Awareness – Perception – Using Our Visualisation Guides

by pre., Friday, February 1st, 2008.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Hypnosis” as “the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction,” implying that a hypnotised person is powerless, under the control of some powerful hypnotist who exerts their will over their subject.

Using that definition, it seems unlikely that hypnosis even exists, and it’s not surprising that the popular conception of what it means to be hypnotised is a stage-show farce, more smoke and mirrors than effective personal change.

We don’t really care if hypnosis exists, if hypnotic trances are ‘real’ or ‘pretend’, if a hypnotist can overwhelm someone’s will against their better judgement or if hypnosis is just a show-biz sham.

We know, however, that people do vary in their suggestibility. That some people are more suggestible than others, that any given person is more suggestible at some times than others, and that any given person can put their brain into a more suggestible state by some simple relaxation and visualisation techniques.

In this ‘altered state’, when a mind is more suggestible, you will find that visualisation, metaphor and imagination can alter your mind, bypass your filters, in ways that you may naturally fight when in less suggestible states.

While others can perhaps guide you into a hypnotic state, every example of hypnosis ever encountered was in fact produced by the person being hypnotised. You can ONLY do it to yourself, even if you are instructed how to do so by others.

This suggestible state of mind can be useful. If we can convince ourselves to eat more healthily, or behave more profitably, or see more clearly, or ditch our bad habits, if we can bypass the usual disbelief and mental blocks that prevent us from doing these things, it seems churlish to argue about how exactly these things can work. And they can work. People undergo operations under no anaesthetic other than the suggestion they’ll feel no pain, they change their lives overnight under a suggestion that it can happen, they perform strange acts on stage that otherwise they would find difficult.

So the question isn’t “does hypnosis exist” but “how can we best use it, whatever it is, to our advantage?

The answer is, and this will be an answer we repeat often, that we get better at things though practice. We’ll get better at being in that state through practising being in that state. We’ll get better at giving ourselves useful suggestions by giving ourselves useful suggestions. We’ll get better at changing, by changing. We can even improve just by imagining that we’re improving.

So-called “hypnotic” change is effected by metaphor, visualisation, imagination and belief. Your brain finds it hard to tell the difference between seeing something and imagining something. You can test this for yourself by, now, imagining the heat of the sun on your back. By feeling it burning deep into your skin, warming you. You can close your eyes and enjoy the sensation of that light heating your clothes, radiating energy into your skin, your body, warming your soul. You can, right now, feel that hot sensation. It may not be easy at first, but the longer you pause and think about and imagine that heat, the more likely it is that you’ll start to feel that heat. Close your eyes now, and note how your skin is warming under the light of that imaginary sun. It may be heating your shoulders, or I may be wrong and it’s heating an area lower in your back, or your arms, but you certainly can pause to think about that warmth until you start to feel it somewhere on your body. Do that now and then continue to read when you have felt it.

You can fool yourself into thinking that you feel that heat, and equally you can fool yourself into thinking, feeling, seeing, tasting, experiencing, anything that it’s possible to think, feel, see, taste and experience. The power of your imagination can’t affect the world around you, but it can affect your own mind.

Which is what our visualisation guides are designed to do. We won’t hypnotise you and make you experience impossible things. Nobody can do that. The only person that can hypnotise you, that can force you to experience impossible things, is yourself. But if you let our files guide you, if you relax and use your imagination, you will soon find that you can improve your mind just through practice, through learning what it would like to have that improved mind. You won’t do impossible things, but you may be surprised at what’s possible.

Further, you don’t even need to be awake to use these skills. Your dreams are practice for the real world. They are metaphors and stories which evolution has built to improve and build your mind, to change the way you think. If you can suggest effectively to yourself that you will change your dreams, your dreams in turn can help to improve your perception of, and effectiveness in, the world.

How to use our Visualisation Guides

We think that the best time to review your day, and to prepare yourself for the next day, is just before you go to bed. This is the time when your self-suggestions can best influence your dreams in the night ahead, when you are relaxed, and sleepy, and more open to suggestion. So we have designed our files to guide you through a few minutes of imaginative visualisation which should help you to explore what a more transcended state will be like, to practice it, and to influence the way you behave the next day.

So each night, ideally as you lie in bed but before you sleep, you can relax, let your filters down, close your eyes, and start to imagine. You should be able to hear our guide, but not so loud it overtakes your entire consciousness. It will not magically put you ‘into a trance’. It will help you to put yourself into that receptive state, where you will be more willing to learn, to accept suggestions. It will not force you to do anything, but it will remind you not to become distracted, and to focus, concentrate on the images you’re trying to give to your own mind to teach it the lessons it needs to have the effect you desire.

For our first visualisation guide, we wanted to produce something which will have a real and immediately noticeable effect. Something you can measure, so we have built a guide to help you to increase your Perception Awareness. To help you to notice the world around you, and to increase your visualisation skills in order to make future guides easier to use.

Usually, we’d expect you to be in bed with the lights out ready to sleep before you started listening to our guide, but since perception awareness is all about being aware of your perception, it’s more useful in this instance, just this once, to keep the lights on and your eyes open. You will be paying attention to the way things look, and it’s hard to do that with your eyes closed.

So begin in the bedroom, ready to get into bed, but before you actually climb under the sheets. Relax, and start your player. The file will guide you as you relax further, probably closing your eyes, until you begin to reach that receptive, suggestible state. Then you’ll be asked to open your eyes, to really look at some object in the room. To examine it closely and pay attention not only to the object, but to the way it feels to pay attention to an object.

Later, you’ll be asked to turn out the light and go to bed, paying attention to your sense of smell and touch, then later to listen closely and pay attention to noises and sounds, then to practice your visualisation by remembering how the object you were examining earlier looked, before visualising yourself dreaming in more detail and remembering to pay attention to the world tomorrow.

