I’ve talked before about my theory of consciousness. The essence of it is that we have this big screen in our minds that is occupied by the aspects of our mental proceedings that are winning the moment-by-moment competitions that are going on continuously below the surface. What we experience (sight, sound, etc.) on the big screen is what we are conscious of. It’s all about attention.
What are we paying attention to? The answer drives such a monumental part of our experience, yet few of us routinely ask ourselves what is on our big screens. That’s probably because no one else has posited the big screen metaphor – at least I’ve never come across it. Nevertheless, visual metaphors can be extremely useful, and this one is at the high end of the utility scale. Perhaps an everyday example.
You’ve just come from the grocery store. You walk in the door to your home and find that your wallet or purse is not with you. It’s no shocker what’s on your big screen for the foreseeable future until you recover what you’re missing. You’re completely absorbed, which is to say that your big screen is occupied by one thing almost entirely. Yes, the big screen in our heads, unlike the one at your average movie theater, has split-viewing capability. In fact, it more resembles those walls you’ve seen that are made up of dozens of TVs – they can each play individually, or they can work together to produce several multi-TV experiences, or even a giant, cohesive experience. So, in that context, losing your wallet is an absorbing conscious experience, but most things are not.
In this multi-tasking world with so many have-to-dos right next to so many want-to-dos, it’s obvious that our big screens are in multi-image mode most of the time. We’re thinking about the people in our lives, our jobs, our problems, our hopes, and whatever happens to be going on from second to second. The big screen is a melange of ever-changing images and sounds. Most of life is a fragmented conscious experience. I have found that simply being aware of this concept has profound effects on how I can modulate my conscious experiences, and thus influence my levels of contentment and awareness. (Sounds all zen and meditative, huh? Not really.)
We all have things that pop up on our big screens that we’d rather not think about, and we all have our ways of ushering those experiences off the screen. It is my sincere opinion that most people are really good at getting rid of things that they should keep, while they have almost no ability to get rid of things that have no place on our big screens. This, I believe, is mostly a function of our caveman heritage. For example, most people simply have not learned that status in a modern, largely anonymous world is irrelevant. Dave Ramsey, the radio consumer advocate, is fond of saying that people are all the time spending money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. That about nails it – we’re doing what we’re programmed to do – we don’t know any different. And what about the things we should keep on our big screens?
Though some folks may disagree with me, I would argue that at least 80% of the population is absolutely unwilling to accept truths about themselves, even the ones they know, but try to deny. My most recent boss was an absolutely abysmal manager, and he had indications almost weekly that confirmed it. Nevertheless, were he asked, he would undoubtedly proclaim his skill at governing and guiding the actions of other people. We’re talking about a massive blind-spot. How does something like this emerge, you ask? By kicking the truth off your big screen when you don’t like how it makes you feel.
The hallmark of human maturity is self-awareness, and it only comes by letting the rough stuff have its 15 minutes on our big screens. I’m not about to say that I’m the most mature guy in town – I do stupid shit on a regular basis – but I will say that I have a good handle on where I’m strong and where I’m weak. In other words, I would argue that I don’t have any blind-spots, at least no big ones. I may overestimate or underestimate some aspect of my personality, but I know who I am, and one thing I know is that, though I may resist, I always eventually manage to accept the truth when it reveals itself to me. This is because of how I control my big screen.
Occasionally, things absorb my screen that I’d rather not experience. Instead of invoking a default program to wipe away the unpleasant and replace it with the pleasant, I split the screen. Next to the negative experience, I add a vignette about why this experience is so unpleasant to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s because the answer is some truth about myself that I’d rather not accept. (A disclaimer – this is personal best practices stuff, which means I try to always do this. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail and have to try again later. Such is life.) Maybe I’m being selfish in a way that is unacceptable. Maybe I’m being vain – as in when I lost my tooth recently. Whatever. The point is that the mind always knows when we’re going astray. It’s up to us to listen when it throws our foibles up on the big screen. If we don’t, we’re just asking for pain later.
The bottom line, folks, is that truth will get you in the end. It always does. You may live in a fantasy land, and it may hold up pretty well, but one day, truth will burst your bubble. And when it does, the agony will far exceed what you’d have experienced if you’d just have watched your big screen a little longer when it wasn’t feeding you candy.
So the next time you’re absorbed in something, think about your big screen (which will, incidentally, immediately split the screen). If what you’re absorbed in – say, a rock concert – is worthwhile, then you can take pleasure in knowing that your mind is tuned into something positive that is giving you pleasure. (There’s nothing like good art to reboot a fragmented big screen.) Conversely, if you’re obsessed with envy at your supposed best-friend’s good fortune, your newly split big screen will also let you know that you’re being a shallow douchebag. That, too, is something positive, so pay attention.