they want to take my daughters bedtime stories

  • Ianclingingsmith

    Great now they want to take my daughters bedtime stories

  • Ianclingingsmith

    Great now they want to take my daughters bedtime stories

  • Ianclingingsmith

    Great now they want to take my daughters bedtime stories

  • Ianclingingsmith

    Great now they want to take my daughters bedtime stories

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Tesla wasn’t a crackpot, he was just too idealistic in this fucked up world, most  of his (but not his more impressive) technologies have been applied, but they’ve been used as just another way to suck money from people rather than increasing free access like his original intention was.

  • Joseph

    “So ironically this probably got funded using the very narrative manipulations they’re studying.”

    That isn’t actually ironic, FYI. Not to be pedantic about it or anything.
    The people at DARPA aren’t being “sold on an idea.” They are developing one. It’s an idea which actually we don’t have yet. Do you know what the word “quantitative” means? The idea that we could measure out the effects that storytelling has is pretty interesting, and something worth throwing some peer-reviewed studies at, IMO. 

    Neurobiology is another word which has actual meaning beyond the discomfort and fear it causes you to feel (expressed as cynical disdain and arrogance). Neurobiology is not a discipline which exists solely for the purpose of tossing the word around to get funding (which you obviously, and understandably, would rather have for yourself). 

    Neurobiology has something to say about the effect of cocaine on the brain. It suggests that many of our day-to-day pleasurable activities have similar effects on our neurons. That such activities could include storytelling is not an indication that Casebeer lacks experience with Cocaine, but rather is instead an interesting possibility which has sparked many intelligent minds to action.

    I guess what we all know from your writing is that you have tried cocaine and consider yourself somewhat of an expert about it. Oh, and you’re selling a book on the subject which avoids those big words above. The only thing I am confused about… given the level of your writing here, why didn’t you go for mocking the guy’s name?

    Alright I will stop now; that is more snark than I really needed to do this morning, but there it is. Enjoy.

  • Okarin

    the pen was mightier then the sword now the the pen is mightier then modern warefare

  • Okarin

    the pen was mightier then the sword now the the pen is mightier then modern warefare

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee
  • David Metcalfe

    : ) Yeah, I know what quantitative means. Thanks for the schooling though it’s good to be reminded of the detailed nuances. I admit I enjoy poetic renditions of reality rather than mathematical theorems so I have an inherent bias. I studied under Dr. William Hirstein so I also have some small sense of what neurobiology is as well. 

    A couple of points – “It’s an idea that actually we don’t have yet” – considering the history of experimentation in this area that’s not really true. We may not have had the technology to get pictures of it, but there have been centuries of research in this area. Also, neuromarketing has been around for awhile, and this is no different, it’s just spun to be weaponized.

    “Neurobiology is another word which has actual meaning beyond the discomfort and fear it causes you to feel” – Perhaps it wasn’t apparent in your reading of my article, but my discomfort is with the organizations and individuals who are using neurobiology, and the ethics of this use, and not with the field itself. My only discomfort with neurobiology is that considering our current cultural standards and emotional development we’re not responsible enough to handle what it uncovers.

    “I guess what we all know from your writing is that you have tried cocaine and consider yourself somewhat of an expert about it.” – A good point in terms of how Casebeer meant his statement, but also look at it from the other end of experience itself. I personally don’t like cocaine, and reading a story has never made me feel like staying up all night with my teeth grinding while I twitch and talk streams of fast paced nonsense. Well, ok, maybe the fast paced nonsense, but I’ll skip the grinding and twitching.

    You’ve actually uncovered an interesting point here, no amount of quantizing is going to get down to the real experience of the story. I was aiming to point that out here: “What was once an art-form will suffer yet
    another reduction into a somewhat less effective means for moving
    markets, and manipulating populations.” and here “What we need today is the actual passion of the storyteller, which is
    the direct encounter with the mystery of storytelling that will be
    missing from any state funded exploration of narrative theory.”

    The cliche of Oppenheimer, or really the moral lesson of Oppenheimer, is a shadow looming large over this whole thing. Lab tests are one thing, but effective use within the culture is something altogether different.

    I would recommend Jacques Ellul’s work Propaganda – The Formation of Men’s Attitudes as a primer for how this will be used, and the likely consequences of it’s use.

