Some comments on human existence

a-physicist-answers-the-grandest-question-of-all-why-are-we-here.jpg

 

I woke up not so long ago with this silly little idea running through my brain and thought I’d share it if for no other reason than I’m obsessing and need to get rid of it.

So the thought started out innocently enough, “Why are we here?” But then it got more complicated (of course, because that’s what my brain does, complicate– nothing ever gets to be simple). Perhaps the answer is that it’s an experiment in species survival, or to learn lessons, or how about as entertainment for the Great and Infinite?

If human beings are only an evolutionary experiment designed to test the parameters of species survival, what would be the point? God already created the ant that for tens of millions of years* has survived quite well, thank you, and without the encumbrance of self-awareness (unless of course you believe the Aesop fable of the ant and the grasshopper).

But, but… some would say that we increase the likelihood of survival by being a species that can function beyond its instinctual software and no one would argue that the ant is predominantly an instinctual being.

1.jpg

But instinct can actually become a downfall. Take for example the “death spiral”, or “ant circle” phenomenon of an endangered colony of ants where everyone follows the ant in front of them as a means of self-protection but at the possible consequence of just continuing on and on until they all drop dead.

But humans too have instinctual responses that their so-called self-awareness won’t pull them out of, witness also the fear response that the American Republican party taps into to get the masses to vote for people and things that are not in their best interest i.e. walking around with guns on their hips because they’re convinced that this will handle their fear and make them safer. Or how about societies that demean and make all their women second-class out of some fear that to do otherwise will upset the spiritual order of things? In a very real way these are human equivalents to the ant colonies’ death spiral.

Okay, perhaps we’re here to learn lessons?

That would work if the lessons were either for us individually so that we could then take them to the next dimension of existence, or to the next inhabited being, or to use the lessons to increase our chances of survival as a species (see paragraph one). Certainly they’re not for God in that an omniscient being has already learned all the lessons, heck, it created them in the first place including the answer sheet. But an awareness extended beyond the physical being into non-physicality i.e. life beyond death, would fit with the idea of the Great Infinite we imagine God to be so why not expand the lessons infinitely as well? Maybe we can actually take it with us!

being-of-light-energy1.jpgLastly, maybe we’re here as a means for God to see itself, thus we’re imbued with infinite ideas and personalities (something I’ll bet all those ants don’t have). When you’re the only one, that is if you’re everywhere, the only thing in a universe, there’s really nowhere to stand and observe yourself. Seems to me you would need to create something “not you” through which you could look back and say, “Damn I’m good looking!” And you would have to create infinite permutations of the “not you’s” because after all you’re, well, infinite.

I guess we’ll find out when the body dies i.e. we continue to be conscious, though bodiless or we won’t and won’t know that we won’t– pretty much a win-win I think.

My head’s starting to hurt again so I think I’ll stop. But now you’ve got my silly idea running in your head, sorry!

And I’m transported into a world where everything is possible, where I’m connected to everything and everyone else, where I no longer have to defend myself or my positions, where survival is not my main purpose, where I am just fine the way I am, and where I’m no longer alone and asking this question of why am I here.

Have a great day and peace be with you!

_______________________________

* Some researchers suggest it’s been as much as 110 – 130 million years. That’s about as long as dinosaurs, though the ant lived through what it was that killed all the dinosaurs, so take that you big bullies! Currently they are Earth’s most successful species, though certainly I’ve tried to make it otherwise when they keep crawling into my food pantry.

Do you know what reality is? I’ll bet you don’t!

dreams-doorway-of-reality.jpg

 

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”

 –Henri Bergson French philosopher, 1927 Nobelist

Where the optic nerve enters the retina of the eye there is a blind spot that registers nothing. But the mind, the brain, makes up for this empty space by filling in what it thinks ought to be there, not what’s actually there, but what it creates. When seeing in low light there’s an additional blind spot, the Fovea Centralis, that is unable to see color and the objects that are seen are indistinct. As with the optic nerve the brain also fills in the fovea “blindness”.

Don’t believe the blind spot exists? Close your left eye and cast your right eye on the black “cross” sign of the figure below. Move your head close to the screen until the black dot on the right suddenly disappears. The “missing” information will be “patched in” using the surrounding parts of the picture and you see only a white area.

