How The Media Is Creating A Sensemaking Crisis

There are many reasons why we have a crisis in sensemaking taking place in our culture right now. Which is to say, a breakdown in how we agree upon what is happening around us and converge on truth.

We’ve always have disagreements in human culture, but have we ever been so at odds about basic facts? Have we ever seen such a wide scale degree of censorship around issues that are nowhere close to being black and white? I don’t know, but I can’t find an obvious time in history that compares to this scale.

Which leads me to this, on August 27th 2021, we released a video on YouTube about a vaccine passport hearing in Detroit. Within 4 hours it was removed from YouTube for YouTube claims was “Medical Misinformation.”

The interesting part of this was, this was a journalistic piece exploring the way local Detroit media covered a hearing in Michigan about vaccine passports. The video we produced contained some short snippets of a testimony from Dr. Christina Parks, who offered her expert opinion on why it would not be a good idea to mandate vaccines at this moment in time.

As you can note yourself in our video below, there are no medical claims made by myself, the journalist, and there is no push for the audience to decide on something medically based.

This was honest and neutral journalism pointing to the fact that objectively poor journalism was being done by some mainstream outlets, and how it’s causing a crisis in how we view science. Ironically, the video discusses how we aren’t respecting one another’s expert opinions during COVID, and instead we are walking away from science – not allowing critique, discussion, or differences of opinion during a time where the answers aren’t always clear.

Our organization, The Pulse, appealed YouTube’s decision, but it was struck down within hours, backing up YouTube’s claims that this video contained “medical misinformation.”

Interestingly, YouTube has left multiple full length videos with 100’s of thousands of views up with Dr. Christina Park’s testimony. So if the issue was her testimony, why did ours get deleted while others remain? Did reviewers even look at our video? Was the issue that we dissected the issues with mainstream media? We don’t know, and we won’t.

Having been in this field for 12 years, this is obviously preposterous to me, but it’s something our society is currently going through as mentioned above. We are in a crisis of sensemaking and the only way out is for us as individuals to start developing the necessary skills to inquire, be curious, and be playful. The media is only inviting us into division – we don’t have to accept that invite.

But to do so, we must develop the skills necessary to stay aware and present enough that we can question what’s happening, communicate about it respectfully, and converge on ideas. Something we teach in detail in our Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking Course.

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Test Your Ability to Discover Truth

A psychological exercise called the Ideological Turing test, helps individuals explore their ability to critically analyze ideas, topics and beliefs.

The conclusion is if you cannot explain someone else’s perspective about something, there’s a decent chance you are either wrong or have not taken the time to understand what the topic truly entails.

Many of us exist in this category, which is partly why our society is so divided today. 

Historically a Turing test is used in AI development when developers are testing whether or not their AI model can think like a human. The test is named after Alan Turing, a computer scientist, cryptanalyst, mathematician and theoretical biologist.

“Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine’s ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.” – Wikipedia

Basically if a human can’t tell the difference between responses from a computer or a human, the computer has passed. 

Now, the Ideological Turing Test is similar but slightly different. This time, instead of a computer passing off as a human, you have to be able to explain an opposing position of an argument as well as your opponents would. I.e. as if you believe it yourself. If you can convincingly do so, you have passed the test.

This would essentially mean you know how to listen to others and truly understand other people’s perspective around an argument.

Let’s take COVID vaccination, a hot topic that has people arguing constantly. Do vaccinated or unvaccinated people cause variants to emerge? Some will say it’s the vaccinated, others will say it’s the unvaccinated, but can you explain the perspective of both sides?

As a journalist, I can tell you that there is a scientific pathway for either to be true. But many who believe the vaccine to be highly dangerous will bias towards the vaccine being the cause of all variants. Where as, those who believe the unvaccinated are creating variants, will often simply think the unvaccinated are stupid and a problem to society, yet they are not aware that they themselves could be a source of an emerging variant.

Can you pass the test? 

Consider any topic you feel you know a lot about, take vaccine mandates for example. Now consider an opposing viewpoint to what your view is about the topic you choose. Now test yourself: can you present that viewpoint in a way that another person would accept as representative of them?