We appreciate that to many people it’s hard to believe something so simple could actually have an effect. This is part of the reason we chose perception awareness as the starting point in our journey. If you don’t believe it can work. TEST IT. Do it most nights one week, that’s at least 4 times in seven days. We’re confident you’ll notice your world more, become more aware, and also become aware of the fact you’re becoming more aware. If you manage to not only listen to the guides, but also to follow instructions and imagine and visualise the things you’re asked to imagine and visualise, we’re sure you’ll see the potential in our methods.

Next week we’ll talk about what it actually means to pay attention, but if you’ve properly used this first file a few times between now and then, you’ll already be part way to understanding it intuitively, at least you’ll have improved your skill. You’ll have noticed yourself doing it.

For now though, here’s our first guided meditation mp3. The background music was written by Chemica Solutions especially for the Transcendence institute. As our course progresses, you’ll no doubt want to use our techniques in areas other than the ones we are concentrating on. Each of our files also comes with a “music only” track, which you can record your own voice-overs to. We encourage you to experiment with guiding yourself into different areas of your own psyche, improving your own mind, and if you hit on something that’s particularly successful for you then post it to our forums. This isn’t a guided tour. We’re exploring the path to transcendence together.

Awareness – Perception – Paying Attention

by pre., Friday, February 8th, 2008.

Pay attention, I’m only going to write this once.

Whether or not you obeyed my instruction then, you at least know what you’d have to do in order to obey it. You can, on request, “pay attention”, focus your concentration onto something, look more carefully at something. So why don’t you do that all the time? Does it actually require extra effort?

Possibly it does, but like anything your mind does, the more you do it the more practised you’ll be. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get. The better you are, the less effort it’ll be. So why not try to pay attention, concentrate, look carefully at what you’re seeing all the time? Surely not because you’re worried you’ll burn too many calories? You’ll end up like skin and bones with no flesh on your frame?

Concentrate on the full stop at the end of this sentence, really look hard at it, count the pixels if you can, take in all there is there to see, look closely.

Was it round? Or square? Was it black, or some kind of dark blue? Was it’s background white, or a mix of red, green, blue, all joined up so close together they look white?

It seems that the main problem with trying to pay attention to the things you’re looking at, the things you’re seeing, the things you’re hearing and feeling and touching, is remembering to do so. Which begs the question: How can you remember to pay attention more often, get the practice you need to pay attention properly all the time?

You are already part of the way there. Just by knowing that you can vary your attention, and by knowing that the higher you can raise the bar there the higher the bar will rest, the higher it’ll be able to rise. Next time you notice you’re paying attention, or not paying attention, you’ll know to turn it up a notch. You’ll remember to look at things more closely, just by knowing you can look at things more closely.

There’s more you can do than that though. You can listen regularly to our self hypnosis file. It’ll help you to understand what it means to focus, to pay attention, and remind you now and then throughout your daily life to notice what you’re doing, what you’re seeing and how you’re feeling. And as you notice it more, you’ll do it more. As you do it more, you’ll get better. As you get better, it’ll get easier and you’ll learn to see what you’re actually seeing.

Ask yourself: Did you pay more attention to this article than the last thing you read? Was the constant reminder to wake up and listen all it really required? If so, you’ve already taken the fist step. Now take the next. Resolve to notice the world around you

Awareness – Perception – What Is Visualisation?

by pre., Friday, February 15th, 2008.

You’ve been asked to ‘visualise’ things for a few weeks now, to conjure up images in your mind, it’s time to address what exactly it meant by the word ‘visualise’.

In short, we’re talking about visual processing, essentially using the area of the brain devoted to visual reasoning, spacial skills. In theory, a blind man should still be able to visualise. He can still touch his fingers to your face and gain an ‘image’ in his mind of what you ‘look’ like. Indeed, if only in the movies, we see blind people “visualising” though their fingers all the time.

Just about everyone who’s not suffered a stroke or other brain illness is capable of visual processing. To take an example from a Stephen Pinker book, “How The Mind Works”, imagine a capital letter D, rotated clockwise by 90 degrees. Further, visualise the number 4 on top of this newly rotated D, standing on it’s back. When you have that image fixed in your mind, drop the right-hand side of the number 4 to leave just a triangle on a stick standing on the back of the capital letter D.

Ask yourself: What does this new shape represent?

Almost everyone correctly identifies it as an iconic description of a sail-boat.

This is what we mean by ‘visualisation’, that same skill you used to identify the ship, the sail, the mast. The output from the visual processing system.

We use this system all the time in daily life. If I tell you that Jane is taller than Joe and Joe is taller than Jim you can arrange these people in height order in a mental image fairly easily. Even without knowing what Jim or Joe or Jane actually look like, you can still ‘visually’ arrange their symbolic representations in your mind in height order. Indeed, you can continue to do so as we add in John, who’s between Joe and Jim, and Jerry, who’s between Jim and John. This is certainly a useful way of thinking, and probably what most people intuitively do when asked to think of these people, their heights, and answer questions about them.

Much of this processing will be done unconsciously, but even in people who are aware that these kind of tasks activate the visual cortex of a brain in a PET scanner, even in people who deliberately try to imagine a picture of these imaginary people, the experience is of course not the same as actually seeing a line-up of real people.

For a start, it’s not actually visual. There is nothing in your visual field, it can be done with your eyes open, while staring at a blank page or watching a TV show. It’s using the visual processing units of the mind, but it’s not the same as actually seeing. Compared to actually ’seeing’ it’s a shadowy and vague experience indeed.

The second main difference is that of detail. When you look out at the real world, the one you can see with your eyes, the area of the visual field in which you actually see with proper detail, the part of your retina which has enough rods and cones to be worth a damn, covers about the area of your thumbnail at arms length. I know it doesn’t feel like that, but if you fixate on one point and try to see details in a moving thing away from that point you’ll find it impossible. In order to actually see the detail in a thing we have to move your eyes to look at at.

