Hot-air Baloon

Ch-3: Develop Your Higher Self:
The part that loves you unconditionally

Part 4

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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   Chapter 3, Part 4 from,  You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
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How your Higher Self can resolve conflicts and bring happiness

 Does the Higher Self connect to a larger Spiritual Unity?
 Follow your highest rules--Don't be rule-bound
 A strong Higher Self can overcome loneliness
 Strong Higher Self beliefs do not negate biological needs
 A higher belief is powerful enough to integrate lower beliefs
 The Higher Self as an Inner Observer
 Hidden inner conflicts can only be resolved as they are activated
 When we first learn a new insight, we get excited
 General beliefs are hard to validate (or invalidate)
 Honesty is the answer
Biological basis for triumph of truth
Honesty brings harmony and integration
The Belief Integration process--step-by-step


Think of the Higher Self as the conductor of a symphony.(1) The jobs of the conductor are both (1) to help each orchestra member become the best and happiest musician possible and (2) to coordinate the activities of all musicians so that their combined effort produces the best performance for the whole orchestra. Consequently, each musician receives individual, intrinsic rewards from playing at a peak level and receives his or her share of the rewards from the entire orchestra.

When any one part of the orchestra is out synch with the rest, then the performance and happiness of the entire orchestra suffer. The conductor's job is to coordinate the musician's performances so that--together--they produce beautiful music played in perfect harmony.


The Higher Self's job is to conduct our inner orchestra members' performance so that--together--they produce beautiful music played in perfect harmony. The Higher Self's job is to keep all parts of our mind and body functioning at their peak level of growth, performance, and happiness as much of the time as possible. Whenever there are conflicts, or whenever parts of the system are inactive for long, the performance and happiness of our entire mind-body system suffer. In later chapters, I will describe how we can consciously choose to bring about a state of harmonious functioning in almost any situation--from dull, boring situations to stressful, frightening ones.

LIFE AND BODY AFFIRMING BELIEFS--How do we know what to believe?

We can measure the validity of our beliefs by how much they contribute to the overall health and happiness of ourselves and others. The beliefs we center our lives around are our foundation for living. Yet how much time and thought do most of us invest in thinking about our basic beliefs? How much do we seek the wisdom of others?

Perhaps one concern is the question, "Who can we trust to be our teachers?" My answer is, "People we see living the happiest, most productive lives and people who have taught others to live those kinds of lives." Find people like Maslow's self-actualizing people to model yourself after.

Philosophers and religions can speak to our Higher Selves. The first philosophy book I ever read was titled, The Enduring Questions. It pointed out that there are certain issues in life that face all humans in the past, present, and future. Each major philosophical system and each major religion has addressed many of these issues and at least partially resolved them. That is why they have attracted millions of followers who say that these beliefs have made them happier people. How can we ignore these millions of people or assume that they are ignorant because we do not agree with some of their beliefs? Perhaps they know something we don't.

Why not look for the beliefs that do seem to be healthy and life-affirming? Look for themes that religions have in common. The themes shared by most major religions may be especially important. But we can learn valuable insights from every major school of thought.

On the other hand, just because many people share a belief does not mean that we should automatically accept it. Always question beliefs' truth and happiness value (for all humankind).

If your religion tells you that you should not question certain beliefs, remind yourself that several different religions tell their followers that they must accept beliefs without question. They all claim that God revealed these truths to someone and you must accept them exactly as written. Yet these religions do not all agree.

So, how do you decide which belief is the most truthful or life-affirming? For many people, acceptance just depends on which church they walked into first. But how does a more thoughtful person decide--if not by questioning the beliefs' truth and happiness values? (2)

People who spend a lot of time studying and thinking about their higher beliefs will not all come to the same conclusions. They may find different paths to happiness and self-actualization. But the phrase "seek and you will find" applies to most of them. Most find a richer life.

Some believe they have a special relationship with God or Nature. Some connect more with humankind and work toward social betterment. Some connect more with seeking beauty through art or other means of expression. Some seek truth through philosophy or science. Many paths lead to "spiritual" success and happiness. But if the Higher Self guides this progress, the Higher Self will in turn be enriched. It will become stronger, more complex, and more integrated with the rest of the personality.

