Creativity - How we co-create our world
On the Science page of this website, we considered the following possibility:
"Reality is not what we think it is:
What we think is what reality is."
To what extent, if at all, might this be true?
How could it be possible and what evidence do we have to support it?
If our thoughts create our reality, is it possible that we can consciously choose to change it?
If so, how?
Here are some of the ways in which what we do with our minds might influence not only our view of reality but also our actual experience of reality.
The main five begin with vowels, so they are easy to remember as A E I O U
We'll start with one that is so self-evident that most people already know this. Whether they have consciously thought of it or not, it usually rings true when someone points it out to them. It's E: the power of expectation.
You may have heard the famous story about an old woman sitting beside the road at the edge of a town. A person comes along and asks her what the people in this town are like.
"What were the people like in your home town?" she asks.
"Oh they were awful!" says the traveler. "Liars, cheats, rogues. You couldn't trust any of them. To be honest with you, I was glad to see the back of them."
The old woman shakes her head and says: "You'll find the people in this town just the same."
A few minutes later, another traveler passes by and asks the old woman the same question.
"What were the people like in your hometown?" she asks.
"Wonderful!" exclaims the traveler. "Honest, hardworking, loving, kind. To be honest with you, I was sad to leave them."
The old woman nods her head and says: "You'll find the people in this town just the same."
You don't need me to tell you what this story means. It's a simple tale and you may have seen for yourself, many times, how people tend to live up to our expectations of them.
If we don't give people a chance to show their worth and constantly criticise them, making them nervous with our own hostility and jumping on every slip they make as evidence of their incompetence, we can't be too surprised when they get cross with us and act in ways we disapprove of even more. It's bad enough if we do this to our work colleagues and neighbours but worse when we do it to our spouses and especially to our children since they have more invested in our approval and the effects of our negative expectations are therefore more far-reaching.
On the other hand, you will probably have noticed how, when we look for the best in people, make allowances for their errors and give them an opportunity to shine, we can watch their confidence and self-esteem grow and see them flourish as the fine people they are.
You have probably also heard of a famous experiment by Rosenthal and Jacobson in the sixties involving a group of children who were all judged to have the same level of intelligence at the start of the experiment. The children then spent time with teachers who had been told that some of them were very bright, gifted children and others were "no hopers" who could not be expected to do well. Although they were instructed not to tell the children about these differences, the children soon began to live up to the teachers' expectations and their levels of ability polarised. It took some time to correct the damage done to the self-esteem of the "no hope" bunch. This came to be known as the Pygmalion Effect and you can read about it on this link to Wikipedia.
A similar study was conducted by a teacher called Jane Elliott. The children in her class were split up on the basis of their eye colour and each group spent a day being told that they were superior to the others. The children performed significantly better in spelling tests on the day when their eye colour was judged to be superior. This study was very controversial because it gave us very disturbing insights into the potential effects of discrimination (conscious or unconscious), including racism.
These examples illustrate how our expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.
What's not always so apparent is the way we also do this to ourselves. If we are constantly beating ourselves up for the things we think we do badly and telling ourselves that we are no-hopers who will never amount to much, we limit ourselves and live up to our own poor expectations.
If we expect other people to dislike us or to avoid us then, by our behaviour towards them, we make that dislike and avoidance more likely. This is quite sad because for some people this tendency grows into a kind of social phobia where they are terrified of going to parties in case they make fools of themselves and, because they are so scared, they create the bad impression they dreaded. I think most of us have probably been there!
On the other hand, if we expect people to be friendly, we will probably feel more at ease in their company, smile more and increase the probability that they will warm to us and behave in the friendly manner we anticipated. Fortunately, like any skill, our social skills eventually increase with practice, especially when we begin to consider the feelings of other people first instead of obsessing about what they might think of us! No one is easier to make friends with than someone who genuinely cares about our well-being.
Even the circumstances we find ourselves in may to some extent be influenced by this self-fulfilling prophecy effect, from the photocopier that has a habit of breaking down every time you go near it to the job you didn't expect to get and so didn't.
If you are into reading daily horoscopes, you may be very aware of this phenomenon. I once knew a gentleman who wouldn't go out of the house on days when his horoscope was particularly worrying (Perhaps they should be called horrorscopes!)
This doesn't mean that we should go around with daft grins on our faces and be disgustingly (and unrealistically) positive all the time. And I in no way wish to suggest that we all "get what we deserve" as per the theory of Karma or the laws of cause and effect. There are dreadful circumstances faced by millions of people every day and to suggest that they, or you, in any way deserve such suffering is abhorrent to me. Such views could be used as a cop-out to allow the rich and fortunate to enjoy themselves without caring about the plight of the rest of humanity. How easy it would be for me to have a few billion dollars in the bank, fritter it away on personal enjoyment and appease any objections from my conscience by telling myself that the starving millions in the third world brought it all upon themselves by the sins they committed in their past lives or, in this case, by their negative expectations.