The entire scene is built in your brain from a series of rapid saccades, scanning for detail and finding it and filling it into a scene. When you’re looking at a sentence on this page, you can’t see enough detail to ‘read’ a word just two words away from the one your eyes are pointed at. If you stare at a “word” in this sentence you can barely read the preceding “Stare”. The detail just isn’t there until you look at it.

Now the same is true of ‘visualisation’, you can only ’see’ (IE process) a minute bit of ‘visual’ information at a time. In order to ’see’ detail you have to zoom-in, focus, succade your minds eye from one segment to another.

Perhaps the biggest difference between seeing and visualising is that when looking at an object the data comes in through that dense patch of retinal neurons whereas when ‘visualising’ an object the data has to be constructed by the mind. Which is much harder work!

When using visualisation processes to try to change your brain’s response to something, to practice something, to exercise a transcendence skill, you should use as much detail as you can imagine because this will lead to a stronger emotional response. Note that this is still imagined detail. Visualisation is an inherently constructive process.


At this point, an example will be useful. Compare the following two descriptions, try to take note of any images that form in your minds eye, of emotional responses to those images, of the vividness with which the images project.

Description One:

A man sat on a chair

Description Two:

A tall man, wearing a long grey overcoat, timidly approached the plush green armchair before suddenly turning around and immediately dropping his arse down into the soft cushion, the momentum of his denim trousers pushing creases into the velvet lime seat-covers.

Now, neither description actually projects onto the visual field. Reading neither of them can tell you what the gentleman in question actually looks like, yet the second is still more ‘visual’, it enables the visual cortex to join in the processing, forms more emotionally vivid impressions on the mind.

The more time and effort you put into mentally succading from one detail to another, trying to build up an entire scene, the more emotionally relevent the ‘picture’ will become.

Finally, try to remember that there will be massive variation in people’s abilities in these skills. When trying to visualise a scene, as with looking around at the real world, some people will be more aware of the process than others. Some will know that in order to see the detail in the eye of a painting they have to look at the eye, while some will look at that eye and not notice they have done so, just assume the whole time that they were looking at the whole picture.

There will also be variation in people’s level of self deception. If you ask someone to imagine a clown, no doubt they will. If you then ask them “What colour are his eyes” some will mentally succade to the eyes and have an answer before they’re aware they’ve done it. Others will be more aware that they’re constructing the colour of those eyes, previously unnoticed, in order to give the report.

Likewise, some will not notice that the detail in their imaginary images wasn’t there until they looked at it. They’ll just look, without even noticing they have succaded their minds eye, and find it there.

Variation will also exist in what people think is a fair report of their internal experiences, what they mean by the word ’see’. How readily they will claim to ’see’ mental images, or chemically induced hallucinations, or the solution to a problem, or the meaning of a sentence.

Some of this variation, no doubt, will be genetic. Some, equally doubtlessly, will simply be a question of how practised at the skill a person is. It may be impossible for some to visualise as well as others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would find it impossible to improve.

We have designed this month’s guided meditation file to help you to improve your visualisation skills, to better understand them. To this end you are asked, very explicitly, to physically look at an object, and then later to visualise it. To compare the two experiences, to learn how to make the second more like the first.

We’ve spent a whole article on what we mean by ‘visualisation’ because it’s very important you don’t get discouraged that your imagined experiences aren’t as striking and immediate as watching a movie. They aren’t that way for anybody. They do not have to be in order to work.

They are, however, more vivid for some than others. Some people automatically fill in the details as they mentally succade to different parts of a mental image. After a lifetime of imagining and playing, many people fill in those details automatically, without thinking. As you practice it more, you’ll find it easier, there’s no known reason why these skills can’t be improved with practice and attention just as
every other skill can be improved.

Awareness – Perception – Seeing Like An Artist

by pre., Friday, February 22nd, 2008.

In “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards suggests a valuable exercise. She asks her readers to select an image at random. We suggest a portrait, a face, but it’s not important. She recommends her readers, assumed to be naive of artist’s skills, try to copy that randomly-selected image.

Then, after that attempt, she advises they try again. Copy the image once more, but this time do it upside down.. Put the source image upside down in front of you, and draw a copy of it, so that your copy will be upside down too.

Most people find that, contrary to expectation, when they turn their copy over and compare it to the first copy which they made right side up, the second copy is a more accurate duplication of the original image than the first was.

Why should this be?

When you perceive a scene, your brain immediately begins to interpret that scene. It’s hard to see a nose or whatever as a collection of shapes and shades because you know that it’s a nose. Since your visual system is less used to seeing upside-down noses your “it’s a nose” neural response is dampened, and you’re more able to see the outlines, the subtle textures and tones, and thus more able to reproduce those abstract shapes on paper.

Edwards further suggests, and we concur, that you do it again. This time paying particular attention to the way you see while you’re copying one image onto another. Notice how different your perception is when you’re trying to draw your internal representation of a nose, rather than copying the upside-down projection of shapes you see on your retina.

This second state, where you’re concious of the way things look is what we mean when we talk about awareness of your perception. Edwards calls it “seeing like an artist” and claims that her students thank her for teaching them to see this way, saying things like “Everyone looks beautiful now.”

We suspect this is what Zen Buddhists mean when they talk of “Kensho – “Seeing things as they really are”. Although if this is what those philosophers mean, they are mistaken. You cannot see things as they really are, only see how they stimulate your nervous system. We know that your fingernail is actually a swarming dancing field of energy, each atom a quantum blur with neither true location nor momentum. You can’t see that. But you can see the very base level of input into your nervous system. The patches of shade, the sparkles of light, the colours and textures and forms.

How is this useful?

