Mental Obesity

by George Hatjoullis

The state and health professionals are ramping up the campaign against physical obesity. This is a good thing. Excess weight does physical harm and can cause or at least exacerbate health problems. These problems are costly both in individual productivity, treatment and the communal sense of well being. No one however seems remotely concerned about mental obesity or even recognises the concept.

The idea came to me many (many) years ago whilst doing a degree in maths. The tutor started every session with mental calisthenics. Problems were presented and they needed to be solved quickly and without aid of pencil and paper or calculator. This soon cleared the cobwebs out and got everyone limbered up for the more challenging business of the session. One of the constant messages of the degree was the need to develop a habit of thought that involved looking at all problems from different perspectives. The idea was revisited when doing another degree, in Psychology (collecting degrees has been a hobby of mine). The idea of the Gestaltz blog was born in these two degrees although the habit of thought pre-dates both degrees.

Mental obesity is a far more serious health risk than physical obesity but gets little if any attention. In fact the state and and many institutions rely on it to retain social influence. Individuals by and large process stimuli that are put in front of them and the form of presentation often has imbedded within it encouragement to process in a particular way. You are opted in to a point of view by what is presented and the mode of presentation. You can opt out but it takes intellectual effort. If your intellectual faculties do not have the habit of thought, you will be opted in. You might of course think and choose to opt in but this seems a rare response. 

Let us explore a specific example; face cream. Many claims are made about wrinkles and anti-ageing. The main debate amongst users is which cream is best rather than the whole concept of anti-ageing creams. Implicit in the whole debate is that aging can be deferred and that showing signs of age is a bad thing. The mere existence of these products promotes the cult of youth. It also promotes the idea that how we look is vitally important and that we should spend vast amounts of our hard earned money on these creams to avoid inflicting our ageing skin on other peoples eyesight. It claims that the creams have a material effect. This assertion is impossible to prove since no one can wind the clock back and see how you would have looked without the damn things.

Experimental research is of course possible. One could design an experiment which compared two otherwise equivalent groups, one using a cream and one just washing their face with cold water. Establishing the equivalence of the two groups and controlling the experiment might be tricky but in principle it could be done, and, using a large enough sample, the results might be of interest. Has someone got any such research for me to see? Has any buyer of any cream ever asked to see it and if they did could they understand its method or results? Has it been replicated? Do the buyers of such creams have any idea what I am talking about? Please respond in the comments section.

Moving on to more serious issues. The news services present a selection of news. We consume what they give us all to often without thought. A great example appeared on Twitter recently. One agency reported the conviction of a man that shot a drunk woman on his porch in the States. After some Twitter outcry, the report was amended to read unarmed woman. I will leave you to lose a few mental pounds thinking about why this amendment was important. Twitter can be a force for good.

The plight of the people of Gaza has received huge and almost exclusive news coverage in recent weeks. Without wishing to diminish the seriousness of the plight of this unfortunate group my mind immediately asked why only the people of Gaza? There are similar atrocious acts going on in Ukraine, Myanmar, Africa, Syria and Iraq. The Rohingya in Myanmar appear to be experiencing a genocide by people that call themselves Buddhists (get your head around that one). Why are we not being fed this atrocity? If you only eat the mental food that you are fed you will get mentally fat. You will be nudged about to suit the state and other institutions with the capacity to nudge you. Time for some mental calisthenics. You will feel better for it.