The Psychology In
A Beautiful Mind


The psychology in A Beautiful Mind (the movie) provides a valuable lesson for the practice of self awareness by ordinary people. Artistically differing from the actual events, it is a film, which convincingly uses the visual medium to portray stress and mental illness within one person's mind.

The storyline supplants auditory symptoms with visual delusions to narrate the story of the paranoid schizophrenia developed by John Forbes Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. It was an illness, which had been intensified by the anxiety felt by Nash, about the pain suffered by his wife and friends due to his mental condition.

Even as he took medication to suppress the symptoms, Nash is shown returning to normal life by becoming self aware. The visually presented psychological symptoms in the movie effectively convey the barriers to distinguishing subconscious patterns within the mind.

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Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Competition & Conflict
The primary problem for Nash was his inability to distinguish between reality and his delusions. Even normal people fail to distinguish the concrete emotional changes in their viewpoints during the course of an average day. You may be fuming with resentment one moment and joyful, the next. These hidden shifts in moods and attitudes have a clear cause. They happen, because the control of your mind shifts between myriad competing and conflicting intelligences. These intelligences were assembled over millions of years to become the present triune human brain.

At the lowest level, a reptilian brain controls primitive functions like breathing, hunger and heartbeat. At the next level, a mammalian brain controls the system through love and despair, compassion and shame. At the highest level exists the Real “I,” (RI), a wise human level prefrontal brain. These subconscious intelligences offer competing strategies for your life. Unfortunately, your mind switches controls between these entities without your conscious permission. In the case of Nash, he suffered more because the vibrant delusions generated by his emotions took frequent control of his system.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Awareness Happens Later
During his delusional periods, Nash saw an imaginary room mate, Charles. The movie audience shares the delusion of Nash. Charles is shown as a real person, who greets him on checking into his hostel room when joining college. Nash did not consciously create his delusion. Actually, it began in his mind 350 milliseconds before Nash actually saw Charles. Benjamin Libet discovered this time interval between conscious awareness and the beginning of brain activity.

He studied subjects who voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position of a dot on a computer screen, which shifted its position every 43 milliseconds. The noted moment of depressing the button was the moment of conscious awareness; the exact instant the subject thought the button was pressed. Each time, Libet had also timed the beginning of motor neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. He discovered that awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the beginning of motor activity. Nash was merely a witness to the events occurring in his mind. If Nash was to heal himself, his RI had to understand that a delusional state of mind had already taken control.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Hoodwinking RI
Nash's delusions had a complex character of their own. His imaginary room mate, Charles, also had a niece, a little girl named Marcie. William Parcher, a DoD official, was another imaginary figure. Parcher assigned Nash to look for patterns in magazines and newspapers, in order to prevent a Soviet plot. Nash spent hours in pointless research and deposited his "top secret" reports in a secret mailbox. The first conflict between reality and delusions occurred when Alicia, his wife, confronted him with his documents, unopened, which she had retrieved from the mailbox. The evidence made Nash realize that he was hallucinating. Up to that time, his RI accepted these delusions to be truth, because they were convincingly presented.

Negative emotions use the vast power of your mind to meet their objectives. They can convincingly distort the truth without your awareness. The primary objective of, say, anger is to destroy opponents. The emotion is designed by nature to make you fight more fiercely. Without your conscious permission, anger will initiate past behaviors, which fueled your resentment. It will impel you to provoke your opponents so that their increased hostility intensifies your anger. Or, anger will subtly guide you to fail in your project to intensify your resentment against fate, which “destined” you to failure.

Just like the delusions suffered by Nash, your responses to anger will not be rational behaviors. Emotional intelligences will present you with powerful arguments to support their objectives. Self awareness is the process of discovering the damning evidence, which proves to your RI that your behavior is not rational. It is the skill of consciously identifying your emotional outbursts. You can gradually become familiar with the irrational viewpoints of each of the negative intelligences, which operate within your mind.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Emotions Limit Viewpoints
The delusions of Nash were triggered by his negative feelings. Emotions have the capacity to restrict your access to your memories. An intuitive process within your nervous system operates by eliminating alternative possibilities. An animal cannot afford to remain frozen between one decision to drink water and another to eat grass. If a decision to drink is taken, the system instantly inhibits its hunger demands.

