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The Scipionic Circle 72: Overcoming Emotional Responses, Navigating Information Pollution, and Shattering Self-Limits
"Why do you find it so hard not to feel and act on emotions, when your rational ordinary mind, whilst calm, logically understands that you should not be afflicted by emotional responses or reactions?"
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Overcoming Emotional Automation: Unraveling the Code of Our Responses
“Why do you find it so hard not to feel and act on emotions, when your rational ordinary mind, whilst calm, logically understands that you should not be afflicted by emotional responses or reactions? They are, after all, a waste of energy, and more importantly of your precious time. It is due to bad coding? Emotional responses are like bad coding in that through nature and, mostly, nurture, your brain has adopted a series of IF-THEN-THEREFORE statements that are prepackaged automated responses to events in your environment.”
“Does the event which has happened to you prevent you from being just, from possessing greatness of soul, from being temperant and prudent, without haste in your judgments, without falsity in your speech, reserved, and free, and everything else such that, when they are present together, the nature of man possesses that which is proper to it?” – Epictetus
“Your rational ordinary mind knows life just is, and that the universe just is, and that there is no other reality where things could have gone differently. It knows to simply accept what is with tranquility as any other response is a waste of time, precious time, and a self-inflicted punishment. Therefore every emotion – happiness, sadness, aroused, angered, jealous, bitter, elated, fear, disgust, etc. – is essentially a pre-established IF-THEN-THEREFORE statement that does not conform with your rational ordinary mind. Our Western culture simply does not teach the more appropriate responses from an early age, and we end up adopting responses we see around us, from our elders, television, movies and stories.
“Daniel Kahneman wrote a book entirely on the topic of knee-jerk response versus the rational ordinary response of a nobler kind. He referred to the inherent ‘autopilot’ responses as System One, and the more thought out and logical responses as System Two. Freud referred to these as the Id and the Ego, whereby the Id controls your intuitive instinctive reaction, and the Ego dictates your more controlled and thought out responses. Many have studied and discussed the topic of the Lizard brain versus the Mammal brain, and these studies go far beyond simply responses to events. For the purposes of your reflections, however, simply understand that there is a discourse within you. There is the part of you that is rational and responds clearly, virtuously and compassionately. Then there is the side of you that is emotional and badly coded. Not badly coded in that you have emotions, as emotions are a part of being human and unavoidable. But badly coded in that you instinctively respond based on emotions and said response may be contrary to what your rational ordinary mind would have done.” – From Your User’s Manual: A Guide for Purpose and an Anxiety Free Life in the 21st Century by Anderson Silver.
II. Beyond Bias: Navigating Information Pollution and the Quest for Objectivity
“We have grossly insufficient knowledge of the facts. The ecology of information in which we find ourselves is polluted at every source. Whether it is our misgivings about our partner or our opinions on global matters, we are working from a hopeless privation of information. In personal matters, our projections, defensiveness and complexes make it impossible to talk objectively when tensions mount. On a wider scale, when it comes to information sources regarding social and environmental matters, our situation is as hopeless. We are far more likely to seek to align ourselves comfortably with our in-group (and against another) than we are to consider complex data on the topic at hand (even if it were available to us in comprehensible form). Moreover, when it comes to objectivity on scientific matters, we know that despite our best hopes for research, it is generally tainted by sponsorship and other financial incentives. Even if it were guaranteed to be entirely impartial, that would not solve our problem. For even the good information we receive through the media and our feeds is not unfiltered research data: it amounts to a curation of results that have been rearranged to serve a message. They have been repackaged and passed on by pundits, whose power over us will more likely come from how they make us feel about ourselves than the honesty of what they communicate.
“To be wary of the reliability of the message under these conditions is not to discredit science, it is to continue the scientific project by valuing objectivity above all else. In these circumstances it is near-impossible for us to distinguish good information from bad. What is sincerely communicated may not be true, and even what is true may not be representative of the wider picture. Far more often than we like to admit, we simply look for what fits our pre-existing beliefs and disregard the rest. If that is uncomfortable to hear, it is because it creates a conflict with precisely one of those pre-existing beliefs: namely, that we are able to discern good information from bad and are less prey to cognitive biases than those around us.” – From A Book of Secrets: Finding Comfort in a Complex World by Derren Brown.
