Saturday, 26 June 2010

Mental viruses

The internet has proved a fantastic tool for the circulation of ideas and concepts. It unites groups of people with common interests and is the perfect forum for discussions and networking.

There is a down side. The internet is also a breeding ground for a phenomena that I call the Mental Virus. A mental virus is like a computer virus. It is a thought or belief that has no possible use to the owner other than the creation of fear and mistrust. It spreads from person to person and is almost impossible to get rid of. An older version of the mental virus is the urban myth.

Urban myths were rife before the internet. Whoever told you about them said that they happened to "a friend of a friend". Generally, there is no proof that they happened, and there is an element of possibility. Here are a few:
  • The old woman who dried her wet dog in the microwave and the dog exploded.
  • There are alligators in the sewer put there by people buying them as pets and flushing them down the toilet.
  • The young woman who stopped to help an old woman whose car had broken down. She offers to give the old woman a lift to a garage, and notices manly hairs on the back of her hand and drives off before the old woman can get in the car. It is only when she stops that she finds that the old lady's handbag contains a large knife or a small axe.
Mental viruses are just like urban myths, but are on a much grander scale. They start with an idea that snowballs into international conspiracies and life and death issues. People do enormous amounts of research that joins together unrelated facts to make a unified whole.

Some other mental viruses are as follows:
  • All modern inventions like computers and stealth aircraft are inspired by recovered flying saucers being reverse-engineered by the US government.
  • Princess Diana's death was ordered by the royal family.
  • Humanity is being secretly enslaved and ruled by seven foot blood-drinking lizards.
  • When NASA landed on the moon, they found alien bases and have been covering it up since.
  • NASA never landed on the moon. It was all a hoax.
  • The nazis landed on the moon during the second world war.
When you first look at the concepts, they appear pretty far-fetched. But the people who perpetuate mental viruses spend a great deal of time researching for phenomena and facts that support their ideas. They then place these facts into a logical order to build up a picture that points to their theory. They also conveniently ignore all evidence that points to a more logical conclusion. But when you de-construct their arguments, they don't bear well under scrutiny. Many of the conclusions are measured incorrectly - like trying to say that someone is 6 ft tall by weighing them.

More dangerous mental viruses can be perpetuated by religious cults and groups. In these cases, mental viruses are the start of extremist behaviour.

So when learning new concepts on the internet, please consider whether you are taking on a mental virus. Consider whether there is significant scientific backing for the facts and concepts. Also, consider how the ideas influence how you feel about yourself and others. Be rational, sceptical and challenge everything. Ask the right questions, and many of these theories fall down like a house of cards.

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