So also, fear inhibits its option to stay back and fight. The animal's intuition recalls memories of escape routes, while suppressing memories of previous successes. Its mind provides memories in context to enable it to cope with its immediate tasks. Hidden emotions forcibly redirect your mind without your awareness. With anger, your working memory also tends to decrease, making you lose sight of the immediate past. In the case of Nash, the delusions inhibited all those real life viewpoints, which should have been obvious to a brilliant scientist.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Living With Irrationality
For the treatment of his problems, Nash was subjected to a series of insulin shock therapy sessions. He was released on condition that he would take antipsychotic medication. But, the drugs seriously affected both his family and academic life. Because of the new problems, Nash secretly stopped taking his medication, triggering a relapse of his psychosis. His condition became worse and, unintentionally, he harmed his wife Alicia and his baby.

The incident occurred, because the negative emotions of Nash were still actively competing with his RI, his rational self. Even ordinary people may consider their irrational behavior to be more practical. The temper tantrums continue, or severe grief persists with avoidance behavior. Hidden resentments or excessive responses to grief continue to harm their social life. While being aware of their irrational streaks, they continue, since their RI is yet to decide whether the disadvantages really outweigh the need to control their negative emotions.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – A Convincing Need For Change
The near accident with his wife and child changed the balance of power in his mind. Nash was suddenly faced with the prospect of being permanently committed to an institution. As Alicia tried to flee and report his behavior, Nash stepped in front of her car to prevent her from leaving. At that critical moment, a sudden insight appeared to heal him permanently. He said "She never gets old." Nash had realized that during his hallucinations over the years, Marcee had continued to be a little girl.

It was a single lightning flash, which illuminated his entire mental landscape. The discovery was partly accidental and partly forced on him by his anxiety to avoid being committed. It is usually a traumatic incident, caused by emotionally negative behaviors, which cause people to have a look at themselves. An alcoholic has to become convinced that he has a problem, before he will submit to treatment. Usually, it is when a person encounters a significant problem that her RI finally decides that her negative emotions need to be controlled.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Self Awareness Illuminates
Nash realized that although all three people seemed completely real, they were in fact a part of his hallucinations. The human mind has small emotional partitions and an immensely wise RI, the prefrontal intelligence. RI normally accepts emotional viewpoints as the truth. It is self awareness, which enables RI to look down into the emotional partitions of the mind. In meditation, the Buddhists advise “staring back” at your thoughts.

Matthieu Ricard, a respected Buddhist monk said: "One may wonder what people do in retreats, sitting for eight hours a day. They familiarize themselves with a new way of dealing with the arising of thoughts. When you start getting used to recognizing thoughts as they arise, it is like rapidly spotting someone you know in a crowd. When a powerful thought or anger arises, you recognize it. That helps you to avoid being overwhelmed by this thought." It is self awareness, which exposes the ridiculous aspects of emotional viewpoints. It is the first step to peace of mind.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – The Constant Struggle
Nash could not avoid his delusions. They continued to haunt him, with Charles mocking him for cutting off their friendship. His hallucinations constantly reappeared, distracting him and disconcerting his colleagues. His solution was to treat his “demons” as though they were real. He thanked Charles for being his best friend over the years, and said a tearful goodbye to Marcee. He told Parcher that he would not speak to him anymore. Gradually they troubled him less.

While self awareness can throw light on emotional irrationality, many of the behaviors will be triggered repeatedly by “speed dial circuits,” which respond to stressful situations. Negative emotions include fear, sadness, disgust, boredom, contempt, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. These emotions may have a rational basis. The irrational impulses they trigger need to be acknowledged. Physical and mental exercises, which calm the mind, are necessary to prevent a relapse into old habits. But, only self awareness can inform you, when you relapse into your old habits.

Psychology In A Beautiful Mind – Observing The Symptoms
Nash had to prevent new delusions from entering his mind. He used to humorously check with his students and colleagues whether they too could see his new visitors. He was checking for reality. Negative emotions always distort viewpoints and are accompanied by subtle feelings of discomfort. Overpowering anger is usually accompanied by symptoms such as feeling hot and flushed, hairs standing up, becoming hyperactive, a racing heartbeat, sudden tension in your arms, neck or shoulders, or the onset of a headache.

While minor irritations may not trigger such symptoms, you may be able to discover subtle symptoms, which accompany your anger. Can the offender be aptly described as a “bitch,” or an “a**hole?” If so, you are angry. Identifying such descriptions in your mind can bring in an element of humor to release your tension. Each person responds differently to each emotion. Those symptoms will appear a few milliseconds before you realize that you are angry. Identifying the physical symptom is the quickest way of stilling your negative emotions. Like Nash, you need to be constantly aware of the subtle tricks of the mind.

This page was last updated on 01-Jan-2014



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