The aim is to become more aware of how your perception system works. To increase your awareness of each stage of your perception. From patterns and shapes and colours, up through the texture and models and types to the meaning of the things you perceive. To see as an artist does.

For example, if you see an expression on someone’s face, you need to know why that face is looks ‘angry’ or ‘happy’, know which visual signals are indicating this. If you don’t learn to understand this process there’s a danger you’ll be fooled by your own suggestions, expectations and subliminal associations. Worse yet you’ll be more more easily beguiled, fooled into seeing illusion, misdirection, or phantasmagoria. Learning to notice what you actually see, rather than what you think is there makes you less likely to fall for illusion.

It will also help with your visualisation skills. Much of the process of self-reprogramming involves visualization. Often the easiest way to practice a skill is just to visualize it happening and having an artist’s view of the world will help to make your internal visualization more vivid, clear and accurate. It will make your visualizations more believable, more real.

You will likely also find that it improves your memory. If you notice the shape of something, it’s another detail which make later jog your memory, more mnemonic evidence that something actually happened and wasn’t just a figment or illusion. If you’ve paid better attention, you’ll be more likely to recognise and remember things later. If you need to remember something, remembering how it appears is at least a helpful trigger.

Finally, it’s fun. There’s an unbelievable aesthetic joy in looking at the way the sun glints off of a person’s eye; or to notice the shade, bend and texture of a wall; the composition of your visual field or the burning brightness of colour and light in a fire. It can literally reduce boredom to look in detail at the world around you, to see how it’s built from shapes and colours and shade and form.

How can you improve?

The best and easiest way, of course, is to practice. To look closely at the world around you. You can do this at any time. Next time you think “I’m bored,” start to really examine whatever it is that you can see. To see the tiniest detail, the shape of the marks of dirt, the specks of dust, the shine and glint of light off of it’s surface. The more you practice looking at things the better you will get.

More time-consuming (and often disheartening to start with at least) is to practice drawing things. Try to represent as accurately as you can not the objects you are drawing but the shapes they project, the patches of colour, the jigsaw of space between the objects. To get the image as photo-realistic as you are able.

Finally, if you find that you forget to do this as often as you may like, our self-hypnosis audio file for increasing your perception skills will help you to get used to how it feels to really pay attention to your perception, and to remember to practice the skill more often.

Awareness – Perception – Priming your perception

by pre., Friday, February 29th, 2008.

In Prometheus Rising, Robert Anton Wilson suggested an exercise which can be pretty instructive:

1. Visualize a quarter vividly, and imagine vividly that you are going to find the quarter on the street. Then, look for the quarter every time you take a walk, meanwhile continuing to visualize it. See how long it takes you to find the quarter.

(English readers might get a better result using a 5p piece, adjust for your local currency)

Wilson advises that you try this exercise at least three times. The first time as a control, the second time imagining that there are quarters lying around in the street everywhere that you might find, and the third time imagining that you can materialize street-money with the power of your mind.

Now it’s clear from context that Wilson finds it more likely he’ll find the pavement-pennies when he thinks he can magic them out of thin air. Presumably that’s the results he got when he was testing. Personally I found that I found the 5p piece more quickly, on average, when searching for money I thought must surely already be there, lying just around the next corner. But it was close. Way within the margins of error.

Here’s what’s interesting though: Usually it’d take less than a month to spot some road-riches, more quickly than if I wasn’t visualizing at all of course, but the coin that I find was always the coin that I was searching for. I never spotted a 2p piece while searching for a 5p. I never spotted a pound coin, or a 20, or a 50, or a 1p. Even the buttons and washers I spotted were all about the same size and shape as a 5p coin.

Why would this be? I mean it’s clear that actually looking will mean you find something more quickly, more of your attention and time will be spent on it, but why should it be that you’ll find the very thing you’re looking for rather than something else?

Consider this. It’s a common enough experience, I’m sure it’s happened to us all: you’ve been listening to some pop song, and the singer’s voice is so tortured and drawling that you can’t make out what the hell he’s trying to squeal. Was that something about dragons? Did he say he wanted to hear a fake dragon roar?

Then months later you hear a cover of the song, and the words are more clear, and they’re so obvious and right that you know now what’s being said. Listening to the original again you find that despite the lyric still being scrawled and mewled as much as sung, despite the same pressure-waves, the same noises reaching your ear as before, you can hear the words now. And never again will you struggle to understand or perceive it.

Your senses, your attention, has been primed.

Sine Wave Speech

If you’ve ever heard ’sine wave speech’ it’s primed your auditory system. Just listening to these strange noises in the right context changes forever the way you hear a few bleeps and whistles.

We understand the basis upon which this happens down to a very basic level; it’s a result of the way neurons function and grow, of what’s called Hebbian learning, often summarized as “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Your brain is a pattern matching machine. It’s constantly looking for similarities, for examples, clones, imitations. So when you visualize that quarter, you’re reinforcing the pattern, the archetype of the coin in your mind. By imagining it lying on a pavement, you teach your brain to better spot things that are like that. Which includes the shade, shape, size, shine, and situation. You’re more likely to notice it because you’ve trained your brain to see it more easily. Effectively practiced seeing that kind of thing.

At any one time there are billions of patterns in your perception and memory, all fighting for your limited attention. Your massively-parallel neuronal system lets these patterns battle it out in a metaphorical war, those which have been the most reinforced, those patterns it finds most familiar, those wires that have fired most together, are the ones that will finally win your attention.

Which means that the more you can get memes like “street” and “shiny” and “find” and “5p” or “quarter” to associate together, the more primed your pattern-matching brain is to notice when a combination of those things comes up. The more likely you are to notice when you see something that’s close to that pattern. Which means you’re more likely to spot the edge-case.

