What You Hold In Thought

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.”

“Essential also is the progress to reflection. If our analysis is correct, it is consciousness, or rather supra-consciousness, that is at the origin of life. Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms.”

“The effort we make to transcend pure understanding introduces us into that more vast something out of which our understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both. Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.”

“On this new ground philosophy ought then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and of philosophy.”

—excerpts from “Creative Evolution,” by Henri Bergson, 1907

The world is neither simply what we perceive it to be, nor is it strictly a metaphysical mystery beyond our understanding.  These two apparently opposing approaches to our understanding are, it seems to me, more correctly to be two components of the same conundrum.  We tend these days to gravitate toward specialization in almost every arena of endeavor, and in doing so, we seem often to be missing the larger picture of what might be most helpful in increasing our understanding generally.

Mr. Bergson wrote extensively about the nature of matter and intelligence more than 100 years ago, and even without the accelerated advances in knowledge we enjoy currently, correctly framed the question of how we might advance our understanding.  We cannot simply focus on a narrow selection of material, intellectual, or spiritual criteria and cannot reasonably consider only one approach as sufficient to give us the broadest understanding.  Mr. Bergson just wasn’t equipped enough by the technology of his day to take it further.

Today, we know more and understand better about the world in which we live, but we are still struggling to catch up on the broadest inclusion of ideas possible, and we must allow the full investigation to proceed in each of the three realms of material, intellectual, and the spiritual.  It’s not possible to eliminate any reasonable approach just yet, but these three each have important components to contribute.  It’s a generalization in terms of describing the issue, but we definitely need to expand our realm of possibilities to include a variety of approaches which just may support the others in some useful way.

Lots of new material is in progress here at John’s Consciousness, and I hope my visitors and readers will be patient with me as I navigate the path forward.  I have been immersed in some of the most important and profound life works of my nearly 70 years of living this past year or so, and, like most of us, I feel like I just want to break out of isolation into something that truly matters.  I’ve been developing a new approach to sharing my writing here, and when I am ready, I will begin to engage more fully with the content of my writings, and to share more fully the ideas which occupy my heart, mind, and soul. 

Stay tuned.

A Capacity for Intelligence

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, intelligence is defined as:

noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: “He writes with intelligence and wit.”

In a recent study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers acknowledged the limitations of current scientific research, but offered a basis for suggesting factors to consider. They “looked into the brain areas that are activated by tasks that are typically used to test for intelligence,” and reported their results–

“…based on the set of brain areas that might contribute to those tasks. However don’t get too excited, the methods used have severe limitations and we are still only at the hypothesis level. We do not know how these areas contribute to performance in intelligence tests and we do not know why they are activated and how they interact together to create the behavior.”

http://blog.brainfacts.org/

According to a recently published neuroscientific paper, “a broader definition was agreed to by 52 prominent researchers on intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.”

Reviewing the many related brain structures involved in cognitive functioning, researchers concluded that:

“…variations in these structures and functions may be “endophenotypes” for intelligence — that is, they might be intermediate physiological markers that contribute directly to intelligence. Therefore, genes involved in intelligence might be more closely linked to these variations in brain structure and function than to intelligence itself. In fact, in all studies to date, the genetic influences on these structures and functions were highly correlated with those on general intelligence.”

–excerpts from “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences,” by Ian J.Deary, Lars Penke and Wendy Johnson

There are a number of individuals today who are beginning to make associations between the technological advances of modern science and some of the ancient esoteric traditions like yoga, in an attempt to explain our subjective experience of consciousness:

“If hypothetical machinery inside neurons fails to explain qualia, (the ‘what-it’s-like’ quality of experience) must we then consider the molecules that make up the neuronal machinery, or the atoms inside the molecules, or the subatomic particles inside the atoms? Where is the difference that causes the qualia of subjective experience? A less problematic explanation is possible. German scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, postulated irreducible quanta of consciousness he termed ‘monads.’ Matter does not create consciousness. Instead, matter is animated by monads. It seems hardly a coincidence that Leibniz’ monads would perfectly fit between the moments of time that lead to Kaivalya, (Yoga term for enlightenment or nirvana.)

Ultimately, Kaivalya is an ineffable experience. But the claim of yoga is that it provides means to experience what is outside of the individualized mind. The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us.

