code and the oracular

Sentiment Ticker – The Rambling Bit

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I have recently entertained a whole series of connected thoughts inspired by the idea of the sentiment ticker. To summarise this is a device that uses keyword analysis to read the emotions of people who write content online. Because there’s so much online it may be possible to gauge the moods and feelings of whole groups, nations or the world. The technique is in its infancy but leading hedge funds already use it to try to predict stock prices, so where the money goes the rest are to follow, perhaps.

Coincidentally at the same time I started listening to an audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. I soon observed there was a synchronicity. Author’s note: I don’t believe such coincidences are magical or psychic in origin, as Jung thought, but they are still an interesting mental event and even literary tool.

The sentiment ticker and opinion mining in general would definitely qualify as embryonic Asimovian Psychohistorical tools. Governments and organisations could use them for prediction and other research. A way to formalise events in current affairs and link them with observed sentiment trends would be very powerful. If connections could be found then you may have the beginning of actual equations.

The other subject which is connected is the real, as opposed to SF, subject of Psychohistory. This is a discipline that uses psychotherapy techniques to try and understand the motivation of nations, groups and particularly political leaders. It is fascinating and its primary conclusion is that child rearing is critical for the future of the species. This is because psychological damage to children propagates into damaged maladapted adults who act neurotically and create conflict and perpetuation of their damage in the world. The sentiment mining approach could be a very powerful tool for a modern de Mausian psychistorian because huge volumes of textual data could be sifted for emotion words and phrases which correspond to psychohistorical patterns. Incidentally the baroque violence and depraved imagery of newspaper political cartoons are currently one of the richest veins for sentiment mining by psychohistorians, but an image processor would currently be very hard to make that could do this job.

The next synchronicity was that I watched the Adam Curtis documentary called Century of the Self“. This describes the origins and history of the discipline of Public Relations, which was invented largely by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. He has a lot to answer for in my view. One of the revolutionary tools of PR is the focus group, where consumers describe how they feel and emote about products. Of course the sentiment ticker might turn the whole of the web into one giant focus group – a technology very prone to abuse by spin doctors, subliminal advertisers et al. Curtis makes a tentative conclusion that this psychological manipulation is bad for humanity. After watching I felt an increase in the usual sense that I was being spied on, and even manipulated, by shadowy groups in boardrooms. The democratising effect of the sentiment ticker might however empower minority and progressive groups to fight back. Anyway I think its a cool idea so I decided to let the chips fall where they may, and released it to public domain rather than trying to capitalise personally.

After that I listened to an audiobook of “Demons” by John Shirley. This writer shares an interest in common with me because he is a practitioner of the Gurdjieff Work, a self development methodology where the aim is to become more conscious of yourself and the world. I was in bed with gastric flu and the illness seemed to bring on a painful phase of soul searching and inner struggle. I felt the oppression and injustice of the world so keenly that I eventually had to use a Gurdjieff technique to stop the agonising thoughts. (I was also depressed after hearing that a friend of mine had had her baby taken away from her by the anti-human and utterly mentally hygienic UK Social Services).

My next stop was the site recommended to me by my learned nephew called This site is just so amazing that it does indeed blow the mind, witness a very late night spent reading hard when I first found it. It analyses plot devices and common themes in tv, fantasy, science fiction, comics, films, games and any media generally. There is a strong radical current because you eventually get to the idea that media spin, religion and propaganda can all be deconstructed using the same tools the site provides. This is revolutionary intellectual crack, although it does break the spell of bad tv, and thus might ultimately ruin your sleep !

Again the tropes also point to powerful resources available to psychohistorians. The analysis of fantasy was a tool of Freud’s. Tvtropes just gets this to rock even more: wish fulfilment and projection, denial and so many other psychological processes are cast into greater relief by the site’s analysis of our main human group fantasy – stories, plain old stories. The ticker could be combined with this resource also to drill deeper into the public mind.

Next connected in my ramblings was a rereading of some Frank Herbert, allied with a plan I have to collect his complete works. Herbert was just so visionary in multiple areas that the superlatives get boring. Wasn’t the ascension of Muad’dib in Dune so facilitated by the effective PR activities and sentiment analysis of the Bene Gesserit ? Wasn’t the observation of minutiae taught him by his mother a beautiful real time form of sentiment analysis using body language and speech rather than text. (Excuse me if you haven’t read it… again, go there !)

The Consensus Trance was a phrase that appeared, and it started to become of more interest to me as I googled. This phrase was coined by the radical Leary era psychologist Dr Charles Tart. Herbert implied and described it so much. It seemed related to Gurdjieff’s sleep vividly as I lay in bed ill. Herbert too was an observer of trance and psi, and I hope that his view was that people should awake from this sleepwalking cultural state of ignorance into the more full and aware life of the individual. Bernays on the other hand seemed to me contrarily bent on merely learning how the consensus trance of the public can be manipulated for gain, usually by his influential greaseball friends. My disavowal of watching broadcast media seemed more justified to me than ever.

Again the ticker could shed light on this, the half formed unconscious dreams that motivate the people, their defences and how to foster and nurture awareness constructively. How to track and outwit the spin doctors and marketing men, how to wake people (including yourself) up, if possible. My nephew of 20, who turned me onto tvtropes, seemed an example too. His interests show an eclectic mixture of styles and influences which he does not make sham attempts to harmonise into a believable simple image, but instead simply lets be …in full embrace of implied paradox. And there it was – “don’t stereotype yourself”. Trying to act and be “of a piece” is directly playing into the hands of the PR manipulators. Gatherers of psychological information about the public rub their hands when their tool the “demographic” makes everyone fit neatly into a stereotyped social box. This damages society’s knowledge by oversimplifying and also directly erodes the wonderful diversity and living unpredictability of the human race. Live out of the mould and you claim your power… after all Knowledge is power and don’t we the wired have the advantage?

Gurdjieff wanted us to discover our real individuality, and now we can politicise this because the powers that be want us to remain asleep, like some of the people I have mentioned here managed to work out.

Already fanatically averse to watching broadcast TV, I now decided to avoid radio also. I weaned myself off the BBC World Service and dealt with comments by friends and family that I “wouldn’t know what was going on”. Instead I found it a pleasant way to subvert the consensus trance and deconstruct the propaganda that seemed to keep us all asleep. I showed more patience than the usual consumer of edutainment soundbites must have, and drilled into the real machinery of our oppression. Tvtropes already was showing me much, and since it also draws upon computer and role playing games like D&D, I sensed how powerful the communal “Jungian active imagination” process of these games can also be to let people get good at analysing public myths. Stories bear precious psychological veins of ore, and role players seem to be learning to manipulate and reshape story itself for fun and challenge. How much more armed the younger generation of geeks must be becoming to protect themselves from lies and fabrication that Bernays’ followers wish to propagate. If they play as many strategy games as my nephew they’d get pretty good at organising armed revolution too btw. Just as players of Sim City would know more than the jocks at the local council about urban planning, right? Modern writers who follow the path of tvtropes will be similarly wiser about cliche and derivative work, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with, in the light of the new knowledge.

It all tied itself into a glorious tangle and, with the poetic license of slight delirium, I began to see my sentiment ticker as a force for liberation. I might even be in a position of unique central opportunity like Paul Atreides, I thought in a flight of fancy. Eventually the fever subsided and I calmed down. But I am still excited about my ticker and hope it becomes more widely known.

Of course the slowcoach corporate/political lobby who sniff at my references to dubious authors and influences far too risky for their closets will discount this… but hey: that’s all part of the sentiment ticker conspiracy !


Written by Luke Dunn

December 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

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