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Reticular Activating System

 

 

The Reticular Activating System (RAS)

 

Most people believe that the world they register in their conscious mind is an accurate perception of it. They might agree that interpretation varies from person to person, but the majority are unaware that their conscious mind in fact only registers a fraction of the information gathered by their senses – and that that information is heavily biased to match their pre-formed beliefs. It is very difficult for the conscious egoic part of the human brain to be impartial or restrain itself to ‘the facts’, no matter how valiantly it tries. This is extremely important when it comes to considering how we interact with one another, how we educate children and how we create systems and frameworks in order to live side by side.

 

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) has many and varied functions including control of sleeping and waking, walking, waste elimination, eating and sex. It is also a filtering system that is designed to help you organize your impressions of the world around you. Your senses are collecting information constantly, non-stop. This information (via sight, touch, smell, hearing, tasting) is sent to the brain to be filtered into that which is brought to your conscious attention and that which will be withheld from it. This is vital. The masses of information collected by your sensory organs would soon overwhelm your mind if you were fully exposed to all of it, all at once, all the time. To protect your conscious mind from over-exposure, your brain filters out the vast majority of this information and feeds it with relatively tiny amounts. Your conscious mind then builds an impression of the world based on this information.

 

So how does your brain decide what information to bring to your attention and what to ‘hide’? Well, it doesn’t actually choose; you do. The Reticular Activating System ‘listens’ to your conversation - both your internal dialogue with yourself (the endless chatter in your head giving you a more or less constant running commentary and judgment of you in relation to your experiences, real or imagined) and your conversations with others. In other words, wherever you happen to direct your attention, your brain sees this as a directive to focus itself there and exclude other details. From this perspective, we start to build up a story for ourselves around ‘what is’ as we happen to be interpreting it.

 

The information your brain feeds into your consciousness is designed to deliberately corroborate your ‘story’ about life, who you think you are and the power you feel you hold. So if the bulk of your conversation is about how wonderful life is, how lucky you are, what great relationships you have and how you achieve whatever you set your mind to, your RAS will feed you information and draw you towards situations, people and circumstances that agree with those ideas. It therefore doesn’t take a genius to work out that conversations around difficulty, disappointment and ill-fortune trigger the RAS to bring to your attention more evidence of the same. The point being that the Reticular Activating System doesn’t make choices for you about the information it selects. It simply filters it and produces data to fit your ‘story’ about how life is.

 

Owing to the way the RAS functions, and its role of sifting through information sent to the unconscious mind and passed on to the conscious, perhaps you can now see that there is no such thing as an absolute truth from the perspective of human perceptions. They are highly subjective. But because of the way sensory data is filtered, the more you focus on something, the more your RAS will show you the evidence. In this sense, two people can walk down the same street, in the same direction, at the same time and experience entirely different streets, depending on their perspective on life and the influence it has had on programming their RAS to notice things. Put simply, a person who is intrinsically happy, will find more and more reasons to continue in this state and, likewise, a person who is intrinsically unhappy will find more and more reasons to continue in that state.

 

Interestingly, just by ‘priming’ your brain, you can get it to notice things, even when you are in an unfamiliar place. Just as a person can talk themselves into getting lost, they can also talk their brains into ‘unlosing’ themselves.

 

The complexity comes when electro-chemical/hormonal responses are thrown into the mix. Your thoughts are not independent of your moods. Your thoughts trigger electro-chemical responses. If therefore your view of life focuses on the positive and your RAS corroborates this, your electro-chemical/hormonal responses, or moods and feelings, will reflect this also.