In fact, when our attention is outward, there can be many competing attractions. When that happens, we may use labels like the distraction, the priority, or the preference. We can form habits of attention in regard to things that we regularly monitor or inspect. Eventually, we can also form presumptions and expectations in regard to subjects that we do not monitor or inspect. It is possible for our perceptions to match very precisely with the reality of things, or they may be a slight inaccuracy or even a total contrast.
When our attention is on outward things, we can notice contrasts, complexity, as well as possible patterns or orderliness within complexity. How about when our attention is inward?
Internal experience can be very simple. By focusing inward, we withdraw attention away from possible distractions or disturbances. We turn away from external perceptions toward the inner experience in general and even the particular capacity for perceiving (which we might label as “the perceiver”).
Not only can inner experience be elegantly simple, but it can also be complex. There are many types of sensation, such the different physical senses of sight and hearing and smell. There are many types of emotion, with some emotions for socially attracting others (as in pulling) and other emotions for repulsing others (as in pushing).
In some cases, there can be inner conflicts, such as conflicts between what we observe and what we expect to observe. For instance, imagine that I smell one of my favorite foods, but I look around and do not see that food.
If I was not expecting that smell, then I might be quite surprised to smell my favorite food. Then, beyond just surprise, I could be confused about where that smell is coming from. Maybe it is hard for me to see. Maybe I even see some other food instead, perhaps one that I find repulsive or disgusting.
Why do I smell one familiar smell and yet see something else that is also familiar, but not what I expected? Is my vision accurate? Is my brain properly interpreting my sight?
Note that we could say that sight is a function of the eyes while vision in a function of the brain. How is it that people can experience vision during their dreams or while hallucinating, even without any actual physical sight taking place? If someone was not born blind but then lost their eyesight several years ago, can their brain still remembers visual patterns? If so, when we know that vision is quite independent of eyesight.
In some ancient parables, we might be told that many people have eyes, but not everyone who has eyes will be able to see. Eyes cannot see in the dark, right? To be able to see, there must not only be eyes, but light. Further, closed eyes do not see even when there is light.
Next, simply seeing is totally distinct from properly recognizing whatever is seen. That recognition and identification of what is viewed is not a function of the eyes, but of the brain.
For instance, I cannot directly understand the meaning of the following sequence of Greek letters. I can see them. I could even copy their shapes. However, I have absolutely no idea what ideas might be encoded in those shapes.
I believe that the Arabic writing below could be a written code for the same human experience that I would label as “forgiveness.” I have no expertise in that language, so I do not reject the translation shown. Maybe it is a good translation and maybe not. I have no idea.
If we study the word vision, we would find that it has the same origin as the word video and many other words including witness, watch, wise, wizard, wicca, wicked, witch, witty, and even the words idea and identify. Vision is about the brain identifying something based on the sensations transmitted from the eyes. The eyes have sight (they see), but it is the brain that identifies or witnesses whatever is seen.
So, back to my earlier example, perhaps I smell something that my brain identifies as a food that I like, so then I look around (with my eyes), but all that my brain recognizes is some other food that triggers physical sensations in me that I dislike. I may experience confusion, which, if the issue seems important to me, can result in curiosity and exploration. Maybe I begin to wonder “has someone recently eaten my favorite food near here, so I cannot see it but only smell that it used to be here?”
External reality is never “in conflict” with itself. There can be mismatches or contrasts, but there is no actual conflict when there are red letters that spell the word “blue.”
We can even say that “I can see a conflict between the color of the letters and the meaning of the word spelled by those letters.” However, that conflict is *constructed* by the brain. The conflict is “out there” in the sense that many people can recognize it.
However, it is not “out there” in the sense that the letters do not have any inherent meaning. Though social training, some people learn to use those letters to encode ideas. So, if we have been trained to read that alphabet and that language, then the shapes of the letters are symbols that we can “decode” in our brain. In other words, we translate the code symbols in to an idea (which is not out there, but in the brain) and that internal recognition of the meaning of a word can conflict with the color of the letters (that is “out there”).
So, that is not a conflict that is really external. That is a conflict between the external colors and the internal meaning. Just because the same meaning is internally constructed by lots of people does not change the fact that the meaning is not inherent to the shapes.
