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PersonalityMental Networks

Modified July 2015

A mental network is a mental add-on that involves emotional memories. When Mercy thought encounters a number of related emotional experiences, then these memories will combine to function as a unit. The number of related emotional memories required to form a mental network depends upon the emotional intensity of these memories. For instance, a person may live in a house for months before there are sufficient related emotional memories to form a mental network, while a few exciting days at a beach resort, or a single traumatic car accident, may be sufficient to cause a mental network to form.

We could represent a mental network by a number of interconnected emotional dots, as shown in the diagram. When a mental network forms, then I suggest that a new type of emotion related to consistency and inconsistency emerges, which I call hyper-emotion. In simple terms, whatever is consistent with the structure of a mental network will lead to hyper-pleasure, while whatever is inconsistent with that structure will cause hyper-pain.

Mental Symmetry

Mental networks play a major role in the mind and the way that they function is not intuitively obvious. Therefore, we will take a few paragraphs to examine how they behave.

1) Emotions are internally generated: Emotion is strongly related to physical sensation, such as sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, or feeling red in the face. Because of this strong connection, we find it difficult to comprehend any emotion—or mental network—that is not associated with some physical sensation. For instance, it is easy to see how hearing about someone’s death could lead to the formation of a potent mental network, because death is the ultimate physical trauma. However, repetitive washing of hands will also lead to a strong mental network, if a person mentally adds sufficient emotional intensity to this action. This emotional intensity can be acquired through association. In the illustration at the beginning of the chapter, washing hands turned into a compulsion because this repeated action was mentally associated with a mother’s fear of harming her children. But, suppose that a person tries very hard to stop washing or goes to great lengths to hide his washing behavior from others. This type of emotional intensity can also lead to the formation of a mental network.

Similarly, a mental network is also internal. When a person feels driven to repeatedly wash his hands, the problem isn’t dirty hands. Instead, the real problem is that some mental network is holding his mind captive. The behavior of washing hands has turned into a mental network, and this mental network generates hyper-pain if a person does not act in a way that is consistent with the mental network, which means that if the person stops washing his hands then he will feel anxiety. This hyper-emotion of anxiety will lead to an Exhorter urge, which will continue until Exhorter thought eventually gets bored and moves on to something that is more exciting.

2) Mental networks must be triggered: A mental network will only drive thought and behavior if it is triggered. A mental network does not activate itself. Instead, it has to be triggered in some way, and this trigger is often some physical object or event. However, once one aspect of a mental network has been triggered, then the entire mental network will become activate.

It is possible to stop a mental network from being activated by ensuring that it is not triggered by anything in the environment. For instance, most American soldiers who took drugs in Vietnam during the Vietnam War stopped when they returned to America, because the physical environment of Vietnam was sufficiently different than the physical environment of America that the mental network of taking drugs was no longer triggered. Most of those who did continue taking drugs had either started taking drugs before they went to Vietnam, or else returned to the West Coast of the United States, where drugs were part of the local culture.

Because a mental network must be triggered in order to become activated, the tendency is to blame bad habits upon the external triggers that activate these bad habits. However, it is the mental network that produces the response, and the trigger merely activates the mental network. When triggers are viewed as the causes of habits, then the focus will be upon preventing a mental network from being triggered rather than upon changing the structure of mental networks. If a mental network is not triggered for a while, then this may give the impression that the habit has been broken, but the mental network remains intact under the surface and it will re-emerge if it is triggered.

For instance, in strict Muslim countries, women are expected burqas in public in order to prevent men from having ‘lustful thoughts’. Thus, women are blamed for triggering mental networks within the minds of men. But, seeing a woman does not cause lustful thoughts. Instead, lustful thoughts are being caused by mental networks within the minds of men, and these mental networks are being triggered by the sight of women. Looking at one Muslim country, a 2008 report done by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights concluded that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women experience sexual harassment in Egypt, telling us that mental networks involving lustful thoughts are present within the minds of Egyptian males. 54% of the Egyptian men interviewed in this report said that women were to blame for being sexually harassed because of their beauty or clothing, indicating a focus upon the trigger rather than the mental network. However, 73% of the women experienced harassment despite wearing conservative clothing and a veil, and even wearing a burqa did not make a woman immune from sexual harassment, indicating the futility of attempting to avoid triggering a mental network that is repeatedly being activated by the physical body.

