Appearance and Reality

All things being equal, our common sense notions of the world in which we exist can be said to represent a version of reality that is reasonably reliable as a general standard for determining our individual status within it. In spite of the fact that our perceptions of the world are a product of a singularly deceptive process of data streaming in through our sensory receptors and interpreted by our cognitive apparatus, which often only approximates what it sees, for the most part, our perceptual system of sensory data accumulation and interpretation allows us a fair degree of functional unanimity as humans.

Intellectually, we realize that the table is not actually “solid,” but rather, made up of tiny, fleeting and fluctuating accretions of molecular structures and subatomic nothingness. We nonetheless perceive it as solid and, functionally speaking, this perception allows us to confidently place our equally non-solid molecular structures which compose our tableware, so that they appear to rest upon the table, and we are thus able to enjoy a meal, with our elbows planted (we think) firmly on its edge.

We watch the latest blockbuster movie at the local cinema, knowing full well that what appears to be giant blue people soaring through the air on colorful flying creatures, is really only a series of still photographs passed between a light and a lens so quickly, that the images only appear to be a continuous flow of action on a distant alien planet. As these technologies advance, the line between appearance and reality begins to blur even more.

When we gaze out at the distant stars in the sky, many of which are hundreds and thousands of light years away from the earth, we know that the light we are seeing is hundreds and thousands of years old, and only represents what those stars looked like all those many years ago. If one of them explodes, we won’t perceive its destruction for a very long time afterwards.

And yet, these appearances suffice to allow us a general sense of temporal reality, from which we can make, what we feel are, reasonable conclusions regarding the nature of the world. Since our brains have evolved adequately to provide us with a higher functional degree of cognitive ability, relative to all other known species, we have been aware that we exist. The ability to think, to remember what we think, and to express what we think through language, combined to make it possible to achieve a degree of comprehension of the world in which the thinking occurs. While determining a course of action based on a comprehensive review of our thinking, our mind’s perception makes our awareness seem like something that is just there. In fact, it was the long, arduous process of evolution that made it possible for our ancestors to steer themselves along the path that led to awareness.

But even with a highly advanced version of the cerebral cortex, it takes years to hone our skills and to gain sufficiently in knowledge and experience in order for us to make even the most basic interpretations accurately. If you ever have the opportunity to engage a three year old in a conversation about why its cold in the winter, you will immediately see just how challenging it can be to make sense of the world in which they exist, but even with only a nominal level of ability with language, they can begin to recall important information, and distinguish between what they perceive and feel with a fair amount of accuracy.

For most of us, our earliest memories of existing at all, occur around the age of three or four years, and even at this stage, we mostly can only recall snippets of events, and have only vague recollections that only improve with more years of life. What better analogy could there be, to think about the earliest inklings of consciousness in our ancestors, than that of the evolving brains from birth to self-aware child in our world today?

….more to come…..

Consciousness in the World: A Thirty Something Son

As a new life begins, in the swirling chaos and excitement of birth, the immediate impact on the consciousness of the parents and extended families is profound, although we often don’t recognize the radiant waves that ripple across our immediate world of consciousness, since we are caught up in the web of newborn childcare and the immediate needs of the child. In some ways, when my son was born, I was equally distracted by all of the responsibilities as most parents must be, but I made a particular effort to stop periodically and allow these radiant waves to wash over me and to take notice. The photo above was one such moment.

Holding my son’s tiny little foot in my hand was a moment I will never forget. I spent a fair amount of time in those early days relishing the moments I was able to hold my son, and although I hadn’t progressed very far in my study of consciousness at that time, I knew that this was not just a moment for a new father with his newborn son. This was something much more.

The birth itself was extraordinary in several ways, but most notably, as he entered the world, his umbilical cord was not stable and when the last big push brought him into the doctors hands, the cord “burst” open, spraying all of us in the vicinity with cord blood. I remember thinking to myself, “So THIS is why they give birth in the hospital!” Everyone in the room turned immediately to look at me, I suppose, assuming I would be falling off my chair next to the obstetrician, but I just looked back at them with a puzzled expression, as if to say, “What are you looking at me for?” After what seemed like an eternity, the first cries issued from my son’s lungs and I began to breathe normally myself.

