Originally published by Robert Beisert at fortcollinsprogram.robert-beisert.com

Understanding The Brain’s I/O Systems

I’ve stated that the conscious mind is the primary center for input and output (as compared to the subconscious), and that is largely correct from a certain point of view. However, it’s important to go into some more detail about how data information is filtered and processed before we go much further.

The Senses

Every school child knows about the classic five senses: hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Scientists have further specified a number of senses that were previously overlooked, generally by combining them into one of the above categories. Among these are temperature sense, pain sense, pressure sense, and the sense of where parts of the body are in relation to each other and in space. All of these senses are functions of the body, which is our primary source of inputs from the external world.

The conscious mind receives inputs from the primary five senses and interprets them for consumption by both itself and the subconscious. When we observe a phenomenon (say, the Northern Lights), the conscious mind interprets the raw data and attempts to derive some logical or scientific explanation, while the subconscious interprets it to create the feelings of wonder or excitement. So, when I say that the conscious mind is the primary input/output device, what I mean is that the conscious mind is most responsible for handling any data values we derive from such observations.

However, the senses are also interpreted by the subconscious to a large degree. When we touch a hot stove, we experience the heat and pain before our conscious mind has processed the fact that the hot stove is, indeed, hot. Because the subconscious is at the heart of our animal responses, we will react to the sensations the subconscious generates based on the patterns it has stored (e.g. pull the hand away from the source of pain) before the conscious can process it. Therefore, we can see that the subconscious and conscious are both factors in interpreting sensory data.

Subconscious-Body Feedback

We have also observed that emotional responses occur whether or not you are directly conscious of them. The television show “Lie to Me” does an excellent job of highlighting how the subconscious produces physical activity to correlate to emotional states (elation at getting away with a lie, suppressed anger, etc.). This is a direct output feedback from the subconscious to the body.

Interestingly enough, there is also feedback from the body to the subconscious. If you consciously take on the physical characteristics of being relaxed, for example, the subconscious will generate the feelings of relaxation, and the body will actually become more relaxed. Or, to put it more simply, if you fake a smile you will become happier. That means that there is a feedback mechanism not only from the subconscious to the body (as in natural reactions) but also from the body to the subconscious.

Subconscious-Conscious Feedback

We have all experienced the phenomenon: you recall an unpleasant memory, and as you consciously recreate the scene your subconscious recreates the feelings. The stronger and more negative the memory, the stronger the subconscious response tends to be. This is evidence of a feedback mechanism between the conscious mind and the subconscious.

It also appears to work the other way. Perhaps you are feeling blue, and as a consequence you start to remember negative experiences. It’s very common in depressed or suicidal people, but it is a common experience for most people. This is evidence of a feedback mechanism between the subconscious mind and the conscious.

Significance

The feedback mechanisms which lead back to the subconscious are highly important. By manipulating those factors over which we have the most control (conscious body position, conscious control of memories or thoughts, etc), we can manipulate the subconscious into producing the feelings and desires that are most advantageous for us. In essence, we can practice being happy, and we can control the emotional responses we have to certain situations.

Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) would say that we can choose to be happy, and the evidence would suggest that to be true. Many of the techniques I will soon describe take advantage of these feedback systems to gain greater control of what we think and how we feel at any given time. It’s a practical approach to the Stoic philosophy, which holds that one of the only things over which we have any control is ourselves.