Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuning You Out

The brain is marvelously adept at choosing what information to filter out and what to let in. It does not filter out all extraneous information. It lets certain things in to distract us and grab our attention. For example, while absorbed in a book, you may not hear, "Honey, would you take out the trash?" or "Honey, would you get me a beer?" But you certainly will hear "Fire!"

Nature programs the brain to bring certain things, like loud noises, to our attention. Yet we can train the brain to filter certain loud noises out. This enables people living near airports or railroad tracks to sleep through the noise. Indeed, they are unaware of a passing plane or train unless it drives the dog nuts or they are trying to carry on a conversation. Similarly, we can prime or train the brain to bring certain special things to our attention. For example we can prime the brain to scan a written page for a word or phrase. We can train the brain to "notice" things others would not. For example, three or four good open-water lifeguards can guard a thousand swimmers (not that I recommend so few!). They have trained their brains to remain alert while focusing on no one, allowing certain types of movement to grab their attention.

Note that the brain does not block out filtered information. It just "represses" it to the level of the subconscious. There, it is processed without distracting us. This ability to collect and subconsciously process information is responsible for Natural Learning. Without it we couldn't do the simplest things like walking or talking. Remember how inept you were the first time you got behind the wheel of an automobile? You'd still be that inept if it weren't for Natural Learning.

Unfortunately, people often abuse their minds by repressing information they shouldn't. Like guilt, unwanted facts, conflicting beliefs, and feelings. Doing this puts them in a trance, a self-induced hypnotic state. It is thought that many people do this twenty times a day. To a slight degree, of course.

But, when they want to, people can practically knock themselves out. This is a phenomenon that must be seen to be believed. It reminds one of the newsreels showing the crowds gazing up at Hitler during one of his fist-pounding rants against Jews. All eyes glazed.

I saw it happen in a room of people scared of a hatchet man, who was orchestrating a back-stabbing melee in the mud to divide and conquer. Sitting in a circle, their (repressed) guilt made them so unwilling to know what was going on that none noticed the one picking her nose and eating it right in front of them. Incredulous, I had to pinch myself. I elbowed the one on my left, then on my right, asking whether they noticed. Both gave a little start as if awakened. Then their eyes widened at the sight, and they groggily replied that they hadn't noticed. Then — boom — they went right back under again so suddenly it was as if you'd clubbed them on the head.

Ever since, it has been no mystery to me how people downwind of Hitler's death camps could unsee, unhear, and even unsmell in order to unknow what was going on. Amazing experiments have been done to show that some people can go under so deep they feel no pain from minor surgery without an anesthetic. I don't think this is a mental skill that people should develop.

It is, after all, intellectual dishonesty. Friends don't lie to friends, and if you lie to yourself you are your own worst enemy.

All that repressed information is still there. Whether it's guilt, hatred, knowledge, or whatever. The subconscious mind still processes it. So, it still motivates behavior. For example, a narcissist's repressed feelings of inferiority and guilt motivate his behavior like an unseen puppet master.

It's better to be conscious of what's motivating your behavior. Then you can apply reason, good judgment, and measure to your decisions. Also, at the slightest reference, repressed guilt, knowledge, or feelings can surface to consciousness like a flashback. Narcissists live in constant dread of this. It's like some corpus delicti that just won't stay buried. No matter how frantically they keep shoveling.

Malignant narcissists are masters of this skill. At an early age they begin training their brains to filter out everything but what they want to see and hear and know. Everything but the reflection of their false image in the mirrors around them. In other words, like Narcissus, they are totally absorbed in it 100% of the time. Why? Because, unlike us, they identify with it. They have thus substituted it for their true, inner selves.

Kathleen Krajco