Some people take this effect to be magical, proof that what you believe will happen will happen, like conciousness itself can effect the physical structure of the universe. It’s a convincing illusion too; you’ll be more likely to see what you think will happen as a direct neurological consequence of expecting to see it. Especially if you fantasize a little about what it’ll look like.

More than just convincing, it’s also a useful illusion. If it makes you spot opportunities, go out and do things, search out what you seek, then the illusion can make your life better. Which of course reinforces the illusion again since it makes you think you’re on the right track.

Are we better off believing the illusion?

Are we then better of believing this illusion? In short: No.

These neurological effects aren’t actually based on belief that they work. They’re based on neurological Hebbian learning. On electrochemical and computational processes. If we understand the process we can better manipulate ourselves using it. Spend time visualising the right things instead of wasting our time trying to convince ourselves we can levitate as Wilson apparently did.

These effects probably even work better when you understand their mechanism. You can smile knowingly to yourself and think I’ve just noticed that pattern because I’ve been priming myself to do so, and realize that this is proof that it’s working. You can pay attention to the changes in your brain as you feel them, which always makes practice work more efficiently. You can predict the affects of your actions better, understand your own pattern-predilections and so know which imagery and associations are likely to help you notice the desired opportunities or reinforcements. In general, you have more control than an unsophisticated groping attempt to to visualize yourself thin or powerful or owning a large bank account or experiencing metaphysical transcendence or whatever.

Do try out the exercise though. Let me know how you get on.

Guided Meditation File 1 – Awareness – Perception
Backing Music “Attention” By Chemica Solutions
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Awareness – Self Awareness – Self Consciousness

by pre., Friday, November 7th, 2008.

You’ve learned to examine your awareness of your perception, but you are of course aware of things other than your perceptions. As well as being aware of things you perceive from the world, you’re also aware of things going on inside your head. You’re aware of your emotions, your thoughts, your evaluations of yourself. This we term “Self Consciousness”.

Much has been written on what “the self” actually is, what exactly people mean by “I” when they say “I believe in god” or “I don’t like maths” or “I can has cheezeburger?”, much of it barely coherent pseudo-philosophical rambling nonsense and most of it contradicting the rest. In the opinion of the Transcendence Institute probably Hofstadter or Dennet are about as close to an answer as anyone is, but for our purposes it really isn’t important what “The Self” is. It’s not important because you don’t need to know what “the self” is in order to become more aware of your self consciousness and the way it effects your actions. For our purposes, we’re going to use “Self Consciousness” to refer to your own brain’s monitoring systems. Circuits in the brain which are directed at the brain itself, ‘senses’ feeding back information about a brain’s state back into that brain. These systems surely exist, and whether or not they are what your local street preaching philosopher or the guru in the temple means when they say “Self”, it’s all that we mean. Just your own awareness of your mood, emotions and mental processes.

When you look out into the world and focus your attention on the shadow cast by the light falling from and sparkling off of an object you are not directly aware of each photon exciting a rod or cone at the back of your eye. You can’t even tell the absolute magnitude of the intensity of the light at any point. You barely even notice when your eyes succade from one part of that object to another. Your awareness of the image is an awareness of higher levels of abstraction than these base inputs. Not photon impacts and wavelengths but lines and shape and form.

The same is true of your internal senses, your self consciousness. You are not aware of the adrenaline molecules affecting neuron firing rates. You’re not aware of the growth of synapses or some pattern-recognition system’s current recognition strength. The information that you do get comes in the form of moods or vague gut feelings, things like weariness or nervousness or excitement or trains of thought.

And just as you have learned to focus on and pay more attention to your external perceptions by concentrating on them and practising, so the same techniques will help you to learn to listen more closely to those internal perceptions which tell you not about the greater world, but about your own state.

Try it now. Concentrate for a moment on your mood. Are you happy? Distracted? Engrossed? Bored? Drunk? Excited? Just as you’ve learned to turn down one sound to emphasise another, so turn down everything else and listen to your own internal feelings. Of course our guided meditation this month will help you do that for a few minutes.

The meditation will take you through some visualisations, and three times you will be asked to spend a minute examining your own internal state, to really pay attention to how much you do or do not feel a particular trait.


As you practise paying attention to your self consciousness more, you’ll get better at it, you’ll be less likely to hammer on a door saying “I am not fucking angry” because you’ll realise that in fact you are. You’ll be more willing to concede that you’re hurt or stressed or tense if you learn to better recognise the subtleties of those emotions.

Knowing your own mood is invaluable in daily life. It can help you to better understand your own actions, even to control them. Asking yourself “Am I just angry?” and learning to notice when you are can be enough to stop you getting into an unwise fight or argument. It can help you to both understand your behaviour and to change it if and where needed, to compensate for bias.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Private Self Image

by pre., Friday, November 14th, 2008.

Self Awareness is a much deeper topic than just self consciousness. Self awareness is about more than just understanding that you exist, and being able to perceive how you feel. As a complicated human mind, you are constantly building a model of your world in your head. Trying to learn to understand the sensations and feelings you’re receiving.

As you look out into the world you do not just see colours and shapes, you see buildings, and clouds, and sky, and bookshelves, and grass, and animals and dogs and cats and Shep and Garfield and Garfield’s Lasagne and the cheese on top of Garfield’s Lasagne and the hunger on Garfield’s face as he licks his lips looking at that Lasagne.

As surely as you are learning about and categorising your world, you’re also learning about and catagorising yourself, one of the few things which has been in your environment for the whole of your existence.

This, then, is Self Image.

Self image comes in two parts. The first, private self image, is the model you build of yourself in your mind. If you ask yourself “Am I smart?” or “Am I flexible?” or “Am I purple?” you’re querying your private self image.How do you build that private self-image? Self Perception Theory suggests that just as you attribute qualities to other people by observing them, you also observe your own behaviour and use that as evidence to attribute qualities to yourself which explain that behaviour. You use the same mechanism for determining if you are healthy, wealthy or wise as you do when you determine if someone else has these qualities. Though perhaps with rather more evidence to hand.

