The Gift of the "Shh" Tract
As one goes through life, he learns to see things in a certain way. He sees himself in a certain perspective and he makes his plans based on that.
Then, again and again, forever, without or even contrary to his intention, perhaps suddenly and without warning, the "rules" change on him. Everything changes.
This is the gift of the "Shh" Tract.
HOW TO LEARN THINGS YOUR MIND “ISN’T CUT OUT FOR!”
(Demonstrating to the adventurous observer that:
1) Cognition is always UNCONSCIOUS; and
2) Cognition is always INSTANTANEOUS
If there is some subject which you have always wanted to know about but believe your brain just wasn’t set up to be able to absorb; if you think you just don’t have the necessary talent or gifts; if you have totally given up and are certain that there is not enough time left in your life for you to attempt it; then that is the subject on which I hope you will try the following experiment for just a few minutes a day!
It will change your mind!
Having selected your subject matter, you should collect a large number of books about it. They should not be easy or introductory-type books. They should be the most comprehensive and thorough books you can find. Regardless of whether the book is the most simple or the most rigorous, the same level of effort is required to process it: None. A hundred books wouldn’t be too many!
Also, collect a book or two each on many other topics that interest you. Ideally, these should also be on topics which you know for certain you will never have time to study!
If you will spend thirty minutes a day with all these books, applying the procedure described below, you will become absolutely certain that you are really learning each one of these subjects. You will become totally absorbed and fascinated by each of them, and look forward eagerly to this daily exercise as the high point of your day.
The best time is first thing in the morning, with the help of a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee. Be sure to eat something first: any level of hunger will impede you.
Hold one of your books with the last three fingers of your left hand, and turn the pages rapidly with your left index finger and thumb. Keep your eyes directed approximately at the lower left of the right-hand page.
After maybe twenty pages, put the book aside and pick up another. A book on the target subject matter should not come up more often than every other book. You should have perhaps ten books going at any one time.
You must stop yourself from recognizing anything on the page. This amounts to: keeping yourself from hearing the words in your mind. The best way to stop yourself from hearing the words is to say “Shh!” to yourself out loud. It may help to blink a couple f times a second. It may help to give your head a very slight jerk back and forth, or to squint a little bit--anything to stop the sounds from coming into your mind.
To get in the right “frame of mind”, try the following: Imagine that you have been reading and you decide you want to go back and make a note of something you saw many pages ago, and you go back and page through the book in an unfocused way, hoping the item will pop into your head without you having to re-read every word. Or suppose you have dropped something tiny on the floor and are looking for it in an unfocused way. Or imagine how you feel when you want to “look around” wordlessly for some idea in the “back of your mind”, and you have put your fingers on your lips (or on your face near your lips) (a la “The Thinker”).
That unfocused frame of mind is what you need to duplicate now. It is very important that you do not NEED to learn the target material for school or work, and that you do not expect to have to explain it to anyone else. It must be just between you, by yourself at home for a few minutes a day, and the books. Ideally, no one else will even know you are doing this. You will quickly realize that something is happening in “the back of your mind”, something over which you have no control whatever.
When you come to the end of a book, set it aside and pick up another in its place. You should not go back to a book you have finished until one day--soon--you feel an unmistakable eagerness when you see it. You will know when. If you go back too soon it will be that much harder to keep the sounds out of your mind. When you do go back, you must be able to look at the material as if for the first time--as if it is totally new to you--without having to work to hard to suppress the sounds. It may be a few days or it may be a couple of months. You will know. You will feel a NEED to go through the book again!
You must never feel that you have any control whatever over what is happening in your brain, or that you have any way of remembering what you have read.
You must also feel that whatever is happening is INSTANTANEOUS. I believe that in doing this you are accessing a discreet brain tract--the primordial and sole “cognitive” tract. I call it the “Shh Tract”.
Because this is the one and only cognitive tract, it processes all modes of information in exactly the same way. It processes percepts of all other things in the “outside world” exactly the same way as words on a page. It processes sounds such as music in exactly the same way. Perhaps you have played a particular piece of music for years without ever learning it! Try to NOT RECOGNIZE the written not or the sound. Say "Shh!"
Unfortunately, all you get right away is the impression that something is going on in your brain. Later, you will realize that you really have made progress in learning whatever it is. But all learning by means of the "Shh Tract" is UNCONSCIOUS!
1. WHAT IS "COGNITION?"
Cognition is your personal relationship with reality” Cognition builds some structure in the “back of your mind” through which you perceive and understand the “outside world”. Cognition gives you your true understanding of the world--what you really “know” as distinguished from what you only believe.
You can’t control what the outside world is. Cognition must be, and is, completely unconscious.
Perhaps you are wondering, what will be the end result of all your reading by the method described below.
At whatever stage you have arrived in the process of examining the some knowedge "in the back of your mind" and learning to communicate it, that knowledge will be more "real" to you. It will be part of reality as you know it. It will not just be "something so-and-so said".