In doing this, you might find that you can’t explain their position very well, meaning you might have become ideological in your view or simply never considered their position. You might find that as you consider explaining their viewpoint, you start wondering what the other person might be thinking or feeling, effectively helping you empathize with another person’s perspective.

In the end, you may still disagree with them, but at least gaining empathy you can understand them and be respectful in future discussion. In fact, you can now go deeper in future discussions, while maintaining a sense of calm and respect.

Why is that important? First off, this becomes helpful in all areas of your life. Personal relationships, in work settings, online, and about societal issues. We connect as communities with authentic conversation. We make important decisions in our lives via authentic conversations. And part of what’s happening in our world right now that is causing division and breakdowns in relationships is that we are not being able to truly listen, understand and hear each other. Conversations remain shallow and avoided, not because they aren’t important, but because we feel we don’t know how to deal with them.

What we get out of deep conversation is meaning and authenticity. It can be tough at first, but it’s incredibly rewarding. You become closer to people and close to yourself. Instead of always burying our repressed ideas as a society, which is never a healthy thing to do long term, we face our mild disagreements in a healthy way through conversation.

More often than not, you’ll notice people actually agree with one another significantly more than disagree, yet culturally we assume we are always at odds with one another. We can end this illusion with improved communication.

It’s also possible this exercise pointed out some areas where your own argument might have been a bit weak, causing you to look more closely at it and perhaps gain greater clarity on it if possible.

But note, we’re not strengthening our argument to defeat other people. Our goal is to arrive at truth and understanding – not go to war. We can call it ‘strengthening’ if we like, but truly, we are attempting to get clear and converge on ideas where possible.

Now, some ideas are more philosophical in nature, and there may not be enough facts to ‘strengthen’ our argument. Nonetheless, it’s important we know how our philosophy came to be, how we can test it, and how we can listen to others. This involves building self awareness, a sense of presence, and skills of inquiry – tools that help us in all areas of life.

When exercises  like this cause us to feel offensive or uncomfortable, this may be a sign that you are connecting your identity to what you believe. Our ideas are not who we are, it is not us who is under attack when someone disagrees. If we see it that way, we might want to again take a step back and assess where we have become too close to things.

The implications of becoming stuck in identifying with our beliefs is that we begin to feed into divides, create rifts in relationships, and seed issues within communities. All of this will have us fail to arrive at a place where we can truly thrive. Sure, we can ‘get by,’ but is that all we want? If we had the power within us to thrive, would you want to create that world?

Are you looking for the truth? Or are you seeking to simply adhere to your own ideology?

We don’t want to be wrong or to be stuck in faith based beliefs that we think are factual. But when is the last time we truly tested our beliefs? How do we know what a fact is vs what someone is simply claiming?

I want to make a small note about the importance of seeking truth, through allowing our curiosity and playfulness to take us towards flexible understandings, not about holding hard to our side. Generating different viewpoints as people can be very helpful in collectively evolving our ideas and understandings in order to think of new ways of thriving not just surviving. 

As we converse with one another playfully, we can learn whether new understandings have come to light that require us to update our view. We might hear how ideas can affect people with different experiences than us, perhaps inviting us to be more flexible and have a more holistic understanding of a topic and its implications. We might hear from highly trained people who have the capacity to understand things we don’t. Whatever it may be, we all play a role in the information landscape and how it evolves.

Given the information landscape shapes our choices, decisions and actions, it’s important we know how to navigate it and evolve it well. Natural inquiry with one another is an innate sense of play in humans, but one that can get overridden by bias and rigid personality.

Real World Implications

I want to be clear, developing a better sense of questioning ourselves and updating our ideas does not mean we shouldn’t expect challenges and differences of opinion, it means we will be flexible enough to find a solution when it does happen.

Look at how political parties function today. We have picked an ideological side, left to or right for example, and regardless of what the issue is, we seem to think of a solution in terms of what our ideological side is suggesting. 

We often have a misinterpretation of the other side, often classifying their belief by some harsh name, and we get together with ‘like minded’ people to re-enforce our beliefs about the issue. We even watch news and media that are slanted towards our ideological position so we can strengthen it even further.

This effectively pulls us away from other people, often dehumanizing them into a name or a phrase to describe them, without ever truly understanding them. This, especially over time, has huge effects on how communities break down, politics runs a muck, and how we end up not knowing how to arrive at truth any more.

