The Mahout, the Elephant and the Path

The Mahout, the Elephant and the Path. The mahout represents the rational and reasoned. If the mahout clearly understands where he needs to go he’ll direct his charge that way. The elephant represents the subconscious.

Guest Post by Richard McCure

It seems incredible that the subconscious mind was first postulated by Sigmund Freud.  If you are elderly it is likely that your grandparents imagined that the entire content of their mind was accessible to conscious contemplation.   Freud’s discovery opened the way for a flowering of scientific investigation into the nature of the occult workings of the human brain.

Now my knowledge of psychology is very much undergraduate level,  and mid 20th century at that,  so I would be more than happy to be corrected on any mistakes in this essay.

My interest is in what we might call the hierarchy of subconscious instincts,  and how they might arise.

It is well known that new born babies carry into the world a knowledge of certain dangers.  A well known example is fear of heights.  This is an obviously useful phobia which is helpful for surviving the world outside the womb.  To overcome fear of heights later in life is challenging.

Then there’s the instincts acquired at an early age,  and within a definite time-window.  An example of this was called “imprinting”.  Imprinting involved among other things the recognition of the faces of family as well as the development of sexual preferences.

All this subconscious structure is in place to allow us to navigate the material world without having to learn by trial and error,  “the hard way”.  As such it is pivotal to our survival,  and for this reason would not be given up lightly.  We hang on to these precepts tenaciously even though we are only aware of them via emotional responses,  rather than in the form of conscious thought.
This explains the phenomenon of “confirmation bias” where we ignore information that is counter to our (subconscious) world view.  To do otherwise is to risk destabilising our grip on reality.  This may well apply to the condition called post traumatic stress disorder,

Dogs provide a  good example of the way this process works.  Dogs seem to be either terrified of thunder or completely indifferent to it,  and it seems to depend on whether or not they have experienced a thunder storm during puppyhood.  If they have experienced thunder during that critical period it becomes part of their internal model of the world,  and is accepted as “normal”.  If on the other hand they first experience it in later life it produces absolute terror as does any other dramatic alien phenomenon encountered.  Primitive humans deal with unfamiliar phenomena by invoking supernatural beings.

I think this mechanism could be useful in explaining some  other seemingly irrational aspects of human behaviour.

Imagine a child born into a radical Islamist household.  At a very early age a subconscious model of the world would form in which an omnipresent  Allah holds dominion.  This picture would be re-enforced through to adulthood.  There would be no shortage of media stories about evil acts perpetrated by Infidels,  all consistent with the call to kill non-believers.  Living in,  say,   a non-English speaking suburb of Sydney, surrounded by a community with similar views,  there would be little opportunity to develop a counter narrative.  For de-radicalisation to work it would be necessary to erase this subconscious world view,  probably impossible without erasing the identity of the individual concerned (whatever that might mean).

Let’s have a look at climate hysteria in this context. The pedagogues driving this would be left leaning,  meaning that they have an ingrained belief that Capitalism is innately oppressive and that socialism offers a more moral system of government.  In a move that is so clever it is difficult to believe that it has not been carefully planned,  fossil fuels are targeted as the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Never mind that not just capitalism but civilisation itself is threatened.

12 Replies to “The Mahout, the Elephant and the Path”

  1. I think you are too pessimistic, Richard. I believe we can overcome these predilections once we are aware of them. That is the meaning of “enlightenment”.

  2. Dear Admin, I think Richard was talking about a religion where some sects (but definitely not all) that have yet to go through an “enlightenment revision” Christians still be “two bob each way” by retaining an unenlightened Old Testament while telling everyone how to live by the New Testament.
    As to experiences gained in your ala dogs and thunder some 30 years ago a sign appeared on our refrigerator that said: “Teenagers! Leave Home Now While You Know Everything.” Guess Greta’s parents didn’t get a copy?

  3. As I explained in an earlier post, I believe that all higher animals think in a WIMP-ish way, that is the same as we have on our computers, via Windows, Icons, Mouses, Pointers, and that this is also how humans think subconciously, our concious minds being a mostly verbal overlay, much less efficient because a late add-on. Humans tap into their underlying subconcious Elephant when seriously in danger, after which they tend to be different because owing a debt to this animal. This causes problems, PTSD and so on, in many cases. But the WIMP-ish mode is extremely powerful and potent in the face of many of life’s challenges compared to much slower more cumbersome verbalized concious reasoning, so often adds to creativity, leadership, warfighting and so on.

    1. How come so “powerful and potent” ?!? Because : 1.) It has been evolving into Quantum niches for billions of years. Hence telepathy and so on ; 2.) It is interconnected across species, probably even across the Universe, as a Universal LifeForm . . . I forgot to mention that omens and a sense of deja vu are examples of penetration of this animal thinking into the socially concious overlay mind.

    2. My own view is that PTSD is the neural equivalent of scar tissue.

      Tell the readers what WIMP stand for.

      1. Windows, Icon, Mouse, Pointer ((WIMP). Steve Jobs pinched it from the Xerox lab who were undervaluing their invention, and Bill Gates pinched it off Steve. I’d had a vision in Antarctica with this WIMP structure years earlier, 4 years after being asked by IBM’s top man in Sweden, the inventor of PL-1 : How should people interact with computers ?!? At the time I was thinking of this in terms of the analogous Alice In Wonderland structure, where Drink Me was an Icon, Drinking it was a Clicking on the Icon, and the new Scene was a new Window. I then got to wondering if this structure was an answer to that top man’s question or was it simply the natural structure of visions ?!? A decade or two later I decided it was both.

  4. The Arts, including political theatre, tap into that WIMP-ish Elephant mode by producing and playing with its Icons. Chinese Language might too, with its 1,000s of symbols, possibly giving greater power than other languages . . . such as English on the far end of this spectrum, its being most strongly tied to speech, generally very sloppy. Hence English’s supremacy as the language of Pop music globally. Also indicated : Democracy might have its roots in the extreme dichotomy implicit here in the Art of English speakers due to this language’s so locking them into “the socially concious overlay mind”, its being so inadequate beyond sociality, its needing to resonate with the animal underneath MORE than say any Chinese need. Hence our being more innovative, creative, inventive ?!?

  5. I have not been able to find the form of words to convincingly explain this concept. I am claiming that there exists in the subconscious a “knowledge” of the outside world without which every incoming perception would be astonishing. It is as vital for survival as the blood in our veins. The earlier this knowledge is embedded the more difficult it is to dislodge and the more resolute we are to dismiss anything that does not accord.

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