Cognition and Reality: More Things my Family is Teaching Me.

What I am about to say is just an idea. Not even a hypothesis. I have been nurturing the idea for a long, long time. I began thinking about this when I was trying to come up with ways to teach doctors to perform procedures more safely and effectively. More sagely. But… I have looked at the conceptual foundations of the ideas very recently… in light of my father… and my mother… and my daughter….

Let me start out with a simple question….

What is reality?

The question may be simple, but the answer is far more complex.

Many, many people today work under a fallacy: a false assumption. They espouse the idea that I have my reality and you have yours and that’s OK… just as long as I get what I want….

That is an incorrect and asinine assumption. It is completely fallacious. That assumption simply means that that person refuses to accept anyone else’ authority over their lives. That person lives in what is defined in the abuse literature as Reality 2: an alternate reality designed and defined by controlling abusive person that is outside Reality… but allows that person to be unchallenged in obtaining the desires of their heart.

Reality 2 is not reality at all; Reality 2 is simply a perception. Actually… a misperception.

Reality is world on which our sensory perceptions… and emotional manipulation of those perceptions as based…. Not the fantasy inside our brains that our neuronal discharges construct… but the real world outside… which provides the stimuli that are thus interpreted. There is a definite difference between REALITY… and our individually formed… and distorted… concept of Reality. We ALL get it wrong. Because we all inject our biases and limited knowledge on to the image we create of REALITY. Reality 1 is an image that generally meshes with the interpretation of other humans in the same general vicinity; however, even Reality 1 is construct… not actual REALITY.

My mother lives in Reality 2: a carefully constructed world in which everything serves her needs. She refuses to see… explore… understand… Reality 1. Reality 1 does not exist for her. Reality 1 is far too threatening to her emotional well-being. She will not be swayed. She is very unrealistic. She lives in a fantasy world… and calls that fantasy world Reality.

We ALL do to some extent….

We all refuse to admit that truth, too…. Too emotionally threatening, I suppose….

But… that’s an aspect of Psychology that I do not intend to explore today….

Now… I’ve defined reality. I can begin presenting my postulate….

The way we humans functionally define Reality… is by comparing what we see and hear and taste and smell and feel (sensationally and emotionally)… to our preconceived ideas of what Reality should be: the Reality inside our head. Our own Personal Reality. We perform this testing constantly. In order to do so effectively we have to have effective memory, because that is the basis for comparing. We use our entire bank of memory: short-term all the way through long-term.

What do I mean?

As my daughter drives down the road, she compares the changing scene constantly. She has a set of reactions– skilled responses– that she stores away in her memory so that she doesn’t have to make up a new maneuver every time she encounters a new situation, because the situations are often quite similar. She should not need to go through the entire process of creating a response on the spot… while she is distracted… because the inherent delay in doing so… and the distraction from the process of driving… would be dangerous…. Is dangerous…. Very dangerous…. For young drivers. That is very effectively proved statistically. Young, inexperienced drivers are FAR more likely to die in an automobile accident than more experienced drivers. Is that Darwinian? Survival of the fittest? No. That is a combination of two things: experience and maturation of cerebral functions. Our frontal lobes are the last parts of our brain to mature… and some brains mature more quickly than others… so executive functions are affected…. Of course, some people never “mature”. That’s why experience is not always a good teacher. Experience is only capable of teaching people who are equipped to learn. That may be a Darwinian driving component….

What does that have to do with our inherent need to constantly test… and prove… reality…?

My daughter THINKS she has driving down. She desperately desires to drive without supervision. She does not see anything wrong with not having plans in place… or even recognizing threats…. That is what defines youth: having no clue… and having no clue that you have no clue… and being good with that….

My daughter cannot adequately perform tests of alternate realities to her own… because she cannot entertain the idea that they even exist. She doesn’t see the need to check her mirrors for dump trucks with trailers carrying backhoes cutting her off… because she knows where she’s going…. She doesn’t need to adjust the car to the curb so others can pass… or look before she opens the door and gets out… because she’s the only one in the world…. At least in her little world. She lives in her own little Reality 2… where other people… and danger… do not exist. All that exist is her desires. Experience may be an ineffective teacher when Reality is tested only based on one’s desires….

My father is different. He has dementia, so his memory is impaired. He also has macular degeneration, so his vision is very impaired. And otosclerosis, so his hearing is impaired. So… his ability to test Reality is severely impaired, but he does not understand that. His long-term memory is good, because the chemical and electrical connections that constitute those memories have been nurtured and reinforced and maintained for many, many years. Those connections are essentially permanent. They are structural. Hardwired into the system. New memories are software memories: they take time and reinforcement to become repeatedly backed up to the point that are redundant. That takes a lot of time… and a lot of energy… that could be better utilized serving other functions….

Let me put it this way: next week… will you need to know what you ate for lunch today? Probably not. And… you do… you should probably write it down.

Most immediate memories do not need to be put down in any permanent way. The connections can be trimmed and the chemical and electronic connections recycled to make the system more efficient….

Now…. I will circle back….

Testing the new memories… comparing them to old and new memories… is a much more efficient way of operating. The new memories do not need to be constructed in concrete. They can be made our of disposable material and compared to other memories. The most useful can be reinforced… and the no-longer-useful can be chucked and recycled….

That’s how our mind works: we constantly test what we see and hear and taste and smell and feel (physiologically and emotionally) to what our current concept of Reality is. Then we adjust. We either automatically throw away the new material that doesn’t mesh with what we hold as Reality… or we adjust our concept of Reality.

My daughter cannot yet conceive of how to adjust her concept of Reality while driving… because she doesn’t have enough experience adjusting her concept of Reality to efficiently and effectively do so….

My father cannot adjust his concept of Reality because his dementia and visual and auditory impairments… the chemical and electrical workings of his brain and sensory organs… no longer work effectively. So… he is no longer able to adequately test his concept of Reality. His concept of Reality is fixed. He tries… but the visual that actually represent his current Reality look distorted… and unreal…. His long-term memories… and even his hallucinations… look much more like he remembers Reality to be… so… obviously… that is the Reality he chooses to believe….

My mother cannot adjust her concept of Reality… because to do so… would challenge her delicately constructed emotional concept of self. Her comfort zone. The walls that protect her fragile ego.

Realize that this is a greatly simplified version of what is really happening… and is not at all an accurate picture of REALITY in any way, shape or form….

This is simply a basis for beginning to think about REALITY in our own lives… and in the lives of those around us.

I first conceived of this idea of Reality Testing while I was examining how Neurointerventionalists inject Onyx into the brain: we look at multiple screens… and we form a mental image…. And… when what we see on the screen… no longer matches our mental image… we have to figure out WHAT is different…. Whether what suddenly manifests itself is good… or bad… or indifferent….

I realized this morning that is what was happening when my daughter was driving to school.

I recognized the issues with my mother last Summer and with my father last week.

Hopefully, some of this will resonate with some of your own experiences….

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2 thoughts on “Cognition and Reality: More Things my Family is Teaching Me.

  1. Pingback: Cognition and Reality: More Things my Family is Teaching Me. | Wright-Wang Extreme Mystery, Inc.

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