In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion…that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously…the outstanding reality of our experience…is the amazing fact that nothing is outside us.”

–excerpts from article by DONALD J. DEGRACIA, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, in EDGESCIENCE MAGAZINE #16 • NOVEMBER 2013

artificial-intelligence-8-638

Recent research in artificial intelligence has begun to approach what might be described as a kind of tipping point, where the lines will likely begin to blur between what is clearly a type of machine intelligence, like the current offerings in robotics and self-driving cars, to something more akin to the kind of intelligence that talks back to you or responds in a more conversational manner like Apple’s “Siri,” and the Windows 10 offering of a personal assistant application called “Cortana.” Many of these innovations are built upon interest in the idea of eventually being able to develop the technologies surrounding A.I. to the point where they will function so much like the human brain, that communicating with them will be virtually indistinguishable from doing so with another live human person.

While this is an enormously appealing concept to our modern sensibilities, and currently fueling a huge amount of research in the industry, even supposing that it might be possible to produce a device or platform commensurate with the trillions of connections between neurons in the human brain, characterizing any resulting machine as either “intelligent” or “conscious,” requires us to re-examine what it means to be intelligent and conscious. Our current understanding of these terms, even as they apply to humans, is still not especially comprehensive or complete, and looking at the development of “human” or “biological” intelligence through the millennia, demonstrates a key component of the challenge in creating an artificial version that might qualify as equivalent.

artificial Human-Evolution1

Early humans and their fellow primates and mammals, along with all the various species endowed with sufficiently complex neural structures and central nervous systems, at some point, eventually possessed a brain or other neural configuration of adequate strength, size, and architecture, which allowed for the retention of memories, and for processing the sensory data gleaned through the available senses. These structures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, at some point provided the necessary support for adaptive learning or for acquiring a sufficient degree of species-specific abilities, in order for the organism to make efficient use of that information, and to produce a range of results, commensurate with their species-specific capacities and habitation, which enhanced their survival in their respective environments.

Once our ancient ancestors reached a certain level of development, through the integration of incremental evolutionary changes, they achieved a nominal degree of enhanced cognitive talents, attaining a sufficient capacity for what we describe as “human intelligence,” which eventually led to the ability to reason and plan well enough to override emotional distractions, needs and desires, and to awaken to a penetrating level of subjective self-awareness. As any parent of a healthy child can tell you, intelligence does not appear immediately even in modern human children. In spite of advantageous circumstances and environments in which these amazing cognitive human creatures develop, it still requires a minimal degree of relevant experience in the world to accumulate a useful and functional knowledge base, to hone learning skills, and to be able to draw on a collection of memories, which enhance whatever cognitive, genetic, and other physiological resources they might bring to the process.

As a consequence of the random combinations of chromosomes in the human reproductive process, there is a sufficient degree of diversity in the general distribution of combinations available to the human genome, so that each human child has a relatively unique set of circumstances genetically. This diversity is necessary for the health of our species, and as a result, we observe a full range of endowment, which can result in bestowing our descendents with a general baseline capacity for the development of cognitive efficiency, or at the other end of the spectrum, a potential for an enhanced intellectual development, right from the start. A vast array of cultural and environmental variables can either promote or inhibit whatever potential is present, and throughout human history, we have observed how a viable or disadvantageous environment, as well as individual initiative or apathy, can alter the equation in either direction.

It seems likely, in view of these mitigating factors, that it is through a combination of innate cognitive talent, genetic endowment, and environmental conditions that we see contributions to the general flow of intelligence either making a significant appearance, or faltering and struggling to gain ground, in much the same way as it has been since the earliest neural structures appeared in whatever creatures are still existent today. In every case, whatever degree of potential existed within a particular species, it was either successfully developed and exploited for survival, or ended up being thwarted by circumstances from developing successfully enough to sustain a niche for a particular species, resulting in their extinction.

