Come into my parlour…

You may be surprised to know that the psychological significance to a woman of baking a cake is that of bringing a gift of a new baby to the family. Thus sellers of cake mixes, which originally only required the addition of water, were well advised to allow their customers to add eggs for themselves – thus experiencing some responsibility for the outcome.

Those of you who read Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders back in 1957 will remember the shock of discovering that our merchandisers were devoting big money to discovering how we could be tempted to buy through a direct appeal to subliminal methods – below the threshold of consciousness.

So should your washing powder be marketed in a blue, yellow, or blue with splashes of yellow? You know the answer. So did Vance Packard. Blue just won’t deal with stains, yellow is too strong for delicate fabrics, but blue with a dash of yellow is just right.

Been to the supermarket this week? I hope you recalled that the arrangement of the merchandise maximised your chances of being exposed to temptation. You noticed the various attractive smells and the level of the lighting. You spotted how the varying width of the aisles affected your speed of passage. You saw how own-brand products were displayed, in contrast to branded products. You were drawn to the end-of-aisle spots where the promotions caught your eye. To whose tune were you dancing: yours or the supermarket’s?

So the discipline of charting our subconscious reactions in the marketplace is already well established. And many studies of behaviour have been conducted to increase the range and reliability of this new science. It was never short of funding – commercial interests knew that it worked because the bottom line said so. Although the practice of marketing to the subconscious is not new, it moves into a different dimension when we cut out the fallible middleman and speak directly to the brain.

Let’s take an example. When a cosmetics firm discovered that one version of an advertisement was favoured greatly by a group of potential customers over a very similar advertisement, they wondered why. The only difference was a four-second scene where the model touched her face with a hand. The brain images of the group showed a powerful emotional response to that scene. Bingo!

In a notorious study keen Coke fans were asked to taste Pepsi and Coke blind for comparison. The brain showed clearly that Pepsi was the favoured taste. But when they were told which brand beforehand, the brain voted for Coke. The association with their favoured brand actually made it taste better.

I could fill several columns with examples, but it is enough to say that already and increasingly every aspect of the market is being surveyed with a view to luring our subconscious into the desired behaviour. And since we are only just into the threshold of neuromarketing, we can look forward to more and more accurate penetration into our brains. Believe me, there are fine minds focused on reading not just our response but our actual thoughts.

While that is of concern, our shopping is relatively trivial. How do we feel when neuroscience is advising our politicians? Is our vote to be seduced by scientists in the pay of our would-be masters? Well, yes, actually. “Both [political] parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods” – quoted by Packard from Business Magazine, dated 1956.

Radio 4’s Brain Culture programmes tell us of an unnamed South American politician who put himself into the hands of consultant neuroscientists, and increased his vote by 20 per cent. While we don’t know how much of this increase can be attributed to his tailor-made campaign, it is likely that it would have been planned from appearance and tone of voice upwards. His choice of policies to emphasise would have been open to testing – right down to the phrasing – and chosen to get the best brain response. He might have gone to the hustings not necessarily with his own choice of policies, but with the total package most likely to succeed.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that the first Government paper on behaviour change was provided for Tony Blair, and it is interesting that we are told that behaviour change is “the only strand of No 10’s work retained by Cameron”. It does not seem to have been a great success so far.

The moral questions raised here are important. In the marketplace and in political choice we are faced by wholesale manipulation. We are being persuaded through methods of which we cannot in the nature of things be fully aware. We think that we are freely choosing this washing powder or this new motorcar and we are not. We think we are freely choosing this candidate or that policy and we are not. No one is offering us unvarnished truth. What is being offered is a subtle package designed to elude our defences.

Yet none of this is new. Since Eve first persuaded Adam it was so. And each of us uses persuasion many times a day. What are the limits? Some would argue that bypassing our conscious minds and speaking directly to our brains is a step too far. Is this the point where persuasion is replaced by invasion?

Tell us what you believe the limits to be. But at the practical level it may be wise to accept the vulnerabilities of the brain to below-the-counter persuasion. It won’t solve the problem, but it will increase your chances to defend yourself.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Neuroscience, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Come into my parlour…

  1. John Nolan says:

    Gosh, Quentin, what a topic! People make millions out of advertising, a thirty-second TV ad costs more to make than an hour-long documentary, we all regard advertising as a meretricious profession which makes even journalism look respectable, and yet we are all influenced by it, and it doesn’t have to be subliminal. You want something, you google it, you are directed to a website which (if it is any good) hard-sells its product and, hey-ho, you buy it.

  2. Nektarios says:

    So the question is, can we be really free of influence, the conscious as well as unconscious influences?
    Subliminal advertizing was stopped by the Government many years ago, unfortunately,even though one form of it has stopped, we are all slaves to this subliminal unconscious propaganda. We pass it on from generation to generation, and we are held in the framework of influence.

    In fact, we listen incessantly to the Church, the State, newspapers and advertisers – can we listen to, read, watch all this without being influenced one way or the other?

    Most of us are easily influenced; our whole psychological structure is based upon influence, on progaganda. We are British, European, Greek, American or from wherever.We are Catholics,
    Protestants, Orthodox. Or Buddhist, Hindus, or whatever religion, being the result of thousands of years of propaganda and being so influenced.
    Are we not influenced by food we eat, the clothes we wear, the climate we live in, the books and newpapers we read. The radio and television – everything influences us incredibly; and this influence is either conscious or unconscious.

