Tuesday, October 1, 2013

We are like Pavlov's dog

I was getting my breakfast and found myself humming a tune I don't care for. It's one of the jazz numbers Andrew has been practising for his end-of-year performance at Uni. He was sitting at the computer, listening to two random chords being played over and over. He does that sometimes, to fix a tiny little bit of the song in his head. "Boom Boom... Boom Boom... Boom Boom." It's very repetitive, as the kids would agree. At one time, I was surprised to learn that it isn't just elementary music students who need to go over and over this sort of thing, but Uni students who are a matter of weeks away from finishing a Bachelor of Music.

"I don't know why I'm humming this," I said. "There are so many songs I prefer."

He started grinning. "You're humming the chorus to this song I'm working on, and I wasn't even going to play that. The bit with these two notes is from way further back in the song."

"What? That's not from the same song, is it?" If anybody had asked me, I would have said they had nothing remotely in common. What's more, he'd slowed his two notes down so they were impossible to recognise. Then when he showed me where those two notes fit into the song at their normal speed, I had to believe him. I'd been humming the song's chorus because I'd fallen victim to one of those subliminal, unconscious things that hypnotists and advertising agencies like to use to their advantage.

It's sort of unsettling when you think about it. There's a scary, woo-woo sort of quality about it. I remembered a card trick which the kids have been practising recently. You ask your victim to pick a card, any card, but sweep your hands in such a way that they are led to think of hearts. They say it seems to work more often than not.

So there I am, assuming that my mind is totally under my control, when really it's as porous as a cell membrane. It seems it's at the mercy of tiny things so subtle they can't help flying under the radar into my head. How many times a day do we assume that we're performing some action because we've chosen to, when in reality some outside factor is pulling the string? Even our bodies react without our conscious knowledge. If I'd been on Pavlov's table, as partial to meat as his dog, I'd no doubt be slathering with the best of them whenever I heard that bell ring.

But what if we don't want all that stuff the world filters through our minds? There seems no way we can prevent it, when rogue influences are as sneaky, subtle and fine-tuned as that. It would appear we have no choice but to go with the flow, but I hate to accept the ramifications of that. It puts us in a position to be pulled around and manipulated, all the while claiming to be the instigator of every thought that occurs to us. That sounds like the subject of horror stories but it's for real.

I'm sure the only way out of the helplessness is the fact that conscious choices do have impact over time, but we must be vigilant. Over the past few years, I'd got tired of being scared all the time, reacting to vague threats of many things which never turned out to be grounded in reality. I've been trying to counter impressions of intense fear or dread with specific weapons. Mine are selected Bible verses and other quotes which resonate with truth. I'd recite them to myself, or say, "I don't have to worry about such-and-such because Jesus has promised never to leave or forsake me. I'm told by the ultimate authority that all things will work out for good."

For some time, this reminded me of those cheesy affirmations that people place on their bathroom mirrors and car dashboards. I wondered if they'd have any effect, and it turns out, they do. There have been signs that I'm on the right track. In my dreams a few times, some nasty old fears have sneaked up on me, about to pounce and turn my rest into a nightmare. Suddenly, I'm reminded that I don't buy into all this frightening stuff any more, but have something stronger to base my trust on. Although I still have some way to go, I'm pleased with the progress. If you can counteract something in your sleep, you must be doing something right.

I like the anonymous fellow who said, "Don't believe everything you think." I love the evidence discovered recently by scientists such as Dr Caroline Leaf and Dr Bruce Lipton that even our bodies physiologies tend to change according to the deliberate thoughts we consistently fill our minds with.
I think somebody might have also said something like, "Just because a thought or impression is in your head, it doesn't mean that you put it there," but as I can't think of whoever it might have been, I'll claim that one myself for now.


  1. Very interesting thoughts Paula. The unconscious is powerful. However, I liked the way you related your observations to the way you have chosen deliberate thought patterns to replace fear.

    I think this will be helpful to people. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Elaine,
    It's amazing just how powerful the unsconscious is, isn't it? I'm glad that it's eventually plastic, to our conscious intentions though.
    Thanks :)


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