The target subject will definitely not be "Greek to you" anymore. In fact, you will be full of joy whenever you encounter it.
First, remember that what you are working with, the Conceptual Structure, is not stored by means of words. It is some kind of representation of reality. So the end result of allowing the Conceptual Structure to build up will not be something that is readily available to you in words. The end result will be that you have changed and quite likely will not know how you have changed. It may take you years to figure that out. You will indeed have more knowledge, But you will not be able to spout it as you would if you had memorized part of a textbook.
As time goes on, you will realize that you really do have some kind of understanding of the target subject, although you will be faced with the chore of putting what you know into words. On the other hand, when you encounter someone who does know how to put the subject into words, you will be full of bright curiosity and eagerness to relate what that person is saying whatever it is that you understand "in the back of your mind". You will probably be a "quick study".
PART 1 - How to Effortlessly Learn Everything Your Brain Just Isn't Cut Out For
How to Make Things Change in the "Back of Your Mind"
If there is some subject which you have always wanted to know about but believed your brain just wasn't set up to be able to absorb; if you thought you just didn't have the talent of the gift or any natural ability to understand that subject; if you have totally given up and are sure that there is not time enough left in your life for you to attempt it; then that is the subject on which I hope you will try out the following experiment for just a few minutes a day.
You will change your mind.
For reasons which will be explained in Part 2 of this essay, in order to use my method you must have completely given up all hope of acquiring the knowledge you want by "normal" methods of study. You must understand that you will never be able to acquire it in the ways you have acquired knowledge of subjects you know already. If you are not sure of this, you will not even be able to give this method a try.
Having selected a subject matter as described above, you should collect a number of books about it. They should not be easy or introductory-type books. They should be the most comprehensive and thorough books you can find. Using this method, no book is harder to read than any other. Regardless of whether the book is the most simple or the most thorough and rigorous, the same level of effort is required to process it: None. In fact, simple books may actually be more difficult to process.
Acquire as many books you can on the selected subject (30 or 40 wouldn't be too many).
Also, collect a book or two on many other topics which interest you, to a total equal to the books you have on the target subject. Hopefully, these too will be on topics which you know for certain you will never have time to study.
If you will spend thirty minutes a day with all these books, applying my method, you will soon become certain that you are really making progress learning every one of these subjects. You will become totally absorbed and fascinated by all of them and look forward eagerly to this little daily exercise as the highpoint of your day. And you will have wonderful insights into many things as you are doing it, even into things seemingly unrelated to the books you are studying.
The best time is first thing in the morning, with the help of a good night's sleep and a cup of coffee. Be sure to eat something first; any level of hunger will impede you.
To get into the right frame of mind, do the following: Imagine that you have been reading and you decide you want to go back and make a note of something you saw many pages ago, and you go back and page through the book in an UNFOCUSED way, hoping the item will pop into your head without you having to re-read every word. Or suppose you have dropped something tiny on the floor and are looking for it in an UNFOCUSED way. That unfocused frame of mind is what you now need to get into. Better yet, imagine how you feel when you want to think about something and to help yourself you have put your fingers on your lips or on your face near your lips (a la "The Thinker") and you search (wordlessly) for some idea in the "back of your mind".
You may get the impression that your eyes are widening.
Hold one of your books with the last three fingers of your left hand, and turn the pages rapidly with your left index finger and thumb.
Keep your eyes directed approximately at the lower left of the right-hand page (actually, you will see the left-hand page too—as much as is not covered by your left hand. You will even find yourself distracted by material on the covers of books a foot or two away.)
After maybe twenty pages, put the book aside and pick up another. A book on the target subject matter should not come up more often than every other book. You might have ten or so books going at any one time.
This is where the procedure becomes a bit incredible.
Try to keep yourself from recognizing anything on the page. The simpler the book, the harder you will have to fight to do this. (The harder you have to fight, the faster you should turn the pages).
You must not pronounce any of the words to yourself in your mind. There is a difference between "pronouncing" the words to yourself in your mind and "hearing" the words in your mind. When you read in the "normal" way you pronounce each word to yourself. Reading in this new way, you should try to not even "hear" the words. The best way to prevent yourself from hearing the words is to say "Shh." to yourself aloud. Usually, regardless of all your efforts you will hear a word or two on each page anyway.
It may help you to intentionally blink a couple of times a second. It may help to give your head a very slight jerk back and forth, anything to stop the sounds from getting into your mind.
It is important to make sure that whever is happening in your mind happens instantaneously. You will come to realize that it must happen instantaneously for any change to occur.
If you feel that it is not happening instantaneously, do whatever you have to do, such as turning the pages faster, until you feel it is instantaneous.
The impression of reading in this new way is similar to that of being in a dream or a trance. "Breaking out" of this "trance" takes a noticeable bit of time. At any level of "breaking out", whatever is happening in your mind will no longer be instantaneous.
