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The electroencephalogram (EEG) brain wave patterns of someone reading a book are very different from those of the same person watching television. So fundamentally different, in fact, that there is little deviation in those patterns even when the content of the book or television program is varied.3 A network program about adorable koala bears elicits essentially the same brain wave pattern as a program containing violence or sexuality. Watching television and meditating generate the identical slow alpha and theta waves. These EEG patterns denote a passive, receptive, and contemplative state of mind. Reading a book, in contrast, generates beta waves; the kind that appear whenever a person is concentrating on a task.4 Corroborating evidence concerning the perceptual differences between these two modes comes from sophisticated brain PET (position emission tomography) scanners that demonstrate the circuits in the left hemisphere lighting up when the subject is reading (while the right hemisphere remains relatively dark). When the subject looks up from his or her book and begins to watch television, the right hemisphere switches on and the left begins to idle. Task-oriented beta waves activate the hunter/killer side of the brain as alpha and theta waves emanate more from the gatherer/nurturer side. Perhaps Western civilization has for far too long been stuck in a beta mode due to literacy, and striking a balance with a little more alpha and theta, regardless of the source, will serve to soothe humankind's savage beast. A clue to this reorientation: men, who traditionally favor logic over intuition, often engage in "surfing" when they watch television-that is, they watch many programs simultaneously. They would never try to read chapters of various books simultaneously. A hunter trying to stalk multiple animals simultaneously would go hungry. A man is much more susceptible to this adult "attention deficit disorder" behavior than a woman, because television, being a flickering image-based medium, derails the masculine-left-linear strategy, just as in parallel, the written word had earlier disoriented the gestalt-feminine-right one.

The printing press disseminates written words. Television projects images. As television sets continue to proliferate around the world, they are redirecting the course of human evolution. The fusing of photography and electromagnetism is proving to be of the same magnitude as the discovery of agriculture, writing, and print. While most social commentators wring their hands over the dismal nature of much of television programming's content, they fail to accord the process of perceiving television's information its due as a factor reconfiguring society in a positive way. Similarly, when the printing press appeared, commentators were caught up in debating the content of books being printed. No one then appreciated the effects brought about by the process of becoming literate. While a medium's content surely is significant, the more important story is how the medium itself affects people's perception of reality. Fiercely loyal to the literate mode of the previous medium, many critics of television have missed the frisson of the present age.

Television's popularity greatly increased the power of images. Iconic information has superseded alphabetic information as the single most significant cultural influence. The first modern image to achieve universal recognition was the atomic bomb's mushroom explosion. The phallic cloud billowing up over Hiroshima symbolized the unbalanced masculine. It was the climactic end result of thousands of years of left-brain dominance. The world stared slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the awesome power of hunter/killer values carried to their farthest extreme. For all their virtues, abstract science, linear words, and sequential equations had led the world to the brink of extinction.

The eerie photographic sequence of the bomb's signature plume was shown over and over in theaters and on television screens until hardly anyone was unfamiliar with it. A great warning shock wave surged through the nervous systems of peoples of all nations. The arms race, consuming much of the left brain's talent for thousands of years, had reached an absurd zero-sum stalemate: to "win" all-out war meant to make the planet uninhabitable for all humans, as well as for most other species.

For the next fifty years, the superpowers bluffed and feinted, but managed somehow not to initiate Armageddon. If a written description of the atomic explosion's aftermath were all that had been available, the bomb would surely have been used. But the image of the bomb's destructive power was universally disseminated and that picture (worth many thousands of words) saved the world.
     
     
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