While fake skeptics plead that their habits stem indeed from established ‘methods of science’, perhaps their form of methodical cynicism does not arise from rationality at all. To the contrary, such intransigence may in reality be a symptom of underlying physiologically based cognitive impairment. The brain protects itself through skepticism, because it does not possess the resource nor oxygen permeation capacity, necessary to handle the demand placed upon it by novel or challenging constructs.
An impairment which expresses in the form of angry dissonance, much like hypoxic or math anxiety, in the mind of those who no longer possess the bandwidth, cerebral functional integrity and depth requisite in the wielding of great ideas.
I bought my mother a replacement for her old flip phone this last year. She resisted me for months on this, declaring that she “did not need a new phone”. So finally, when her old flip phone crapped out, I convinced her to let me add her to my family mobile plan, and get her a new LG smart phone. I placed it in ‘simple mode’ – a brilliant option on LG phones which positions just the most important six icons on the main screen when the unit is powered up. It took me two weeks just to teach her how to push the button on the screen which answers incoming calls. Then another month on how to identify the top and the bottom of the phone (she kept answering it with the speaker down by her mouth). Finally, when I thought it to be the right time, I suggested that she press the button for ‘messages’ – when it had a “1” beside it. I told her that it might just contain a note, just like an email but much easier, with pictures of the kids or me; or a note saying hello, I love you, or some good news. Good things. Easy to open and view. That was too much for my mom. I had crossed the line.
Even to this very day she has abjectly refused to even attempt to push the text message button and read what is inside. My urging only serves to generate an odd form of anxiety inside her. A fear of the new and overwhelming. Now this was not the way my mother was when younger. She was an early adopter in her younger years, researching health way before it was popular, doing yoga when no one had even heard the word ‘yoga’, and trying brand new technologies as soon as they came out. She could not wait to get the first Polaroid cameras, touting the quickness to the photo, and avoiding that horrid 10 minute drive to the drug store to drop off and pick up film and photos.
Now mind you, she can see the phone just fine, as her vision is still great. She can observe all the screen objects and easily work all the buttons. Nonetheless these feature challenges I have observed to impart an anxiety inside her; anxiety shared in common with her reaction to other novel technology, new ideas, creativity and situational developments. She clings obsessively to the familiar, the explained, the old. My mother is not alone in this proclivity by any means.
In similar fashion, each of my brilliant friends from high school and undergraduate school have slowly begun to succumb to this ‘lack of curiosity and intolerance of innovation’ – syndrome. I call it a syndrome because it appears to come on with age, increase in severity with age, and is irreversible once past inception. The victim does not seem to be able to ‘change one’s mind’ about this form of cynical intolerance. One becomes solely dependent upon the school-styled skills of memorization, procedure, training and chains of familiarity. Paradigm shattering ideas, which my scientist and engineer buddies used to love to ponder for weeks on end, now only serve to make them anxious. They avoid the topics now, and say little to nothing about them any more.
They call it ‘critical thinking’ – but I rarely witness anything of the sort inside its execution. It should be instead entitled ‘conformance protocols’ – a type of thinking welfare for those of impoverished cognition.
Last month when the Tic-Tac UFO incident study set reared its disdained head again, I sent a note seeking some feature input, to my buddy in Forward Looking Infrared Technology Development at Raytheon. Twenty years ago, we would have stayed up for hours discussing the possibility that some of our anomalous observations were indeed something of Earth-shattering import. Now, he not only won’t speak about such things, but he inevitably resorts to the mindless meme-styled one-liner taunts – “It’s space aliens!!” I can no longer get anything of depth or quality out of him, nothing more than a bot would tender in response. He is up on the latest happenings with former Pantera members, or how the Dodgers are faring – but that is about it. He is a hollow cubicle-bound shell of his former self. This is a significant problem which mirrors itself in the minds of many of my ‘skeptic’ acquaintances as well. They get anxiety over such subjects, and begin to progressively avoid them, reactively shutting down as they age. This process has nothing to do with wisdom – and everything to do with lacking a young dynamic mind and sufficient cognitive capacity.
“A growing body of research reveals that the prevalence of late-life anxiety coexisting with cognitive impairment is more common than may have been suspected. And it appears that a symbiotic relationship exists between the two.”