You must completely give yourself to the thing that is happening in the "trance". I think this thing is what is called "cognition". Any level of "breaking out" completely disables this process. You have to constantly fight the desire to "break out" in order to remember a particular idea. However, the slightest effort to do so is completely counter-productive.
You will be surprised when after a short time you somehow come to be certain that you have seen and processed a lot of the material which you have not consciously even seen or recognized.
Obviously, since you do not even recognize the things on the page, you will not be doing the work involved in normal reading, the work of trying to understand and grasp the meaning of the words. The only effort you should have to make with even the most difficult books on any subject is the effort of making yourself not recognize the words.
You may come to think of this process in terms of moving back and forth to what seems to be the "parietal" areas of your head. The sensation of the interaction with these outside areas will become very clear. What you must do is avoid moving the activity into the parietal areas.
All this may be incredible to you at this moment. However, remember that you have already accepted that you will never be able to grasp the target subject matter in any other way. So why not try this? What do you have to lose? If you give this just a little time and effort, you will come to know something new about your mind.
It is very important that you do not need to learn the target material for school or work; that you do not expect or need to explain it to anyone else. It must be just between you, by yourself at home for a few minutes a day, and the books. It would be good if no one else even knew you were trying this.
For reasons which will be explained in Part 2, this is the only way you will be able to use this method. It must be just you, by yourself. Just you and the target subject.
Once you have come to the end of one of the books, set it aside and pick up another in its place. You should not go back to a book you have finished until one day—soon.—you feel an unmistakable eagerness when you see it. You will know when. If you go back too soon it will be that much harder to keep the sounds out of your mind. When you do go back you should be able to look at the material as if it were totally new to you, without working too hard to suppress the sounds.
It may be a few days or it may be a couple of months. You will know. You will feel a need to go through that book again.
Suppose you are trying to learn the sounds of another language by listening to a recording. The Chinese have a system of writing their language in a form that looks like English ("pin yin"). One Chinese word rendered in this system is "ren". But this "English" word is only an approximation. This word and the sound which it evokes in the mind of an English speaker is not the sound to which you are listening. That sound is ITSELF. To hear the actual sound and learn it, you need to STOP yourself from hearing or seeing the (English) word "ren". If you try to USE this word to grasp or remember the actual Chinese sound, you only prevent yourself from hearing it, grasping it, and integrating THE THING ITSELF into your knowledge.
This illustrates what you must now do with my method of reading. Except that in this case the thing you are learning about is a concept, rather than a mere sound. You must stop yourself from saying the sound of any word in your mind or from consciously doing anything else which you feel might possibly allow you to remember the concept. Remember that the word is not the thing. If you try to use the word to remember the thing, you simply will not grasp the thing and integrate it into your knowledge. Of course the word can consciously evoke meaning. But it is only the meaning which you have previously learned to associate with the word. The act of consciously using the word to elicit the idea and hold it in your mind actually prevents the idea itself from changing and developing. It holds your existing concept in place. Somehow the word can evoke the concept in a way that allows it to change, if you don't need to remember the word.
So the key is this: You must not feel that you have any control over the ideas evoked by the words you are reading. You must feel that you don't have any way of remembering the ideas. If you do, you will simply not be processing them. They will remain just as "hard" as they always were, but only because you are making them hard.
When I said "Try to keep yourself from recognizing anything on the page," that is the same thing as keeping yourself from having any conscious ability to remember what you are seeing.
"Gifted" children are simply those who are fascinated with the thing itself without feeling a need to remember their ideas and keep them available to communicate to other people.
When we learn language, we learn to associate words with something. What you are dealing with when you read words by this new method is not the words but the thing itself. The words are associated with the thing as it was formed in your mind in the past. This formation must now be released and allowed to change.
The second or third or ninth time you read a certain book, you will have a definite feeling that surprisingly, you do know something about the material. However, you must never try to hold onto whatever you feel that you know. You must try to see it again and again "with new eyes".
That will get harder and harder. No matter how many times you have looked at the material, what you must do is the same: You must try to prevent yourself from recognizing anything that is on the page. That basic rule never changes.
The more you feel you have learned about the material, the more you will have the definite impression that in the act of preventing yourself from recognizing the words on the page you are actually wiping away or destroying your knowledge.
This impression takes some getting used to.
Of course, there are many concepts in any book that you pick up that you know already. But every concept, no matter how well you know it, must get the same treatment. You must allow them all to be wiped away. Every concept, no matter how simple it is, even the title of the book and the titles of all the chapters, must be allowed to be wiped away. This is difficult. It really is even frightening. However, the very clear impression that your knowledge is being wiped away is really only an illusion, as explained in Part 2. There is a simple explanation for it. Nothing is really wiped away. Nothing is destroyed.
The process is actually harder the "easier" the material, because it is harder for you to ignore or suppress your existing knowledge of the material. You will have to deal with this problem by turning the pages even faster, and saying "Shh" to your self louder.
