Friday, July 11, 2014

Subjects in Experiment Preferred to Shock Themselves Rather Than Be Alone for 15 Minutes – Go Figure!

Photo: Subject in the experiment to see if people could be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes.
It was an intriguing experiment: All subjects had to do was to sit by themselves quietly for fifteen minutes. Just be with themselves. I mean, Jeez, in the age of the ubiquitous “selfie” you’d think this would be a cinch but they couldn’t do it.  When left alone in the observation room for 15 minutes, the participants exhibited literally shocking behavior – no pun intended.

One guy, rather than be alone with his thoughts, shocked himself 190 times. For most people, it was five to seven times- always to induce some pain in order not to have to be alone with their own selves and their own thoughts.  According to the lead psychologist (Wilson) running the study:

“I have no idea what’s going on there.”

But the task obviously was more difficult on the males than the females. While only 6 of the 24 women shocked themselves, 12 of the 18 males did. This, the authors wrote in their paper, “could be because men tend to be more sensation seeking than women”.

Readers can learn more details here:

One theory from an outside observer (not involved in the specific study) is that the behavior was more or less expected in a world with so many distractions – social media, smart phones, instagram,…..whatever.

But I don’t buy it. Even an over-stimulated American brat kid – unless he’s got some disorder like ADD – ought to be able to sit still with his own self and thoughts for fifteen freakin’ minutes.

The real problem was first unearthed by philosopher Alan Watts in his masterpiece, ‘The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’, who pointed out that from the time most of us are tots we’re saddled with false egos, and false personas in order to fit more easily into a fucked up world. The end result is that on account of this process of maladjustment we end up fucked up and can’t accommodate to any prolonged period devoid of our little pet toys, devices, crutches or stimulants.

As Watts observes (p. 12):

The lowdown on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or at best a temporary role that we are playing – or have been conned into playing – with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized.”

He adds most tellingly (ibid.):

The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent and isolated ego.”

Watts elaborates the dynamic of societal false self tomfoolery later, noting (p. 70):

The very society from which the individual is inseparable, is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual he is indeed separate! Society as we know it is therefore playing a game with self-contradictory rules. Just because we do not exist apart from the community the community is able to convince us that we do- that each one of us is an independent source of action with a mind of its own. The more successfully the community implants this feeling, the more trouble it has in getting the individual to cooperate.”

He goes on to observe that society has “pulled this trick on every child from earliest infancy” and the child – because it lacks the power of reason at an early age – is unable to resist the social indoctrination.

As a result of this indoctrination, of course, the seeds of toxic societal conditions are born and sustained. The unemployed beat up on themselves ceaselessly for not being “good enough” to support their families or get any kind of a decent job. Since the society has conditioned them to believe they alone are to blame for their situation, they willingly accept the onus as opposed to placing it on a dysfunctional society that gives all its best rewards to speculators.

Children in school may also beat up on themselves for failing a standardized test, despite the fact such tests for their own sake have nothing to do with genuine education and are in fact detrimental to real education (as Jiddu Krishnamurti has noted)

Thus, people – too many – have been bamboozled into thinking, believing they’re lonely, isolated centers of being. Worse, this superficial façade  is accepted as the real self – when it is  actually a false  one, a pretender. It is an artifact created, as Watts notes, to accommodate our laws, conventions and social institutions so that “we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe.’

So, little wonder that subjects forced to sit alone with only this puny puppet self  to work with go totally ape shit and prefer to experience pain to escape. If this self is all there is – lurking in the back of their minds- they want no part of it!

Watts then goes on to explicate what can best be called the “Real Self” – also examined in the writings of  Jacob Needleman and G.I. Gurdjieff . Chief among the findings is that the human condition is "a state of waking sleep in which the whole of man's life is mechanically ruled by the impersonal forces of world which itself is lost in meaninglessness and illusion". In this sense, nearly all humans are "puppets" in Gurdjieff's word usage. This means most of us are largely incapable of acting as free, autonomous agents even if we believed we were.

Obviously then, a greater consciousness has to be present – buried beneath all the drivel and nonessentials. Those who are actually  capable of sustaining prolonged time alone – meditators, mystics, those like Krimhilde ( my Eckist sister in law) are able to see through the veneer of the false self to the Real one – so don’t get terrified. The ones who have to shock themselves silly to escape, well they’re the ones saddled to a false self or isolated ego that mocks their own minds. But because they’ve never been taught to pierce the veil they succumb to the myth of the isolated being ….and the madness (and perceived lack of power)  that is attendant on it.

In my own book, ‘Beyond Atheism, Beyond God’, I explore the potential for encountering this larger Self from a scientific, naturalistic point of view – using the quantum theory (specifically quantum nonlocality)  as a stepping stone.  For others, who prefer a more mystical articulation, there is Watts’ own book. Reading both might even be better!


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