Battle Royal or the Conscious vs Unconscious mind

For the purposes of this article, I’ll discuss the #brain and #body as if it were a outrageously complicated machine. Don’t want to tread on the toes of the “soul brigade”, so insert your own words and understanding at the various points along the way, let’s be friends, or let me know how wrong I am in the comments!

I read a lot, a lot, on the subject of the #mind – it’s just eternally fascinating to me

I was diagnosed, in my 40s with #ADHD, my late diagnosis catching up with the diagnoses of many of my nieces and nephews, I was born in the 70s in the West of Scotland, where there remains today a below average diagnosis of the “condition” – there may be other reasons, but for my bloodline, it’s an endemic trait.

I’ve been learning everything I can since, it was such a revelatory, a-ha, understanding that I came to, leading to where I am now, which is one of acceptance.

Ok. I’m like this, my family is like this.

The who – lots of textbooks go into extreme detail, I don’t need to repeat that here, basically DNA.

The why – theories (mostly debunked) about hunters vs gatherers, novelty seeking cavemen were more likely to pass their genes on, and other reasons I won’t go into here.

The what – this one is more interesting. What is the difference and how can I capitalise on that difference, what’s the market potential?

I started my professional career as a programmer, now a Business Analyst, which is the same thing at a different level of abstraction (now I change organisations, with software (written, mostly, by others) and operational and organisational tools, I should maybe write about those, but anyway, distraction (one of my foibles) – back on topic.

The Battle Royal in our heads…

Back in the day, I had Sky on my TV and a feature of Sky back then was WWF as it was known, American Wrestling, think they were forced to change to WWE at some point because, you know, the other WWF, anyway. Wrestlemania IV was a big thing, Sky wasn’t widely available at the time, so picture how many of my friends were crammed into my parents living room that evening.

Wrestlemania IV featured a 20 man Battle Royal won finally by Bad News Brown, we were old enough to enjoy the testosterone charged atmosphere but young enough to think it was real, ideal candidates for that show. From that day on, till the next thing, you were defined by whether you watched it live or not, I obviously did a VHS recording , lended out widely, but that first day, was all about who watched it live and that Battle Royal was the talk of the playground. Btw, Wrestlemania IV is in my opinion peak American Wrestling, probably something to do with the above and hormones, but it was the moment for me.

Anyway, what’s that got to do with consciousness? Not much, it’s a tenuous link, but my brain loves those, perhaps more than most.

As you probably already know, the brain is the bit of the body that does “thinking” – just as the lungs do breathing and the heart does beating, etc. It’s an important function, the human brain uses up an inordinate amount of our energy, a wasteful amount by me on a Netflix binge.

“You” think things and then you turn those things into physical action from time to time, the things you think are “your” thoughts. No-one else is doing that for sure, but is it “you”?

But you’ll notice “you” is in quotes.

Let’s define “you” in the interest of precision. You are you. From the soles of your feet to the hair on your head (or your scalp if no hair, you know what I mean; same if you have no feet) ok, so that is you, the body, the walking/wheeling about “stuff” and indeed, that throwaway comment about having no feet is useful, if you had no feet, no legs, no arms, I mean god forbid, but would you be you without those limbs? You’d Probably say, as I do, yes, those are my legs, but not “me”. Ok, so we chop off enough bits to get to a still living “you” – what are you? A torso & head. And you imagine a future tech machine that can manage with just the head, ultimately just the sci-fi staple of the brain in a jar.

So, that’s “you” but that specimen we see above, is a picture of a human brain, the most complex thing known to science. It is a biological neural network, lots of interconnected nodes, which do lots of things, everything in fact. It’s a computer which is made of meat (yes I’ve read the story), literally made of meat. A computer and don’t forget, it’s the most complex thing that we as a species have discovered to date.