What I am suggesting is that we may all have a far greater ability than we realise to create opportunities to improve our circumstances, self-esteem and relationships with other people simply by being more aware of the effect of our expectations on all aspects of our lives.
This knowledge can be very empowering, as can all of the insights we will discuss on this page; which brings us to the next one on our list, which is A for Attention.
To illustrate how powerful this one is, we can do a brief experiment. Rest between each step.
1. If you are able to lift one hand to shoulder height, do that now, with your arm relaxed, and then lower your hand down. Do it again a few times to "get the feel of it".
2. Then do it again a few more times, and this time inhale as your hand comes up and exhale as it comes back down. Just focus on your breathing as the hand rises and falls.
3. Now do the same action again but this time focus all your attention in the palm of your hand as it rises and falls, as if you are bouncing a large, soft ball of light or energy.
4. For the next one place your attention on the skin on the back of your hand, noticing perhaps whether your hand feels lighter or heavier as it moves up or down.
5. Lastly, just notice how the air feels as your hand moves through it, and to help you to focus on this, try it with your eyes closed.
What did you discover?
Had there been someone watching you they probably wouldn't have noticed much difference each time you lifted and lowered your hand. It would have looked like the same action repeated many times. But did it feel the same to you every time? Or did the experience change, depending on where you focussed your attention?
If you answered yes to that last question, I would not be surprised, as I have done similar exercises with thousands of people over two decades, and virtually all of them have said yes.
Some people say they found that their hand or arm felt lighter or heavier or warmer or cooler at certain times during the exercise. Some enjoy one variation more than another. But the empowering discovery we can make from this is that our experience changes, depending on where we rest our attention!
This is not just true of lifting an arm; it's true of life in general. What we put our attention on grows and becomes our reality.
During the exercise we did, if you chose to do it, your attention was directed by you in response to the list of suggestions on this page, but when you think about your normal daily life, who is it that directs your attention from moment to moment?
Sometimes your attention may be caught by a sudden loud noise or someone calling your name, or a movement that catches your eye. If you are an employee, you may be told to put your attention on the job you are doing. If you are a student, you may be told to pay attention to what your teacher is saying or to a book you are reading. If you are a driver, you are obviously expected to put your attention on the road and other road users. At other times there may be nobody ordering you or expecting you to pay attention, yet your attention may move about from one thing to another, perhaps fully absorbed in a movie or a conversation, or totally wrapped up in your own thoughts or daydreams.
What is important here is that, ultimately, you are the one who directs your attention. Others can tell you to pay attention, but nobody can make you follow that instruction, assuming that you are able to do so in the first place. (Giving something our undivided attention is a learned skilll that some of us naturally do better than others but tends to improve with practice, though it's development is in some ways impeded by the media who tend to encourage our children to have the attention span of a gnat!)
Only you can decide whether or not to go along with a particular suggestion or instruction. It was you who decided whether or not to lift your hand in the above exercise; you who (through your own sense of responsibility) decides whether or not to pay attention if you are driving a car and you who, if your attention is immersed in dark thoughts and you feel that you are going under for the last time, can choose to focus on more helpful thoughts and change your experience of reality for the better.
Let's summarise that:
Since what you put your attention on grows and becomes your reality, and since you are the one who gets to choose what you rest your attention on, then, at the very least:
You have the power to shape your own perception of reality.
and since, as we have already discovered, our expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies and our perception of reality influences those expectations, then effectively:
You have the power to shape your own reality!
Another ingredient to throw into this creative pot is our letter "I" - Intention.
It's true that sometimes people with the best of intentions may go astray (think of how long New Year's resolutions typically last), and it is also probably true that there are people who have committed the most dreadful crimes who would claim that, from their own particular viewpoint, their intentions were honourable (such as psychopaths or religious extremists believing they were ridding the world of evil while impervious to the evil they themselves were creating by harming fellow human beings). Even so, the power of intention is considerable in shaping our lives.
An example already discussed on this website is the way that our intention not to become angry in all but the most unjust circumstances allows us to immunise ourselves against the tendency to react aggressively to life's irritations and setbacks, and generally develop a greater ability to keep our cool.
Similarly, we are far more likely to succeed in this world if we intend to put our best foot forward and have a go instead of giving up at the outset.
If we are ill, we may increase our prospect of recovery if we intend to get better rather than putting all our energy into preparing for the worst. This may be one of the reasons why the placebo effect can be so powerful.
Let's spend a few moments considering this phenomenon.
The Placebo Effect
Although it's easy to dismiss the placebo effect as some kind of con that doctors engage in when they don't have any proper medicine to treat you or they want to save money by dishing out chalk tablets instead of actual drugs, this would be to seriously undervalue one of the most useful abilities of the human mind.
