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DARPA AT IT AGAIN: STORY-TELLING, DIRECTED HISTORY, AND SOCIAL ...

June 21, 2012 By Joseph P. Farrell

Well DARPA is at it again folks (not that they ever quit), this time, trying to find out how stories and narratives influence human behavior:

DARPA Seeks to Understand Storytelling; Weaponized Dr. Seuss Imminent

Well, as you can tell from the comments to this article, there is some question as to its genuineness. but let's assume it's true for the sake of argument.

Given that caveat, I hope you caught that first quoted paragraph from the DARPA project cited in the article. Here it is once again:

"Stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out- group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity. It comes as no surprise that these influences make stories highly relevant to vexing security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency and terrorism, and conflict prevention and resolution. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context is a matter of great import and some urgency."(Emphasis added)

What we have here is nothing less than a kind of "Manhattan Project" designed to understand the influence of narratives on the formation of aggregate (and individual) human response, and more importantly, forming memory and the general "Heuristic cues" we all use to search for, and interpret information.

For most of us, those heuristic cues are closely related to the way most humans think, that is to say, analogically, from known contexts to the unknown, via perceptions of common forms or content across contexts. A bit of this search for a formally explicit way to analyze these processes is hinted at in the last of the three series of questions DARPA posed its participants:

"3. To survey the state of the art in narrative analysis and decomposition tools. How can we take stories and make them quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion? What analytic approaches or tools best establish a framework for the scientific study of the psychological and neurobiological impact of stories on people? Are particular approaches or tools better than others for understanding how stories propagate in a system so as to influence behavior?"(Emphasis added)

In my opinion, at least part of what DARPA is after might indeed be seen as stemming all the way back to Leibniz, and his quest for a kind of "universal calculus." Of course, in Leibniz's day, the effect of such a language on biology or neurophysiological processes was only loosely guessed at, but here DARPA is making it explicit.

If all this gives you pause,it should, for we have seen in the last century the enormous power of directed history narratives through the mass market media and the narrow group of interests that they represented. We are familiar with the vast increase in the knowledge of propaganda techniques and tools developed by all combatants during World War Two... so imagine all that, with a truly explicit formal understanding...

...or, as the article's headline states it, a kind of soft propaganda, a "weaponized Dr. Seuss."

As for the story's genuineness, apparently at least The New Yorker is climbing on board with the story:

Why Is the U.S. Government Interested in Storytelling? Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/03/why-is-the-us-government-interested-in-storytelling.html#ixzz1wtJ24L76

See you on the flip side.