According to Hume, at the heart of what we call “Reasoning” is an inborn instinct to mentally associate “Like” with “Like.” This observation has led me to the following exploration of Human Psychology…
Upon perceiving a phenomenon (via any sense-organ), the brain automatically and instantly searches the memory banks for similar sensations. The triggering of an inner google search for similar perceptual snatches of data from the past occurs without any conscious mental exertion whatsoever. This is purely a reflex mechanism. In fact, the brain’s connection of Like with Like is as much of an uncontrollable reflex-mechanism as the knee-jerk reaction to the doctors rubber mallet. We cannot NOT make the mental connections the brain decides to make. The connection of Like with Like is an instinctive response.
But what is meant by “Like?” How does the brain know which perceptions match? The brain appears to apply its own comparative calculus, and sometimes the old impressions called-up by the input of new impressions are not only multiple but surprising to our conscious minds. At times the connections are obvious– a piece of music will conjure-up a memory of the same music heard in the past; a face coming into view is matched to a memory of the face seen at breakfast this morning.
Sometimes the matches are what I call cross-matches; this is when a fresh experience that is dominated by one sense triggers a memory dominated by another sense… For example, when the smell of a perfume triggers the memory of a touch or a face.
Most of such relatively obvious connections are apparently based similar patterns. I think we can assume that similar lightwaves received by the eye trigger similar patterns of recognition and categorization in the brain. The same goes for received soundwaves or chemicals processed as aromas or tastes.
Bear in mind, the brain is not matching a single received lightwave-stimulus with some other single lightwave-stimulus. Instead, it is dealing in what I call CONSTELLATIONS of sensations. For instance… the constellation of all the sensations received from a face, or all the nuances of sound contained within a voice.
HOW THIS RELATES TO PSYCHOLOGY
Not infrequently, the brain performs a special kind of cross-match in which it matches an incoming physical stimulus with a past emotional response. My guess as to why emotions would be unconsciously connected with physical stimuli is that this phenomenon is related to the general animal capacity for instinctual (that is, non-conscious) behavior, such as the fight-or-flight reaction.
As I pointed-out previously, we cannot stop the brain from making its automatic connections. I think it would prove futile to attempt to simply will ourselves not to think of a particular ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend each time we pass a particular restaurant. This is why, in spite of our intense desire to “move on” past certain events of our past, they persist in riding our backs like heavy, unwanted “baggage.”
However, I believe what we CAN do to escape from the tyranny of bad memories is to OVERWRITE the unwanted connection with a repetition of new, positive connections...
The body has an amazing capacity for adaptation. We can make muscles stronger and hand-eye coordination better merely by repeated movements. In a similar way, we can make certain brain connections stronger and more readily available simply by usage. I believe that in both cases, the body is utilizing the same fundamental adaptive response.
If we have a certain stimulus or set of stimuli which is causing us mental agony or emotional duress due to past associations, we can, over time, push back or drown-out that old association by making new, positive memories revolving around the same offending stimulus.
The old connection will forever be there, but by making new memories, we can drive it into the background. Not in an unhealthy, repressional way, but in a simple, healthy mechanical fashion. Just as a healthy body heals mechanically from a burn, the discomfort from a mental wound can also be made to lessen over time until it hurts us no more– even if the scar remains.
Making new and positive associations with the once-offending stimulus will force not only new connections in the brain– but connections which will grow stronger and stronger as the old, negative connections fade and wither away.
Here’s an example… Suppose our relationship painfully ended at a certain restaurant. When we re-experience perceptions from that restaurant, or similar perceptions, a negative emotion may wash over us– and we may not even know why. This is not insanity. It is merely a result of the normal mechanical processes taking place in our brain as it matches Like with Like… In this case, triggering an emotional response as well. It is possible, by the way, that many memory associations are accompanied by an emotional element– but only certain associations are strong enough to cross the reflex-threshold and trigger a fight or flight reaction, or some other emotional reaction.
And so it seems to me, following from the philosophy of Hume, that the best cure for a psychologically counter-productive mental association is to begin making new, GOOD memories associated with the triggering stimulus. Only the beginning of this process will be painful. But the end-result will be a deliverance. The old connections of Like with Like will suffer more and more interference until the painful connections are overwhelmed by the new, positive ones.
The cure is not total– the old connections will sometimes still pop-up, like the green slot on the roulette wheel. But we CAN reduce the odds of this happening by, so to speak, adding more slots– more winning slots!– to the wheel.