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Comments on Learning Situations*

CURIOSITY

The basic attitude of human intelligence is certainly one of curiosity. You can count on this enormous drive to learn something new. There is a thirst for new information that one can evaluate and relate to what one already knows. It’s a fundamental human characteristic to want to know, to desire more information, more, more, more. Haven’t you known people to say “I learned something new today.” “That’s something I didn’t know.” This certainly exists in all of us. To remember this, to know it theoretically will "save your bacon" often when you have to communicate while under restimulation yourself.

HOW INTELLIGENCE FUNCTIONS

We have learned that intelligence functions well in relationship to the environment only within certain information limits. Intelligence cannot keep operating when too much new information is coming at it. Only a certain proportion of new material can be assimilated. We can only handle a certain percentage, maybe five percent, of new items, at least with the load of distress we carry. We may do a lot better than that as we unload our distresses. There’s a certain proportion of new information one can handle, and if the new information coming in from the environment exceeds that amount fear takes over. You may call it confusion, but the discharge is in trembling and laughter. It appears to be fear.

You know this. When people try to tell you too much you ask them to “back up.” “Give it to me one at a time.” Some of the most frightening science fiction is about people who awake in a completely alien environment; they can’t relate to anything. Haven’t you awakened and not known where you were for a moment and panicked? Probably being born is like that.

(Someone asks about his public lecture, where he gives a great deal of new information.) If the public lecture is as effective as we think it is, then it’s because we have assembled a whole lot of reassuring, discharging, communicating techniques to make it possible to communicate that much. Of course, we still overwhelm some people. (Someone says that under that situation there is no obligation to remember the information, whereas in a classroom the student is obliged to remember and feed it back. Martha comments that most people basically know what Harvey is telling them; that what they hear they always knew was true.) People respond and take it in, but you can feel the strain build up until the discharge part of the lecture comes. I try to throw in my little witticisms early, but there’s a certain point where they all start laughing together and then you can feel the situation relax and the evaluation open up.

(Someone asks if information taken in by the bored child can be evaluated later.) Yes, all the information that goes in can be evaluated. It’s either understandable at the time or it goes in the brushpile and becomes available on complete discharge. This is true of even the most terrifying experiences. Most of us haven’t had the opportunity to clean something up with complete discharge all the way up the spectrum, but when this happens even the most distressing experiences become all information. People can remember and recite the fine print in the notice on the wall in the undertaker’s parlor.

(Someone asks about the possibility of being shut down by boredom in a lecture but then freeing the information in the discussion afterwards.) Yes, this even happens with the hallowed institution of tests, and discussing the results of tests. It’s the worst way to get at meaning, but it’s been continued partly because anything that allows the children to talk about it allows them to learn from each other what they couldn’t hearfrom the teacher.

(Someone asks about the recall reached under hypnosis.) The recall which comes after discharge puts it over here in the memory where it’s useful; recall under hypnosis digs it up over here and puts it back in the brushpile of distress coated with the harmful agreed-upon shutdown of the hypnotic trance. This recall doesn’t have anything to do with really remembering in a flexible sense. You have new distresses from the hypnotic shutdown. Hypnosis is always injurious, never helpful. If you were ready to evaluate that material you would recall it spontaneously. To force it out with hypnotic recall is to do new injury, usually setting up some new recorded conflicts.

Too high a proportion of new information is one limit under which intelligence operates. It triggers fear and shutdown. (Barbara wants to know if it wouldn’t trigger frustration in a child who felt safe because he would want to use the new information.) Yes, if they are in better shape they’ll throw a tantrum at you.

The other limit that intelligence has to operate within is a requirement for some new information. If you don’t have something new coming in, something new you can make sense out of, boredom sets in. It’s called “light” and it discharges in talk, but in a way it’s the most terrible of painful emotions. Clients who keep bouncing away from feeling their heavy fear and can’t be pushed to feel it, given a choice between feeling it and boredom, will always eventually choose to feel the heavy fear in preference. Human beings will eventually face anything else rather than stay bored. Not having any new information for a long time is the most grisly of prospects.

If you have clients who avoid feeling heavy fear, just set up a phrase and ask them to stay with it. Settle back, and no matter how they object say pleasantly, “Let’s keep on with it.” They’ll keep on with saying, “I can’t face it, it’s too frightening,” and you keep saying “again,” 5,000 times. Finally they’ll say, “All right, brr!” and begin shaking.

Boredom is unbearable to the human intelligence. The Limelighters put it very nicely in their song about the lady bullfighter. They had a line, “Why did she become a bullfighter? Because she’d rather be gored than bored.”

The other limit we have seen clearly. On this end there must be some new information. People will commit suicide out of fear occasionally, but I’m sure they’ll commit suicide much more often out of boredom.


* Talk at Calvinwood I, the first Classroom Teachers' Workshop— February 26-28, 1971

 


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00