3) A mental network requires consistent input: When a mental network is triggered, then it will expect input that is consistent with its structure. This is externally apparent when performing a ritual, because the structure of the underlying mental network is composed of a series of actions that can be viewed by other people. In contrast, the mental network that results from living in a house will typically consist of a juxtaposition of sights, sounds, expected sensations, objects, and memorable incidents. For instance, the house may feel wrong if the furnace stops working, because the expected sounds and vibrations of a functioning furnace are no longer present. Mercy thought, with its mental networks, will notice that something is strange, but figuring out exactly what is out of place may require the use of other cognitive modules. This explains why the Mercy person can enter a location and feel that something is wrong and yet be unable to come up with a logical reason for this response.

This concept of consistency is also apparent in the Egyptian report on sexual harassment. On the one hand, the report mentions that males often try to act in a way that is consistent with the image of a macho masculine figure, while on the other hand an Egyptian woman experiences harassment so often that this mistreatment becomes regarded within her mind as normal.

When a mental network experiences input that is inconsistent with its structure, then this will cause hyper-pain, which will lead to an Exhorter urge to replace this inconsistency with input which is consistent. If a mental network continues to receive inconsistent input, then this urge will grow stronger, and eventually the integrity of the mental network will become threatened. Think, for instance, of the individual who is addicted to smoking. As long as he regularly smokes cigarettes, he feels no anxiety. But, if he tries to go without smoking, then he will experience an urge to light up, and that urge will eventually turn into a craving. This craving is a sign that the underlying mental network is experiencing incompatible input and its structure is being threatened.

The basic premise of cognitive behavior therapy is that a habit can be broken if it is faced with inconsistent information for long enough. For the compulsive washer, this means going for several hours with dirty hands; for the arachnophobe, it means examining spiders and possibly handling them; for the individual suffering from panic attacks, it means deliberately trying to trigger panic attacks. Obviously, doing this will lead to great anxiety. But, eventually the level of anxiety will drop, telling us that the mental network is starting to crumble.

4) Hyper-emotion usually takes precedence over normal emotion: When a person has to choose between hyper-pain and normal pain, he will usually choose to suffer normal pain. This is especially obvious when a mental network is composed of painful memories. Think, for instance, of the abused spouse. Being in an abusive situation is painful. But, if a person experiences a pattern of abuse, then these related emotional memories will form a mental network, leaving the abused individual in an emotional predicament, because staying in the abusive situation will cause emotional pain, while leaving the abusive situation will cause hyper-pain. The end result is that the abused spouse will often return to an abusive situation because it is consistent with the structure of a mental network.

Hyper-pain takes longer to emerge than normal pain. Stubbing one’s toe, for instance, leads to an immediate sensation of pain, while the urge that emerges when one attempts to stop smoking grows over time. Thus, when a person leaves an abusive situation, there is an immediate sense of emotional relief which is gradually replaced by a growing sense of unease, and it is this growing unease which eventually leads the person back into the abusive situation.

This principle also applies to the typical Egyptian woman experiencing sexual harassment. If this treatment becomes regarded as normal, then removing the general atmosphere of harassment will actually lead to hyper-pain. The harassed individual may complain about the mistreatment—but will feel uneasy if the harassment ever stopped completely.

A similar principle can be seen in the treatment of obsessions and compulsions. The condition was originally thought to be untreatable because hyper-emotion was taking precedence over normal emotion, leading to the mistaken impression that hyper-pain had to be avoided at all costs. Cognitive behavior therapy, in contrast, changes mental networks by going through hyper-pain rather than avoiding it. Likewise, I suggest that today’s attitude of political correctness is caught in the same error, because it also assumes that mental networks must be preserved and hyper-pain must be avoided.

Applying this to the realm of politics, one implication is that democracy cannot be exported. If the dictator of a country is overthrown, then this may lead in the short term to emotional benefits, but in the long term this change will cause the citizens of that country to experience hyper-pain, motivating them them to turn their back on the imposed democracy and return to another form of dictatorship. If one truly wishes to replace dictatorship with democracy, then underlying mental networks must be altered. In other words, the democracy must be an expression of mental networks that exist within the minds of the local citizens.

