Epiphany, Apophany, and Creating Creativity ($)
Truth is unimportant when looking for novelty and new forms of understanding.
“Is all of perception an illusion? When letters become words with meaning,
and dots and dashes form faces, what is real and what is an invention?”
—René Müri and Nicole Göbel (2020)
Can an Idea Be True or False?
An epiphany is a sudden realization of a connection. An apophany is the sudden realization of a connection that is false. Is this a useful distinction?
We generally agree on what’s physically true, but who is to say what ideas are true? This is a problem because ideas form the basis for understanding, and we need new understanding. But regardless of an idea’s truth, once an idea is presented, it’s hard to contain it.
For this reason, those who govern—in as much as we can identify them—work to contain our thoughts. This is done by encouraging us to think according to established patterns. All of us individually, and the institutions around us, work to pattern, persuade, rationalize, constrain, set standards, and guide social discourse.
Laws limit our behavior, but have little effect on our ideas. When Donald Trump said that as a celebrity, it was acceptable for him to grope women, many men agreed. That does not make it right or legal, but those who condone this kind of thinking feel that’s beside the point.
There are things we can say and other things we can’t. The “N” word, the “F” word, hate speech, endorsements of violence, and other prohibitions limit our speech. At a more internal level, there are standards that guide our thoughts. Thinking “bad thoughts” is upsetting.
When I was 13, I would never think of saying cock or cunt in public, among my family, or with my friends. But cock and cunt are common words heard on YouTube videos aimed at children. My 13-year-old son sings such a song at the top of his lungs, and he thinks nothing of it.
Thinking is mostly controlled by limiting the associations we make. These associations develop from what we see and hear. This is why performance, art, and pop music are important. Rap, Punk, and Folk music are a means of free-speech that escaped institutional supervision. Institutionally marketed television, film, and media work to bring public thinking under control.
Parents decry violence in video games. They claim game violence makes youthful players more prone to violence. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the trend toward ultra violence in movies aimed at adults. For those over 18, the spread of the attitudes portrayed in these movies is not controlled at all.
I know of the violence in movies like Kill Bill, John Wick, and The Equalizer. I will not watch them and do not want to hear about them. A google search for violent movies returned titles I’d never heard of. Movies that portray extreme violence, including the killing and torture of animals and children.
The things we see and hear become the seeds for what we think. Once these ideas are in our minds, we discuss, portray, and associate things with them. And while some adults think children are more vulnerable than grownups, as a therapist, I see many emotionally vulnerable adults.
“Gruesomely violent scenes from television shows are one of the most satisfying things for many adults…”
— Kulwant Singh (2023), from 11 Best Gory Violent Shows on Netflix Right Now
What is an Open Mind?
It is easier to define a closed mind. Closed minds follow approved lines of reasoning and subscribe to officially justified actions. To remain tightly closed, a mind should not entertain ideas that have not been approved. Most closed minds are weakly closed. They’ll think outside the box but not far, not clearly, and not actionably.
For the purposes of mind-control, it’s not the ideas that are important, it’s the associations you draw from them. For example, many people think about illegal actions, but they don’t take those actions because they have negative associations.
Controlled minds must conceive of forbidden ideas. If they could not conceive of inappropriate actions, then they could not recognize those thoughts in order to isolate and speak against them.
The openness of your mind is not determined by the ideas you have, it’s determined by associations you make. It’s more about the thoughts that are triggered in you by the actions of others, and less about your having those ideas yourself. This is why effective socialization requires the subtle training of associative thinking. The important questions are not, “What is patriotism?” or “What is morality?” They are what you associate with patriotism and morality.
Having defined a closed mind as one that has prescribed associations, an open mind is one that does not. And while the number of prescribed associations is actually rather small, it’s embodied in social protocol and written in our textbooks, the number of unapproved thoughts is infinite.
Training Associations is Operant Conditioning
Mind training, or operant conditioning, originates in the training of animals. It would be better described as associative conditioning. It’s the creation of automatic associations that will arise from predefined triggers. You control behavior by triggering emotions.
For example, children are conditioned to have patriotic thoughts in association with the mention of their country. In grade school, my class recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. By refusing, I thought I was escaping the training in mind control. I didn’t realize that the entire school enterprise was operant conditioning. The pledge was just one step in a continuous behavioral training exercise. Most people still have not figured this out, even as adults.
How do we limit unapproved thoughts? The primary way is by labeling the people who have these thoughts as abnormal and—if necessary—deficient, deranged, or dangerous. We stigmatize thoughts by stigmatizing the people who have them.
Once a person is convicted of a felony, they are no longer allowed to vote. The idea is that someone who thinks aberrant thoughts should not have a voice. If you are convicted of stealing a car, does that mean that you don’t understand who should represent you? The entire issue of a person’s rights comes down to how they’re expected to think.