All current neuroscientists, such as the Spanish professor of neuroscience working in the US, Joaquín M. Fuster, one of the world’s leading figures in the study of the cerebral cortex, says: “The vast majority of our decisions are unconscious. This means that we are not aware of the reasons for the vast majority of our behavior… we are in a constant unconscious game.” (Fuster is not a psychologist or psychiatrist).
Stanislas Dahaene, a French neuroscientist at Awareness in the Brain: “Sophisticated executive functions operate unconsciously … even high-level cortical areas that encode our acquired cultural knowledge, such as reading, arithmetic, can operate outside our consciousness … and can trigger a set of mental processes without consciousness.”
The content of unconscious thoughts. The brain does not see reality, it builds it in a mixture of what comes from outside and how much it has stored inside. We try to conserve, to follow our ideas, to refuse self-criticism, to commune with wheels of our particular mill, even if we have to falsify what we perceive. To perceive is to interpret.
From birth we accumulate ideas, experiences, memories, emotions, understanding of the world, about ourselves and others. It has taken many years to build it and we present strong defense mechanisms, resistance and subtle maneuvers to conserve all of that huge construct. The fear of therapy comes from here. We must add what we have inherited from our origin as a species, from our ancestors, from the environment in our childhood and adolescent years. Then, education, training. All this has modeled a strength of brain connections, of neural loops for problem solving and of navigating the world. All of the above is at the service of the conserving our lives and vital signs. Well, this is the origin of the different strategies for not changing, of the defense mechanisms: Denial, repression of the need to project out what we do not accept inside, sublimation, etc.
“We Despise the Complex“
We perceive for our conservative mind that is imposed on our desire to know, because we fear and even despise the complex. We perceive from a basic level, from emotions common to all mammals, with the same chemistry: from feelings, from our body, from the vital state, from our formation and training within our “tribe”, from the generally little senses developed by the low capacity of concentration to which a whirlwind of news and influences that generate the legion of sellers of proposals surrounding us that leads us.
We form personal and collective memory from our very small personal worlds, always, and from the group in which we are included! And, what is worse, from headlines, current trends, fashion, emotional plagues, ideologies, from the lack of awareness of life on our Planet Earth as a biological unit of which we are a part of and that we are attacking every day, from our limited mental resources, and from the lack of sensitivity to perceive ourselves as sentient and scarcely thinking beings.
We do not perceive what we have not seen before, the non-experienced, the untrained to see, we would say that what we have not seen before we do not see now. We also perceive, from our vital training, from individual and collective memories, from our developed senses, trained or not. Without feelings we would not be viable, because they are perceptual, adaptive systems prior to consciousness and generally outside of it. There are people who, because of their personal history, do not perceive good or virtue. Trained in criticism they do not feel the praiseworthy, the exemplary, they can attack it because they do not perceive it.
We need the connection of the posterior perceptual cortex, the executive frontal, the posterior longitudinal fascicle to construct a perception, and guide our action and constant perception. If we eliminate by our real gain 95% of the subcortical brain, our body and our senses half-trained, we can believe that we are beings of rational thought, but we have a filter, the thalamus, that gives way to what comes from outside through the senses, and from the body, if you consider it relevant to distribute it through the cortices and from them back, to the rest of the brain. Which means that the rational represents a tiny amount of brain.
Sophisticated Self-Deceiving Methods
If there is no previous experience, it may not be perceived because the thalamus will say that it makes no sense, elaborates it as noise and discard it. As smart as we are, it turns out that a structure prior to our species makes the selection of what has value or not, its value is survival, which unfortunately is not the common denominator of our decisions, because other structures intervene, the amygdala is blunt and decides to swell without nuances. What do they recognize? This primitive shield keeps all animals on guard against danger, and us too, but it can be over expended by seeing enemies everywhere, and if we have enough ideology and power, we will cause millions of deaths, or on the contrary, we will smoke, we will be sedentary, overeat, and we will not have the programming to detect the dangers of such behavior, as happens in all addicts where the amygdala loses volume and is slowly killed.
We are very primitive animals with sophisticated mechanisms of self-deception and justification, called defense mechanisms, that have increased within our culture and its denial of the unconscious, that is, the secret work of these and other structures outside of consciousness. We always try to see that which confirms what we already know, to remain in our judgments, assessments, criteria, ideologies, proof of scientific evidence. Generally, from our “tribe,” our cultural or social environment, we do not see what happens outside our people, nation, or our Europe. They, the politicians and we as citizens do not see the future that demands union, common cooperation, constant trajectory of work in common. They and we live daily. We don’t have brains for much more than that.
To perceive is to classify and color the objects or ideas of the world and organize them. We have a set of nuclei, loops, neuronal associations and stratified molecular mechanisms within the brain from the species before us that have given rise to the structures from which we perceive, phylogenetic memory which activates or slows our decisions and perceptions. More than knowing we tend to recognize and this is a biological fact that we deny. That’s why we learn little from our confusion.
95% of what we perceive is out of consciousness, due to the work of brain structures such as the thalamus, the hypothalamus, amygdala and the whole body, as well as other components of the limbic system, where the necessary processes of living reside like love, hate, rewards, pleasure, pain, emotional memories, food, sex, fight or flight, defense, aggressiveness.
A politician perceives that everything is political, a chemist that everything is chemistry, a physicist, a forestry engineer will perceive things outside our understanding. Therefore, our ability to perceive is very limited and is tied to our constructs. With these limitations, we decide and perceive the origin of our difficulties as humans. Tied to our personal memory, to that of our species and to our social or scientific culture, to the bad or good education received. Always driven by our emotional system, that if excited, we will leave the logic, the rational and maybe even by rooting ourselves from our conceptions, our beliefs, with mine, ours, my militancy: “I will vote for this party until I die”.
Therefore, it is necessary to understand and be consistent with the limitations of our brain, this would be a good contribution of neuroscience. And thus, we can begin to cooperate, to require help and help; knowing that we are rabid animals contained by repression, stopping the feet of dogs that bark demagogy, simplicity, messianism and social reforms without any basis, from what we already know from science. They should explain that of progressive projects, because as far as we know progress as humanity has been brought by laws, culture, science, the work of millions of anonymous beings, and some politicians, from the Greeks, trying to achieve democracy. In a world in crisis like the present one, it is a scam to offer progress, that is the mother of all deceptions, instead of union and vision for the future and long-term policies, before they crush us, the great powers and the emerging countries, while we entertain ourselves distributing seats and putting patches on legislature. Although, we have known since ancient times about this tremendous limitation of the collective mind and its emerging and representatives. Like rhetoric in which Georgias entrusted Socrates and his experience, every time he arrived in a city with his brother, he entrusted him with his health. He always chose the sophist, and not his blood relative doctor.
José Antonio Rodríguez Piedrabuena
Specialist in Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis