We are not alone – part 2

not alone

In Part 1 of this blog I suggested we are not alone, but connected to the 8 billion other people who we share our planet with. People either get this concept, or they don’t. Even if they get just a little bit it is often enough to catapult their life to at least the next level. 

Every culture in the world has embraced this concept in some shape or form. To the best of my knowledge it doesn’t matter which model of belonging you choose to believe, as long as you believe in one. Carl Jung’s model was his concept of the ‘collective unconscious’, and there are many others to choose from. These are hugely difficult concepts to describe, as I have discovered the hard way whilst attempting to describe this vital concept to my clients and the groups who attend my events. 

Shine the light

We all rely on the lightbulb moment to move our thinking in a completely different direction. Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew where the switch was hiding? Unfortunately I don’t know, but I can certainly share my lightbulb moment with you.

Very recently I found a better path through this maze of being connected. My lightbulb moment might just be a very important missing part of the jigsaw I am trying to describe. I did not know this immediately but it also directly connects to my concept of our reptile brain, why we all sometimes make crazy decisions, and the incredible breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI). The link is social media, and explains why the world is rapidly polarising its opinions. We are becoming binary, rather than digital in our decision making.

At the same time we are going through the greatest revolution in our history and most of us, including me, have no idea where it will lead, but our lives are going to be very different, that is the truth.

We have a fight on our hands, and we are ill-prepared for it. Not least, we are nowhere near as intelligent as we all give ourselves credit for. Deep in our unconscious mind is the oldest area of our brain in evolutionary terms. Which is why some people call it the reptile brain, and I particularly like this word.

Zen & the art of taming lizards

Almost all of our most important thoughts surface from this deep area of our brain. They are very simple thoughts, and the actions they lead to are predominantly binary. In other words we have two choices. Let me give you some examples of how I believe a lizard thinks.

  • If it is hungry and sees a beetle it will eat it. If it is not hungry it will ignore it.
  • If it is a male lizard  and sees a female lizard he will try to have sex with her. If she refuses he may eat her, or she may eat him.
  • If a lizard is attacked it will fight back, or run away and hide somewhere.
  • If a lizard is cold it will find a hot rock to lie on. If it is hot it will find a safe hole shaded from the sun.
  • If another lizard moves into its territory it will fight it, or find itself a new territory.

I could go on and on, and I am sure you can come up with your own examples. The point I am trying to make is that when I study human behaviour I do not see much difference between the lizard and us, other than one very obvious one.

The difference is that the outer layer of our brain is the youngest in evolutionary terms. It is our conscious mind and its main function is to sanitise the socially unacceptable thoughts that our lizard wants us to act upon. When the conscious mind is overloaded with many other decisions to make it should be no surprise that sometimes huge mistakes are made.

We like choices, don’t we?

The conscious mind will come up with multiple choices of possible decisions in a given situation. This scares the living daylights out of our lizard who does not understand why this is so difficult, and feels threatened.

I doubt that Nietzsche thought in these terms, but one of his memorable quotes was something along these lines. “He who has choice has torment.”

So what does this have to do with my opening statement that we are in the process of the greatest revolution in our history? It is because we are now all connected in a way that our previous generation would never have dreamt about. Because we are now connected to many other people in this world our decisions have become binary, just like the lizard. This explains why so many crazy decisions are being made by apparently sensible people. There are no 50 shades of grey. We are living in a world of yes or no, right or wrong.

We are seeing this in our social behaviour, and our political, religious, and spiritual lives.

What has brought this about? It is the dominance of social media, and the artificial intelligence that processes monstrous amounts of information, digests it, and then gives us two choices. This makes the lizard very happy, because now the over-controlling ego which is used to suppress many of its lizard thoughts has now been neutralised.

Give me some good news

If you find this somewhat scary then so do I. People say that knowledge is power. If they are to be believed then this explanation of our current connectedness might help us to understand other people and their actions more clearly. It might help us to not take things that we do not like unduly personally. 

The simplicity of our lizard brain can be a force for good, but it can also be a force for evil when manipulated for the wrong reasons. AI has given such people the algorithms that are surprisingly accurate in identifying how we think, and the decisions that we make when our lizard brain resonates with such manipulated information and “fake news”.

The final words are from Carl Jung, delivered in 1936 when he presented his paper on the Collective Unconscious, long before AI.

“There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will not fall prey to. If 30 years ago anyone had dared to predict that our psychological development was tending towards a revival of the mediaeval persecutions of the Jews, that Europe would again tremble before the Roman fasces and the tramp of legions, that people would once more give the Roman salute, as 2,000 years ago, and that instead of the Christian cross an archaic swastika would lure onwards millions of warriors ready for death – why, that man would have been hooted out as a mystical fool.” 

Carl Jung, October 1936, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London 

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