Alternate Facts: Is Our Mind a Reliable Source of Information?
We are at a crossroads. Every minute of every day.
We are at a crossroads of infinite choices.
But very often we only see a few. In fact, most of the time, we only see two.
We see it in the news all the time; historically, the U.S. political system is voiced primarily by two choices, Republican, Democrat.
School grades, historically, give us two choices: pass, fail.
Organized religion gives us two choices: Virtues, Vices.
Hamlet even said, "To be or not to be, that is the question."
Now, I realize this is all a bit reductive, but if you stop for a moment and recall those moments when you were presented with an opportunity, how many choices did you see?
Chances are, your answer is something like,
"I could take the job or not,"
"I could marry the girl, or not"
"I could have the vacation or not"
Why do we not see all the other possibilities?
From the very beginning of our lives we move towards differentiation- in fact, the very cells that make us, the way we learn to speak, move, and exist, is based on these differentiating pathways in our brain for specific functions.
We seek differentiation to improve upon our biology.
So... Let me get this straight. We start connected: our bodies are literally made from the stuff of our parents. We are born, and our physical-ness gets us a bit distracted. These amazing bodies are so interesting to use; our brains, so amazing to fill with ideas, to have thoughts, and add the icing on the cake, we get to feel stuff!
Talk about a wild ride!
Because our physical bodies appear to be separate from one another, we believe we are. We get swept up on the duality of this existence, the good the evil, the right the wrong, the left the right, this choice. And that one.
We spend hours and hours working towards goals, creating and creating, making what we feel are choices that are based on our free will, because we think- no in our minds we KNOW TO BE TRUE that we have important things to accomplish as humans.
Have you ever stopped and asked, why am I doing this? Why do I think this particular thought?
9 years ago, I found myself on an educational track that brought me in contact with some of the most intelligent and insightful minds in academia. There was a lot of pressure to perform.
The first week of my graduate program at Oxford, the masters of my faculty disclosed the next steps to us nervous graduate students. The next step would be: applying for your Doctorate. WE HADN'T EVEN STARTED OUR MASTER'S COURSE!
I felt a tug in my stomach, something akin to when you get knocked uncomfortably on a rollar-coaster combined with that feeling of having eaten too much of something decadent. There was this moment, where I felt the train of opportunity arriving for me, and I felt all this pressure to jump on, to ride the train route to completion- in this case, to become a Doctor of Italian and Medieval and Modern Languages.
What if I missed the train? What if I got the wrong time table? If I did not catch this moment, there would never be another like it ever, would there? What would I do if I didn't want to become a doctor?
To me, there were two choices; apply to become a doctor, or not.
Somewhere deep inside me- that achy tummy feeling was really saying, "But Amy, do you even want to?"
Why did I only perceive those two choices: become a doctor or fail at life as an academic? Why did I trust what the masters were telling me over what my body was instinctively showing me?Why did I judge the thought, "Amy what do YOU want to do next?" and accept the thought, "Your next step is becoming a doctor of Italian?"
We spend a lot of our time in reaction.
There is so much going on in our world, so many things for our bodies and minds to deal with.
No one teaches us in school HOW to think about what we are thinking, let alone what we are feeling. Or even why we think the thoughts we do.
Very few of us ever learn that there is are differences between our emotions and our feelings, our thoughts and our beliefs.
That the power of an emotion actually dwindles if we observe it instead of permit it to take up residence in our bodies as a feeling.
That we are actually the masters of our own perceptions, the creators of our own truths.
But we just accept what we think as truth, so easily.
Ever stop and ask yourself why you think something?
Ever question why you just had the thought that popped into your head?
Ever do something and think, Did I choose to say that?
Ever wake up in the morning in a bad mood, and instead of accepting the bad mood as truth, you asked, "Why do I need to accept this?"
Facebook gave me a bit of a scare a few months back. For the past three years- this one included- facebook showed me wearing a scarf on my head, wrapped like a turban. For the past three years in each of those pictures,, I had recently cut and was wearing bangs.
So, basically, for the past three years, unbeknownst to my self, I have been replicating the same picture on facebook.
Now, my conscious choice- or what I thought was my conscious choice- was that I wanted to have bangs, and I wanted to wear a scarf on my head. It was just another day; I saw the scarf, I put it on. Each day I thought, ' I want to wear a head scarf." I never asked, "But, Amy, Why?"
But did I actually choose to cut my hair and wear a head scarf on that exact same day three years in a row by CHOICE?
How reliable is my conscious mind in helping me have free will here? This past October, I was certain my choice to get dressed was my own. I did not question why I felt certain about wearing a scarf.
This got me thinking: how reliable is my mind is relying truth?
So rarely we question the mind's ability to verify its own thoughts. We simply think, since we had the thought, it must be true.
Why do we do that?
Because the conscious mind is really only in charge of roughly 10% of what we think, do say and feel. So... who or what IS actually in charge?
The subconscious mind.
It stores thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories that influence us in our day to day experience, without us being consciously aware.
It's "job" is to store and retrieve data, to keep us safe, to keep us alive.
The subconscious mind isn't busying going "Hhhmmm is this true?"
It's busy going, "How do I keep Amy safe and alive RIGHT NOW?"
Much of what the mind perceives as truth is, in fact, the brain's- our very own "supercomputer's" process of deduction. It draws conclusions based on the experiences it has.
This process looks something like this:
Because X happened when I did Y, Z must be true.
When I was three, I cut my own hair; I gave myself bangs. It was early October, and the next day was picture day. My mother was horrified to find me with close to no hair on the front half of my head the day before picture day. She did her best to remedy the "disaster" with bows, and ribbons and such, essentially covering my hair, in my three year old mind's interpretation. I learned when you cut your hair short, you better make sure you cover it.
So... here's what's so funny: I have been reliving that story, every October since.
I love hats; I generally am always given a new hat in early autumn by someone I love. I also tend to get an "itch" to cut my hair every September, which leads to a new hair style every October. I've been "thinking" I'm making new choices each fall, but really, the pattern has been looping for most of my life.
"Truth" to our subconscious mind is based on our experience, and science has shown that "truth" to our mind is also based on our ancestor's experiences.
So really, we need to recognize that there can be a difference between truth and a belief. There is a difference between free will and blind trust.
Really, we need to recognize that while they are not mutually exclusive, they are also not always mutually inclusive.
So, where do we begin?
I challenge you who are reading today to begin by spending the next 24 hours questioning the source of your thoughts.
When a thought enters your mind, ask, "Where did this thought come from? Is this my thought? Why do I believe this thought is true? Is it because it is my thought and not someone else's? What makes my thoughts more true than someone else's thoughts?"
See what happens. It's your choice. Isn't it?