Sunday, 19 January 2020

Theory of Mind: Thinking About Thinking and the Benefits of Observing the Observer



Carl Jung

One day some weeks back I spent an entire 55 seconds on my knees in the bedroom looking for a single nail clipping after it flew and landed somewhere. “Why?” would be a reasonable question to ponder, especially that this is no one time thing; for I had repeatedly done the same in the past while cutting my nails outside the bathroom. In fact, I sometimes do it in the bathroom as well. Why not let go of finding that microscopic human claw, one may wonder. You know, it vanished, now life goes on. But non, Monsieur. oftentimes the decisions our minds make are not as simple, straightforward, or black-or-white. For there is a quite the grey area in which it roams. 

While the nail clipping is an example, the following is a thorough psycho-philosophical, psychonautic investigation into the enigmatic and formidable tool we call the human mind, by none other than one of its own kind. That’s the mind-boggling factor in the equation: Can the brain attempt to fathom itself and the very fabric of the thinking process as objectively as possible, away from all judgements and preconceptions, or a bias of some sort will likely always exist?

Such line of thinking resonates with the witty words of Emerson M. Pugh: “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t

Until that one day a different race of beings produce writings about the human mind, we can certainly have a go at it — trying to answer one of the most fundamental question there is: What makes us think, act, and behave in certain ways? What are our choices built upon? In other words, what is the thought process or strategy(ies) adopted by the brain whenever it chooses one option over another? Find the nail clipping versus forgetting about it and carrying on with my day. An existential question with no simple answer.  

Trying to find answers to the above queries, I added herein several quotes by some mammoth spirits who have mastered the elusive quest of understanding Human Nature as well as the Human Condition, giving us a unique chance to reflect upon them. Most of which are by none other than mastermind Carl Jung.

By the end of this exposé, you will look at your own mind in a different light. Hopefully, adding you, too, with one or more novel perspective or self-insight to help you be better acquainted with yourself, while also sharpening your decision-making skills. Simply by digging into this fascinating asset of ours.




Before diving in, let us first label that which we are discussing herein: Theory of Mind. Apart from the psychological aspect, this “Observing the Observer” is what mystics and philosophers often speak of, highly. It is, in actuality, regarded as the most advanced form of wisdom. However, anyone can do it. Though it takes practice to translate the awareness and observations into something tangible and practical to be applied to one’s life, for the sake of enhancing it. For wisdom is essentially applied knowledge. 

Consider those times you “catch yourself” doing something — as I just did — then proceed to wonder, ponder, and reflect upon the action or the moment itself. Observing the observer, then, means to become aware of our own awareness, which entails thinking about our own thinking.

 Note that some of our actions operate on the subconscious level. Knowing that the subconscious, which is the intuitive, emotional mind, is in charge of the brain during a staggering 95 percent of the time, while its conscious counterpart is in control of only five percent, becoming aware of how it operates becomes imperative if we want to lead a balanced, wholesome life. Simply noticing our breath during breathwork exercises is an example of one such activity that enables us to be aware of one autonomic aspect of our existence.

Theory of Mind is defined as the ability to think about mental states, both our own as well as those of others. Not only does it include the ability to attribute mental states, emotions, desires, beliefs, and knowledge, but also refers to the ability to understand that the mental states, emotions, desires, beliefs, and knowledge may be, and most probably are, different from our own.

Theory of Mind is likewise regarded as the innate potential ability to put ourselves in people’s shoes. While some may be born slightly more attuned to their fellow brethren, it usually takes a significant amount of inner work as well as life experiences in the form of social and emotional interactions to be able to do so.

On a parallel note, a closely related concept is Empathetic Awareness. While Theory of Mind is cognitive perspective-taking, empathy is considered emotional perspective-taking. You can read about it in length in my previous exposé: Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy.

When fully developed, a healthy combination of both Theory of Mind and Empathic Accuracy allows one to relate to others on a much deeper level; for it involves “reading” people’s thoughts as well as emotions. It is like seeing their naked self; beyond the masks we all tend to wear when dealing with the outside world. 

Objectively observing how we think and how we feel — our state of being — through impartial eyes without prejudice, judgment, evaluation, calculation, expectation, justification, or conceptualisation leads to becoming aware. This “Unprejudiced Objectivity”, as named by Carl Jung, is the essential point behind practices like meditation, yoga, and again, breathing exercises among other meditative, psychotherapeutic activities: Awareness. 

