Getting on board the thoughts of others

The image of these tractor tires calls to mind the word “entrainment” because they are essential components of vehicles designed to pull and plow. According to several dictionaries, to “entrain” is to pull, drag or draw along. Because the word describes a process, social scientists apply the word “entrainment” to a variety of topics.

Writing in Evolution’s End: Claiming The Potential Of Our intelligence, researcher Joseph Chilton Pearce ascribes it as significant in relation to child development. “Play,” he says, “is the foundation of creative intelligence… the child who is played with will learn to play. The child who is not played with will be unable to play and will be at risk on every level.”

He found that storytelling is a vital component of play. “The child listens to the storyteller with total entrainment; he grows still, his jaw drops, his eyes widen, and he stares fixedly at the speaker. His vision, however, turns within where the action is, for the words of a story stimulate the creation of corresponding internal images.”

Indeed, the words of a story are linear, like a train. They pull us along a fixed path of images, a sequence that lead us to the author’s destination—the point, lesson or truth of the story. “This imagining,” Pearce continues, “is the foundation of future symbolic and metaphoric thought, both concrete and formal operational thinking, higher mathematics, science, philosophy, everything we consider higher mentation or education.”

Entrainment occurs in nature as well. In an unpublished article by James Anderson entitled The Physics of Meditation, he describes the principle of rhythm entrainment, “The ability of two or more oscillators to get synchronized. For example, you’re walking with a friend, and you find yourself in step with that person… Pendulum clocks in the same room will eventually swing together. Soldiers marching across a footbridge are commanded to ‘break step’ so their steps will not act as a driving force for the natural resonant frequency of the bridge. Fireflies which begin blinking at random will tend to synchronize after a while. Nature simply finds it more economical for periodic events (of nearly the same frequency) to get in step with each other.”

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites entrainment as a social mechanism relating to “emotional contagion”—how we are influenced by others. “When it comes to personal encounters, the person who has the more forceful expressivity—or the most power—is typically the one who’s emotions entrain the other. Dominant partners talk more, while the subordinate partner watches the other’s face more—a setup for the transmission of affect. By the same token, the forcefulness of a good speaker—a politician or an evangelist, say—works to entrain the emotions of the audience. That is what we mean  by, ‘He had them in the palm of his hand.’”

Television programs, commercials, movies, electronic games and social media platforms are equally powerful vehicles of entrainment. In a linear fashion, they lead our attention and thoughts along tracks toward specific destinations. Whenever we surrender our attention to language or images produced by someone else, we hitch our thoughts to their values, consciousness and agendas. Adults are supposed to be wise enough to realize this, so they can stand as witness to what is being offered and apply their critical thinking skills. Children, however, haven’t yet developed the capacity to understand manipulation or discriminate between what’s real and what’s not. Play and storytelling are examples of the higher vibrational applications of entrainment. The lower vibration is its power to radicalize and brain wash.

In Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality, Christian philosopher and contemplative Beatrice Bruteau wrote of entrainment as “The phenomenon of two rhythmic beings gradually altering their phases until they are locked together in the same rhythm. Insects that chirp or blink will do it; even two human beings talking to each other will do it.” She said whatever we continuously think about or meditate on, we become. In her words, “What we think of, we tend to become.” Filling our minds and especially our imaginations with the life-rhythms of a person, ideal, event, place or idea, we latch on to them. And they carry us along, dominating our choice of reading materials, electronic media offerings, music, sports, personal relationships and affiliations. Dr. Bruteau writes, “Everything that ever enters the consciousness has some effect on it and takes up some kind of residence there.”

Whether by mind or heart, there’s a tendency for us all to connect and follow along with others. The above photograph and others like it, remind me to be aware of the trains of thought that I’ve coupled my mind to. Whether the exposure or influence is to an idea, organization, company or product, a writer, political candidate, artist or television program, I want it to be a conscious choice based on a destination that’s constructive, harmless and desirable. I want to travel along the tracks that will take me to where I want to go, not where somebody else thinks I should be going. So basically, managing entrainment is about continuously and exclusively making choices that are authentic to who we are as unique persons. And it’s a defense against false news, trash talk, conspiracy theories, advertising and social/political manipulation.

NOTE: I highly recommend the books above that have active links. I consider Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book to be essential reading for parents interested in child-through-teen development. Especially important, he talks about the significance of media entrainment, how prolonged exposure to an electronic screen retards the mylination of neurons—resulting in decreased ability to concentrate and imagine. Daniel Goleman’s book is a primary resource for understanding the nature and significance of social and emotional learning.

Beatrice Bruteau‘s book paints a picture of what a mature and mindful Christian life looks like from an integral and evolutionary perspective. Click here for a brief sampling of her perspectives on spiritual evolution. Beatrice encompassed the fields of mathematics, physics, whole systems theory, psychology and East-West spirituality in an attempt to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. In God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World, she does this masterfully. She and her husband Jim Somerville were long-time dear friends to me and my family. She passed this life on November 16, 2014. I dedicate this posting to them.

Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence. 

Daniel Goleman


One thought on “Entrainment

  1. I have been entrained by your “entrainment” which has lead me many places. i.e. To your references; To the OED etc, etc. So, as usual, I have been sucked in by your images and insights! I’ve taken an hour out of my day to actually drive my brain around many places I wouldn’t have been.

    Thanks for the ride!



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