<===== to the left
“Did you leave the leaves on the left like I asked or have you left them on the right again?”
The word “right” can mean the opposite of left or the opposite of wrong. The meaning is not “out there.” There is no “inherent” meaning to this sequence of shapes: “RIGHT?”
So, we can observe conflicts external to us, like between two animals or two groups of people. We can also observe conflicts between our own inner expectations and what we actually observe externally. Finally, we can observe inner conflicts, like conflicting emotions as in mixed emotions.
As noted before, some emotions involve socially attracting others to us, such as sadly moaning for help. Other emotions involve some type of social repulsion, such as wanting to push others away or wanting to flee from a particular possible threat (like an alarming, unexpected loud noise).
It is very common for emotions to have a social element, although from a medical perspective, it is also clear that emotions can also be measured as internal biological events, like through polygraph machines that can be used to identify phsyical distress and perhaps even distress from telling a lie. A person who is excited or delighted will produce different polygraph results than a person who is bored or a person who is disgusted.
So, emotions are physical events, although often triggered by social interactions. We can see that someone who is asleep and dreaming that they are standing alone at the edge of a cliff will experience biochemical hormonal responses even though there is no cliff and of course no one around. The fear of falling off of an imaginary cliff is not social, right? If the dreaming person was hooked up to a polygraph machine though, then there could be real physical indications of their real fear about an imaginary cliff.
Memories can also trigger fear, even though remembering a cliff is basically the same as imagining a cliff. If you have imagined a cliff at any time in the last few minutes, then your brain might have constructed visual hallucinations of standing at the edge of a cliff and looking over the edge. That is real vision, but not sight.
Vision is a neurological event in the brain and can happen during sleep. Sight, in contrast, is an independent process in the eyes.
Next, imagine someone with a certain kind of brain injury that disconnects one of their eyes from certain parts of their brain. People like that have been studied to establish that what one eye sees (like when they cover or close the other eye) can produce actual physical responses (as in emotion). All of that can happen without the brain actually constructing any conscious vision of the thing seen by the eye.
In those cases, people are literally blind to what one of their eyes is seeing. If they open the other eye, then they can recognize what they have been looking at (and thus explain any emotional response that they already had).
The experiments get even more interesting when the people are given special eyewear which allows the two eyes to be shown two different things. Perhaps they are given two different-colored lens or filters which allow them to see only certain words written in a specific color. In other words, each filter will block out (as functionally invisible) anything written in a certain color.
In that case, only one eye can see some emotionally-stimulating thing (like even a particular word), which produces a measurable physical response in the entire body. Further, the other eye is shown some other word or shape.
Now, what happens if the test subject is asked what their emotional state is? Of course they can typically identify their inner experience. But then what if they are asked to explain the cause of their emotional experience?
Note that these test subjects might not have been fully informed about the purposes and methodology of the brain research. Note also that only a small portion of the brain is involved in conscious awareness.
So, if the test subject is shown two different images (or words), but, because of their brain injury, they are only conscious of what is seen by one of their eyes, they can identify the emotion that is triggered by “what is invisible to their brain.” However, when asked to explain their emotiponal response, they will casually (and sincerely) CONSTRUCT an explanation that corresponds with whatever has been shown to the eye that is connected to the part of the brain that produces conscious awareness. They will rationalize their emotional response AS IF it was produced only by whatever they consciously perceive (as distinct from the different things that their eyes see). They will be just as sincere as someone dreaming.
Their mistake (or delusion) will not register on a polygraph exam. They believe their rationalization with absolute confidence.
We began with the idea of turning attention inward (such as to the internal processes of the brain to construct visual perceptions and rationalizations and other ideas or interpretations). We have gone in to some detail about the contrast between outward focus and inward focus. Next, we will explore the issue of why there would ever be relevance to an instruction or reminder to “return the attention inward.”
So, why would this turning inward ever be an issue that could require the need for an instruction or reminder? Why doesn’t the outward focus naturally return inward?
But what if the colored lenses were removed? Then, both eyes could see all of the words, so the conscious part of the brain could perceive all of the words. There would be no filtering or “unconscious” denial. The person would recognize that their sincere rationalizations from a minute in the past were wildly inaccurate. They might be very surprised, then briefly confused perhaps, but they would eventually understand which words were actually related to the emotional reaction, at which time they would discard their past misunderstanding.