With awareness and observation we come to learn how to detach from the thoughts and emotions; how to simply BE. We learn how to allow them to flow through unobstructed before letting them go. As observers, this detachment, this equanimity is a fundamental preliminary for mastering the mind. 
Plainly because if we don’t master it, we will identify with all the pollution it is constantly generating, hence the mind ends up mastering us; or someone else will do it for us.

The same goes for the emotions: Choosing not to be led by yours does not mean you’re cold or heartless; it means you’re wiser. Be reflective, not reactive.

Carl Jung

Now, it appears that the voice of my conscience is loud and has obsessive-compulsive tendencies. So the part of me which knows that I shouldn’t have been trimming my nails as I’m dancing naked to Janis Joplin kind of wants to prove to itself — or to the other parts, also of myself — that it had been ‘right’. It does so to please the status quo; to fit into a preconceived mold of how things are or are ought to be done, which has been ingrained into our collective consciousness and subconscious since childhood through parents, school, culture, society, and the establishment. I hold that this need to be right and conform, along the lack of flexibility it entails, remains unhealthy and causes significant amount of suffering in life. Even when the source is one part of the self.   

Thankfully, you know what else is also loud? My other rebellious “Fuck it. I do what I want.” part. Most of us spend our entire lives flickering between these two poles. However, and I can only talk about myself here, the rebellious counterpart still bases his stances and choices upon certain calculations. In our featured example, what’s the worst that could happen? A single nail clipping forgotten behind a desk, possibly for weeks or even years. There is no substantial damage. Yet, I was still on my knees looking for a minuscule organic specimen. In fact, not just that, but I caught myself a different time quirkily counting ten nails before picking them up from the sink so they don’t block the drain... because they do — again, almost fully subconsciously until I caught myself in the moment. 

Other times, higher risks are involved, as different possibility-probability rates. The following question we should ask ourselves is: Is it worth it? That is to inquire, would it support the kind of life I am manifesting? For at the bottom of it all, it remains vital to remember that: We are not responsible for the conditioning we were exposed to during our childhood. But as adults, we are fully responsible for fixing it.



This is where it gets even more interesting...

The human brain is known to consist of about 100 billion cells — known as neurons — each connected to 10,000 others, leaving us with a staggering 10 trillion nerve connections. Recent research in cognitive neuroscience has shown that this brain’s physiology is directly affected by our inner belief systems. The reason being is that all facts, ideas, and actions take the form of networks of neurons in our brain. While the left hemisphere is responsible for preserving, even pleasing the old model — the existing paradigm, our reality tunnel — the right one is constantly challenging the status quo. It is the attitude of “Do now and worry about it later”.

When the creative right hemisphere cannot convince the analytical left one to change its views it ends up by causing narrow-mindedness, almost literally. In essence, it is our neural connections that physically define our belief system. And beliefs can be so limiting, that calling them the death of intelligence by Robert Anton Wilson wouldn’t be a stretch. “As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.” You carry on with your life taking it for granted, believing that what you know must be right and correct. And you know what: The biggest fool of all is he who cannot change his mind. 



The good news is, nothing is cast in stone. Through transformative learning and neuroplasticity we know that the wiring between said networks of the brain can indeed be altered.

Neuroscience shows that when we repeatedly perform a certain activity, learn a new fact, or practice a skill the corresponding neurons consistently keep stimulating each other. Over time, the wiring between them becomes stronger, which can make the connection last an entire lifetime. The neurons become more sensitive to each other and are more likely to synchronise their firing time in the future. All this takes place in the brain to support learning. In other words, whatever we do we are always physically modifying the brain to become better at it. What a remarkable feature that is.

That said, any practicing usually leads to improvement; the reason being is that our brain changes physiologically to adapt to the novelty. Change your thoughts and you change your reality.




Neuroplasticity has equally shown that it works both ways: Neurons and connections which are not used stop being hardwired.

Changes can also be induced through epigenetics. For a similar fluidity can be said about changes in our gene expression. Once the long-held beliefs and values — reality tunnel — change, the psyche and entire body open up; again, almost literally.

As explained by developmental biologist Bruce H. Lipton in a video titled Your Body Is An Illusion, the brain is through which we perceive and interpret the signals coming in from inside as well as outside the body. It then sends the processed information to the cells to dictate their behaviour and genetics. So it is indeed our own thoughts that create our reality. Saying like that may sound like New-Age Hocus Pocus, but it’s not. One example Lipton mentions in the same video is the queer phenomenon that is the Placebo Effect; how our brain — and perception — have a profound effect on our body chemistry, and hence on our physical health and reality in general. 

