The world is your mirror. It’s a popular phrase, but what does it mean? The world around us is a physical reality of which we are a part, yet being in a physical body makes us all separate. We are sentient beings with a constant cascade of incoming data and information. We see and interact with the world through all of our senses. The physical world around us may be the same, but what input we take in and how it affects us is very different.
Our affect is the physical feelings in our bodies based on a scale of pleasant to unpleasant, and calm to agitated. Foods have a direct influence on our affect. What’s appetizing to one person is poison to another. Some like sweet, some like savory. Some foods are naturally calming, and some, like coffee, are agitating: the degree to which caffeine affects people is different. The same thing happens with our other senses…our sense of smell, our hearing, and our sense of touch…they create specific feelings in our bodies. Then our brains start working to make sense of what these feelings mean.
There is no way we could possibly take it all in, so we learn to focus on what we believe is important or essential for our well being. Just like we can choose what to eat, we can choose what we want to see, consciously or not, by where we focus our attention. There is no way our eyes can see everything around us, nothing like we could capture in a photograph, so our attention is naturally drawn to certain objects and images.
In How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that out of all the input going into the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information, only a small percentage is actual visual input from the world…the rest are visual predictions that are carried from neurons in other parts of the brain. These predictions are based on all of our past experiences that have been processed and stored.
Our brains are always active and one step ahead, constantly taking in information with our senses, and predicting outcomes based on past experience, what Barrett calls “prediction loops”. There are multiple predictions going on at once. With the help of neurons, your brain will simulate an outcome (think of how you can picture something in your mind’s eye: you are imagining or visualizing something that’s not there). Then you will compare that simulation with actual sensory input from the world. If it does not match, it is a prediction error and you will continue to predict and simulate until there is a match.
When there is an error, the brain can do one of two things. If the brain is flexible, it will continue to change the prediction until it matches. It will take in more actual data from the world and process that, coming up with brand new predictions. If the brain is stubborn and decides to stick with its original prediction, it will filter the sensory input so that it matches the prediction, shutting out input from the world and relying on its own personal stored data.
As we go through life, we rely more and more on our past so that we don’t need to constantly reinvent the wheel by processing the information coming from our environment. When something new enters our awareness, we use our past experiences to help us navigate through. While this can be extremely helpful, it can also make us set in our ways. It can lock us into a habit pattern of thinking. We can become close-minded, judgmental and rigid…and not want to try anything new.
Let’s say you are out in public and see someone you know. You make a prediction, simulate in your mind the person that you know, then you will compare your simulation with sensory input: medium height, thin, long brown hair, etc. You could be 100% sure that it’s your friend…but why is she holding hands with that man? Is she cheating on her husband? You’re in shock and not sure what to do. A flexible brain would cause you to be curious, take in more info, change your prediction, and find out that it’s really not your friend after all, just her doppelgänger. A stubborn brain will hold tight to the fact that it is your friend, she’s cheating, and this confirms your suspicion that she was having trouble in her marriage.
This prediction loop happens with all of our senses, not just our vision. It explains why we can sometimes see, hear or smell something that’s not there, or how we can totally walk by something and not even see it. We are constantly filtering the information coming in, and relying more and more on our past experiences, our predictions and assumptions.
We are constructing the world around us by what we choose to take in and how we choose to perceive it. In that respect, the world is our reflection. Knowing that most of what we see is not actually real data, that we are embellishing, we are relying on our past experiences and our predictions, and projecting that out into the world, then we have the opportunity to make a change.
What does this mean in terms of the world being our mirror? To some degree, we have created the world we see. We need to take responsibility for everything in our lives, and to change the world, we need to change ourselves. If you look in the mirror and want to put on lipstick, you’re not going to put it on the mirror…you’re going to put it on your lips. You don’t change your life by changing the world around you…you need to go within.
Challenge of the week: Look in the mirror
Take stock of things in your life. How do you view the different aspects of your relationships? Your health? Your career? Your finances? How do you feel about them? What are your thoughts and beliefs?
The first step is to look at your life, take inventory. If you feel good about these areas and see the love, beauty and fulfillment in them, that is wonderful. If there’s an area that’s not working or you feel lack, conflict or struggle, then focus on that. It’s really helpful to journal about it. What are your feelings about this person or subject? Without being judgmental, acknowledge that everything you see is a reflection of some aspect in yourself…the good, the bad and the ugly!
And remember to keep an open mind. Be curious, investigate and don’t jump to conclusions – about yourself or others. You can change the world simply by changing you mind.
Have a great week! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.