Does the Higher Self connect to a larger Spiritual Unity? It is a common belief among religions and philosophers that some part of us is part of a larger spiritual power--like a cell is part of a greater organism. Think of the world as populated by billions of people with their own Higher Selves together forming an emergent higher level of human consciousness. It is like billions of water molecules together forming a wave.

For example, Christians believe that the "Holy Spirit" is an aspect of God that is both a godlike part of every person and yet is part of God as a whole. It is not hard to imagine each person having a Higher Self that values truth and love, yet shares those higher values with parts of all other people and possibly some larger spiritual presence.

If we view the peoples of the world as all having Higher Selves, then we can see what a powerful force the totality of these Higher Selves can be on the future of the world--especially if they are nourished!

For example, I find the following visualization to be a source of optimism and love within me. I create an image of little "suns" within each person. Each "sun" represents a Higher Self. I recall a church service as a teenager. Several thousand people held small candles in total darkness. The service symbolized the total effect on the world--if each person would "light just one small candle." The light was breathtaking.

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Ideally, we want a few, simple Higher Self beliefs that will cover almost any situation in life. These beliefs need to be very abstract and general so that they can apply to almost any situation. What did some of the great religious teachers say?

 Jewish law is summarized in the ten commandments.

 Jesus said that only two of these ten commandments contained the keys to living--to love God first and to love others as you love yourself. When we love someone, we care for their health and happiness. How simple--yet elegant!

Jesus suggested approaching every situation from this loving point-of-view. He said that loving God, self, and others above all else is the ultimate test. That is the test of everything we think or do. It tests every rule or law we develop. If our actions or rules conflict with love of God, self, and others, then we are to make an exception or abandon them.

The Buddha distilled his philosophy into a few statements as well. He implied that happiness was a primary goal of life and that the way to happiness was to overcome all selfish craving through the eightfold path--right understanding, purpose, speech, conduct, vocation, effort, alertness, and concentration. (These are not dissimilar to the six mental control methods I describe in chapter 8.)

Many people have attempted to codify these general beliefs from the masters into intricate legalistic codes. But as the great philosopher Paul Tillich pointed out; these codification attempts usually end by making the rules into rigid ends in themselves. They forget that the rules are only means to the more important ends of happiness and love.

Follow your highest beliefs--being rule-bound makes people like robots. Rule-bound means rigidly making no exceptions to specific rules--even when they conflict with more important, general rules.

For example, John made a house payment of $1480.46. His actual payment was supposed to be $1480.64--leaving him 18 cents short! The clerk at his mortgage company refused to accept the payment and charged him an $80 late-payment charge. The rule read that if you don't submit the full payment by the 15th of the month, then a late fee is assessed. Technically, John was wrong. Yet those of us who are not rule-bound will see this as an injustice. Why?

The reason is because we believe that higher, more comprehensive rules are more important than that specific rule. The reason that mortgage companies assess penalties is because otherwise it would cost them interest income if a person was very late with his payment. However, John's payment was only 18 cents short. So being a few days late giving them the additional 18 cents would not really cost them any significant amount of interest. A higher, more comprehensive rule states, "If no harm, then no penalty."

Rule-bound means following the more specific and explicit rules instead of following the higher rules--that tend to be more comprehensive and less explicit. The highest rules are valuing our own and other people's well-being and happiness. Whenever lower, more specific rules conflict with higher rules, make an exception or replace the rule.

Whatever happened to John? A manager higher in the company waived John's late-payment fee. He was not rule-bound. The clerk probably felt more insecure about breaking the late-payment rule because he was afraid he would get into trouble with his manager. On the other hand, the manager was aware of higher company rules--to protect their investment and to satisfy customers.

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder provide extreme examples of being rule-bound. People who become rule-bound become robots. They let the rules make their decisions for them--instead of making unique decisions for every situation (based on higher, general principles). Since they are not taking responsibility themselves, and everything is based upon a code of fixed rules, life becomes too predictable and controlled. They lack creativity and flexibility. Their lives often become devoid of meaning, enthusiasm, and enjoyment--which causes depression.

