March 13, 2006


Did Cheney Shoot To Kill? Don't Be A Dopamine ... (WILLIAM WEIR, February 28 2006, The Hartford Courant)

Since the vice president shot one of his hunting buddies a little more than two weeks ago, a number of alternate theories have been bubbling beneath the official version of events.

Some have speculated alcohol played a role, while others have even suggested a heated argument could have preceded the shooting. According to a poll by Rasmussen Reports, 27 percent of Americans had "serious questions" about the incident. Even if the White House hadn't waited a few news cycles to tell anyone about the accident, it seems inevitable that the official story would meet with skepticism. [...]

Some research indicates that an excess of dopamine in the brain can cause people to spot patterns where others see only random data. Dopamine is the chemical in our brains most commonly associated with pleasure. Too little of it can lead to attention deficit disorder and Parkinson's disease. Too much, though, leads to schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Researchers at University Hospital at Zurich found that subjects given a dose of dopamine were more prone to seeing faces and words when scrambled patterns appeared on a screen in front of them. Peter Brugger, the neurologist who led the study, says the results show that dopamine not only plays a role in detecting patterns in visual displays but probably in perceiving patterns - real or not - in events. A tendency to spot patterns and connect the dots is the foundation of conspiracy theorizing.

"If there is too much [dopamine], you begin to develop hallucinations and delusions, including delusional ideas of reference," Brugger says in an e-mail message. [...]

The list of events with alternate theories is endless, as is our fascination. Certainly the excessive dopamine explanation doesn't explain the entire 27 percent cited in the Rasmussen poll. So why are so many - even those with chemically balanced brains - taken by conspiracy theories?

Part of it is a natural tendency to find order in things. Psychologists say we're loath to acknowledge that random events and lone screwballs can fell world leaders and cause so much havoc on our world. Assigning blame to the Mafia and other powerful networks is a way to make sense of it all.

"If people see an event like the assassination of a president or the death of a princess, they're more likely to see that as the result of a major cause," says Patrick Leman, a psychologist at Royal Holloway University of London. "That keeps our view of the world as stable and consistent. It's casting around to find an explanation with what we want to see."

The idea that such elaborate deceptions are being orchestrated at high levels offers a much more satisfying explanation than simply acknowledging that accidents happen.

What makes such psychological foibles of more than merely academic interest is the way the influence policy. For instance, conspiracy-mindedness drives the absurd notion that having a company from Dubai take over some port operations must be part of a plot to infiltrate our defenses (non-existent defenses for the most part, mind you), just as the insistence that everything must be orderly drives the criticism that the Administration should have forseen this kerfuffle or that over the Cheney incident. The thought that things sometimes happen irrespective of our best plans and efforts is too much for some folks to accept--to do so would leave them feeling too insecure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 13, 2006 8:21 AM

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 13, 2006 11:43 AM

Conspiracy theories are for people who don't have the guts to be Pollyannas.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at March 13, 2006 4:29 PM

"Any historian ... knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum on incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination." -- Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Harper's Magazine, November, 1964.

Note the date of the article -- Hofstadter was referring to the paranoid Right at the time (John Birchers), but the observation applies equally to all such. Conspiracy theorists are true believers who "know" they alone are privy to some hidden higher truth.

The modern Left's dogma is that human nature is perfectly perfectable and utopia achievable if only they are allowed to follow their enlightened programs. The unfortunate historic empirical fact that all such attempts have resulted in mass murder and despotism must therefore be the result of some treasonous conspiracy to thwart their benign utopian visions. The fact that 27% believe such outrageous conspiracy theories indicates that politics has become their religion, which they are unwilling or unable to question.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2006 6:32 PM


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