Brownies and the Avoidance of Car Crashes

How does one resist a brownie?

It’s power over us seems entirely inescapable. It’s bad enough to know that it’s in the kitchen (calling you by name ever more persistently the harder you try to ignore it) but to sit in front of it and deny yourself it’s pleasures…

Our eyes tell us a great deal about the world, but it’s actually your brain that engages in longing and being seduced. For most of us there’s only one message that comes with seeing our favourite foods: eat me, it will make you happy.

But fear not dear readers, we have a line of defence against such temptations – we are not powerless against the forces of dark….chocolate, and more serious form of darkness.

Think about when you’re driving and you want to move over to a lane on your right-hand side. Hopefully, you check your mirrors. You may have noticed that your passenger side mirror has some engraving on it (no, not “clean me”) that goes something like this: “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear”.

elephantinthemirror-300x2071It’s unlikely that each time you switch lanes you explicitly re-read that reminder. Probably by now you’ve trained your brain to remember this important safety bulletin. And on a regular basis most people who are driving on multilane roads are able use this information to save themselves and others from terrible crashes. Clearly, if the insurance industry trusts that this works, it must have some pretty good reliability.

But this capacity of our brains to use the distorted information that convex mirrors give to our eyes in a way that’s useful rather than regularly leading to disaster, demonstrates a powerful ability we have.

You don’t have to trust what you’re eyes are telling you. Your mind is capable of imposing a higher truth than mere perception.

When you look in your passenger mirror your eyes tell you that other vehicles or elephants are farther back than they actually are. But being the clever sophisticated creature that you are, you make an adjustment. You’ve done it so often by now that your adjustment is subconscious and automatic. Roughly, your frontal lobe tells the rest of your brain not to just trust what it sees, but instead to make a correction and adjust your behaviour accordingly. In this case you choose to believe what is unseen more than what you see.

I don’t know if many other species are capable of this. There’s some evidence that higher primates can implement some delay of gratification, which is something similar but not exactly the same. We humans are exquisitely gifted at this ability to have one part of our brains re-evaluate the information other parts of our brain are giving us and make a decision that runs contrary to our initial reaction.

You may always jump at the sight of a spider, but you don’t have to spend your whole life afraid of it and run away screaming every time.

Your default might be to criticize yourself whenever things go poorly, but you don’t have to buy into those negative evaluations or be paralyzed by the fear of making the next mistake.

You don’t have to say everything that comes into your head. You can filter things and tell people the truth in a kind way.

For a long while I thought that change was about getting rid of thoughts and feelings that we don’t like or want. Very slowly I’m learning that most human change takes place at the level of what we do with, or how we react to, our own internal experiences.

She may always feel a little bit anxious in new social situations, but her apprehensiveness doesn’t have to keep her from meeting new people.

He may always want a drink when times are difficult, but that doesn’t doom him to a life controlled by alcohol.

We can learn to act in spite of what our initial reactions tell us. We can learn not to fully buy in to what our perceptions suggest about how the world is.

The good news is that we already have the capacity and have practiced the skill when we drive.

…Objects may be closer than they appear.

…Brownies may seem more capable of delivering happiness than they actually do.

…Facebook may make others’ lives look more perfect than they are in reality.

…Commercials may make a product seem more fulfilling than turns out to be.

…That presidential candidate may offer more certainty and simple solutions than actually exist.

More than ever we live in a world of illusions that have been constructed by others to leverage our spending habits. Physical things are constantly being pushed at us as a solution to our emotional and spiritual needs. But we are not defenceless against their ability to influence and shape us. We humans can summon “higher powers”, whether they be our more rational brain structures, the wisdom of others, or even the divine itself. We have capacities to transcend.

I’m tempted to post sticky notes around my house with this oddly magical phrase “Objects are closer than they appear” just to help re-orient me to the simple truth that not everything is as it seems and I don’t have to live by what my senses or even my initial reactions tell me. It’s perfectly fine for me to pay attention to those default responses, but in my humanity I have the capacity to choose how I will respond to them.

So…

You may beckon me to the kitchen dear brownies, but this time I have an answer:

Dear Brownies:

Thank-you for being so delicious. While I have enjoyed the gustatory pleasure you have provided on many occasions, today will not be one of those days. You promise me escape from my life struggles, emotional soothing, ecstasy, fulfillment, and even closeness to other people when I eat you in a group setting. But you mostly can’t deliver these things you promise, or when you do it’s only a partial and temporary thing. Additionally, I recognize that there are better ways for me to meet those deep desires of heart. So I’ve decided to pay attention to some other things I know about you. Namely, that if listened to you every time you called out to me and acted only on my sensory data, you could start to harm me. For you are an object made of refined sugar, which is not only addictive, but the source of ill health when consumed in certain quantities. So as an expression of care and concern for myself, I’m declining your offer today. Please understand that I will likely not have such presence of mind tomorrow and you will have a much better chance at seducing me then.

Cordially,

David.


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