, , , ,


When discussing the topic of control, we run the risk of losing ourselves in philosophical argument. An argument that offers more opportunity for digression than most intellectual dialectic, as our discourse can encompass a diverse spectrum of views ranging from the mundane to the profound. Whether we talk about individual or the collective human locus of control, we must address, and I submit that very carefully, objective understandings of a typically primal reality as well as the more subjective perspectives such as the eschatological arguments. Typical primal realities would inevitably present us with our predispositions as biological entities or organism who whilst having an emotional and spiritual component are subject to the coding of our genetics. Moral imperatives can weigh heavily on our psyches and directly affect our decision making process. Eschatologically, and in my honest opinion, superfluously; a large percentage of the human population (past and present) dwells on the idea of the end of days, and the judgment preceding this end – a judgement that will be affected by our comportment and attitude during our existence in this realm.  Even when, one has positively shaken from one’s perception the redundant claims of our inherent religiosity the process of choosing ones actions is affected by the aforementioned moral imperative. The questions of right and wrong are powerful mechanisms in this territory of human psychology. Here, given that no neurological defect is found in the individual and that there are no psychopathological sensitivities, proper inference must be given to: what is, what we desire it to be, and what it ought to be. And now, as indicated in my opening statement, I have digressed into an irresponsible philosophical tangent.

Let’s look at it more objectively. Aside from considering all the factors influencing our choice process at a conscious level, science and more specifically neuroscience, has provided us with a deeper understanding of how the machinery of the brain works and how seemingly simple gestures have precursors at the level of the brain that are not perceived in conscious awareness. This is to say that before you “choose” to move your hand this decision has already registered in its corresponding section of the brain. Dr. Sam Harris, PhD in neuroscience and his team conducted studies of this nature and found that the human brain exhibits activity corresponding to these gestures up to 6 seconds before the subjects were aware of their own decisions. Scholarly debate is currently on going regarding Dr. Harris’ findings, and while these studies are incomplete and by no means exhaustive, they have given us a closer look at the wondrous human brain organ; moreover, they offer us a glimpse into the illusive construct of thought and perception to which we often refer as the mind.

As a more pragmatic approach, we can assert that Control as a mechanism for achievement has always been an integral part of human thinking; it has surely occupied my mind for the better part of the last 15 years. Since that fateful evolutionary leap from lesser primates (or perhaps before, as pointed out by many prominent researchers) to the more advanced but likely less elegant hominin-like creature that rules the planet today; the ability to manipulate or to influence our environment has proven beneficial to our success.  The psychology of influence is complex, and its principles ubiquitous in the biosphere. Its dimensions are many and its implications range from basic, personal insinuations with their consequences to social or even global effects.

Other responsible research has been conducted to demonstrate behavioural inclinations in non-human animals toward using manipulative tactics to achieve a desired outcome.  Famous primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall who has devoted her life to the study of family and social interaction in what experts consider our closets evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees, documented several instances when one gluttonous chimp would actively conceal the location of fruit in order to prevent sharing with other individuals in the group. Animal cognition experts Satoshi Hirata and Tetsuro Matsuzawa have observed deliberate and strategic deception in primates to secure baited food locations. Biologically, in lower forms of life, intricate methods of manipulation are easily observed: Harmless reptiles and insects will take on the shapes and colour schemes of poisonous species to dissuade predators from making a quick meal out of them. In the Amazon, carnivorous flowers are known to mimic the less aggressive of the local flora to attract unsuspecting victims to their deaths. It seems that proper ability to influence our surroundings and those who share them with us, is a valuable tool for much more than realizing our desires, it is essential to our survival – both individually and for a particular species.

As I stated before the psychological proportions of control are quite vast; furthermore, their individual complexities are staggering.  A Venus Fly-trap is driven by a simple biological need to feed while the Viceroy butterfly has adapted to look like its poisonous cousin – the Monarch butterfly – to prevent from being eaten. These are basic functions of these organisms, which are rooted in their biology. Any presumption of a psychologically based choice, would allow for the speculation of complex cognitive functions in these organisms, and would be insufficient given our current knowledge of animal neurology.  As we ascend through the ladder in the animal kingdom to the more sophisticated members of this group, these proportions increase and other dimensions are introduced to the composite formula of control; namely, the emotional and social dimensions, which correlate directly with each other. For our hairy cousins, the great apes, there is more to hiding bananas from their family members than satisfying their hunger, Dr. Goodall observed repeatedly that the type of fruit (bananas vs. the more rare grapes) and its state of ripeness made a difference in the behaviour of the chimpanzees. In fact, the more exquisite the reward the more likely certain members of the group were to conceal or to withhold food calls from the other members of the group. This can be considered a personal, cognitive decision on the part of the individual perpetuating the deception, triggered by this individual’s desire to have more of the delicious fruit to itself – a kind of greedy yet adorable monkey indulgence.

It is clear then, or one can empirically deduce that living organism will use deceptive manipulation to achieve a beneficial goal or outcome, that some of these organism have evolve to do this and others will learn to strategically arrive at such products. Human beings are not different than our hairy cousins, and in fact, in these regards, not much different that the more distant reptilian dwellers of the biosphere. Like all other animals, we are subject to biological or genetic predispositions, have external influences and motivations that drive our behaviour. One of the differences from our evolutionary ancestors is our contention with philosophical and moral imperatives; however, you would be surprized to know how swiftly these laws and constrains can mutate, when the interest of an outcome outweighs them.

The theories and postulates of control and freewill abound in the scientific and philosophical community; any given segment of these treatises would entail a much larger scope than that of this presentation. Nevertheless, I encourage all to investigate further into these ideas and principles. Paradoxically, only by realizing the limits of our control, can we begin to pretend to exert it upon others.

In this conversation I will show you that there are methods for affecting change in others’ emotional and psychological states. There are methods to guide people into desired psychological conditions to achieve our outcomes; the question of the ecology of these outcomes depends on your own code of ethics and values. We will talk about context and how it affects the meaning of all our experiences. Then we will talk about connection between behaviour processes and the linguistic patterns we use to establish them and maintain them. Sadly, and mostly due to the limited time of this conversation we must circumvent one of the most fundamental laws of scientific protocol, by ignoring the rudimentary theory and get to the practical application of these methods of influence.