We all need rules to live by and a certain amount of routine and control in our lives. We all need an optimal amount of control. We need more control in areas that are more important to us--such as in meeting basic needs. Security in our food supply, health, and income is a lot more important than security in knowing what kind of car we will drive. But the most important type of security is knowing that we can find a way to be happy and productive in any situation (that we can find routes to happiness for any situation). Once we know that, we do not need to be rule-bound.

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A strong Higher Self can overcome loneliness and a fear of being alone. My client was so afraid of being alone that she would jump into any relationship she could find. She often picked men who abused her. She would pick almost anybody in pants who met minimal standards; because, she believed that being in a bad relationship couldn't be as bad as the loneliness and worthlessness she felt alone.

Her Higher Self beliefs telling her that she was a valuable person who could take care of herself were weak. Learning these ideas were threatening to old beliefs, but she was also excited about them. Slowly, she learned how to take good care of herself. She found new fulfilling activities that she could do alone or do with new friends. She learned how to meet her own needs without being in a relationship. Finally, she reached a major turning point in her life--she preferred being alone to being in a bad relationship.

Ironically, no longer "having" to be in a relationship caused her to be more appealing to the kind of men she would be happier with. Previously, only "losers," who abused her, were attracted to her. Men who would respect her more valued her new self-confidence and happiness. They would have been turned off by her previous neediness. Within a year she was in her first healthy, happy relationship.

Strong Higher Self beliefs do not negate needs; they listen to all of our needs and parts of ourselves. The best conductor is not someone who neglects parts of the orchestra. The best conductor isn't someone who loves the violin and dislikes the flute! In order for an orchestra to be in greatest harmony all players must perform well. The best conductor must attend to the needs of each player in the orchestra with minimal favoritism. Each player must be given a chance to grow and perform well.

We all have basic needs--such as nutrition, safety, health, caring, and creative activity. We also each have many individual values, interests, goals, and desires that reflect unique parts of ourselves. Each of these parts is like a player in the orchestra. When one is repressed, denied repeatedly, and not understood or encouraged, then it will become a discordant player that takes away from the harmony of the orchestra as a whole. That harmony is the foundation of our happiness.

For example, one client came to therapy because he was constantly thinking about sex, masturbating 20 or more times a week, and felt tremendous guilt. All of this thought, guilt, and worry about masturbating had begun to interfere with his college work, his relationships, and his whole life. His masturbation caused guilt feelings, then he would masturbate again to cover up the guilt feelings, etc.

Underneath these guilty feelings were some powerful beliefs that helped cause his problems. He believed that sexual feelings are inherently bad. He was taught, "God made sex for procreation--not pleasure." He felt guilty whenever he had sexual impulses or feelings. He thought that masturbating was a mortal sin.

In therapy, we questioned his old beliefs. His new beliefs accepted his sexual part as another player in the orchestra. He began to think of his entire body as a gift of God and each bodily part as worthy of his love and care. Once he began to accept his sexual feelings as normal, healthy biological functions and realize that many healthy, morally good people also masturbate, he quit feeling guilty about masturbating. He also stopped masturbating compulsively, because he didn't have any guilt to cover up with more masturbating.


The Higher Self starts with a few, unorganized beliefs. It initially has weak and limited effects on other thoughts, emotions, and behavior. However, it can develop into a highly organized, comprehensive system with a great deal of control over the entire being.

To the degree that this harmonious organization of beliefs and habits develops, the person will be more integrated. For example, Freud wrote that the ideal psychological state was an integration between the id, ego, and superego--all three receiving high gratification of their needs. Dr. Carl Rogers, a father of the humanistic psychology movement, thought that integration of the Self was the ideal psychological state.

Dr. Paul Tillich saw how our ultimate concerns were the guiding light for our life, so that our personalities would become more and more integrated around them. He wrote,

Ultimate concern is passionate concern. . .
The ultimate concern gives depth, direction, and unity to all other concerns and, with them, to the
whole personality.
A personal life that has these qualities is integrated. . .
Ultimate concern is related to all sides of reality and
all sides of human personality. . .
body, soul, and spirit are not three parts of man.
They are dimensions of a man's being, always within each other . . .
If a uniting center is absent, the infinite variety of the encountered world, as well as of the inner
movements of the human mind,
is able to produce a complete disintegration of the personality.
(Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, pp. 105-107)

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THE PROCESS OF INNER CONFLICT RESOLUTION--How the Higher Self can integrate our personality.