5) Free will interacts with mental networks: I have suggested that emotion leads to desire which is followed by decision. If a mental network is fairly weak, then it is possible to use free will to suppress this mental network, especially if one is an Exhorter person who can use conscious thought to redirect urges or a Contributor person who has conscious control of the will. For instance, a Contributor person may decide one day that he will stop smoking and succeed in breaking a habit, whereas a Facilitator person may be able to observe and analyze his habits in great detail while finding himself powerless to change them.

Free will by itself is incapable of overcoming more potent mental networks. However, if there are conflicting mental networks, then it is possible to use free will to choose between them. Thus, if one wishes to change personality in a major way, then one must first set up a new alternative system of mental networks. One can then use free will to choose to follow the new set of mental networks instead of the old set.

6) Mental networks form an emotional hierarchy: Conflict between mental networks leads naturally to an emotional hierarchy of mental networks. Because a mental network looks for input that is consistent, when several mental networks are triggered, then each mental network will attempt to squeeze the other mental networks into its mold. The mental network with the strongest emotions will usually win and weaker mental networks will be forced to conform, though if the difference emotional strength is not too great, then it is possible to use free will to choose the weaker mental network, forcing the stronger mental network to conform.

7) There are two kinds of mental networks: A mental network forms from a collection of similar emotional memories. Both Mercy thought and Teacher thought function emotionally. Mercy thought attaches emotional labels to experiences. For instance, ice cream tastes good while cop liver oil taste bad. Teacher emotion comes from order-within-complexity. Teacher thought feels good when everything fits together smoothly, when a simple theory can be used to explain many situations, or when many elements or people function together in a smooth manner. In contrast, Teacher thought feels bad when an item is out of place, when there is an exception to the rule, or when a theory no longer succeeds in explaining situations. Teacher emotion could be a compared to a king and his subjects. A king without subjects is order without complexity. This does not generate strong Teacher emotions. A king with rebellious subjects is complexity without order, which leads to negative Teacher emotions. The most positive Teacher emotion comes when there are many subjects and they all submit to the king. Using a musical example, unison does not generate strong Teacher emotions because everyone is singing the same note. Cacophony is painful for Teacher thought because everyone is singing incompatible notes. Teacher emotion comes from harmony, when individuals are singing different notes that relate together in a unified way.

Mercy mental networks are composed of emotional experiences. When the mind encounters enough related emotional experiences, then these will form a mental network within Mercy thought. Teacher mental networks are composed of theories and words. When a person continues to use a certain theory or general plan, then this theory or plan will turn into a Teacher mental network. Understanding a theory leads to positive Teacher emotions, but there will be no strong mental drive to continue using this theory. However, once a theory turns into a Teacher mental network, then a person will feel emotionally driven to use this theory to explain a situation whenever the theory is triggered.

8) The mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people: This is related to what cognitive science calls the Agency Detector. A person emotes and behaves in a predictable manner. This means that experiences with a person will naturally form a Mercy mental network that is triggered by that person and predicts how that person will think and behave. The average person contains strong Mercy mental networks that represent mother and father, which were acquired in childhood through extensive emotional interaction with parents. Similarly, there are mercy mental networks that represent other authority figures, such as school teachers, clergy, or policemen. Because mental networks form an emotional hierarchy, it is natural for the mind to place authority figures in a social hierarchy based upon the relative status of the mental networks that represent these various figures.

Non-living objects, such as teddy bears, or invisible concepts, such as 'justice', will also lead to the formation of a Mercy mental networks, if they become mentally associated with a collection of similar emotional experiences. Thus, there is a natural tendency for the child to personify teddy bears and for the adult to think about 'Lady Justice'.

9) Most social interaction occurs within the minds of individuals as people trigger mental networks within each other's minds: For instance, when I interact with my spouse, then most of the interaction is occurring within my mind as the Mercy mental network within my mind that represents my spouse is predicting how that person will respond. This makes it possible for family members and close friends to communicate very efficiently, because the long history of emotional interaction has created a rich collection of mental networks. A raised eyebrow in one person may be sufficient to trigger a complete mental network in the other individual. Social interaction originally formed the mental networks, social interaction triggers existing mental networks, and ongoing social interaction updates these mental networks, so that they continue to accurately predict how the other person will respond. When a family member or close friend dies, then the mental network that represents that person continues to function and will continue to predict how that person will respond. However, there is now no longer a real person that corresponds to the mental network.

