Pop-up ads operate much like derivatives of the unconscious, seemingly random associations that flash before us. Browsing the web, pop-up ads are sprinkled about, along with links, associations, clips from our history—all of which operate like a version of the collective unconscious. As we go about our days, we have the equivalent of pop-up ads, and you-might-also-likes—associations, images, and memories—that intrude upon our thinking and reconfigure it.
During our waking lives, according to late psychoanalyst Jacob Arlow, a constant stream of data from the external world passing through our outer eye is met by a stream of data from our internal world, like two motion picture projectors flashing a continuous stream of images simultaneously from opposite sides of a translucent screen. One projector plays an unremitting stream of inner, fantasy thought while the other projects images from the outer world.
Each projector, as I imagine it, has a power knob that can be turned up or down. When sleeping, our internal projector is on high, but the external on low (we know it remains on because we can hear the car alarm outside our window, the dog scratching at the door). When focused on a practical task, such as setting up a wireless router, our external projector is on high and the internal on low. These two sets of input—introversion and extroversion, the inner eye and the outer eye—are negotiated by the ego whose job it is to judge, correlate, integrate, or discard the competing data.
Because the ego is operating in two directions, perception and fantasy thought get mingled, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between what is before us and what we see, what is said and what we hear. Reality testing is the ability to distinguish between inner fantasy thought and outer reality, as a way of determining whether or not you are connected to the external world. Experiences and memories from the past influence our perception of and response to present reality, dictate how we take things, shape our expectations and interpretations. The manner in which we process these two simultaneous projections has everything to do with what’s on our minds, what inner thought will match with an external perception.