We have already thought about how our intention to get well might influence our chances of recovery. Beyond that there is our belief that we will get well, in the light of which we can expect to get well and focus all of our attention on getting well. This is not a guarantee, of course, but it may certainly skew the odds in our favour, especially when you also consider that our immune system is very much affected by our state of mind (Masses of research has been done on this over the past few decades, eg the influence of stress hormones on killer T cells prior to exams.)
We can compare this with the nocebo, in which our attention is focused on the opposite. Health professionals are becoming more aware of this but there is still some way to go from the stories I hear. A doctor might think that the words:"One in fifty people die from this condition," and "Ninety-eight percent of people make a full recovery" are just two ways of saying the same thing, but from a patient's point of view there is a world of difference!
The human mind is an amazing piece of equipment and we have yet to fully appreciate its potential.
The next letters we will look at are O for obviousness and U for Unity.
Something is obvious to us when we have so much evidence to support our belief that there is no longer any shred of doubt in our minds that it is true. To most people it is obvious that, since the Earth is turning on its axis, the sun will come up tomorrow morning, or that water is wet or that cows eat grass. It's the sort of thing that makes people say, "Well duh!"
That amount of belief is very powerful and vastly outweighs the tentative belief that we might decide to hold just because someone else said so. If it's obvious to us that we will get better, our chances of recovery will probably be greater than if we are trying to hold onto a shred of hope given to us by one person's unsubstantiated words of reassurance.
When it comes to our ability to influence our reality and our destiny, the one thing that makes it obvious is Unity.
When you look at what every sage has been telling us across the whole of recorded history and across the globe, it is that we are not separate from each other and from the rest of creation, we are one with it. This world-view is sometimes known as the Perennial Philosophy and it underpins all the major world religions, even though the majority of followers of those religions seem to have lost sight of it at present.
If we are one with creation, it then follows that it is obvious that we must have some level of influence upon how it unfolds, and that very obviousness then increases our ability to influence it, as we have seen above.
This is not airy fairy speculation; it is very much in keeping with what we are learning about our universe through our scientific investigations.
You may have seen from our page on scientific theories of reality that quantum physicists have found that the presence of an observer influences the outcome of experiments designed to study matter at a sub-atomic level and that all possibilities exist until an observer collapses the wave function and makes it "real".
You will have also seen that some scientists now envisage the universe as a hologram, a three-dimensional light-show projected from somewhere, maybe from us. You will have read about how our attempts to build quantum computers are revealing parallels with how our own universe may actually work - that perhaps the whole of creation works like a colossal computer game in which we co-create the simulation as we play the game (a bit like "The Matrix" but without the scary mechanical beings or waking up in a pot of goo or plugged into a machine).
There are some who would say that the idea of human beings having any control of their destiny is pseudoscience (see alos the page on free will) and that it is stretching the bounds of credibility too far to dismiss the idea that we are helpless accidents in a mechanical, predictable starscape, compared with which our existence is virtually irrelevant.
While I in no way give credence to the strange notions of "Creationists" or the "Intelligent Design" lobby or others who seek to take our understanding of reality back into the dark ages and insulate our children against the body of evidence amassed by scientists over centuries, I do feel that among scientists there is currently a kind of knee jerk reaction to such unhelpful ideas going on, which can potentially blind them to some of the implications of their own findings.
What interests me is discovering what is true, not taking sides, though as a biochemist and psychologist and a lifetime student of philosophy and physics, I tend to look continuously for scientific evidence to support or disprove any conclusions I may come to in my attempts to unravel this mystery.
This is one reason for creating this website: to invite discussion from all who read it, including scientists and people from all faiths and walks of life. This discussion, I feel, is long overdue and it is my hope that these pages will focus many minds on the various strands of human knowledge drawn together here and look honestly at their possible implications.
If there is any possibility that we are capable of influencing our reality in any way, then I would suggest that now would be a good time to put this to the test, before global warming, over-population, over-pollution, deforestation, war, disease, poverty, starvation and depleted resources - including soil and fresh water - end the debate for us prematurely.
It is my hope that if one mind focused on a vibrant vision of the future can transform that person's life, then such a vision shared by the whole of mankind can transform our global situation and increase our chances not only of surviving the next century but of living together in peace with each other and with our world.
This can only happen if people from every part of the globe share a unifying world view that encompasses and explains all our previous faiths and prejudices, our understandings and misunderstandings, makes sense of them and inspires us towards even greater possibilities than we have previously considered.
Such a world-view may remove some of our dependence upon an external source of help but then it may also allow us to acknowledge our own inner resources and assume a greater sense of responsibility for our own actions. And it may empower us to work together to create the kind of future that our grandchildren can thank us for so that when we pass from this world we can do so without shame or regret, knowing that we have left behind us a world that the next generation will be happy to inherit.
Return Home Return to Reality