Your internal state, your external environment, and the reality you create.
We have devoted many pages on this site examining the amazing human brain. It's the most complex object we know of, performing a boggling number of tasks.
But if we had to boil all of it down to just 1 act, this would be it:
It takes into account your perception of the external environment;
reconciles this with your own internal state and experiences;
and in combination, creates your own subjective reality of what is happening and what you will do next.
Woah... ok that sounds like a real mouthful. It becomes much clearer with some examples.
Let's say you're on a hike. You've been going at it hard, and then you realise, you're quite thirsty. You haven't had a drink of water for some time.
Around a bend, you come across a man taking a sip of water. He tells you that just a few more metres in front, there's the most stunning scenery, a majestic mountain sandwiched by clear blue sky on the top, and a glistening lake at the bottom.
You eagerly press forward.
Your internal state is reminding you, hey, you need a drink of water soon. But at the same time, you are anticipating a stunning view. So the reality that your brain creates is: there's a great sight up ahead, let's go take a look, and then maybe we can go grab a drink.
Now imagine you're on the same hike. You come across the same bend and catch sight of the same hiker who tells you the same thing - great scenery just up ahead.
But this time, you haven't drunk water for a much longer period of time. You're dehydrated.
Your internal state isn't just reminding you to get water soon. It's urgently telling to prioritise getting water now!
The external environment is exactly the same. But your internal state has changed. There are different neurochemicals released - acetylcholine, adrenaline, CRH, glucocorticoids - that raise your level of arousal, agitation, and attention, making you want to take action NOW.
As a result, your reality also changes: Why don't you ask the hiker if you could get some water. You can then explore the view later.
A third scenario. Imagine now you are severely dehydrated. You're dizzy with thirst. You need water RIGHT NOW!
Again, same external environment - same hiker drinking, who tells you about the view ahead. But your internal state is of complete desperation.
It is not just to find water when you can, or to prioritse finding water immediately. The reality your brain creates is now: Forget about everything else. Only water matters. Do anything you can to get water right now.
In the first scenario, you might not even bother about asking for water, and head straight to the scenic spot.
In the second scenario, you might be disappointed if the hiker refuses to share some water. You might then make plans to quickly end the hike and find a water source.
But in this third scenario, you might now consider something much more draconian, something you would never imagine yourself doing - yelling at the hiker for water, or even to resort to violence, snatching the bottle from him or even bashing him up.
A change in internal state, even if the external environment is completely identical, can lead to you acting in drastically different ways.
You can work out how this applies to other examples:
You're queuing at the same stall at the same time of day with the same waiting time for the same coffee. Why does the queue sometimes feel irritatingly slow, while at other times you barely noticed?
You miss the train and have to wait 1 hour for the next one. Do you feel different if you miss the train by 5 mins vs 50 mins?
Examples of the external environment affecting our version of reality are even easier to identify.
This Zoom image above must be familiar to many of us, a big feature of our lives during this Covid-19 period.
But think about it, video-conferencing technology has existed for a long time now. Zoom is not a significant improvement (if at all) from other video-conferencing software. And for such a long time, we were resistant to online meetings and discussions. People almost always chose to meet up physically, sometimes travelling hours or even flying over 2 days for a 30 minute meeting.
Today, we've been compelled by circumstances to use video conferencing for our meetings, for chats with friends and family, or even for conferences and class/training sessions. We've grown much more comfortable using it, when in the past we wouldn't have tried.
The change in external environment, even though we are the same person internally, causes our reality to shift - from "I'm not going to use this" to "When's my next Zoom?"
Check out the links below for more interesting examples and write-ups.