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When you are watching television and believe you are looking at pictures, you are actually looking at the phosphorescent glow of two hundred thousand tiny dots. [for analog TV and 2 millions for digital]. There is no picture there. These dots seem to be lit constantly, but in fact they are not. All the dots go off thirty times per second, creating what is called the flicker effect of television, which is similar to strobe or ordinary fluorescent light.

For many years conventional wisdom held that since this flickering happens at a rate beyond the so-called flicker-fusion rate of the human eye, we do not consciously note it, and we presumably are not affected by it. However, recent discoveries about the biological effects of very minor stimuli by W. Ross Adey and others, and the growing incidence of television epilepsy among those particularly sensitive to flicker, have shown that whether we consciously note the flicker or not, our bodies react to it.

A second factor is that even when the dots go "on," not all of them are lit simultaneously. Which dots are on determines the picture. In a sense, the television screen is like a newspaper photograph or the images on a film, which are also comprised of dots, except that the television dots are lighted one at a time according to a scanning system that starts behind the screen. Proceeding along a line from the upper-right-hand portion of your screen across the top to the left, the scan lights some dots and skips others, depending upon the image to be conveyed. Then the scan goes down another line, starts at the right again and goes across to the left and so on.

What you perceive as a picture is actually an image that never exists in any given moment but rather is constructed over time. Your perception of it as an image depends upon your brain's ability to gather in all the lit dots, collect the image they make on your retina in sequence, and form a picture. The picture itself, however, never existed. Unlike ordinary life, in which whatever you see actually exists outside you before you let it in through your eyes, a television image gains its existence once you have put it together inside your head.

As you watch television you do not "see" any of this fancy construction work happening. It is taking place at a rate faster than the nerve pathways between your retina and the portion of your brain that "sees" can process them. You can only see things what happen within a range of speeds. Until this generation, there was no need to see anything that moved at electronic speed. Everything that we humans can actually do anything about moves slowly enough for us to see.

Even though you don't see every dot go on and off in sequence, these events are happening. Your retina receives the light continuously and your brain cells record their reception. The only thing that doesn't happen continuously is the translation of the energy into images inside your head. That happens only at about ten times per second. Television is sending its sequential images at thirty times per second.

A few years ago there was a big fuss about advertisers exploiting the differential in these rates. A technique called subliminal advertising places images within the dot-scan sequence at a speed which is faster than sight. You get hit with the ad, but you cannot process this fast enough, so you do not know the ad is registering. Your seeing processes are plodding along at non-electronic speed while the advertisers have access to electronic speed. Your brain gets the message, but your conscious mind does not. According to those who have used the technique, it communicates well enough to affect sales.

For the entire four hours or more per day that the average person is watching television, the repetitive process of constructing images out of dots, following scans, and vibrating with the beats of the set and the exigencies of electronic rhythm goes on. Watching television is participatory only in the way the assembly line or a hypnotist's blinking flashlight is. Eventually, the conscious mind gives up noting the process and merges with the experience. The body vibrates with the beat and the mind gives itself over, opening up to whatever imagery is offered.

Dr. Ernest Hilgard, from Stanford University's research program in hypnosis and the author of the most widely used texts in the field, agreed that television could easily put people into a hypnotic state if they were ready for it.

He said that, in his opinion, the condition of sitting still in a dark room, passively looking at light over a period of time, would be the prime component in the induction. "Sitting quietly, with no sensory inputs aside from the screen, no orienting outside the television set is itself capable of getting people to set aside ordinary reality, allowing the substitution of some other reality that the set may offer. You can get so imaginatively involved that alternatives temporarily fade away.

"A hypnotist doesn't have to be interesting. He can use an ordinary voice, and if the effect is to quiet the person, he can" invite them into a situation where they can follow his words or actions and then release their imagination along the lines he suggests. Then they drift into hypnosis."

One explanation for the Hitler phenomenon is that with the social and economic conditions in post-Weimar Germany so out of control, the singularity of his voice, amplified by radio and microphones and supported by the rising cheers at rallies under klieg lights turned upon forty-foot swastikas, itself became a nationwide resolution of disorder. A clear channel of clarity out of confusion. Re-assembly out of dis-assembly.

One can draw parallels with the U.S. today. In a confusing society, with grounding lost and expectations sinking, we have the television itself as the guru-hypnotist-leader, opening a clear channel into surrogate clarity. Always constant. Whatever the changing images on the screen, there is always the light, flickering upon our retinas. Whatever the changing words, there is always the even tone. Whatever the action, the gestalt continues, program after program, one program merging into the next, images following images, the wider world a distant shadow. There is no need to do more than follow the images, hear the voices, watch the cycle of realities building and then resolving, program after program.


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