Let’s start with a disclaimer so we can get the obvious out of the way. In order to change your reality you don’t need to pop acid, dive headfirst into a pool of alcohol or arrange for that quick trip to Amsterdam’s “coffee shops” you’ve got on your bucket list. Reality can be changed by changing our perception of it. As Neo finds out in the seminal 1999 sci-fi hit The Matrix, the reality we perceive does not exist outside the construct of the self:
When it comes to thinking about how we perceive the world the metaphor of hardware and software comes in handy. The brain, its structure, connections and networks is the hardware. The electrochemical stuff that flows through them and makes things happen is the hardware. The analogy is a gross over-simplification of what really goes on but it will serve our purpose well enough so it doesn’t matter.
It’s hard to change the software, primarily because we are not really aware of it but also because the moment we do become consciously aware of how we think we have changed the way we think and have no real way of knowing whether it is a lasting or not effect. Plus, research has shown that we make decisions subconsciously long before we become aware of the fact that we need to make a decision. So, when we do consciously make a decision, it is the conscious articulation of one that was made for us long before.
So, if we cannot change the software, so to speak, what can we do to improve the quality of our decision making? Well, this is where it gets really interesting. Although we use the metaphor of hardware/software when talking about the brain and the heuristics that run through it, the analogy is incorrect. The brain’s hardware is an inescapable part of its software. Each thought we have not only changes our understanding about something it also changes our entire hardwiring, creating new neural pathways in the brain and forging new connections while it, inevitably, weakens some old ones.
In a sense, we remake ourselves every instant we consciously think about something. The operative word here is “consciously”. In order for the brain to reforge itself we need to actually pay attention. Plus relatively simple things like actively seeing as opposed to just looking, focusing on goals as opposed to just dealing with problems breathing correctly as a means of self-control and doing something physical as a means of acquiring discipline.
The senses become the pathways via which the physical world imposes order, structure and meaning on the mental one.
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