Cognitive Dissonance, Conditioning, and Reality Creation
In light of the evidence available to us today through various spheres of investigation, philosophical materialism can justifiably be looked upon as an unconscious ego defence mechanism (a shield against cognitive dissonance), a sort of superstition designed to preserve the individual’s limited conception of self at the expense of a vast array of fascinating and factual information. Denial is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
In The Holographic Universe (the book which triggered my awakening!), the late physicist Michael Talbot relays an amazing personal experience particularly relevant to the theme of belief and perception. We can see once more here how powerful subconscious conditioning is, given that hypnosis is all about altering the subconscious programs running our brain-minds: Talbot’s father had hired a hypnotist to entertain some friends in their home.
The most significant part of the show followed the hypnotist’s instruction to the entranced man, Tom, that when he exited the trance state his daughter would be invisible to him. Not only could Tom not see his daughter—standing right in front of his face—but he was able to identify a concealed object held in the hypnotist’s hand pressed against her back. Not only that, but Tom—staring through his daughter—successfully identified the hidden object as a watch and then read the inscription on it, reciting both the name of the watch’s owner and the message. The hypnotist then revealed that the object was indeed a watch and passed it around the room so that everyone could see that Tom had read its inscription correctly. Tom confided afterwards to Talbot that all he had seen was the hypnotist holding the watch in his hand.[i] (This underscores that consciousness is fundamentally nonlocal, if you think about it.)
Tom’s mind-field had been instructed to remove his daughter from his awareness, and so he automatically decoded the matrix of wave information he was immersed in, in a way that created the appearance of his daughter’s absence. The mind in a relaxed hypnotic state is extraordinarily pliable, and this incident serves to show just how powerful a role our subconscious faculties actually play in the way in which we subjectively perceive. It has been reported by Ostrander and Schroeder that in Russia, blanking out someone’s ability to see a person or object right in front of them was a routine hypnotic experiment.[ii]
Other experiments in which a subject’s vision was inverted and turned upside down have shown that the mind quickly reorganizes its perception to allow the subject to view things as per normal. This is not a physical transformation, it is a perceptual one. Without the inverting lenses, the individual’s vision becomes upside down again, but quickly readjusts to perceive things as being “the right way up” again. Various experiments have shown that two people with the same retinal impressions can perceive different things, while two people receiving different retinal impressions can see the same thing.[iii]
Whose perspective in the above scenario involving Tom and his daughter was the “right” one? Whose perception of “reality” was “better”? Strictly speaking, no one’s, but the point here is that no two people experience a given event in precisely the same way. What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves, as R.A. Wilson has pointed out. Tom’s daughter was still present (at least in some reference frames), even though he believed and perceived that she wasn’t. Everyone else could still see the metaphorical elephant in the room. As Wilson was fond of reminding us, “Reality is plural and mutable.”
Cleve Backster achieved a similar feat when he hypnotized a subject to believe that when he awoke he would be unable to perceive Backster for 30 minutes because he wouldn’t be in the room. Remaining in the room, Backster (normally a non-smoker) lit a cigarette and smoked it, observing as his subject became increasingly panicky at the levitating cigarette and the smoke being exhaled by an apparently invisible smoker. After the half hour was up, Backster reappeared to his subject as if by magic.[iv]
“If the Thinker thinks that the sun moves around the Earth, the Prover will obligingly organize all perceptions to fit that thought; if the Thinker changes its mind and decides the earth moves around the sun, the Prover will reorganize the evidence.”[v]
The DIA’s 1972 report on “Controlled Offensive Behaviour” disclosed that sanatorium officials in Bulgaria had testified to the effect that “Suggestology,” a form of thought repatterning executed on the patient in a state of wakefulness, had cured patients after a few sessions, as well as enabling incisions from surgical operations to heal much faster than normal.[vi] The mind was retrained to overwrite the body’s normal programming. This sort of thing is an increasingly widely recognized phenomenon. The occultist says that, due to the close interconnection between the mental, astral, and etheric bodies, if someone believes themselves well, their mind may force the body into harmony with their mental state and effect a cure.[vii]
The yogi Lahiri Mahasaya once told his then doubtful student, a young Sri Yukteswar that anything he believed intensely would instantly become so. Yukteswar then asked if he believed he was well and had regained his former healthy weight (he had become unhealthily thin) if it would be so. His guru reassured him that even at that moment it was. Before this exchange, Yukteswar’s bodily health had fluctuated drastically in accordance with Mahasaya’s verbal insinuations, almost taunting his confused protégé over his consternation and lack of self-awareness. What Mahasaya was showing his unsuspecting student was that he had the intrinsic power to alter his reality through sheer belief, and that he had indeed been doing it unwittingly all along. He therefore could make himself strong and robust—or sick and feeble—on the basis of belief. Immediately following this exchange, with the revelation having taken seed in his mind, Yukteswar weighed himself and found he had gained an incredible 50 pounds of weight—50 pounds that remained on his frame thereafter.[viii] How are such phenomena to be explained without acknowledging that we inhabit what Yogananda called an “objectivised dream”?