Now, as a computer, it has a stack. A layering of “programs” which solve problems. There is always more than one way to solve a problem, so it’s a learning machine, which is designed to deliberately pit one method of problem solving against another in order to make a decision on which is the best solution. It does this constantly, like a grass field, the well worn paths become the easiest to tread, so lots of the programming becomes repeatable, which as anyone who has any proficiency with a musical instrument will attest, practice makes permanent – note I didn’t say perfect, permanent, so don’t dick about with your practice, perfect practice makes perfect permanent, shitty practice makes shitty permanent.

Now, I’m not going to cite the studies etc, I’ll link out to the books that do that well, but that above quote, that was from my own guitar teacher, turns out he was right! (In the bad way)

Anyway, the brain/body “computer” – it comes preloaded with loads of interesting things and some not so good, it knows how to learn language, in order that we can “install” other people’s programs, it knows how to seek comfort and show affection and also how to let others know about our discomfort! In fact, a human baby is rather helpless, many babies are, but look at a foal – it’s standing and looking to feed and run with the herd within 30 minutes, human babies – 1 year, maybe more before standing is a thing, and much older before fully independent. We ditched that bit of the programming for a variety of reasons, but mostly because, as we primates have learned by creating our own hardware, general purpose programmable computers are more useful than single taskers.

Why am I being so very specific about saying brain/body? Well, much as Hermann Minkowski coined the term space/time to imply that it made no sense to think of either without the other, outside the trope of brain in a jar, the brain and the body are the same thing, the brain is part of the body. The body is the brain’s sensory apparatus which causes physical change in the world.

It was this realisation which made me hit the gym, modern occupations, especially nerd desk based ones don’t task the body like our ancestors had, so we need to supplement the desk job with intensive gym training (another article I should write at some point) – anyway, distraction again.

What’s all of that got to do with Wrestlemania IV??

Ok. One of the main events with that show was the Battle Royal, sometimes Royale nowadays, but it wasn’t called that then, though pronounced “royale” as Jules repeats after Vince in the famous scene.

The brain, as we understand it has layers. It has multiple programs competing to be the most efficient at completing a goal. Some goals are built in, the noisiest being “water” “sex” “food” (we share those in common with all living things) – for the socialised species, of which we hold as ancestor species, there are additional programmes for social interaction –

“Prominence” (aka “alpha” – debunked largely, since it only applied in captivity, but relates to power, dominance, social status (as you define it), etc.)

“Inclusiveness” – taking people as you find them, trust, looking after each other, especially children

“Negativity Prevention” – an important one, avoiding conflict, disagreement, isolation

“Tradition” – another important one, the fundamental core of what we call Religion – we copy and repeat our ancestors, it’s a useful adaption, but it does get mixed up with stories and the themselves evolve into magical thinking – It’s important, but bottom of the list because those of a certain mindset Rebel against tradition – note Rebel in capital, it’s something I’ll cover below.

So, we have all of this base programming, we’re human, illness asides, we all have it with a priority of each dialled up or dialled down according to our unique DNA and our personal experience and “choice”.

We’re programmed to satisfy basic needs, be social and to seek novelty.

Ok, got that, so the Royale Rumble?

Battle Royal, anyway, OK, I’ve wittered on, but necessary pre-knowledge. So we have a bunch of programs running. Those programs were in-built (instinct we call it in animals) or we developed or learned them ourselves. Let me take another asides, then I’ll get on with it. Earworms

Ever listen to a song and you can’t get it out of your head? Earworm, that’s what it’s been dubbed. Ever sing along badly (well, that’s just me. So have friends who can actually sing, their experience is different!) to a tune on the radio – especially one that you’ve come to love and it resonates deeply, “please could you stop the noise I’m trying to get some rest” – for me, Paranoid Android by Radiohead – I don’t think those lyrics in my own voice I “hear” Thom Yorke, quite literally hear him in my head – why is that? Ever thought about it? You’ll have your songs, why do you hear the music when you think about it? The answer is that your brain encodes the sound and you can play it back, yes – memory is not words, it’s sound, taste, touch, etc.