  3. mike Horsnall says:

    We’re going to get off on the wrong foot here if we are not careful. I once did a thesis on ‘form and function’ looking at the body and gravity. I researched the NASA and its Russian equivalent agencies experiments on this subject-taking animals into space, studying the effects of weightlessness on humans etc. What became obvious was that each cell/molecule of the body, as well as each major system is interacting with gravity. For example it was the case that weightlessness beyond a certain time frame caused the thoracic/abdominal pressure system to malfunction causing in turn a drowning of the thorax in bloodflow; gravity is not just something which presses down on our heads from above.

    By analogy we may view the sensory world in similar mode. We are pretty much entirely formed in relationship to our environment and are intimately enculturated within it at both macro and micro level. It is almost complete folly to go down the path of thinking that our environment does not influence us-any simple environmental study along the Darwinian line underpins this basic truth. However thats not the whole story of course. I’m reading Philip Toynbee’s Part of a Journey at the monmet and he has this to say:

    “So this theological story tells of something outside our universe, and of a different kind from it, which is constantly pressing in upon the domain of our senses and trying to introduce the freedom of the spirit into an order of rigourous material neccessity. When we think of this ‘something othe’ as a force, a state or a domain we call it Heaven: when we think of it as a person we call it God. And just as physicists treat light either as waves or particles according to context, so we talk of either God or Heaven as it suits us. Yet we are ALWAYS fully aware that whatever words we use will be no better than pointing fingers; gestures of dumb joy; grimaces of bewildered love….”

  4. milliganp says:

    I’ve just started a project on using modern technology in catechesis and evangelization and one of the questions one has to ask is “am I using the devil’s tools”? Is it appropriate to make the message of the Gospel “sexy” or use techniques developed to manipulate the minds of the general populace? The Gospel is supposed (as I see it) to always speak in contradiction of the ways of mankind.

    There has been a developing theme over the last several posts on the theme of “to what extent are humans actually free (and thus culpable)?” I have, over many years, come to believe that Christ’s words at the crucifixion “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, was a call for Divine absolution on all the sins and failings of mankind; abandoned even by his closest followers Christ had come to recognise the intractable nature of the human condition.

    • Rahner says:

      “I’ve just started a project on using modern technology in catechesis and evangelization and one of the questions one has to ask is “am I using the devil’s tools”?”

      Oh dear, why on earth would anyone think that modern technology is the devil’s tool???

      • tim says:

        Possibly because of the amount of harm that can be done with it.

        I agree with your implication, Rahner, that IT (like most other powerful technologies) is not bad in itself. Most tools can be used for good or ill. But surely Milliganp is thinking of techniques of persuasion rather than hardware (or indeed software). There clearly are dishonest techniques of persuasion, and it may be difficult to draw the line (this is I think what this whole thread is about).

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, I think that is a major question which the thread raises. You suggest that there must be dishonest techniques of persuasion (and therefore, presumably, honest ones). But what is the criterion or criteria? In my column suggested that “bypassing our conscious minds and speaking directly to our brains is a step too far. Is this the point where persuasion is replaced by invasion?”. But I haven’t proposed a criterion as such. Can you or anyone suggest what it should be?

      • milliganp says:

        OK, I’ve been away for a week so apologies for delay in responding. My first pass input was because I’m reading a book on “effective presentations” and it has little to do with honesty or sincerity but details how to convince by use of technique. Thus the question arises – can I “con” someone into thinking they believe in Christ? That’s my “devil’s tools” analogy.
        Obviously technology itself is neutral but the reality is that it’s a tool and all tools can be used for good or evil. Any modern gaming PC or console has incredible processing power, enough – if applied thoughtfully – to, for instance, transform the quality of life of many disabled; however it’s used to play first person shooter games on large screen monitors and thus does real long-term harm to our young and via them society.
        The fact that the devil seems to use technology effectively does not make the technology evil but it does argue as to whether we should use the same technology to spread the Gospel.

    • MikeHorsnall says:

      MilliganP
      I guess there one would have to differentiate between the tool and the intent-its a good point…Go to a modern day progressive Baptist church on a family service and you will see the question writ large with a high ‘feelgood factor’ dependence being evident…

      As to the intractable nature of the human condition I almost agree-but grace abounds nonetheless-to all! I find my own ‘condition’ utterly intractable ..yet others might hopefully have a slightly different view!

  5. Vincent says:

    I remember that Quentin did a column on rhetoric a while back. Any priest (or deacon) who read that could improve the persuasive power of his sermons. But is he entitled to use such techniques?
    And how about saying ‘thank you’? Perhaps it’s a genuine expression of felt gratitude, or perhaps we have simply learnt a habit which encourages people to like us and do more for us. We could experiment by deliberately refraining from saying ‘thank you’ directly or indirectly for a week. Anyone game?

    • Nektarios says:

      Vincent

      I can’t efrain from saying thank you. There is nothing that I have not received one way or another whether it be from God, my wife, from the farmer, the Church, my priest or friends or neighbours.
      I have learned to say thank you for criticism, put downs, all teach me patience, and
      renunciation.
      It is invaluable to say thank you.

      • tim says:

        Yes, it is an excellent discipline to say ‘Thank you’ for criticism. I learnt this more recently than I like to admit, from an editor to whom I was accustomed to point out very minor mistakes (or what I thought were mistakes) in his work. Always I got a grave and genuine “Thank you” regardless of how piddling the error.

    • milliganp says:

      Nice analogy, Vincent. However you’ve brought to mind in me William Booth’s famous remark “why should the devil have all the best tunes?”.

  6. Iona says:

    “how about saying ‘thank you’? Perhaps it’s a genuine expression of felt gratitude, or perhaps we have simply learnt a habit which encourages people to like us and do more for us.”

