The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

A Filter Model of Consciousness


A filter model of consciousness is a different way of understanding how consciousness works.  In current models of consciousness, the brain receives input from its environment and reacts to it.  What you see is what you get.  Daydreaming, hallucinations and such things are generated within the mind.  In the filter model of consciousness, the brain works with consciousness to filter a vast array of input from exterior sources and chooses which input to acknowledge.  You can also phrase this differently by stating this in terms of meaning.  Our consciousness gives meaning to the input from our five senses; we give meaning to most emotions that we experience; we give meaning to most of our our thoughts.  But we don’t give meaning to absolutely every stimuli that comes through our five senses; we don’t give meaning to every emotion nor to every single thought we have.  We shut some things out.  We can tune our ears to noise that is meaningful and shut out noise that is not.  We stop hearing the hum of traffic in the background; the song playing on the radio while we’re concentrating on something else; a background smell that permeates the air.  We are very, very good at filtering out data that is superfluous to us.

A good example of this is vision:

What the human mind has done here is to pick a very specific band of photon wavelengths and assigned meaning to everything down to the slightest variations within this band  -and only within this band- in the form of what we perceive as different colors.  Color is nothing more than our mind’s interpretations of these wavelengths.  Other wavelengths have so little meaning for us that we don’t even see them.  The same thing applies to sound:

We can only hear a certain spectrum of sounds.  Those above or below a certain threshold (20 to 20,000 hz) cannot be heard and thus, have no meaning for us.  Of that range, sounds within the range of 2,000 to 5,000 hz have the most meaning for us generally and not coincidentally, we hear them best, because that range is associated with speech.  Sounds, like colors are products of the mind.  Sound is an interpretation in our minds that gives meaning to changes in air pressure. Changes in air pressure above or below these very specific wavelengths are meaningless to us.

In the case of all of our senses, there is a limit to what we can sense; i.e. there is filtering going on behind the scenes and interpretation happening in our minds.  There are examples of filtering being hardwired, such as being biologically able to only see or hear certain wavelengths and there are examples of filtering being situation dependent, such as background noise.  The idea behind a filter model of consciousness is that all stimuli are filtered.  All of it.  This means that we are constantly bombarded with stimuli that we don’t acknowledge.  Here is a simple Table:

Normal Sensory Input from Transpersonal Experiences
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1
Sensory Input from Emotional Sources
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1
Sensory Input from 5 Senses
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1

On the left we have filtering mechanisms of our mind.  Filter ON means that input is NOT experienced consciously.  Filter OFF means that it is.  On the right hand side is all input from all sources.  One is normal input, two represents a high level of input and three represents a very high levels of input to the point that a person is very impaired in their ability to cope with the stimuli.  In this model most stimuli are blocked from entering the conscious mind by consciousness filtering, and the part that gets through is acknowledged in some way.  In a normal person, most input is limited to stage 1 or normal input most of the time.  A normal person, as you can see, experiences a bit of everything.

Why is this useful?

First of all, the output is not a copy of the input.  It is an interpretation of the input.  All of it.  What makes this useful is the ability of this filtering diagram to show how filtering of input can be compared to personality differences and helps us understand how the mind processes information.

If we agree that our consciousness is filtering input, then it stands to reason that there is more sensory data of all sorts than what we can consciously recognize.  We do know that various other living creatures have different sensing capabilities than humans, but it also stands to reason that there is variation in the amount and type of filtering going on among humans.  In other words, not everyone is experiencing their environment in exactly the same way; of course, we already knew that.

The hallucinating schizophrenic and the person experiencing psychosis would be similar to the above model, but with an important variation:

Schizophrenic Normal Sensory input from hallucination
Filter ON Filter ON Stage 3
Filter OFF Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Filter ON Stage 1

Above is the addition of “additional input” that is coming from the mind, not external sources.  However, because ALL stimuli have to be given meaning within the mind before we can react to them, hallucination input can look identical to input from the five senses.  But here’s an important point: having hallucinations does not make a person schizophrenic or psychotic.  It’s the interpretation of the hallucination that creates the disorder.  A stable person can tell the difference between an hallucination and reality and an unstable person cannot.

The question arises here: Are we normally suppressing input of mind hallucinations through filtering?  Are hallucinations created when the mind When it is off kilter, or are they always there, only showing up when the filtering gets disrupted?  There is an answer to this question that can be demonstrated by how the brain reacts to hallucinogenic drugs.  They work by inhibiting parts of the brain.  A scan will reveal reduced brain activity in the presence of hallucinogens, which is exactly the opposite of what you would expect.  This is an argument for the existence of filtering.  In sensory deprivation experiments, the mind begins hallucinating almost as soon as the other senses are diminished.  Data is coming in from elsewhere all the time; it’s just getting overwhelmed and blocked out by our experiences with our five senses.  In other words, we get hallucinations when our brain STOPS filtering out the hallucinations.  In the table av

This makes sense doesn’t it?  People hallucinate when they are mentally and physically weak and their mind is fatigued; hallucinations, which should theoretically take extra mental energy to create them, actually occur when people have less energy; when their guard is down so to speak.  A normal person can, under certain conditions, have the protective filter against hallucinations turned off.  Stage 1 would be a condition where a person was aware they were hallucinating and stage 2 is where they believe the hallucination to be real and stage 3 is where they are completely disconnected from reality.

Hallucinations are different from Transpersonal experiences in a very crucial way.  Hallucinations are a substitution for ordinary experiences and transpersonal experiences are an addition.  Transpersonal experiences do not involve losing one’s ordinary sense of reality.  Both exist together.

