Saturday, September 29, 2007

When Prophecy Fails...

It's 1956. A story in the local Chicago news reports: "Prophecy from planet Clarion call to city: flee that flood." Apparently a housewife had come under the conclusion, through automatic writing, that she had received a message from the planet "Clarion" that the world was to end due to a massive flood, and according to the message, December 21st all of human civilization will be wiped out.

In the analysis of the apparent similarities between childhood behavior and adult behavior, invariably the subject of prophecy comes up, and likewise, what happens to individuals when their beliefs about the world and their activities are incongruent. This tale of the housewife and her message from Clarion became the subject of a landmark study headed by Leon Festinger on the topic.

This housewife was successful in amassing a close knit collection of believers from the community and surrounding areas, and they founded an encampment, where through their various stages of shedding selfishness (giving up jobs, families, all their money and possessions) would be deemed worthy and be spared the devastation by the interception of flying saucer. All of this was revealed through the automatic writings of the housewife, Mrs. Marion Keech.

More skeptical minds saw this event as an opportunity to gain some anecdotal insight into how human beings adjust when their beliefs about the world and their behaviors come into conflict, for surely the prophecy in the scientific community, was assumed to fail. The idea, as carried out in Festinger et al. was for a team of social psychologists to infiltrate the group as prospective members, and record the happenings of the social dynamic as they observed them, the justifications, rationalizations, or complete breakdown of the group. It was known that each member of the group had invested heavily in the belief that they would be saved from a great flood through their actions. Festinger hypothesized that following any disconfirmation of their belief the group would proselytize in order to lessen the negative effects of the disconfirmation.

Following some interesting confrontations where the research team were so successful in presenting themselves as believers that one of them were thought to be one of the alien messengers in disguise, the night of December 20th was drawing to a close. When midnight struck and no saucer apppeared, the group wasn't devastated, insisting that it wasn't technically midnight yet because another clock in the room was slow 5 minutes. By 4:00 am, with no visitors yet, another automatic writing session produced a new response from Clarion...that the God of Earth had spared the planet due to their actions. There was to be no devastation.

"The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction."

The term cognitive dissonance refers to the "uncomfortable feeling from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs, or from experiencing apparently conflicting phenomena." The theory put forth by Festinger based on his observations, as well as other more experimentally designed studies, is that when a human being is placed in a state of cognitive dissonance, they will engage in some thought or behavior that will sooth the discomfort, such as warp their beliefs to fit their behaviors, ot ignore information that does not support their beliefs.

My first comment in regards to this episode of cognitive dissonance, is that young children could not have constructed such a belief as elaborate as these individuals did in 1956. This is due to a number of factors: the fact that children normally have little knowledge of extra-terrestrial bodies, extra-terrestrial intelligence, and the phenomenon of automatic writing, and the fact that children don't physically own anything, and therefore investment in any one particular belief can not be measured in terms of what the child has "given up," (but it can be measured, my next post will be about this). Often if children do seem to have inordinate amounts of knowledge about such things, less skeptical adults see them as "Indigos," "Star Children," and other such entities, and more skeptical adults are right to point out the proliferation of children's educational media for the early appearance of such leaps of cognitive reasoning. It takes a lot for a young child to recognize the permanence of the Earth, once a child is capable of doing that, they will broaden their cognitive sphere to that of the cosmos, as this adult cult was capable of doing.

The point is, often when adults make conclusions about a child's "fantastical beliefs" it is usually to belittle the child's grasp on "reality" and reaffirm the adult in their ability to "perceive the optimal." Clearly though, with the number of unverifiable beliefs that adults hold at any one time, adults are no better perceivers of the optimal than children, it's just adults have a larger "sphere" in which they can draw resources from when perceiving and practicing meta-cognition. To be fair to both developmental stages, (and all those in between), the beliefs described above about the cult represent only a small fraction, a fringe, in a larger majority. The majority of individuals, presumably, do not believe such radical beliefs. But one does not need to be fringe, a cultist, paranoid, or schizophrenic, to be hold beliefs that could be termed "irrational beliefs." Even some of the most scientific and rational minds have held beliefs that can't be objectively tested.

Beliefs lead to the amazing diversity of the human imagination, much of human culture, lore, and myth. The human race would not be as socially cohesive without these shared traditions. The point is to not diminish the importance of irrational beliefs but to understand the difference between what is fact and what is fiction, and the larger gray area in between that the human mind, for all it's abilities, has not been able to perceive yet. Most importantly, this notion of adults having the ability to perceive the optimum should be dismissed, it is simple arrogance on the part of one adult over another, and adult over child. Instead, human cognitive development should be interpreted as a summation of the resources physically and mentally available to the individual at each stage of development, along the lines of a continuum, the likes of which Piaget only hinted at: that the adult is in fact not in a sage of "cognitive competence."

If this is so, the theory would go, than adults couldn't design a test to verify whether or not adults are cognitively competent, because to do so would require knowledge about the universe and higher functions of the mind that human beings have not accessed yet. It would be the equivalent of children testing themselves on knowledge and cognitive functioning that only through proper biological and psychological development could have access to. If this is true, than it poses a problem scientifically, and ironically, must be taken on its own terms.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Indigo Diagnostics

According to the Indigo Child website (owned by Kryon Writings), the following presents how to identify if a child is indeed "indigo" (note the similarities with the diagnoses of ADHD):
  • They come into the world with a feeling of royalty (and often act like it)
  • They have a feeling of "deserving to be here," and are surprised when others don't share that.
  • Self-worth is not a big issue. They often tell the parents "who they are."
  • They have difficulty with absolute authority (authority without explanation or choice).
  • They simply will not do certain things; for example, waiting in line is difficult for them.
  • They get frustrated with systems that are ritually oriented and don't require creative thought.
To any child development expert and many parents alike, none of these supposed traits seem that counter intuitive. Many of them can be explained as egocentrism--all children naturally come into human society believing they're at the center of it. After all, for the first few years of life they are the center of their family, which in reality is their world at the time. It would be an abnormality if they didn't. The difference is that in normal child development, children are discouraged from pursuing egocentric thoughts and behaviors through negative personal experiences and discipline, and Indigo children are encouraged to be egocentric, their maladaptive behaviors are reinforced through the "special" environment.

The other half of the traits are not uncommon either. Waiting in line is difficult for everyone when they personally have no reason to be waiting in line. The wording of the trait automatically induces the image of a child out of their element, waiting in line with their parent at a bank, which would be difficult if the child is fidgety. But assume an adult is waiting in a line for a balloon at a child's birthday party. Now that the child is in his element and favors the balloon a worthy wait, it is more intuitive to think that the child would be fixated and still. In fact the accompanying adult will be fidgety. So it is not a matter of immaturity as it is an elemental matter. The person doing the waiting has to want whatever is at the front of that line. Sometimes children will willingly wait in a line out of their element, at a bank say, if they're promised some reward in the end, such as a candy. So it makes little sense to assume that because a child can't sit still they are somehow damaged or somehow special. It is the fallacy of non sequitur, "it does not follow...".

There are cases in which no matter of bribe or reward can get a human being to sit still, and no amount of negative reinforcement will get them to sit still once the reward is detracted as punishment. These few cases might be cause for special assistance. Otherwise, encouraging a child to maintain their juvenile egocentrism could certainly have an effect on their ability to sit still under normal circumstances, so the correlation between the two "symptoms" could be quite positively strong. One influences the other. And with mankind's unlimited counterfactual thinking ability, are observed and reinforced by the misdiagnoses of "experts" and mystics themselves. For authentic cases, (meaning cases where the evidence can be falsified) than medication may work tame the behaviors long enough so that a child can absorb more formal discipline. Otherwise, medication in the absence of discipline is counterproductive.

  • They often see better ways of doing things, both at home and in school, which makes them seem like "system busters" (nonconforming to any system).
  • They seem antisocial unless they are with their own kind. If there are no others of like consciousness around them, they often turn inward, feeling like no other human understands them. School is often extremely difficult for them socially.
  • They will not respond to "guilt" discipline ("Wait till your father gets home and finds out what you did").
  • They are not shy in letting you know what they need.
First of all, it seems almost paradoxical and certainly contradictory that an individual can be both antisocial and "social with their own kind." It doesn't work that way. Someone who is antisocial can be social indeed, but only if in doing so they are able to take advantage of the other person. An antisocial person doesn't care for friendships, even with their own "kind," unless they can manipulate the friendship to serve themselves without consideration for anyone else. Secondly, most antisocial personalities are shy about letting others know what they need. If they were really antisocial, then they'd never disclose their real motives openly to others because they know that if they did, than they'd loose the ability to take full advantage of the other person. This is why they tend to be sly and cunning, working implicitly with the ability to use social etiquette and morality to their own advantage. A child can not be both friendly with some kids, and antisocial.

These Kryon people use the term "antisocial" without proper understanding of what that term applies to...normally expressed through Antisocial Personality Disorder, the nature of being "antisocial" means a lack of regard for society's moral and legal standards (according the the DSM 4-TR), usually typified by behavioral impulsiveness to the detriment of others without remorse. Surely, such individuals as just described shouldn't be counted on to "bring the human race to the next level of our evolution," whether or not Kryon people are mistaking one behavior for another. And none of this even makes sense to mention as a "symptom" because children can not have antisocial tendencies because they are not old enough to maintain that diagnosis, unless you want to peg them with Conduct Disorder (which these Kryon people seemed to have left out.)

It becomes clear to any rational reader, that finding these symptoms in Indigos are similar to the limitless extendability of horoscopes, and their ADHD counterparts, are more specifically related to some kind of strange parent to child psychological hypochondria (for lack of a better term.) There is nothing about these "symptoms" that is abnormal.

Not fitting into peer groups? Not responding to guilt discipline? Feelings of universal rebellion? Bursts of creativity? Most of these are common human traits of preadolescence, adolescence, and early adulthood, and many either find strength in, or struggle with, these traits throughout the remainder of their life. Once again, these can be attributed to adolescent egocentrism, the subjection of the qualities of the self in relation to others.

Feel intimidated when you walk into a formal environment and think everyone's eyes are on you? Feel ashamed or envious comparing yourself, your personal effects, or your talents with someone else? It's not a symptom, it's a part of growing up, and is completely normal unless it manifests itself as personally debilitating or outwardly malevolent. Even still, when treating these cases where it does manifest itself dangerously, any care takers would be treating the thoughts and/or the behaviors that are debilitating or malevolent, and not be attempting to overhaul the individual's natural growth during their formidable years. There is no reason to jump the gun and give these individuals the stigma of a "disease" on top of this. Once again, counterproductive. You treat the thoughts and the behaviors in a clinical setting, you don't slap another stigma on the individual.

The only traits recognizable in the expression of these symptoms that seem fitting are those that define parental M√ľnchhausen's By Proxy, where the parents get some kind of need for attention satisfied by making their children sick and compulsively seeking treatment for them, only the weapon of choice in this case is not directed at the child's body, but at their psychological health. So it's not so much the children that seem disordered in this equation, it's the parents.

Yet many adults will make these paranoid suppositions, popular science will confirm their beliefs, books and medication will be sold, and another child will be converted. There are few things more childish or "puerile" than that.

Indigos

An increasingly popular New Age ideology posits that certain children being born today are the next evolution of mankind, as predicted, supposedly, by the indigo shade of their auras at birth. These children, as it is said, through their meta-cognitive proficiency and behavioral unpredictability, are hence setting the stage in the world today for the coming of the next breed of super human, the children of the Chrystal Vibration, who will effectively eliminate all the problems of mankind. The indigo children are simply calling our attention to our own faults as a human society, and in the future, supposedly, will set to eliminating human fear (the one enemy the children of the Chrystal Vibration) , which will in turn create a haven for the forthcoming newly evolved children to be born into.

