Overcoming the Amygdala Part 84

Maybe you had this experience at school: you were being taught something that had little interest for you, but rather than build up any interest or context or point out why you might be studying the subject, the teacher just droned on and on and expected you to absorb and assimilate everything about whatever it was. The result was that you failed to grasp the subject and perhaps rejected it as useless.

This happened to me with trigonometry in my last year of schooling. Trigonometry is defined as ‘that branch of mathematics dealing with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles and with the relevant functions of any angles’. No attempt was made to explain why it was important that we know all about it — we weren’t even given the definition above. We were just bombarded with formulas, terms and puzzles and expected to know how to ‘do' it after a few lessons.

Over a decade later, I met a surveyor whose job it was to build roads. I noticed one day that he was scribbling some formulae down on a scrap of paper and I recognised them as the things that we used to do at school years before. I asked him what he was doing, and he explained that he was calculating the curvature of a road he was building. So all those formulae did have a purpose!

This same phenomenon occurs in every field of thought or human action.

Until students are required to work in areas of actual practice as part of their studies, they often find that data they have been taught is almost incomprehensible; as soon as they grasp some kind of purpose and context, they begin to see what they are doing. Without an understanding of workable purposes and contexts, understanding goes down.

The theory and practical elements of a subject need to be in balance. Even better, the purposes and ideals of a subject need to be made clear.

There are probably a number of subjects you studied at school, and perhaps beyond, which would have benefited enormously from a clarification of their purpose. This would undoubtedly have helped you not only understand those subjects better, but your amygdala would have been less triggered because you could perceive and comprehend what you were doing and why.

Grouping Data

Data can be grouped in various ways.

You can group things according to location, as in geography, or in time, as in history, or in terms of emotional closeness, as when you list favourites, or alphabetically, or numerically, and so forth.

If you place a datum into the wrong body of data for it, you get a departure — something present that shouldn’t be there, or something absent that should. A wristwatch in a film about the Battle of Hastings, for example, or an address for someone in London who actually lives in New York — these things stand out in the body of data in which they’ve been placed, provided that you have enough familiarity with that body.

Often the response to such displacements is to make distortive connections. A new cognitive distortion is dreamed up and put into the body of data to explain why the incorrect item is included. ‘Oh well, maybe it wasn’t a wrist watch, just a bracelet’ or ‘Maybe they are so rich they have addresses on both sides of the Atlantic’. Cognitive distortions like this occur when the person lacks familiarity with the scene or lacks the courage to accept that something just shouldn’t be there.

Your brain constantly strains to correctly classify things into their own zones and either gets very imaginative and creative when it cannot do so, or shuts down and simply reacts.