    “Alright I will stop now; that is more snark than I really needed to do this morning.” – that’s a confabulation, since you obviously had some extra snark in there that had to get out. ; )  But it’s good to release those feelings, especially since in this case you’ve helped me deepen my understanding of this topic, and how something like this get’s support in the scientific community. It may help to relieve some of the tension, however, if you recognize that you have these feelings and openly embrace them rather than denying they are sitting under the surface. Some guided meditation can help with that. : D

    “cynical disdain and arrogance” – is there any other way to write a polemical argument?

    I also write about alchemy & hermeticism at http://theeyelessowl.wordpress.com please feel free to shred my arguments there as well, some of the most engaging discussions have been with those who disagree. I have an article where I get pretty down and dirty on Kurzweil, comparing him to a 19th century spiritualist obsessed with communicating with the dead, which you may find particularly repellent and full of holes to poke at. A spiritualist and pro-transhumanist already had a go at it and it was very enlightening.

    All the best my friend.

  • David Metcalfe

    Joseph, I wish we could sit down and have a chat face to face over coffee, you’re a beautifully vigorous opponent.

    Disliking, as I do, the threat that unethical applications of science hold for our society I would love to throw crazy ideas at you and have them refuted so I can better hone my discursive skills.

    Have you read Burroughs, Gysin, Korzybski? Just wondering.

    If you’d like to write a complete rebuttal of this piece, which includes how DARPA and marketing firms will better society with their research goals, I will publish it on my web publication The Eyeless Owl or on Evolutionary Landscapes. Or if you’d like I’ll even co-author a piece with you and submit it to Reality Sandwich, but I can’t promise publication in that instance.

    Yith, that goes for you too.

    By the way, Giordano Bruno, who I also referenced, combines the best of the medieval scholastic tradition, poesis and rampant, arrogant, polemical writing. I highly recommend his work.

  • David Metcalfe

    I appreciate being put into the category of “men and women of letters,” but more often you’ll find me scrawling expressionist images with a sharpie marker. So I haven’t earned that distinction yet. 

  • David Metcalfe

    I appreciate being put into the category of “men and women of letters,” but more often you’ll find me scrawling expressionist images with a sharpie marker. So I haven’t earned that distinction yet. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee

    >>”cynical disdain and arrogance” – is there any other way to write a polemical argument?

    Yes, actually.

    Though it’s an art that seems to get sadly little use on the internet. 

  • David Metcalfe

    This is true. 

  • Wanooski

    Marketing firms have not ever and will not ever, in any way, better society. 

  • Wanooski

    Marketing firms have not ever and will not ever, in any way, better society. 

  • Joseph

    Yes, I’ve read Burroughs, Gysin, Korzybski, and Bruno.

    Thanks for the offer to publish a rebuttal. I’ll give some thought to the question of whether I can afford the time investment required. My comments here were just for fun.

  • Joseph

    I’m not sure what you mean to suggest when you say that I confabulated (what an odd word choice), than I had extra snark to get out, or that I am denying my feelings. I didn’t have any extra snark to get out; that was my last statement made this morning, and saying so was revealing rather than denying my feelings. More arrogance and now, with your sage advice to undergo guided meditation, condescension.
    I am obviously in disagreement that scientific research done by the state somehow means that it is automatically tainted against productive use in society. I mean, do I have to point out the venue where we are having this discussion exists thanks to the same organization about which you are concerned? I also disagree that doing these studies will somehow remove mystery that we need, or that it will strip authenticity and passion from the storyteller. There are a lot of ways that this research can help us, not least that it can help us understand ourselves and our universe better; and what greater good can there be than that?And yes, you can certainly make polemical arguments without cynicism and arrogance. 

    Thanks for the book recommendation, which I have now put on my list; and thanks for inviting me to criticize your blog writing. I’ll drop in when I’m feeling a snark attack coming on.

  • Joseph

    Apparently I struck a nerve. Good!

  • David Metcalfe

    I was just joking with you Joseph on the confabulation and guided meditation. That’s why I had the winky emoticon thing, and the open mouth emoticon thing. Confabulation, neuroscience…maybe it was a bad joke.

    See my little avatar/blavatar/disquis or whatever pic, I’m all smiley. I’ve got a little hat on. Fun times my friend, not bitter times.

    It’s not that this will strip away mystery, I’m saying that it anything produced by the state/corporation will not have mystery. It’s going to be the same as reading corporate copy. We’re not dealing with a genius like Ben Franklin here…we’re dealing with contemporary folks that have an unfortunate lack of cultural mooring and extreme amount of naivette. 

    Although I do have to say some of the best corporate copy I’ve read, pristine in its corporate copy’hood, is from a few high price boutique government consultancies.

