This seems a straightforward question with an obvious answer, especially in light quarantine. My initial gut response was that that it had to be either family, close friend(s), or your partner. If you were thinking along the same lines, I’m sorry to say that you’re incorrect.
In reality the person we talk to the most is ourselves.
The Thinking Process – a simple model
Let me first introduce you to three concepts: Signals, Filter, and Experience. We can think of the thinking process in a simple input-process-output framework. The inputs are signals, the process is your mind filtering these signals, and the output is our embedded experience, or what we remember from a series of signals. You can think of them as memories.
- Signals are external stimuli that we encounter.
- Filter is our minds, the gatekeeper for our experiences and memories. It makes sense of all of the signals.
- Experience is the output from the filter.
How do we interpret Donald J. Trump?
Think back to all your interactions with the world, in other words, your interactions with others. Perhaps it was a meeting for work, a tutorial for university, or a social gathering. For example, you watched the news and saw Donald Trump make the following comment:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.Donald Trump (retrieved from his Twitter)
The above is a signal which is put through a filter, your mind, before becoming part of your memory. So what will be your memory be of this soundbite of DT be? It depends. If you lived under a rock and knew little about the current geopolitical climate and Trump, then you would be inclined to take it at face value and believe him. If, however, you are apprised of world events, it would be a comment you would quickly dismiss. The memory and embedded impression of Donald Trump can either be of a vocal US President or of an incompetent one.
In either case, I am the one filtering the signals to make to decide what impression the signal leaves on me. This filtering process is just a dialogue with ourselves. We are talking to ourselves. Every signal that comes our way is mediated by our experiences as a way of making sense of it before it becomes a memory.
The filter is not only informed by our past experiences, but also the language and tone of our internal dialogues. If we are generally pessimistic or negative we talk to others, that will likely reflect in our filter. This effect, however, would be practically imperceptible if you examine each memory or past experience individually. But if you take the measure from a collection memories, this negative tonality will reveal itself as pernicious.
You might be thinking sure, when we are older and have more lived experience this model may be plausible, but what about when we were all growing up? The person we all talked to the most was likely a parent or sibling.
The Thinking Process – childhood to adolescence
Growing up, I absorbed many of my parents attitudes and interests as my own. To me, they were the unbridled truth; the correct way to live a life. This is a natural response because we simply did not know any better. All our experiences as a child are firsts, be it the first time you go to kindergarten, listen to a music sub-genre, or see an insect. We were not able to filter signals because we did not have any reference points to compare it too. As a result, parents and siblings have a disproportionate impact on your thinking in the early days.
Case-in-point, my parents used to play a lot of 70s to 80s RnB and Jazz when in the car. Their favourite radio station was Easy Listening 98.2. I still remember their jingle to this day. I wouldn’t consider my parents big music fans. But because I grew up listening this type of music and seeing them enjoying it. I now enjoy music of the same ilk.
The signal was that RnB and Jazz was ‘good’ music, there was little filtering to speak of because I had no other reference point to what ‘good’ music was. That then became part of my childhood experience and explains my music taste today to a high degree of accuracy.
Bugs & Toys
Let’s run through another example. Imagine you are two years of age and you see a small black object scurrying across the wall from your crib. What would be your natural reaction?
I would conceivably feel a desire to grasp at the small black object because its movement reminds me of a Tonka Truck toy.
Innocent enough, right?
Imagine you are 13 and the same thing happens as you are trying to fall asleep. But this time, you have experiences with these small black objects: they are Cockroaches. Your reaction is likely one of fear and disgust.
The change between those reactions from two to 13 is a result of experience. In that 11 year period, you would have likely had unpleasant experiences with Cockroaches e.g. parents turning the house over to weed out a Cockroach infestation or finding one in your bed while you’re sleeping. As such, when you are 13, these experiences inform your filter in your mind. It helps to explain why you were so much braver at two years of age.
Limitations on this model
Where this model fails is in its inability to take into account mental illness and how that may alter our ability to receive signals and interpret them. Sometimes we are not able to control our thoughts in the way I describe above, and it is difficult to reconcile with my argument above. It is definitely an area that I intend to do some more thinking around, but for now, it is a limitation that I acknowledge.
This is a simple but still fallible model for thinking. The most interesting implication is that it highlights that we are our own gatekeepers when it comes to the creation memories. Aside from past experiences, the language we use in the filtering process has a lot of power over the tonality of our memories. If we are optimistic and positive in our language, it will be reflected in our memories as such. Alternatively, if we are pessimistic and negative, then that will reflect in our memories. Such knowledge means that we can tune our filter in two ways: diversify our experiences and, if need be, change the tone of our internal dialogue. I explore this thread in more depth in choosing our words more intentionally.