4 Creepy Things That Secretly Control Your Personality
Hey, did you know that your thoughts can make brain tumors grow faster? Your mind is made of meat that is arranged in precisely such a way as to not know it is meat. This is why so much of your personality is dictated by seemingly random nonsense you're not even aware of. Such as ...
Whispering: Hey, David Wong's new novel -- the third in the NYT bestselling John Dies At The End series -- is FINALLY OUT NOW.
Your Fear Of Germs Determines Your Politics (And Maybe Everything Else)
Go listen to literally anyone talk about the dangers of foreigners, minorities, or gays, and count the seconds until they either compare them to a disease or simply accuse them all of having/spreading diseases.
This is going to be one of those "Now that you see it, you can't unsee it" situations. It sounds ridiculous at first, then starts to become grossly obvious the more you look around. We referenced a study a while back in which scientists could get people to be less racist merely by washing their hands first. At the time, that seemed to me like one of those oddball results, like the one that found you can make a person smarter by having them wear a lab coat. But no, it turns out it was but a glimpse into the dark, swirling demon lurking within the soul of humanity: our primitive fear of germs.
The theory says that over the centuries, certain people and groups evolved with a higher paranoia toward infections, due to living in regions/climates where that sort of thing was more of a threat. Meeting another tribe thus meant encountering diseases you had no immunity to, and to this day, their descendants will instinctively be more untrustworthy of other cultures and tightly regulate "unclean" behavior. In groups, they form societies that are fiercely nationalistic and insist on flamboyant outward displays of such (like, say, Confederate flags on pickup trucks) to signal to one another that they're "safe." They also enforce strict sexual morality (to prevent the spread of STDs). Over time, they tend to gravitate toward dictatorships, submitting to the strongman promising to protect them from the contaminated outside world.
Hey, did you know Hitler's rise occurred right after the Spanish flu ravaged Europe? And that he was comparing the Jews to disease pretty much from Day One?
Experts say that the rise of democracy and progressive ideas in general can be attributed to science conquering many of the infectious diseases that were dominating our decision-making up to then. Still, those habits are passed down through both genes and culture (particularly in warmer climates), and it's easy to see it today. You can hook conservatives and liberals up to a brain scan, and the conservatives react more strongly to disgusting images, even if they insist that stuff doesn't bother them. Other studies show that right-wingers tend to be more obsessive-compulsive, feeling a unending urge to purge their surroundings of disorder.
But wait, there's more! A recent study found that belief in a vengeful god tends to make people more cooperative toward strangers. This, they theorize, helped primitive societies expand, overcoming the natural mistrust they had for one another. Now open up your Bible and count the number of times God punishes a society of unbelievers by unleashing a plague. ("We must cooperate under the same rules, or else we both will get infected!")
Now check out how we remain obsessed with the concept of an apocalyptic world-ending plague to this day, even though such a thing would be all but impossible in reality. (Note how everyone shat their pants at the mere mention of the word "Ebola.") In pop culture, it usually comes in the form of post-apocalyptic fiction like The Walking Dead. You know, that show in which our heroic tribe of survivors continually runs from the infected, until they meet another tribe and find out they can't trust them? A show that exploded in popularity right when America was in the middle of a panic about globalization?
That's right, the fear of germs dominates our entire culture from the ground up, but people still don't think twice about eating at buffets. THAT SNEEZE GUARD ISN'T GUARDING SHIT.
Lead Destroys Your Sense Of Morality (And Lithium Might Improve It)
Hey, remember how in Batman Begins, the villains' plan was to release a fear toxin in Gotham City that would turn the populace into a violent, mindless horde? And how Batman had a flock of bats he could summon when he needed them, but then completely forgot about in future movies? Well, that first one really happened! Only the effect was global and happened over the course of decades. What follows may be one of the most terrifying cautionary tales in the history of technology, and we still don't fully grasp the scale of how badly we may have fucked up here.
The unpronounceable chemical Tetraethyllead is the "lead" they're leaving out of "unleaded" gasoline. When cars were new back in the 1920s, they added it to fuel to help prevent engine wear. They already knew lead did weird things to the human brain at the time (studies had already shown that people getting water from lead pipes were more likely to commit murder), and that these engines would be releasing tiny particles of it into the air everyone breathed. But honestly, how many people would be buying these "automobiles," anyway?
More than half a century and hundreds of millions of cars later, governments finally started cracking down on lead emissions because they suspected they were, unsurprisingly, messing with people's brains. As we touched on here, in one city and country after another, as unleaded fuel was banned, the violent crime rate started dropping. A lot.
Lead, as it turns out, permanently destroys cells in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the part responsible for "emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility." You know, the part you think of as your morality, or soul. Lead kills that. Multiple studies on this keep turning up the same horrifying result.
"Wait," you say from your mad scientist lab, "is it possible to do the opposite? Is there a chemical that keeps that part of the brain healthy?" Sure! In fact, it's already happened. You know how some people take lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder? Well, lithium also occurs naturally in the environment, and places that happen to have more of it in their drinking water have less violent crime. Oh, and their suicide rates are up to 40 percent lower. Holy shit!