 

blndspt1.gif

 

The brain also estimates the size of things by contrasting with surrounding objects. Ever notice how the moon looks at least twice the size when it first rises above the horizon than it does high in the sky? Actually they’re both the same size 1. Also if you were to stand in front of a mirror looking at your face, all looks normal or what you’re normally used to seeing, right? But have you noticed that regardless of how close you are the reflection is only half the size of your real head (measure the mirror image then your head)?

Notice the illusion below: Two different tables right? No, they are actually the same table if you measure them with a ruler.

 

table-illusion.jpg

 

The above illusion, moon, and mirrored face visuals are all a part of unconscious processes going on in our minds.

And every time we shift our visual attention, the attention of the mind shifts as well. This is part of the bag of tricks wielded by a magician, or even a con artist e.g. shifting your visual attention so as to do something outside your minds focus.

With only a few exceptions in so-called eye-witness testimony people are drastically affected by their level of stress i.e. efficiency of memory goes down with higher stress and then what was seen is stored into recall in a way that makes the most sense to the witness. This is highly dependent on past experiences and prejudices and/or social values. People often will add meaning to their observations that of course affects the observation. For example, the mind will often edit any puzzling or incongruent observations.

Most importantly, and more to the point of this article, what we see is determined by context. A simple proof of this is how we use visual context clues in order to read e.g. You and I can rad this sntnc vn though w hav lft out th ee’s.

Context is also what makes a movie, well… move. In reality it’s just 24 pictures shown per second that when the mind stitches them into a sequence makes it look as though something is moving. 2

 But notice it’s not the context of the external reality that I am referring to. It’s our internal reality that provides the context for what it is we see.

And that brings me back to Bergson’s quote from the beginning of this article. What our minds are ready to comprehend is determined by our beliefs, our past experiences, our prejudices, and expectations. In short, our experience of reality is determined by something other than reality–we see what we believe, not the other way around as the popular quotation goes, “seeing is believing”.

Our mind is conditioned to seeing what it thinks that it should and anything outside that conditioning is just not seen.

In order to open ourselves to new possibilities we must first look at the contexts we have created to see what we are currently looking at. We might also be willing to question what it is we are seeing and what about our own minds may be affecting that vision.

So what really is reality?

Are you sure?

____________________________________________________

1See Emmert’s Law to explain this phenomenon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmert’s_law
2 There are some theoretical physicists who have asked the question as to whether there is any movement other than several moments of time stitched by the mind into what appears to be a moving sequence.

 

 

Embodied Cognition: The enlivened Dream

Prophetic_Calling.jpg

 

Not too long ago I was reading an article in the Jan/Feb 2011 Scientific American Mind Magazine. The subject was how body movements and fleeting sensations affect our thinking. This is called “Embodied Cognition.” It reminded me how when I used to give seminars and workshops in the 70’s and 80’s I used to always wear a light colored pastel sweater with audiences that I thought might be resistant, or even hostile to my message. My own research, though narrow, seemed to reinforce the calming and trust inducing effect this had on the audience. Mr. Rogers and his blue cardigan seemed to have it right.

In the article, researchers at Yale University found that rough textures in the environment tend to make social interactions go roughly and that while touching hard/cold objects in the environment would affect the perception of rigidity. The article implied that drinking something warm on a first meeting between people would increase the feeling of warmth toward each other vs. the drinking of something cold.

Physicality has always played an important role on our perceptions and our learning. Educators have known for years that children learn their letters and words easier when they use large arm movements to ‘draw’ the letter, or word in the air.

Using “manipulatives” while learning math principles has also proven effective in elementary learning situations. Adults build models of chemical reactions to extend their learning and to enhance the discovery process.

We also know that simulating an action while reading a story increases the comprehension of that story. This concept is one of the generating principles behind the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy and Active Imagining, both of which I’ve mentioned in earlier Blogs. Mentally simulating body movements has been a technique to help embody a routine in gymnastics or on the field of various sporting activities. When I was in community theater the director would have us go through all our movements mentally before the play so as to help build the action into the body’s memory.