    Sometimes it’s one and sometimes the other. Sometimes one is overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude, sometimes one just says thank-you as a formal acknowledgement.

  7. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    Are you asking what s or are the criteria or criterion for by passing the conscious minds and speaking directly to the brain is a step to far…. can anyone suggest a criterion?

    Yes, its called Intelligence. That, relative the this question, where one is aware one is being
    persuaded consciously or unconsciously, see theres, the traps being set and so avoid them.

    • Quentin says:

      I am sorry you find that the program is changing your correct typing; I am not familiar with this phenomenon.

      You speak of intelligence, but this is not a criterion; it is a faculty we can, and should, exercise. Unfortunately intelligence will not be enough unless we can identify all the factors which are at work.

      The criteria I seek here are the characteristics which distinguish an acceptable method of persuasion from an unacceptable one.

      • Nektarios says:

        Quentin

        Let’s go into it slowly.

        You say, ` The criteria I seek here are the characteristics which distinguish an acceptable method of persuasion from an unacceptable one.’

        I have to disagree with you Quentin on the place of intelligence, but we will come to that.

        There are a whole raft of methods of persuasion, everything from the carrot and the stick, appealing to our sinful nature, of greed, of lust, of desires. as methods of persuasion.
        There are other methods such as fear, coercion, dependendcy, cruelty, economic
        political, religious methods of persuasion which are unacceptable too.

        Now, I want to look at the place of intelligence in all this as we view these characteristics, acceptable or unacceptable forms of persuasion.
        It is obvious to say, if we are walking along a cliff edge, we are careful not to go too near
        the edge n case we fall off; if we are in a room with a venomous snake, you will e very careful not to get too close to it.
        It takes thousands of people working on a rocket with a payload of whatever and to put it into orbit, each part working in harmony with the other, very different disciplines but intelligently working together, aware of all the dangers and how to overcome them and have a succesessful mission.
        That is the intelligence of thought, but thought is limited, so in any individual intelligence of thought is limited.
        One is aware of crossing the road in traffic and the dangers, aware of poison, dangers of all sorts of things that can harm us or physically or kill us, so we take appropriate action. Yes?

        Then why is it, when it comes to the psychological dangers presented to us in persuasion we seem unable to take avoiding action?
        Why is it we are unawares of the snares and traps being set for us and so take avoiding action?

        Thought has produced an intelligence that can produce Cathedrals, build and make all sorts of things from bombs, homes and cooking pots.
        This intelligence that thought has produced, has made many wonderful things and made us aware of dangers to our well-being, but when it comes to the psychological, we are not so intelligent.

        I will go this in part 2 next

      • Quentin says:

        Intelligence is of course an essential tool. Through it we can review the danger of many kinds of temptation, as you list. But it warns us to be knowledgeable about those under-the-counter temptations, which have been the focus of my writing. And we soon realise that many of these appeal not to the rational side of our brains but to the emotional side. And here we really have to go to the experts to get an elementary handle on what is going on. And it is elementary. I have written two books on aspects of persuasion. And my files on the subject go back to the 1970s. Yet I am continually caught out. I hope that you can do better.

        You might start by looking at the word criterion. In this context it means a standard for judgment. Here it applies to the methodology of the persuader. For example, if I tell you that the goods I am offering you are in short supply – so you had better move fast, that is legitimate if it is true. If on the other hand the goods are not in short supply, but I use that to motivate you to buy (fear of loss), that is illegitimate. So the criterion here is, quite simply, falsehood.

        Perhaps this definition and example will clarify the meaning of the word.

      • Nektarios says:

        Quentin

        I am tracing the whole aspect not a bit of it. You are asking essentially why we are so easily influenced, persuaded by whatever criterion you wish to use. I know what criterion means.
        I don’t know if you received Part 2, but I cannot rewrite it all.
        I just, for the first time received a message, `you are responding too quickly.’
        Essentially what I was saying in part 2 was the criterion acceptable or unacceptable are both based on the urge to survive, whether we talk about religion or politics, business, tribalism, nationalism or whatever it is all using seemingly good and bad criterion to accomplish the ends envisaged – survival.
        We have not as yet gone into the issue of why it is, psychologically we are so easily influenced by good or bad criteria.
        But I will leave it for a while and see what our fellow bloggers have to say.

  8. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    There are too many mistakes in my Posting above, which were not there before sending – I checked!

    Change first line to read: ….. what is or are the criteria or cterion for bypassing…..
    Change 4th line to read: ….. That is, relative to this question, where one is……

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin,

    This still seems a little opaque somehow. Lets try an example:

    Joe is an evangelist and he wants to tell people the gospel. He writes some tracts and gives them out to his work mates and he posts stuff on his website. He uses a variety of scriptures to say that God is the only answer to the restlessness of the human heart and that if a person comes to God through Jesus Christ they will find rest for their tired and weary souls. Joe has a neighbour who
    is unhappy because of an affair and a redundancy which have damaged his life. Joe tells him that the answer is Christ…

    Is this the sort of thing you would count as unnaceptable?

    • Quentin says:

      No, I can’t see anything unacceptable here – unless there are other factors of which we are not aware. It’s not a way which I would follow because I would expect it to do more harm than good. But that’s another issue. I wonder why you used this example of a straightforward approach. Nothing under-the-counter with Joe.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Quentin,
        I use it because it points to the difficulty we have with the gospel. The promises of grace- in scripture-that we will be made free for example and transformed and given rest and extravagantly loved- seem so lavish as to be too good to be true and so to easily give that ‘under the counter ‘ impression ,that overselling you speak of. I am assuming that you are seeking a criteria which has something to do with the claims of the church for Christ and for Christianity..hence this simple example of attempts at evangelism.