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Our challenge in the 21st century is finding a way to determine which contributing factors for increasing intelligence can be safely selected by humans for the most productive incorporation into what we are currently describing as “artificial intelligence,” or “machine intelligence.” Unfortunately, no matter what we are ultimately able to do, in my view, we won’t be able to incorporate our humanity fully into machines, nor will we be able to artificially endow them with the experience of “being human.” In order for us to be aware of our experience of existing as a human being, while clearly requiring a variety of nominally functional, finely-tuned, and integrated biological systems, each of which are essential currently, because there is so much more to being a subjectively aware human person, there must be something that it is like to be human, which cannot be precisely replicated by any technological advancement or created through sheer engineering genius. The subjective experience of human consciousness utilizes our very human capacity for intelligence, as well as our access to a penetrating awareness provided by an astonishing array of electrochemical processes in our miraculous brains, but what we are accessing is not PRODUCED by the brain, but rather it is PERCEIVED by it.

It’s interesting to me how some scientists and thinkers in all the various fields of investigation into artificial intelligence believe that it is simply a matter of achieving a sufficient degree of complexity in the structures we devise for the processing of the voluminous data necessary to be equivalent to the human brain, constructing a sufficiently pliable, flexible, and interactive software, driven by the necessary algorithms, and we will eventually produce a sentient, intelligent, and conscious machine.

In his fascinating and expansive book entitled, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” Stephen Hawking posits that if “very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent,” it should follow that “equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way.” He goes on to say that electronic circuits have the same problem as our chemical processes in the brain, which is to process data at a useful speed. He also rightly points out that computers currently have less computational power than “a humble earthworm,” and while they “have the advantage of speed…they show no sign of intelligence.” He also reminds us that even with our capacity for what we call intelligence, that “the human race does not have a very good record of intelligent behavior.”

2 brains

The possession of a capacity for intelligence of any sort, artificial or otherwise, is clearly not a “stand-alone” feature that is sufficient to sustain any species in and of itself. As we have observed throughout the evolutionary history of the natural world, constructing and sustaining a successful organism requires the development of a range of compensatory and complimentary abilities and potentials, commensurate with the designs and functions of a particular species, in order to achieve a requisite degree of balance.

In the case of Homo sapiens, our particular brand of human intelligence, as we currently understand it, appears to be primarily the result of human evolution and progress throughout our history as upright, bipedal, and increasingly cognitive beings. As a result, our species is apparently uniquely well-suited for our evolutionary niche, and dominates currently among the other living organisms, mostly for this very reason. While we share much in common with our primate and mammalian family of creatures, and bearing in mind that we are equally indebted to all living things and to the Earth itself for our continued ability to sustain ourselves, intelligence appears to exist in remarkably adaptive and unique ways in each of the various evolutionary paths for each family of species that coexist with us today.

It would be arrogant to suggest that our variety of intelligence is in any way superior to that enjoyed by other organisms on our planet, except in the context of its usefulness to our specific nature as humans. Our own highly-adaptive nature is fairly well-suited generally to the requirements of our species, and while one might reasonably argue that our inclinations and intelligence are lacking in one way or another, for the most part, even considering our limitations, foibles, and perceived deficits, human intelligence has managed to keep pace with the unfolding of our continued evolution thus far, and providing that we persist in developing and adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, there is cause for optimism in my view.

What we tend to miss in most of our estimations of what sort of artificial intelligence might emerge from our efforts to produce it, is that no matter what results are forthcoming, it will very likely be profoundly different than our own ultimately, in spite of how specifically we aim to recreate the mental processes and physiological structures of our own exquisitely adaptive brains.

Blue Skies and Biocentrism

 

Brilliantly blue sunlit skies combined with especially brisk winter temperatures this morning, and presented me with two seemingly contradictory experiences simultaneously.  As I sat alone at my desk, sunlight streamed through the windows of my home office, and I could feel the warmth of its rays on my hand as the pen I was using glided across the page.

 

 

Wherever the shafts of light penetrated the room, objects in its path were gradually caught in the glow, and almost appeared to be lit from within.

 

 

In spite of this celebration of illumination, the room itself is usually on the chilly side this time of year, and when I briefly opened the window to investigate a problem with a recently installed fifty-foot Ethernet cable, I encountered a surprisingly robust degree of damage to the screens, apparently caused by one of the neighborhood squirrels. 

 

 

Sure enough, not only had the animal penetrated the screens, but for some reason it decided to make a meal out of the wire which ran over the window sill.

