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Fractals, and the Workings of the Mind

The image on the right is generated from fractal patterns - patterns that repeat endlessly on an infinite number of scales.

Fractals are very interesting because many things in the world are built on fractal patterns. A mountain range, for example, can be constructed by adding triangles as shown in the picture below.

With fractals, vast complexity can be built from small beginnings - and this is a very good metaphor for the way the mind works.    

Although the mind has many original ideas and thoughts, sometimes it causes problems by making small things bigger than they should be, or by getting stuck in unhelpful thoughts. This part of the mind works like a fractal, endlessly adding to repeating patterns.

The world is big but it is only a tiny part of the universe and everything around us is constantly changing. If we really open up to the uncertainty and immensity that surrounds us it can be terrifying. Because of this, deeper parts of our mind protect the conscious parts by blocking out large amounts of information and this is done by filtering what is perceived so that what we experience agrees with our beliefs, attitudes and worldview. We can’t take everything in, and so we tend to only accept the things that will confirm what we already know.

The diagram below shows how the mind tends to filter perception and create events that confirm what is expected.

For example, here’s a common belief: “Anyone who does something that I don’t like on the road is a poor driver. Poor drivers are an irritation and a menace.”

Armed with this belief, I go out on the road. Sooner or later, someone is going to make some kind of driving error near me. I will perceive this as stupidity and a menace. My perception makes anger seem like an appropriate reaction. I react by giving the jerk the finger. He fingers me back and I continue to fume for a while. My belief that the road is full of poor drivers and that I need to be irritated while driving is confirmed.

However, my choice of seeing the driver as a menace and an irritation is totally dependent on my own way of seeing things. I could just as easily assume that he was having a difficult day, or had a moment of inattention, or was generally a very good driver but just missed something this time. I could also remember that I have made mistakes from time to time as well. This way of perceiving would also influence my reaction and the next events so that my beliefs would be confirmed.

In either of these two choices, my attitude and perspective are the most important parts of how I experience the events, how I feel, how I react, and the results that come along because of my choices.

This is just a small example (though anger at other drivers appears to almost be considered the “norm” of late). However, the same cycle works in many ways and many places. Click on the “World Views” tab in this section to read about how world views affect the way we interpret what happens around us. 

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