      • Quentin says:

        I think in the end that your example may be clarifying. If we assume that Joe is sincere in his belief that is what he expresses. And it is what his neighbour hears – and the neighbour is free to accept or reject the message.

        So there has to be an element of “intended inequality” between the two in order for under-the-counter to take place.

        Let’s suppose that Joe’s neighbour has a high sense of guilt, and that Joe plays on this hard in order to influence him. Here we have an example of manipulation: the neighbour may not be aware he is being manipulated, or, being aware, is unable to resist. Here the question of unacceptability arises. Similarly, if we imagine that the neighbour’s 10 year old son hero-worships Joe. Would Joe be right in capitalising on this to drive his message home?

  10. tim says:

    I take it Joe is in good faith. I’m not willing to say that Joe is wrong to work on his neighbour’s sense of guilt, though there are no doubt limits beyond which it would be wrong for him to go. As so often, it’s a question of fact and degree. Ditto the 10-year-old son. A lawyer must put his best case, but not deceive the Court. How you tell where the limits are, is what Quentin is asking, and this posting is not providing any useful answer!

  11. mike Horsnall says:

    Edging towards it though!

  12. Quentin says:

    Yes, I do suspect that the lack of suggestions for moral criteria in persuasion is indicating that the answers are hard to come by. I have suggested a couple of examples; here are some more.

    We know that false information is wrong. But how about a supermarket in these straightened times which presents a common purchase in the old container at the old price but reduces the contents by 10%? We know that the supermarket is hoping that the unwary shopper will not realise that the price has gone up.

    Does it make any difference if the new weight of the contents is printed in the usual place on the label? The supermarket knows that a good proportion of shoppers do not check the weight on many of the items they buy. Caveat emptor?

    A financial salesman told me this. Just before he asked a new customer to sign, he would say: “Take your time reading the small print; it’s there because it’s important. Tell me if there’s anything you don’t understand.” When I congratulated him on his honesty, he said “Honesty? Piffle! I know that saying that to my customer so boosts my trustworthiness at such a key time, that I am almost sure to get a signature without a further word.”

    Nothing dishonest in what he did, but were his motives questionable?

    A political candidate is about to get a divorce. Believing that potential voters would prefer a settled family man, he persuades his wife to stay with him until after the polls. He tells her that he will be in a better position to pay alimony when he is elected.

    Fair tactics or just dishonest to his potential voters?

    An experienced advertiser pays a popular personality to have his photo on the advertisement. He knows that potential customers are much encouraged by the implied endorsement from a trusted figure – even if the personality has never seen the product.

    Let’s assume that the product is good value. Is his tactic right or wrong?

    An advertiser learns through brain studies that his customers are more strongly motivated by fear of loss than by opportunity to gain. He has his advertisements rewritten to capitalise on this subconscious effect.

    Fair enough or brain manipulation?

    Quentin prefers to use the word ‘handling’ rather than the word ‘manipulation’. It sounds more benign even though the word has the same root in the Latin for hand.

    Justified or not?

  13. Peter D. Wilson says:

    A contact in South Africa, running an association for the blind and deaf, sometimes asks me to edit reports and publicity material for him. His scripts commonly refer to “empowering” the more or less impoverished people with whom he largely deals, and I invariably replace the word (which I consider weaselish, since his work doesn’t give them power but at best eases their disadvantages) with one less emotive. Am I being unnecessarily scrupulous or in fact imposing my own prejudices upon him?

  14. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    Still not getting through it seems – so one last try.

    All the different influences good, bad, or acceptable or unacceptable are endless,
    but I feel we are not answering the question, why we are so easily influenced.

    We are influenced by our own appetites such as our greed, lusts,desires, especially to have power over ourselves and others. The desire to be secure, for more and to survive, this is why influences are so varied, one would think on the surface tailor made, but it is but a limited thought
    process to influence others.
    This is practiced in every walk of life, especially where power and authority exists be it in the home, in school, in university, in the workplace, in the monastery, in Church, in local Government,
    in National Government, in the hopital, in academia with their authoratative specialisms… oh beware of isms! Between husband and wife, children and parent, between friends, lovers.
    It seems the habit of influence or so it seems to me has been going on since the Garden of Eden.

    How do we stop influence taking invading us, and influencing us to the point we comply, or buy
    or obey?
    It really is quite simple when you see it.
    Our brain is aware when someone wants to influence us. When it is cleverly, done, it is subtle,
    seemingly harmless, and appeals to our senses and nature with its desires.
    Our brain, is aware and someone seeminly tries to get your atttention. We don’t want to listen toall their propaganda, so we switch off and it is then easy for the person seeking to influence
    another to gain the upper hand.
    So, what our brain is telling us, when we are made aware by the brain, we are being influenced,
    is not to resist, for in resisting, the thing that we resist ultimately defeats us as we energize it.
    Our brain is making us aware we are being influenced, it wants us to give total attenion to the propaganda, that’s right, listen very carefully.

    It is then that we become alert, see the propaganda, see the inflence and the traps and snare others are laying for us and so are able to take avoiding action.
    So when our brain gives us a sense of, it is time to pay attention, it is actually speaking to us and telling us we are actually distracted, mentally idling and not attentive. which is most of the time.
    We need in the presence of influence and propaganda, to listen very carefully, with full attention and the action by us follows. Simple isnt it? When we see it and to see it, is to pay total attention.