 

 

It’s no wonder that there wasn’t any signal getting through, but even holding the window open for just those few moments reminded me that no matter how warm the sun appears and feels inside, winter currently reigns supreme in the world outside. It took me a few minutes to warm back up at my desk, and as I contemplated continuing with my work, I took notice of how the sunlit scene in the room had changed in just those few moments. The movement of the light throughout the day is subtle; even watching at length, I could not detect any motion at all. Only when I turned my attention temporarily elsewhere and then once again returned for another look, could I see how the area of light had shifted along the floor.

 

 

All of this activity resulted in prompting me to consider my recent review of three books by Dr. Robert Lanza, in which he describes at length his theory of Biocentrism.   It’s fascinating reading if you are interested in human nature as well as the nature of the reality within which we exist.  Since these subjects are both central to my own deliberations, I’ve taken a keen interest in exploring them. 

 

 

Of particular note is the third book in the series entitled, “The Grand Biocentric Design.”  The subject itself is quite complex and requires some appreciation for quantum theory and modern theoretical physics, but Dr. Lanza takes great pains to describe his ideas fully and his explanations are clearly written to reach a broad range of readers.

 

In chapter nine, Dr. Lanza gives a number of detailed and plainly written examples of how our perceptions of phenomenal events are not always revealing of the true nature of those events, and when I encountered the phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest,” I knew I was about to encounter ideas that would alter my own.  He makes a reasonable case to reconsider the nature of sound, and points out that while sound waves created by a tree falling travel through the air, they are only “rapid, complex pulsations in air pressure,” and are “in and of themselves…silent.” Our brains respond to the vibrations of our tympanic membranes and convert those signals into specific sounds. 

 

 

He rightly points out that “all sensory data is processed in the brain,” and even extends this idea to conclude that “time and space are projections created inside the mind.” He points out that we humans often “place ourselves in a radio-static mode, attuned to no sense whatsoever, lost in the internal world of our thoughts,” and concludes that:

 

“As far as we know, humans are the only animals who cease attending to their external awareness in this way, attending instead to our own thinking—or even, as you’ve done while reading this book—thinking about thinking.”

 

 

“…a part of us is connected to the dandelion, the loon, and the fish in the pond.  It is the part that experiences consciousness, not our external embodiments but our inner being. According to biocentrism, our individual separateness is an illusion. Everything you experience is a whirl of information arising in your brain. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting it all together.”

 

Indeed, the conclusions he puts forth give a great deal of weight to our experience of consciousness as being central to our very existence in the first place. 

 

 

It has been a long and oftentimes tumultuous road from my beginnings as a human person, when I first realized that I could think and therefore know that I exist. In retrospect, as is often the case, I can see much more clearly how convoluted my path has been, and, in a way, how all the twists, turns, reversals, and leaps forward contributed to my current arrangement of predicaments and advantages.  The tide has ever-so-slowly turned toward a modest increase in advantage, and away from the firestorm of predicaments which often characterized my youth.

 

 

As a mature person now, approaching my seventh decade of life, it seems that my fortunes have finally started to settle down a bit, and while opportunities for chaos still exist in some ways, my footing is far less precarious.  I tend to consider alternatives more frequently now, looking ahead further than only a few feet in front of me, when it comes to choosing my actions.

 

What is still unchanged, after all this time, is my insatiable curiosity about the nature of my personal reality, and how it relates to the larger reality of both humanity and the cosmos itself.  My intense interest in these ideas is a direct result of my desire to understand myself and the experiences of my personal life, which have been frequently inexplicable to me, or which presented me with profound questions regarding the cause and purpose of having them in the first place.

 

In the past months of isolation and distancing, I have spent a great deal of time considering the work I have already done and also contemplating the work I still have yet to do.  In the months to come, I hope to share as much as possible with those who visit here and to encourage everyone to give some attention to their own individual experience of consciousness.

 

 

With apologies to Sir Joseph Banks…

Ten Years of Blogging

 

The New Year has unfolded in an especially tumultuous way so far, and the tides of wellness and illness in our country seem to be fluctuating wildly as the pandemic rages and the new American presidency gets underway, but underneath it all, in several important ways, there is a continuity of sorts that we can tap into if we simply take a few deep breaths and step back away from the extremes that have characterized the past few months.