Speaking of, in a different YouTube video titled “You Are The Placebo” Dr. Joe Dispenza shares that from the 60-70,000 thoughts we get in our brains each day, 90 percent are the same as the day before. As such, thinking the same thoughts will lead to making the same choices; same choices means same behaviours; same behaviours lead to same experiences; same experiences then generate same emotions; and same emotions lead to same thoughts — back to completing the loop. What does this mean? Well, according Dispenza, our biology, our neural circuitry, neural chemistry, neural hormones, even as previously mentioned our genetic expression are all equal to how we think, act, and feel — that which constitute our personality, which in turn creates our personal reality.

Further, without letting go or healing from the past including all the unwanted thoughts about it — that which we had labelled ‘negative’ — every time we think about them our body responds by producing the very same chemicals as when it first happened. This means we simply keep physically and emotionally reliving the experience as we become neurotically stuck in a certain thought pattern.  
Placebo

To create a new personal reality, a new life, one has to think differently. By doing so we change the chemistry of our very brain, literally. A new perspective or a novel angle can indeed help us get there. Where to get those from? Look no further than your own brain. That is precisely what I am sharing with you herein: Observing our unconscious thoughts in order to wake up, as much as possible, from our automatic existence. Once you start training your mind by catching yourself in the act regarding the little things, when the big things arrive you will be able to have a clearer outlook before making a decision instead of acting on your impulses as you did in the past.

In life, the decisions we have to take on daily basis are often deeper and more complex than trimming nails in the bedroom — or not. Consider this other example: The “fuck it” right hemisphere wants to partake in something daring, like have unprotected sex with multiple partners, say in a debauched orgy. Lucky fictional you. But its left status quo counterpart is saying: Look, you’re really gambling with our luck here, buddy. It’s actually ‘life’, our life, mind you. Statistically speaking, by doing that your chances of contracting an STD are much higher. So what’s the alternative? Ah, “protected sex”. Alright, I can live with that, one voice says. Let’s have fun! Or, decide that you will not go for it. You simply sort it out with yourself — possibly through a sort of inner dialogue. You convince yourself using certain methods, as with arguments, reasoning, and patterns deciphering. It goes without saying that being able to do so as efficiently as possible takes some mastery.

A thing to remember whenever delving into your own thought-process: We must be honest with ourselves when dealing with the polarity of those two wolves. That is, if we wish to reconcile the right and left sides. Because the mind is so wickedly imaginative, it is capable of using a wide variety of elaborate excuses, comforting justifications, and bullshit stories to try to convince us with whatever it wishes. As such, many of us choose to tell ourselves lies to justify our inability, inaction, or lack of courage. Therefore feel better about the actual reality of certain things. Nevertheless, more often than not, down deep inside in our inner being, at the soul level, we usually know the actual truth; for inner truths are universal. Yet, if it is uncomfortable or inconvenient willful blindness may occur as a defence mechanism.

One related term used in modern psychology for this one trick the mischievous mind plays is Cognitive Dissonance. It is used to explain the feeling of disorientation and discomfort resulting from holding two or more conflicting cognitions; ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions. It’s a sort of willful blindness, one could say. For it entails lying to oneself, often by using a quagmire of logical fallacies, confirmation biases, and cherry-picking to justify certain aspects of one’s reality.

Another equally important piece of information to keep in mind is that it is not right-side of the brain or left-side; as in reason vs emotion. But rather, it is right-side and left-side; as reason and emotion, which both constitute the very essence of our inner being. Determining someone’s personality appears to be much more complex than labelling a logical “number person” left-brain dominant and a creative free-spirited person right-brain dominant. While indeed each side of the brain specialises in specific tasks, the whole functionality is not that simple. For both hemispheres tend to connect and cooperate in many more ways than previously thought.

In actual fact, this famous dichotomy of being either right-brained or left-brained has been called a myth by science — largely thanks to brain imaging technology. Because one can simultaneously be creative as well as analytical, emotional as well as reasonable. These characteristics are not antithetical, and can indeed coexist; personalities are multi-layered and more complicated than to be classified as black-or-white. Remember the first paragraph: There is quite the grey area.

Speaking of common brain misconceptions — which I one day used to believe — is the myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains. We don’t. We use the entire 100 percent. In truth, we use it all the time, even while sleeping, just different parts of it.      
 
Get into yourself and you’ll discover wonders
Now back to the nails...