This abundance of evidence can be unhelpful though. You see the worst of yourself. The low-points and degradations that you rarely see in others. You are almost infinitely more likely to see your failures and your moments of weakness as you are those similar moments in others.

Also, once formed, people tend to assume that their self-image is fixed. Some even think that “stability” is a good thing and that they are better off for having a “stable personality” meaning that they can’t change. They think “I am bad at maths” or “I am pathetic at drawing” or “I am ugly” or “I am shy” which is a natural, though false, way to think. More accurate would be to say “I failed at that maths problem” or “I haven’t learned to draw yet” or “I was shy on that occasion“. In short, we have a tendency to assume universality of our personality traits, when in fact all people behave differently in different circumstances and with different mindsets.

The truth is that you can change your self image, most simply by changing the evidence presented to your consciousness.

Most of the ‘input’ to your sense of self-image comes not from actual events, but from recollections and reviews of that original event. From cogitation and reconsideration rather than direct experience. Factors considered ‘important’ are those which you spend more time pondering.

This shows an obvious way to change your self image: decide on a self-image you’d like, look for evidence of you showing that trait, or heading towards that trait, and then concentrate on that instead of your failures

Unlike some, we at the Transcendence Institute favour a realistic self image over a positive self image, however we also note that sometimes an overly-positive self-image will be useful and that this is likely to be the case an overwhelmingly large fraction of the time compared to the very rare occasion when an overly critical self image will be useful.

The Meditation

When you start listening to this month’s guided meditation, you’ll be asked to think of a positive trait which you would like to increase the importance of in your self-image, and an example of you either showing that trait or else geting closer to that trait, growing towards showing it. You’ll be asked to replay that example over and over in your mind, large and loud and colourful. You’ll also be given suggestions that you’ll remind yourself over and over of that example throughout the next day.

Of course, human beings are social and linguistic creatures, and their self-image reflects more than just an assessment of their own characteristics. We are also constantly ask ourselves and are often even told what others think of us and we usually internalize that to some degree. This is the second part of Self Image, Public self image. We’ll discuss that in detail next week.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Public Self Image

by pre., Friday, November 21st, 2008.

Deeply social species evolve some kind of theory of mind. A way of telling what other individuals are thinking. If that train of thought, or evolutionary pressure, is followed long enough then that creature begins to wonder “what does that other mind over there think of me?”

This, then, is your public self image. While your private self image, discussed last week, leads you to draw conclusions about yourself, your public self image reflects how others see you.

The desire to be seen in a good light, to have others think positively of you, is pretty much a universal human phenomenon. Your awareness of others in your environment, and your concern at how they may judge you, excites in you what is known as Evaluation Apprehension or the audience effect. A state of arousal which can effect your abilities in measurable ways.

For example, sports stars tend to do better when under the scrutiny of competition due to an effect known as Social Facilitation. Meanwhile less practised or more complicated tasks can be hindered by the knowledge that others are watching. It can lead to a collapse of confidence, shyness, you may ‘choke’ and even fail comparatively easy tasks completely.

Manipulating The Audience Effect

The power of the imagination has often been suggested to overcome this audience effect on stage and in job interviews: “Imagine The Audience Naked” they say, but clearly a naked audience is just as likely to increase anxiety as a fully clothed one. Rather than imagining an audience naked, we’d suggest imagining them gone. Empty chairs. Nobody’s there but you, doing your thing, dancing like nobody is watching.

Similarly, if you’re attempting something routine, simple or well practised, it may be useful to imagine that there’s an audience there when there is none, to get at small dose of the positive benefits of the audience effect. To help yourself concentrate.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the audience effect will sometimes alter your ability and confidence, but your public self image isn’t just about how well you perform some given complicated task. It’s not just about how well you play a sport or give a presentation. Your public self image projectss the whole of your character into other people’s minds.

Public Self Image

Ask yourself now, how do others see you? Pick a specific ‘other’ to ask the question about. Not a close friend or family member, but a neighbour, a co-worker, a local shop-keeper or the milkman. Do you think their opinion of you is accurate? How do you think they formed that image?

The truth is that their image of you probably is unreasonably correct given how little evidence they’ve actually paid attention to. They haven’t known you long enough or studied you carefully enough to have much real idea of the workings of your mind, and yet of course they do have some idea. If we asked, we’d get an answer. Where does that information come from?

Their image of you is formed more through communication than observation. They haven’t observed you closely enough to know if you’re smart, but they can tell at a glance if you act smart. They have scant evidence of your shyness or flamboyance but they do know what you’ve communicated to them through body language, verbal implications and symbolic gesture or clothing.

Your public self image is formed in other people’s minds, and yet you create it through the way you behave: Your gestures and stance, words and expressions, clothes and gait and implications. Most of this is done unconsciously, merely reflecting what you actually think of yourself. Which is, of course, why it’s such a useful system and why public image is often so unreasonably accurate.

This can lead to a virtuous circle, where your confidence and skill are projected into the minds of others who then treat you as though you have confidence and skill, boosting both. Of course it can also turn into a terrible downward spiral. Your shyness and self loathing can be assumed to be lack of skill, so that others assume you’ll fail, increasing the chances that you’ll do so.

The Mix

Your private and pubic self image aren’t really separate things. They influence each other greatly and in both directions. It’s been said that “if you call a man a thief then he will steal.” Public opinion — the projection of other’s impressions onto us — can influence our public self image — the way we think others see us — and from there change our private self image as we come to believe they are right. Yet it also works both ways: The way you present yourself, which is in general deeply dependent on your beliefs about yourself, becomes the way others mostly see you.