Because most social interaction is occurring within people's minds, it is possible to interact with disembodied voices or invisible people. For instance, one can interact with a total stranger over the phone. Even though one can only hear the voice of another person, mental networks will use clues from the words and tone of voice to fill in the blanks with a social context. Similarly, whether ghosts, spirits, and angels exist or not, the clues that a person receives from the environment may be sufficient to trigger mental networks and give the impression that social interaction is occurring with intelligent beings.

10) Culture is driven by common mental networks: When another person's mental networks are similar to my mental networks, then both of us will be driven by our mental networks to behave in a manner that is consistent with the mental networks of the other. As a result, we will find ourselves emotionally attracted to each other. The result is a common culture. Most of the Mercy mental networks of a culture are acquired in childhood. Conversely, people from different cultures will be driven by their mental networks to behave in ways that are incompatible. Each individual will naturally behave in a way that threatens the structure of the mental networks in the other person. As a result, we will find ourselves emotionally repelled from one another. Culture shock occurs when a person spends time in an environment that is driven by incompatible mental networks. Initially, Exhorter thought may find the novelty exciting, however there will eventually be a strong motivation to retreat to an environment that is more familiar.

11) A mental concept of God forms when a Teacher mental network applies to personal identity: People are finite beings that occupy specific locations. A general theory, in contrast, is not limited to any time or space. For instance, the theory of gravity exists everywhere, applies everywhere without exception, and is independent of both location and time. The mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people. If a sufficiently general theory turns into a Teacher mental network, then this will lead to the concept of a universal being who exists outside of space and time, who possesses universal characteristics that apply to every individual without exception. However, if the general theory does not include personal identity, as is the case with the theories of natural science, then a mental concept of God will not emerge. That is why I say that a mental concept of God forms when a Teacher mental network applies to personal identity.

12) Mental networks cause us to act as if real intelligent beings exist: We do not know for certain that other people exist. Instead, we can only observe the behavior and words of physical entities and use theory of mind guided by mental networks to guess that we are interacting with intelligent beings. If an inanimate object is represented by a mental network, then the tendency will be to interact with that object as if one is interacting with an intelligent being--whether this is valid or not. One sees this, for instance, in the child who plays with a doll. One can also see it in adults who treat objects such as computers and cars as if they are intelligent beings with likes and dislikes. Similarly, it is not possible to see God. Instead, all one can see is the existence of universal structure. When this universal structure is represented by a Teacher mental network, then the tendency will be to interact with this universal structure as if one is interacting with an intelligent universal being.

We go through life continually assuming that Mercy mental networks within our minds correspond with real people who actually exist. This social leap of faith is the same kind of leap of faith that a person takes when assuming that a Teacher mental network within his mind corresponds with a real God. Because one is continually taking social leaps of faith, it is possible to jump to mistaken conclusions. In the same way that a child can be fooled by the existence of a Mercy mental network to treat an inanimate object as if it is alive, so a person can be fooled by the existence of a Teacher mental network to believe in the existence of some God who is not actually there. Similarly, in the same way that Mercy mental networks can give inaccurate predictions of how other people think and behave, so a Teacher mental network can give an inaccurate prediction of the nature of God. However, these inherent limitations do not prevent us from believing that other people exist or from having social interaction. Instead, we try to minimize these problems by training mental networks to predict more accurately the existence and nature of other people. Similarly the inherent limitation of using a Teacher mental network to represent God should not prevent one from acting as if God exists or attempting to determine the nature of God, because one is dealing with the same kind of mental leap. Instead, one should try to minimize the problem by developing a Teacher mental network that can more accurately predict the existence and nature of a universal being.

13) A mental concept of God will struggle with personal identity for emotional dominance: Mental networks struggle for emotional dominance. The winning mental network will impose its structure upon the losing mental network. A concept of God will naturally lead to an internal struggle for dominance because it emerges when a general theory (which acquires emotional power by turning into a TMN) applies to personal identity ( which is represented by MMNs). If the mental networks of personal identity is more potent, then this will lead to a 'God in my image', a concept of deity whose character reflects and affirms the desires of personal identity. If the mental networks supporting understanding are more potent, then this will lead to the concept of a God who is different than personal identity, who sets the standards of behavior for personal identity.