So, the moment I caught myself on the bedroom floor looking for a single clipping, I instantly reckoned it was great “writing material”. Interesting one, too. Because everyone thinks. But despite having the ability, a significant number of people are not used to thinking about their wandering minds or even pay attention to what goes on inside — its very essence in the form of “Why and How?” questions. As a consequence, they often act by repeating certain irrational habits and behaviours almost mindlessly, without ever pausing or reflecting upon their choices. Needless to say, this results in an automatic kind of existence; similar to being in a hypnotic trance, during which the choices made are rarely the best or most optimal. They become impulsively dependent on their reflexive senses rather than logic or reason, or even intuition. 

You see, when people are not conscious and self-aware their minds are not present. Their actions then become impulsive, which makes then live in deep torpor. They become groggy and numb and unquestioning as if they are sleepwalking through life. Even when busy, they don’t seem to be ‘aware’ of the moment, just like they were hypnotised. “Consensus Trance” is a term which describes this automatic state of consciousness.

According to the Philosophy of Mind and Perception, another term to describe people living in such modes of existence is a “philosophical zombie” — or p-zombie —  which is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that they lack conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.

While not everyone is plagued by a philosophical mind or destined to become a psychonaut, understanding our own thinking is a step forward towards our evolution and illumination. What we do with such knowledge differs from one person to the next. Yet it remains knowledge.

Whenever dealing with situations that require us to make a choice and decide, the fascinating mind remains flickering between the two aforementioned hemispheres. Echoing with Carl Jung’s famous words: “The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” So whenever facing life ask yourself that one question: Does it make sense? Is saying “Fuck it” worth it? Be it your well-being, health, energy, time, and sometimes even your very Life.

As noted, if not mastered, the monkey mind will be the one mastering us — controlling our lives in the process. In Buddhism, Taoism/Daoism, and Neo-Confucianism, the monkeys are a metaphor for the source of all our restlessness, confusion, and lack of control in life.

One of the insights learned through self-observation is that there is really no need to prove anything, neither to yourself — your own brain — nor to others. Once we liberate ourselves from the confines of these attachments and expectations, the world shall be transformed before our eyes. 


In terms of behaviour, the way we handle ourselves and our minds with all the circus going on up there naturally affects how we interact with the outside world and everyone in it. It also dictates the type of relationships we have with that world. Whether within our own family, between lovers and friends, at work, even with how we deal with people on daily basis. So it remains imperative to understand why we think, say, and act as we do; what are the drives and motives which often have their roots planted in the subconscious. With the Big Picture in mind, it is only through thoughtfulness and self-observation — along the self-knowledge they bring about — can we begin to ameliorate from ourselves; that is in order to evolve as a species. Resonating with the words of the Russian mystic and philosopher George Gurdjieff:

Self-observation brings man to the realisation of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.


Without radical and psychological change on the personal level, we cannot expect to change the world, our world. 

For anyone looking to learn, grow, and evolve by enhancing and self-potentiating their quality of life, I suggest you read up upon Theory of Mind. The vital benefits of getting into yourself seem endless.


Carl Jung

Lastly, there is no such thing as knowing yourself too much. Truly. Observing the observer remains a higher step of conscious existence, which allows you to see the bigger picture of things, while stopping you from acting out on your impulses; just like a restless child who’s in a constant state of reaction to all that which has been ingrained into them ever since they were teeny tiny toddlers through “the system”: Parents, school, society, culture and so on.

A mindful state of existence offers you the chance to pause and reflect; to “come to term with things” and to “reach closures”. So they don’t keep floating on the horizon of your subconscious mind as a background noise, possibly forever. Because whether you’re aware of it or not, any undealt-with issues will keep repeating themselves through your psyche as toxic, cyclical patterns while directing your relationships and entire life to a considerable degree. And you will likely keep projecting it all on the outside world, by blaming it for whatever happens to you.  

Resonating with another of Jung’s quote, which is the introduction of one of the sub-chapters in my book: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

With that being said, many people seem to go about their lives having absolutely no idea why unpleasant things keep happening to them or why they tend to be attracted to dysfunctional relationships. The simple answer lies within their own thought patterns along the vibrations they produce. It is them who attract that which aligns with the frequencies they emit — especially those originating from the subconscious. Because unless they come to the light, they will remain unknown to us and hence will keep materialising as recycled experiences. Time after time after time. Until we get it.  

If, for instance, we see ourselves as victims who need to be saved, we’ll likely keep attracting people offering to help. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it keeps us depending on others; hence stuck in a disempowering cycle of the victim mentality.