    • tim says:

      Nektarios, how to avoid being influenced by illegitimate propaganda is an interesting question. But Quentin asks what forms of argument or persuasion are legitimate, which is rather different. Should you use arguments you don’t believe in, for example? I am a firm opponent of the Precautionary Principle, for instance, but I am sometimes tempted to challenge people with it. Should I resist? In Italy (allegedly) it is considered justified to declare half your income, because the tax authorities will double it automatically. In advertising brandy, you show a posh milieu – most people will discount this. It used to be asked – can the soul of an archdeacon be saved? Would this apply to advertisers?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Tim – I think it perfectly legitimate to use the Precautionary Principle in challenging those who apply it to proposals they dislike, but not to their favoured alternatives.

      • Nektarios says:

        Tim

        Why does one want to influence another, whether it be acceptable forms or unacceptable ones such as Quentin has outlined? It was easy to predict one could easily
        get lost in the myriad of arguments for and against persuasion good or bad. The issue of morality comes into it all, doesn’t it? But morality is not goodness, or wholeness or holiness, surely not? Morality is an illusionary effect in a certain direction, that will demand compliance, to keep God’s Law or the Laws of the Land. But don’t confuse the issue. Morality produces rigidity, coldness, cruelty conformity and judgement, but I say illusionary for it ha nothing to do with goodness or holiness or Salvation.
        If the situation you mention (allegedly) in Italy, one keeps accurate written accounts,
        that is then easy to answer such an (alleged) practice of the Italian tax authorities. Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.

        God alone is the judge of all mankind, He has not delegated that position to any man,
        Government or any authority on Earth. I am not therefore tempted to answer the last point you make Tim

  15. John Candido says:

    There is an exciting piece of software called ‘Grammarly’ at http://www.grammarly.com, which is an enhanced spellchecker and grammar checker. It can sit in your email and word documents as an add-on. You get a free 7 day trial after you register your details and select a payment option. Unfortunately, it is not free. I have just started using it so I will makeup my mind in seven days time. Give it a go and see if it will make your blog contributions sharper and clearer.

  16. tim says:

    “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter” (as Microsoft Word used to say)? I am far too conceited to accept a program checking my grammar (spelling is different, I’m not quite sure why). Nor am I easily convinced that such a program would make anyone’s contributions sharper (all this is rather beside the point, however).

  17. Iona says:

    Also possibly beside the point is the following, inspired by Quentin’s comment on the use of the word “handling” rather than “manipulation”. “Manipulation” has pejorative overtones when it is used metaphorically, as in manipulating the facts, manipulating someone’s feelings. It has no such overtones when it is used in its (presumably original) practical sense, as in manipulating a spanner.

  18. Iona says:

    Peter – on June 5th at 11.48 p.m. [another night owl]: I also proof-read a newsletter for a friend who likes to have his spelling and grammar checked. If I make any changes to wording, I tell him what I’ve done, where I’ve done it, and suggest he changes it back if he wants to. Do you do that, or just slip in your alternative word and hope he doesn’t notice?

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Iona, June 7, 10:43 pm – It isn’t just a matter of changing a word here or there. My contact’s scripts often need complete re-casting partly because English is apparently not his first language, but mainly because as he himself recognises he has little talent for arranging his points concisely and in logical sequence. I therefore point out particular changes only where there is an issue of usage with more general application; I may have explained my dislike of the word “empowerment” (I suspect picked up from political speeches) but couldn’t swear to it. Perhaps incorrectly, I assume he will reverse any simple word-replacements that offend him.

  19. Iona says:

    Nektarios – I’ve had that “you are responding too quickly” notice before now. I can’t imagine what it’s meant to mean. As far as the website is concerned, the response is one click. How can a single click be too fast or any other speed?
    Also I haven’t got a cursor ever since the website was revamped. Anyone else in the same situation?

  20. Iona says:

    Nektarios – I think I see what you’re getting at; but I don’t think just being alert is enough.

    “It is then that we become alert, see the propaganda, see the inflence and the traps and snare others are laying for us and so are able to take avoiding action.
    So when our brain gives us a sense of, it is time to pay attention, it is actually speaking to us and telling us we are actually distracted, mentally idling and not attentive. which is most of the time.”

    If I (or anyone else) go into a supermarket when I’m hungry, I’m likely to buy more food than I intended, and probably more than I need. My hunger acts as a positive distraction – it shouts louder than the rational part of my brain. To “see the propaganda” I would need to act with forethought before I even went in, and positively determine to buy no more than I have on my shopping list, and stick to that. Or better still, plan to go to the supermarket when I’m not hungry.

    (I think I’m talking about “avoiding the occasion of sin”. Same principle, anyway).

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      I am glad I was not the only person to receive the message, `you are responding too quickly, slow down.’

      I only used the word `alert’ to communicate what I was saying, rather than `total awareness’ which would be more accurate, but convey little to most people. But for total awareness to be possible, the brain, the mind must be quiet, as I have written previously.

      Our brain is monitoring not only all the bodily functions, but everything else around us.
      So conditioned are we, the `everything else’ the brain is monitoring is ignored.
      Yet we put up with too much stress, accept too much stress being placed us by employers and big business and so on. Having accepted the propaganda that high stress levels are just normal and a fact of life, we put up with it. We have accepted the propaganda, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. right or wrong.
      We ignore the headaches, the anxieties, the fears, and a whole host of other warning signs, plough on regardless and end up
      doing things out of character, or rage, or fear, or have a full blown mental breakdown that can take years or more to recover from, perhaps never recover. We ignore the warning signs the brain gives us at our peril.