Thus, our decisions are hard to make, our direction as a society is unclear, and we can’t have basic conversations with people we disagree with unless it becomes heated.

As a journalist and individual who has been working to help people with personal transformation for over 13 years, I truly believe the skills we spoke about above are some of the most important things we can develop to turn our world around in the long term. Self awareness, presence, a sense of inquiry, critical thinking etc. It’s about developing all aspects of who we are, not just emotional regulation or not just mental processes, but ALL of who we are – things we really should have learned in school.

If you want to dive deeper into this journey, we actually use this test in our course called Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking. It’s a structured program I built with my friend and colleague Dr. Madhava Setty and it’s a very helpful tool in building self awareness, communication skills, critical thinking skills, and improving your overall sense making.

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Gratitude Can Literally Change Your Heart & The Molecular Structure Of Your Brain

Gratitude is a funny thing. In some parts of the world, somebody who gets a clean drink of water, some food, or a worn out pair of shoes can be extremely grateful. Meanwhile, somebody else who has all the necessities they need to live can be found complaining about something.

What we have today is what we once wanted before, but there is a lingering belief out there that obtaining material possessions is the key to happiness – especially in the Western world. This may be true for some to an extent, but that happiness is temporary. The truth is that true happiness is an inside job.

It’s a matter of perspective, and in a world where we are constantly made to feel like we are lacking and always wanting more, it can be difficult to achieve or experience actual happiness. Many of us are always looking toward external factors to experience joy and happiness, without ever doing or thinking about the inner work that is required.

This is something science is just starting to grasp as well, as shown by research coming out of UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. According to them:

Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.

UCLA Newsroom, Joan Moran.

There are many studies showing that people who count their blessings tend to be far happier and experience less depression.  In one study from the University of California, Berkeley,  researchers recruited people with mental health difficulties, including people suffering from anxiety and depression. The study involved nearly 300 adults who were randomly divided into three groups.

All groups received counselling services, but the first group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.

Researchers found that compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.

 Joshua Brown & Joel Wong. Indiana University.

Previously, a study on gratitude conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants to be given one of three tasks.

Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another group recorded daily troubles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on what they consider positive or the negative.

Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the troubled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.

How Does Gratitude Benefit Us?

Researchers from Berkeley identified how gratitude might actually work on our minds and bodies. They provided four insights from their research suggesting what causes the psychological benefits of gratitude.

  • Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
  • Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
  • Gratitude’s benefits take time & practice. You might not feel it right away.
  • Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain

The brain part is very interesting. The researchers at Berkeley used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity while people from each group did a “pay it forward” task. During the task, the participants were given money by a “nice person.” This person’s only request was that they pass on the money to someone if they felt grateful.

They did this because they wanted to distinguish between actions motivated by gratitude and actions driven by other motivations like obligation, guilt, or what other people think. This is important because you can’t fake gratitude, you actually have to feel it. If you don’t feel grateful or practice feeling grateful, you may not experience as much joy and happiness.

In a world where emotions aren’t really taught in school and the importance is put on striving for high grades, it’s not abnormal to have difficulty feeling grateful. This is especially understandable if you’ve been brought up in the Western world, which is full of consumerism and competition. A world where culture is inviting us to feel we are lacking so we need to strive for more, that we need to compete instead of cooperate.

Following the Pay It Forward study, participants were asked to rate how grateful they felt toward the person giving them the money and how much they wanted to pay it forward to a charitable cause as well as how guilty they thought they would feel if they didn’t help.  They were also given questionnaires to measure how grateful they felt in general. Researchers said,

We found that across the participants, when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. More specifically, we found that when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.

Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.

Joshua Brown & Joel Wong. Indiana University.

It’s also interesting to note that a 2018 study discovered a brain network that “gives rise to feelings of gratitude. The study could spur future investigations into how these ‘building blocks’ transform social information into complex emotions.” 

What About The Heart?

The work and research above is great, but where do we actually experience these feelings? They are clearly not a product of our brain, they are products of our consciousness, and when we feel them the brain responds. Researchers are now discovering that the heart also responds during these experience, and that it might actually be the heart that’s responsible for sending these signals to the brain.

A group of prestigious and internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.

Their work, among many others, has shown that when a person is feeling emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.

