Filters in the Age of Information Overload
One of my colleagues has advanced a compelling theory to explain why a palpable madness seems to be gripping our society and more and more people seem to be going off the rails.
So much information is available now we are constantly bombarded with, that it has exceeded the processing capacity of the human mind. That is making a lot of people destabilize inside, and as the information glut increases, this problem will continue to worsen.
Recently I wrote an article describing my thought process on navigating controversial topics with a high degree of ambiguity. It specifically focused on how critical it is to avoid getting attached to any specific interpretation you have of what is occurring. This is both because, due to the ambiguity present, it is challenging to be sure of any interpretation (so becoming attached to a specific one becomes a barrier to seeing the truth) and because it is not healthy for your mind or spirit to covet and treasure some rare idea it has become in possession of. Since this has been a common issue I’ve observed with the nanotech in vaccines issue, I chose to use it to illustrate the point, but this same thing applies to countless other subjects too.
When I reviewed that article, I realized there was a critical point I forgot to mention—how do we, as human beings, effectively deal with an overwhelming volume of information? This issue is a variant of a common issue meditation schools have dealt with throughout history, and they can provide some insights on both the topic at hand and the practice of medicine in general.
Note: henceforth, I will use the term “subconsciousness.” Arguments can also be made that “unconsciousness” is more correct. I thought this over for a while, and I am not ultimately not sure which should be used here.
Focusing on Value
In many environments you are in, a massive amount of data is present that the conscious mind cannot keep track of. However, to a large extent, the subconsciousness does and directs your focus to what in the environment has “value” for your conscious mind to be aware of.
One classic example is the “Cocktail party effect,” where you can be in a room where many people are having conversations that blur together. Still, for some reason, you can immediately zero in on the one conversation where your name was mentioned. Most of you have probably experienced this numerous times, and the same principle holds in many other instances as well.
I have seen various explanations put forward to explain why the “Cocktail party effect” occurs, and from all of them, it’s clear some part of the brain is evolved to make this possible. One region that has been put forward as being responsible for this is the “reticular activating system.” At this point, I don’t know if the RAS is the region of the brain ultimately responsible for this effect, but going forward, I will state that it is to help convey the central points of this essay.
The filtering function of the RAS has been hypothesized to have evolved so that early humans (and likely the primates we came from) could rapidly detect sources of food (e.g., berries) and danger (e.g., predators) in their environment. Since so much existed in their environment, and the stakes were high for missing many of them (e.g., a brief delay in spotting a predator could equate to death), the RAS was necessary. There needed to be an effective mechanism to rapidly draw attention to essential things while simultaneously not failing to observe any part of the environment.
We no longer have to deal with those high stakes in modern times, but the RAS persists. In turn, the “value” it seeks are things our culture has habituated us to value, such as an opportunity for money, a product we want, or a potential mate.
In human interactions, recognizing the importance of the RAS is immensely valuable. This is because your words and actions are often far less important than what the other party has been primed to look for. Put differently, if someone’s initial impression of you is positive (or they assess you as having value to them), their RAS will filter for things that show value in you. Conversely, if someone’s initial impression of you is negative, their RAS will filter for signs you have no value and should be disregarded.
This is why people can repeatedly try to do everything right and make a positive impression on someone, but they are only seen negatively, and regardless of how hard they try, they keep looking worse and worse. Conversely, sometimes when you talk to individuals trapped in clearly abusive relationships (to the point outside observers can tell the abuse is happening), the abused party does not register most of the abuse and cites a couple of semi-decent things the abuser did as proof they are a good person, and sometimes will even try to defend the abuser once outside parties get involved. This might seem hard to believe, but I’ve seen it numerous times in the ER, and many of my colleagues have also seen it in their respective fields.
Note: the concept I am describing here is often described as “confirmation bias” (where you only see things that conform to your pre-existing beliefs).
Filters Create Your Reality
One point Scott Adams helped bring general public recognition to is that we all hold filters (often arising from subconscious biases). Much of the reality we believe to be true is not because it is the objective reality. Instead, our notion of reality appears because our RAS makes us aware of things in our environment that affirm the reality we filter for. As a result, people come to believe their filtered world is reality because it’s what they see around them all day long. Scott Adams, in turn, refers to this phenomenon as two people watching the same film but seeing a completely different movie.
One of the things I hate about the media is how good it is at priming people to have a specific filter and then continually selectively feeding people only information that affirms that filter. I think my dislike of this comes not from the media’s behavior but the fact that so many people continuously fall prey to it, even when they are fully aware of it being done to them previously.
Three of the most noteworthy recent examples we have seen of this priming were:
• Trump is Hitler.
• The sky is falling (because of COVID-19).
• The COVID-19 vaccines are 100% safe, 95% effective, and essential for returning to normal.
Although none of these were objectively true, because of how effectively the media primed much of the population’s RAS, many were left with a deep conviction these filters were true and that the evidence for it was so overwhelming anyone who could not “see” it was unforgivable. This, in turn, led to something I had not seen before with the American propaganda apparatus—families and long-term friendships were broken apart simply due to people having divergent viewpoints on these issues and not ascribing to the media’s narrative.
Note: One of the things I found the most surprising was just how effective this propaganda push was. The best example I can think of is how most medical professionals I met fell for all three. For instance, as James Miller (the honest doc) has highlighted in a recent interview, many doctors and government leaders who directed the COVID-19 response established many of their beliefs on these narratives based on what CNN told them than reviewing the medical evidence themselves.
One of the things that gives me a great deal of joy in life is realizing that something I’d observed many, many times in my life had a quality I’d never recognized before, either because an existing filter removed it or because the complexity was beyond my present ability to grasp. This can hold for both very simple things (e.g., a blade of grass) and fairly complex ones.
For example, as the years went by, I began to gain a greater and greater appreciation for the fact most of human communication has nothing to do with the specific information being conveyed but rather is predominantly about what is going on in the body, mind, and spirit of each participant. Most of this is rarely overtly expressed but heavily influences both what each participant conveys and how they interpret what is said to them.
This is important because (unless you are very good with hypnosis) it is the realm where you have to focus to reach people who will not listen to what you say and the evidence you present. Furthermore, this broader spectrum of what’s contained within communication holds for every one of its mediums, including writing. For that reason, the primary thing I aim for here is to address those other areas of communication (e.g., I try to write in a heart-centered manner), as I feel it is more important than the specific information of the subject at hand.
Another example can be seen in the practice of medicine. Since I was young, I loved puzzles, but as time passed, I realized all artificial systems have a predefined limit to the complexity they can reach. Conversely, with human beings, there is an almost unlimited degree of complexity present, and one of the key things that brings me joy in practicing medicine is realizing something is present in the human system I had never recognized before despite having it staring me in the face with every preceding patient.
It’s specifically for this reason that I ask colleagues to send me complex patients they can’t figure out (provided they are mentally balanced and thus comfortable with navigating the uncertainty of the disease). In this regard, the COVID-19 vaccine disaster has been a remarkable educational experience. This is because I’ve seen so many things go wrong in the body with these patients I never previously appreciated could go wrong in the first place. So really looking into those problems opened my eyes to a variety of physiologic and subconscious mechanisms in the body I had never registered the importance of addressing before (and in some cases didn’t even realize existed in the first place).
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