Reinforcing patterns

Somewhat following in the footsteps of my posts about persistent patterns, one thing I noticed in the news reports of the terrorist plot was this line: “Teams of at least two or three men were assigned to each flight, the schedules for which they had researched on the Internet, the official said.”

Is there anybody you know who _doesn’t_ research their flights on the Internet at this point? No, really. Anybody?

This line is completely superfluous. But it serves to reinforce the idea that the Internet is dangerous, which many media outlets have been touting for years. “Terrorists use the Internet! It’s dangerous! It’s a threat to our way of existence!” And it’s relatively subtle – it’s a throwaway line in a story that is all about the big bad dangerous terrorists. But because our minds are already in the pattern of being afraid, of being impressed with the evil genius terrorists, they can sneak in this line that is completely ludicrous to the conscious mind. It’s using the pre-established frame to create connections to serve its own ends.

But after seeing the hacking the mind talk, I’m increasingly starting to notice this sort of coercion of patterns. In particular, it takes advantage of how well our brains pick up on patterns, even really subtle ones. So inserting a consistent element into a pattern makes our brain use that element at a subconscious level, because it’s built into our perception of the patterns. Even when that element is no longer present, our mind fills in the blanks and we see it anyway. This is where prejudices really start to kick in.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about hacking the mind. Not quite sure if I can do anything about these sort of manipulation techniques yet. But it’s certainly a fascinating topic.

P.S. My flight to the Bay Area was actually entirely reasonable despite the scare words about the lines – I got to the airport over two hours before my flight and security actually took less time than it ever had before in NYC. After landing and getting picked up by my sister, I took a brief nap, and then went out to dinner with friends, went to a liquid nitrogen ice cream party, and then headed out to the SRL show. Eight hours of fun on my first night back. Today was more low-key, running around buying supplies in the morning, picnicking all afternoon in Golden Gate Park, chill evening at Tortuga. Tomorrow is brunch and Killer Joe, etc. Vacation is exhausting!

2 thoughts on “Reinforcing patterns

  1. My flight to the Bay Area was actually entirely reasonable despite the scare words about the lines…

    Don’t you see how that in itself also fits into the pattern? We have this thread running through these news stories where hapless travelers get coaxed into saying, “Well, I don’t mind the extra time it will take if it makes me safer.” So they set you up thinking it’s going to take all this extra time. And then when you get there, it’s a breeze, so your reaction becomes, “Oh, I guess I was over-reacting. It wasn’t really such a big deal after all!”

    In general I really dig what you’re saying here though. You may appreciate (or maybe not) some of the stuff I wrote recently in my piece on decoding airplane terrorism.

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