Most americans are not alcoholics. Most of us do not smoke marijuana to get high. LSD trips went out of style along with the flower children of the sixties. Nevertheless, many Americans are walking and driving around with their minds slightly out of kilter. In its attempt to cope with the modern life, the human mind seems to have evolved some defense strategies. Confronted with inventions like the automobile, the television, and the shopping center, for example the mind will slip–al by itself–into an altered state.
First of all, the mind must now cope with the automobile. In the past no human being ever sat for hours at a time, the the same position, staring at endless white lines and matched pairs of small red tail lights. In order to deal with this unnatural situation, the mind goes on automatic pilot. A primative, less-developed region of the brain takes over the actual driving. It tells the foot when to apply pressure to the brake and gad pedal and directs the eyes to stay open. Meanwhile the rest of the brain continues with higher functions. It devises excuses for being late for work. It replays, better than any video system, yesterday’s Cowboys game. Or it creates a pleasant imaginary world where its owner wins all arguments, tells hilarious jokes, and attracts the opposite sex like a magnet. By splitting into two halves, the mind deals with the boredom of driving.
The mind has defence not only against the auto but also against television. Since too much staring at flickering images of police officers, detectives, and talk-show hosts can be dangerous to human sanity, the mind automatically goes ito a TV hypnosis state. The eyes see the sitcom or the dog food commerical, but the mind goes into a holding pattern. NOne of the television images or sounds actually enter the brain. This is why, when questioned, peoplecannot remember commercials they have seen five seconds before or why the TV cops are chasing a certain suspect. In this hypnotic, trancelike state, the mind resembles an armored armadillo. It rolls up in self-defence, letting the stream of televised information pass by harmlessly.
Perhaps the most dangerous threat to the mind, however, is the shopping center. In the modern mall, dozens of stores, restaurants, and movie theaters compete for the mind’s attention. There are hundreds of wuestions to be answered. Shuold I start with the upper or lower mall level? Which stores should I look in? Should I bother with the sweater sale at J.C. Penney? Should I eat fried shicken or a burger for lunch? WHere is my car parked? To combat this mental overload, the mind goes into a state resembling the white-out experienced by mountain climbers trapped in a blinding snow storm. Suddenly, everything looks the same. The shopper in unsure where to go next and cannotrememberwhat he or she came for in the first place. The nind enters this state deliberately, so that the shopper has no choice but toleave.
Therefore, the next time you see drivers, TV viewers, or shoppers with eyes as glazed and empty as polished doorknobs, you’ll know these people are in a protective altered state. Be gently with them. THey are merely trying to cope with the mind-numbing invention of modern life.