 

 

No one could have known what would occur when the unwitting travelers carrying the deadly virus eventually started arriving in America and infecting others to such a widespread degree, spreading out eventually across the world.  We can analyze the various responses to the virus in retrospect now, but ultimately, we have to deal with the circumstances as they exist presently.  It seems, at least for now, that we know what we must do, and concrete steps to combat the virus are being taken.

 

 

The circumstances leading up to the violence in our nation’s capitol in early January are being thoroughly examined and analyzed, and although the reckoning with tracking down those responsible is underway, the indications are, from our national response to it all, that it will need to be addressed in a number of different ways, not just by seeking justice against those who carried out the violence. 

 

Underneath it all are urgent matters which must also be addressed, not the least of which is the relentless barrage of misinformation that stoked the flames of outrage, as well as the extremists at the heart of the attack, who up until recently had been mostly an underground fringe element.  However one wishes to parse the conversation surrounding who is to blame, it will be even more urgent to expose the root causes and take steps to reverse whatever maladaptation resulted when these components exploded into violence.

 

Regardless of whatever your political inclinations might be, and no matter what we determine in the process of investigating and responding to these urgent matters, we must resolve to make whatever course corrections are necessary and possible.

 

In my previous posting, I was trying to come to terms with the “daunting difficulties” and “serial struggles,” represented by the awful events of last year, before I knew about the uprising in January. The bitterness and division of the last months of last year, spilled over into the beginning of this year, but this past week, we began to see a whole new direction for new possibilities being shown by our new American administration.  While we know that the climb back to a condition of constructive progress will be steep at first, in the long run, we have cause for optimism, and we can remain hopeful if we are determined to bring about a hopeful resolution. 

 

 

Now more than ever, it also feels very important for me to continue my own efforts here in exploring and expanding our understanding of our true nature, as well as encouraging everyone who visits here to reconsider any limiting or narrow view of what may be possible in our efforts to enrich that understanding.

 

We can only make constructive progress in our society by being more inclusive with regard to our approach to differing viewpoints, and we can only expand our understanding of our true nature by deepening our awareness of what lies within us, and to explore our “inner evolution,” as I have described it, with an open heart and mind. It’s clear that our societal challenges have become of more immediate concern to us all, and must be dealt with urgently now, but it is equally important to attend to our inner life, and to connect to the core of our individual and collective being.

 

 

Within the context of world events, which includes the recent chaos and division within our own country and elsewhere, we are reminded how the full scope of those events can affect us, even if we don’t participate in them directly.  This effect can also be felt when we seriously consider the events and discoveries throughout human history.

 

With the Ship of the Imagination hovering close by, host Neil deGrasse Tyson walks along the beach – a landscape which will one day surrender to the churning cycles of birth, destruction, and rebirth mandated by the laws of nature. COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS on National Geographic. (Cosmos Studios)

 

I recently began reviewing the National Geographic series, “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” the second edition of the original series, hosted once again by Neil deGrasse Tyson, telling the stories surrounding our current scientific worldview.  I’ve taken great interest in the subject matter, which is often reflective of the vitally important events of history, and how they shaped our current level of understanding of the sciences. Much of what has occurred in the past has a direct bearing on our world today, and it is clear that without the efforts of those who came before us, our world might be dramatically different, and far less advanced in the degree of knowledge and wisdom available at the touch of a button, or the swipe of a screen.  

 

In a review of the series by Steve Greene on Indiewire.com, he makes a keen observation about the importance of the contributions by our predecessors:

“Many of the individuals and groups that challenged and then shaped our perception of nature were rebels in their day, fighting against a majority that either distrusted them or were threatened by the lessons they sought to spread. “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” doesn’t pursue explicit parallels within our modern relationship to scientific ideas, but it nevertheless warns of the perils of both gradual and concentrated attacks on those who’ve dedicated their life to understanding the workings of the natural world.”

 

 

Here at John’s Consciousness, I sometimes feel as though I am also “fighting against a majority,” when it comes to the ideas I’ve expressed and the stories that I tell as I explore my own “inner evolution.” Over the last ten years, beginning in earnest in January 2011, I have documented the results of both my personal experiences and dedicated research related to those experiences and I have endeavored to formulate a coherent narrative that illustrates the combined efforts of more than thirty years of writing on the subjective experience of human consciousness.

