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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

The Resonating Dance of Intention and Synchronicity

Imagining the future programs the reticular activating system.


 

Key Points

  • The human prefrontal cortex is designed to anticipate the future.

  • Intention involves creating images of desired futures.

  • The reticular activating system (RAS) can filter information in desired directions.

 

By Bernard Beitman, M.D., and Ruslana Remennikova, M.S.


Intention can play a significant role in the creation of synchronicities.

To intend is to imagine and design desired futures. Intention can play a significant role in the creation of synchronicities. In this post, we weave together the prefrontal cortex, reticular activating system, intention, and synchronicity.


Humans are evolutionarily equipped to imagine the possibilities of the future. Psychological approaches to human functioning often focus on how the past creates problems in the present. Building on the work of psychologist George Kelly, psychiatrist Fred Melges (1982) presented evidence for the value of emphasizing the future to enable psychological change.


Homo Futurus


Our large prefrontal cortex is involved in higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, planning, reasoning, and self-control. In some individuals with depression, there may be abnormal functioning in areas of the prefrontal cortex. This abnormal functioning is often associated with depressive symptoms such as cognitive deficits, executive dysfunction, emotional dysregulation, and pessimistic views of the future (Pizzagalli, Roberts, 2022).


The human brain is constantly processing a vast amount of information from various sensory inputs simultaneously. While the exact number of stimuli that the brain filters per second fluctuates, here are known baselines:


  • The eyes process approximately 10,000,000 bits per second.

  • The skin processes around 1,000,000 bits per second.

  • The ears process about 100,000 bits per second.

  • The sense of smell processes around 100,000 bits per second.

  • The sense of taste processes approximately 1,000 bits per second.

  • The brain integrates and filters these stimuli to create our perception of the world around us.


For higher-level cognitive processes such as attention, decision-making, perception, movement decisions, language, and plans for the future, the estimated capacity for processing domain-specific information ranges from 2 to 60 bits per second. The conscious mind can only process a fraction of this higher-order information at one time.


The capacity to consciously control cognition, which is also a higher-level function of the brain, has been estimated to be approximately 3 to 4 bits per second. This principle suggests that cognitive control has a relatively low capacity compared to other cognitive processes. (Wu, Dufford, Mackie, Egan, Fan, 2016).


Intention


Intention is a form of cognitive control used to create a deliberate, conscious, and purposeful mental state by focusing one's thoughts, attention, and energy toward a particular desired outcome. Intentions can range from short-term goals—completing a task or making a decision to long-term aspirations including pursuing a career path or fostering personal growth. Each person’s intentions encompass several aspects of one’s day-to-day interactions including relationships, health, career, creativity, and spiritual development.


Our Sensory Filter: The Reticular Activating System


Locus Coeruleus-part of the RAS (Source: Diego69/Wikimedia Commons)

Holding certain images in mind focuses the reticular activating system (RAS) on the image. The RAS is a component of the reticular formation, found in the anterior-most segment of the brainstem. The reticular formation receives input from the spinal cord, sensory pathways, thalamus, and cortex and has efferent connections throughout the nervous system. The RAS itself is primarily composed of four main components: the locus coeruleus, raphe nuclei, posterior tuberomammillary hypothalamus, and pedunculopontine tegmentum. Each releases unique neuropeptides. In large part, these centers are activated by the lateral hypothalamus, which releases the neuropeptide orexin in response to the absorption of light through the eyes, which then stimulates arousal and the transition from sleep to waking (Arguinchona, Tadi, 2023).


As a dynamic filter, the RAS regulates the flow of sensory information, prioritizing relevant stimuli while suppressing irrelevant or distracting input. Because the RAS filters inputs, the intended image may be more likely to reach conscious awareness, in this way creating a match between psychological events and external events which may sometimes be experienced as a synchronicity. By consciously directing our attention and setting clear intentions, we can shape and condition the filtering process of the RAS to focus on the information that supports our desired outcomes.


The RAS filters and selectively presents information to consciousness that aligns with our intentions. It filters out the "white noise" or irrelevant information, allowing us to focus on what is important to us. The RAS filters out information that contradicts our intentions. The RAS selects what we are seeking to see. The RAS plays a crucial role in our survival by quickly alerting us to potential dangers or significant opportunities in our environment. It ensures that we react promptly to stimuli that require immediate attention.


Synchronicity and the Reticular Activating System


Intending to find a match between a psychological event and an external event is likely to increase synchronicities. Because the RAS can filter information absorbed by the brain, the RAS plays a significant role in the way an individual resonates with certain stimuli. Building on this fact, the social media personality Jenna LaMere (aka The Synchronicity Fairy) gives her viewers a symbol each day and encourages them to be alert for a match in their environment. This exercise increases the viewer’s synchronicity experiences by programming the RAS to screen for the symbol. When the person finds a match between Jenna's symbol of the day and something in their surroundings, a synchronicity is formed.


Over time, the RAS automates certain processes by filtering out repetitive or familiar information. This allows us to perform routine tasks more efficiently and with less conscious effort. One of those automated routines could be increasing our ability to detect and create synchronicities.


Comment


Our prefrontal cortex holds intentions that modify the reticular activating system to encourage our conscious mind to locate objects that cohere with the intentions. Synchronicities are often characterized by matches between a psychological event and an environmental event. By consciously intending a desired outcome, the RAS can find matches with that outcome which then results in synchronicities. If one intends to see more meaningful coincidences, events can be filtered through the RAS to find matches between psychological and external events. Intention and synchronicity form a dynamic relationship that influences the outcomes of our experiences. By understanding this interplay, we can harness their combined power to positively shape our lives.


 

References

  • Melges, FT (1982) Time and the Inner Future : A temporal approach to psychiatric disorders. New York: Wiley

  • Pizzagalli, D.A., Roberts, A.C. Prefrontal cortex and depression. Neuropsychopharmacol. 47, 225–246 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-021-01101-7

  • Wu T, Dufford AJ, Mackie MA, Egan LJ, Fan J. The Capacity of Cognitive Control Estimated from a Perceptual Decision Making Task. Sci Rep. 2016 Sep 23;6:34025. doi: 10.1038/srep34025. PMID: 27659950; PMCID: PMC5034293.

  • Neuroanatomy, Reticular Activating System. [Updated 2023 Jul 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549835/


 
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