How does the brain make sense of our world?

The subconscious mind must first sift through an average of ~2,000,000 bits of data per second to select “important” data and screen-out “unimportant” bits of data.  (“Important data” is defined as anything that supports what I have already experienced and “made sense of” — My Maps of the World).

The amount of “Raw Data” that is streaming into your brain is hard to imagine.   Everything that is crossing your field of vision (direct and peripherally), any sound (whether you notice or not), any smell, temperature, or contact with your body, as well as a constant steam of taste data is being endlessly processed unconsciously.

Have you ever recorded something, and then when you listened  to it you heard all kinds of things on the recording that you were not aware of when you had been there?  Coughing, maybe, or traffic?  The microphone recorded everything without any distinctions about what was important.  Maybe you video-taped something, and when you watched the tape, you saw people in the background that were talking or laughing or picking their noses and you were totally unaware of them when you where watching the event “live.”

You can see that our attention is drawn to different things and unaware of others.

You can start to understand that there is way too much going on for us to consciously monitor.  So, how do we decide what we will be conscious of?  How do we take this raw data and make it meaningful?  How does our mind decide what to “pay attention to”?   Do you think that you are consciously deciding what to watch or hear?

First Our Brain Filters

Our unconscious must first take 2,000,000 bits of raw information and turn it into 40,000 bits of “important information” and our unconscious decides what is important.

Our brain deletes, distorts, and generalizes raw data to match our existing “maps” of the world.  These “maps” are neural networks that include our identity, our values, our strongly-held beliefs, our processed memories, how to do things (programs), and our survival needs.

Example of Sorting process

Let’s say that that Fred comes in for a counseling session.  He is sure that he is just not lovable.  The counselor asks, “does your wife love you?”

Fred says, “Nope, nobody has ever loved me.”

The councilor arranges to observe Fred and his wife and tape over the weekend.

At the next session, the counselor says, “Your wife sent over 80 loving messages to you last weekend.”

Fred says, “No way!” (This is “DELETION” because the messages were never even heard!)

The counselor plays the tape with over 80 messages that could be considered loving from Fred’s wife.

Next, Fred will need to distort the statements that he can’t delete.  He will generalize his strongly-held belief of being unlovable and say something like, “She didn’t really mean it, she was trying to look good for you.”

Any incoming sensory data, that did not support Fred’s beliefs were first deleted by Fred.  Since Fred couldn’t delete the messages on tape, he distorted them.  The end result was that his subconscious mind had helped him sort (delete, distort, and generalize) for the data that would support his strongly-held personal belief that he wasn’t lovable.


Filtered Data is Given Meaning

Once the raw data has been sorted into something matching our maps, the thalamus than packages the raw “hear, see, feel” data into a coherent form, like a movie with a visual track, a sound track, a touch and maybe even a smell track.  We watch (re-present to ourselves) the movie in our “mind’s eye” and create a theory or interpretation of it.  We generate feelings about the meaning we just created and this will become our emotional state for this moment.

Again, it’s very important to remember that the data we used to produce these movies is biased or skewed data as in the example of Fred provided earlier.  That is, they are filtered data that support our current identity, values, beliefs, memories and experiences, programs and survival needs.

In other words, we only let in data to support what we already think we know.  Creating a self-fulfilling prophecy or self-fulfilling cycle.

We literally hear and see what we want to (what we expect)!  This is not an opinion — this is how your brain works!

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