Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

If you can't see it, it can kill you. Propaganda, for instance.

If you never took this test before, spend two minutes on it before reading the text below. 

The "selective attention" test you see above was developed in 1999 by Christopher Chablis and Daniel Simons.  It shows how people have difficulties in perceiving the most obvious things when they are focused on something that engages their attention. Often, it has been seen as just a sort of psychological parlor game, but it has a deep significance.

This selective attention phenomenon may well describe the current world's situation. Our aging leaders seem to be so fixated on their manhood - and unsure about it - that they try to reassure themselves by firing missiles around. And, in doing that, they neglect everything else. But it is not just a question of aging leaders, the whole Western world shows evident signs of senility at the societal level. Most of us in our daily life are fixated on details of no relevance and miss the important issues that threaten our very existence. 

So, we are missing the gorilla which is climate change, as well as other gorillas which go under different names: ecosystem collapse, resource depletion, overpopulation, widespread pollution, and more. Some of these gorillas are recognized and described by the scientific community, but the public and the leaders alike fail to hear the advice they receive. 

Even more worrisome is the possibility that there exist gorillas which not even scientists can detect. As an example, we are daily being exposed to a cocktail or toxic metals resulting from industrial activity. We know that each single metal, alone, doesn't (normally) reach concentrations in our bodies so high to be deemed as dangerous. But we don't really know what happens when people have several low concentration metals inside their body - which is the case for most of us. 

Or, as another example, consider CO2 atmospheric concentration. Today, all of us are exposed to an atmospheric concentration of more than 400 parts per million, considerably larger than anything our species has been breathing over the past million years, at least (ca. 280 ppm before the industrial age). As things stand, it is likely that we will reach at least 500 ppm - nearly double the values that our ancestors experienced. Now, apart from climate change and its related disasters, are these CO2 concentrations bad for our health? If so, how bad? How can we know? When we will discover that, it may well be too late. 

But these are cases in which we may at least suspect the presence of a gorilla somewhere, of some kind. There may be others so well hidden that we don't even imagine they could exist. Think of the ancient Romans. They never could understand what was hitting them: they completely lacked the intellectual tools that would have allowed them to understand the concept of "societal collapse." That gorilla was completely invisible to them. Not surprisingly, whatever they did to try to improve their situation (defensive walls, stronger armies, MRGA, and more) didn't help or backfired on them. Our situation is not so different - even though we have tools that the Romans couldn't even imagine, we are not doing any better. It doesn't help if a minuscule minority of enlightened people correctly see the problem: until the leaders don't get it, the gorilla will remain invisible.

So, how can we see the gorilla? What I can say from my personal experience, is that when I show the clip above to people (my students, for instance) they have more difficulties in seeing the gorilla the more I can push them to focus on the ball. Conversely, if people are more relaxed they can easily see the gorilla.

So, you need to be relaxed to see what you would otherwise miss. This is the trick they use against us. They inundate us with details, they keep our minds busy, new things arriving, one after the other... No wonder that we miss the overall picture - it is one of the many tricks of propaganda. And propaganda may well kill us all, including those who are using it against us.


  1. Hmm, I forgot to count the passes, as I rather fancied one of the girls.... :)

    Serious point: while we run around trying to get laid, make money, survive, we will indeed miss the gorilla, or misintepret the elephant in the room.

  2. And the ball game these days is Russia, Russia, Russia…

  3. I once heard a story recounted of two environmentals driving down a road, one commenting to the other how the rubbish on the side of the road was appalling... the other looked at the first and said, the rubbish wasn't the problem, the road was.

    It's estimated that of all the plastic we have produced so far, that by 2030 we will have doubled that...

    This will not end well.

  4. Ugo,

    Our leaders are not at all interested in our prosperity. Not only that, they are ready to actively work against their own peoples, let alone other peoples. Remember Francesco Cossiga? There is a strong indication that he organized killings of innocent citizens in order to perform false flag attack against leftists. How would you describe that man to the readers of your blog? Are Macron, Merkel or May really that different from him?

  5. high office is only metaphorical

    those we elect to be there do not see more from up there than we lesser mortals, our mistake (one I made myself for many years) is to imagine that electing someone to govern us grants them extra perception on matters that affect our daily lives

    They, like we, can only navigate the future by looking in the rear view mirror of history.

    Dep[ending on which ''height'' they look out from, they see a few past decades (maybe even a century) where the majority have enjoyed rising living standards, with maybe a hiccup of a war or depression here and there.

    But 'recovery' always happened, and things got back to whatever passes as normal.

    And life went on

    So why should it not in the future? It won't of course, because we now face a unique set of circumstances, something that our forebears coul;d not have imagined---too many people sharing too few resources.

    So our leaders offer more of the same, because they have nothing else to offer. Idiots they may be, but it is an idiocy we all share

  6. I put the 1,2,3 steps right here

    A nice place to put the last 4th step, it is also in this topic, so do I.


    Green-one-three: in the FALSE RETURN TO THE GOLDEN AGE while detonating the WWIII (at first, or second, or third restriction or its very probable hybridization with a restriction jump) there would still exist a potential space in the Mediterranean area for an optimistic universe without the explosion of the Punic Wars II as long as the extended USE existed on the Mediterranean area AND a policy of birth control in Africa had been practiced.

    Green-two-three: in the ULTRAVIOLET CATASTROPHE while detonating the WWIII (at first, or second, or third restriction or its very probable hybridization with a restriction jump) there would still exist a potential space in the Mediterranean area for an optimistic universe without the explosion of the Punic Wars II with the fact the extended USE on the Mediterranean existed AND a policy of conversion to the hydrogen economy with thermodynamic solar power was attempted (which would have involved the providing supply of power to Africa at low cost, so the simultaneous improvement of living standards in Africa with therefore a physiological partial reduction of birth rates, so at the end of the day Africa would have had a modest mitigation of its demographic bomb)

    Green-three-three: in the EXPLOSIVE INERTIAL SURROGATION while detonating the WWIII (at first, or second, or third restriction or a less probable hybridization with a restriction jump) there would still exist a potential space in the Mediterranean area for an optimistic universe without the explosion of the Punic Wars II with agreement that the extended USE existed on the Mediterranean area AND a birth control policy has been practiced in Africa.

    Red-four-one-two: in the EFFICIENT TECHNOLOGY SHARING OF AUSTERITY could still detonate the Punic Wars II in the expected or pessimistic universe, if there were no extended USE on the Mediterranean AND if a policy of birth control in Africa that would have given more results than a partial mitigation of the African population bomb, rather supplying Africa with low cost solar power electricity to induce a physiological reduction in the birth rate in Africa.

    If twenty years ago UE and Catholic Church had had those discussions, then GP2 would have faded away, but actually lots of those future vanished and with them, all attempts to solve peacefully future problems in the Mediterranean area faded away.

    Stupid and thieves italian ad european politicians produce stupid decisions: big responsibilities, big mistakes, big flames!

    Hoping to be useful for the online debate, have a nice day!

  7. "If you can't see it, it can kill you."

    On the other hand, the Empire of Lies is maybe just as ravenous and just as daft as the Ravenous Bugblatter of Traal, which assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you.

    "... such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous ..."

  8. One gorilla nobody talks about: CO, that is, carbon monoxide.
    A deadly, odorless gas, its concentration has increased x3 in the 20th century.
    The ion hydroxyl, that destroys CO and other contaminants, is disappearing.
    Fred Pearce, The Last Generation, discusses it, among many other things.

  9. Maybe why I am so lousy at proof-reading, my especially own text! lop-sided smile.

    These days we spend most time in boxes. Crowded rooms I understand can easily go to 1000 pm or more.

    And, apparently, too much CO2 is having detrimental affects on crop plants. Which will come as a surprise if it is confirmed

    And CO carbon monoxide? There is often more of it around than we would wish.


    1. Many people use wood or coal for winter season heating and very few stoves are airtight. Levels of both CO2 and particularly CO are often high. Most cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are due to smoking but I wonder how many are due to high level of CO present in living spaces. It is known that poisonous gases like CO can cause COPD.

  10. It's how I came to see my life in London as an office worker: from a tiny box (studio apartment) to a larger multi-level box (The Guardian), to a small often underground box (bar or club), where one consumed large amounts of intoxicating chemicals and sought mating opportunities. The only thing I didn't do was stare at a box,having no TV. Miserable! Is it even truly human?

  11. Concerning metal poisoning, are You aware of this very interesting peace of science?

    It seems that lead poisoning siginficantly changes human nehaviour and led to higher crime rates and less IQ in large cities peaking in the eighties. (Actually just like in ancient rome before the collapse)

    And this is still going on in many places around the world:

    It kind of makes me think that we might have poisened our population to total dumbness an now are therefore unable to see the gorillas in the room.

    1. The lead story was in the initial version of the post - I cut it out to shorten the text, but it is another example of an invisible gorilla

  12. Politicians in Australia at least, give out these wonderful mantras for solving all our problems. "Trade and Growth, Growth, Jobs and Trade, New coal mines, expanded and new Coal Seam gas fracking." There are too many in money-food chain in government departments. Donations to political parties figure a lot. Meanwhile the rivers, forests, bushland, native habitat, disappear, from what is left of it after only 200+ years of European Takeover. Tradeable products figure significantly in every countries economy. Its the only way to get foreign currency to pay for foreign lifestyle goods. I understand that the Romans, and post-Roman medieval european societies traded most of their gold and silver to the east, for all those exotic lifestyle goods. Lack of gold and silver supply helped end the Roman empire, and limited Medieval Europe, at least until the "new world" was found.
    But it looks like too much of energy-mineral boom bonanzas, with added black gold - oil - (+coal & gas), really brings out our capacity to destroy nature in one's own backyard, so as to own more of the luxury technologies we destroy our biosphere for today.
    So are leaders don't get it, that those things they work hardest for, that they boast most about, as we consumers work hardest for, and take pleasure in ownership and use of, are derived from directly traded, mutual processes of biosphere destruction. Giving all your attention to what you most want, takes attention away from the costs to everything else. Moreover, if you are already getting what you most want, you don't want to know the rest of it.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)