This case, like the others, is merely a dramatic microcosm of what is happening all the time all around the planet. We are creating our experience of reality constantly. Those who hold reductionist beliefs rigidly (Thinker), whether they do it consciously or not, are literally creating, via their Prover, a limited perceptual and experiential field for themselves. When you couple that with arrogance and sloppy logic that boils down to “if I can’t see it (or do it) then neither can you,” you have a recipe for self-induced artificial blindness.
This belief is often based on the assumption that everyone perceives the sensory world in the same way, since we all, generally speaking, have sense organs that are designed basically the same. This disregards that fact that anything we perceive (reconstruct) is not perceived directly but filtered through the neural network of the brain and our individual information grids (and beliefs) before yielding some sort of impression that we interpret as being an objective reality. Any images we perceive are the end result of a lightning-fast but highly sophisticated process of construction, involving various stages, eventually leading (hopefully) to some kind of perception; an approximation of reality, not reality itself. In this sense, it is believing that is seeing. As Rudhyar noted in Culture, Crisis and Creativity, it is the culture-conditioned mind rather than the eyes that do the seeing.
Santayana pointed out that we are all much better at believing than seeing. Almost all the time, we see what we believe, and only rarely see what we can’t believe.[ix] We are less likely to decode into our perceptual reality that which we do not believe in.
Information grids, or our models of the world—also referred to as schemas—that lack similar data to what is coming in from the world, will not comprehend or even acknowledge the incoming data, and, as a result, no conscious perception will take place, and this is all the more so when a lack of accurate information is coupled with active disbelief. We don’t really see, say, a car; our brain builds a model of it, makes a best guess. Through mental associations and reference to previous experience, we then file our model under Car and assess it in relation to other already stored images. We develop a schema that organizes our experience by classifying things and grouping together features and attributes that are typical of, say, cars. This model lets us transcend the limited sense information available to us, in order that we may perceive a whole.[x]
As Swann explains,
the “information” that finally comes out as understanding will be the sum of the input plus whatever the input gets filtered through in the case of each individual. If matches to the input are found in the memory library, then a kind of duplication can take place (which we call “understanding”). But if matches are not found, then the information content probably will be routed through the nearest similarity in the memory library. In this case, we are now one step or more removed from duplication (and removed from “complete understanding”). If no matches are found, then the recipient of the in-put information content will “draw a blank.”[xi]
These basic principles have been found to extend into activities in the OB/astral state, as well as RV. Both Monroe and Ingo Swann identified the phenomenon of automatic substitution of a nearest match for something that didn’t exist in the memory bank. One standout remote viewer at Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s was Hella Hamid, who initially helped bring this recognition problem to the fore and make sense of it. She found that, as her training continued, she began to get a sense of when she was actually missing data and could indicate this before her subconscious associative processes took over and replaced whatever the missing data was with the nearest match in her memory.[xii]
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn discussed the research done by the team of Bruner and Postman in the 1940s within the context of how anomalous results in scientific research precipitated paradigm change. Kuhn notes the way in which the conditioned intellect, when confronted with an anomaly, refers to the memory bank in an attempt to make sense of the anomaly and impose its own contrived order upon it to make it comprehensible. This is what science itself is, as well as many of our personal attempts at navigating our familiar everyday worlds: the imposition of a contrived intellectual framework over what merely is, a.k.a. an attempt at grasping, seizing, and comprehending what we encounter through our limited human perceptions (which are just approximations anyway).
