I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

Black is White: Experiments on Suggestion

Two fragments from 1971 documentary directed by Felix Sobolev. The psychological experiments were conducted by Dr. Valeria Mukhina.

A Criminal Scientist (view the video)

Different people are shown the same portrait. Some are told that this is a famous scientist, others - that this is a dangerous criminal (the true profession of the photographed man is an actor). In every case they are asked to describe his character based on the photo. Here is what people say depending on the suggestion

A Scientist

  • His eyes are squinted kindly
  • A penetrating gaze, like an X-ray.
  • He should like kids
  • When he talks to people he can make them like him

A Criminal

  • His eyes are impudently squinted
  • Inhuman gaze
  • He is a sadist
  • He is dissatisfied with people and despises them

In a related experiment an actor was presented to a highly educated audience as a great scientist. He went on to read a lecture, which was a complete nonsense. Nobody noticed anything wrong.

Black is white (view the video)

A group of seven people are shown two pyramides one black and one white. The experimemter asks each member of the group what color are the pyramides. Six members of the group are experimenter's accomplices (like in Asch's experiment) and say that both pyramides are white. Some test subjects yield to group suggestion and also says that both are white. In another experiment the group is shown five photos of five different people. Experimenter asks the members of the group if among these photos are portraits of the same person. Experimenter's accomplices are instructed to say that certain two photos show the same person and to find common facial features to convince the test subject. Often they succeed. One test subject explains why he was taken in

I felt embarrassed before my comrades. Because they were so knowledgeable, could emphasize things so competently, could notice every small detail, compare and link everything together.

Could it be that the high status of the masterpices of modern art is not challenged because people feel ambarrassed before the knowledgeable art critics who can emphasize things so competently, can notice every small detail, compare and link everything together? Could the same be true for modern literature and poetry? Check out the Reverent Quizzes to see if you can tell the work of a recognized genius when his name is separated from it, that is when you are free from suggestion.

Mikhail Simkin
January 29, 2011

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