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What does your brain see?

Wikileaks recently obtained and released a classified US military video that shows the indiscriminate killing of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad in 2007.


The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The New York Times analysis of why this happened is well elucidated. One of the starting points for shooting at people in New Baghdad is explained as such.

The US Military men in the helicopter flew into an area that was being contested, during a broader conflict in which a number of helicopters had been shot down…

This is the context in which shooter “Crazy Horse One-Eight” saw those reporters. He was already primed to look at these innocent people as targets.


Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq

After all, as Herbert Simon pointed out – our mind is like a pair of scissors. One blade is the brain, and the other blade is the specific environment in which it operates.

No wonder, they thought Namir Noor-Eldeen was holding a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade), and not a camera


Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq
“But it’s perfectly understandable with what we know now about context and vision. Take the same image and put it in a bathroom, and you swear it’s a hair dryer; put it in a workshop, and you swear it’s a power drill.”

Another bigger aspect is that of the neural pathways getting rewired through repetition (consistent combat training). This can be well explained through the “video game” mentality that soldiers develop because of this.

Combat training “is the only technique that will reliably influence the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being” to take another life, the colonel writes. “Conditioning in flight simulators enables pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations even when frightened.”

While up in the air, notice how the high is so emotionless, and comes from only being trigger-happy. The shooters are so detached from the situation. It’s like playing a game of Doom or any of those video games where you kill people.


Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq

Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq

And when they realize they actually shot kids in that engagement, the rational brain takes over to justify the act.

Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq

Here again, the psychologists explain…

when people are intensely focused on observing some specific feature of the landscape, they may not even see what is obvious to another observer.

Just like this video which asks you to take the awareness test and count the number of passes the team in white makes.

The human brain is incredibly complex, and unexplainably unpredictable most of the times. While we cannot simply condemn the soldiers for their uncaring behaviour during the stress of combat, it is vital that we are sentisized to these very shortcomings of the human brain to help us make better decisions.

#context #Irrationality #NewYorkTimes

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