There was an immediate sense of bonding with my son that seemed to take everyone by surprise. I delved headfirst into the care of my newborn child with great enthusiasm, and spent every available moment with him. I watched carefully for all the signs and signals of development, and learned everything I could about how to provide him with the optimal benefits. All of my children were special to me in this way, but I had a special connection to my son that I only realized many years after his birth. It was the awakening of consciousness within him that sparked such an intense interest in studying the blossoming of consciousness in the world, and the intensity of that experience was unique amongst all the siblings.

All of my children are dear to me, and each of them contributed to my understanding of the world and of how we become who we are and how becoming “conscious” is different for each of us. As the only boy, among five sisters, the focus was a little different with my son, and as a consequence of being the only son, I had to spend time differently with him in some ways, but what amazed me as time progressed was how much he seemed to mirror my own childhood experiences and how often there seemed to be an echo of me in him.

As he grew, at nearly every notable stop along the way, while he was clearly a different person, I never lost the sense of connection to him, and on the contrary, seemed to be watching the echo I spoke of become more pronounced and all indications were that there was something more between us that went beyond genes and chromosomes and family resemblance.

The photo above shows my father, on the right, myself on the left, and my son in the middle. In each image, we are enlisted men in the Army, we are all age twenty, and all preparing to go overseas. My father was twenty in 1944. I was twenty in 1973, and my son was twenty in 2002–exactly twenty nine years apart in every case. My grandfather was also 29 when my Dad was born, and my great-grandfather died at age 28…but would have been 29 when my grandfather was born had he survived. Talk about echoes!

My son just turned thirty (no children as yet) so the twenty-nine rule has been broken finally, but breaking the rules is ALSO a family tradition, so there are still plenty of echoes to come. The photo above is one I took of myself on my thirtieth birthday, and having a “thirty-something son” makes the image all the more compelling. He was a year old when I took it, and the thought of HIM turning thirty seemed impossibly far ahead in the future on that day.

These echoes reverberate through the years and represent a formidable link to the consciousness in the world. Materialists may wish to attribute all of these reverberations to genes and human physiology, but even just this brief look at the phenomenal resonance over generations of fathers and sons, in my view, speaks to a manifestation of a much more complex symbiosis. I’ll be elaborating on this aspect of the story again in a later posting.

Life is Never Nil

Life is Never Nil

I heard the autumn winds this morning;
I know what is to come.
I cannot halt the tides of life;
I calculate the sum.

There is no hiding place to find;
There is no turning back.
There is no changing lane this time;
There is no fade to black.

My heart is aching overtime;
My mind’s real limits found.
My spirit limps along this path;
My eyes my tears surround.

What will become of sorrow now?
What more can heartache do?
What can I find to ease this ache?
What will I say to you?

Life has only just begun;
Life is growing still.
Life won’t end before its time.
Life is never nil.

© September 2012 by JJHIII

Consciousness in the World: Connections

 

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin — more even than death…. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

Bertrand Russell
British author, mathematician, & philosopher (1872 – 1970)

Within me are all worlds, all that has been or will be–all time is compressed into this present moment. My intuition alerts me to particular and relevant dynamic energies, connected in space-time, existing simultaneously with my thoughts about them. Without thought, there is no access to or acknowledgement of space or time, but before space and time came into existence, the existence of thoughts could only be described as a potential–enjoying only a possible, tentative, and uncertain existence at best. All life is also in this same category. In the vastness of the known universe, hidden amongst the innumerable potential worlds that MIGHT exist, we find life on Earth. Our world is known to US, and may be the only world we will ever know as humans.

Our only hope for keeping our world intact is to take care of each other. Together, we can make our future a hopeful one. Connecting to those who come across our paths, and to those whose paths WE cross, is the challenge we face. Our connections run deeper than many of us imagine, spanning all time and sometimes found on planes of existence which cannot be reached with conventional transportation. It is often only within ourselves that we can find the source of these connections, although we are occasionally alerted to their presence intuitively or experientially, while our focus is on the world. By focusing through deliberate effort, on the deepest recesses of our inner worlds, we can, with practice, encounter indications of the universal energies supporting all life. If we are willing to concentrate our efforts there, we can begin to uncover these connections and slowly begin to see them.