Some books are hard to read fast because the pages are very thin. "Fingertip moistener," sold in stationery stores, works well for this problem. Of course, wetting your finger tips is just as good.
As time goes on you will discover that you can apply this method to other types of learning besides reading from the printed word. For example, if you are able to read music, you should try it with a musical piece. "Shh" yourself and try first to prevent yourself from recognizing anything that is on the page; suppress your ability to recognize the patterns, notes and chords in the particular piece.
(Surprisingly, you will find that despite not consciously recognizing the notes, you will still be able to play from the music, just as words on page of a book still evoke their meaning even if you force yourself not to consciously recognize them. You are really only suppressing one kind of conscious knowledge. The knowledge "in the back of your mind," which is not stored by means of sounds, but forms the world as you know it, cannot be suppressed.)
In addition, try not to consciously recognize the sounds of the notes as you play them. (Say "Shh" to yourself.)
To those of you who are "gifted" in music performance, isn't this the way you learn?
It is certainly possible for the "ungifted" to focus all of their conscious knowledge, acquired from years of study, on a piece of music, and play it over and and over a hundred times, and still not know it.
Another way of describing my method is "seeing the thing with new eyes". By suppressing the words (or the notes) you will find that you are suppressing the means you have acquired of describing the thing to someone else. This is something you need to practice continually. You must get the sounds out of your mind and see the thing in a state of mental silence. You must learn to look at the words as if you had never seen them before, although in reality you have seen them many thousands of times. You will find that you do have this interesting ability. (Question: Why do you have the ability to do this?)
For some reason, you will find that you get many interesting insights into the material as you go along, despite suppressing your knowledge—many more insights than if you had consciously "focused" all your knowledge on it by reading in the normal way and saying the words to yourself. These insights may occur to you suddenly while you are reading or may perhaps only reveal themselves little by little as time goes on. They will not be in a form neatly packaged for you by someone else and ready for you to repeat to other people. But somehow they will have become permanently stored in the "back of your mind". As time goes on, you will get the feeling that the material in the books you have read is somehow organizing itself in your mind without any help from you. Part of the feeling of being ready to read a particular book again is the feeling that whatever you got out of it the last time has finished being organized. How it has been organized will be unknown to you for some time, But you will definitely feel that the material has now on some level become a part of what you see when you look silently and wordlessly out at the world.
How many times you will want to read a particular book is impossible to say, except it will be many times, and every time you will learn from it.
Finally, don't forget, when you started it was stipulated that the material you are reading was absolutely beyond your ability to grasp, now or ever. It was irremediably closed to you. But now you are brightly and eagerly thinking about that same subject matter, every day, with no effort other than to keep yourself in a certain frame of mind.
How could this be?
Now no book is too hard for you. Your mind will organize any book, over given enough time. Reading is now effortless. You process the things in any book to the degree you are ready to do so—with magical quickness. It is clear to you that on some level you are building up your knowledge. Your daily half hour of reading is filled with wonderful insights.
It is as if you are experiencing not the particular author's concepts, but rather, the thing itself.
Finding The "SHH" Tract - How Brain Scanning Might Be Able to Locate "Concepts"
There is a physical structure in the brain which represents the world in the form of "concepts".
(Perhaps we can assume that concepts are precepts or other less abstract concepts united among themselves and also distinguished from all other concepts by means of a "conceptual common denominator", as described by Ayn Rand in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology).
Concepts and conceptual common denominators are physical structures which are subject to change.
There is a discrete neural learning tract associated with this Conceptual Structure. Only by means of the use of this tract can the Conceptual Structure be modified and expanded.
1. Why I Believe This
We think of a lot of our knowledge as "automatized". This is not just knowledge that has been acquired by doing something again and again. What we really mean is that this knowledge has somehow been built into our brains. This knowledge is "real" to us. We act on it without hesitation. It is the world as we know it. It is not stored by means of words. If we want to put it into words, we look in the "back of your minds" and try to call up words to describe the wordless knowledge which is stored there.
The thing we try to identify when we try to describe something we know is the "conceptual common denominator" of the concept. The whole body of knowledge which exists in the "back of our mind" I refer to as our Conceptual Structure.
How does this knowledge get where it is? I don't think anyone really believes it somehow just gets ingrained in the brain through repetition. The answer to this great mystery, why some things are "real" to us and others are not, and how the Conceptual Structure is formed and how it can be changed, is something that will become clear to you as you experiment with the reading method described in Part 1.
All one's real knowledge, in all levels of abstraction, is stored in the Conceptual Structure. However, a kind of knowledge can also be stored by means of language, instead of by actually modifying the Conceptual Structure itself. This knowledge too obviously must make use of one's existing Conceptual Structure. But is not really a part of the world as we know it. It is not "automatized." Unless a discrete neural learning tract, which I call the "Shh" Tract, has been used to acquire the knowledge, the Conceptual Structure will not have been modified. If pressed, even if we are completely convinced of the accuracy of the new ideas, we would have to admit that the only reason we "know" it is that someone else told us about it or we read it somewhere. On the other hand, we don't have to look for words to describe it, as we do when the Conceptual Structure actually changes, because the ideas are actually remembered by means of words.
