Neuroscientist Anil Seth says, each fraction of a second, millions of neurons work in your brain to generate your conscious self-experience — your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it. Without consciousness, there is no self, nothing.
Our brain receives signals from outside and also, inside. The signals that the brain receives from inside are not only of our experience but of millions of years of experience that has been passed through our DNA. Consciousness is an interception of two different signals: coming from outside (the sound and smell and noises and information) and coming from inside (of yourself and based on your beliefs and information).
The brain combines these two sensory signals to form a best guess as it does not hear or smell or listen. The guess or prediction changes with new conscious experiences which have imparted new knowledge.
In his Ted talk, Anil Seth played a garbled audio and asked people to guess the words. They couldn’t. Then he played the clear audio followed by the garbled audio again. This time, they could guess. The sensory information: the sound (fuzzy audio), coming from outside, didn’t change. All that changed was the prior information: the clear audio, and the best guess. So the brain combined the outer signal — fuzzy audio, with the information of the clear audio (inner signal), which, being recently played, resided with the brain.
According to him, we are hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it the reality; consciousness or perception is a controlled hallucination.
Abundant work is going on to break down the brain into parts and to understand what the brain is made of and what is it capable of and why do we feel what we feel and why do we think or behave the way we do.
How can we use these discoveries to live a better life?
Einstein, Newton, Madam Curie, Hitler, Mozart, Michelangelo, Nelson Mandela, Buddha — they had their unique experiences. They were pioneers in their fields and then millions followed. At the time when they would have started thinking about the things they thought and did, the inner signals or information related to similar experiences would have been minimal or nonexistent. But they understood and believed in what they wanted to do and while focusing on the outer signals, continued. Today, if I want to become a successful blogger, I read about hundreds of other successful bloggers. The awareness about them settles in my mind as information which suggests my brain(as inner signals) that it is possible for me to become a successful blogger.
So, out of all the perceptions, emotions and thoughts simultaneously present, and of all the different possible experiences, I chose to believe that I could succeed as a blogger.
You can choose to make your brain believe the unusual by changing the signals that it receives, from inside and outside. If you want to become a successful boxer, follow the lives and decisions of successful boxers, saturate your mind with their successes, and it is possible that the brain would start believing that it is possible for you to succeed as a boxer as the inner information would suggest so.
Yes, we can misperceive ourselves or our predictions can go wrong, which is not unusual. That is how self-doubt comes into existence.
The above discoveries and practices imply that we can manipulate our brain to think of things that we want it to think. How? By creating(simulating) the outer inputs which will, in turn, embed as inner signals or knowledge.
You broke up and your live-in boyfriend moved out. You miss him in all the nooks and corners of the house. His wardrobe is empty. His clothes are gone even from the laundry bag. His favorite foods are missing from the kitchen shelves. His shaving foam and toothbrush are gone from the bathroom. You can’t find his car in the basement parking. Your home is the last place you want to be. What do you do?
You can create a hallucination of his eternal absence: that he never lived with you and the brain would slowly forget about him. Like a good story teller, show it to your brain.
In this particular case, you would spread your own clothes in the wardrobe he was occupying as if his clothes were never there. You would fill the laundry bag with your own laundry. If you slept together in a quilt for a year, when you sleep in it alone, the brain would ask you about him — based on its information. Change the quilt. Thus replacing the old information with a new one which excludes him. You achieved this by changing the outer signals(surroundings) that your brain received — what it saw, smelled, touched. These new surroundings shoved out the older information.
Thereby, changing the consciousness which is an interception of inner knowledge and information coming from outside.
Moving on becomes easier when we change cities. It is due to the new surroundings which do not involve your ex-partner.
The study of the brain is path breaking. Right now, we succumb to our emotions. Letting them affect our work, relationships, health, and our total well being. This could change. If we start managing our emotions, or at least the peaks and the lows, we can function more smoothly. Instead of traversing a sinusoidal emotional curve, we could be more linear or in equilibrium: which we all aspire to be in.
Is it bad that we want to control our emotions? Are we not becoming too plastic or fake? Trying to control everything in life. This question strikes you as I am detailing out the manipulating process. Don’t we eat chocolate to feel better? Don’t we call friends on Friday evening as we know we might end up feeling alone? Don’t we avoid certain conversations with our parents? Don’t we work out some days when we are down to feel better about ourselves?
In all these situations, we are manipulating our or our loved one’s emotions.
Why should not I make my brain voluntarily hallucinate when it would make me feel better? As long as I am not hurting anybody.
You hate your job but you can’t leave at least for another year due to some financial debt. You feel like a zombie at work. You go dead and come back alive. Do you choose to sulk for another year or do you enjoy the time even though you don’t enjoy your job? Be smart. Realize that we are not immortals.
You can’t change the fact that you hate your work. Do something more at work that makes you happy and gives you something to look forward to. Become part of a sports team. Make friends at work and bitch about others. Listen to good music. Think of the dinner you would make and prepare a grocery list in between that you would pick up at the end of the day and would cook with a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Blog about this year to tell people how you are managing every day and maybe, hundreds of people in the same situation start following you. Instead of a problem, you have a common cause now. Find something. There are tonnes of things.
Having something to look forward to is also brain manipulation. You are creating a hallucination that something good is coming up — to stay calm, happy, and excited.
We have been doing this forever. It is just that we are talking about it now. We know what is it called and what is the meaning and how do we do it. We recently discovered it, named it, talked about it, Ted — exed it.
Anil Seth correctly says, “We don’t just passively perceive the world; we actively generate it.”
Pull yourself out of the sheets and live your life. Live it fully. Because it ain’t long before you are gone.
The Reference Shelf:
Ted Talk by Anil Seth –
An Essay by Anil Seth –