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Emotional Blocks as Obstacles to Learning (acesounderglass.com)
204 points by luu 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

> I believe trauma instills scientific-type knowledge that is factually false but locally adaptive. False beliefs need more protection to be maintained than true beliefs, so the belief both calcifies, making it unresponsive to new information, and lays a bunch of emotional landmines around itself to punish you for getting too close to it. This cascades into punishing you for learning at all, because you might learn something that corrects your false-but-useful model.

This sounds pretty deep. I immediately remembered other people who I suspect had such false-but-useful beliefs. How to identify areas of false beliefs in yourself?

There’s actually a proposed scientific model for this system of beliefs called Relaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS): http://pharmrev.aspetjournals.org/content/71/3/316 In Buddhism we just call these beliefs “conditioning”.

Good therapy can be a great method for finding and exploring these limiting beliefs. In Hakomi therapy in particular you relax the mind to a sensitive level using mindfulness (open attention to present moment) and then run experiments seeing the subtle ways your body and mind react to situations habitually. For example after hearing you talk about your life and problems the therapist might think of a probe like “You’re safe here” and the person notices their reactions to this probe — maybe their jaw tightens. Those reactions are indications of beliefs and associated memories. Through the process of therapy these implicit beliefs become apparent which is often very emotional and when fully integrated results in greater freedom. More on Hakomi here: https://hakomi.com/history

Friston has a paper on free energy and psychedelics? Huh. Funny guy.

Thanks for the link to hakomi therapy. The technique seems powerful and I see similar elements in different schools of therapy: If you’re in mindfulness and I say, “Dogs are friendly” and you react with fear and disbelief, there’s no question about what model you’re holding. As soon as you’re in touch with those beliefs and those emotions, clear memories are likely to follow. And when memories are present, explanations aren’t needed. Even more important, when beliefs are conscious, doubt becomes possible. Change becomes possible. The key thing is to get the connection between the beliefs and the experiences.

I don't particularly like the eastern philosophy backstory, though. Lots of therapies have silly backstories.

Your blog is terrific, by the way.

If the proposal is true, looking at places where you have strong emotional reactions would be a place to start.

Next time you find yourself getting angry over some group's wrong thinking, make note of it for later review. Sit down and figure out why you got angry about it, and honestly consider whether it shows a spot in your psyche where such an idea may have taken hold.

A strong reaction is not an indicator that an idea is necessarily wrong, obviously - just a place where your strong emotions could be clouding your judgement, if you haven't learned how to process your emotions and understand where they're coming from (that sounds easy but at least for me it has been surprisingly difficult).

That's so not true and obviously complete bullocks! ;)

Joke aside: great insight. I am actually going to try this. btw: there is also a case to be made where your strong emotions over others' wrong thinking protect you from doing stupid things (again).

CBT, somatic psychotherapy and mindfulness are all modalities that ask you to see things as they really are, so that you can break through false beliefs. Somatic psychotherapy is interesting in that it allows you to find the physical armoring that is a manifestation of the protections and anxieties that one develops because of trauma. Each alone, or in combination, may be beneficial. And the work of Gabor Mate is also worth exploring, especially with respect to early childhood traumas and the concept of reframing.

Very nice to see a mention of somatic psychotherapy here on HN. Are you referring to the body of work that includes Alexander Lowen? (His books on Amazon are phenomenally interesting to anyone who’s interested in checking out more)

I wouldn't include/exclude anything related... I did some graduate work in a somatic psychotherapy program for students intending to go into clinical settings, or therapy practices.

That said, the friendliest way to get started in reading about this field would be Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky.

There's also a significant body of work related to somatics and those suffering from PTSD. "Somatic psychotherapy" is a way of healing the mind through the body -- we live in embodied experiences, and working with the body is a great way of unlocking the way we live with our thoughts, feelings, responses, reactions, experiences, etc. If you wanted to "do the work" and dive into what you think (and why), the body shouldn't be ignored.

> How to identify areas of false beliefs in yourself?

I don't know how to answer this question in general, but as a teaching assistant I thought about this in relation to the classroom. Obviously as I teacher I wanted students to be able to identify false mathematical beliefs.

I ended up performing an experiment based on this paper: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

First I asked the students to rate how much they agree with a set of statements like: world hunger is a serious problem that needs attention.

Then I asked how frequently they perform such actions, such as: do you personally do anything to lessen world hunger?

I didn't prepare them for the experiment very well and it went pretty awkwardly... I wish I would have tried it more than once.