Bruner and Postman found that the mind, left wanting for the answer, resorted to substituting the nearest match in the place of the anomaly. The unfamiliar was automatically replaced with the familiar. This experiment is virtually a microcosm of what happens with our large-scale paradigms in that, until anomalies become recognized and then acknowledged as something real and different through repeated identification, they are initially not perceived. They merely cause a level of almost subconscious cognitive dissonance, are often misidentified and dismissed outright, or are vaguely and indeterminately explained away. Sound familiar?
Bruner and Postman asked experimental subjects to identify, on short and controlled exposure, a series of playing cards, some of which were made to be anomalous, for example, a red six of spades. In each experimental run a single card was displayed in a series of gradually increasing exposures. After each of these, the subject was asked what he had seen, and the test run was terminated by two consecutive correct card identifications. For normal cards most identifications were correct, but the interesting point here is that the abnormal cards were almost always immediately identified as one of the normal suits. The anomalous cards were immediately assigned to a pre-existing category in the subject’s memory bank. As the exposure time for each card increased, however, a sense of anomaly began to creep in. For instance, a subject might have identified a six of spades, except that the black had a red border. Increased exposure caused increased hesitation and confusion until eventually—and sometimes suddenly—most subjects began to correctly identify the anomalous cards without hesitating. After two or three correct identifications the remainder of the anomalous cards presented little difficulty.[xiii]
This is something we simply refer to as learning or adaptation. We expect to be able to do this, and moreover, we also expect, perhaps unreasonably, that everyone else has the same capacity for it, even when it comes to psi. The next point arising from this compelling study is a small-scale example of what we can observe happening in the world at large within groups of people in relation to data that contradicts the dictates of their semantic circuits and what their memory tells them to expect of reality: a few of Bruner and Postman’s subjects were never quite able to make the necessary adjustments to their categories to identify the anomalous cards. Even when the average exposure time needed to recognise normal cards was extended by forty times, over ten percent of the anomalous cards could not be correctly named.[xiv]
It appears that, if sufficiently contrary to conditioned expectation, certain anomalies—even mundane ones such as discrepancies with the appearances of playing cards—are too much for some people and they cannot produce the requisite neurological flexibility or adaptation to facilitate the new experience/data’s integration into their minds (at least in the short term).
I suspect that for many people, their closed-minded wholesale dismissals of “the paranormal” simply serve to undercut any potential cognitive dissonance or distress caused by contrary data competing for supremacy within their minds (and as I pointed out earlier, all such people know the truth at subconscious levels, so they have to fight to perpetually repress it, especially when the truth is presented to them at the conscious level).
Some of Bruner and Postman’s subjects experienced discomfort and distress while viewing anomalous cards at these longer exposure times; their inability to transcend their pre-established categories clearly frustrating and confounding them. No matter what, their conditioned minds would not allow them to perceive accurately what was right in front of their faces—in distress, one subject exclaimed that they weren’t even sure what a spade looked like anymore![xv]
Thus, we can see how easily our preconceptions from prior conditioning can interfere with our ability to perceive clearly or correctly. Scientists are absolutely not immune to this phenomenon as it is a quirk of human psychology—hence the many unscientific opinions wielded by scientists with regard to psi and “the paranormal.”
—excerpted from The Grand Illusion by Brendan D. Murphy–
About the Author
Brendan D. Murphy – Co-founder of Global Freedom Movement and host of GFM Radio, BrendanD.Murphy is a leading Australian author, researcher, activist, and musician. His acclaimed non-fiction epic The Grand Illusion: A Synthesis of Science & Spirituality – Book 1 is out now! Come and get your mind blown at www.brendandmurphy.net
“What a wonderful job of collating and integrating you have done! Every person in the field of ‘paranormal’ psychology or related topics should have this book as a major reference.” – Dr. Buryl Payne
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[i] Talbot, 141.
[iii] Kuhn, 126–7.
[iv] Backster, 14.
[vi] DIA report (1972).
[viii] Yogananda, 104.
[x] LaBerge & Rhieingold, 77.
[xi] Swann, Toward Activating…
[xii] Swann, Remote Viewing Processes…
[xiv] Kuhn, 63.
[xv] Ibid., 63–4.
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