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Interpreting the Fictitious Mind

Snake Bloomstrand explains how our inner narrative can frustrate, distract and inspire us, too.

What we believe to be true is true, until proven untrue.

All of us follow an ‘inner narrative’ dictated by our impression of the events taking place around us, and the people we encounter.

Readers who use the Headspace meditation app may be familiar with its in-house guru, former Buddhist monk and BBC wellness correspondent Andy Puddicombe, urging them to remember that ‘we are not our mind.’ As he often explains, the vast majority of our thoughts and emotions are rarely based on a shared objective reality – and in that sense, are fictitious.

The fictitious mind is most active while assisting in the daily task of reconciling emotion-provoking stimulus – how should I think and feel about what just happened?

The complex collaboration responsible for making, sense, meaning or purpose of what life presents is often referred to as ‘head, heart and soul.’ In the past two decades, scientific research has identified a recently evolved area of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN) as being where this process takes place. “Times that the DMN is active,” says Wikipedia, “include when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future.”

Thus ‘head, heart and soul’, assisted by the fictitious mind, seek to reconcile event, emotion and story.

Complete reconciliation may not be achievable. Past experience of pleasure, pain or moral dilemma can confuse and overwhelm. Even reliable data may fail to produce the resonance required for reconciliation. In a perfect world intellect, emotion and moral values would work in harmony. However, in some situations collaboration is sacrificed in a struggle for control or dominance. Humans have yet to discover a perfect world, externally or internally.

Faced with an incomplete story (or interpretation of events) the fictitious mind stands ready to start spinning stories.

Drawing on biography, moral values, habit and most potently past-trauma or simple fear, the fictitious mind rapidly assembles potential explanations for extraordinary circumstances. It offers limitless options, and argues persuasively that its calculations are sound and conclusions can be relied upon. The fictitious mind might be a far more valuable asset if it wasn’t vulnerable to imagination, fear and hysteria.

The ability to accurately assess the creative efforts of the fictitious mind is a discipline.

Emotional resonance – does it feel true? – helps determine fact from fiction.

Those of us encouraged to suppress or deny emotion come to the table unprepared. Emotions also have liabilities. Well known to react quickly, or be slow to release their grip, our emotions can torment us.

But despite their inconvenient shortcomings, emotions are skilled at confirming or discarding stories suggested by the fictitious mind with a high degree of reliability.

Learning to trust emotional resonance – feeling – requires patience, experience and most important knowledge of self. Intellect, emotion and personal morality are best explored thoroughly, evaluated and most of all made familiar to the host. While this can be a strangely demanding process, its payoff is the power of informed choice.

The fictitious mind remains the primary author of the stories we tell ourselves.

We are story-making machines. We interpret (reconcile) events in our lives through the filter of past experience, complicated by robust imagination.

We’re all familiar with the mischief the fictitious mind is capable of. The mole you spotted on your shoulder? By the time you arrive at the doctor’s office to have it examined the fictitious mind has provided stories ranging from inoperable skin cancer to nothing more than an easily removed skin tag. The stories run simultaneously and cycle through, right up until the doctor says, “Nothing to worry about.”

If I’ve led you to think the fictitious mind is a liability, actually nothing could be further from the truth.

The fictitious mind, like all human psycho-emotional constructs, exists in polarity. It’s as capable of conjuring stories supporting fear or tragedy as it is tales of vision and achievement.

The fictitious mind may draw on past experience. But it also excels in imagining a future where perceived limitations are questioned, and seemingly impossible obstacles dissolve. It scrawls poems of hope, morality and purpose that have motivated humans to great triumphs throughout history.

The late Howard Hughes is a prime example of the duality possible. He’s well-known for his wealth, success and vision of an airline industry we’ve all come to depend on. But his later years were spent in complete isolation fearing infection. Howard’s fictitious mind supplied the motivation for both these narratives.

The fictitious mind is not only responsible for heartbreak and suffering, but also beautiful art, great literature and inspired music.

As I’ve mentioned, accurately assessing the creative efforts of the fictitious mind is a discipline. The fictitious mind is best kept on a leash… but a long leash.

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