The idea is to get people familiar with the feeling of dissonance or discomfort. Because the human brain is supremely lazy and has all sorts of tricks for suppressing dissonance, how would you navigate your social interactions otherwise?

In the classroom you have the additional problem even if you think you don't understand something you don't want to admit that in front of your peers.

False-but-defensive beliefs as a result of traumatic experiences? This is the entire subject of "therapy", especially sub-areas like "cognitive behavioural therapy".

Interesting. If I'm in distress as a result of some event that would obviously make a reasonable person feel distress, I don't think I'd make the leap to "my brain needs healthcare." I think of therapy as debugging thoughts and emotions that have come unglued from reality, or where the intensity has spun out of control and taken on a life of its own.

it is the nature of thought to be entirely unglued from reality.

any experience which takes place while in a state of identification will leave behind psychological imprints.

and ultimately all psychological imprints veil us from our true nature.

There is no need to try and identify false beliefs because at some point, you'll finally ask 'what is false?' and then you'll reach a satori of sorts - beliefs are not binary (true/false), they're a gradient along the axis of usefulness, if you believe in evolution.

Coherence therapy is a pretty concise approach: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17054323-unlocking-the-e...

Internal family systems is a more elaborate, but thorough approach: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6969927-self-therapy

I think it comes down to get past your emotions primarily and secondarily you need some internal mechanism of curiosity and critical thinking.

By mechanism I mean a habit, which is something you practice deliberately until it becomes automatic. And then you keep practicing still.

Of course you already knew that, but It helps to remind ourselves, because that is in of itself the very practice I tried to describe.

> I kind of have two modes when reading: too credulous, looking for reasons a work could be true, and too antagonistic, looking for reasons to not only disagree, but dismiss entirely.

This sounds like what I read in "The Righteous Mind" which has stuck with me since then.

First, a little background: You have an emotional response to something first, in the deep parts of your brain, and then you come up with a rational explanation for it from that after the fact. I've run across that concept in multiple books (but I don't have a systematic method of determining which books are true like the author of this blog; it's the first time I've heard of doing that so systematically!).

How that works out in practice: When you are evaluating something you believe to be true, you look for a fact to back you up. That is, "can I believe this is true?" When you are evaluating something you are emotionally against, you think "MUST I believe this is true?" Every fact must dispute what you believed before you change your mind. If there is a shred of doubt, you will stick to the side that is emotionally appealing to you.

Once you're aware of this dynamic, you can see in everywhere (including, disturbingly, yourself). Which I think is what the author is talking about, seeing she is doing that.

The telltale sign that you are thinking critically and non-emotionally, is that feeling of discomfort you get.

Life starts outside your comfort zone.

> I believe trauma instills scientific-type knowledge that is factually false but locally adaptive.

One has to step back and recognize that the author separates knowledge into 'trivial' (information needed to pass a test), 'engineering' (how to drive a car) and 'scientific' (math, physics, science).

This is a way of categorizing knowledge along the usefulness/utility axis and is problematic in many ways but let's leave that aside.

> False beliefs need more protection to be maintained than true beliefs, so the belief both calcifies, making it unresponsive to new information, and lays a bunch of emotional landmines around itself to punish you for getting too close to it.

This 'narrative-weaving' is a good first step but the next step has to be to run it through various test cases to see if it holds up.

I don't think it does on many levels but let's take one - what constitutes a false belief vs a true belief and who decides a belief is false and that it needs calcification and landmines to protect it?

A 'true' belief can just as easily be surrounded by emotional landmines - for example someone who had been abused as a child can have all kinds of defense mechanisms to prevent that situation from repeating itself. Or is that a 'false' belief because most people are not out to abuse him/her? Does a belief morph from being true to being false, depending on your surroundings? For example the child needed the defenses in an abusive household but is then adopted by a loving family, does that change the belief from being true to being false somehow?

This nilly-willy use of language to me, is indicative of absence of training in philosophy, where you can't just say things, because people have been saying things for 2500+ years and most weak arguments have already been debunked from multiple angles.

"False beliefs need more protection to be maintained than true beliefs, so the belief both calcifies, making it unresponsive to new information, and lays a bunch of emotional landmines around itself to punish you for getting too close to it."

That sounds like the quote at the beginning of Chernobyl (HBO miniseries). "The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all."

The idea that trauma causes emotional bariers that discourage learning is intriguing.

It could explain why older people tend to be more stuck in their ways. They're more likely to have experienced traumatic events, just by virtue of having lived longer.

