Lay off, laserbrain.

It seems to me that modern society is based entirely on control.  The President is supposed to be in control of the country.  The boss is supposed to be in control of the office.  Individual citizens are supposed to be in control of their actions.  Of course, sometimes this control gets foiled.  Congress gets unruly, or the boss-man has some sort of weird spiritual awakening, or people have real, even medically unavoidable problems that affect their behavior.  Sometimes we can’t help ourselves from going a little loopy, but it’s usually still considered a social blunder.

Well, on the interior individual-mind basis, science is here to help.  Through a combination of glowy virus taken from algae and electric blue lasers, scientists have been able to stimulate nerve firings in specific groups of brain cells in monkeys.  The eventual medical applications are potential cures for diseases like Parkinson’s, or even depression.  Unlike past uses of lasers or electricity on patients, this new method would target only specific cell groups (those that weren’t working so great) and would avoid damaging the still-functioning parts of the brain.

Yet despite the limited nature of the approach, people are already speculating about mind control.  While there is some creedence to the idea that getting things to fire off in our heads could eventually be manipulative, especially when targeted to certain areas, I think the mind control thing is an overreaction.  Do we really think a little glowy light is suddenly going to make us do things against are will?  That kind of direct manipulation is ridiculous.  We don’t even know enough about the brain to tell which groups of cells to fire when to achieve certain behaviors.  It could never happen.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have an emergency.  I just saw the Taco Bell sign and I need a burrito.

The person who sets the tone is the one who wins.

Typically I don’t get excited about new book releases, especially if they aren’t fiction and very particularly if they are published by the MIT Press.  Not saying that the MITP hasn’t published some sell-out rousers in their day, but that my personal interests generally lead me elsewhere.  Coupled with a very basic knowledge of the hard sciences, most of the material they publish is out of my league as well as out of my general purview.  Thankfully, a recent title that caught my interest is in the soft science of psychology, which even I can get my head around.

The name of the book is Honest Signals.  Basically it’s about the way people talk to each other and the amount of gesturing they do as an indication of the outcomes of the conversations and the relationships between the people participating.  I could bore you with the details of how research on this topic was conducted and what the specific statistical results were, but I won’t.  I do have some loyalty to the MITP – you’ll have to buy the book.  But i will tell you some of the more obvious generalizations coming out of this research.

First, there is supposed to be a correlation between the correspondence of speech patterns and the way people relate.  Basically, if you talk with the same sort of rhythm in the same sort of patterns as me, I’m predisposed to like you and favor your ideas.  We’re all aware of this to a certain extent – that person who talks much slower or faster than you is hard to understand, and therefore you don’t communicate as effectively.  You lose something in the relationship.  But the degree to which correspondence of such patterns determines genuine likability is something worth considering.  The thought that a potential boss or love interest could be spoken to at a pace that would seriously positively enhance your chances at what you want is striking.

Second, there is the ‘level of physical activity as people talk’.  This isn’t quite body language, and using the term ‘gestures’ is a little too narrow.  Most of us gesture to a certain extend without looking like a ship with loose and flapping sails.  It’s unclear from the article just what impact moving around while you talk can have, but there’s obviously something there.  After all, actors, singers, and public speakers have been aware of such movement as a tool for quite some time.  In less public places, I’d be eager to see what the study concludes.

Finally, the issue of tone.  The one who dominates the tone, the one who sets and maintains it, is the one who ‘wins’.  This also seems somewhat self-evident, but the mechanism for establishing such a dominant tone remains unclear, whether or not the establishment is intentional.  It can easily be seen in ‘popular’ talk shows or court shows like Jerry Springer or the People’s Court.  The one who carries the tone, carries the crowd.  A tone could be calming as well as enraging however, and either one would work to establish dominance.

The final question, of course, is that of who comes out the victor in a case where both sides of an argument are aware of these three points and are able to use them effectively.  For myself, I think I might just read the book, or at least give further thought and observation to the ideas.  After all, I have  quite a bit of life left where all three might come in handy.