Everyone’s mind contains millions of constructs, most very small (such as the phrases we habitually use—our semi-automatic response [“Hello! How are you?”] to a neighbour’s greeting, for instance), others much larger (such as those that auto-pilot the movements of our hands and feet as we drive to work thinking of other things). Every time a construct is used, additional synaptic knobs form along its pathways. These enlarge the construct’s primary routes, which then offer less resistance to future biochemical transmissions. This, in turn, increases the probability that this route will be taken the next time one’s locus of thought is in this region of the brain.
Constructs are supremely valuable for all animals because they facilitate rapid reaction to danger. Constructs automate some of the brain’s activity, producing appropriate responses to stimuli for the least expenditure of energy and in the shortest possible time. Constructs in humans allow much mental activity to be carried out at the relatively fast, non-verbal, subconscious, second level of thinking. For instance, everyone (particularly athletes, musicians, and those executing rapid body movements) becomes more proficient through practice; an important part of practising involves the development of mental constructs.
However, acting solely in response to preformed mental constructs without at least some analysis of incoming stimuli to determine their implications can be dangerous for any animal. Constructs can undermine and limit the ability to perceive, analyze, understand, integrate and generally profit from observations. Furthermore, they diminish creativity and originality.
Constructs cause each of us to become progressively more set in our ways, simply because biochemical flows take the path of least resistance through a neuronal maze. Thus thoughts tend to follow the same neural paths, constantly reinforcing them. As we age, we encounter fewer situations where we need to think afresh about how to respond, for we have previously experienced many of a similar nature. Our thoughts simply follow patterns locked within earlier-formed constructs whenever more-or-less appropriate ones are found. Consequently, we begin acting in characteristic, typical, or even stereotypical, ways. Eventually, if we never try to break out of these neuronal ruts, we start to think that nothing is new, and we may slowly lose interest in external happenings.
Constructs may also monopolize thoughts. This is a particularly interesting feature from this book’s point of view. If a significant amount of time or energy is spent thinking about any one subject, a construct-dominated mind can develop. Hobbies, careers, lovers, philosophies, food, business, probably anything we care to consider, can create this effect. We probably all know an individual with whom any conversation soon turns into an exposition of their particular interest. This happens because their mind has long pursued one particular theme and found relationships between it and many other memories. Ideas which might simply be interesting but unconnected bits and pieces of information to other persons can become linked to the central theme of interest in an obsessed person’s mind. What once were dozens of discrete constructs can become one major Construct. This can change a fixated person’s whole outlook on life.
- There is an even higher cost to holding constructs: they are never accurate. The reality-depicting constructs that we hold in our minds are always incomplete, and therefore somewhat false representations of the real world outside. Our senses, our interpretations of what they are telling us, and the way we rebuild in our mind what we imagine exists in the external world, all distort the accuracy of the mental constructs we hold.
Plato believed the reverse. He taught that our minds can comprehend the ideal, and that the real world is only a poor representation of this absolute. In fact, our minds comprehend a (not-too-poor) representation of the true reality that exists outside of the mind. (Plato’s ideas gave rise to a science based upon religion and philosophy. This resulted in a millennium of science being used for little other than to “illustrate and interpret the scriptures.” See Middleton, The Scientific Revolution, 34.)
Interestingly, numerous scientists and mathematicians currently suspect that the basis to reality is mathematical and therefore abstract rather than concrete.
- This, naturally, reduces our ability to be creative. (See Creativity, Free Will, And A Revelation)