I understand that neuro-scientists are going to great efforts these days to make sense of what exactly constitutes consciousness. A lot of their efforts are about correlating conscious experiences, like the world view before us or our sense of time extension, with specific brain activity, what synapses fire when and where it’s all happening.
No easy task, I guess, but one particular difficulty these researchers are having is how to deal with extreme subtleties of consciousness, those experiences that defy verbal representation, like the aesthetic response one might have when hearing a particular musical refrain or the ineffable responses to the smell of flowers on a spring day. To make matters even more difficult the same sounds or the same odor may not elicit the same conscious response experienced a second time.
It seems to me reducing conscious experience to specific brain activity isn’t necessarily a desirable enterprise anyway. Perhaps allowing the ineffable to remain ineffable is a breath of fresh air.
I’m being led to understand, through some quite credible readings, that it’s likely physiological variations, like elevated heart rate or shortness of breath or even a stubbed toe precede emotional states; which means, I guess, one might be more likely to develop romantic feelings for a jogging partner or feel an excessive animosity for an athletic opponent after spraining an ankle.
So, I was thinking about this after my bi-weekly exercise regimen the other day when it occurred to me that I did indeed feel a sense of bonding with and good will toward my companions, nothing romantic you understand, but a familial closeness with the good people in our group. Whether I would have developed those same feelings had our relationships developed as, say, library board members I don’t know but I do kind of doubt it. I suppose one could over-intellectualize the issue, debating which came first the heart palpitations or the feelings but better, I think, to just keep exercising and let nature take its course.
So I’ve been reading that the idea of cause and effect is not a necessarily local process, one thing following another in a relatively straight forward manner related to time sequences and spatial proximity; that an occurrence in one place, at one time has ramifications not only for what universally will be but what has been throughout time as well.
I guess it all has to do with quantum physical theory, that subatomic entities exist simultaneously as two things, particles and waves and these most basic of material building blocks defy logical analysis, interacting non-locally with other entities, shifting what has and will occur as entropy moves them to action. Or something. But all of this leads to the absolutely mind-blowing idea that what I do right now, right here, affects everything that ever was, is or will be.
As counter-intuitive as this may seem there is certainly something enlightening about the idea. If I can realize my impact and connectedness in relation to the world around me and then act accordingly it can only be a good thing.
I’ve been trying to make sense of the idea of a timeless universe. I get that in our local reality, that is the reality around us we experience every day, change is occurring constantly and to make sense of it all we apply the notion of time; you know, this happened and now I’m here and maybe soon that will occur if such and such doesn’t interfere although one can never discount the serendipitous….. and so forth. If the only reality is now, the past no longer, the future yet to be, then the passage of time is an illusion because ‘now’ is all that there can be.
Science informs us of the beginning of it all, the big bang and the expanding universe and the day in the future when the last star in the heavens will blink out leaving eternal darkness, but the numbers that are applied to such theory are beyond astronomically large. All such conjecture uses time as a theoretical postulate, the numbers are simply too big to be real (pragmatically if not mathematically).
It all makes me think I need to concentrate more on the immediate.
I’ve been reading that the sensory input we experience during our waking hours is a bombardment of information most of which never registers within our consciousness, but, nevertheless may find itself lodged within our unconscious mind, which may explain how we come up with those Trivial Pursuit answers seemingly out of nowhere.
And, since conscious memory is selective by necessity, the inability to grasp all data the senses provide and our need to offer feasible explanations to ourselves and others, our verbal presentations of what has happened is almost always a pretty far cry from factual evidence.
So, I guess we may be somewhat excused if the personal narratives we conjure don’t exactly jibe with reality. And, since we’re doing everything within our limited sensual powers to spell out what’s going on around us maybe we need to reassess what exactly reality is.
I’ve been reading, lately, a most intriguing perspective suggesting much of what our common sense tells us is inaccurate if not totally wrong. For one thing, so goes the thinking, consciousness must precede material existence. Which means, I guess, that when I’m unconscious not only does nothing outside of my dreams exist for me but the birds presently flitting about the feeder cease to exist altogether with my fall into unconsciousness.
Apparently the idea is that, since sub-atomic entities like electrons exist as both tangible particles and invisible waves simultaneously, at any given moment, what they actually are depends upon whether they’re being observed and if, when eyes are cast in their direction they are invisible waves one has to wonder about their very existence: electrons may be present when watched, absent when unobserved.