      Hunger is not conditioned. When one is hungry one wants to eat to satisfy that hunger.
      I wonder, if you have had the same hunger at a spiritual level too? It is not conditioned either.
      But the brain is monitoring everything about and around us, tells us we are spiritually hungry too. The food may be different, but the effect of not eating is similar and so are the signals by the brain of that hunger too.
      To say, when you are hungry when you go into the supermarket, you would buy more food than you require.
      Hunger, as I say, is not conditioned, but the quantities one buys is conditioned.
      Have you ever noticed at Christmas time, one has a long wait at the checkouts as practically everyone has their trolleys stacked to overflowing with purchases. One would think because the supermarket was closed for a day, there was a seige going on and scared to run out of anything – that is condtioning – nothing to do with hunger.

      Lastly, No, one does not have forethought to see the proaganda, or influences, but when one is totally aware one sees it. And, when one sees it there is a corresponding action to deal with it so one is not tempted or avoid over- buying, or get caught by the snares and traps of the supermarkets, or ideologies and so on.

      • Quentin says:

        A problem lies in the fact that, however alert we may be, we may not recognise a persuasive technique simply because of lack of knowledge. For example. studies have shown that attractive people are more credible than unattractive. This not only appears in the marketplace but also in the very place where we expect people to be aware: the courtroom.Similarly, the proportion of tall men who become senior executives is significantly greater than chance. Unless you happen to know that your judgment is likely to be influenced by these factors, they will be steering you subconsciously.

  21. Nektarios says:

    Quentin,
    Why attractive looking people should be viewed as more credible than an unattractive
    looking person and the same with tall people especially men, though sometimes it can be the opposite for women is a form of conditioning. Get to grips with ones condtioning, for until we do, in that area we are not living really, just conforming, enslaved to others and not free at all.

    Most people are not aware initially, or until it is too late that they have been influenced.
    As I have pointed out previously, we are being influenced by a constant barrage of propaganda,
    and attractive and tall men (of the tall, handsome and rich type) is equally a conditioned propaganda over thousands of years.
    Courtrooms are slightly different, and a bit complicated to go into all the nuances at play there,
    however a jury is under the direction of a judge who will (hopefully) not be so influenced.

    You mention persuasion as a technique. I notice this in evangelical circles where ratcheting up
    the emotional levels towards the climax is to me who has unfortunately practiced such techniques in the past, now see as dishonest, man centred thinking, rather than a God bearing preaching, or teaching and living which is truly free and honest.
    The techniques one employs are usually hidden, for the objective end in view, or closure as some put it, is the real intent – in all of that ,there is an element of dishonesty even if the end game is seemingly a good one.
    All this influencing and peruasion is a game one plays, but it is a very dangerous game when it involves nations, cultural history and conditioned norms.
    Brand naming of products are other dishonest techniques of persuasion.

    What we need to look at from where we all are at this point of time is, how conditioned, how distracted, how unawares we are actually? If not, we become easy pawns and unfit to play the game others want to play of persuasion and influence.

    Some because of Class, of the upper Classes, not to mention Royalty, Some from wealthy parents, of inheritance, some because of natural academic ability, most have handed down on a plate, and they in their turn and play the game of conditioning influence and persuasion. This is certainly true in the political arenas around the world.
    Failing all attempts to persuade, to influence, such people can and often do resort to violence and war and division.
    This game of influence and persuasion has been going on for thousands of years, is dishonest,
    full of lies, produces divsion (as all choice does), and as a last resort leads to war, aggressive
    takeovers in business and so on.

    Man has lived with this influencing and persuasion and the techniques acquire down through the centuries, this seems normal, natural, good, when influencing and persuasion are in essence the direct opposite, not normal, natural to man, nor good.
    Man will play thie game of influence and persuasion until the end, he is conditioned by it, controlled by it, governed by it. It offers nothing but conformity, enslavement, tyranny and
    handing ones freedom over to those monsters of influence and persuasion. Let the holocaust
    of the last war, demonstrate just how monstrous influence and persuasion can get, and the lengths to which it will go.
    And in these end time days, we need to be all the more aware, don’t we? Can’t we see the time for such games is almost at an end?

    • Quentin says:

      If what you call conditioning is so damaging we need to explain why God arranged things so that the majority of our responses are derived from our previous experiences. I am jolly glad that he gave me a brain of such an efficient design. So I am not against conditioning at all. I know that I should need a brain the size of a small house if I had to do all my thinking from scratch. What I have suggested is that we should increase our awareness of the ways in which we might be conditioned so that we can be ready to cope in important matters. For instance, I should be aware of my possible gullibility when faced by an attractive person, and so be on my guard.

  22. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    I have in past postings gone into all this: issues about conditioning, how it comes about, what it is, what it does and the effect it has on our lives.
    Did God `arrange things so that the majority of our responses are derived from our previous experiences?’
    Please see this, Quentin, there is a vast difference between `experience’ which is accumulated memories in ones brain,of the past, and `Experiencing’ which is in the present moment, the now.
    It is new, it is fresh, it is not something you have previously accumulated and stored in your memory.
    God always meets us in the present moment, He is the continual present. You cannot meet God out of memory, He does not dwell there. One may have experience of God one may reflect upon such exeriences certainly, but that is to live in the past, that which is old.
    So please recognise the difference between experience and experiencing.

