A Developing Inner Life

As we begin to consider the role that “non-physical components” might play in coming to terms with the nature of consciousness, a good place to begin is with our own very human emotions. In spite of having a clear and powerful biological foundation in brain physiology, our emotional responses are highly subjective in nature and what immediately stirs the feelings of one human being can produce nothing but indifference in another. Difficult to define, feelings can direct us in ways that are, in one instance, intuitive and insightful and in another, self-destructive and violent. Our response to stimulus of every sort can be examined, analyzed, and traced to specific locations within the brain, but our physiological response is only part of the story. Our emotions and feelings can also be influenced by forces far removed from simple biology.

Much has been written regarding the evolution of species on our planet, and we can infer a great deal from our increasing knowledge of the nature of life on our planet over the millions of years cognitive creatures have been evolving on it. Emotions served our primitive ancestors in their struggle to survive the dangers and challenges of life long ago, in the now familiar “fight or flight response” which still exists within us today, as well as in the development of nurturing inclinations. What began as an advantageous survival strategy has blossomed into a highly complex psycho-social phenomenon with far reaching implications in the study of the cognitive processes which are at the heart of consciousness. All of our evolutionary progress has built steadily upon the increasing capacity for cognitive development, and on the subsequent dependence on our emotional responses for survival. Over the millennia, we have taken the raw material provided by evolution, and slowly manipulated our mental and emotional environment to the point where we can now “rationalize” our emotional responses, and analyze them as a “component” of our burgeoning cognitive potential.

Beyond these considerations, and largely a result of our increased cognitive skills, our comprehension of the interrelatedness of all life on our planet, has also made us aware of the interactive nature of cognition. No longer are we simply the victims of a brutal world of “survival of the fittest,” but rather, the stewards of a global community of life forms which are remarkably dependent on each other not just for survival, but for fulfillment of a potential that expands well beyond the physiology of any one species. Humans are slowly coming to understand the importance of diversity not only within ecosystems and cultures, but also within their own individual consciousness.

The interrelatedness of all life in the phenomenal world reflects the even more complex and comprehensive relationships that support our profoundly dynamic inner life, represented in the relationships between cognition and physiology, between neurons and experience, between electrochemical phenomenology and synaptic function. Indeed, one could easily draw parallels that reach all the way from the most basic subatomic phenomena to the vastness of the known universe. The complexity of the brain is a perfect metaphor for the complexity of the universe!

The relationships between these various components of life in the physical universe, like all such associations, have some aspects in common which are visible and comprehensible, others that are a great deal more subtle, and yet others which are, for the present, utterly incomprehensible. In many cases, we can infer relationships between objects and phenomena based on observation or analysis of data relevant to the circumstances in which they occur, or by examining the bits and pieces left behind after centuries have passed. As cognitive creatures, with millions of years of evolution to support us, we can advance theories based on the observations and data accumulated over centuries of reflection and contemplation.

The story of humanity is in every way an accumulation of knowledge and experience, and the resulting expansion of human consciousness. Even if the acquisition of consciousness was initiated by our acquisition of an adequately equipped brain architecture, the accumulation of knowledge and experience made available to us as a result of that acquisition, is entirely our own doing.

Give someone a fish fillet, and they eat for a day. Teach them how to catch their own fish, and they eat for a lifetime. Give a hominid species a fully developed brain and nervous system, and eventually they will paint pictures on cave walls. Teach them through knowledge and experience to be creative and to innovate, and they will expand their consciousness beyond mere survival. Eventually, they will begin to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

As solid and predictable as the laws of physics seem to us today, not one of them eliminates the possibility of the existence of the spirit. And while the many diverse paths of spirituality offer an exciting array of avenues for us to pursue the spirit, not one of them can eliminate the laws of physics as they apply to the phenomenal world.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to conclude that both exist, and that both rely on the existence of the other. Our sense of being relies on being able to use our senses, but our senses do not bring us into being, nor do they attribute significance to our existence. They are our window to the world of experience and it is that world of experience that connects us to our sense of being and to the spirit.

4 thoughts on “A Developing Inner Life

  1. Really, you would think after millions of years we should have developed into a highly efficient and caring species of human. I think our current world begs to differ; we are barely out of the caves.

