(3rd of a series)

How does the mind make sense of reality?

Jean Baudrillard, a postmodern philosopher, once said that we live in an age where the image of an object has become a substitute for the object itself.

He calls this era “the age of the hyper-real,” where “real” doesn’t necessarily refer to external reality, but rather, an image of it. This development in the way people view reality is most likely an evolution of our natural mental processes.

In today’s special report we are going to discuss these mental processes to get to the heart of how our brains make sense of reality. It is actually a dangerous thing for a person to believe that his idea of reality is all that there is. This type of belief can hinder a person from accomplishing goals and succeeding in different areas of life.

We now know that the brain is responsible for selecting and analyzing sensory input and information that would be useful for us. Our brains are capable of doing this because of a natural filtering mechanism called the RAS or reticular activating system.

What does the RAS do?

The RAS is a special system that prevents mundane or useless information from being absorbed and encoded by the brain. We are bombarded by countless sensory inputs on a daily basis so the RAS has to prevent most of this information from entering the mind.

If we didn’t have a RAS in place, the world wouldn’t make any sense.

There would be unavoidable mental chaos every day due to the sheer volume of information coming in through our senses. Before the brain pays attention to a piece of information, it has to satisfy at least one of these conditions:

  1. Survival Value – Sensory input has something to do with your survival.

Examples are: sudden flashing light while driving, incessant beeping while crossing the road, sudden movement at either side of the road while driving at high speed, the smell of smoke while you are asleep, strange noises outside your door in the dead of the night, strange smell coming from your food, sudden change in your environment’s temperature.

  1. Newness or Novelty – Our brain has an uncanny ability to remember the appearance and position of objects that we normally encounter or use. When something is amiss or if something changed, we pick up that information quickly. We can also detect changes in common, daily activities.

Examples are: missing keys from a key rack, skewed picture frame on the wall, misaligned patterns on new wallpaper, smudges on a newly painted room, sudden slowdown of a computer and difficulty in pressing a car’s pedal.

  1. Emotionally Loaded Content – We tend to pick up sensory input that has something to do with people or things that matter deeply to us, like the crying of a baby at night or the smell of your favorite childhood dish.

How does the mind create maps of reality?

Every mental process that we have discussed in this series has something to do with the brain’s natural “map-making” capability.

Our brains are equipped with a special method of encoding and remembering knowledge and past experiences. It actually creates dynamic mental images called “internal representations” to help us remember and analyze past experiences.

The internal representations or IR’s that we create in our minds are unique to each of us.

What makes each person’s map of reality special and unique?

Our “map-making” skills are contingent upon different factors including formal education, natural learning method (i.e. visual learning, auditory learning, etc.), core beliefs, central value system, etc.

These factors are collectively called our mental filters or “lenses.”

What are mental filters?

Remember the old adage about “seeing the world through rose-colored lenses?” This image fits the idea mental filters perfectly: each person has “lenses” that slightly change how they see reality. Reality is separate/external from us – we can only understand it through our “estimations” or internal representations.

What we see as reality is not reality itself, but how you imagine it to be.

How can we examine mental filters?

The path to success lies in our ability to analyze feedback from our interactions and experiences. This way, we can adjust how we see the world and other people.

For example, if you dislike the idea of playing sports because “sports are exhausting and depressing,” challenging this perspective or lens may help you realize that sports are actually great for the body because they burn calories and relieve stress.

Understanding another person’s internal representations can also help you persuade and influence others more effectively.

For example, if you are in sales and you are having trouble selling a product to a customer that appears to be ready to buy, delving into the customer’s idea of a “good product” might help you determine what to offer so that he would finally make a purchase.