Saturday 2 February 2008

Of gangs and book clubs

One of the more intriguing exercises is predicting behaviour under stress. "What will they do now?" has been asked by many, from philosophers to politicians to planners. It goes with the intellectual territory our minds colonise.

The main stumbling block has been to guess what actions people perform when there is less, particularly much less, of something.

Concentrating on functionalities however - the functional properties of minds - at least prepares the stage for the moment when the object-related content starts to come into focus.

We can begin by conceptualising the mind as a general attractor, with one's identity at the core. Moving outwards we meet thought structures - thoughts that form associations with others - which exist further away from the centre the less attractive they are in relation to the core. What they are precisely depends on the person's history and their cultural and social environment, together with the mind's processing capacity and emotional intensity. There are no absolute rules, but there are patterns of dynamics to be found.

A generic definition of 'pressure' would be 'anything perceived as a potential modification to one's current identity'; which means 'pressure' can be positive or negative.

Pressure can also be asserted as a constraint on resources, and under that perspective the analogy with money serves quite well. Clamp down on the funds available and suddenly formerly common items turn into luxuries one can do without. Essentially it is a matter of energy and the same goes for mental associations, right down to the events at the synapses.

The result is that under pressure thought processes become more compact, in direct proportion to its degree.

Suppose alternative energy sources (including the nuclear kind) do not fulfill the civilisational equation as expected. The consequences will be dramatic.

Whether Christmas lights go or a revolving restaurant is a matter for object-related predictions, precarious at best. Cognitively speaking however more compact, because more constrained, mental dynamics are a realistic scenario.

The activities of many interest groups at any level will turn into peccadilloes society can no longer afford. What sort of activities? A good rule of thumb is to find out which ones have emerged over the last couple of generations or so - we can safely tick those off the list.

The behaviour of individuals will show a commensurate shrinkage. Here's a question: with whom would you rather associate - a member of a gang or someone from a book club?

If you prefer talking about books you might have to readjust your values.

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