    1. Arthur,

      It is easy to see how someone might reasonably conclude, based on the circumstances of our current world, that the human species has hardly progressed in a significant way since ancient times, and while our basic human nature may not be remarkably different from those early beginnings, I think there is good cause to be a bit more optimistic about just how much our species has progressed generally. Your comment brings up an important topic that warrants a more elaborate treatment in response than would be practical to put in my comment section, but perhaps I can respond briefly here, and then compose another response in an upcoming blog post to expand at length.

      Currently on planet Earth there are a number of different cultures, conditions, and characteristics that exist within the sphere of humanity, that cover the full range of human progress from its earliest hunter/gatherer groups who took refuge in caves to modern humans in our century. There are more than a dozen primitive tribes still existent in the Amazon jungles, in Indonesia on the Island of New Guinea, two tribes in the Andaman Islands off the coast of India, and some others native to Australia, and central Africa. These groups of primitive peoples live and survive in conditions very similar to those associated with our ancient ancestors, and exhibit characteristics consistent with the cultures that existed in prehistory. They are, in some cases, totally cut off from modern civilizations, and even have been known to act aggressively toward those outside of their own tribe.

      A quick review of the other varieties of cultures and conditions around the globe, reveals some countries that are not fully modern in every way, and which exhibit a degree of progress that might compare with the common lives of people from hundreds of years ago. Modern civilization is not equally evident in a number of third world countries, and while most people have some degree of access to at least basic sources of education and modern knowledge, there are still a number of cultures where it is limited. These conditions are at least improving as time goes on, but to your point, even in the most modern, educated, and technologically advanced countries, we still often seem not to be solving the basic problems that humans have struggled with for centuries.

      However, what we don’t often consider in our modern “twitter-verse,” or hear or see in the communication media that permeates every waking moment these days, is how awful life USED to be for the hunter/gatherers and cave dwelling tribes, as well as for the early attempts at civilization, the shorter life spans, the often brutal conditions of the average person in Medieval times, and the struggles with the health and welfare that faced people hundreds of years ago. People live longer now, have a better quality of life generally, and with a few exceptions, have a much better chance of not dying in a war. There are new dangers now, that ancient people never had to face, but the outlook generally is far less worrisome for the average person today.

      As for human nature, we are still rational and emotional. We are still imperfect. While there is a much greater appreciation for the need for ethical behavior in all quarters of civilized society, there are still those who ignore such matters for selfish reasons. We hear often about the failings of individuals and groups, and not nearly enough about the triumphs and the overcoming of obstacles and selfless behaviors of many individuals all over the world.

      There is plenty of good cause to press for improving the world as we move forward, but there is also much good that goes on now that should help you to mitigate your view of all this.

  2. I believe everything said was actually very logical. But, think on this, suppose you wrote a catchier post title? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your blog, however what if you added a post title that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean “A Developing Inner Life | John’s Consciousness” is a little plain. You ought to look at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they create post titles to get viewers to click. You might add a video or a related pic or two to get people excited about everything’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it could bring your posts a little livelier.

    1. Dr. Bhasker,

      I am delighted to know you took such an interest in my blog post, and that you seemed to appreciate the content of it quite well. It is encouraging to me to know that someone with your obvious talents as a bariatric surgeon would consider my efforts worthy of becoming “a little livelier.” I assure you that I appreciate your suggestions and I actually do strive to find ways to spark greater interest in my writing.

      My subject emphasis here is not one with which most people are familiar generally, and even with “catchier post titles,” it would still be challenging to “grab folks attention,” when the philosophical and technical aspects of our subjective experience of human consciousness are being discussed. This particular post is one of a series of posts, within which I am attempting to highlight some of the main points I have been making for the last eight years as a blogger on WordPress. With nearly three hundred postings over that time, I have always tried to indicate what the posts are about and to be concise while still being creative whenever possible. Most blogging experts recommend brevity in post titles, as opposed to full sentences or even questions, but I usually take some measure of each post and select a title based on the content.

      As for the title, “John’s Consciousness,” while it may be “plain,” as you say, it is accurate to say that everything which appears here is generated by what springs out of my own consciousness, and is at least succinct in that regard. I’m not sure what method you used to access my blog, but this post features five related pics, and with only a very few exceptions, I include several images and even an occasional video in my posts. In any event, your thought to share your ideas is most welcome, and perhaps you could review some of my other postings and discover some that have gotten people excited occasionally and generated enough interest that got a number of viewers to click.

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