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Overcoming the Amygdala Part 79

Part of learning how to think is overcoming a certain kind of mental laziness.

We all have ‘reliable sources’ of information and ‘authorities’ to whom we turn for data. They might range from news agencies to doctors to trusted relatives and more. To some degree, we have delegated our responsibility for discernment and thinking to them: it’s just easier to take what is being told to us as true, rather than having to think about it and decide for ourselves.

This is partly because we haven’t before had the right tools for rapid, accurate thinking.

You can probably see how today’s social media situation magnifies the flaws in this approach. If a foreign agency manufactures a news story and places it into multiple newsfeeds around the world — extremely easy to do these days — then many people perceive it as true because it’s coming from varied ‘reliable sources’.

This works in other ways too. If you want to sell a product, have several people in different locations write a glowing review. It doesn’t matter of the review is ‘true’ — all that’s important is that the data about the product is seen to crop up in a number of places. That will equal ‘credibility’ in minds untrained in thinking. Unscrupulous sales people do this all the time.

‘Public opinion’ is often just circulated agreement about things that people have read on social media. Canny governments are able to use this principle to get themselves elected or to secure their positions. The same thing happens on smaller scales, right down to the circles of influence in your workplace or family.

Many of us have abdicated our ability to think. We just accept all this as the norm — and then wonder why our amygdalas are raging.

Two Problems

There are two issues which need to be addressed:

1. Collecting adequate data and labelling it accurately.

2. Using that data to isolate what situation needs to be dealt with.

Most intelligence agencies, governments, corporations, companies and human individuals use the ‘reliable sources’ method of collecting data. ‘If so-and-so said it, it must be true’ or conversely, 'If so-and-so said it, it can’t be true’. We see the results of this all around us, from public discourse to family rumour. Social media exacerbates this enormously.

News coming in is judged according to whether or not it stems from a ‘reliable source’ or has been proven to come from multiple sources.

Everything else, sadly, is binned.

Why ‘sadly’? Because it’s the ‘everything else’ that will give us clues as to what’s actually going on.

Using observed departures and the six steps of analysing them, we can get somewhere. To remind you, the six steps are:

1. Have a normal information flow available. 2. Observe it consciously. 3. When a departure is seen become very alert, consciously. 4. Analyse departures to see where most of them are coming from. 5. When one area is isolated as the source of most of the departures, analyse that area more closely.

6. Obtain more data by direct inspection of the area indicated.

Do you see how, unless you cull your newsfeed, you won’t be able to spot departures with any useful accuracy?

Do you also see how, unless you can spot the departures, you won’t be able to discern where they are coming from?

The collection and use of data to estimate situations to guide action is the underlying principle behind proper thinking.

Here’s the thing:

Unless you do the thinking, your amygdala will do it for you.

The Importance of Knowing the Ideal

Now we get to the crux of the matter as far as proper thinking goes.

In order to properly detect a departure, one has to know the background scene, the ideal scenario, against which whatever it is is being compared.

If one has no familiarity with how something ought to be, one cannot easily spot departures from that ideal.

A graphic artist who spends all his time in a studio won’t know what to look for in the middle of a jungle; a dentist wouldn’t have a clue how to perform a kidney operation; an airline pilot would be lost if put in charge of a dancing troupe. What each one of these people might consider a ‘departure’ based on their own experiences might not be a departure at all; conversely, actual departures might slip by them easily as they wouldn’t know what to look for.

However, place the graphic artist back in his studio, the dentist in her clinic and the airline pilot in his cockpit and bang! they will spot any departure easily and in an instant.

In your life right now, if you had a correct ideal projected onto it, you could immediately tell where the departures were occurring.

This gets more complicated, of course, if we are not aware of the ideals which our minds are projecting onto our surroundings. The principle remains firm, though: a person must have an ideal with which to compare his or her actual environment in order to detect departures. If the ideal isn’t established accurately, departures will be missed or mistaken.

A new teacher, for example, might have a wrong ideal for a classroom. Her mind might be projecting an ideal of quiet obedience onto the thirty or so students in front of her. Confronted with a lively, active, interested and voluble class, she falsely imposes penalties and severe discipline to try to achieve her ideal, leaving bubbling resentment and disaffection in her wake — as well as failing in any educational goal.

An experienced teacher, having the ideal scene of ‘Active, engaged students’, would have a different approach: what might have been considered departures by the rookie are recognised as part of a healthy scene and utilised by the veteran. After many years of making mistakes as a teacher, I finally gained the experience to manage teenagers learning about literature to the point where, discussing particular poems, my class once divided into two halves and a civil war almost broke out as each tried to defend their own views of the poetry. An inexperienced teacher might have tried to quell the ‘noise’ — what I saw was twenty students avidly interested in the poems and willing to shout about them. Result? A lively class fully engaged with what might have been a boring topic. Education occurred.

Correct thinking is all about quick, accurate comparisons between the ideal and the flow of data coming in. Spot departures; don’t ignore statistics; don’t miss what’s actually going on because you have a faulty or misplaced ideal and no familiarity with the scene.

A Practical Thinking Test

Try this at home: pick a distinct area of your life, preferably not one with which you are tremendously upset right now — your upset is an indication of troubled thinking in the area, and you’ll need more time and wisdom perhaps before you can ‘unpick’ what’s going on there.

Let’s say you pick your workplace.

Ask yourself ‘What is the ideal for this activity? What should be going on here in order to achieve the products that need to be produced?’

Actively project that scene onto the work environment. Use as much imagination as you need, but don’t add in anything that doesn’t fit with the ideal.

Now, step back and spot departures from that ideal.

1. Look for things that are missing that should be there (or present that shouldn’t be there).

2. See if you can see events are out of an expected sequence.

3. Is something taking too much time? Or is something being rushed and needs more time?

4. Look for things that seem out of place.

5. Has something been exaggerated or reduced in importance in some way?

You may be too immersed in the existing picture to be able to do this easily at first. It helps if you have been away from the area for a while, like after a holiday — you come back refreshed and with a new energy to accomplish what is supposed to be being accomplished — and you see various departures getting in the way. Your normal reactions might range from ‘That’s so infuriating!’ to ‘He’ll never change’ to ‘Why does this make me so mad?’ to ’That’s just the way it is’. But that’s part of a nervous system response which is occurring in the absence of accurate thinking.

List out the departures if you can:

What was missing?

What was out of sequence?

What was rushed or took too long?

What was out of place?

What seemed exaggerated, or belittled?

Put aside opinions and judgements — they just get in your way and are often full of cognitive distortions. Just make a cold list.

You might start to see that many of these departures have common denominators. Perhaps many lead to one area of the workplace, or one person, or one product.

That’s your ‘situation’ — the departures have helped isolate the main area which is the source of most of the trouble.

Analyse that area more closely.

Directly inspect it.

You may find something which opens the door to sorting out your whole workplace, bringing it closer to its ideal.

Give it a try.


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