I believe these two types of "knowedge," are neatly illustrated by the difference between things we have learned by reading in a "normal" manner (See Part 3) and reading as described in Part 1. The second type of reading makes use of the "Shh Tract" and can result in unpredictable changes in our "Conceptual Structure". These changes may or may not be readily perceptible. To find out what our Conceptual Structure currently "knows" requires a continual process of self-examination ("thinking").
The "Shh" Tract is not under control of the "conscious mind," by which I mean awareness of the process of thought. Whether one uses the "Shh" Tract is under one's control but what one processes via this tract, and the form of the knowledge which this tract creates in the brain, is not under one's control. Use of this tract results in unpredictable changes in the Conceptual Structure. After the Conceptual Structure has changed, one may try to perceive what changes, if any, have occurred in it, and find words to describe them. It is as if "another person" in the back of one's mind had done the thinking.
This is why I say that reading by the method described in Part 1 is impossible if you need to remember things for work or school. It is not suitable for learning a particular pre-formed or pre-packaged body of knowledge. It really is uncontrollable. If you make any effort at all to remember what you are reading, you simply cannot access the "Shh" Tract. Use of the "Shh" Tract requires that you give up any means you might have of remembering what you are learning.
Also, whatever you do learn by use of the "Shh" Tract is likely to be revealed to you only slowly over some longer or shorter period of time. You know things and yet cannot to readily identify, at least for the time being, what it is that you know.
"Cognition" is personal knowing of reality.
Cognition is unconscious in the sense of your ability to control and remember what is in your mind. Any attempt to see inside this process fails. However, it seems that you are aware of the ideas passing through your mind because again and again you are tempted to "break out of the trance" and read the words on the page in the "normal" manner, because you want to remember them. It takes a continuing effort not to do this.
Merely understanding someone else's ideas is not cognition. Cognition is when your mind integrates a thing or an idea into what you yourself know wordlessly, in the back of your mind.
Also, based on experience of using the "Shh" Tract, one has to conclude that cognition is always instantaneous. If it is not instantaneous, it is not cognition.
The manner of accessing the "Shh" Tract is as follows: One must prevent himself from recognizing the thing. One must see (or hear) the thing as if he had never seen it or anything like it ever before ("with new eyes" or "new ears") in order to do this, one must stop himself from seeing or hearing words in his mind.
I call this tract the "Shh" Tract because to access it one will constantly find it necessary to blow softly through one's mouth (say "Shh") to prevent oneself from "pronouncing" or seeing words in one's mind. (I also like the term "Shh" Tract because I have found that saying "Shh" to oneself is nearly enough by itself to switch the "Shh" tract on.)
Reading as described in Part 1 involves "Shhing" oneself over and over in his mind. This is because it takes a continual effort to keep the "Shh" Tract open. It needs to be re-opened with every new turn of a page. This fact is not unique to reading. As one goes about his daily life, one can look out at the world with the "Shh" Tract. This will result in obtaining surprising insights about things. But it requires one to "Shh" himself constantly.
Look in the mirror. You can choose to see the image in the light of your existing knowledge (how you have seen yourself before). In that case, you are apt to feel that "something is wrong with you", even if nothing has really changed, beacuse the Conceptual Structure mind is always building incrementally on what it has learned before. It doesn't grasp at first look everything there is to learn. It is always seeing things in a new perspective based on the totality of one's knoweldge at any given time.
Or you can look at the image with the "Shh" Tract, trying to see it with "new eyes", realizing that what is before you is in a real sense something that you have never seen before.
It seems to me that this is a discrete brain tract because accessing it requires that you suppress your knowledge (the knowledge stored with words), not just put it aside but completely put it out of your mind. This is a very interesting ability that human beings have, and one may wonder why Nature has equipped them with it unless it has a separate function.
When I say you have to suppress your knowledge, that doesn't include becoming unconscious of the Conceptual Strucure in the "back of your mind." Since that structure is not stored by means of words, it does not inhibit use of the "Shh" Tract. The only way to hold your Conceptual Structure in place (to be sure you will be the "same person" from one moment to the next is to NOT use the "Shh" Tract.
As you use the "Shh" Tract you will always be in the position of having to look at your Conceptual Structure again and again to feel comfortable that your previous knowledge is still current.
The "Shh" Tract cannot be accessed unless words, along with whatever knowledge they refer to, are completely suppressed.
Another thing that leads me to believe that the "Shh Tract" is a discrete neural pathway is that when you suppress your knowledge you have a clear impression that you are completely erasing it or wiping it away, and yet when you stop using the "Shh" Tract all that knowledge instantly returns, apparently just as it was. (Again, the knowledge you suppress is only that which is associated with particular words.)