Re-embodying a dream after you have awakened by selecting a prominent image from the dream and bringing it back into the imagination while quietly meditating can allow one to interact with the image and gain greater insight as to why it has visited the dream.

The embodied cognition effect also shows up when you journal a dream. The mere act of writing a dream down immediately after waking stimulates and reinforces the recall of that dream and in many cases the recall of many subsequent dreams.

Consciousness. What is it?

Consciousness__TxtCo_WordWEB.jpg

 

“There is an Indian fable of three beings who drank from a river: one was a god, and he drank ambrosia; one was a man, and he drank water; and one was a demon, and he drank filth. What you get is a function of your own consciousness.” 



                     –Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light,  “The Jiva’s Journey,” p. 46

 

Of what do psychologists and philosophers speak when they invoke the word “Consciousness?”

At a rudimentary psychological level some define it as “awareness,” that is further defined as knowledge gained through personal perception, the recognition of something felt—that is ‘sensed.’

In the above quote from Joseph Campbell there seems to be another layer implied e.g. something residing between what is perceived and what is processed. In short, something is acting upon the information coming into the individual that affects the processing of it—a filter if you will.

Filters, we all have them–they are our judgments, biases, expectations, beliefs, philosophies, values, experiences and memories. Whether this material resides in our conscious mind or in the shadows  of our unconscious, these things affect our level of consciousness, self-awareness, and our level of alertness to reality if you will.

At a deeper, and more spiritual, level consciousness has been defined as the “Knower” or the “Observer”–something that observes itself, its feelings and its thoughts, the ground-state of our being. It is, some say, what you experience when you have quieted the mind from its incessant chatter. Others say it is what the chatter is being directed toward e.g. what is listening when you talk to yourself.

At first glance this consciousness, this knower, appears to be located somewhere alongside our mind that is the ego-thing that’s doing all the chattering. But is it? How do we explain the phenomena of distance viewing, or distant communication as when you’re thinking of cousin Harry whom you’ve not heard from in ages and the phone rings?

There’s a great deal of research that’s been done (some funded through DARPA) looking into the reality of distant viewing and finding it to be real under certain conditions. Some people can instantly ‘see’ things that are happening miles away (The Russians just love this stuff!).

Some physicists (e.g. Fred Allan Wolfe and Gary Zukav) have played around with the ground-state, or ‘universal field’, idea of consciousness as well as the concept of remote connectedness that is implied by remote viewing and have made some tentative conclusions that consciousness is independent of the sentient creatures it seems to inhabit–so much so that it exists eternally, or at least since the Big Bang.

It seems that to the degree to which a person can cleanse their perception-filters and thus get a clearer perception of reality this also affects their ability to connect with this level of consciousness. It may even be this consciousness that makes it possible to see things beyond ones temporal and physical location.

Certainly it would at least make it possible to see outside ones bias, the bias that believes there is no bias, so as to transcend the waking fantasy world dream that the vast majority of us humans think of as reality.

Heart and mind: A dichotomy?

 

struggle-between-the-brain-and-the-heart-artistic-hd-wallpaper-1920x1200-2305.jpgIn western cultures the heart and mind are seen as a conflicting dichotomy. In the west people generally identify the mind or brain as the main instrument of thought, rationality, and intelligence, whereas the heart represents the irrational or emotional aspect of ourselves. For efficiency decisions if they are to be rational, must be made from the mind and not the heart or so it is believed.

This may have caused the west to become a culture of doing and making as well as forcing and struggling to make things happen. In short, the western culture as represented by the conservative mindset has become very masculine in nature.

Insight: The word for heart and mind in Hebrew is the same word, “lebh”. This is also true in Chinese (xīn ). In these cultures heart and mind work in tandem or together as one as in heart/mind with regard to thought and intelligence.

It is said by many of the wisdom keepers that in order to grow one needs to open both the heart and the mind.

There are many stories from mystics through the ages of how the void within became filled via the heart versus the mind alone. One such story is as follows: Thomas Merton told the story of Saint Lutgarde a 13th century mystic from Belgium. In this story the Saint claimed to have been visited by Jesus in a vision offering whatever gift of grace she desired and she asked for a better understanding of Latin so that she could understand the word of God. At once her mind was flooded by the psalms and readings of the Bible. But still she felt a painful void and emptiness in her soul. She then asked the Christ for an exchange. “And what would you exchange it?” and she said “Your heart Lord”. He granted her wish and took her heart into his breast.