How long would it take for them to update their understanding to match with their new conscious observations? It might be nearly instant. Or, for people with very severe obsessions with social validation, they might be very embarrassed and panic. Typically, test subjects would anxiously emphasize their prior sincerity and basically apologize to the researchers (as if the researchers were going to condemn them for their prior errors or accuse them of insincerity).
What would such anxious apologies evidence? It is proof that there was a background of pre-existing social paranoia in the people tested. Note that not everyone tested was embarrassed (as in anxious about avoiding criticism). Some simply said “wow, I am very surprised at that!”
However, even if a test subject got upset and harshly condemned the researchers for deceiving them, what happens to their old sincerity? Can they still be sincere about their first claim about the source of their emotional response? Once their brains are conscious of the words that were previously “invisible,” their past sincerity is no longer present. Yes, they were sincere, but there sincerity about their prior explanation is over.
So, the normal tendency to “confirmation bias” only is active when people are conscious enough to avoid actually respectfully studying any contrary evidence. If they know in advance that some evidence is contrary to a bias that they hold tightly with deep social paranoia, then they just avoid that evidence (and unconsciously rationalize why that evidence “must be invalid”). But if the “good eye” is suddenly able to see words that previously were filtered out (blocked) by a colored lens, then their prior sincerity is instantly “ruined forever.” Their inaccurate fabrication has been “betrayed.”
They may panic or explode in outrage, but they cannot ever sincerely deceive themselves again. They have been “tricked” in to facing the truth. They may repeat many times that “I cannot believe it!” However, their initial resistance to the new clarity (their “disbelief”) cannot last. They no longer believe what they now directly recognize as invalid. They are conscious of a much more reasonable (rational) connection then their original rationalization.
So, let’s explore the issue that there is commonly an unrecognized background of social paranoia (obsession with social validation). While denying their own emotional state of social paranoia, people may also resist the idea of actually testing whether or not there is any cause for their paranoia. To them, it really does not make sense to test for danger (or safety). To them, there “cannot be” any danger. They are unconscious of their own filtering. They are “in denial.” More precisely, they simply have not yet perceived a connection that they may later perceive.
They will remember their prior sincerity, but they will never return to that sincerity. They recognize that their brain simply “made up” a connection between the emotion that was triggered and the words that “their good eye” could see.
Next, back to the terminology of returning to an inward focus, how easy is to return focus inward? If someone has been effectively trained to have a fixated external focus on social validation, then a socially-delivered permission to return inward might be relevant. Lots of ongoing encouragement might be relevant (especially then is a constant social pressure and bombardment with information, like in many schools).
In fact, as noted already, there may be even a resistance to returning attention inward. Why exactly?
Eventually, the suggestion to turn inward might be received and explored. However, a possible complication is that there may also be a sense of repulsion toward the actual inner experience, which involves a kind of tension or conflict. When there is shame or panic in the background, then turning inward puts that background into focus or even in to the foreground.
Is there a way that I should be and then a contrasting experience that violates how I supposed that I would be? If so, then a simple response would be to update my supposition in order for it to conform to my actual experience. However, when there is an inner experience of enough distress or panic, then I may dismiss or devalue my any problematic observations in favor of maintaining my supposition about how I should be, even if that supposition is a distressed pretense.
I am the one who supposes how I am supposed to be or how I should be. I am supposed by me to be a certain way. I suppose that I should be a certain way.
What happens if I use a model that is not a fit for a particular context? It is likely that eventually I produce the result of frustration or even exhaustion and despair or desperation.
What happens if we practice a new model of attention? Does that alter what we notice and how we interpret what we notice and how we respond to what we interpret and the results of those behavioral responses?
I am conditioned to construct certain perceptions, but the constructing of any perception is a skill. And some contacts, a particular skill will be useful and another context a different skill will be usable and so I may be interested in the skill of constructing a wide variety of different perceptions or experiences. Instead of relating to certain experiences as inherently shameful, I may relate to certain experiences as deserving unusual caution.
I get interested in how attentive I should be to what. I may generally lose interest in how I am supposed by other people to be (unless I am a celebrity or high-profile public figure). Or, I may be only interested in how certain specific people suppose me to be.