The soundless knowledge "in the back of your mind" cannot be suppressed. This is the knowledge that can change as a result of using the "Shh" Tract). It seems clear that when you seem to be suppressing your knowledge, and then when you bring it back, you are switching back and forth between two distinct brain pathways.
What is the "Shh Tract"? Where does it lead? What happens in the brain in regions at the end of the tract? Possibly these are things which could be learned through brain scanning.
Lower animals don't use words. But they do learn. They seem to have the same basic learning equipment that humans do. Their brains look the same. We humans empathize with them. One might hypothesize that the "Shh" Tract is the primordial learning tract, part of the basic equipment built into the brains of all animals, including humans, for the purpose of allowing them to adapt to changes in their environment (of allowing something in their brains to change). A creature cannot adapt to the unexpected and unknown if it controls what it learns. It needs to have new thoughts, thoughts never thought before, possibly by any other being. This is exactly what is accomplished by the "Shh Tract". The Conceptual Structure changes and adapts. Only later does the animal perceive the contents of the Conceptual Structure. For him the world has changed to a greater or lesser degree. He acts according to knowledge which has formed itself unexpectedly in his brain.
Because of the very existence of language, in human beings, it must be harder for humans than for lower animals to access the "Shh Tract." Of course, language has allowed humankind to accumulate a vast body of knowledge acquired by previous generations. And as a result, humans can apply the "Shh" Tract to this body of knowledge as well as to their immediate environment and their own memories.
But for humans the process of using the "Shh" Tract, since it involves suppression of words in the mind, takes effort. Instead of being automatic, It is a skill which, at least for most people, must be acquired. Some people, those who are considered "gifted" or "talented," may simply be those who just naturally habitually use the "Shh Tract," at least in certain areas.
8. HOW I LEARNED ABOUT THE "SHH TRACT"
When I was in college I remember wanting to REALLY BELIEVE the things I supposedly knew. When I wanted to know things for myself (like one of Ayn Rand's characters). I finally decided that I wanted to either really believe the things I thought I believe, or else just admit that I didn't, I remember the sensation of giving up some kind of protective overlay of words. I remember the sensation of being "all alone." I didn't necessarily have words to immediately relate the things I felt I really believed, yet even without having them, I knew that to some degree I had a kind of soundless grasp of the world. I felt that that knowledge of the things I was talking about—in some wordless form—was somehow there in the back of my mind.
I know now that for the first time I had put my silent Conceptual Structure, rather than knowledge I had stored by means of words, at the center of my consciousness. What I "really knew" was my Conceptual Structure itself. At some point I realized that to keep focused on things I really knew, I had to make my mind perfectly quiet. I felt like saying "Shh." to myself all the time.
Around this time I took a speed-reading course that taught me to move my hand across the page to pace my mind. Playing with this idea, I found that the faster I "read" the more brightly and clearly things came into my mind. However, also, the faster I "read," the less I could remember or "retain". (Actually, I dropped out of the class before the "Retention" part. I was fascinated with how quick and bright my mind could be, even though I couldn't remember anything later).
I continued the practice of pacing myself with my hand and just watching my mind work. After a while I began to just wave my hand over the page. Later, I just began to turn the pages without using my hands at all. I seemed to see so many things so clearly. Yet it seemed that I wasn't really learning anything, because what I saw and thought I understood I simply could not remember afterward. I KNEW THAT SOMETHING IN MY MIND WAS CHANGING. I had no doubt about that (and I found it frightening).
At some point I came to the sudden realization that what was happening was some kind of thinking that was not under my control at all: something "with a mind of its own" was actually doing the thinking.
I devoted myself to reading in this way for a while every day. As I was reading, little by little the ideas came to me that I have put into in this essay.
I also developed the permanent habit of keeping my mind silent and saying "Shh" to myself as I looked out at the world, just as I did when reading. And I continued to feel that almost every day things were changing in some small ways in the back of my mind, both when I was reading and when I wasn't.
Early on, I came to describe my reading method as "looking at the words as if you had never seen them or anything like them ever before." Only very recently did I realize that this must involve a distinct brain tract.
9. CAN THE CONCEPTUAL STRUCTURE MAKE MISTAKES?
It seems that the Conceptual Structure normally doesn't make mistakes. After all, it thinks by itself. It is not under one's conscious control. If it made mistakes, creatures with brains wouldn't last very long in the world.
The Conceptual Structure is a biological system. Like any biological system it is obviously susceptible of biological malfunctions and diseases. But, as with any other "mental illness," this cannot be the norm.
