So far, we have examined how the belief in reality of thoughts and the content of thoughts translate into the intensity of an emotional reaction. Now let’s try to understand what determines the degree of faith in a thought. Each of us is intellectually aware that thought is not something that is actually happening, but merely a mental projection of reality. The intensity of this projection, however, does not depend solely on intellectual recognition. We can compare this situation to an optical illusion. For example, consider the Necker cube below.
Do you see the depth in it? Which side is closer? Note that the mind is constantly trying to determine which side of the cube is closer to the observer. Depending on what part of the picture the attention is focused on, the top or bottom square comes to the fore. In fact, it is only an optical illusion and in reality there is a flat figure in the image. Despite the fact that we are intellectually aware of this, the mind constantly generates a sense of depth, so that one of the squares always appears closer or further from the observer.
A similar illusion takes place in case of a thought. On the one hand, we intellectually recognize that thinking is merely a virtual projection, which in itself is only a flat image that does not have a direct impact on us, on the other hand, we feel as if this projection was real. Let us take memory as an example. Similarly to projections of potential future events, memory itself is merely a simulation made in the present and labeled “past”. However, we perceive memory as being real, nearly material. We feel the reality of memory so much that we react with an emotion of anger when someone suggests that the events we remember (that is, what we are simulating at the moment) never happened. However, psychological research shows that our memory is very unreliable. It turns out that we do not remember the original event that took place in real time, but only the simulations that our mind generated after the event, when we are trying to recall the event. Our memory is not much different from the “telephone game” in which we are recording the recalls of the recalls of an original event.
Another example is the image of the world around us. Think of the room next to the room in which you are now sitting and reading. Do you have a feeling that this mental image of the room is just a thought, an ephemeral mental creation, or do you have the feeling that it reflects something real? Now remind yourself that it’s just a projection. Has anything changed? Probably not. Despite an intellectual realization that the image of the next room is merely a thought process, the mind constantly feels that there must be something real behind this projection. This feeling of realness of a thought is very little affected by intellectual recognition of their purely virtual nature.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the fact that we think there’s another room behind the door next to us or that our car is parked in a garage. However, here we are only concerned with pointing out that the belief in the reality of thoughts happens at the cellular level rather than at the intellectual level only.