You can also explain some personality types using a filtering model.  Asperger’s is one of them.  People with this personality type report unusual sensitivity to ordinary sensory data.  So their diagram might look like this:

Aspergers Sensory Input from Transpersonal Experiences
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1
   
  Sensory Input from Emotional Sources
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter ON Stage 1
   
  Sensory Input from 5 Senses
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter OFF Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1

First of all they are getting more input from their five senses than is normal.  We know this because one of the features of Aspergers is a high sensitivity to the various senses.  They lack some of the filtering that normal people have and the result is that their consciousness is flooded with input that they cannot effectively filter out.  They are somewhat overwhelmed and possibly respond by turning on the filtering for input from emotional sources as a way of keeping their minds from being overwhelmed.  On the other side, we have people with my personality, (schizotypal) and the filtering might look more like this:

Schizotypal Sensory Input from Transpersonal Experiences
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter OFF Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1
   
  Sensory Input from Emotional Sources
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter OFF Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1
   
  Sensory Input from 5 Senses
Filter ON Stage 3
Filter ON Stage 2
Filter OFF Stage 1

Like the people with Aspergers, schizotypals are getting overloaded with sensory data, but unlike Asperger’s they are right brain dominant people and rather than getting their overstimulation from sensory data, they are getting it psychically.  (Emotions appear stronger, telepathy occurs, some schizotypals see ghosts, etc.)   Like those with Aspergers, some handle it better than others.  (Naturally I know someone who has both Aspergers AND psychic ability.  There may be a connection; perhaps there isn’t much difference between too much input from the five senses and psychic ability.  I don’t know.)  The same type of stimuli bombards everyone all the time, so the difference here is in how much can be shut out.

Using a filter model of consciousness provides a different picture of personality outliers.  While normal people might experience the exact same stimuli as a person with Aspergers or a schizotypal, the latter are filtering it differently, and therefore getting data that others don’t from the same environment.   This is a subtle, but crucial point:  They aren’t experiencing strange things, they are experiencing normal things in a strange way.  A person with Aspergers for example, isn’t reacting abnormally to a normally loud train.  For them, the train really is much, much louder.  In other words, their reaction, based on the perceptual input that they are actually experiencing is normal.  Likewise, the reaction of schizotypals is normal based on the type of emotional and psychic input that they are receiving.

What this says about outliers like schizotypals and Aspergers people is that they are hardwired to receive additional sensory input and this is unchangeable.  Neither group can be made to be normal; it is not an option.  Any attempt to push them in that direction is typically harmful to them.  People in this situation are best served by being educated about how they are different, what effect this will have on them in their lives and what the best approaches are to managing it.

I am very much in favor of this model because I think it is useful in describing what actually happens.  It fits real world observations and makes useful predictions about what to expect in different situations.

Advertisements

10 comments on “A Filter Model of Consciousness

  1. MindBody
    March 21, 2017

    Craig,
    Have you read “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley? He proposed a filter model decades ago- and emphasised that the filter’s role was to reduce input to the conscious mind to that which was relevant to the survival of the human body, and procreation. It makes sense of many phenomena.

  2. Noone
    April 7, 2016

    Placing myself in these categories is difficult, I believe my senses are filtered less- I often pick up on very quiet whispering and identify the words, and my old therapist believed me to be mildly autistic, but at the same time, I’m very sensitive to emotions and meanings as I’m excellent at English and psychology. I believe I might have some degree of control over the emotional filtering, I believe this to be a learned skill based off traumatic times, but the emotions I do feel tend to be extremely strong. This is a boon and a curse as I realise many things about the world that others do not and I can quickly integrate abstract ideas and data into my perception, but at the same time it isolates me from the vast majority of people. I very much agree with this model as well. Cheers

  3. Pingback: Consciousness as a Filter | Ma Mer Privé

  4. Pingback: Filter Model (and Gaps) - Parapsychology and alternative medicine forums of mind-energy.net

  5. Pingback: Consciousness as a Filter « The Proteus Experiment

  6. craigweiler
    February 4, 2012

    Thank you everyone. I appreciate all the great feedback!! 🙂

  7. Gabe Dupuis
    February 4, 2012

    Cool article Craig. Concise and to the point.

  8. insomniac
    February 2, 2012

    Another good one, Craig!

    “I am very much in favor of this model because I think it is useful in describing what actually happens. It fits real world observations and makes useful predictions about what to expect in different situations.”

  9. Mari Caplan
    February 1, 2012

    Craig you have nailed it. My brain falls into the Attention Deficit Disorder/ Inattentive Type category. Which basically means I don’t filter as much as the average brain. Its noisy up in here. Most of the time I handle things extremely well and have learned how to compensate for those times when my brain needs to filter more to attend to left brain tasks but it is not easy.

    Having a brain that filters less and experiences lots and tries to make sense of it all can be hugely exhausting.

    I struggle with achieving balance between spending time alone to recharge my batteries vs. hiding from the world at large because my filter is more permeable.

    How do others deal with this?

  10. Monica
    February 1, 2012

    …Someone was seriously trying to claim this *wasn’t* happening? I thought given what we knew about Asperger’s\autism this was considered standard knowledge…o.O

    *shakes head* Anyway, yes, I couldn’t agree with you more. This is a better model of how I tend to think of psychic ability–from what I’ve seen, it’s a spectrum ability, and a sensitivity to something external. That it involves filters would be the logical answer, and explain why specific disorders can be present with psychic cases–they’re clues to which filters are off, in layman’s terms.

    (Also, at one point I asked on Wrongplanet.net whether anyone with AS had psychic experiences, and there were a lot. My rough guess is that, since AS involves highly specific filters being off or on, i.e. one person hypersensitive to touch while another is to sound, AS might be a disorder that can cohabit with psi.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: