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January 5, 2006

Automatism

The Edge Annual Question — 2006 WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true? One of my favorite philosophers, Andy Clark, has taken part his essay is on The quick-thinking zombies inside us It sounds spot on to me. What do you think? So much of what we do, feel, think and choose is determined by non-conscious, automatic uptake of cues and information. Of course, advertisers will say they have known this all along. But only in recent years, with seminal studies by Tanya Chartrand, John Bargh and others has the true scale of our daily automatism really begun to emerge. Such studies show that it is possible (it is relatively easy) to activate racist stereotypes that impact our subsequent behavioral interactions, for example yielding the judgment that your partner in a subsequent game or task is more hostile than would be judged by an unprimed control. Such effects occur despite a subject's total and honest disavowal of those very stereotypes. In similar ways it is possible to unconsciously prime us to feel older (and then we walk more slowly)....

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