A developing Higher Self will include new, constructive beliefs about ourselves and the world. These new beliefs may conflict with older sets of beliefs (often learned during childhood). The resulting conflicts may generate anxiety. Resolution of those conflicts can occur as the new beliefs (or their "children") explain reality better--and make us happier--than the old beliefs. By "children" I mean deductions or conclusions based upon the higher beliefs.

A higher belief is powerful enough to integrate lower beliefs. The brain has built-in mechanisms for resolving these conflicts. Many cognitive psychologists think that the cognitive brain will automatically pick the belief with the most power to predict the future.(3)

A more general or abstract belief will usually have greater explanation power than a more specific belief. For example, one 30 plus year old client had always wanted a happy marriage. His previous marriage had been a disaster--full of mutual screaming and yelling matches. His current four-year relationship had been much better, and he had counted on it resulting in marriage. He was devastated when she broke-up with him (even though he had not been happy in the relationship).

After exploring his feelings in depth, we found at the bottom a fantasy which had anchored him since childhood. His fantasy was of a happy family like TV's "Brady Bunch." That fantasy was like night and day to his own family. He had had a miserable family life and childhood--except for a few brief times when his family was like the Brady Bunch. He treasured those brief periods and longed to have a family where he could feel loved and happy. As a little boy, he had developed the belief that "To be happy I must have a happy, warm family" [like his "Brady Bunch" image].

What is wrong with this belief? It seems quite normal. However, he gave it too much importance. He had made a positive--but too limited a goal--an ultimate concern. He believed that he had to have a happy family to be happy. Yet, he was single. That fantasy had driven him to desperately seek relationships--which always failed. The range of convenience of his goal was too limited. The idea that one must have a happy family life to be happy would seem to doom all single people to misery.

What he learned instead was an expanded belief that went something like, "Anyone can be happy in almost any situation, if they learn how to use the proper internal and external routes to achieving happiness." That belief has a much larger range of convenience and applies equally well to married or single people. His new beliefs removed the pressure of finding a relationship--he now saw that he could be happy single. That took some of the pressure off and he focused on learning how to be happy instead of how to get married. Once he was happier with himself, he eventually found a much better relationship.

The Higher Self as an Inner Observer utilizing Problem-Solving Skills. People who learn meditation techniques usually practice clearing their minds of all active thoughts so that they can just observe what thoughts, images, and feelings enter awareness. Meditation helps calm people. Other people write journals about their feelings and thoughts and then read what they have written. These self-observation methods help our inner observers or inner therapists learn about how different thoughts, images, and feelings are connected.

During psychotherapy, one of my primary goals is to help my clients develop their own inner therapists. The inner therapist can become integrated with the Higher Self. In chapter 2 discussed the self-exploration and problem-solving methods for exploring our strongest emotions to find underlying issues, beliefs, and conflicts between subparts of ourselves.

An important part of keeping the Higher Self in control is to focus on the Higher Self during difficult situations, and let it remain above the situation. From its detached view, it can calmly observe other thoughts, images, and feelings as they are occurring. At first, it is best for it to remain simply an observer--not rushing to make judgments. Its goal is simply to observe and understand more until it is confident it has a good understanding and knows how to bring harmony and happiness to the situation.

Hidden inner conflicts can only be resolved as they are activated. I love my wife Sherry with all my heart, and I strongly believe in empathetically resolving conflicts. Yet, recently, when she was upset about something I had done, all I could do is defend myself by explaining my reasons for doing it. It never occurred to me to listen to her point of view and let her explain her point of view in more depth. At the time, she reminded me of what I was doing, and my inner conflict was obvious. My Higher Self was not in control of my actions; my old dysfunctional parts had taken control. But as soon as I tuned in to my Higher Self, my emotions immediately changed and I started listening. My shift immediately affected Sherry as well.