Our intuitive senses, first acquired through our close association with the natural world and through the evolutionary process, once ruled our daily lives, but have been weakened by our lack of attention to them. The tremendous surge of reliance on advancing technologies has dulled our awareness of our natural abilities and capacities by making them less urgent in the immediate sense. Intrigued by the material sciences, the subsequent receding of attention to our inherent spiritual inclinations has not served us particularly well in every case. By dispelling the mythology of superstition, science and technology have served a good purpose, eliminating ignorance and revealing many important truths, but it seems to me that they fail us utterly, once we arrive at the thresholds where science cannot go. While tremendous benefits have been derived from our advancement, we have, in some cases, been fooled into thinking that there is nothing else at work in the phenomenal universe that holds any real meaning or that will be of much ultimate use. The true nature of all life, however beautifully complex and wondrous as science sometimes reveals it, must be supported by elements that are beyond the scope of science. Paradoxically, within the complex processes of scientific inquiry, the natural beauty and spiritually enriching scope of life can show through. By expressing and demonstrating the astonishing complexity of life through science, we often get glimpses of the spirit of life.

What ancient astronomer, philosopher, scientist, or ordinary person could have imagined orbiting the Earth at unimaginable speeds, floating beyond the significant reach of Earth’s gravity and turning to see the awe-inspiring sight of the Earth from space? How different our view of life on Earth is today! Virtually every nook and cranny of the livable globe has either been occupied or visited by humanity. News from the most remote places are now available at a moment’s notice, bringing us closer to the most obscure peoples and events, opening our eyes to both the variety and similarity of all the occupants of our world.

Look through the eyepiece of the world’s most powerful electron microscope and marvel at the wonders and beauty of the very small! Through the use of such technologies, we can eventually arrive at a place where we can formulate theories of even smaller proportions of our existence. Subatomic particles floating in a field between other particles so unimaginably small, create the structures and facilitate the functions which result in every “solid” object we see, and in every living entity that exists. As wondrous as these ideas seem, science eventually ends up at horizons, past which we are unable to penetrate.

No matter how far we can go on our wits, the world within us is the seat of the forces and energies which truly animate us, takes us further, and endures when science ends.

A World of Consciousness and Consciousness in the World

As an attentive consumer of various scientific publications available in the world today, particularly those concerning the science of mind and brain, while the information is often intriguing and illuminating in regards to how the physiology of the brain results in the extraordinary variety of symptoms, characteristics, and behavior of modern humans, what is often lacking, in my view, is the simple connection to humanity itself, which we might wish to describe as the “human factor.” No matter how ingenious these researchers are as they structure the studies to produce useful results, what we frequently end up with in the end is an explanation of a process, or a determination of how it is that our fantastically wondrous temporal mental assets manifest a particular result, either as an ability or some sort of pathology.

What genuinely supports and nourishes our miraculous brains is endlessly fascinating for those of us who contemplate its many intricate layers and functional prowess, but at the very heart of our humanity is something far greater and eminently more profound in nature, that neuroscience has, so far, only been able to reach peripherally at best. According to a variety of thinkers across the globe and throughout human history, there are layers of reality, that infer a depth and breadth to our existence, to which our temporal talents may not be particularly well-suited in our efforts to reveal them. Focusing on this apparent disparity between the understanding we seek and our temporal capacities may be what is currently preventing us from moving forward. It may hinder us from exploring new avenues and broadening our understanding, simply because we aren’t looking at our existence except through a narrow band of what is possible.

Over the coming months, I hope to present some of the ways in which, it seems to me, it is possible to detect consciousness in the world, through our own observations and through the lens of our particular world of consciousness. I do not pretend to have any powers beyond those of mortal men, and only offer my personal thoughts and observations and suggestions in the interest of broadening the dialog on the subject.

In this posting, I wanted to offer several examples from the ancient world of individuals and events which point to some attempts to express the greater depth and breadth of our existence:

ANCIENT EGYPT

From the earliest epoch of Egyptian civilization, whose 1st Dynasty dates back to 3100 B.C., the refinement of written and pictographic languages took place in an atmosphere heavy with a religious or spiritual symbolism, and while today we view this development through the prism of history, at the time, it was commonplace to address the world as being of two natures, with many unseen features figuring prominently in the everyday lives of the people. Scribes and artisans of every persuasion recorded not only the temporal triumphs and rituals of kings and pharaohs, but also the very personal thoughts and feelings of these figures.