    Since the Fall, man has walked in darkness of his mind, and all his cleverness is but a little thing in the totality of all that is man.
    He became limited, in every area that was himself, and man became dependent on himself.
    He had to learn to grow things, kill animals to clothe, feed and house himself, as in certain areas like the Monguls do to this day. He learned about patterns and he remembered them. He had to, it was a question of survival.
    In man’s brain the repetitive became important for his survival, so the memory aspect of the brain serves for us to remember who we are, where we live, work, friends and a whole host of other things man has to remember.
    He also stores and remembers grudges, hurts, sorrows, fears, anxieties and so on.

    Conditioning does not come naturally to us. It is taught, beaten into one, so by the time one is around seven years old, we are conditioned by ones parents and education.
    This too has to be in our memories for our conditiioning is part of our social and family life, with modifications obviously, but essentially the same.
    Conditioning as memory only helps us in the repetitive, the mechanical and the mundane things we have to do each day. – important in its place, granted, but there is a downside to conditioning.
    Condtioning produces a comfort zone, for us, but without being aware, that is binding, limiting, making us slaves to it, to the past and to tradition. It is mentally and to the spiritual life also, deadening.

    Coming to your last point you make about becoming more aware of our condtioning, so we can be ready to cope with important matters.
    This is a contradiction, (don’t worry too much about that for now, our lives are full of contradictions) because to become totally aware of our conditioning – is to bring it to an end.
    In that ending, that which is not conditioned comes into being.

  23. tim says:

    Nektarios, do you distinguish between ‘conditioning’ and ‘learning’? You have been rather tough on ‘morality’ (unless my memory is at fault), but (I think) one of the tasks of the Christian is to condition oneself (as far as possible) to do the right thing instinctively when the need to act arises. If you have to think or debate with yourself, you may miss the opportunity.

    • Nektarios says:

      Tim
      Have I really be tough of morality? I have seen a rapid decline in morals since I became a Christian 43 yars ago. I am also aware of the reasons that are behind this decline.
      To do the right thing – according to whom?
      To do the right thing instinctively when the need arises – are you talking from your own experience, or an idea or Christian ideal we all need to reach?

      To do the right thing when the need to act arises – this takes great attention, divine inteligence operating out of a new nature with all its potential.
      Then we just maybe able `to do the right thing when the need arises. It is not a matter of conditioning at all but the actions of life in Christ lived moment by moment.

      • tim says:

        I can’t say I’m talking from my own experience. But I believe in absolutes (as well as the possibility of error), so ‘according to whom’ is beside the point. It is all very well to say “Love God, and do what you like”, but that is not so easy. I think you can train to do the right thing, as pianists train (10,000 hours) to play the right notes. I think you should. Much of the time it is not too difficult to know what you should do, the difficulty is doing it. And I don’t see the difference between what I call ‘training’ and you call ‘conditioning’.

    • Nektarios says:

      Tim
      Do I distinguish between conditioning and learning?
      Yes.
      I understand they way most people do not make a distinction between the two.
      We have gone into this is past postings.

  24. Nektarios says:

    Tim
    To answer your last point,if I may?
    There is a world of a difference between what man does, training and conditioning of others and so on, and what God by His Holy Spirit does, don’t you think?
    I don’t think you have understood what I said, or the implications of what I said.
    For example, I did not say or infer, `Love God and do what you like.’
    To love God and do what you like, is a contradiction in terms.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Nektarios – I think the point of “Love God and do what you like” is that if we truly love God, what we like is what He too would like.

      • Nektarios says:

        Peter D. Wilson,
        Which is what exactly? Please do not second guess, what God wants or likes. What is truly pleasing to God, comes from Him. He wants us to be conformed to the image of His Son. I wonder, if you have thought through all the implication that means.
        What we like, all to often is not pleasing to God, but such things as a meek and humble
        heart and contrite spirit is.
        Jesus, said, Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart
        and you shall find rest for your souls.
        How are we to proceed to be truly what God wants to see alive and active in us?
        All the love, attention, every fibre of our being is involved., if one is going to be at all serious about what God wants.
        Otherwise, we are merely outwardly religious, but not changed, theologically correct in part, but without any inward spiritual power….. are you following this together?

        But one does start from where one is, now!
        To love God with all your heart and soul and mnd, and your neighbour as yourself.
        This is he real proof we have the life of Christ in us and do that which is pleasing
        in God’s sight.

    • tim says:

      It’s a quotation from St Augustine (I believe). If you love God enough, what you do will automatically be pleasing to Him – you won’t need to think about moral laws, it will be natural for you to do what is right. I thought your point was that you should await inspiration from the Lord at the moment of action, rather than working out everything in advance. So I thought that was equivalent to St Augustine’s precept. Did I misunderstand you (very possible) , or did you misunderstand me (or both?)?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Nektarios, June 10, 1:49 pm – “Which is what exactly?” I don’t know, and I don’t love God perfectly, so I try not to follow my own inclinations uncritically.

  25. Nektarios says:

    Tim
    What does it mean to love God enough?
    If one says, It is to love God with all ones heart, soul and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves,
    what do we know of our heart before God, in relation to loving Him? Same question is posed to the soul and to the mind. What do we understand of our heart our soul or our mind, or indeed, our neighbour as far as LOVE goes?
    Far be it for me to gainsay anything that St. Augustine said, but to illustrate to you something
    about awaiting inspiration, action, and working out everything in advance…

    The Lord knitted you together in your mothers womb, and LIFE was there. What part did you playin that? nothing do I hear you say?
    LIFE is a mystery, and LIFE in God are not separate one from the other.
    The LIFE we have in Christ, is the LIFE of God, that has no beinging or end. Did you work all that out? No, but God did.
    If we love God, it is not because we loved Him, (we didn’t even know Him), but He loved us.
    If we love God, it is because, the love of God is first shed abroad in our hearts. It is irresistable.
    What did you have to work out in advance? Nothing, He did it. Yes?

