Overcoming the Amygdala Part 90
Quantifying things — especially things which formerly you may never have quantified —is very important if you want to encourage sanity, correct thinking, and a quieter amygdala.
Many people — perhaps most people — wander around in life projecting onto their environments wishes, desires, images based on past experiences and future wants, and so on, and their amygdalas 'ping' back to them various departures from these scenarios. When the scenarios are apparently packed full of departures, we get the ‘ping overload’ which we call anxiety; when that overload wears us down over time, we get what we call depression.
But in most cases, the ideal that is being projected is something based on hearsay, fantasies, cognitive distortions, and prejudices that we haven’t analysed properly in the first place — so the ‘pings’ that come back are a mess of departures that aren’t really departures, or ‘hazard warnings’ about things that aren’t really dangerous, or ‘fight/flight’ activators based on things that don’t really require us to fight or flee — on top of actual departures indicating the presence of real dangers.
That’s what many people call ‘thinking’.
A huge proportion of this stems from other people's prejudices that have been bought into, unassessed or misassessed computations of our own, efforts to cover up or failures to observe properly in the first place. This is both devastatingly sad — as human beings, families and entire societies go pear-shaped because of these things — but also opens the door to betterment and sanity. Why?
Because all of this is under our control.
We can — fairly easily — establish our own simple, achievable and very sane ideals and project them onto every conceivable set of circumstances around us; and from there, we can work out rationally where things are falling down and set about repairing them consciously.
Quantification is what helps here. If, instead of relying on opinion or guesswork, we can actually see departures, because a statistic drops, we can quickly go about noticing when and so get at the fundamental reasons why.
A measurement of quantity is protected from falsification — it’s clean of prejudice, it can be examined non-emotively, in isolation. Statistics become crucial. They provide the most reliable data available.
This can get quite magical — indeed, the proper application of this can seem very much like wizardry.
I once worked as a consultant for someone who owned a business which rented out musical equipment to London recording studios. Over the last few months, the business, which normally ran fairly smoothly, had become a mish-mash of disasters, illnesses, staff resignations and customer complaints. No matter what the owner did, he couldn’t get to the bottom of what was wrong. The first thing I did on being called in was to ask for all the statistics of the business over the last year: how many items had been booked, how much income had come in, how many calls received, and so forth. Luckily, the business had most of this data on hand.
I was able to graph the raw figures. What they revealed was that the business had been functioning normally up until around April time — at that point, the graphs started to show seismic activity, ups and downs, savage swings, and, overall, a slow decline in major stats like income.
I asked ‘What was changed back in April?’ — I could even narrow things down to the second week of that month.
It turned out that, on April 13th, a particular employee had been hired. He was not popular — his work ethic was lacking, his comments rude, his ‘bedside manner’ with customers off-putting. But he had come recommended and so had been retained. However, as soon as he was removed from the scene, the statistics began to recover. After two weeks, everything had gone back to normal: staff were relieved, as it became apparent that this employee had been spreading nasty rumours amongst them; customers were revitalised as they thought something had vaguely ‘gone wrong’ with the business.
Statistics are powerful.
They can immediately highlight the exact area upon which one needs to focus, like a laser beam.
‘That’s all very well,’ someone might say, ‘but how to you quantify something like a love life or a family or a workplace where statistics might seem alien?’
I have seen artists producing like mad, doing great, but because they had no statistic, fall prey to self-doubt and accusations and end up with bad cases of self-loathing; conversely, I have seen people behaving as though everything was going incredibly well, when their actual existing circumstances were perilous.
We can get a kind of maxim from all this:
If an activity lacks a properly generated sane ideal and is not correctly quantified, it has no stability with which to be able to reject opinions, accusations, doubts and fears.
In the absence of correct ideals and satisfactory ways of measuring them, you get craziness.
The amygdala steps in as a last resort, like a fire alarm in a building in which several fires have been allowed to burn uncontrolled for too long.
It doesn’t seem that there are any exceptions to this maxim.
Of course, it takes some skill applying it, as we shall see.