Do this.

Right now. (After you’ve read the instruction, which stops at John Squire’s Lemon).

(Act this out)

Close your eyes, imagine a plump bright yellow lemon hanging on a lemon tree in the morning dew. You’re on holiday.

Pluck the lemon, shake off the dew and take a sharp knife and half the lemon

You’re holding a big silver table spoon in your right hand, in your left you’re holding a half lemon, squeeze the lemon onto the spoon, watch the juice fill the spoon, the spoon is full and it’s dribbling over the sides, lot of juice, glinting in the morning sunlight dappled through the leaves of the tree and then slowly, slowly, slowly, move your hand towards the lips of your opened mouth and then STOP.

Don’t put the spoon in.

Try it.

If that worked (it’s better if you listen) then you’ve just felt saliva in your mouth the correct response for the anticipation of dealing with sour acid food – but there was no food, there was no physical reason for “you” to respond in that way, but you did. You just ran the food anticipation program in your head!

You just ran a program in your head. That’s what all experience is. Input from your sensory organs, interpretation by the brain. You just tricked your brain into running a program with imaginary sensory input!

So, class, what does that tell us?

The brain is a computer as we understand the term

The input to the computer is under our control

Ok, since you insist, one more asides, then I’ll get to the fucking point.

Last thing, honest. The brain is an utter moron. It doesn’t care or even really comprehend anything, it’s a piece of meat. It has programs, many incorporated into DNA, to breathe, to eat, to reproduce. It has more, also incorporated in DNA, for social conditioning and it has more advanced programming specifically to learn, the best trick it’s ever come up with. Literally the same as evolution, but an organism per organism thing in the moment (and my belief, passed down the line too, but that’s controversial I’ve found, so just my thought for that one). The amazing thing about how stupid it is basically was summarised by the late great Douglas Adams

The Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal is a vicious wild animal from the planet of Traal, known for its never-ending hunger and its mind-boggling stupidity. One of the main features of the Beast is that if you can’t see it, it assumes it can’t see you. Due to this it has been considered one of the least intelligent creatures in the Universe.

The brain is much like that. If you put a smile on your face. A fake smile mind, life might be going to hell in a handbasket, but smile like you’re watching Billy Connelly, then your brain is so unbelievably stupid then it assumes it was responsible and triggers the dopamine etc. the feel good hormones. What an idiot.

So, ramble over we have the basic building blocks of an idea.

1. Brain is a neural network running programs based on stimulus

2. Some of the programmes are built in, some are built on

3. You can “listen” to music you can’t hear, trigger saliva response for food you simply imagine

4. Your brain reacts to imagination the same way it reacts to real stimulus

Ok. Now we’re getting somewhere. You are not “you”, just who your brain imagines it is.

You are malleable, you can reprogram when you need to

The more often you do a thing, the more the brain short circuits reaction to input

Ok, but the Battle Royal.

Yes, apologies, there is a point. Going left field for a change. “you” is already tenuous. It’s about to become moreso, I apologise. So you, You, Yes You behind the bike sheds. Stand still laddie. You aged 10 years old. Was that you. what about aged 16. What about 21? Or maybe 30, now? All the same “person?” Truth is You evolves every minute of every day, but only looking back at those milestones let’s you think that yeah, but I was younger then… so what about you NOW – are you you? Will 90 year old you think you’re you now?


if you answer yes, then what was 16 year old you up to? And reflect. If no, then read on.

Truth is either answer is correct, trick question. That “you” aged 16 is still you, an 21 and 30 and beyond and they probably think you’re a dick because you didn’t keep up with “skateboard/javelin/weight lifting” whatever was most important in their life. They still exist. Talk to them, they’ll think you’re a dick and vice versa. And they don’t go away. They’re programs, created by your hardware in response to their requirements in the moment. Those programs are still burned into your brain. You are still them, you’ve come up with new programs better programs…

So, Battle Royal?