Which leads me to wonder whether or not the birds outside my window continue to exist after I doze off into one of my afternoon naps and then, when I wake, do the birds come back into existence or am I just seeing different birds. Anyway, if sub-atomic entities, of which the world consists, depend on an observer for their existence I guess it stands to reason that the presence of a conscious intelligence is required in order that there be a manifested world.
It all seems pretty counter-intuitive but, as I think about it, the notion of a world dependent on conscious awareness is pretty hard to disprove.
It’s occurred to me recently that perhaps my world is shrinking. Having fallen into a fairly consistent daily routine that finds me usually no farther than maybe 25 miles from my home most of the time and limiting my sources of information to those outlets that more or less support my views, not to mention the fact most of my social contact is with people pretty much just like me, I think I may be closeting myself. I think I may be losing any personal empathy and understanding I may have once had to a diverse, pluralistic world.
It may be time for me to step out of the artificial safety of my insulated life, embrace the discomfort of the unknown and grow my world. I need to do this before the most abhorrent of conditions, fear of the other, sets in; I can kind of feel it coming on.
I will venture into the public square, strike up conversations with those of unlike mind, seek out folks of unfamiliar cultural values and maybe even venture into situations where language barriers exist. I need to renew my faith in the benevolence of those with whom I share the planet. I know such benevolence exists. I’ve realized it in the past. There’s still time for me to save myself.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that perhaps I’m taking some of the events of the day a bit too personally. I’m thinking my sensitive, insecure ego is causing me to become increasingly intolerant, less understanding of those with different views than mine and making it less likely I will fairly assess what’s happening around me. Occurrences, no matter the cause have little to do with my stilted sense of appropriateness, my biased ideals and the sooner I come to grips with reality the better.
At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one dealing with the evil ‘I’ which causes so much turmoil in the world. I know there are spiritual endeavors that offer direction in ego suppression, subordinating the invented Self. Meditative disciplines emphasizing focus on the now and allowing thoughts to pass through one’s mind has the potential, I think, to set me in a more healthy and productive place. I just need to start putting in the time, focus on the now, maybe practice some deep breathing.
I’ve been reading that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, sometimes a thing can be two different things at one and the same time. I guess the realization of this contradiction came about through the study of sub-atomic entities, some of which can be particles and also be waves even though particles and waves are distinctly different things. To emphasize this phenomenon, one physicist imagined a cat in a box with a triggered cyanide capsule. He imagined a sub-atomic entity, both particle and wave being shot into the box at a reflecting mirror the wave would pass through but the particle would hit, reflect and trigger the cyanide capsule. Since the sub-atomic entity is both wave and particle the cat in the box would be both alive and dead: pretty mind-blowing; (well, that’s not exactly how it goes but the key is the multiple identities superimposed on the outcome and definitely mind-blowing).
Anyway, the implication is contradiction is pretty deeply embedded in reality altogether. By extension a concept which may be taken to mean one thing will assume a contradictory meaning at the same time. Benevolent, nurturing nature supporting life is malevolent, murderous predator exploiting innocent prey; the horizontal horizon skews to vertical in the absence of gravity; red is violet; up/down; wet/dry.
It makes me think any absolutes that may exist must lie outside of the empirical realm.
It’s become increasingly apparent to me lately that an excessive amount of my cerebral energy is being spent considering how my actions are perceived by others, or, even, as I anticipate actions I might be inclined to engage in, how those future doings will, hypothetically, effect how others valuate my person. I suppose it’s natural to have a concern for one’s public image up to a point; after all, no one wants to be a social misfit, ostracized for thought, word or deed. And, I guess the ego for most of us can be a fairly delicate thing. But at what point does concern for image get in the way of acting with strength and conviction and without second thought?
Anyway, what has me thinking about these things is my engagement in a most interesting tome called The Book of Disquiet. The writer, Fernando Pessoa (not surprisingly, an early 20th century European immersed in his own particular existential dilemma) invented personas so elaborately constructed the identity of Pessoa himself disappeared. Claiming we are all many in one, a profusion of selves, Pessoa wrote through his heteronyms, text without singular aim, a compilation of disparate aphorisms never intended as a cohesive work.
It’s a lonely idea, I guess, but there is beauty and truth in by-passing the inevitable struggle with ego and identity many artists have to deal with.