Your Brain’s Best Guess about What’s Out There

How much truth is there to the claim that you create your own reality?

One prominent view suggests that your thoughts determine your reality.

According to Napoleon Hill: Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve. Per Walt Disney: If you can dream it you can do it. And Norman Vincent Peale said: Change your thoughts and you change your world.

But your thoughts do not have magical superpowers (and it’s a good thing they don’t!).

Imagination, which is required to conceive of anything that isn’t right in front of you (and maybe even some of those things, too) is both a boon and a curse. The ability to imagine things that don’t exist is essential for creativity, problem-solving, and changing your personal status quo. But believing that you can achieve—or create—anything your mind can conceive of is delusional.

Of course, you actually do create your own reality. But you don’t have to do anything to create your own (so-called) reality. It’s just the nature of things; in fact, you can’t not do it. In order to understand what creating your own reality means, we need to determine what is meant by you, create, and reality.

You

The problem with the concept of creating your own reality, as commonly understood, begins with the word you. The part of you that is creating your reality is not the conscious part. But the conscious part is the only part you’re aware of. You don’t identify with the far-more-powerful unconscious part simply because you’re not aware of it. Not only are you not aware of it, you have no direct access to it and no way to immediately impact it.

The fact that the unconscious part of your brain, which you are not aware of, runs you by maintaining your personal status quo might be unsettling. It’s so difficult for some people to accept that they keep banging their heads against the wall trying to refute it. But the unconscious is relatively impervious to your—or my—momentary desires, whims, and big ideas (the things we can conceive or dream of). And most of the thoughts running through your mind are not even a result of cognition. They’re both the result of the unconscious creating your reality and the means of maintaining the status quo.

Create

To create means to cause, to bring into existence, or to give rise to. While you can consciously and intentionally bring a number of things into existence, you can’t consciously and intentionally direct how your unconscious creates your reality any more than you can consciously and intentionally direct how it manages your liver or kidney functions.

Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, describes the brain as a prediction engine:

[Your brain is] locked inside a bony skill, trying to figure what’s out there in the world. There’s no lights inside the skull. There’s no sound either. All you’ve got to go on is streams of electrical impulses which are only indirectly related to things in the world, whatever they may be. So perception—figuring out what’s there—has to be a process of informed guesswork in which the brain combines these sensory signals with its prior expectations or beliefs about the way the world is to form its best guess of what caused those signals. The brain doesn’t hear sound or see light. What we perceive is its best guess of what’s out there in the world.

So your brain gives rise to (creates) your experience by matching streams of electrical impulses with prior experience, expectations, or beliefs about the way the world is (what’s normal for you). Remember that this process isn’t a function of consciousness, which processes 40 bits of information at a time, but of the unconscious, which processes 11 million bits of information at a time. So how much control do you think you have over this process?

Reality

The only grasp of reality you have is your experience, which Seth and others refer to as a controlled hallucination.

What we call ordinary reality, ordinary consciousness, even consensus reality, is essentially a hallucination. Our brains are creating this reality which we know does not resemble the real world, whatever that is.–Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacist, research pharmacologist, lecturer, and author.

Furthermore, according to Seth:

Your experience of being a self, the specific experience of being you, is also a controlled hallucination generated by the brain.

So now we’ve come full circle to trying to determine who is the you that is creating your particular controlled hallucination of reality?

The good news is that, although it’s limited, you do have the ability to influence that controlled hallucination.

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