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Overcoming the Amygdala Part 78

So how do you start to think properly?

It all begins with having a normal flow of information available and observing that flow. By ‘normal’ is meant ‘not an overwhelming amount of data’; nor do we mean ‘an obsession with observing data’. To learn how to think, we have to wean ourselves from the compulsion to ‘know everything’.

That compulsion is fed by society. There’s an expectation that an individual will watch multiple news bulletins, stay ‘up to date’ with major stories (and even minor ones) and be able to converse intelligently about what is known as 'current affairs'. That expectation is accompanied by a general group anxiety the like of which humanity hasn’t experienced in living memory, as each ‘new news story’ gets pumped out 24 hours a day by multiple networks. There’s no conspiracy at work here: the news networks are simply part of the broad cultural consensus which demands round-the-clock ‘awareness of what’s happening in the world’. The dynamism of this compulsion is a kind of self-righteousness — many people believe they not only ‘need to know’ but that they somehow ‘owe it to society’ to keep up to date. It’s part of a transference of responsibility which is its own pandemic, and it’s been raging for some time now: the idea behind it is that by knowing about the trials and tribulations of people all over the world we are somehow actually sharing their burden or actively doing something about their troubles.

Of course we aren’t, in reality, doing anything other than worry. Meanwhile, our next-door neighbour, about whose problems we could actually constructively do something, is ignored to the point where many of us don’t even know our neighbours’ names.

If we could cull our news feeds down to a point of manageability, and recover from our morally driven addiction to 'know about' disasters on the other side of the planet, we might be able to regain enough awareness of and strength in our immediate environments to make real changes for the better, not to mention reduce our amygdalic activity — but it begins with that reduction of infeed, and by learning how to think.

Observation of Data

Once we have established a saner newsfeed, we can watch for departures.

What is a ‘departure’ really?

It is merely one of the five categories covered earlier:

1. Things are missing that should be there (or present that shouldn’t be there).

2. Events are out of an expected sequence.

3. Something about Time has changed — either there is too much of it, or too little, or none.

4. An apparent untruth has been added — something which seems out of place when other facts are known.

5. Significance has been exaggerated or reduced in some way.

Important note: a ‘departure’ is not a simply negative thought or bad news or a rumour. Negative thoughts, items of bad news or rumours are actually just data. It might turn out that the bad news was actually a lie, or that the negative thought concealed a truth or that the rumour revealed something about the rumour-teller — reacting to these things as ‘bad’ is part of the amygdalic-style thinking from which we are trying to move on. Positive thoughts, good news and a lack of rumours are also just data: it’s not what they say in themselves that should interesting, but what they tell us about the overall scene. A misplaced positive thought like ‘I think I can fly from this rooftop’ can be a departure; a piece of good news which turns out to be a lie can lead us astray; a lack of rumour can provide a trail to a cover-up.

Learn to see your incoming newsfeed as a river containing items of data.

Sources of Data

Right now, in your newsfeed, culled or not, you probably have a number of what you call ‘reliable sources of information’. Perhaps these are individuals or respected news agencies or long-standing pillars of the community. They are people or institutions which you would say provide information which is usually ‘true’ and dependable.

A reliable source of data may not be useful in discerning actual truth.

In the 1950s, Kim Philby was a head MI-6 adviser whose data was treated as ‘reliable truth’. He turned out to be a Russian spy, a colonel in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret intelligence agency. For 30 years his ‘reliability’ had undermined British and American security and betrayed many people to their deaths.

Even multiple confirmation of something doesn’t tell you that it is true — perhaps each source drew from the same lie.

This seems to make it impossible to establish the truth of anything. But all you have to remember is to look for departures.

Departures are quite easy to determine. When they are analysed, they lead you straight to the situation you need to be addressing. And when you analyse that situation (rather than the million distracting situations with which you are being bombarded) everything calms down and things get understood.

If you know thoroughly what the five primary types of departure are, they leap into view from any body of data.

Neighbour Jack says his wife is fine, but you hear her crying every night. Departure.

Salesman Bill tells you that the product will be delivered tomorrow. Nothing appears. Departure.

Politician Shirley says that taxes will not rise, but taxes go up. Departure.

Things that you protest, or which hang up your attention, or to which you normally react emotionally, or moan about, or feel worried about, all arise from one or another of the types of departure. When you spot them for what they are then you can actually start to see things clearly.

Then you can begin to think.

And your amygdala can begin to relax.


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