Did it ever occur to you how you made that choice of ‘A’ over ‘B’ and how you had to live with the consequences of your choice?
The choice was made in the very front of your brain, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), which sits just under your forehead bone. Indeed this is a strange place to put such a sophisticated piece of tissue because whenever you wack your head hard enough, this is invariably the part of the brain which takes the strain or gets damaged. Obviously when they constructed the brain they never consulted the local neurosurgeons!
So let’s get back to that choice-making process. The PFC is presented with information. This information arises either from stored data in your memory banks (the rest of the cortex) or from some environmental prompt that has triggered one or more of the sensory portals – vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and other as yet undefined access ports. Fundamental to the information arriving at the PFC is the fact that all the stored info as well as that perceived via sensory portals is tainted with our individual biases or beliefs – our subjectivity. In individuals with nurture histories of extreme deprivation these beliefs become limiting beliefs. This unique belief bias reflects our earliest nurture years as well as the experiences of all subsequent interactions of the prevailing beliefs with our changing environment. At the PFC, presenting info that causes neurons to ‘fire together’ results in them being ‘ wired together’ (Hebb). In other words when we subjectively recognize an association between presenting entities, we connect or integrate them at the PFC and with the help of the hippocampus, transfer the newly integrated configuration or understanding into the data memory banks for subsequent usage. This entire process is termed working memory. But there’s a very important take-home message here: The PFC is both prompted to integrate that which is presented to it and coerced to fulfill the integration in a specific way as dictated by the prevailing subjective biases/beliefs. Said in another way, freedom of choice is not that free afterall!
Neuroscience has provided some interesting facts in support of the fallibility of the PFC. In one study, electrical activity relating to choice preceded the actual PFC choice expression by several milliseconds – the material for the inevitable choice was already in place with the PFC merely rubber-stamping it. In a more recent study, applying a disrupting trans-cranial electromagnetic signal to the brain while the individual was making a choice, altered the pattern of choices significantly. What was even more bizarre was that the individual whose choice mechanism was disturbed and altered was subjectively convinced that he had made the choice himself!
Much unconscious activity can therefore be identified which influences the PFC in making its choices. Apart from the noise of stored data and triggered sensory prompts there is a particularly powerful influence referred to as ‘mirror neuron activity’. This phenomenon occurs when we perceive an action in the environment for which we have representative neuronal configurations in our own brains. For example when we observe someone kicking a ball, if our brains are being electrically monitored, the areas in our motor cortex are seen to be triggered in the identical sequence as if we ourselves were kicking the ball. Similarly, emotion perceived in others may trigger the same neurons supporting that emotion in us via the cingular gyrus. This is empathy – resonating neurons are activated in sympathy. The fundamental condition for this mirror neuron activity is that we need to have similar neuronal configurations which are available and not suppressed in terms of their function and integration. Obviously the degree of availability reflects the intrinsic bias of our limiting beliefs.
At this stage you’re probably beginning to ask where this is all going. Is this neuro guy just foaming at the mouth and getting his rocks off on this bit of eloquent neuroscience? No folks. This has profound implications insofar as our current life situation is concerned.
That thing called ‘choice’ is a product of the working memory of the PFC. Ultimately working memory reflects our reasoning ability. Working memory and consequently our reasoning ability also gives rise to our level of awareness. It follows that if info presented to the PFC is top-heavy in limiting beliefs and mirror neuron activity, our awareness of things in a more objective sense will be compromised. The main culprits for activating mirror neuron activity are people and conversations in our environments and the media. The latter actually manipulates our mirror neuron activity for their own ends. Therefore those that control the media, control to a large part that which feeds our PFC resulting in choice and awareness.
As an item of interest, it has been shown that mirror neuron activity can also be used therapeutically to our advantage. Not only are our appropriate neuronal integrations triggered in sympathy with observed actions and emotions but merely adopting particular facial expressions, uttering certain emotive words and carrying out specific actions can trigger the appropriate neuronal integrations within us. Hence the positive power of enhanced laughter, powerful phrases and mantra’s and driven motor activity.
Raising awareness requires that we transcend the limitations of limiting beliefs and induced mirror neuron activity. The pivotal point in this process, the piece de resistance, is the pause – the gap within the working memory that separates the noise of the firing association neurons from the final configuration that will represent our choice. Within the quiet of the gap we will need to purify the signal – increase the signal to noise ratio. This requires that we neutralize the violations of generalization, deletion and distortion. Generalization is useful for handling big numbers of things – working with the mean or average. But it falls down with each exception to the general norm. In terms of self, generalized statements such as ‘I never succeed at anything’ can be disputed by one example in which you have succeeded – the process of disputation. Disputation should always be at the ready prior to coming to any conclusion and making a choice.
Deletion and distortion of the neuronal noise arises out of fear of one’s comfort zone being disrupted. The operative mechanism underlying deletion and distortion is to suppress the inconvenient or threatening information or discredit its origins. In this way the comfort zone is protected but the limiting beliefs prevail. Neutralizing deletion and distortion and its negative consequences requires commitment to authenticity no matter what the price. Additionally therefore, a generous helping of courage is also necessary.
Finally we need to take the pre-choice configuration and test it in different contexts before arriving at the definitive choice. A stupid example just to illustrate the point – Is water always a liquid? No, in conditions of high temperature it becomes a gas, and at freezing temperatures it becomes a solid but it remains H₂O. In this way, adding the processes of pause, disputation and re-contextualization to all the data arriving at the PFC, purifies the signal to noise ratio and creates more authentic data. It is the authenticated data which enhances awareness and ultimately enables us to transcend limiting beliefs and fake news.
Copyright reserved – Ian Weinberg 2017