My Higher Self was in conflict with an older part that had to be right all the time. This is an example of an implicit (hidden) conflict. I was not aware of the conflict in this situation until Sherry pointed out the inconsistency to me.

Our overall system of beliefs has many implied conflicts that are not obvious until the beliefs are simultaneously activated. Implicit conflicts between the Higher Self beliefs and old beliefs can be discovered and resolved by using the Belief Integration Process described later.

When we first learn a new insight, we may become excited with its potential. We begin trying to use this new insight in every situation where it has any chance of being appropriate. The new insight may conflict with older ways of coping those situations.

If the new belief seems to work better in a particular situation, then it will be validated (or reinforced) for that situation. We have reprogrammed that situation. If not, we may have to resolve the conflict by modifying the new belief or by just saying it doesn't apply to that situation.

General beliefs are hard to validate or invalidate. It takes time to try out new beliefs in many situations. The more general the belief, the longer it takes to validate it or invalidate it. Some beliefs are so general that they are difficult to validate or invalidate. That is why people often cling to general dysfunctional beliefs even long after they are useful.

For example, why would smokers, alcoholics, or drug addicts argue--even to themselves--that these habits are not doing them much harm despite overwhelming evidence. The reason is that these general beliefs may be helping them feel calmer than the belief that they have been wrong so long and must go through a radical life change process to break the habit. The old belief helps the person maintain the chosen lifestyle and feel calm about it.

Dan, a psychologist who smoked heavily, years ago told me that he would never get cancer because he "had such good circulation." He said, "Look how red it is under my fingernails; that means I have exceptional circulation. I don't ever have to worry about cancer with circulation like this--only people with poor circulation have to worry about getting cancer if they smoke."

The sad part of the story is that a few years later, Dan died of lung cancer. He put his desire to smoke above valuing the truth. His inner smoker seemed to take advantage of the fact that general beliefs are hard to prove false.

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Honesty is the answer. Dan was an intelligent and well-informed man. How could he tell me such nonsense? Clearly, he was biased. He wanted to continue smoking more than he wanted to take an honest look at the evidence. He chose to make smoking a higher priority than honesty.

Not making honesty and the truth the highest of priorities is a fundamental problem that supports many dysfunctional beliefs and lifestyles. Being honest with oneself is worth the cost of change. The final result is a healthier, happier life. Honesty could have saved Dan's life; he died a relatively young man. I make honesty a top, conscious goal--especially with myself. My goal is to never lie to myself or hide the truth from myself.

When I first gained the insight that happiness is more important than worldly success, I was excited by the idea. But I also needed to test it. I wanted to be totally honest with myself, because I did not want to adopt an important new belief if it were false. I started by trying to think of all of the arguments I could against this "radical" new belief. I thought that if anyone would have good arguments against it, my dad would. So I went to him and asked him what he thought. He argued against it, but I did not think his arguments were valid. Then, I decided to test the idea for a few months. I decided to see if my life actually got better by making happiness for self and others my most important goal.

Before I could live by making happiness my most important goal, I had to think of what the implications would be for my daily life. How would it affect my relations with my family and peers? Would I be any different in high school or during sporting events?

For example, in the past I had made "being right" and "winning every contest" important. I realized that sometimes I would get argumentative over unimportant details to prove I was right. I decided that from now on I was going to pay more attention to helping people be happier, and that being overly argumentative took away from both my own and the other party's happiness. That single application of the more general happiness goal had a significant positive effect upon my relationships with others.

Biological basis for triumph of truth. No matter how hard I try, I cannot believe that the leaves on that tree outside my window are red and not green. No matter how much I would like to believe that this body of mine will live forever, I cannot. Why can't we believe that which we do not believe to be true? The thought that my body could live forever certainly is a positive thought. However, the cognitive system operates by some basic psycho-biological laws. One of these laws is that we need supportive evidence from other experience and beliefs in order to actually believe an idea. We can only believe what our own sensory evidence adequately supports.

Honesty brings harmony and integration to the cognitive system. We can temporarily trick ourselves into denying what some inner part of us knows to be true, but we can never totally escape that honest part of ourselves. It will be somewhere inside causing conflict and anxiety for the part that is living a lie. The alcoholic, foodaholic, or workaholic may keep denying that they have a problem, but some healthier part of their cognitive system knows that they are lying to themselves. It will not be totally repressed. It will keep creating guilt and anxiety until it is heard.