When we make mistakes, when for example the ancients decided that the world was flat, it wasn't that their Conceptual Structures were malfunctioning, It was that they looked into their minds at their Conceptual Structures and drew inappropriate conclusions from the information stored there. They extrapolated their knowledge of their local environment to a view of the whole world. The made inappropriate inferences from what they saw in their Conceptual Structure. However, this wasn't the fault of the Conceptual Structure itself. "Reasoning," in the sense of the non-contradictory identification of the Conceptual Structure, is difficult (Compare Ayn Rand: Reasoning as "non- contradictory identification" of "reality"). "Reasoning," no matter how sincere, may and often does lead to incorrect conclusions.
10. CAN A PERSON STOP THE CONCEPTUAL STRUCTURE FROM DEVELOPING?
In the case of "lower" animals it may be that the creature does not have the ability to prevent the Conceptual Structure from building up in response to its environment. However, with human beings the use of verbal skills has resulted in a state of affairs in which a conscious effort must be made to switch on "Shh" Tract in order to allow the Conceptual Structure to do its job.
Some people, the gifted, and the "dreamers," have a habit of doing this. Some people undoubtedly have a habit of not doing it.
Also, since one's Conceptual Structure, one's REAL knowledge of the world, does not make itself available without a deliberate process of introspection, perhaps one can evade the process entirely and rely on "knowledge" which he acquired in the past by means of words without using the "Shh" Tract (ideas just accepted on the basis of one's existing Conceptual Structure without allowing the Conceptual Structure itself to INTEGRATE the knowledge) and stored by means of words. This again is something that "lower" animals are not even equipped to do. One could conceivably acquire quite a ponderous body of "knowledge" based on a Conceptual Structure which actually stopped developing years before.
11. AYN RAND WAS WRONG
I'm interested in Ayn Rand's heroes because they have knowledge which does not seem to depend on anyone else. It depends only on their own minds: "on their own judgment". As Rand expressed it, they are not "second handers."
Rand believed that in order to not be an "psycho-epistemological second hander" one has to "focus" on the thing being learned. "Focusing" implies using one's whole knowledge to evaluate the thing.
Of course one isn't dependent on other people for the knowledge which is already stored in one's Conceptual Structure. If focusing means seeing things in relation to his Conceptual Structure, then the better he "focuses", the better he can interpret the contents of his existing Conceptual Structure and apply his independent knowledge. To the extent that he does this, he is certainly not a "second hander".
But, Rand also believed that concepts are formed consciously by some kind of "focusing". (See Rand associate Harry Binswanger, "Psycho-Epistemology 1" Audio CD, Ayn Rand Institute, 1995):
Concepts are like file folders. The conscious mind controls what is filed and how it is filed. To have healthy psycho-epistemology, you must get in the habit of storing information logically and by essentials. The subconscious has no mind of its own. It is not another person inside you...
This is simply not true. The Conceptual Structure is not under one's conscious control. In fact, when one uses the "Shh" Tract one must allow one's knowledge to change unconsciously. The moment we experience our existing knowledge being "wiped away" is the moment when concepts are are actually (unconsciously) being created.
Rand was right that one does have the power to have ideas not dependent on the ideas of anyone else. The Conceptual Structure "pulls itself up by its own bootstraps."
Rand was also right that "man is a being of volitional consciousness". Man must deliberately seek to examine his existing Conceptual Structure, and he must also deliberately choose to allow his Conceptual Structure to change, on its own, by activating the "Shh" Tract.
Man's choice "to think or not to think" involves two distinct types of actions.
12. PERCEIVING THE CONCEPTUAL STRUCTURE
In addition to cutting yourself off from words when using the "Shh" Tract, you also cut yourself off from memories of knowledge imparted to you in the past by other people through words. You are "all alone".
By the same token, when you try to perceive your Conceptual Structure as it currently exists, you are aware only of this wordless structure and not of any memories of ideas communicated to you in the past by other people (of course, the wordless Conceptual Structure is largely composed of information that was originally imparted to you by other people, but in the process of being incorporated into that structure, the connection with other people has been lost. It continues in some other part of the brain, in the original meories of the other people's words.)
When you search the "back of your mind" you have a definite sensation of being "all alone".
This is a very fascinating phenomenon. Along with the fact that you have the ability to see something you have seen a thousand times before, with "new eyes", -- as if you have never seen it before, this is something that very clearly speaks to us of distinct brain tracts. When you do the type of thinking that leads you to place your fingers on your chin or lips, you simply cease to have the ability to see your thoughts in the context or perspective of other people's ideas. The only thing you are concerned with is what is perceiving "reality."
The first thing that is apparent about "normal" reading is that you have to "pronounce" each word in your mind when you are reading. If you don't pronounce the words you lose the thread of what is being said. But no matter how clearly you "focus" and try to get the author's idea clearly in your mind, you will always have to admit that even though you think the author's reasoning is totally cogent, the "knowledge" seems in some way to be just tentative. It is not something you would act on unhesitatingly.
The reason for this is that the type of reading is an attempt to learn backwards. The "Shh" Tract builds up individual concepts, little by little. It doesn't process someone else's concepts fully-elaborated. The "Shh" Tract makes room for new ideas in some physical structure in your brain. How it does this cannot be predicted. It may do it in a completely unexpected way. Yet it seems to do so building up by little steps.
