You know how sometimes you’re hungry and you start wondering to yourself, “What am I in the mood for?” This process of one part of the brain asking another part of the brain a question is something we all do a lot, and it struck me the other day that there was actually something really interesting and beautiful about how it works.
What’s happening here, anyway? Let me try to break it down…
- The asker of the question is our conscious mind.
- The answerer of our question is the subconscious.
- We think the question, as words, but then what often happens is that we hold up a number of images, or memories, one at a time and see how our subconscious responds to those images and memories.
- Q: “Thai food?” A: Nah.
- Q: “Sushi?” A: Nah.
- Q: “A hamburger?” A: Hmmm…. maybe.
- Q: “Pizza?” A: YES!
- The answers are in the form of hormones that predict our happiness upon receiving the food item in reality. Basically, though it’s probably a simplification, our brain has a machine cranking away under the surface trying to predict the value of various alternatives.
- There are a couple factors that go into making an answer/prediction: the likelihood of reward, the strength of reward, the ease of acquiring the reward, etc.
- Biologically speaking, the vehicle of the answer is a dopamine hit, a dopamine dip, or no response.
- This is how our subconscious talks to us!
- We don’t get to know what exactly went in to forming the answer (hence the sub- in subconscious) but we do get the gentle hormone-induced PUSH (go to it!) or PULL (don’t do it!) not unlike a sign from God that nudges us in the desired direction.
- Think about it.
- How many times a day do we ask ourselves these kinds of questions? ”Should I get out of bed now?” “Should I walk to work?” “Should I check my email?” “How should I respond to that question?” “What should I wear?” “What’s the best way to get my job done?” etc.
- We rely very heavily on this relationship with our subconscious to send us quick answers, and we almost never go against the advice.
- When do we go against the advice though? Maybe when we know it’s wrong, or when we’re trying to override existing habits or behaviors with new healthier, or otherwise better, habits and behaviors.
I’ve been trying to create a meditation habit recently, and part of a recent breakthrough was realizing that I can ask my subconscious questions, listen to the answers, and do nothing. Just become familiar with what the physical sensations of these answers is like. And how they change depending on my mood, my physical state (hungry, sleepy, exhausted, full, sick).
I wish there were words for the sensations. Are there any words for them in languages other than English? The feeling of an internal kick to check email. What is the word for that? What is the word for the feeling of dread when thinking about eating a salad? And what is the word to describe the difference between that and the feeling of dread when thinking about doing bills. What are the words to describe the beginning of the feeling, the middle of the feeling, and the end of the feeling? What about the words to describe the background buzz of hormones swirling around inside our arms, legs, etc? What are the words to describe a positive buzz of excitement under the skin, and to talk about how strong the buzzing is, and the rate at which it is pulsing (I noticed a pulsing background buzz in my skin after a long inspired work session yesterday). How do we talk about the qualities of these answers in a way that makes it feel like we can compare notes with one another, and slowly begin to understand the subtleties of how our bodies and minds respond to internal questions, and how we make decisions, and how we negotiate changes in behavior?
I listened to an amazing Radiolab the other day about Words which talked a lot about the science that has shown that without words, we can’t think about certain concepts. We need words in order to delve into understanding. The fact that I don’t know of that many everyday words to describe something as crucial as how our bodies feel on the inside (aside from the very high level words like hungry, angry, hungover, etc) is really surprising to me and I’m hoping someone can point to previous work in that general direction.