Truth is, once you save yourself the universe will somehow conspire to help you out. The work, however, must be ignited from within. The person you will become will always be the one you decide to be. We do have that choice. When it comes to accepting instead of resisting and reflecting instead of reacting, we always, always have a choice. Taking a deterministic approach and leaving it all to “fate” or “destiny” is nothing but the easy way out, as it’s a disempowering way of thinking.  

At the very end, we are our own victim as well as our own saviour... the rest are mere excuses.

  

Observing own own mind and the thoughts it generates results in pure awareness, which in turn leads to self-realisation. This includes transformative Aha-Moments of clarity and illumination; of waking up; of wait a minute... . Reaching conclusive statements like: So that is why I have been getting into relationships that are bound to fail. Or, that is why I’ve changed jobs 14 times in the past 20 years. Aided by the novel, enhanced perspective, only then can we do something about it and modify that which has not been working for us; that which is pulling us backward. Time to do the inner work and to recognise that following the same neural pathways will not get us very far. Time to let go of whatever does not serve us or serve our evolution. Time to modify and refine, to become better versions of ourselves. For Change Is The Only Constant.  

Truthfully, there is no moving forwards without letting go. We do so by unlearning and relearning, which results in changing the pathways our brains have been repeatedly using. Hence our views, values, beliefs, and behaviour also change. As we have seen, it is through neuroplasticity that we know the brain has a remarkable capacity to alter existing pathways as well as create new ones. And it is through epigenetics that we know our gene expression can likewise change. We, with our very fabric made of neurons and genes and consciousness, do have that power.

Speaking of, The Significance of Letting Go is an earlier piece showing the benefits of doing so. Mind you, letting go follows self-observation. Because otherwise we have no way of knowing what is it that needs discarding.

Carl Jung

The more we understand this dynamic between the different counterparts of our inner being, the more we’ll reconcile the seemingly different polarity into Oneness. Bringing our inner darkness to the light, we therefore become a more balanced, centered, grounded, and wholesome individual. Someone who knows their true worth and what they deserve as much as they know their wants and needs; for whom decision making is actually fun rather than anxiety-provoking. Naturally, this all translates into a better, more refined quality of life. The key lies in being a witness to the voices without ever allowing them to drag us along the chatter they are constantly having. Because with intensive digging one can easily go mad. And by mad here I don’t mean the fun, creative, ingenious craziness; but rather, losing grip on reality with confusions, illusions, delusions.

You can check The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity to know more about this eerie relationship. 

The truth of the matter is, You Are Not Your Thoughts. What you are is a sage as well as a lunatic. You are also the One who rises above both and chooses which to side with the most.


Now that you know the power of that mystifying tool you carry within your own skeleton — with all with its colouful nuances and characteristics — time to inquire and to get into yourself: To find a plethora of mesmerising wonders awaiting your heightened awareness to discover them.

By become aware of your true inner self on such a deep level, following others’ experiences will then seem futile. Through direct experience, self-knowledge becomes the journey during which our inner truth is found and owned. Other than being educational, the ride is also highly entertaining. Of course, it all depends on our perception of life and the outside world, which in turn stems from our conception of it. That is why each and every experience is unique.

Beside all the self-knowledge you’d likely amass, you’ll get to better understand your fellow brethren and the Human Condition. In that regards, learning about ourselves and others, including the thoughts and emotions, makes it incredibly hard to ever get upset from anyone. Since you understand their reasons for doing whatever they do, perhaps even relate to some degree. And for that, we must be grateful for psychology and philosophy for enlarging our circle of empathy and compassion. 

With knowing oneself also comes loving oneself. The deeper you dig, the more falling in love with yourself comes naturally. Without self-love we are not equipped with the proper capacity or tools to love others. Even if we do fall in love it will never be actual love; but rather, attachment. Because we will always be trying to compensate our lack of self-love and self-acceptance, by seeking their love and acceptance. Again, by projecting it on the relationship and the partner, affecting our choices and disrupting our behaviour in the process. So love remains another major benefit of digging into oneself and following the inward journey.

I will end this enticing piece with a final reminder: Know that the inner work has no end. For the Rabbit Hole is a bottomless pit, an everlasting endeavour guiding the soul as it keeps spiraling closer and deeper towards its inner core. For the only way out is in, my Dear Ones.







ALSO VIEW:

Who Are We? 

The Parable Of The Cow: You Are Not Your Thoughts

Why We Should Not Fear Death

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence

Change Is The Only Constant

The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity

Why I Share Stuff

For The Love Of Storytelling
 
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