Q. I’ve heard you speak about the importance of using positive words so all three brain layers can perceive them in a one-step process, but the Ten Commandments are negative. What do you have to say about that?

A. As translated, two of the Ten Commandments are “do” precepts while eight of them are “do not” precepts. This style may relate more to the brain-function concept of free will than to the art and science of affirmation.

First, according to the authors of The Mind & the Brain, studies by scientist Ben Libet suggest that free will operates not to initiate a voluntary act but to either allow or suppress it—once the thought has surfaced in the brain. “Since the volitional process is initiated in the brain unconsciously, one cannot be held to feel guilty or sinful for simply having an urge or wish to do something asocial. But conscious control over the possible act is available, making people responsible for their actions.” Some have paraphrased the “do not” Commandments as a concept: if you become aware of an urge to kill or steal or lie or commit adultery (etc.), make a positive choice to refrain from taking that action.

Second, when information comes to the brain in two or more sensory systems with, there is increased likelihood that the information will pass directly into long-term memory. History indicates that when the Ten Commandments were given to the Israelite slaves after they left Egypt, the specific environment contained a great deal of sensory stimuli with emotion (e.g., lightening, thunder, earthquake, extensive preparation, specific rules for safety). Since this group of individuals may not have possessed reading/writing skills at that time, this set of circumstances may have increased the likelihood of the ten rules going directly into long-term memory.