III. Invisible Gorillas and Hidden Highways: Unraveling the Mysteries of Selective Attention
“The dependency of sight on aim (and, therefore, on value—because you aim at what you value) was demonstrated unforgettably by the cognitive psychologist Daniel Simons more than fifteen years ago. Simons was investigating something called ‘sustained inattentional blindness.’ He would sit his research subjects in front of a video monitor and show them, for example, a field of wheat. Then he would transform the photo slowly, secretly, while they watched. He would slowly fade in a road cutting through the wheat. He didn’t insert some little easy-to-miss footpath, either. It was a major trail, occupying a good third of the image. Remarkably, the observers would frequently fail to take notice. The demonstration that made Dr. Simons famous was of the same kind, but more dramatic—even unbelievable. First, he produced a video of two teams of three people. One team was wearing white shirts, the other, black. (The two teams were not off in the distance, either, or in any way difficult to see. The six of them filled much of the video screen, and their facial features were close enough to see clearly.) Each team had its own ball, which they bounced or threw to their other team members, as they moved and feinted in the small space in front of the elevators where the game was filmed. Once Dan had his video, he showed it to his study participants. He asked each of them to count the number of times the white shirts threw the ball back and forth to one another. After a few minutes, his subjects were asked to report the number of passes. Most answered ‘15.’ That was the correct answer. Most felt pretty good about that. Ha! They passed the test! But then Dr. Simons asked, ‘Did you see the gorilla?’ Was this a joke? What gorilla? So, he said, ‘Watch the video again. But this time, don’t count.’ Sure enough, a minute or so in, a man dressed in a gorilla suit waltzes right into the middle of the game for a few long seconds, stops, and then beats his chest in the manner of stereotyped gorillas everywhere. Right in the middle of the screen. Large as life. Painfully and irrefutably evident. But one out of every two of his research subjects missed it, the first time they saw the video. It gets worse. Dr. Simons did another study. This time, he showed his subjects a video of someone being served at a counter. The server dips behind the counter to retrieve something, and pops back up. So what? Most of his participants don’t detect anything amiss. But it was a different person who stood up in the original server’s place! ‘No way,’ you think. ‘I’d notice.’ But it’s ‘yes way.’ There’s a high probability you wouldn’t detect the change, even if the gender or race of the person is switched at the same time. You’re blind too. This is partly because vision is expensive—psychophysiologically expensive; neurologically expensive. Very little of your retina is high-resolution fovea—the very central, high-resolution part of the eye, used to do such things as identify faces. Each of the scarce foveal cells needs 10,000 cells in the visual cortex merely to manage the first part of the multi-stage processing of seeing. Then each of those 10,000 requires 10,000 more just to get to stage two. If all your retina was fovea you would require the skull of a B-movie alien to house your brain. In consequence, we triage, when we see. Most of our vision is peripheral, and low resolution. We save the fovea for things of importance. We point our high-resolution capacities at the few specific things we are aiming at. And we let everything else—which is almost everything—fade, unnoticed, into the background.
“If something you’re not attending to pops its ugly head up in a manner that directly interferes with your narrowly focused current activity, you will see it. Otherwise, it’s just not there. The ball on which Simons’s research subjects were focused was never obscured by the gorilla or by any of the six players. Because of that—because the gorilla did not interfere with the ongoing, narrowly defined task—it was indistinguishable from everything else the participants didn’t see, when they were looking at that ball. The big ape could be safely ignored. That’s how you deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world: you ignore it, while you concentrate minutely on your private concerns. You see things that facilitate your movement forward, toward your desired goals. You detect obstacles, when they pop up in your path. You’re blind to everything else (and there’s a lot of everything else—so you’re very blind). And it has to be that way, because there is much more of the world than there is of you. You must shepherd your limited resources carefully. Seeing is very difficult, so you must choose what to see, and let the rest go.” — From 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Marcel Proust on finding wisdom in the wilderness:
“We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us. . . . The lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you are not the result of training at home, by a father, or by masters at school, they have sprung from beginnings of a very different order, by reaction from the influence of everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. They represent a struggle and a victory.”
II. Bruce Lee on shattering self-limits:
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
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