Page 1, 2
Throughout our lives we are governed by our thoughts. During childhood we are fed a packaged diet of how this world is, what it all means, and how we should behave. By adulthood this conditioned thinking reflects starlike constellations formed by connecting bits and pieces about our world and arranging them in such a way as to provide meaning and reference to navigate life. Floors, walls, ceiling, and windows are four stars in the constellation "house," for example. Assortments of constellations such as those reflected by transportation, education, health care, and government create the basis for a worldview of galactic proportions. The more the various constellations interrelate, the grander their meaning – and the deeper we become locked in a reality constructed by the forces of time and culture.
One effect of this process is the bureaucratic mind, a dynamical process where perception, thought, and subsequent behavior are rigidly organized in line with consensus, status quo, and stereotype. As though it were a bureaucracy, thinking is compartmentalized, departmentalized, and passed on to others with minimal examination of value. While thinking may eventually change, the interim is often marked by hostility to different ideas. For instance, whereas once the earth was seen as being flat and later nothing existed beyond the parameters of a 3D material world, now physics is tracking the possibility of there being a multiverse containing an infinite number of interacting dimensions.1
The bureaucratic mind and its effects, small and large, are pervasive and reflective in such things as excessively polarized political environments, domineering religious zealotry, unyielding philosophical perspectives and, as we'll see, the daily practice of medical science. This inescapable condition of life not only stultifies personal growth but may also adversely affect physical and psychological health: a meta-mind/body dynamic.
The bureaucratic mind is fostered by education, conditioning, expectation, authority, and sense of membership. All of these interrelate, each influencing the others, each combining to form not only states of mind but states of health.
In daily practice, what matters is the self-maintenance of a particular mindset. It requires sustenance; in other words, maintaining a mindset requires ongoing effort or a lack of effort to change. Dogma and fundamentalism therefore characterize the bureaucratic mind.
The findings of science that promulgate a certain worldview, for example, often trump the practice of science as a learning methodology. The historical focus of science on examining the material world is projected into materialism wherein nothing beyond the physical exists. Research on energy healing or psychic functioning, which counters a materialistic worldview, is summarily dismissed. As a result, the marvelous findings of science, and the powerful capacity of science, diminish into a political playbook rather than being a tool for the advancement of awareness.
During the early- to mid-1900s, through political means, the burgeoning discipline of medical science effectively shut down what is now considered to be alternative medicine.2 Homeopathy, for instance, was forced to the side under the political pressure of science. In recent years, however, it has regained popular interest as well as surviving scrutiny in several successful clinical trials for different disorders.3,4
A bureaucratic mind, then, bends perception out of shape so the world might be viewed as being flat even with evidence to the contrary. It creates blind spots so people will deny global warming even though ice caps are melting and biodiversity is decreasing due to climate change. The bureaucratic mind also lends itself to a social order wherein there is continued human production of toxins flooding the environment in spite of substantiated reports of the harm they cause.
Interestingly, this calcification of perception has a high side. Organizations, institutions, and society are formed and maintained by bureaucratic processes. This allows for the order, focus, purpose, and communication necessary to realize common goals such as cleaning up environmental toxins. It provides for standards such as airline rules and regulations. It allows you to play a music CD no matter where you brought it, requires consistent restaurant health standards, and a stay in a hospital that can save your life.
There's no doubt that corporations produce beneficial products and services. A corporate structure facilitates success. Costs aside, the benefits of conforming to standards allow for innovation and technologies that lead to changes in thinking.
A central feature of human perception is psychological closure. If you're reading a paragraph where a word has been removed, for example, you're more than likely to fill in that space without even realizing it, and thereby keep the continuity and meaning of what you're reading intact. Just as closure indicates, we naturally close off perception. Computer programs are binary; open and close commands produce finished product. Learning hinges on opening and exploring and then closing and consolidating. We need to do this; otherwise; life would be a constant stream of unintelligible information. Closure confines and illuminates.
Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides insight into another cause of rigid thinking. His model is divided into two principal levels: deficit and growth needs.5 In the deficit arena, people deal with innate drives of survival, safety, membership and belonging, and self-esteem. We may give way to a general fear about survival. In the pursuit of social acceptance, we may also place ourselves at the mercy of peer pressure to fit in and reliance on external authority to form our thoughts and actions.
