Just before falling asleep, and after waking up, I have take some time to explore labeling-images. It is an interesting phenomenon, although maybe not exactly earth shattering.
The job of the mind is to produce thoughts, and one category of thoughts are these labels that take the form of images.
Labels of sounds are usually quite clear cut. There is a sound, and then an image of an appropriate airplane surfaces. Another sound, and an image of a section of road and a car. Another sound, and the image of a person (as a shadowy outline) walking on gravel. The image labels surface with a suggestion of what the sound most likely represent, and there is an appropriate response (which usually is no response) to the image (not the sound itself). Most of the time the image surfaces outside of conscious attention. It is there, has effects, but is not necessarily noticed itself.
Where the labels of sounds typically represent the most likely physical source of the sound, labels of sensations are a little more complex.
The simplest labels of sensations are images of the body. There is a sensation, localized in space where the mind thinks the calf is, so an image of the calf (or the specific part of the calf) is placed on top of the sensation. Another sensation, or a set of sensations, and an image of the head is placed on top of them. These images are usually smaller sections of the body, although some represent larger sections including sometimes the whole body. In general, they seem to be as small as possibly to account for the sensation, and also as detail-free as possible. (Probably conserving energy that way.)
The second category of labels of sensations are the ones representing the quality of the sensation. For instance, there is a sensation, and an image of a piece of apple stuck between two teeth, a faint red cloud with a deeper red cone (emphasizing its tip) within it, and if attention is brought to it, then a thought “faint pain from a piece of apple stuck between two teeth”. The image of the piece of apple provides an explanation for the sensation, and the image of a red cloud and cone that particular sensation labeled pain. Another sensation, an image of the lower back of the body and of quiet faint lava flows, and if attention is brought to it then the thought “murmuring pain in the lower back”.
Another sensation, an image of confined movement, and the thought “restlessness” and “I need to get away”. Another sensation, an image of the chest, another of red hot coal there, and then the thought “anger”. A sensation, an image of breath constricted in the throat, and then of something heavy sinking down the body, and the story “sadness” or even “grief”. If attention is brought to any of these, other stories may come up including reasons why these emotions were triggered, and going into those stories may amplify the sensations, which in turn fuel these stories.
When I go back to images of sounds, I notice the same two types of labels there too: first, a label representing the most likely physical source of the sound, and then sometimes another label representing what the sound evokes in this human self – maybe an emotional reaction or mood.
So there is a sound, an image of people behaving in loud and crude ways, an image of some jagged black forms placed on top of it (transparently), and if attention goes there (which it is likely to do), then a thought “crude loud people”. If attention goes to the content of that thought, and the story is taken as real and true, then more thoughts may be fueled to flesh out and support the initial one: “Typical Americans to be so loud and crude… Neanderthals. I wish I was still in Europe, at least in a larger city. People are more sophisticated there… wouldn’t be caught dead behaving in that way. I belong there, not here. I am different from these people.”
Somewhere in this chain of events, sensations are triggered, which then get label images put on them, and possibly a story such as “irritability”, “frustration”, “restlessness”, even “anger”. Together, the sensations and their labels fuel the stories, which in turn fuel the sensations and their labels.
If this process is not noticed in its components, then a larger gestalt is formed which seems very real and substantial. A gestalt that includes sounds, emotions (sensations+a story), and more explicit, well-defined and fueled thoughts such as “those people are crude Neanderthals, what is wrong with them? I am not like them. I wish I was somewhere else. I belong in Europe, not here among these brutal primitives.”
The most basic gestalt that emerges from all of this is the gestalt of I and Other, of an I separate from the wider world, and specifically those crude folks over there.
These image labels are very helpful. They provide us, at our human level, with educated guesses about what is going on, which help us navigate in the world. If they are not believed in, they are only helpful.
But if they are believed in, taken as substantial and real in themselves, they can also create drama, stress and suffering. A fictional world is created, taken as real, and then have real consequences (at least in our experience).