Your hi-fi system has a feature you can learn from. The amplifier takes in a small signal and puts out a signal exactly like it, but bigger. To help do this, some of the output is fed back to the input in a "feedback loop," arranged so it cancels out distortion. The output is compared to the input.
If you aim for the "Enter" key, but hit the "Delete" key instead, you see something happen you did not want. That's a feedback loop. You compare what you wanted to what you got. On a bicycle, you note which way the bike wants to fall, and you turn the wheel to prevent it. You make this feedback loop into an automated habit. Every skill you learn uses feedback loops to habitually compare what you want to what you get, and make corrections.
Introspection is the process of comparing the way your inner life is to the way you want it to be. It is your mind's feedback loop. If you are afraid when there is no danger, or agitated when there is no excitement, introspection reveals a mental distortion to be corrected. If you want to improve mental skill by changing methods, introspection reveals the methods you are using, and compares them to methods you might use.
However, many people report that they have no introspection. "How can I stop being angry all the time," they say to the doctor, "when I don't even know I'm angry?" The mental feedback loop is broken, and no difference is detected between one mental state and another. Danger signs do not register. How could that happen?
Suppose two things: your mental state is not satisfactory, and you are convinced it cannot be changed. Now the feedback loop is useless; it does nothing but remind you of misery. As in a miswired amplifier, it just makes things worse. Naturally, you cut it off by ignoring your mental state and going about your business.
But that was treason.
Ignoring an unsatisfactory mental state is giving up on happiness, which is treason to the ideal of a good life. Certainty requires self-awareness and self-correction. The broken feedback loop was not one you could get along without.
Can it be mended by willing it back into existence? Not unless consciousness controls existence. Can it be relearned? Well, it was learned once. You know how others look when they feel this or that, so look in the mirror to see what you feel. Ask others what mood they think you are in. Compare your expressions to those of TV actors portraying mental states.
Most of all, learn from Ayn Rand that mental methods can be changed, so you are not stuck with any mental state. When you start to feel good once in a while, introspection will seem desirable, and will begin to bootstrap its way back to life.
Introspection is vital to your life, because it is the fundamental way to watch what you are doing.
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