Not only that, but because the heart beats out the largest electromagnetic field produced in the body, the Institute has been able to gather a significant amount of data.

According to Rollin McCraty, Ph.D, and Director of Research at Heartmath,

“Emotional information is actually coded and modulated into these fields. By learning to shift our emotions, we are changing the information coded into the magnetic fields that are radiated by the heart, and that can impact those around us. We are fundamentally and deeply connected with each other and the planet itself.”

Another great point made below by HeartMath:

“One important way the heart can speak to and influence the brain is when the heart is coherent – experiencing stable, sine-wavelike pattern in its rhythms. When the heart is coherent, the body, including the brain, begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them are greater mental clarity and ability, including better decision making.”

In fact, the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends in return. What’s even more incredible is the fact that these heart signals (from heart to brain) actually have a significant effect on brain function.

Research findings have shown that as we practice heart coherence and radiate love and compassion, our heart generates a coherent electromagnetic wave into the local field environment that facilitates social coherence, whether in the home, workplace, classroom or sitting around a table. As more individuals radiate heart coherence, it builds an energetic field that makes it easier for others to connect with their heart. So, theoretically it is possible that enough people building individual and social coherence could actually contribute to an unfolding global coherence.

Rollin McCraty.

So far, the researchers have discovered that the heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways: neurological communication (nervous system), biophysical communication (pulse wave), biochemical communication (hormones), and energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).

HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive function. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect. It facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability

HeartMath Institute.

Feelings Have The Power To Create Change

So what do we make of this? Why is this research important and ca it make our world better? Here’s what HeartMath’s researchers feel with regards to these questions:

Every individual’s energy affects the collective field environment. The means each person’s emotions and intentions generate an energy that affects the field. A first step in diffusing societal stress in the global field is for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own energies. We can do this by increasing our personal coherence and raising our vibratory rate, which helps us become more conscious of the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that we are feeding the field each day. We have a choice in every moment to take to heart the significance of intentionally managing our energies. This is the free will or local freedom that can create global cohesion.

Dr. Deborah Rozman, the President of Quantum Intech

Overall, this type of work suggests that human consciousness, in general, has the power to be a key ingredient in changing our world.

One study, was done during the Israel-Lebanon war in the 1980s. Two Harvard University professors organized groups of experienced meditators in Jerusalem, Yugoslavia and the United States, and asked them to focus their attention on the area of conflict at various intervals over a 27-month period. Over the course of the study, the levels of violence in Lebanon decreased between 40 and 80 percent each time a meditating group was in place. The average number of people killed during the war each day dropped from 12 to three, and war-related injuries fell by 70 percent.

What this shows is that consciousness can have a temporary effect. But how do we make it more permanent? How do we create lasting change?

Another great example is a study that was conducted in 1993 in Washington, D.C., which showed a 25 percent drop in crime rates when 2,500 meditators meditated during a specific period of time with that intention.

Once again a temporary change only. This type of information is heavily correlated with quantum physics, as many experiments in that area as well as parapsychology (telepathy, remote viewing, distant healing) indicate similar findings.

This holds true as far back as 1999. Statistics professor Jessica Utts at UC Irvine published a paper showing that parapsychological experiments have produced much stronger results than those showing a daily dose of aspirin helps prevent heart attacks. Utts also showed that these results are much stronger than the research behind various drugs like antiplatelets.

This type of work has statistically significant implications, yet is heavily ignored and labelled as pseudoscience simply because it conflicts with long-held beliefs from a material worldview that is coming under fire. We often have trouble letting go of these types of worldview’s, but times are changing, and we must also.

For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work [in parapsychology], including a year that I spent full-time working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War… At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their beliefs solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked debunkers if there is any amount of data that would convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any. Now there is a definition of pseudo-science-basing conclusions on belief rather than data!

Utts, Chair of the Statistics Department, UC Irvine (Dean Radin, Real Magic)

The Takeaway

Emotions and other factors associated with consciousness have the power to transform our inner world in ways we don’t fully understand yet. These findings show how consciousness can actually transform the physical/material world as well, and that’s huge. This validates the idea that if we can change our inner world through healing trauma, gratitude, empathy, compassion, and meditation, we can make our outer world more peaceful.

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