Yes, sorry – the point.

Every decision you make is not your own. It has bubbled up, percolated through the in-built and acquired programming that you walk about with. When you make a decision. Actually, let’s go deeper,’when you react, there are multiple different opinions (programs) running at the same time and the first to the finish line is the winner. That’s why you blurt out with inappropriate comments. The Battle Royal is you

Conscious vs unconsciousness.

The majority of the body’s processes are subconscious, by design.

Your conscious mind is just the tip of a huge iceberg. There are multiple versions of “you” in the unconscious, and they all compete to run their programs. The brain is effectively limitless in terms of storage, so it’s not wasteful to have all of these programs running at the same time, indeed it’s beneficial. So these multiple possible ways of assessing sensory inputs, getting needs met (and need is a funny thing, ask a smoker about that, it can be hacked), seeking novelty, etc.

That is the Battle Royal and it’s going on in your head ALL of the time. It’s just thoughts, it’s just programmes, it’s just bits of memory, it’s competing actions, it’s differences of opinion, it’s appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, it’s like 20 or probably more wrestlers in the ring all competing to win the Battle Royal of action, to take the helm, to steer the ship, to be the idea that drives the conscious.

Oh and incidentally, the subconscious is super fast, like mind bogglingly fast, the conscious mind is like an untrained, slightly overweight middle aged man running the 100 metres in the olympics (I resemble that comment) – it would be laughable to see that, that’s the speed difference of the conscious versus the unconscious.

People with ADHD live more in the unconscious, below the waterline, so they’re more suggestible (though everyone is anyway) and they tend to act on what we call impulse which means that they don’t have the mechanism for passing everything through the conscious mind first, their (my) filter is below the consciousness line. In some respects, can be treated as if they make the decision to act when asleep, part of the brain is already asleep. Indeed, MOST, of the brain is already asleep. The reason I mention this is that if makes visible an important thing, the decision to act comes from the unconscious mind. Direct from the metal, well meat, the program that’s running which is coming from the machine, like a pro tennis player already reacting to the incoming ball at an incredible 150 mph, there is no time for the conscious mind to react to that, that’s a well honed program running there, with the grass beaten down (trained) to react to the available cues.

Still not convinced? I’m not trying to convince you, I’m sharing some info about our underlying programming. I’ll share some more, to try and get the idea across.

What does your left ankle feel like right now? Are you wearing socks, shoes? Barefoot, is it hot, cold, itchy? It’s your ankle, but why do you only know about it when I’ve asked you to think about it? I directed your consciousness to the state of your ankle, you need to ask, by which I mean, turn your attention, as we call it. That “attention” is consciousness. Now dredge up an early memory, like maybe first day at school or an event like a christmas party in nursery, it will be shadowy for most, a vague impression, but you likely have some impression, some memory of that, or if not, some other memory, it’s there, it’s accessible, but only if you direct your “attention” to retrieving it. Why should that be, it’s “you” after all.

Ok, a change of direction now, related but slightly separate. Gretchen Ruben has summarised this stuff with her “Four Tendencies” these are summarised behaviour patterns of how people will typically or naturally respond. They are Upholder – get shit done, Obliger – help others, Rebel – must be free even from internal obligation, Questioner – but why? Why? Why!

Everyone has elements of all of these things, we have outer expectations (family commitments, work deadlines) and inner expectations (New Years resolution for example) and we have these in a part of our mind, but take New Years resolutions as an example, they famously don’t tend to get done.

I mentioned Rebel above and capitalised it because that’s how I come out from the quiz, I rebel against expectations, hate it, even if those expectations come from my own self.

How can that be? Well, given the theory of the Battle Royal, my expectations and other people’s expectations are a slightly overweight, middle aged man in the ring and Bad News Brown is what I’m actually going to do, he’s typically the winner.

What can I do with this knowledge?

Ok, so that’s all interesting and nice, what is actionable from this?