Had Lutgarde discovered that the heart filled the void where things of only the mind did not?

To the artist, poet and writer it is the heart that is manifest as the soul of creativity, but it takes the mind to translate it to the page or canvas. They must work in tandem or there is only emptiness– the void.

To be kind is more important than to be always right. Sometimes all what we need is not an intelligent mind that speaks but a patient heart that listens.

(from: http://www.searchquotes.com/search/Heart_Vs_Mind/)

heart-vs-brain.jpg
The balance between heart and mind

 

Thoughts, where do they come from?

 

ef34cd8f-b951-422e-ba68-0285ed3c40e9.gif

I just had a thought about thoughts*. Many, including myself have wondered where thoughts really come from. Most of us just pass this off as silly because everyone knows they come from our brains. But where in the brain and where do those thoughts that have nothing to do with our experiences or us come from? We don’t really know. Some scientists wonder if they come from somewhere outside of us as though from some field of thought that surrounds us. But even though that idea is powerfully intriguing it has always sounded a bit too far-fetched to resonate with me.

Some neuroscientists have posited that our generation of a thought is affected not only by our own experiences, conscious or unconscious, but the experiential “cloud” from our species i.e. through our evolutionary pre-history that has programmed our bodies to respond to stimuli outside and inside us in certain ways.

Others suggest that we think with our bodies, what is called “embodied cognition”, that our thoughts are linked to our body’s physical experiences. This suggests that an idea or an experience may be affected by the body’s experience of it. For example, in Discover Magazine (June 2013) it was reported that the mere heft or weight or solidity of the clipboard that held a petition gave greater import to the petition. Ultimately these scientists believe that both brain and body generate thoughts.

To Eckhart Tolle there are energy fields that are generated by the collective, or universal, mind that can be picked up by an individual. The awareness arising in an individual affects the collective. He suggests that a thought is not really personal but part of the collective. These thoughts then attach themselves to memories and experiences of the individual thus “taking possession” of the individual. If we identify with thinking we are run by patterns from outside ourselves i.e. the “mind-made self”. Basically, we are not our thoughts. That’s an interesting concept that I’ll explore later but that’s not where I’m headed right now.

What if we don’t have to go outside the brain to find these pesky little cerebrations? What if they arise from that vast hidden reservoir of self called the unconscious mind, the home of our dreams. What if the unconscious that many psychologists suggest makes up 70-80% of our mind is the generator of these thoughts?

I’ve always ‘thought’ of our dreams, or meditations, as the only access to the unconscious. But what if the unconscious mind is constantly talking to us? Most of it seems like gibberish but maybe that’s because we filter the unconscious material through the ego mind, the conscious mind that can bend, bias, and distort the image based on the bent, biased and distorted images from past ego manipulations.

So how can we get a true image of what’s hidden behind the thoughts that are constantly floating to the surface of the great ocean of our minds? Most of the techniques for dealing with dreams even those where we bring them back to life in a therapeutic setting or in our individual meditations seem to be only reworking the material and images that have already been filtered.

We can recall a dream and diligently journal it without trying to interpret that often brings about the first layer of bias, but then what? We can work with a partner or group to then ferret out different points-of-view but that may only gather a number of ego biases. We can rely on our own intuition to help us find a truer meaning, but how reliable is that i.e. how removed is our intuitive self from our ego-self? Can we even know? Mystics and shaman, gurus, and spiritual guides of all sorts spend a lifetime trying to quiet the ego-mind so as to ‘hear’ the source of their being and some seem to have actually found it even though they don’t seem to have found a way to be with it for very long at a time. And what authority other than their own says that they have attained the ego-less self, the self of true authenticity?

Speaking of thoughts, I’d love to hear yours. I know there are thoughts out there so please send them forward.

________________________________________

*In the book The Dragon’s Treasure (2009) I began my exploration of thought and consciousness that I am now expanding here. See Books by Author on the column at right.