"The Assault on Reason"
Al Gore
Penguin Books (2008)

Selected Notes


"...Why do reason, logic, and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?
     The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable." p. 1

"... "If it's not on television, it doesn't exist."
     "This "tipping point," when television replaced the printing press as America's dominant medium, involved far more than the simple substitution of one medium for another. The ability of television to instantly convey moving images as well as words and music to hundreds of millions of Americans simultaneously increased the impact and inherent power of the television medium over the printed word by several orders of magnitude. The suddenness of this dramatic change was like moving in a single decade from the sandal to the space shuttle, from splicing rope to splicing genes." p.7

     All of a sudden, in a single generation, Americans made a dramatic change in their daily routine, and started sitting motionless, staring at flickering images on a screen for more than thirty hours per week. Not only did televisions take over a larger share of the time and attention devoted to news and information, it began to dominate a larger share of the public sphere as a whole. Moreover, as advertisers quickly discovered, television's power to motivate changes in behavior was also unprecedented." pp. 7-8

"The advertising of products, of course, is the principal business of television. ... Modern advertising campaigns ... were beginning to create high levels of demand for products that consumers never knew they wanted, much less needed." p. 8

"... The inherent value or validity of political propositions put forward by candidates for office is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based advertising campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. And the high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in American politics -- and the influence of those who contribute it." p. 8

"... the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason." p. 9

"To be sure, we still share ideas about public matters. But the use of the printed word to work toward general agreement has declined. We rely more heavily now -- for good or ill -- on electronic images that can elicit emotional responses, often without requiring reflective thought. ... the marketplace of ideas in the form of printed words has emptied out." pp. 10-11

"... With time, the print revolution broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and led to an explosion of knowledge that was disseminated to masses of people who had previously received no knowledge whatsoever that wasn't transmitted from above by some hierarchy of power, either religious or secular." p.11

"Initially tantalized by the sudden appearance of the Bible and then other classic works in their own native tongues, people became literate by the millions. Therir voracious hunger for wisdom from every source, religious and secular, stimulated by the rapid prolieration of print technology and the emergence of a print based culture that elevated the power and possibility of individuals to seize more control over their own destinies." pp. 11-12

"The present threat is not based on conflicting ideas about America's basic principles. It is based on several problems that stem from the dramatic and fundamental change in the way we communicate among ourselves. Our chalenge now is to understand that change and see those problems for what they are." pp. 15-16

"... Today's massive flows of information are largely in only one direction. The world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation.
    Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They absorb, but they cannot share. They hear but they do not speak. They see constant motion, but they do not move themselves. The 'well-informed citizenry' is in danger of becoming the 'well amused audience.'" p. 16

... "If it bleeds, it leads." ... "If it thinks, it stinks." p. 17

"... the purpose of television news now seems to be to 'glue eyeballs to the screen.' in order to build ratings and sell advertizing." p. 17

    "To understand the final reason why the news marketplace of ideas dominated by television is so different from the one that emerged in the world dominated by the printing press, it is important to distinguish the quality of vividness experienced by television viewers from the “vividness” experienced by readers. ... the vividness experienced in the reading of words is automatically modulated by the constant activation of the reasoning centers of the brain that are used in the process of co-creating the representation of reality the author has intended. By contrast, the visceral vividness portrayed on television has the capacity to trigger instinctual responses similar to those triggered by reality itself – and without being modulated by logic, reason, and reflective thought.” p. 19
    The simulation of reality accomplished in the television medium is so astonishingly vivid and compelling compared with the representations of reality conveyed by printed words that it signifies much more than an incremental change in the way people consume information. Books also convey compelling and vivid representations of reality, of course. But the reader actively participates in the conjuring of the reality the book’s author is attempting to depict. Moreover, the parts of the human brain that are central to the reasoning process are continually activated by the very act of reading printed words: Words are composed of abstract symbols -- letters -- that have no intrinsic meaning themselves until they are strung together into recognizable sequences." p. 19
    "Television, by contrast, presents to its viewers a much more fully formed representation of reality – without requiring the creative collaboration that words have always demanded." p. 20

"... Although it is true that television does not elicit the same cerebral response, it definitely does stimulate the flow of much more energy in different areas of the brain. And the passivity associated with watching television is at the expense of activity in parts of the brain associated with abstract thought, logic, and the reasoning process." p. 20

"An individual who spends four and a half hours a day watching television is likely to have a very different pattern of brain activity from an individual who spends four and a half hours a day reading. Different parts of the brain are stimulated repetitively." p. 21

    ... The human brain -- like the brains of all vertebrates -- is hardwired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna three million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors." p. 21

   "Noticing sudden movement helped to alert the survivors to the presence of a predator, or to the nearness of prey, or to a potential mate. The ones who did notice passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call 'the orienting response.' And that is the brain synddrome continuously activated by television -- sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason the industry phrase glue eyeballs to the screen is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day." p. 21

Chapter One: The Politics of Fear

“Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason. Both fear and reason are essential to human survival, but the relationship between them them is unbalanced. Reason may sometimes dissipate fear, but fear frequently shuts down reason. As Edmund Burke wrote in England twenty years before the American Revolution, ‘No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.’” p. 23

   "The physical effects of watching trauma on television -- the rise in blood pressure and heart rate -- are the same as if an individual has actually experienced the traumatic event directly. Moreover, it has been documented that television can create false memories that are just as powerful as normal memories. When recalled, televsion-created memories have the same control over the emotional system as do real memories." p. 34

"... The visual imagery on television can activate parts of the brain involved in emotions in a way that reading about the same event cannot." p. 34

Now, television commercials and many action sequences on television routinely activate that orienting response once per second. And since we in this country, on average, watch television more than four and a half hours per day, those circuits of the brain are constantly being activated." p. 35

"The constant and repetitive triggering of the orienting response induces a quasi-hypnotic state. It partially immobilizes viewers and creates an addiction to the constant stimulation of two areas of the brain: the amygdala and the hippocampus (part of the brain's memory and contextualizing system). It's almost as if we have a receptor for television in our brains." p. 35