All posts by Steven Creech

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In today’s word, virtual reality has one of the most fascinating innovations because it lets a person enter a completely new world that would have been thought impossible. Now consider a dystopia that takes the idea of virtual reality to the next level. In such a society, virtual reality would have evolved to the point where the user of the VR device could create their ideal world just by imagining it in their mind. In such a world, anything is possible; if a member of society wanted their world to consist of solely their closest friends where they would eat their favorite foods and do their favorite activities, then such a world could be created by just imagining it. However, the fatal flaw in the society lies in the fact that nothing is real. If you created the world where it was you and your friends hanging out, it would not be a world where you were actually with your friends, but a world where a computer generates artificial intelligent agents who acted like your friends in the real world. Sure, everyone could construct their own vision of utopia, but it would be at the cost of losing one of the qualities of humanity: real human interaction. However, every citizen is required to enter into their own VR world while leaving their past behind. The reason this society is so frightening is because the virtual reality would evolve to a point where the citizens would not be able to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality, so even though this society lack the quality of human interaction, the people within the virtual reality would not be able to notice that the world in which they live is not real. Thus, the question shall stand: if such a society were to exist, would it even be possible to escape the world of virtual reality?

For my research, I decided to look at subliminal messages and whether they are possible or not in real life, and I found that subliminal messages do not work. Thus, I decided to look into what else could cause the human mind to start thinking a certain way. While researching I came across the following video by Veritasium on truth and different ways that humans perceive information.

Derik Muller who is the creator of the video argues that information that the human mind is familiar with is more likely to be perceived as true (even if the information is false). He explains this phenomenon through the scope of cognitive ease which he describes as how hard the brain must work to perform a task, and information that has cognitive ease is less likely to be perceived as a threat, so it is more likely to be thought of as true. Muller then talks about ways that people form cognitive ease, and he explains that the easiest way to build cognitive ease is simply repeated exposure to a stimuli. I know that this talk of cognitive ease may not seem relevant to the many people who are looking at dystopias literature; however, I feel that this video actually can help those who are researching the aspect of propaganda in dystopias because I find that one aspect of propaganda is that it is constantly exposed to the masses of a dystopia. Thus, I feel that if your research is on the aspect of propaganda in dystopias, then this video can be critical for research because it can explain that the reason the majority of citizens believe the propaganda is due to the repeated exposure to it. Thus, even though I am using this video to look at the psychology of truth, I find that others may find it helpful to adapt to areas of research in propaganda.

Can subliminal messages cause changes in behavior and belief? In short, no; however, I plan to dive into this mysterious concept of subliminal messages, and to debunk some common misconceptions about them. I will explore the absolute threshold which is a concept in psychology that describes when stimuli are first perceived by an individual, and I plan to have an actual test in my presentation which will illustrate both stimuli below and above the absolute threshold, and will show that two distinct individuals may have different absolute thresholds. I will then look at subliminal messages in relation to absolute threshold as stimuli that are purposely set below the absolute threshold. After looking at these mechanisms of subliminal messaging, I plan to describe experiments preformed that involve subliminal messages that show that they do not work as they are intended. Now having shown that subliminal messages do not work as they are intended to, I will suggest some possible alternatives to subliminal messages that may cause behavioral changes. I plan to first explore the concept of cognitive ease which is a psychological mechanism that describes how hard the brain is working to accomplish a task, and I will give some examples where I display two problems one which takes no effort and will take less than a second to solve, and another problem that is more complex. The point behind this exercise is to prove that some problems use a lot less mental work than others, and then I will explain that when exposed to a stimulus even one that is false because of the repeated exposure, the mind will start to perceive it as true. In my final section, I plan to look at hypnosis which is simply having suggestions given to you, and I will look at a study which shows that participants who are subjected to hypnosis before doing a cognitive test perform better than they did without hypnosis. Thus, hypnosis and cognitive ease can help provide alternative ways that affect behavior.

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For my independent reading, I explored the dystopian novel Candor which takes place in present day Florida. The entire essence of the novel is that in the town of Candor, music is always playing wherever you go, and the music contains subliminal messages that cause the citizens of Candor to obey the laws and conform to a perfect society. However, Oscar Banks (the son of the founder of Candor) knows of the town’s secret, and he smuggles new children out of the town. The novel begins with a new girl in town Nia meeting Oscar, but the two don’t get off to a good start. Oscar tries to convince Nia that the town sends subliminal messages to the citizens, but she doesn’t believe him. However, the character of Nia is very intriguing because she is seen going days in Candor without conforming to the subliminal messages as she even says “I only  do what I want” (Bachorz 86). Even though Nia has been exposed to the messages she remains in her own control until she is locked in the listening room where she spends days listening to the messages. Thus, I plan to study the effects of being exposed to subliminal messages on the human mind. Topics that I plan to look into for my research will be whether or not subliminal messages can actually change human behavior. If I discover that they can affect the behavior, I plan to look into how they actually work and whether using subliminal messages to change behavior is ethical. On the other hand, if I conclude that subliminal messages do not change behavior, then I plan into looking at possible explanations that can cause the citizens of Candor to have their behavior change. All in all, I plan to use psychological studies on behavioral changes to discover the truth about subliminal messages, and whether Candor could possibly be a reality.

Dystopian novels tend to be political where there is a tyrannical political force that is control of every aspect of society, while a smaller political faction might try to overthrow the tyranny. Since there is this political tension, propaganda floods dystopias to try to persuade the general population to hav3e a specific mindset. I would like to take a look at the propaganda seen in the film Mockingjay Part 1.

Propaganda is the main idea of this film is to create propaganda to gain support for a revolution. As the film opened Katniss was asked by President Coin to be the star in propaganda films, but she denies the offer. However, after seeing her home district destroyed by the capital, Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion against the capital in a series of propaganda films. However, we also see the capital shots their own set of propaganda, and the methods of the two are vastly different.

In District 13, Katniss can’t naturally perform the scripted propaganda, so she is actually sent on the field where she witnesses a bombing of a hospital. She then creates a wonderful speech where she talks about the tyrannical nature of the capital using the bombed hospital victims as martyrs. She finishes the propo with the line “if we burn, then you burn with us”. This final line shows the seriousness of the rebellion, and that even if the capital destroys District 13, that the rest of the districts will see the true evil, and the capital will be overthrown no matter what they do.

On the other hand, the capital is using propaganda in a different aspect. Since the capital has Peeta, they use him in a series of interviews as a propaganda tool where he is constantly calling for a seize fire in the rebellion. Since the capital knows that they are weak with some of the districts already rebelling, they use this propaganda to try and create peace; in addition, Peeta tries to appeal directly to Katniss to have her stop the rebellion since he knows that she has some power in District 13. However, it is assumed that Peeta is forced to say the things he does by the capital which makes the capitals propaganda less genuine.

As a result, there is a propaganda war within the actual war. The importance of the propaganda is that if the rebellion or the capital can use the propaganda to get citizens of Panem on their side then the winner of the propaganda war will have the numbers, and even though numbers don’t win wars they certainly do help.