~Stanford University School of Medicine researchers Sherry Beaudreau, Ph.D., and Ruth O’Hara, Ph.D. in their study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry1
My friend thinks he is being funny. But he forgets that he has used the same one-liner over and over for years in the same circumstance. Perceiving each time that he has contributed something innovative and comically original. But to me, I observe the collapse of his intellectual integrity – a mind no longer possessing the bandwidth to examine paradigms and novel information – rather only now able to follow the Laplace/Lagrange scripts which we were taught in Calculus VI or the sensor calibration protocols on certain satellite systems. He no longer creates, no longer envisions, no longer challenges anything familiar – only and exclusively denying the novel or intimidating idea. His career – his life – his youthful mind, have all stalled. And perhaps frustration over this reality may impart more to his cynicism than the impairment itself; nonetheless, I observe a hollow form of what used to be my friend. Nigh unto watching a loved one sink into dementia. He thinks it is because he is ‘smarter and more scientific’ now. I see it as a form of creeping cognitive impairment – no different than the case of my mother and her new smart phone.
High Anxiety – A Sign that One’s Intellectual Capacity has been Outstripped
All this reminded me of my flight training in the Navy. After passing the 50 meter underwater swim, the Dilbert Dunker and the Ejection Seat Simulator (or ‘rocket chair’ as it is affectionately known), all with flying colors – I thought that the hypobaric altitude chamber would be a cinch to accomplish. In the altitude chamber, atmosphere is gradually removed by means of a vacuum, to simulate the conditions of higher altitude so that the pilot can recognize by this prior experience, the signs of hypoxia. Hypoxia is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain tissues. Please note that, even though technically the oxygen-deficient blood of the cognitively impaired mind of an adult at sea level would be known as hypoxemia, the condition in the brain tissue under circumstances of hypoxemia is nevertheless called hypoxia. So we use the term endogenous hypoxia here to describe any condition of shortage in oxygen to the brain tissue under normal conditions, necessary for certain complex cognitive integral functions. Endogenous hypoxia is not something which at low levels, can necessarily be detected by its sufferer.
But what are the symptoms of low scale endogenous hypoxia? The same as low magnitude exogenous hypoxia (altitude sickness), which are2
- behavioral change (usually anger)
It is these first three symptoms, confusion/disorientation, anxiety and anger which interest me the most. When I was in the altitude chamber, I and two other candidates were selected to stay in the chamber the longest, and allow the other pilot candidates to observe how hypoxia works. My buddy Alex had been assigned to sort a deck of playing cards into a box with four slots cut into and labeled by card suit. At 26,000 feet he was failing miserably. Laughing at him while I observed his difficulties, I noticed that I was struggling to perform some rather simple math equations which I had been assigned to solve. I recognized the abstract symbols on the paper, but could not attach any meaning to them, nor to the associated procedural library I had stored in my brain. It was at that moment that I began to realize that the abstract symbols were terrifying me. Math anxiety. I could not translate the abstract symbolic set before me, into a structured and procedural way to resolve them in my mind. It was not simply confusion – I was threatened by symbols I recognized but could not resolve. It was a procedural anxiety over an abstract challenge – pure and simple. The chamber director spoke over the loudspeaker and asked “Midshipman TES, how are you doing over there?”. I just stared at him with a look of bewilderment and displeasure on my face. It was a topic of great fun over beers later that evening. “TES, you looked like you were going to kill the instructor there man.” Something the instructor told me he had seen many times before.
The solution for the pilot facing hypoxia? Procedure and training. In order to function under a risk of hypoxia – the competent pilot trains himself or herself as to how to carry out basic functions to regain oxygen and keep the aircraft in flight all the way to touchdown or tailhook. Becoming procedurally minded is a must in such a situation. Again in Naval Intelligence, I once was tasked to fly on short notice from Washington D.C. to Sigonella, Sicily – without my uniforms. I was able to quickly purchase an officer’s cap in the Naval Academy Midshipman Store – whereupon I could obtain the rest of the ensemble at a later time during my tasking. Accordingly, I wrote my name on the courtesy card inside the officer’s cap while tucked away on top of crates inside the cargo compartment of a C-130. Years later I realized, that I had misspelled my own name – while riding there at 36,000 feet of altitude. The cargo compartment had been slightly depressurized for much of the trip. For those suffering cognitive impairment, procedure is everything. Even down to how to spell one’s own name. Procedure is your life blood. As long as you follow procedure, you can be somewhat cognitively impaired, and still be a reasonable B student or apothegm-spouting ‘skeptic’.
Note: which is also why I do not hire B students, the following dangers exist inside the body of B students:
- They are A students who were lazy, or
- They are C students who cheated or had unfair access to ‘word’, or
- They are mildly cognitive-impaired yet know how to follow a procedure or a lesson plan.
Few of these types do I want in my organizations.
A problem exists however, when the majority of society is functioning under such a burden. This provides a fertile breeding ground for social skeptics.