    Friends of mine work in various levels of the government, national labs, universities, corporations, etc. and I fully respect well intentioned intelligence and military professionals, and even have respect for the skilled tradecraft of those whose agendas I may not agree with. I’m not a proponent of conspiranoia. My basic concern is that at every stage of the game advancements in science such as this have lead down bad ends, and continue to lead down bad ends.

    In fact again using Bruno as an example, who paid for him to write? It was the government of the time…and who burned him alive…same thing (ok, the church instigated it, but they didn’t have punitive powers and requried secular authorities for the arrest/execution)

    You’re right, I pointed out that DARPA helped fund the internet in the MM piece, but read what the scientists involved in that have to say about how that ended up vs. what their intentions were. Jacques Vallee wrote an entire book on the failure of that project, and has recently reiterated his disappointment when he tried to explore the topic of crop circles in a forum like this and was greeted with a bunch of weird comments that made no sense to what he said or his tenure as a professional UFOlogist or Silicon Valley insider.

    Look at the video footage of Oppenheimer later in his life…that was a ruined man, that’s what happens when these kinds of project go to deep and end up hitting something that there’s no way to repair.

    No worries, I’m doing some guided meditation on the cynicism and arrogance. : )

    All of Ellul’s books are thought provoking, Technological Society is another one that is good, and possibly also relevant here. If you do some searching on the web I think that a good portion of them are available for free. 

    Now see in all this responding we could have been co-authoring a brilliant exposition of the pros/cons of technological innovation and had an e-book already.

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee

    If so, the nerve is simply frustration at the idea that by being a wise-ass on the internet you’re doling out some kind of wisdom. Come down off the mountain (or high horse) and you might find some comrades (that can still actively disagree with you through vigorous discussion). Real communication only occurs between equals. If it’s being shunted off because you feel superior, then you might want to examine that.

    Anyway. I really like the way Takei says “douchebag.” 

  • erisiantaoist

    I don’t think Joseph would argue for the moral fiber of the DoD so much as he would argue against the uselessness of this type of research.  For comparison, look at Pavlov’s dogs: Even pet owners who’ve never heard of behaviorism can tell you their dogs start salivating when they hear a can opener or the rustle of the food bag.  But when Pavlov formalized it and published his quantitative findings, the knowledge became useful in a whole host of new ways–for one example, our current best models of animal learning and best machine learning techniques, which inform and improve each other, are directly descended from that scientific study of something everybody knew.

  • David Metcalfe

    This ties in to some thoughts I had on Yith’s point – ““Nothing new under the sun”, “the ancients had it all figured out”,
    and “first you see it in the arts, then it trickles down to the
    sciences, technology and society writ large”, seem to be prevalent
    beliefs among certain men and women of letters.”

    It seems that these beliefs are prevalent in part because of actually reading the source texts, as opposed to reading secondary or tertiary material.

    Do you think that we’ve actually gained that much from scientific inquiry? (that’s not meant to be a provocative question, just wondering your further thoughts) No doubt there have been benefits, or some functional clarity added, but I know from seeing a friend of mine interact with her dogs that the best responses come from a very interpersonal relationship with the animal. She’s done behaviorist techniques as well, but gained a much better response from a personal communicative technique.

    I wonder if we really haven’t lost something in all these studies.  We had to research medieval dog training techniques and how farmers/hunters used to train their animals in order to get something that really worked. Understanding how a farmer or hunter, who is invested in their animal for food and therefore has to have effective training, was much more successful in our experience.

    Maslow seemed to come to similar conclusions as well in his later work, he hated the “medical model”: http://www.adolphus.nl/xcrpts/xcmaslow.html

    Pavlov is an interesting example in that his experiments with dogs were only part of his experimentation, I hate to quote from wikipedia, but it’s a quick reference: “It is less widely known that Pavlov’s experiments on the conditional
    reflex extended to children, some of whom apparently underwent surgical
    procedures, similar to those performed on the dogs, for the collection
    of saliva” – that’s kind of nasty stuff.

    And in terms of ethics, we should also keep in mind it was Pavlov’s later work with stress conditioning that lead to the horrors perpetrated by the psychological establishment through the use of shock treatment, on both witting and unwitting subjects. William Sargant’s work is a good primer on the concept of induced post traumatic stress and conditioning.

    It seems that a lot of the most revealing initial research in these fields was conducted either during the Soviet or Nazi regimes when the idea of medical ethics didn’t apply, which was then later picked up by U.S. or British scientists, who often had to do a bit of under the table work to get further results.

    Is knowledge worth the cost in human dignity?