Garbage In, Garbage Out

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Back when computers needed programmers to make them work, before Microsoft and Apple took over the computer world, this expression, abbreviated to “GIGO”, described an essential reality.  What we got out of computers was only as good as what we put into them.  I believe that this is essentially true of our minds.


Dr. Dan Siegel has given us his definition of “mind”:  “A core aspect of the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.”   We experience this flow of energy and information as ideas and thoughts.  We use the ideas in our mind to form our thoughts.  What I’d like us to think about is how do our ideas get into our mind?  And, then, how do the thoughts that we form from those ideas affect our mental health and happiness?

Many of our ideas come to us through our experience of life.  In our early years we experience pretty things that fly.   This experience forms the idea of birds and butterflies.  We can then recognize new kinds of birds and butterflies and have thoughts about them as we learn more and more about the world and how we function in our world.  This process continues to bring new ideas into our mind.  At some point we learn that we can add the ideas of others to our own, expanding our range of thought.  It is this voluntary intake of ideas that can help us find mental health and happiness or we can take in ideas that form thoughts that are not healthy or happy.  I am particularly concerned about the ideas that come to us from what we choose for entertainment.

As the gumball machine illustrates, we can only draw from the ideas that are in our mind.  If we allow ideas into our minds that are foolish, or hurtful or destructive, there will be a price to pay in decreased mental health and happiness.  This can have an impact on our relationships.  Dr. Glasser has warned us that ideas that generate criticism, blaming, complaining, punishing, threatening, nagging and bribing will drive us apart from those we need in our lives.

I’d like to gently challenge us to be more reflective about what we put into our minds and the minds of our children.  Plato encouraged us to seek the “good, the true, and the beautiful.”  With ideas shaped by those qualities, our thoughts will lift us and connect us in ways that will enhance our mental health and happiness.

If you’d like some “homelearning” related to this discussion, seek out and study Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”.  For an old Greek, he sure had some profound insights into the human condition.

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