Enculturation also plays a role. As David Graber writes, we have become so habituated to a social order that we don't even notice the bureaucratic mind.6 To get along in school, to focus on that next raise, to hope we're getting proper medical care, we have become conditioned to accept the status quo. It is when these concerns are held in abeyance that we enter Maslow's arena of growth needs, where self-actualization and the pursuit of knowledge are the guiding lights.
Authority, especially when backed by accepted credentials, carries social meaning and therefore stands as another pillar of bureaucratic thinking. Expertise as represented by authority has its place. It might not be wise to have a gardener perform brain surgery. Yet a homeless person might have more philosophical insight about life than a credentialed philosopher. So it is a matter of fluency in learning and having the opportunity to articulate this that produces authentic authority.
The pillars of a bureaucratic mindset are also supports of society. Meaning, expectation, membership, and the pecking order of authority are promulgated by various forms of education. From family life to peers to academia, we are conditioned to values, accepted behaviors, and, generally speaking, accepted thought. In broad strokes, we rely on certifications and degrees to gain social standing and be perceived as an authority which may be the basis of putting food on the table. In addition, membership, which provides a sense of belonging and authority or knowing, can promote groupthink, a form of bureaucratic thinking.
Beginning in elementary school, we are often trained to respond quickly in order to demonstrate that we know the answer. Often little thought, expectation, and experience go into teaching how to learn. Success on standardized testing becomes an indication of personal value as higher scores open more doors. Yet research indicates that the format of standardized tests rewards those who are temperamentally disposed to the subject or to rote learning. An emphasis on speed of delivering answers may work against people who are quite bright but have a different approach to the subject matter or to testing.7
To survive financially, educational institutions are run as corporations. The emphasis on profit ensures that students are immersed in a bureaucratically approved curriculum designed to meet market needs. As part of this, standardized testing is backed by ever-expanding technologies to speed and cement the circular process. This is big business.8
As with education, health care requires bureaucracies with their own established rules and their own need to survive. In some instances, this mindset has produced patient bills that are 10 times higher than hospital costs.9 As a group, hospitals respond that they can't have too many non-paying patients without offsetting the loss of income or they can't help others. Doctors are also encouraged to see an increasingly large number of patients. Time limits are imposed to help keep the number of patients seen, and corresponding revenues, higher.
In addition, rather than a physician practicing the art of healing, regulations and laws have become the guiding influences. Adverse side effects associated with prescription drugs are seen as unavoidable, if not the accepted norm. And the threat of lawsuits hangs over health-care providers like a dense fog.
But can thinking be quantified in relation to health? The catch-22 is that any measurement of bureaucratic thinking is itself a reflection of that type of mindset. There is no way to quantity the effect of mind on results. For instance, a 2005 population study revealed those who became obese during middle age were more likely to develop dementia.10 Yet there was no determination regarding whether or not one's mindset that may have led to obesity was responsible or whether weight gain in and of itself led to dementia.
Breaking through barriers of the bureaucratic mind does occur, however. As medicine became more laboratory oriented and began resembling an industry, consumers at the grassroots level became more assertive.11 Alternative medicine, for instance, has become more pronounced to where a struggle now ensues in which consumers advocate for more and better options while, maintaining concern for patient safety, governmental bureaucracies are tightening the reins on what is available.
In turn, advances in thinking are often sparked by the resources a corporate environment provides such as investing in frontier research. And sometimes this sheds light on unexpected places. The relatively new fields of epigenomic and placebo research, for example, are revealing not only more of how the body works but also how the mind and body interact to produce health or disease.
The epigenome consists of DNA methylation, histone proteins, chromatin fiber, and noncoding RNA. DNA methylation, the attachment of carbon groups directly to DNA, is the best characterized portion of the epigenome. It is responsible for cellular memory and stabilizing cellular processes.12 Methylation patterns are also heritable.13
Genomic expression was only recently seen as a process wherein the mechanical sequence of DNA determined the shapes and functions of proteins that build who we are. This was the conditioned mindset. Evidence accumulating over the last few decades, however, reveals that the epigenome regulates DNA activity.13 Alterations in DNA methylation, for instance, can affect DNA expression without changing the sequence of the base chemicals comprising DNA.14 This is a significant shift in thinking away from what was once bureaucratically accepted as true.
Page 1, 2