The Physics of Inside-Out

A couple of friends and colleagues had some excellent thoughts and comments on a few of my recent posts. I want to address those over the next few days. I’m warning you, today’s post is a bit geeky, but I think many of you will find it helpful. Tomorrow’s will be more practical.

I want to clarify what inside-out means (to me) and the physics of the issue. Inside-out a term that has a certain meaning. It isn’t necessarily the best or only term, but it seems to be a term many people connect to and understand.

Inside-out means our experience of the world is created in our thoughts, and this is what we feel (emotionally). Our beliefs, moods, feelings, and other internal states determine how we interpret and experience the outside world. The inside reactions determine how the outside situations and stimuli are experienced. The flow of the experience is from inside to outside.


Inside reactions ———–Determine how we experience———–> outside events


For example, from a low mood in which we are feeling doubtful, we may believe we can’t achieve certain personal goals. In a good mood, the same goals might look highly achievable, perhaps even simple. Same goal, but our different momentary thought characteristics make us experience the goal differently.

Now, inside out is just a term to describe how the internal states create our interpretation of the outside states/situations; However, I want to be clear about the physics of this. Lights, sounds, and other signals clearly reach us from the outside-in. Light, sound, radiation, cell phone signals, radio waves, microwaves, etc., are traveling in various directions all the time. We can register some of these physical signals reliably and accurately in our awareness (using our senses, such our eyes, ears, and underlying nervous systems, including our brains), but others we are not aware of in the least (unless we have a phone or radio handy).

Sometimes, we as humans have very reliable reactions to certain stimuli, like loud, sudden noises. For most humans, under many conditions, our typical nervous system will respond with a startle reflex when loud, unexpected noises are detected. While the physics seems outside-in (noise travels from the source to our senses from outside-in), the typical startle response requires certain functioning on the part of humans who are hit by the sound waves. Just to name a few, it requires intact sensory functioning, a certain attention level (must not be prepared for the sound to occur), and even a certain lack of conditioning to loud, sudden noises. Then after a startle response occurs, there is thoughtful interpretation that depends on human thinking. This interpretation then determines the entire felt experience of the moment.

If a tree falls in the woods, it will definitely produce waves that can be interpreted as sound, but a human has to be present to actually hear it and understand it as a tree falling. The human sensory and thought system (inside) determines the personal experience (inside) of the tree falling (outside).

Humans tend to have reliable sensory systems. It is what allows us to see patterns, learn, and interact with the world in consistent ways. As a whole we respond in highly reliable and similar ways to certain stimuli; however, few, if any, stimuli produce invariant responses in 100% of humans.

Individuals also have certain relations to particular stimuli and situations, and often when we react to sensory stimuli in the same way over and over, we start to believe the stimulus makes us respond this way. However, it is rarely if ever the case that our responses can’t change. They can, and it’s often deceptively simply to get different responses out of ourselves.

One example that comes to mind is the trains that barreled through the Albion College campus when I was a student. For the first week of football camp for four years, I woke up once an hour to a train rattling down the track, blowing its whistle. After about a week, my subconscious got used to it (habituated to it), and I no longer woke up to the train. I was no longer startled awake in response to the train noise.

Don’t get hung up on the physics of it. The sound and vibrations definitely traveled toward me, from the outside-in. However, the change in my experience of the train happened internally. The internal change (getting used to the train and understanding it wasn’t threatening) determined how I experienced the outside stimulus (train noise and vibration), which didn’t change. This is why it is called inside-out.

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