So it’s a new year… and the world is ever-changing.
Well, how is it going to change – and what can we do to swing it in a positive direction?
Tonight – a rollicking conversation with Howard Bloom about that very subject.
About the guest:
Howard Bloom, a Visiting Scholar at New York University, is founder of the International Paleopsychology Project, executive editor of the New Paradigm book series, a founding board member of the Epic of Evolution Society, and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Society, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, The International Society of Human Ethology, and the Academy of Political Science. He has been featured in every edition of Who’s Who in Science and Engineering since the publication’s inception.
Bloom has taken an unusual approach to the study of mass moods and cultural convolutions. He started out normally enough, building his first Boolean algebra machine at the age of twelve, becoming a dedicated microscopist that same year, codesigning a computer which won a Westinghouse Science Award before he left grade school, and being granted a private brainstorming session with the head of the Graduate Physics Department of The State University of New York, Buffalo, at the age of thirteen. By sixteen he was a lab assistant at the world’s largest cancer research center, the Roswell Park Memorial Research Cancer Institute, where he helped plumb the mysteries of the immune system. And before his freshman year of college he designed and executed research in Skinnerian programmed learning at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.
Then came an act of academic heresy. After graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from New York University, Bloom turned down four graduate fellowships and embarked on a 20-year-long urban anthropology expedition to penetrate what he calls “society’s myth-making machinery”–the inner sanctums of politics and the media. During his foray into “the dark underbelly of mass emotion” he edited a magazine which won two National Academy of Poets prizes, founded the leading avant-garde art studio on the East Coast, was featured on the cover of Art Direction Magazine, then gave up listening to Beethoven, Bartok, and Mozart to become editor of a rock magazine. Using correlational studies, focus groups, empirical surveys, ethnographic expeditions into suburban teen subcultures, and other scientific techniques, Bloom more than doubled the publication’s sales, and was credited by Rolling Stones’ Chet Flippo with having founded a new genre–the heavy metal magazine. Seeking still further ways to infiltrate modernity’s mass mind, Bloom formed a public relations firm in the music and film industry and won the confidence of those whose territory he’d invaded. The payoff in knowledge proved invaluable.
Bloom worked with Michael Jackson, Prince, John Cougar Mellencamp, Kiss, Queen, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Joan Jett, Diana Ross, Simon & Garfunkel, The Talking Heads, AC/DC, Billy Idol, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run D.M.C., Simply Red, and the heads of many a media conglomerate. He was adept at spotting new subcultures, entering them, and helping their members achieve their goals…a skill which gave him an inside role in the rise of rap, disco, and punk rock.
The pinnacles of fame provided surprising scientific revelations. “When you’re at the center of the sort of attention-storm which hits when you’re working with a superstar,” Bloom says, “it’s as if the laws of physics change. Hormones charge you up in ways you never imagined. Time perception alters. You resolve crisis in minutes, seeing solutions instantly which previously would have taken you weeks.
“More important is the impact of a communal ritual like a rock concert. The star onstage is taken over by a self he doesn’t know, one that seems to surge through him as if he were a length of empty pipe. The force of this strange passion welds the audience in an almost transcendent bond.” Bloom’s task was to first experience the exaltation, then to dissect it. “The model for this work,” he says, “came from William James, who attempted to feel the ecstatic experience of mystics, then to probe it scientifically, a process which led to his 1902 book The Varieties of the Religious Experience.”
Bloom’s forays into power and its manipulations were also intense. “In the music and film industry everyone knew that money and career advancement were on the line. But few realized how deeply what they did affected the lives of millions, and even fewer felt the responsibility that demands. It was an amazing privilege to work as an equal with the entertainment industry’s elite, many of whom I either had to woo or thwart to help my clients reach their audience with a message of genuine value. Some executives were master strategists but used their intelligence to increase their own stature, often at a brutal cost to others. Others were far more ethical. Yet even the best-intentioned employed boardroom and backroom tactics handed down from the politics of chimpanzees. Without knowing it, they used tricks of leadership we share with social animals from lizards and lobsters to baboons and mountain apes.”
The subculture of Washington politics was, to Bloom, the most disturbing of them all. Bloom founded Music in Action, a national anti-censorship organization. This brought him into head-on combat with Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President and eventual presidential candidate Al Gore. Says Bloom, “Tipper and the right wing religionists who used her for their ends were masters of perceptual manipulation. They perpetrated hoaxes of outrageous transparency, yet still managed to convince the press and public that their falsifications were true.”
Twenty pages in The Billboard Guide to Music Publicity are devoted to Bloom and the antidote he invented, “perceptual engineering,” which he defines as “a way of finding a valid truth which the herd refuses to see, then turning the herd around and making that truth self-evident. It’s what we do in much of science–seeing the ordinary from a new perspective, then revealing what makes it tick and in the process altering society’s views.”
Says British neuroscientist Dr. John Robert Skoyles of Howard Bloom’s science and of his photography, “Michelangelo walked around a piece of marble trying to sense the work within. Bloom hunts the banal of modern environment trying to sense the aesthetics hidden away in what we overlook.”
In 1981, Bloom organized the material he’d unearthed and began the formal research for a new theoretical structure that would first reveal itself in The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History. However he continued pursuing scientific truths in unconventional ways. In 1995 Bloom headed an insurgent academic circle called “The Group Selection Squad” whose efforts precipitated radical re-evaluations of neo-Darwinist dogma within the scientific community. In 1997, he founded a new discipline, paleopsychology, whose participants included physicists, psychologists, microbiologists, paleontologists, entomologists, neuroscientists, paleoneurologists, invertebrate zoologists, and systems theorists. Paleopsychology’s mandate is to “map out the evolution of complexity, sociality, perception, and mentation from the first 10(-32) second of the Big Bang to the present.”
Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has written that with his unusual insights Bloom has “raced ahead of the timid scientific herd” often “vaulting over their heads” with a “grand vision” that “we do strive as individuals, but we are also part of something larger than ourselves, with a complex physiology and mental life that we carry out but only dimly understand.” In The Lucifer Principle and his new book Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, Howard Bloom brings those understandings from dimness into the light.
More about Howard (there’s MORE???!?!?!?!) at his website.
Music played on the broadcast: