Lotus Guide: When you say, “New thinking and new beliefs can literally rewire one’s brain to change behavior and habit-forming patterns,” it’s easy to see that this could have profound implications, both individually and collectively, but how do we let go of something that we have identified with so heavily, such as our beliefs, whether they’re social, political, or religious beliefs?
Dr. Joe: That’s a great question. First of all, let me describe new thinking. When I talk about new thinking, I’m talking about “new ways of thinking.” For the most part, we inherit many different patterns of synaptic connections that formulate a lot of our unconscious thinking. These patterns of neurological wiring basically comprise and are developed by what our parents have emotionally embraced. Those unconscious thought patterns are really the result of what our parents have repeatedly thought, consistently done, and finally experienced. When we’re born and when we develop into adulthood, those patterns seem to be pretty much our standard ways of thinking that are set in place for us to overcome. So, the routine automatic programs that we run our life by are pretty much genetically predetermined. Then we’re conditioned from our environment to act and behave in a certain ways. The combination of genetics and environment contributes to the belief systems, behaviors, and perceptions that we live by on a daily basis. Then we begin to gain information and knowledge, and we begin to ask questions in our present understanding that challenge the current belief to see what works and what doesn’t work and then begin to investigate new ideas and new paradigms. And to learn that information and then remember it causes new series of patterns and connections to form in the brain, which creates literally new levels of mind. And to be able to repeat those levels of mind at will, to be able to remember and then apply what we’ve learned, and apply what information we’ve embraced, begins to set up new experiences. It’s not enough just learning and creating new ways of thinking. It’s actually taking that information and applying it; the application sets up a new sensory experience, which then changes our belief system. It alters the way we’re perceiving, responding, reacting, and ultimately believing. And that takes practice and that takes will and that brings a certain amount of discomfort, actually, in most people’s lives.
LG: And since we spend most of our energy and time either avoiding pain or discomfort or pursuing pleasure, this would explain one of the reasons our beliefs continue generation after generation even in the face of facts to the contrary.
Dr. J: Yes. And you know, looking at evolution, any species who makes an attempt to evolve has to be confronted with some environmental circumstances. And it could be climate, it could be social pecking orders, it could be predators, but whatever it is, there is some discomfort, chemically, that causes the creature to actually develop a new cognitive process, to formulate a new way of being. And that cognitive process, essentially, is encoded in their tissue and that’s what evolution is about. The discomfort is what pushes the envelope of the familiar habits and beliefs and forces them to come up with new ways of being, new ways of thinking, new ways of reacting, faster legs, camouflage, migratory patterns, whatever it is that then allows them to actually become greater than their environment. And that’s what evolution is. Evolution is becoming greater than our environment. My book is an attempt to help people to begin to understand that you can create a mind that’s greater than our environment, that’s greater than our conditions, and as human beings our conditions tend to be a little bit more complex. Whether it’s social situations with your boss or your family, whether it’s disease, whether it’s traffic jams, Internet connections, raising teenagers, single parents, whatever it is, those are all equally environmental conditions that we have to drive ourselves to get better at mastering. And that in turn is also encoded in our genetics. It begs the question,”Does the environment control my thinking or does my thinking control the environment?”
LG: When you say we become addicted to familiar patterns because we are not being stimulated by new experiences, could you explain what kind of experiences could break, let’s say, old dysfunctional religious beliefs that no longer serve us but nevertheless have us in their grip?
Dr. J: When we start talking about religion we’re talking about indoctrination—accepting ideas as the final word without looking and asking deeper questions of inquiry into those beliefs. It was the book that was created, that was passed down through generations, that was God’s word. It’s very difficult for people who want to believe in something to change and go against that doctrine or that structure because that literally puts them in the position of where they could actually be banished from God, or separate from God. So it takes true individualism to ask those big questions. It’s through leadership and free will that you can begin to combine common sense with empirical information and create new models outside the boundaries of accepted beliefs. But it’s also important to actually apply, to actually try out that piece of information that was passed down or that piece of information that’s been investigated.
LG: Right. Well, here’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately. Because as I’ve looked around in my own world, ever since I was a child, I’ve noticed that people with rigid, now I’m talking about dogmatic beliefs, beliefs that are not open to question, that are not open to conflict or debate, they’re accepted as truths based totally on faith and that they’re believed in. I’ve noticed that people who are in that mindset have a difficult time, even though they might have a high IQ and are well educated, but they have a difficult time understanding anything outside the parameters of that particular belief, and it seems to lead them to the point where some of them can commit some pretty outrageous acts. For instance, 14 of the 19 people who flew planes into the towers were highly educated, from good families, yet their beliefs dictated to them to do something that most of the world would consider preposterous and absurd. So what I’m wondering is, do you think this kind of thinking, this kind of believing, this kind of mental state could create neural networks that are not only inconsistent with evolving your brain but that could actually inhibit what has become known as spiritual awakening?
Dr. J: That’s also a very good question and the answer is definitely yes. I think that fanaticism has been going on for as long as man has walked on two legs. And I think that intellectual ability or learning has nothing to do with emotional intelligence, or emotional ability. Emotional intelligence fundamentally means having our thoughts control our emotions, not having our emotions control thinking. Most people who make choices accordingly may have a certain degree of intellectual maturity but are very emotionally immature. And I think that fanatics tend to see certain causes and then they rationalize their choices emotionally using their beliefs and then act accordingly. And that in a sense is a very dangerous situation, because they’re feeling very righteous in their actions to accomplish something that they think is going to promote the advancement of a certain belief system. And yet it harms many people in the process, and that’s been going on in cultures throughout history. With all the progress that’s happened in this time period you’d think that people with any degree of awareness would see this. But let’s face it, all of us as individuals have organized personal mindsets that have become our present ways of perceiving and being in this world. And we’ve been influenced by religion, culture, genetics, upbringing, and education. That’s pretty much formulated our personal identity and we use what works but at the same time we keep using what doesn’t work also. So this would be a good opportunity to self-reflect and ask, “Where am I with my own personal understanding of myself and my relationship to the world, and what do I need to let go of, to not only be a better person but to be able to influence the world around me in a positive way?”
LG: This has become more than an intellectual curiosity for me; it has become a spiritual passion, you might say, to ask these politically incorrect questions. It seems when we look out at how society is evolving, we’re actually confronted with a choice. And the choice seems to be to live by beliefs that have been handed down to us from generation to generation that no longer make sense to anyone who is being intellectually honest with themselves, or to come to grips with our mystery and learn how to live with it and in it. And the only way, I think, we’re going to learn how to live within the mystery of life is to somehow evolve our brains and our minds so when we reach the limits of our knowledge and understanding we don’t fill in the rest with beliefs of what we wish or hope to be true and be content with the slow unfolding of knowledge through an honest intellectual unfolding.
Dr. J: Yes, and it’s important to remember that the natural knee-jerk response to those conditions is for us to begin to judge and begin to react. And I think, for me personally, that it’s not going to create any solutions on an individual level. I think that when we begin to become self-aware and self-reflective and see that that pattern is within each and every one of us. And then begin, if you will, a spiritual awakening and begin to say, “What do I need to change about myself?” Then anything that ultimately resembles these states of mind or patterns, begin to eliminate them in myself. And we can’t judge the rest of the world for being aggressive in their religious beliefs and at the same time cut people off on the freeway and expect to think that is not the same mentality. And so, taking it in and rising above what we’re presented with in life is the true art, the true idea behind awakening to higher consciousness.
There’s a second point about this, and that is that the one thing we know is that free will is a God-given right of every human being. And there are going to be people who for long periods of time that are going to continue to think the world is flat no matter how much empirical evidence there is to the contrary. And changing beliefs on a global level is, as history proves, not an easy process. So, the first people who think outside the box, and are interested in new ways of being, will be considered the mavericks, and they will be pointed at as fanatics by the very people we call fanatics, and then that test of uncompromising individualism is what will change the course of history. Because history has shown that whether it’s Martin Luther King or William Wallace, any great charismatic leader confronts the conventional beliefs of the time and is met with resistance from those in power. They’re willing to put their life on the line for a principle or an idea that is bigger than they are. The people on the planet who are embracing new ideas and understanding will evolve their brain and this is what will define and alter the course of history on a global level. The real experience of living it and being uncompromising as individuals will create a new world, which I think is much needed in our present time.
LG: Yes. One of the things I learned from reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zen is the fact that most great movements that have ever happened on this planet have never happened from the top down. They’ve always happened from one person having one idea from a grassroots movement and it happens from the bottom up. And it seems as if we historically have tried to give all our power over to governments and large organizations to do these great changes for us. But when it comes down to it, it’s up to us as individuals to do this.
Dr. J: And I think that the disease, or the plague, in this country right now, and in the world, is really the convenience of complacency. It’s very easy to be entertained. It’s very easy to hit the power button on the remote control, or surf the Internet, and see something disgustingly horrific that threatens millions or hundreds of thousands of people and then change the channel and in a matter of moments become absorbed in something else and completely forget about what was so disturbing moments before. And the quick changes in attention because of our media structure and technology are enough to subdue and hypnotize people from really making strong choices that are going to be uncomfortable.
LG: When Dhara and I met you in Mount Shasta at the WESAK gathering you had just arrived and not had a lot of rest, but we noticed a passion in you once you started to speak about this subject. Do you have a goal or an end result in mind with your research, or are you in the moment and letting it unfold?
Dr. J: That’s a double question, and the truth is, is that my secret passion and my secret desire is to be able to live and be everything that I talk about. And to demonstrate it and to show that it actually works beyond an intellectual or philosophical understanding. That you can actually begin to do it, and to execute it, and be consistent with it to inspire other people to be the same way. That’s my secret goal.
LG: Well, Dr. Joe … your secret is out now. Here’s a question I like to ask everybody we interview. If you had a magical microphone and you could speak to the whole world and you knew that what you said would be heard and understood on a deep level and make a difference in people’s lives, what would you say if you had only 30 seconds?
Dr. J: Wow. I’d probably say that there’s so much more to us and the nature of reality than we can ever perceive and that this process of self-exploration is probably the most noble thing that we can do for ourselves and the rest of the world.