If we make truth a top-priority conscious value, then we are aligning the higher (cognitive) parts of ourselves with our basic biological nature that seeks truth. Hunger and thirst for honesty and openness! Doing otherwise will develop a self that is torn into warring parts--like members of a dysfunctional family. Seeking honesty will help develop a self that is integrated and spontaneous--like members of a loving, happy family.

If we are honest with ourselves,
our life-affirming and happiness-affirming beliefs eventually triumph;
because they really work better!

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How do find and root out old beliefs that are interfering with our health and happiness? The process will happen somewhat automatically. However, we can accelerate the process by using the belief-integration process below.

The Belief Integration Process

We can consciously monitor our Higher Selves to speed the integration of our personalities. Early in my own quest, a little book by Frank Luboff fascinated me. When he wrote the book, he was a young man serving as a missionary in a remote jungle area. He felt confused about what his mission was, but he was lonely and decided to try an experiment. He wanted to develop a loving, intimate relationship with God. His goal was to stay in touch with God and the loving part of himself every moment of every day. His book is a documentary of these efforts. He found his endeavor difficult at first. He had to constantly put himself back in touch with his Higher Self. But the more he tuned in, the more love and happiness he felt. Within the year his life had been transformed.

The book's title is, Letters from a Modern Mystic--written more than 50 years ago. How practical is such an inward focus in a world with so many "practical problems"? Frank Luboff went on to form and lead a worldwide organization that has taught millions of people how to read and write. If we will consistently focus on love and base our lives on our Higher Selves, we will transform the world! Here's how.

1. Keep tuned in to your Higher Self. Weekly, daily, hourly--even moment-to-moment--tune in to your Higher Self and consciously view situations from its point-of-view. Constantly ask yourself questions like, "How can I view this situation from my new perspective?" "What will make me and others the happiest in this situation?" "Which is the most truthful?"

2. Observe your reactions and activated conflicts. Watch your natural reactions, old thoughts, and old habits. What conflicts do you feel? Follow your emotions--what are their sources? What old beliefs are being threatened by your new point-of-view? Use the self-exploration process in chapter 2 to get to the hidden, underlying beliefs that are the troublemakers.

3. Resolve the conflicts. Carry on a dialog between your newer, Higher Self point-of-view and the inner parts producing the old habits and beliefs. In what ways do you need to modify the old (or new) beliefs to keep them consistent with the truth and with the ultimate concern of happiness for all? The goal is to update our beliefs to make sure that the old beliefs and habits are consistent with the new Higher Self beliefs.

4. Choose to live by your Higher Self beliefs. The belief you choose to live by is the one you strengthen. Which is it to be--dysfunction or Higher Self?

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1.  Or if you prefer, think of the Higher Self as being like the leader of an organization or the coach of a team.
2.  I have learned from a number of religions and philosophers. I have a United Methodist background and completed the MTh degree at the School of Theology at Claremont. I am now somewhat independent. However, I see great potential in the best teachings of all of them. I see many clients with major problems partially caused by how they were taught or treated by parents or others who were active members in some religion. Therapy has sometimes consisted of helping them change these beliefs that their parents thought were part of Jesus' teachings. Usually, these beliefs are inconsistent with Jesus' teachings. Clients appear to be happier and function better in their lives when they change their beliefs to more understanding, caring, democratic, and life-affirming ones.

In my book--especially this chapter--I use several examples or quotes that are especially relevant and meaningful. My use of them does not mean that I am recommending that anyone change their own religion or see these quotes as carrying the authority of God. Their ultimate truth value is up to each reader to decide for themselves. Instead, I would like you to view them as powerful statements that represent the point-of-view of Jesus or some other highly respected teacher.
3. Kelly (1955) used the term range of convenience to mean how broad a set of inputs a category covers (discussed in a later chapter). The predictive validity of beliefs as measured by the natural feedback they receive is seen as a primary underlying mechanism for belief verification in many cognitive, learning, and neural network theories.


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