So yes, we should start adding lithium to the water supply to create world peace. I mean, I don't want it in my water. Other people's.
Your Moods May Be Controlled By Your Shit
There are about 40 trillion microbes in your intestines. That's far more cells than make up your actual body. If they were people, they'd populate 5,400 Earths. The point is, your body's shit factory houses an entire galactic federations' worth of beings, and to an extent that science does not yet fully understand, it appears that they're the ones running the show. When scientists dug through the turds of dozens of kids, they found that "children with the most genetically diverse types of gut bacteria more frequently exhibited behaviors related with positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity." Different gut bacteria = different personalities.
OK, well, there surely are other explanations. Maybe outgoing kids tend to eat different diets, and that changes their gut microbes? Because they're eating ... adventurous party food, I guess? Or maybe they have different hormones or something, and that changes their digestion? Really, anything is better than believing that, for instance, the decision to ask your current partner out on a date was truly made by a pulsing ooze of microscopic blobs swimming in your shit.
Well too bad. Another study found that eating "probiotic" fermented foods decreased social anxiety. Another bunch of researchers found they could make someone give more to charity if they fed them eggs first. An experiment on mice was able to reverse goddamned autism symptoms by adding in a single species of gut bacteria. Someone else followed up by doing fecal transplants on autistic children to fix gastrointestinal issues, and found that it appeared their neurological symptoms improved along the way. Here's a giant summary of dozens of studies on the "Your shit is controlling your brain" theory which you and your shit can peruse together.
You probably want to dismiss this whole thing. You may even feel a knee-jerk urge to dismiss it out of hand, and not devote any further thought to it. An urge that you can feel ... in your gut? Nice try, shit.
You Have Probably Brainwashed Yourself Into A Completely False Idea Of Who You Are
Here's an important question almost no one thinks to ask: Do cult leaders believe what they're saying? After all, L. Ron Hubbard clearly knew his new religion was a scam at first -- he borrowed its mythology from his own sci-fi stories, which he wrote to make a quick buck. But by all accounts, he later spent endless hours "auditing" himself to try to purge his soul of the evil alien spirits -- you know, the ones he had invented years earlier. It's almost as if by repeating his ludicrous lies, he indoctrinated himself.
That, it appears, is exactly what happened. And almost every deranged cult leader in history followed that exact path. Do you remember that weird terror attack that happened in Tokyo in 1995? A Japanese doomsday cult unleashed nerve gas on a subway, killing a dozen people (which would have been thousands if they hadn't fucked up the release of the gas). The cult was led by a guy named Shoko Asahara, who had been a small-time con artist going back to his teenage years, running a number of scams which he eventually expanded into lucrative businesses. He sold snake oil cures out of an acupuncture shop for a while, then started putting ads in sci-fi magazines offering to teach mind powers like telepathy and levitation -- for a reasonable fee, of course. In less than a decade, he went from telling silly lies to get cash from gullible dupes to unleashing nerve gas in order to trigger Armageddon, believing that he and his followers would then ascend to inherit the Earth.
That's weird, right? That garden-variety shitheads wind up joining their own cults in suicide pacts to fulfill some "prophecy" that they themselves wrote late at night over a bottle of wine? But that, my friends, is the magic of the human brain. Not only can it be reprogrammed by anyone who knows the method, but it can also reprogram itself, unintentionally, without realizing it. But that could never happen to you and me, right? Haha. Ha.
OK, let's now think about all of the little self-deceptions we pile up through the day -- like how nearly everyone thinks they're an above-average driver, even though that's obviously impossible. Well, you remember George Costanza's rule that the key to lying is making yourself believe it? There's a theory that humans evolved self-deception specifically because it helps us deceive others. In order to survive, you need other humans to cooperate with you. In order to make sure they do that, you need to be able to convince them you're great. In order to convincingly tell that outrageous lie, you need to make yourself belief you're great.
You lie to yourself, then you believe the lie, then you make others believe the lie which you now believe is true. It's lies all the way down. This is why if you go to a primitive tribe without access to mirrors or clear reflective surfaces of water and show them a reflection of their own faces, they freak the fuck out. ("They were paralyzed; after the first startled response -- covering their mouths and ducking their heads -- they stood transfixed ...") Living their lives without a clear reflection as a reference, they each had built up in their minds an idea of what they surely must look like. Maybe they always secretly assumed they were among the most attractive, despite their public shows of humility. Then bam, the disgusting reality was suddenly staring back at them. "That's what I look like?"
Well, if you had a magic mirror that could reflect back upon you exactly how others see your attitudes, mannerisms, emotions, habits, etc, it would be the same, only about a hundred times stronger. A hand clasped over your mouth, feeling sick, staring at the "reflection" of a total stranger. Anyway, buy my book. Oh, wait, one more thing ...
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For more from David Wong, check out 6 Reasons Good People Turn Into Monsters and Your Brain Needs Silence (And Probably Isn't Getting It).
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