Thursday, December 12, 2013

Deepak Chopra: We Live in a Lunatic Asylum

In an interview in October, Deepak Chopra said, “I had this moment in meditation where I realized we’re living in a lunatic asylum. There’s no other way to describe it. Everything that we see is madness, but it’s normal…So, we’re in it, there’s no escaping the lunatic asylum. You can choose to be an inmate, or you can pick up your visitor’s badge. That day, I chose to pick up my visitor’s badge.” (begins at 9:25)

When he said “it’s normal,” he kind of waved his arm around and paused—that’s what the “…” means; I didn’t cut anything out. Chopra meant, I believe, that it’s difficult to see the madness because we have been conditioned to believe that it is normal. It’s like the old joke about the fish in the sea having trouble with the concept of “water.” We live within a consensual reality created by our culture and family. We have to take on the beliefs and assumptions of our culture in order to survive, and these beliefs and assumptions skew our perceptions before we even become aware of them.
An example of consensual reality from We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity: long ago humans divided the Earth into countries and have so completely forgotten that the divisions are arbitrary that we have fought endless battles over the invented boundaries. When people first saw the photos of our planet taken by Apollo astronauts in the 1960s it was a revelation—there were no lines like on our maps and globes! And people had the dawning awareness that all those arbitrary borders are irrelevant when you comprehend the vastness of the blackness surrounding our precious globe of life.
Recognizing the insanity, seeing the delusions, allows us to be a “visitor”; this perspective means we have compassion for the inmates still trapped in their delusions, and compassion for ourselves every day we forget to pick up our visitor badge.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Expectations Shape our Reality

The claim that everyone is insane is based on the premise that no one sees reality as it is. Our perceptions are heavily filtered by our beliefs, assumptions, preconceptions, and expectations before we become aware of them.
Evolutionary psychologists have theorized that the brain evolved to make assumptions about the future based on what we have experienced in the past. This is an efficient use of our brain’s resources because it helps us focus our attention on what is important to our survival.
For example, an animal might be attacked at a waterhole. It would then form the assumption that waterholes are a place where there is an increased chance of danger/predators. So the animal stays alert every time it’s at the waterhole and expects predators.
In his best-seller Incognito, David Eagleman says expectations are vital to our ability to see. He included an illustration that looked to me as if it was just random blobs of light and dark. Eagleman said most people see it that way: without any expectation for what we should see, our brains don’t see anything. On the next page he gives a clue about the image, and once I knew what to expect, when I looked at it again I instantly saw it. Days later when I looked again the image jumped out at me as if it were obvious. The brain, Eagleman writes, is constantly engaged in the activity of comparing our expectation of what we should see with the information coming from our senses: “What all this tells us is that perception reflects the active comparison of sensory inputs with internal predictions.”
Many years ago a fascinating experiment demonstrated the influence of expectations on our perception of reality. The study built on the “halo effect,” a well-known cognitive bias: people who are attractive are judged to be more competent and have better personalities than those who are less attractive. Mark Snyder, the lead scientist, called the study an “attempt to demonstrate that stereotypes [another word for expectations] may create their own social reality.”