    So what is our part in in fulfilling the commanment to Love the Lord your God an so on?
    Is it to throw ourselves into all sorts or mental, emotional, physical,religious, theological and philisophical gymnastics, or is it something much more simple and straightforward?

    Is it not the call of the God in his love crying out to us, GIVE ME THY HEART, in His love in Christ towards us?
    Here there is a often short or sometime a long battle is won or lost, to give Christ our heart and let Him have what is rightly His anyway, to fill it with Hiself an the Love of God.

    Choose this day, whom we shall serve with our heart, with our soul or our mind, God, or ones own anxious `self?’
    Is this done in advance or in the present, the immediate, the now moment? God is the eternal present, so our dealings with him are not conducted from the past or projected into the future,
    but alway in the present.

    In response to the love of God, our heart responds to Him. What happens next? Well, you don’t have to wait, for what happens next is commensurate with giving the Lord your heart – the rest follows.
    Light dispels ones darkness, New born, Life of God is there with and in you. Salvation comes to you. Ones sins are forgiven.
    The gift from God of faith is given, and the love of God becomes active inwardly in ones heart, soul an mind towards God, and in your actions outwardly towards towards your neighbour and even ones enemies.

    One is a new creature, born from above, and heading home, out of the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light, Love, God and the Kingdom of His dear Son, jeaus Christ our Lord.
    What planning in advance did you have to do, could you do, then, now or in the future?

    It is God that is working in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Let us abandon ourselves to Him. In surrendering our heart to Him …..well, I don’t need to write anymore here, you know the rest, don’t you?

  26. Nektarios says:

    Tim
    Sorry about the few spelling and grammatical errors.
    Fifth line from the end should read: Jesus Christ our Lord.
    13th line should read: no beginning or end
    28th Line should read: Himself

  27. Nektarios says:

    Peter.D. Wilson

    Peter, Peter, Peter, don’t just say you don’t know – find out.
    You say, you know you don’t love God perfectly….
    Up to the measure, you may be loving God perfectly? But when you say, I know I don’t love God perfectly, what is telling you that? What do you do about it?
    If one does nothing, just plodding on the way we have always done, uncritically, how can we
    entertain a hope of eternal life?
    How does one proceed? How does one find out?

    Look, I am this poor old soul, knows nothing about God. I am full of misery, sorrows, fears and anxieties.
    I come to you with all this hidden from the world within myself, what help can I get from you?
    What will you tell me?
    I am afraid of death, and my time is short in this world, For God’s sake, help me.
    Do you just look at me, feel sorry for me, sit back in your comfy study chair, and say, I don’t know?

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Nektarios – How can I help you? I’ll do my best, but it probably won’t be very successful.

      The easiest doubt to explain is about “knowing” what God wants. We have general instructions in the form of the commandments and their various elaborations, but in particular situations it is often hard to see how best to apply them – am I justified in sticking to the “rules” when I know that it will hurt someone else? Is it merely another form of selfishness to keep my own slate clean at the cost of someone else’s distress? Such situations do occasionally arise.

      As a child during WW2 I was given a grossly exaggerated sense of my own importance by a doting grandmother and have been fighting it (unsuccessfully) ever since I recognised the fact. Perhaps in consequence I seem to be incapable of real love, by which I understand putting another’s interests before my own; the nearest I come to it is with my neighbour’s cat. (Incidentally, I have a theory that God gave us pets so that in our relationship to them we may see a faint analogy of His to us.) My attitude to God is of respect and gratitude, but with nothing that I could call love – hence my distrust of applying St. Augustine’s aphorism (if it was indeed his) to my own conduct: the explanation of it that I offered was not in any way a recommendation for practical application.

      If on my deathbed I am asked whether I love God, all I can say is that I’ve tried to live as though I did. Perhaps that’s all that anyone can truthfully say. Jesus did say “If you love me, keep my commandments,” but it doesn’t necessarily follow that keeping the commandments implies love of him; in my case it has generally been with a sense of resentment at what I’m missing (despite a realisation that it would probably have been disastrous!).

      As for eternal life, it doesn’t really interest me. In fact the idea would appal me if I thought the customary metaphors bore any resemblance to the reality.

      You say you are full of misery, sorrows, fears and anxieties. Again, how can I help? I really should like to.

      • Nektarios says:

        Peter D Wilson

        Thank you for your offer to help me, but as you can see, I was only illustrating a few
        points which touch not only on this issue we are discussing of persuasion but also the new one about the confessional.
        What I was indicating, was the human condition, and to a certain extent my own, but No Peter, I am not in a state of misery, sorrows, fears, and anxieties or scared of death.
        All I was presenting you with was. the needs people have, and looking for answers and in many cases finding none among some Christians or tsome clergy they may have met or in the confessional they have attended.
        On tries to persuade, when we should listen, praying as we do so.
        Our lives should reflect that we have been with Jesus, even if we never utter a word,
        just being there, listening, can help someone, do you follow? One might be given what to say to another, which are words of life, of comfort, of forgiveness, of encouragement, of hope or a course of action to take that would see their problem resolved .

        As to the points you raise of what you think, feel and understand are at least honest – I wish more were so honest.
        So Peter, forgive me if I misled you into thinking I was in such a state, it was just to illustrate.
        Perhaps this serves us to be ready at any time, to give an account of the hope that is within us. Rest assurred, Peter, if you really have something of the Lord to say to people
        they will be tramping a path to your door.

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