The irony is that today, this same disorientation anxiety exists in the minds of skeptics, when challenged with abstract constructs which they cannot resolve into the easy, nonthreatening and procedural. The only difference resides in the fact that in everyday life, this ‘hypoxia’ victim must adorn a costume in the form of method and power-identity, in order to socially conceal their disorientation and anxiety. An anxiety which prompts them into attacking those they see as the messengers of the abstract: ‘woo’ and ‘pseudoscience’. They must hold the social power at all times, so as not to be found out.
To me, this is why social skeptics seem to react with such negative vehemence towards issues which should otherwise bear little social detriment and paucity of true impact on their lives. They compensate for their fear with high school social tactics – becoming virtue signaling, chest pounding science-bullies in the process.
Sometimes, skepticism itself is a sickness. The brain protects itself through skepticism, because it does not posses the resources nor oxygen permeation capacity, necessary to handle the demand placed upon it by a novel idea. Once I observe a person to head down this style of fake (dissonance-anxiety) skepticism, they never come back. They cannot heal themselves of this physiological malady.
Is Procedural-Mindedness a Symptom of Cognitive Impairment?
The creative mind, functions in a way that is wholly different from the task oriented mind. A recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports, entitled Brain networks for visual creativity: a functional connectivity study of planning a visual artwork, by Nicola De Pisapia, Francesca Bacci, Danielle Parrott and David Melcher elicited this very principle.3 In the study, the authors tested the idea that creativity (planning an artwork) would influence the functional connectivity between regions involved in the brain, which are also implicated in divergent thinking and generating novel ideas. The key observation which arose from the study was that creative generative processes, require a complex use of multiple regions, and networks, of the brain simultaneously – a demand in resources far outstripping the normal daily or procedural task. They measured functional connectivity by means of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) during three different conditions: rest, visual imagery of the alphabet and planning an artwork to be executed immediately after the scanning session. Therein they found a stronger connectivity between areas of default activity and executive decision capacity during the creative task, and this difference was enhanced as well in professional artists. These findings suggest that creativity involves an expert balance of two brain networks typically viewed as being in opposition. This demanded, according to the study, several orders of magnitude more in cognitive processing ability than did procedural tasks.
Creativity is roughly definable as the process of generating novel and worthwhile ideas or objects and is thought to involve several types of cognitive abilities. One widespread idea is that creativity must involve both novelty (new ideas or objects are the outcome) and usefulness (the new idea/object must be worthwhile). There is widespread consensus that creativity is a fundamental and valuable part of human cognition.4
Indeed, the ability to register an abstract symbology, and resolve it into a procedural understanding takes just this sort of cognitive capability and creativity on a person’s part. To be able to grasp, receive and digest a creative work takes every bit the cognitive capacity which is required to create it. Skeptics often lack this ability and project their dissonance-anxiety towards those who do have this talent.
It is my conjecture that the inability of skeptics to register or create per hoc aditum asymmetrical or complex scenarios in their mind, produces a kind of dissonance-based anxiety and anger – which they then express towards the messengers of such threatening symbologies. They lack the physiological cognitive resources (possibly oxygen permeation) which are required to calmly digest and contemplate such challenges to their paradigms and comfort zones.
If you doubt this, simply examine the comments section of any post, article or study regarding the 768 forbidden subjects identified in The Skeptic’s Dictionary. You will observe endless angry diatribes on the part of those who lack cognitive depth – those who have been trained in the use of the weapons necessary in concealing their pathology. Heavy use of one liners, Bridgman reduction and personal attacks. They are angry and employ a pretense of science as their billy club – of this fact, society has little doubt. (Note: I do not get such anxiety. I embrace change and challenging new abstract ideas with passion – only rejecting them when the evidence becomes overwhelming. On any typical issue I may hold 7 different alternative explanations and supportive evidence sets in my mind, without anxiety nor dissonance at all. I also have been certified by my cardiologist to be ‘arterial plaque free’ – because of a certain method I used to eliminate calcium phosphate-LDL cholesterol plaque from my heart and brain blood vessels. I noticed a significant boost in my cognitive capabilities after the associated therapy.)
I have seen this often in business meetings, where the subject matter, or the array of complex challenges outstrip the ability of some of the members present to process and register what is being contended or discussed. Often these people will get angry and lash out at the person they perceive to be forcing their dissonance. They become unethical in their anger. They become caricatures of science and skepticism, frothing inappropriately over people and events serving to introduce the abstract which exceeded their resource capacity, rather than the ideas over which they should normally be intellectual masters.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald
The ethical skeptic must always have the mental capacity to tolerate the introduction of new ideas, listen to the eyewitnesses without being threatened in the process. It is a sign of one’s intellectual reserve – the ability to exhibit the grace, integrity and acumen requisite in the wielding of great ideas.
The Ethical Skeptic, “When Skepticism is a Symptom of Cognitive Impairment” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 5 Jul 2018; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-7SS