Beginning in the year 1279 B.C., the third ruler of the 19th Dynasty, Ramesses II, son of Seti I, reigned as Pharaoh of the New Kingdom of Egypt. Of his four royal wives, Nefertari was his favorite, and he believed that she was destined to be with him for eternity. The Egyptians believed their souls could live forever if their bodies were preserved. The intact body of Ramesses II still resides today in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. In Nefertari’s tomb, the tribute he wrote and had inscribed on the walls to endure through “endless ages” reads as follows:

“Princess, rich in grace, lady perfection, sweet with love, mistress of the two lands, songstress of the beautiful countenance, greatest in the herum of the Lord of the Palace, all that you say will be done for you–everything beautiful according to your wish. All your words bring contentment to the face, wherefore men love to hear your voice.”

ANCIENT INDIA

“Spiritual life is one but it is vast and rich in expression. The human mind conceives it differently. If the human mind was uniform without different depths, heights and levels of subtlety; or if all men had the same mind, the same psyche, the same imagination, the same needs, in short, if all men were the same, then perhaps One God would do. But a man’s mind is not a fixed quantity and men and their powers and needs are different. So only some form of polytheism alone can do justice to this variety and richness.” – The Word As Revelation: Names of Gods, 1980.

About this same time, the Aryans of Europe were invading India and the foundations of Hinduism were being forged. The Hindu principle of repeated birth and death (samsara) although not recorded until much later in Sanskrit texts called, “Vedas,” is at the core of what is considered one of the oldest known religions. Many of the ideas expressed in these texts address questions regarding the spiritual nature of humanity, and do not require one to become fanatical or go to extremes to entertain the notions contained in the core doctrines. Modern scholars like C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell have included some of the material from these traditions in their work in psychology and mythology, and even without a particular interest in religious tracts, it makes for interesting reading. As far back as these traditions go, that they persist today is indicative of some quality or nature to the ideas that continue to resonate for modern people.

ANCIENT CHINA

A recent exhibition I attended at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore entitled, “The First Emperor,” provided an enormously moving experience that hinted at an ancient corollary to the consciousness in the world. In 221 B.C., Qin Shihuangdi (pronounced chin-shee-wong-dee) unified the warring states of the various petty kingdoms, establishing the country of China, and himself as the first emperor. Over the almost thirty years of his reign, he conscripted hundreds of thousands of laborers to sculpt thousands of terra-cotta figures that were discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. Standing before these exquisite works of ancient artistry, what I would describe as a flood of ancient memories and impressions of the extraordinary efforts which produced them, captured my imagination and held me enraptured for several hours. In previous visits to other such exhibits over the years, I cannot recall ever being so profoundly and completely affected as I was at this one. I walked away from the museum in a kind of euphoric daze, and couldn’t help but contemplate not only the consciousness of those conscripted artists, but of the emperor who felt the need to construct an army to protect him in the next life.

My explorations of the nature of consciousness, and the subsequent diversions along the way, have led me to make connections to others that led to even further diversions, and many times brought forth remarkable insights to the degree of interconnectedness to all life. We can easily recognize and celebrate our personal connections with other nearby sentient beings, but sometimes fail to see that even individuals who exist thousands of miles away, or who are, in any number of ways removed from us in time and distance, are also very much entangled with us all. There are many opportunities for remaining open to a wider view of the world without relinquishing the value and quality of an equally rigorous open-minded pursuit of science.

Throughout my many journeys of discovery, I have encountered studies in cognitive science and neuroscience which also fascinate and inspire, and often inform the various elements of my writing. I am intrigued beyond words at the richness of the content, and the depth of beauty and even the occasional appearance of humanity described in much of the scientific literature of the day, but none of these studies eliminate the ineffable, nor do they diminish the profound sense of something beyond the boundaries of what we know presently. There is so much more to discover….

The Nature of Consciousness

shaper of dreams.by ~Sea-of-Ice http://sea-of-ice.deviantart.com/gallery/

In response to one of my recent posts, my good friend and fellow blogger from The Heartbreak of Invention, (http://patricemj.wordpress.com/) posed several important questions regarding some of the issues surrounding the nature of human consciousness. While these issues are the subject of intense study over a number of neuroscientific disciplines, and cross over into topics like cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, they are important questions that also address our very human nature, and how we function as sentient beings. As someone engaged in the study of these subjects for some time, it is my hope that in the process of attempting to respond, I might illuminate some of the path forward for those interested in these very questions.

