Monday, November 24, 2008

Do we only talk to our own heads?

I wrote this piece some time ago, but I publish it now, in the hope that someone will think the idea makes sense of some sort. It reads rather negatively, but why not? It is a depressing conclusion. It is meant, however, to be a description of an observed phenomenon, and a partial explanation of it. It is also incomplete; there will be more.

People only speak to the images within their own minds. Intelligence, I should say, is the ability to do abstract analysis, and the vast majority of people do not use that ability, even if they possess it to any degree. The reasons for this, one may imagine, are various, and must frequently have to do with the necessity to consider survival above other things- intelligence may, at times, be useful for survival, but, in general, survival is a matter of perseverance, debilitating the body and the mind and not allowing it to do more than is essential. We are not, however, concerned with the inability, intrinsic or extrinsic, temporary or permanent, to think, to use the mind in the ways in which it can be used, but with the deliberate refusal to use it for any purpose but immediate personal gratification.

People, we have said, talk almost exclusively to their heads. They do not want to hear anything which does not confirm their previous ideas and opinions, prejudices, one should call them, since they do not wish, either, to analyse, or submit to judgement in any way, those opinions, they simply have them, because they think they must have them, and that the possession if them is a sign of their character and of how their minds work. This is not the case- they state these ideas because they have heard them from some source that inspired trust at some moment, for equally unanalysed reasons.


  1. People do not think.
  2. People like to believe that they think.
  3. People are only prepared to assimilate information which seems to confirm their prejudices. (They only want to be told that they are right.)
  4. People are only interested in news which tells them about things they already think they know about. (This is why almost all of what passes for news is derivative.)
  5. People are angered by opinions that conflict with their own because they do not wish to have to think.
  6. Opinions which conflict with their own, and to which they do not have to respond, are satisfying when they can be used to classify others absolutely as good or bad.
  7. Almost all entertainments, and most of what is intended to be, at least in part, informative, simply pander to this, as the only way to keep an audience is to reassure it it will not have to think. (gossip, TV drama, Hollywood films, pop music, even political debate)
  8. Almost nothing in the life of people in wealthy countries requires them to think, or encourages them to think.
  9. People do not want to know about, perhaps are afraid of, what is outside themselves.
  10. People have little or no concept of objective truth.

So, people talk to the images in their heads and relate everything to the mental pictures they have created there, arbitrarily. The information conveyed by the senses is analysed and assimilated in terms of the images and ideas that are already present in the mind, rather than being used to reassess these images. What they hear and see is accepted or rejected depending on whether it can be interpreted as confirming the previous image. It is not considered in itself, and then used to correct the mental image, which it should be in a thinking person. The process, in other words, is the reverse of what it should be, the reverse of thinking. It is, perhaps, for this reason that most people have no understanding of the concept of objective truth- they do not understand it and they cannot understand it when it is explained. (Tony Blair said something like, “I only know what I believe.” He meant, I think, not that he defined what was true, but that his only measure of truth was his own opinion, but I do not think he meant that he analysed extensively before reaching those beliefs.)

For most people truth is any of their images in which they see no obvious contradiction. Even educated people often think that truth can be arrived at by some form of consensus of the images held by people who are, in some way, qualified to comment- that is, whom they perceive as like themselves in whatever ways they consider important. Uneducated people usually hold the truth to be whatever image they themselves hold. They will bluntly defend the expression of an opinion which they cannot defend of itself, which is against the logic of argument. Their purpose, coherent if not logical, is to protect their own image of themselves as thinking beings.

Many people enjoy gossip programmes because they do not have to think- none of us wishes to think all the time, in any case- but there are further elements to them which are essential to their interest: familiarity- the information must be given by someone the audience considers it knows, and be about people it thinks it knows, or at the very least a subject that is often repeated; confrontation- there must be shouting, consisting preferably of mere contradiction, so that there is no difficulty in forming the image, and those involved must be clearly classifiable as good or bad, if only arbitrarily; seriousness- this is called news, and the participants journalists, so the audience can believe it is not frivolous. These programmes are directly aimed at the images people have, and could not work if there were any objective analysis.

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