Flashbacks: Patterns of the Past (reblog)

This is a reblog from a post on my new website. I thought you might like it

We’re surprisingly well adapted to find problems.

In essence our unconscious mind uses our senses to scan everything in our environment like a multi-level radar system. Our brain, which by the way is the most complex system known to science according to that keyboard-playing Professor Cox, is superb at identifying patterns. It matches them to past experience and projects them into potential futures. In the blink of an eye it decides whether we are safe & sound or whether to sound the alarm to keep us safe.

It is simply stunning.

But…

Sometimes the patterns it matches to are out of date, belonging to a you that is no longer here. Things that troubled you as a child are innocuous as an adult but we still feel the fear of speaking to strangers or talking to those we automatically see as authority figures. We respond to bosses as if they were teachers and we were children, either acquiescing quietly or becoming tongue-tied. Being called into the office is so like the walk to the headmaster’s room that we feel the same sense of trepidation and dread. (Or is that just me?)

Sometimes the pattern is more recent but the rawness of it resonates long after it ought to have past.

I got clobbered with one of these last week.

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PTSD, Anxiety, Stress

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Screeching brakes and Bradley. Fighting the tide.

It’s bugged me for a while now and I’m not sure whether it even really matters. Still, I thought I’d share it with you and you can decide whether I’ve got a point or whether I should just leave it alone and worry about something way more worthwhile. Which as it happens, I  am.

Over the years I’ve done my fair share of business miles from traffic-jam commute, country road grind or intercity motorway boredom, driving to earn a crust and keep the proverbial snarling canine from the door. And over those same years, I’ve become a relatively accomplished overtaker of slower traffic. After all, appointments need to be kept when you’re managing sales.

This might be as good a time as any to let you know that whilst being in front is key, safety is foremost and the driving licence remains clean to this day, just so as you know that I’m not some sort of road-hogging nutter who believes that all asphalt belongs to him. I’ve been a passenger with those that do and it makes for a few grey hairs, let me tell you.

Meanwhile back on topic so that we can march ever onwards to the keynote link towards the end of the post. It may just be my paranoia but why is it that the majority of cars that I overtake decide to speed up just whilst I’m sliding my carefully planned manoeuvre past them?

You see, I know I’m not imagining it because on occasion, being used to the phenomenon of accelerating overtakees, I’ve paced the car I’m overtaking both before and after to see what happens. Try it. What you’ll find is this. Most often, any car you overtake is travelling faster after you’ve passed it than it was before. Weird.

Whilst this usually makes no never-mind, other than the uttering of choice words as befits such incidents, there have been one or two memorable occasions when the rapidly oncoming articulated multi-wheeler tightened the old whatsits before I managed to dive back in front and regain road safety once again. There have even been a couple of times when anchors were slammed on and I had to squeal my smoking-tyred way back behind the once again decelerated car in front.

Surely they can’t all know that it’s me that’s behind them as they deliberately make my progress way more eventful than needs be? Therein lies the way of that aforesaid paranoid future, good track though it may be.

So what the hell is going on? As you would expect, I have a theory and it’s this.

Mirroring.

Most of the time, human perception is relativistic. We gauge what we’re doing, how we’re behaving, by whatever the local environment is and what it is that’s going on around us at the time.

Even in physics everything is relative. They have an entire theory built around it. Where you observe something from in your white-coated scientific manner, affects how and what you can measure and this affects how it appears and can even affect the properties the it that you’re observing may possess. Just ask Schrödinger’s cat, although in order to do so you’d have to open the box thereby resolving the conundrum that’s fixated physicists and philosophers for some time.

Think about it. (Your personal environment that is, not scientific felines). You behave differently depending on where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with and most importantly what the who you’re with is doing. Shoppers shop; sports fans get, well, fanatical; commuters switch off and commute; crowds have a mind if their own as each individual surrenders higher function to the greater mass of humanity.

And car drivers, sitting as they do in car-driver trance, drive relative to local environment which is, of course, the cars around them. And what’s the most local of the local environment? The car that’s right next to them, overtaking them. All of a sudden, their unconscious takes over and tries to maintain balance, to keep pace. Without even knowing, their car speeds up in an entirely un-intentioned attempt to preserve the local norm and annoy me.

Preserving the local norm is something we’re built to do, it’s a social thing. It belongs with any creature that lives in a structured society. It’s well known that it’s easier to persuade a crowd than a group of individuals. It’s no coincidence that most dictators were and are accomplished orators; or commanded armies of course, but that’s a minor digression and takes us neatly into the realm of how everyday people can function in life-and-death violence, turning heroics into someone who was just doing their job at the time, helping their mates survive, taking breathtakingly dangerous actions simply because that’s what needed to be done. It was normal at the time.

It’s where war crimes can get committed or condoned by the likes of you and me simply because at the time it seemed to fit in with the world of normality that is modern warfare. It’s why PTSD strikes after the event and rarely during it, sometimes weeks or months later when the local normality has returned to the relative quiet of the everyday and the true scope of what was experienced gets measured against peaceful existence and the ability to accept it as normal runs off the scale.

It is thought that flashbacks are the unconscious mind desperately trying to make sense of whatever was experienced by re-running bite-sized snapshots over and over again in an endless attempt to rationalise events into what is supposed to be normal life.

Occasionally someone stands firm and refuses to accept that what they see happening is actually acceptable. Geneva Conventions and International Law demand that oath and allegiance play second fiddle. Taking such a stand invariably risks life and freedom. After all, it can be a fine line between acceptable levels of violence and war-crime, often taking years of high-powered legal deliberation and political manoeuvring to finally reach a conclusion which the individual often had no choice but to take in a single moment.

Bear with me on this next bit. It’s challenging. You may well have an opinion and if so, it’s probably very firmly held, which I respect.

The latest headline hitter in the tightrope walking world that is whistle-blowing or ultimate treachery depending on your viewpoint, is Bradley Manning.

Such is the dilemma over his heroic stand or oath-breaching guilt, that even San Fransisco’s finest, the organisers of Gay Pride have found themselves in a media battle over whether they were right to refuse to accept this man as a figurehead for this year’s marching season.

Such is the dilemma that even whilst he’s subject to US military trial and facing life imprisonment, he’s got serious nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Whatever the truth, which for those who believe in the military justice system will eventually come to light some many months ahead, this young man saw something he absolutely disagreed with to such an extent that he risked his freedom to bring it to light. And if justice decides that he was wilfully aiding and abetting the enemy, he’ll probably never see freedom again.

Either way and whatever the truth is decided to be, this a classic example of how hard it is to swim the other way when the tide of your locality is washing full flow in a direction you absolutely don’t want to go. Most of us don’t have the strength of will to challenge the norm. Perceived wisdom wins the day. Fortunately, the vast majority of us never have to make such momentous decisions, although once in a while it may just feel that way.

Sometimes the local environment we’re struggling against is the one we’ve built up inside our own heads. Our own battlefield is sat squarely in our unconscious. After all, everything that’s going on out there in Reality-land, (unless you want to get all existential about it), simply boils down to electrical signals interpreted by your brain, to quote Morpheus.

Sometimes the tide you’re trying find the strength to resist and navigate is the emotional confusion thrown up and consolidated by your own life-experiences, whether consciously remembered or not.

Sometimes there’s no way around it, through it, not matter how hard you try. The tide streaming through your personal reality tunnel is just too strong.

Sometimes, you need someone who can read the currents, teach you how to navigate the sand bars in this stretch of your river.

Sometimes you need a guide. There really are people out there who can help.

I hope I’m one of them.

time and tide © Tony Burkinshaw 2013

time and tide
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013