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What's True, Anyway?

If you Google “Brain Processing Speed,” you’ll find a range of answers, all in agreement that the vast majority of processing occurs in unconscious or automatic associations, and that very little of the process rises to the level of conscious decision making. By one estimate, the human brain can process 11 million bits of information every second, but conscious mind can handle only 40 to 50 bits of information a second. A galaxy compared to a solar system.

Brain processing speeds are estimates using a “sliding window” model in data processing. Jon Connelly offers the metaphor of unconscious mind as a locomotive train with conscious mind as a little red wagon tied behind it. As the train hauls its payload down the tracks, the little red wagon covers the same tracks, but in arrears, and with virtually no impact on the power of the locomotive.

Neuroscience informs us that the vast majority of neurocognitive processing takes place during the first 3rd of every second (or as fast as the first 4th) and is too fast for conscious processing. (Coca Cola used to insert subliminal ads into movies at this speed.) This is called the P3, or P300 (sometimes the P2 or P250 in people who process faster). After that data has been automatically processed, then a small fraction of that processing becomes available to conscious mind in the form of thoughts, feelings, impulses, and ‘decisions’.

Given the pace and scope of unconscious processing, the drag of internal discourse won’t get the job done. For the safety and continuity of the species, data processing has to be automatic, immediate, and as efficient as possible. This means that information has to rely on pattern recognition, not on logic. On pictures, not sentences. On recognition, not reason.

This is why a person can ‘decide’ to diet, and yet find his hand rooting around at the bottom of a potato chip bag. The bulk of his information processing is aiming him at the comfort food based on something about blood sugar and other indicators that, by downing a bag of chips, threat is mitigated. It’s why we might immediately reject a stranger as unreliable which no actual experience of that person. Perhaps their posture or hair color is similar to that of the 2nd grade teacher who died midyear. It’s why some people can pick up a microphone and speak their mind freely while others become paralyzed with panic. Mind is organizing around the small tidbits of information being handed up from vast depths of preconscious conclusions.

As a neurofeedback practitioner, I’ve arrived at this rationale for using hypnotherapy in my practice. Use metaphors and images to communicate where automatic behavior occurs. Behave as a proxy for deeper mind.

This insight into mind, leads me to a strange conclusion. If the bulk of information on which we base behavior is the result of sensory pattern recognition and data matching, then objective Truth has nothing to do with it. This deeper processing isn’t concerned with what’s True. It’s looking first and foremost to avoid what might kill us, and then what might be possible (opportunities for growth and learning that might increase well-being).

If the goal of our deeper experience has nothing to do with sorting truth from falsehood, as a hypnotherapist shall I put forward so-called “facts” and explanations just because they are likely to cause a shift away from a harmful belief, a hopeless or helpless feeling, or away from fear or anger? Do I do away with Truth as a criteria for intervention? (Evidently unconscious does.)

As of now, I think yes.

Without fact checking, and with no regard for the Truth of it, I do what it takes to convince the porn addict that most of the women are victims of human trafficking and are acting because they’ve been promised their next fix. I can tell him that each woman could be that woman until his mind can’t find a woman participating in porn of her own will. I do this because I want unconscious mind to switch association away from pleasure to disgust or sympathy so my client can begin to enjoy the whole-body sensations of slippery sex with a real person. I do it because his unconscious mind began long ago to innocently guide him to internet porn so he could learn about sex. That naïve unconscious mind never intended it to end up where it did, with debt, isolation, and self-loathing. I have to be a more beneficial unconscious mind for him, until his connection to porn and his self-image transform into more beneficial possibilities.

And that’s my Truth, at least for now.

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