In spite of all the attention being given to the subject of consciousness these days, there are still many different approaches to the subject, and no clearly defined limits as to what the term encompasses. Since the neuroscientific community prefers to emphasize the functioning of the brain and the neural substrates supporting our subjective awareness, which are clearly a vital component in our understanding generally, they are reluctant to stray too far from what is discernible through scientific methodology in explaining or addressing consciousness. Conversely, those who take a more holistic approach, while acknowledging the importance of neuroscientific studies and the modern methods of investigating our cognitive functions, tend to be more inclusive when it comes to a comprehensive understanding of how consciousness becomes manifest through the interaction with the physical constructs of the brain, and human cultures, environments, and other external and internal phenomena.

The fMRI process – http://bic.berkeley.edu/

A great deal has been written about the subject of consciousness over the last fifty years or so, with the advancement of technologies like PET imaging and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) which has expanded exponentially, generating more attention in the scientific community, but philosophers, poets, and every variety of thinker throughout human history, have pondered the nature of our subjective experience of life. It seems to me, the time has come to bring together the many disparate approaches in order to progress in our journey of discovery.

What would consciousness be like if it could jump these humble tracks, these human contraptions? Can it jump?

What we sometimes fail to recognize when we engage in our sometimes narrow approaches to understanding the world, is that we have formidable limitations, as well as enormous potentials as cognitive creatures. We cannot eliminate the need to investigate consciousness through rigorous application of scientific principles, any more than we can eliminate the need to include the speculative and less well-defined sociocultural influences and forces that have forged our current capacities through the millennia. What we examine using our “human contraptions” is the product of millions of years of evolutionary trial and error, leading to the eventual awakening of self-awareness, formed over tens of thousands of years of numerous leaps and bounds, starts and stops, and periods of prodigious progress and fantastic failures. Consciousness may have existed all along in the fundamental nature of life, and our “humble tracks” which led us to devise these contraptions were merely steps along the way, but I believe there is no need to “jump,” if the tracks are simply part of the human process of discernment. In my view, we need to let go of the tracks in order to see our true nature.

Does it exist off the grid or does it only come to life for us in the channels we devise? Does it only pour into what we have designed for the purpose of holding it, capturing it?

It is tremendously difficult to imagine how we might define anything in ways other than those we have thus far been able to devise, and as sentient temporal beings, we are largely confined to the limits of our temporal senses and cognitive constructs in channeling our awareness into some sort of demonstrative entity. Where we excel as humans is in imagining, pondering, speculating, conjuring, dreaming, and contemplating, which generally provides us with the raw materials, which then become temporal objects and other channels of expression, including the digital revolution, artificial intelligence, and every variety of scientific endeavor. Since it is clear that consciousness is not easily defined in temporal terms, and that it exists as both a phenomenal manifestation evidenced in our cognitive talents, as well as a wonderfully mysterious, elusive, and highly subjective entity within us, it seems likely to me that it DOES exist off the grid simultaneously as it comes to life through the channels we devise. It is in our experience of consciousness temporally, where we recognize that it must exist in another realm or state that is off the grid, even though our apprehension of it requires that we devise some sort of channel for it. I do not believe we can actually “hold” it or “capture” it, at least not in the sense that you mean by those terms. I believe it exists both as an expression of our limited physical existence, as well as enjoying some form of limitless existence beyond the channels we devise.

http://phenomenologyftw.files.wordpress.com/

Can we only perceive consciousness, meaning can we only recognize it as it is born through our own valued and legitimate paradigms of understanding, our own theories of knowledge? Do our own molds and models alter and shape what comes through them?

As one who recognizes the significance of our psychological and various mental constructs in determining our reality, I cannot completely disassociate myself from my own understanding, and while we can all at least entertain opposing viewpoints to our own in some manner, our theories of what is knowable and what it is that we think we know well are clearly subject to the interpretation of our cognitive apparatus. Our perceptions of the world depend on our sensory and central nervous systems to function properly, and some degree of commonality is generally reassuring as a measure of what we perceive as real and accurate to the degree that such common perception is even possible. We cannot manipulate our molds and models through any other cognitive and sensory apparatus currently, but as we progress in our evolution, both temporally and psychologically, (not to mention spiritually) we will no doubt be able to expand on our current models to include a greater comprehension as it is revealed to us in the future. We have seen many previous efforts to mold and shape our understanding fall apart with the advent of new methods of discovery and discernment, and I do not believe that our molds and models shape what comes through them, so much as we shape our molds and models based on what comes through US. However, the search for a greater understanding can only progress if we remain open to what may be possible.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to respond to such important questions…….John H.