The Meditation

We want to create that positive-feedback virtuous circle. So you’ll be asked to concentrate on the positive, and on noticing others noticing that. As you listen, you’ll be asked to recall in vivid detail some time when you were executing a desirable trait. To imagine some trait that you want to be part of your public self image. You’ll be asked to take note of the way you were acting at that time. Your gait, your expression, your mannerisms and behaviour etc. You’ll be asked to pay attention to the changes in the opinions and impressions of the people there to observe that.

Then you’ll imagine yourself acting that way more often in future, concentrating on the detail of the action, with suggestions that you will indeed be improving your self image by doing so. In this way you’ll be learning how better to project your public self image into other people’s minds.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Self Confidence

by pre., Friday, November 28th, 2008.

Last week we discussed public self image, concluding that your public self image is in other people’s brains and yet that it’s put there almost entirely by you, by the ways you communicate with those around you.

Very few of us get into many actual fights, and yet the social hierarchy exists. In humans it’s built not from violence, physical beatings or horn-clashing head-buts, it’s built from much more subtle signals: Body-language and uniform and context and posture and tone and gait and manner and pheromones and hormones and inter and intra-personal feedback loops. These plus thousands of other subtle signals we don’t yet understand. In short, it’s built from communication; messages that we’re all, mostly subconsciously, transmitting and recieving all the time.

Each nervous system is collecting all these signals, counting and collating them, doing unbelievably complicated statistical analysis on them and the result of all this frantic neuronal activity is that that particular nervous system feels differently. It’s assessment of it’s own position in that social hierarchy, and the position of those it’s currently dealing with, change the context of the rest of the interactions going on around that awesomely complicated network of neurons.

And the way it feels to that nervous sytem, the variance and range of the result of that complex calculation, combined with the effects it has on cognition and behaviour, is what our language has labeled “Self Confidence”. You can judge the confidence of others, and that judgement is doubtless a part of the calculation just described, but you can only feel your own self confidence.

Understanding Self Confidence

Seen in this light, it’s clear that self confidence is not a simple thing. It’s built from a huge range of signals, communications and tells in both yourself and others. It hides so many feedback loops and self-referencing parameters that it’s bound to be chaotic in the mathematical sense and so difficult to predict. Self Confidence certainly is not judged entirely by brashness, volume, recklessness or refusal to back down. These things are just a part of the overall calculation and each of them has an optimum value, related to and dependent on the others, none of them will increase confidence merely by magnification.

Like love, confidence is not a simple fraction. It’s a multi-dimensional abstraction, a hyper-landscape, and we can’t hope to do much more than put a few stakes in the ground and roughly characterize it by massively oversimplifying.

The confidence club break down Self Confidence into five components. Each represeting a part of confidence which is not truly independent of the other parts. Each feeds on the others in the same way that the spiral skills feed-back and exaggerate each other’s abilities.

Physical Presence

The signals which you interpret to build your sense of physical presence include the set of your shoulders, the relaxation in the arms and support provided by the core muscles. Even your own expectation of how you’ll be treated comes across through the delicate dance of muscle movements and posture. You have already begun to change your posture, and this will probably already have begun to help you feel relaxed about the space you take up your physical presence. As that improves so your command confidence will continue to increase. As your muscles begin to reshape in response to that improved posture, you’ll begin to feel more confident about your own body’s shape.

Status Confidence

We have already discussed the social hierarchy, the feeling, the sense, that we each build and project of our own status within the social group. Your ‘status confidence’ is the feeling, the change in mood, which changes the way your behave to reflect your position in that hierarchy.

Obviously this reflects your assessment of the confidence of the others within that group too, just as they in turn will be interpreting signals you’re sending to judge your opinion of yourself and of those around you.

You can effect your own sense of status confidence simply by imagining events which would change this sense if they were true. Your brain isn’t really sophisticated enough to completely include the difference between imagination and fact in the calculation of your own social confidence. Sure enough, this month’s meditation will have you remember or imagine some act which would lead others to believe your confidence is higher. You’ll also pay attention to others there, observing it.

Peer Independence

Peer Independence reflects your trust in yourself. The truth is that no sane person is ever completely sure of anything, and that being backed up by others agreeing with you reinforces your opinion on everything from the niceness of the weather through to your own status confidence.

By spending more time concentrating on the times you were right to trust yourself over others you can increase your confidence about taking that risk.

Note: It may not pay to increase your peer independence too much. Other people help to ground you.

Social Confidence

When you share a secret with someone, they are more likely to share a secret with you. Most human beings are pretty similar. They go through similar ordeals, they have similar concerns, fears, problems and difficulties. We all have more or less the same dashed hopes, painful episodes and of course joys and pleasures and dreams. We tend to concentrate on the differences between people, because these are the things which distinguish us from each other, but the similarities in our lives in fact far outnumber those differences.

Understanding this, and paying more attention to the similarities, will increase your social confidence, your willingness to share those experiences with others. Fearing their judgement is likely to decrease it.

Extra social confidence will literally help you find confidants, influencing that part of your confidence which is in your public self image, in other people’s brains.

Stage Presence

Public speaking can scare some people more than aeroplane flights, roller-coasters, video-nasties, or even physical attack. The fight-or-flight adrenal response is just as real and just as true when you’re about to step onto a stage, or make a presentation, as if you’re being chased by a lion.

Like all the other confidence skills, feedback loops are important here. If you think of yourself as a confident public speaker, then there’s nothing to be afraid of and so you’ll act like one. If you think of yourself as a poor public speaker you’ll concentrate on past experiences of being a poor public speaker, invigorate the adrenal response, make yourself more afraid.

