Tag Archives: thoughts

Familiarity

Yesterday, my wife asked me to visit a particular shop to pick up some special things on my way back home. So after my office I was at the shop with a friend of mine. After we finished our purchase and were returning to my car, my friend remarked, “you seem to know that shop keeper very well”

“What makes you think so?” I asked.

“The way you both were interacting; it seemed as though he knows you well”.

I am not a regular customer at the shop and was not really familiar with the shop keeper. But then I also realized that we were interacting as if we had known each other quite well.

Several, probably hundreds of, people visit the shop on a daily basis. How would a shop keeper remember them? It would really be tough. But a shop keeper definitely had to remember his key customers, because they make his business flourish. So he will need to some way of figuring out who were his regular customers. When one walks in to the shop, there is a moment when the shop keeper is looking for some signs of familiarity, like a friendly smile. If that’s there, he assumes that the person is a familiar customer and then behaves as though he knew him well. He is not faking but is really genuine. So all that one needs to do is offer that first sign of familiarity nothing like a genuine smile.

This was the explanation I gave my friend about this. I happened to be in a good mood that day and probably he had ‘mis-read’ my expression for familiarity.

But as I was writing this post, I was thinking about it again. Will it be possible that the people we meet at the street or office also have this problem? I decided to check it out at office. I walked around the office today with a smile (as genuine as possible) and to my surprise several people I happen to meet on the corridors reciprocated with a smile, a wish or many a times with a ‘how are you’. We must have crossed each other several times in the past, ignoring. But I think unconsciously everyone is looking for that first sign of ‘familiarity’.

This is perhaps an instinct built within us to differentiate between friends and enemies. But what’s also interesting is that everyone looks for that sign during an encounter. No wonder I have so many whom I do not like!

Advertisements

Map of the Mind

To understand the thinking better, I set out to create a 3D map of the mind. I picked the word ‘elephant’ and tried to represent all the thoughts that have come in my mind in the recent past with elephant as the starting point. I put this all in to the below representation. It looks interesting, though it can hardly represent the real complexity of the mind.

All the bubbles represent thoughts and the lines represent connections between thoughts. I have just started this, further I am going use this as the base to illustrate thinking, influencing factors, sense making etc.

Thoughts and Arrangements

The way thoughts connect/ associate with each other is the basis for how the human mind functions. It may be interesting to see that this is reflected (mostly in a subtle way) in the way things around us are progressing. Especially the technology. A good example is the ‘tags’ which is popular on the net; in fact the human mind uses something like tags to connect  two thoughts/memory (‘all those painful events in my life’ for e.g).

I was in a Supermarket yesterday. I haven’t been there for quite long and in the meantime the shop had undergone significant restructuring and reorganization. Earlier they had four floors with dedicated space for apparels, grocery, electronics etc. Now they have reduced to 2 floors (got rid of some things like furniture in the process) and the arrangement looked little bit haphazard.

 We were to visit a friend of mine who had an 8 months old baby. We were looking for a gift to buy. We started with the toy section; but couldn’t find something interesting. Then my wife suggested we could alternatively look for a dress for the baby and we proceeded to the adjacent section where  they had dress for kids.

As usual, my attention was drifting off from shopping. And suddenly, something struck me. The toy section and the apparel section for kids are now arranged nearby, so that one would naturally move from one to the other. They had an apparel section elsewhere too. It looked like they have completely gotten rid of the dedicated space and rather decided to spread them. This was done very intelligently. For e.g one could move to the ‘children’s dress area’ either from the ‘main apparel area’ or from ‘toy section’ or from the ‘school stationary’ section. This also meant that there are different places where similar items were displayed, which is against the typical way the supermarkets are arranged.

I am not an expert in the way goods are arranged in supermarkets to attract customers; I know there are people who specialize in this. But you can find a similar trend in areas where spatial arrangement of objects is done.

I think, subconsciously human beings are imitating the way the mind functions  and how we typically organize our thoughts. The logic (or lack of it) the mind uses to connect thoughts can help to design more intelligent spaces that will best be used by humans.

Afterthought:

This is the concept of mind in the traditional Hindu philosophy. There is a universal/ all knowing mind (conciousness) which is not bound by time, space etc and is present in everyone and also is connected.This is the all knowing conciousness. But this consciousness expresses in every one as ‘mind’, which is like an extension of the universal mind and  through which we can (possibly) access the universal consciousness. I am just wondering – is this the way the world wide web is designed? Perhaps the popularity of the internet can be attributed to this grand design?

Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.

Do we get to choose in life?

It is rather strange. But it always looks like everyone else has a choice in life but not me. Things are thrust on me mercilessly. Why is life unfair to me?

