the emperor has no clothes
Donald Post, the producer, spoke the same language, and knew Margaret Lasar from somewhere, or other. He suggested that she’d be perfect and should be brought on board. Ben Johnstone felt he had to add something, so suggested that it was important that she was a woman talking about women, whatever that meant. In the muted light of her Oxford study Cameron the cameraman kept Professor Lasar’s face in close focus. The camera loved her because she didn’t pay too much attention to appearance, her bushy eyebrows and scarecrow hair, cloaked her in the stereotypical picture of academic genius. The clipped tone of upper crust English made her seem more like an admiral than an academic. There were no ohs or ahs, no deliberation, just a straightforward gung-ho approach to speaking her mind
‘Conscious awareness,’ she said, ‘only arises at the cortical level of process. Not the deeper and unconscious levels, which often influence our emotions. Indeed many of our body responses are controlled by the automatic nervous system. It is a short step from suggesting that they control some of our responses to the idea that they control all our responses; that we are slaves to hormones; a slave to physiology. It is only later, after the choice has been made, is the cerebral cortex activated and we give it a veneer of rationality. The old, I chose those socks because I liked them better than the other ones argument. Even when they are shown to be identical, 99% of people still try to justify the decision that they have made by, for example, saying: “I liked the feel of the first pair better than the second”. And here we fall into a hole that we cannot dig ourselves out of: introspectionism. We cannot prove that subject A did not like socks B, better than socks C.
What we do know is that certain emotions such as fear make us more susceptible to shape sensory, perceptual and semantic information in a certain way. In other words, we can be more easily swayed to shout what fine clothes the emperor is wearing if other people are shouting the same thing. If they are shouting that the emperor has got no clothes on, then, of course, we shout the same thing and see the same thing. The clothes that he was wearing before are still there, but we no longer see them.
‘That we see something new, at all, that is the miracle.’ Professor Lasar leaned over and took a sip of what looked like whisky from a silver decanter.
‘A witch only becomes a witch when someone shouts that she is a witch. A virgin becomes a virgin when some shouts that she is a virgin. So how does this override button work and our eyes confirm what they cannot see?
‘Firstly, a heightened sensitivity, when people are waiting and expecting something to happen it usually does. The sun spinning and turning in the sky at Medugorje is a classic example of people’s expectations tipping over into performance. Charcot and later Freud noted the wave like motion of hysteria spreading throughout 19th Century asylums when the conditions were right.
‘Secondly, usually, there is an authority figure to suggest that what they are experience is in some way correct. The emperor says look at my fine new clothes and his courtiers fall over themselves with admiration. The church suggests that the Virgin Mary will appear and the sun moves. Charcot looks for hysteria and finds it in his patients. But the interesting thing is that many of his woman patients were able to feign the same symptoms, they were able to play at being hysterical, when asked to perform. The manifestation of an emotional state of hysteria could, in other words, be unhooked from its physiological markers.
‘That is not to suggest that the woman, Ruth, you mentioned, that thought she somehow grew a new hymen overnight, did not actually believe that she genuinely did, or manifest some of the symptoms associated with this, such as bleeding after intercourse. The interesting thing, for me, is how she infected others with her belief structure. What we know is influenced by who we are. And the role that we play in any group structure.
‘In groups over ten whoever dominates the conversation, such as the emperor, speaks the most, is listened to most, and people take cues from him about what to believe. This is called routinization. In groups under four, however, routinization is not imposed from above, but comes from the person physically closest to you, often the person sitting in the next chair, with whom you have had the most interaction. The person closest to Ruth could therefore in theory become infected with her false belief structure and come to recognise it as her own. In the same way she could infect someone else closest to her. Routinization from both routes helps reinforce any such associations. An attack on what a person believes therefore becomes an attack on the individual and group. Antagonistic actions helps strengthen insular bond between the individuals in the group, but also heightens the emotional basis for the groups existence and makes a manifestation of a particular response to that attack, in this case, Ruth bleeding after intercourse, more likely.
‘It’s all complete rubbish, of course. Is that it?’ Professor Lasar said, frowning at the camera.
‘Yes, we’ll edit later,’ said Ben Johnstone out of camera shot, ‘that’s a take’.