By concentrating on positive outcomes, pre- and re-playing successful experiences, you will increase this form of confidence too. If you want to improve your stage presence, listen to our meditation this month imagining or recalling a scene in which you are indeed on stage and full of stage confidence

Manipulating Self Confidence

Obviously you can’t directly change all of the variables which are collected and categorized and calculated in order to build this abstract quantity which affects your behaviour and impression of yourself. You can’t directly change the pheromones in the air, though changing your confidence levels WILL effect the composition of the pheromones you sweat out. You can’t directly change the posture of your conversational partner or the tone in which they’re talking, though they will react to changes in your behaviour.

Much of the calculation which your subconscious brain is constantly re-evaluating does come from variables which you can change through conscious deliberate action. You can change your own posture, you can change your clothes, where you stand or sit in a room, how often and loudly you speak. You can learn to stride a more confident gait, you can (over time) change the shape of your body.

More than this you can change the focus of your attention, and change the importance of various aspects which infleunce the neural calculation that makes you feel confidence. If you focus on things which work in your favour rather than those which work against building self confidence, you’ll automatically begin to feel more confident. By spending more time attending to positive traits and signals and less obsessing over negative ones, you can alter the focus of that calculation, change which of those signals it assumes has importance.

This direct action will have repercussions on the aspects of that calculation which you can only influence indirectly, your public self confidence in other people’s brains and thus the actions of others.

Our Meditation

When listening to this month’s mediation you’ll be asked to think of a positive trait and remember yourself exhibiting that trait, remembering how it feels. If you’re trying to work on self confidence in particular you should obviously think of an example when you were showing the type of self confidence which you wish to work with.

It may help to think of the meditation as a personal puff piece, an advert to advertise your confidence in yourself to yourself. The billions invested in advertising are there because adversing works. By repeating things, focusing your attention on them, you can change how likely you are to believe them.

If you want to increase your physical presence, remember or imagine an event in which you observed that kind of confidence, in yourself or in others, but either way see yourself doing it.

If you want to increase your status confidence, focus on events in which you were in fact top-dog, or at least the most tip-top in the group. Recall the feeling, let your brain get used to that feeling, to assume it as a default.

If you want to increase your peer independence, concentrate on a time when you were, despite everyone else’s opinion, right. Or imagine yourself in a situation where someone else was. Emulate their actions, their expressions, their very thoughts if you can.

If you want to increase your social confidence use a time when you shared a secret, or a secret was shared with you, or you learned that others had suffered the same disappointments or enjoyed the same highs.

If you want to increase your stage presence remember seeing somone on stage, and replace them with your self. Remember the biggest audiences you’ve performed well in front of. Generally try to keep your brain focused on that feeling, that confidence, it’ll stick with you the more you feel it.

Guided Meditation File 10 – Awareness – Self Awareness
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Awareness – Reality Modelling – Map And Territory

by pre., Friday, July 3rd, 2009.

Last week, at the end of the bonus section on dreaming, it was noted that while you are dreaming (and indeed while you are awake) your actual experience is of a constructed tale, a virtual reality. Your experience is not of the individual firings of your neurons or the photons hitting your retina or of course of the object under observation itself.

We realised that the dream world and the waking world feel similar because in fact the experience is the same. While sleeping your senses aren’t constrained by interaction with the outside world, they are cut off and firing in apparently random patterns, but your experience is still only of the data itself, not of an actual physical object. A dream tomato is represented by the same pattern in your mind as a ‘real’ tomato. Your consciousness is only aware of the abstract data, not the thing itself

Indeed, not only are you not aware of the tomato, you are not even aware of the photons reflecting from it into your eye. You’re not aware of the energy or wavelengths of the photons which excite the rods and cones in your retina to varying degrees . You’re not aware of those rods and cones themselves pulsing with electro-chemical energy when firing. You’re not even aware of the patterns and combinations that these firing patterns produce. You’re just aware of ‘red’ and a shape and the mental concept ‘tomato’. It’s not just that you only see abstractions of sense data, but that even the raw sense data itself is merely correlated with an event, a coding of it, it is not the event itself.

Alfred Korzybski

Alfred Korzybski was a philosopher and scientist who’s theory of ‘general semantics’ produced the famous phrase “the map is not the territory“. This distinction is essentially what Korzybski was referring to. Your experience is never of the territory itself, but only ever of a map of that territory, an abstraction presented to your consciousness.

A map the size of the empire

Maps are useful things to have precisely because they summarize. They do not capture every element of the territory that they model, but only the salient parts. To show this is true we need only think about the size a map must be to show every detail of the reality it reflects. To show every molecule, every atom, a map must be the same size as those molecules and atoms. In order to map an empire to 100% percent accuracy, you need a map the size of the empire.

Such a map would obviously be of no use at all. We’re not interested in every molecule and every photon. With a typical map we’re only interested in the angles between the locations on that map, for navigational purposes, or the average political leanings of each parliamentary seat. Maps the size of empires are no more use for understanding the empire than the empire itself.

Korzybski’s ideas imply not only that we can’t know all of reality, but even that to do so wouldn’t be particularity helpful.

How does your map differ from reality?

The important thing to notice about this transcendental realisation, the knowledge that your every experience is a dream-like VR system partially constrained by your sense-data, is that the question “How does your map differ from reality?” makes sense, and that the answer is never “I have captured this event’s nature completely,” for such a thing is neither possible nor useful.


An essential part of transcendence is this realisation, that evolution has not given you the ability to see the world as it is, but just a VR system built to reflect some details of that world which have been important to your ancestors survival.

This realisation implies that there are differences between that model and reality, that there are common mistakes, biases, discontinuations between your perception and the reality of any given situation. We’ll examine some of these biases next week.

The week after we’ll look for ways in which you can improve your map, make your VR world more accurate, better reflect reality.

Finally, at the end of the month, we’ll present a meditation designed to use your dreams to encourage you to test, to check your ideas. Both in your dreams and in waking life. This will both increase your ability to tell when you’re dreaming, and improve the accuracy of the Virtual Reality in which you spend your waking time.