A.K. Pradeep wants to “build a more effective society.”
It’s an odd expression. Not more humane, moral, honorable, peaceful, loving, equal, or decent. More effective.
Pradeep and his new book are the subject of a piece by Chronicle staff writer Julian Guthrie, who interviewed him at Pradeep’s Berkeley office. According to Guthrie, Pradeep has “only one thing on his mind. The brain.”
Actually that is not very precise. What is on Pradeep’s mind is how neuroscience may be used to control people’s thoughts and behavior, and how he can profit by it.
Pradeep is a ‘neuromarketer’, who studies the inner workings of the brain in order to discern why people think and feel what they do, then sells his advice to banks and pharmaceutical companies, to commercial marketers and something called “brand managers”; in his book, he hopes to reach parents and teachers, as well.
Pradeep is interested in mass mind control, a kind of space-age Hermann Goerring. A monster.
Selling, for him, is only the beginning. “The science is galloping,” he says. “It has a youthful vitality. It is where physics was at the turn of the past century, when Einstein had just discovered theories of relativity.”
At NeuroFocus, his company, Pradeep uses brain scans on people, tracking electrochemical spikes which signify attention, memory and emotion. The human guinea pigs of all ages wear caps equipped with electrodes and are placed in virtual realities to monitor their reactions.
Does this sound sort of innocuous? Ah, well, it ain’t. Check this out:
“With kids ages 11 to 14, the emotional parts of the brain have developed faster than the reasoning part... Trying to reason with them is a waste of time. Teenagers find safety in numbers. They flock together for a reason. So, if you want to reach them, don’t say ‘I’ll take away your allowance,’ but instead say, ‘I’ll take away your computer time.’ That is a time when kids connect with their flock.”
Hey, I can do him one better. You want to “reach” kids, say ‘I’ll cut off your left hand.’ That ought to get their attention, and fast.
Effective. That’s the kind of society Pradeep wants to build. A society in which threats have some teeth to them. Teenagers, notoriously difficult to control. We can fix that.
Other people are sometimes difficult to control, too. Take my own generation. Most marketers don’t understand the ‘Baby Boomers’, he says. “A brain over 60 has learned to ignore negative messaging,” he says, “so pharmaceutical companies that say, ‘If you don’t take this pill, this will happen,’ or ‘If you don’t take care of your retirement, it will disappear,’ those approaches are ignored.”
Well, that explains it. The Chase credit card commercials, the dreamy drug ads, the airhead for Progressive Insurance.
It must not be supposed that Pradeep is the only monster out there. He is simply one who is looking for money and perhaps fame. There are others at other labs, some run by government agencies like CIA and Homeland Security, where electrochemical spikes are giving roadmaps to the brain to police functionaries and everyone else who harbors fascist dreams.
I suppose that people in my generation, having “learned to control negative messaging” –– that is to say learned to see through a lot of the bullshit –– have to be fooled by more sophisticated messages. Kids can apparently be controlled with threats and punishment. I personally know a few kids that shit is not going to work on, but perhaps there will be authorized more extreme measures. The point, after all, is an “effective society.”
How about this for scary:
“I hear parents say kids are overscheduled –– not so. A child’s brain capacity is far greater than a parent’s ability to schlep them around.”
Think about what this means. This guy is charting how to control people’s thoughts and emotions, right on the cutting edge, and he is running with the unexamined belief –– which in my opinion is completelty toxic –– that children are to be crammed with as much junk as possible. It does not occur to him that human beings, especially human beings in development, cannot emotionally survive without unscheduled time, time for thoughts, time to gather, time to reflect, time to purge, escape time, down time, the kind of time when a smile may show itself on one’s lips without warning and completely at ease.
We are not robots. But people such as Pradeep and his employers, people like the thought police, would like to make us so. They are working very hard, using very sophisticated tools, to get the keys to our minds. One does not require a dystopian vision to worry about the future here.
The context in which all of this is occurring is important. Pradeep crows, “Neuroscience can revolutionize education... We will have neuro design, neuro economics, neuro ratings, neuro studies for trial lawyers. A neuro browser.”
No one is controlling neuroscience. It’s possible that no one can. The fight is between those who believe that human beings should be free on planet earth and those who believe we can’t be trusted with freedom. There will certainly be robots, but we are in a terrible battle right now to prevent turning into them ourselves.