  • Most of what you think is unconscious programs running, trying to meet goals you’ve set, or had set, somewhere along the way. This “you” is running on part of your hardware, the brain is a supercomputer effortlessly running the software, it doesn’t ever stop and you don’t want it to.
  • If you have a Bad News Brown constantly winning the Battle Royal and that’s not how you want to feel, behave, think – then invite Bad News Brown into your imagination, maybe it’s 16 year old you, shouting to be heard, invite him into your imagination and give him a hug, he’s just doing the job you asked him to do a long time ago. Tell him he’s a good boy, pat his back, he’s not heard that for a while. Thank him for working so tirelessly and tell him that you don’t need him to do that job any more, give him a different job, like maybe warning you when you’re acting in a way you don’t want, he can become the canary in the coal mine for you. Invite all of your wrestlers into your imagination, Jamie Cato has a great fun way of doing that, his book is linked below.
  • The brain/body is a 2 way street, you can use your body to control the brain. So lift heavy things and practice self care and meditate, all of these things will work together to give you more available processing in the conscious mode.
  • You have unique, personal access to one of the most sophisticated pieces of computer hardware in the world, it can do incredible things, stop for a second and appreciate the marvel of it. That brain isn’t “you” you’re just a program running on it. Nurture it though, feed it information, entertain it, learn from it and importantly, let it sleep, let it dream.
  • Conscious “you” might not be an “Upholder” where you tend to prioritise Internal motivation and that’s ok. Take Gretchen’s quiz, linked below and understand how you tick. Being a Rebel, as I tend to, just means that I don’t take things as given or handed down and don’t trust even my own motivations.
  • Write things down. Your thoughts from time to time, get things out of your head onto paper – this gives you perspective and insight into your thoughts. Don’t Even judge what you write, just get it down on “paper” it’s hard work living in your head all of the time, now it’s time to step into the real world and dumping your thoughts onto paper is cathartic.
  • Consider going on an information diet, by which I mean, only put in front of yourself those things that are of immediate use and immerse yourself in that stuff, kudos to Tim Ferris for introducing me to that concept. You’ve Probably curated a pipeline of information on your smartphone, Instagram, Reddit, Hacker News, Facebook, Twitter – that stuff is fun and interesting, but also distracting. Your brain can be channelled, so decide what you want to do and then immerse yourself in it. The book Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill talks in depth about the power of this immersion, creating a single focus of desire, chasing a dream. Read it, reflect and put it into action, it’s a classic for a reason.
  • Decide what you want to do is the tricky part. You have access to your inbuilt hardware, with all its foibles and your unique consciousness with your unique “waterline” around which parts are above and below consciousness. Do you want to retire in the sun? What’s stopping you? A set of steps are required to get you there, don’t leave it to luck, work out the goal and then backwards to the steps, that will lead you to – what am I going to do today.
  • “You” are not your thoughts, thoughts are simply what the brain is designed to do, don’t treat everything you think of as having importance and meaning. It’s Just Thought. Don’t apply morality and value judgements on thought, only action needs judgement and even with that, since lots of it is unconscious, don’t judge your actions too harshly either, give yourself a break, wake up and decide to do other things instead.
  • Feed your head, it’s not “you” but you live there, treat it with respect.

Sources: there are many more, but the following were particularly insightful for me

Firstly, my subconscious, please take a bow, since it was you who wrote this, you absorbed all of the information, well some of it and then translated it into the jumble of words above, that hopefully imparts some of the knowledge to the reader, if not, I’m happy just to have it all jotted down.

Passive Frame Theory –




Hey, I’m Colm, an anlayst from Scotland who’s interested in becoming more productive, so I’m using Medium as my way of writing down and refining my process ❤

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Colm Gallagher

Colm Gallagher

Hey, I’m Colm, an anlayst from Scotland who’s interested in becoming more productive, so I’m using Medium as my way of writing down and refining my process ❤

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