There seems to be things to choose from all around, but strangely the moment I get to choose, the choices vanish and there is simply that one thing, the one thing that I do not like, left.

 The world is full of opposites, at least they way my mind sees it. Opposites to choose from;there is love-hatred, war-peace, joy-misery, chaos-order, beauty-ugliness, wellness-suffering. They tell me that I get to choose. They tell me that I am what I have chosen to be.

Do I really get to choose? Can I simply choose between being happy and being sad? If I can make that choice, will I need to make any other choice in life at all?

 Or have I made that choice already?

 Sometimes in our lives, we make choices. Either because we are not attached to the choices or there is a logic that overrules the feeling or we are utterly confused that the decision making becomes conscious. The choosing is unconscious mostly otherwise and in fact, there is no choice at all in the first place.

 Many a times when you attempt to change something (you make a conscious choice to do something or not to do something), panic sets in. There is so much of trauma, uncomfortable feeling, frustration, resistance and mostly after enduring the suffering for a while, we return back to the comfort of what we were.

Moreover, it does not occur to us that a current situation (mostly unpleasant) is in fact a consequence of a choice we have made some time back. Partly because our sense of cause and effect is limited both by time and physical space.

But most of us would agree that we do get to choose. Why then is it difficult to make choices?

The answer to this lies deep down in the mind. The truth is that most of the time, the mind does not see a choice at all in the first place. Because there is a pattern in the mind that will immediately trigger the irresistible urge to react in a particular way (pre-rehearsed or learnt from the past experience). So, for the mind it looks as if there is no choice. This is also why we feel others have got a choice, because the choice disappears only when we try to connect it to the sense of self.

We will be able to see the choices only if we can stop the urge to connect a thought trigger to an existing pattern in the mind. This happens in the present moment. See the representation in the post The act of mindful watching

 The moment we are able to bring space at this level of thought, choices simply will spring up. Most of the time making the right choice seems tough for most of us because we approach it upside-down. An abstract feeling becomes a thought, then an action and further a habit or behavior. And we try to make change at the level of habit / behavior. This doesn’t work. Also because at the level of habit or behavior the logical mind is also very dominant.

When the logic drops, patterns weaken one travels back to the thought and then the basic abstract feeling. There one makes a simple choice and a new dimension opens up. This is the choice of going back to a child’s mind of joy and creativity.

So there seems to be only one choice to make –whether to go back to the pre-thought state or not.

….hm, do we really have a choice?

The act of mindful watching

Continuing from the previous post, here is a representation of what happens in mindful observation.

If you compare this with the normal watching, there is a simple but profound difference. Let’s concider an external stimulus to which the mind is reacting. The first thoughts are formed, but here there is no irresistible urge to form an association. So the next thought trigger is formed and so on (indicated as the primary thought triggers). After a while, after consideration of all the primary thoughts, the best possible connection is established with the mind (memory) and perhaps then there is no difference between this to the normal watching.

The urge to form an association with the memory comes from the act of trying to ‘understand’ something. The moment you drop the attempt to ‘understand’, the quality of the perception drastically changes.

The urge to form connection with an existing thoughtform is going the pattern way and choosing to form a new connection is the seed for creativity. This is actually achieved by introducing or rather letting space between the thoughts.

But then what is that quality of the mind which overcomes the urge to form a connection? Intelligence?

The act of watching

To know why the mind is normally unable to perceive something completely, let’s see how it works. Typically the thoughts (including the memory) are connected to each other and there is always a tendency for forming new connections and strengthening the old ones. Thoughts can hardly exist without being connected with an existing thought (we make use of this aspect while accessing the memory).

Any stimuli could potentially evoke a range of thoughts in the mind. Assume that these thoughts arise in a sequence. But then there is also a strong urge to connect the ‘first thought’ with an existing one in the mind. Normally this urge is very strong and beyond the control. So abandons the act of forming new thoughts and moves to connecting the thoughts.

The act of allowing as many responses to occur in response to a stimulus without the unconscious urge to form an association is the essence of ‘presence’.

Here is a representation of how the mind behaves while responding to a stimulus:

As soon as the first thought occurs (the first few..) there is an urge to form an association with thoughts in the memory. The association could be based on an event, appearence, place, person, emotion etc. The next thought again tend to form subsequent associations till either the thought links become weak or an exteranl trigger interrupts it or the mind suddenly becomes concious.

The relationship to creativity is simple. Creativity is about forming new thought associations and patterns is about sticking to old associations. The former is the creative way and the latter is the productive way- at deep down this is what differentiates creativity and productivity. You get to choose one, not both; at least simaltaneously.