In fact, although you may absolutely find the author's reasoning cogent, you will remember it by means of the very words which evoked the concept in the first place. If challenged, you would basically repeat the same or alternate words for the same idea and possibly indicate where you heard or read the idea. But if the truth were known, you are not really unhesitatingly sure of it. It is not part of you.
The mind is capable of processing information in a way which rather than storing information in terms of one's preexisting concepts, actually physically alters the Conceptual Structure in the brain in a way that causes you to henceforth act on the knowledge immediately and unquestioningly. This is through using the "Shh" Tract.
Using the "Shh" Tract requires that you NOT "pronounce" words in your mind as you do in "normal" reading.
You do have the ability to re-process with the "Shh" Tract ideas you have learned by "normal" reading, that is, without using the "Shh" Tract. Somehow you can let these Ideas go out of focus and let the "Shh" Tract make of them whatever it wants. (Obviously, this fact speaks to us about brain tracts or connections.)
As an example: Ludwig von Mises claimed to have proven that Socialism is impossible as a rational economic system, because of a lack of prices for capital goods. You may have read Mises' arguments (in a normal manner of reading.) and you may be fully convinced, in a way. If the issue of Socialism comes up, you will probably state that Socialism is impossible and basically repeat Mises' arguments. However, it is possible for you to progress to another level of "knowledge". You can somehow process Mises' ideas in a way that makes them real to you, quite apart from Mises himself. One day you conceivably forget about Mises' books Socialism and Human Action, perhaps not even remember his arguments. But somehow a conceptual representation of all the issues involved may have been built into your mind, so that upon being given a few minutes (or hours) to examine "the back of your mind" you might be able to explain either how Socialism could indeed be able to rationally calculate the economic value of capital goods, or that it couldn't possibly do so.
Of course, you would have to search for your own words merely to be able to describe the knowledge of the thing itself, which is only in "the back of your mind." But you would have some universalized knowledge about Socialism.
How does this re-processing of knowledge occur? Obviously, in some manner Mises' words, having been understood through "normal" reading, would have to be exposed to the "Shh" Tract within the mind. I think this process occurs in the odd, dreamy moments when you allow your mind to wander freely. I think perhaps the mind has built-in mechanisms to induce you to do this, such as the feeling of wonderment.
The second thing about knowledge which is stored by means of words as a result of normal: reading, is that you don't really seem to care about it. Somehow it is just not of any crucial importance to you. It may cause you to be viewed by other people as quite knowledgeable on a certain subject. You may even propound your own ideas based on the "knowledge" which you have obtained from others. But truthfully, inside, you don't REALLY care one way or the other.
This situation results from the fact that, truth be known, one's concepts have not really changed with regard to the particular idea. It might be possible for someone to build up elaborate superstructures of reasoning the conceptual basis of which in his mind has not really changed for many years. This is likely the basis for what Rand calls "floating abstractions": ideas a structural foundation for which has not been built up "in the back of your mind" but which rather are basically adopted from other people. You in some way can comprehend these ideas without having them fully integrated into your Conceptual Structure. In fact, they are grounded in nothing but what someone else told you.
Actually, you undoubtedly use the "Shh" Tract even during "normal" reading. Unless you are reading material which involves concepts which are all elementary in terms of your existing Conceptual Structure (perhaps a detective story), you will come across words or ideas that do not fit into your understanding. At that point you can choose to somehow force yourself to get meaning out of the words, or you can just continue reading and ignore the fact that the idea did not really seem to "register". You will see that if you do the latter, your mind seems in some way to "make a place" for the idea; whereas if you do the former, you seem to have made no progress at all in really integrating the idea into your knowledge.
ANOTHER WAY OF READING WITH THE "SHH" TRACT
An alternative way of reading with the “Shh” Tract is simply to let your mind skip down the page, stopping at whatever individual words or phrases grab your attention. It is important not to “focus” on the word or phrase, but just to let it “register” in your mind to whatever degree it can without conscious focusing.
Whereas by the method in Part 1 you try to expose a whole page to the “Shh” Tract, here you only try to expose an individual word or phrase. You make no effort to connect the individual word or phrase to neighboring words or phrases, or to the general context. You approach each word or phrase on its own, without conscious reference to anything else.
Jumping from one word to the next, for just a fleeting moment you UNDERSTAND. But of what you understand you afterward have no memory at all.
But for the fleeting moment you understand in a way that seems somehow much more permanent than if you had tried to process the word by pronouncing it in your mind, and you seem to understand things in new ways.
It seems much more difficult, using this method, to eliminate awareness of the sounds of the words. Still it is obvious that the material only "registers" in your mind (although you are not conscious of exactly how it registers) if you keep the sound out of your mind for a fraction of a second upon seeing the word.