Auras are pseudoscience, and maintain the same validity as Rorschach tests. Both are the result of the intriguing fallacy of the human psyche in interpreting meanings (or finding meanings) in objects and ideas that are already products of delusion or pure fantasy. Psycho-analysis is guilty of the same grievance. People see what they want to see, and if they see a rise in "abnormal behavior" occurring in children these days, whether or not there really is, than they can and will interpret it in many ways, and people will profit off selling the interpretations.

As for indigo children, they are the result of a society increasingly nerved by the idea that their children may in any way be abnormal. Parents, it seems, would rather have a special child than a defected child, at least in their own minds, inventing and buying into (often monetarily) the mythologies presented by new age authors and philosophies. Yet, this delusion is entirely human--childish fantasy projected from an adult mind which supposedly is capable of maintaining rational thought. There is nothing out of the ordinary about human beings deluding themselves into thinking the cause of any particular thing is metaphysical when a naturalistic explanation isn't as satisfying, that the time we are living in now is more unique and special than at any other point in history.

The only thing abnormal here is the rise in ADHD and ADD diagnoses (anywhere from 5% to 50% of the children in any given area in the United States and Canada), which is a called a "disease" although there is no diagnostic test proven to check for "symptoms." As it stands, pharmaceutical companies stand to make a lot of money prescribing antedotes for any child struggling with what is actually the syndrome of natural childhood, just as the New Age authors stand to make millions of dollars selling methodological nurturing suggestions to parents who suspect their child is indigo and may need special attention.

Whether that special attention comes in an orange bottle or out of a New Age book, that child is going to be affected, and it will no doubt echo in their behaviors, their meta-cognitive perspectives, their sense of self, their connection to other "non-indigo" children, and their sense of responsibility to the rest of society. Any special divination given to that child will upset the child's natural growth, whether they are labeled ADHD/ADD or Indigo, and will reflect in that child's behavior, which will only serve to reaffirm the doctors, parents, and mystics of their child's status, special abilities, or deformities. This is a dangerous ideology either way, because now that child is growing up in a bizarre world of delusion, neuroses, paranoia, and outright lies on their behalf, which won't make for a future any more brighter than the one we are already living in the present, and certainly no place for the so-called "chrystal children."

After all, when one is so paranoid that their child is anything but perfect that they are willing to realign the universe so that everything about their child seems justified in their own head, it doesn't seem as if these Indigo children are doing a very great job at "destroying human fear."

The controversy over the abundance of prescription medication treating undiagnosable "diseases" like ADHD causes a whole different set of realistic concerns. Certainly there will be children who fit the category and the condition can be proven to be having significant adverse effects on their ability to live an effective lives, but there is little doubt that most diagnoses are the result of a paranoid overreaction and the shrewd business practices of pharms. Statistically, behavioral disorders are not common enough to effect 1 out of every 2 children. Character is being misdiagnosed as ADHD, and if anything is at stake, it's a child's character--their ability to live a healthy life.

All this goes to show how adults, supposedly the rational minds at work in the world, often think with no better clarity than a child does about events in the world around them. We are paranoid and neurotic creatures from birth to death, regardless of what cognitive Piagetian stage we're in, regardless of whether we are prescribed medication for it or not, and our paranoias and neuroses are either encouraged or discouraged through our environment. Collectively we are in the process of a slow maturation, science and skepticism has been our best tool toward this end. And while there are some children who are encouraged to think with a rational mind, (natural children) whether through education, through parents, through medias, there are always children who are encouraged to think with a deluded mind (Indigos and misdiagnoses) by the same methods. These "children" don't have to be children in the traditional sense...anyone who holds beliefs to be true that are actually fantasies remains a child--regardless of age.

Either way, there's going to be a lot of paranoid and neurotic adults in the future. Is this the next evolution of mankind? Definitely not--looks like more of the same.