This might be a related area of research:


As a personal anecdote, I am solidly middle-aged, and feel strongly that past & current negative experiences increasingly hedge me in if I don't actively fight against it. In many ways I've never fully recovered from some semi-disastrous events in my late teen years. Just getting through the essential drudgery of the day leaves me drained of all ambition to advance my position. The gas runs out and I stop caring before I can push through the frustration & uncertainty of a side project to get anywhere. And there's always more drudgery howling at the door. I seriously doubt I'm alone in this.

By the same logic, it seems pretty reasonable that any useful belief would become similarly protected.

As a belief proves its usefulness over time, why would it not become more deeply embedded and protected? Even if it does not require more defenses to be maintained (like the wrong-but-useful belief in the post), a long-held belief should have proven itself useful enough to form defenses around itself.

I think it's worth noting that old people tend to be both stuck in their ways, and frequent victims of scams. Maybe critical thinking declines when you have 80 years of experience to back up your belief system.

I wonder if social media, which bombards us with scenes of violence pretty regularly has a mass effect on the general population?

I don't completely believe in the "truth" in that quite a bit is unknowable or lost in the fog of conflict (a.k.a. war).

For instance in 2002 I witnessed a man in an Orangemen jacket punch a hippie outside a television studio and wrote about it on my blog. That got the attention of many of the organizations involved, all of which denied that they knew anything about the incident -- which may have been true. As an adult any time I have had anything to do with a fight (e.g. witness, participant) the people involved told very different stories about what happened.

I volunteered at a mediation center which frequently handled parenting plans for people who were separated or divorced. It was inevitable that the stories we heard were not coherent and that some of the people were wrong if not "lying" (which is a strong accusation.) We were not concerned about putting together the "true history" that a court might attempt to make, but rather give the parties a chance to work out what they want now and in the future.



This happens even up to the national level, where controversial scientific results are buried rather than refuted. It's generally enough that it threatens the status quo in some way:

- Tobacco is harmful to you. Immediate backlash from a huge industry.

- Intelligence is evenly distributed across various arbitrary groups of people. Rejected by bigots, racists, etc.

- Our "scientific" measures of intelligence are strongly biased towards our own culture.

There are also questions like why has a particular book been written?

You might be interested in watching this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-2P3MSZrBM

If watching this isn't worth anyone's time, I'm not sure what would be.

Sorry, I don't go watch random Youtube videos with no other information than "it will be worth your time". Mind telling us what the video is about, and maybe even why it will be worth our time?

This sounds pretty rude FYI, I actually ended up asking effectively the same thing, you can look at my comment to see an example of how to phrase it more politely

I didn't find it rude at all. The comment that presented the link was pure click-bait. I prefer it when a brief explanation accompanies a link, especially when the link points to a 3 hour long video, as in this case. The YouTube teaser says "explores the workings of the human mind, intelligence, consciousness, life on Earth, and the possibly-simulated fabric of our universe". I certainly agree that the topic sounds interesting.

If the topic sounds interesting it‘s not click bait, it’s a good link that OP went of their way to share, we’re not entitled to anything

I didn't know anything about the topic before I clicked the link. Nothing in the comment that introduced the link revealed anything about the topic. And I only clicked the link because I was intrigued by the discussion here about rudeness. I was not motivated to click by the suggestion that watching would be worth my time (without any further details). That I found the topic interesting-sounding came after I swallowed the bait and clicked. Such things happen sometimes. And I still don't know if it actually is interesting, I won't actually know until I have set aside 3 hours to watch the video.

Well... I consider that posting a bare link with no description to be rude. The poster doesn't take the time to tell us anything (or, in this case, anything useful), while expecting us to take the time to go find out what it is. But there's one poster and maybe thousands of readers. To waste thousands of peoples' time to save your own is... let's say it's not very polite.

So, coming from that perspective, I am inclined to respond, um, less politely than you did. But I suppose than dang would encourage me to be better than the person I'm replying to, rather than just like them...

Lol you’re not being a better person when you add a passive aggressive paragraph at the end but it’s all good, we’re on the Internet after all

And OP went out of his or her way to post that link I don’t think any of us are entitled to a summary or whatever

Wow the comments are giving this video really high praise. I’ve added it to my to watch later list. What did you find interesting in this video? Even after reading the comments I still am not quite sure what they go over in the video

I could never learn to play golf even average, and eventually I concluded that it was an emotional block for me. My hcp was about 24. I was emotionally not happy when playing, had negative thoughts about things outside of golf while playing. My body did not want to be there. Eventually I concluded that I will never get any good if my emotions are not collaborating. I abandoned it and that was a wise thing to do.

The worst thing about false beliefs is that they are easily transmitted to others, especially to children.

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