 

After decades of research, study, and contemplation and having expended an enormous amount of effort and energy in the process of discerning what might possibly be behind our extraordinary human subjective awareness of existing as a physical entity in the physical universe, for me personally, as well as for many prominent thinkers throughout human history, the reality is that while our subjective experience of being alive requires the cooperation and integration of physical systems in order for our temporal existence to register with sentient creatures such as ourselves, it is NOT…and I repeat…NOT in any way certain, by any criteria or judgmental standard, that those physical systems are the absolute SOURCE and PRIMAL DRIVING FORCE responsible for that experience in the first place.

 

It is much more likely, in my view, that our physical existence is founded upon and derives its significance from a source as yet to be established with certainty, which may very likely require an extraordinary stretching of our intellectual and psychological capacities for establishing even the beginnings of a rational or empirical proof. Our current inability to demonstrate or define categorically the source of all Life and Consciousness does nothing to negate the possibility, whatever it is that defines it or explains it, that there may still be an ineffable and non-material source that produced all that we perceive with our senses, and all that we observe in the vast universe beyond the Earth.

 

 

In order to begin to understand how our subjective experience of being alive is even possible in the first place, we clearly do need to consider the gradual development of the complex macro-structure of the brain by examining the various stages of mammalian, primate, and hominid evolution, each of which contributed essential individual brain components, and how that development over millions of years facilitated the gradual sophistication of cognition and higher order thinking.

 

However, once these complex structures and extraordinary cognitive talents were sufficiently developed, it might also be possible to accept intuitively, that it then became possible to utilize them in accessing a much broader intellectual and psychological plateau, and to establish a connection to what we describe as human consciousness or “the subjective experiential awareness of being alive.”

 

This then allows us to hypothesize about the important contributions of specific emergent properties which are a consequence of the evolution and structural hierarchy of the network of various brain regions, while still allowing for the interaction with what C.G. Jung described as “the transcendent function,” or “non-physical substrates,” rather than characterizing the results as simply the “emergence of life and mind from matter.”

 

 

Beyond the decade of attending to these important areas of study and contemplation, I have also been fortunate to participate in a richly rewarding and mutually beneficial role as a grandfather to eight wonderful grandchildren, whose ages range from twenty years to two years along.  In each of their lives, I have been present from their first few days of life, and in some cases, in the very first hours of their existence.  A few of them spent their early years in our home, as their parents worked to establish their own homes.  

 

 

Family life within the confines of my own dwelling are more or less routine and predictable, and the aspects which I find most often helpful usually occur in solitude, when I am purposefully choosing the activities for the day.  Most recently though, I have enjoyed even more the privilege of being an occasional caretaker for the youngest of them all, a lovely young lady named Juliette.  Given the circumstances in the world presently it seems impossible to feel anything but gratitude for the opportunity to do so.  There is a kind of wisdom built into the human life cycle that brings grandparents together with their grandchildren, as they will inevitably become instructive to each other, in ways that might never be anticipated.

 

In spite of the fact that I am a little more than thirty times further along in age than her, it is clear that she has much to teach me. While I have already received much instruction from raising six children to adulthood myself, the dynamics of “grand” parenting are quite different generally, but I have been humbled by the astonishing and effortless power she has to inspire and delight. 

 

My subjective experience while in her presence is so clearly demonstrative of the existence of Jung’s “transcendent function,” as well as the invisible bonds that support all life on this planet, and it gives me great encouragement to suppose that I am on the right path with my writing work.

 

 

In the months to come, I hope to expand on the ideas and previous efforts here in a way that will contribute in a positive way to my own understanding, and I invite my readers and subscribers to follow along as I navigate forward.

A Teacher’s Dream

 

A Teacher’s Dream On the Nature of Time

 

After enduring an intense and startling dream about a difficult personal experience,  upon rising it was apparent to me that during the dream, I had acknowledged an important aspect of my own way of being, which has occasionally created challenges for others, due to my inclination toward emotional involvement, when interacting with them. While still in the dream, I seemed to understand and appreciate the predicament my emotional intensity could sometimes create, depending on the circumstances, even though I was still unable to avoid expressing it in real terms as I understood it.

In this instance, I had been engaged in an emotional conversation with a friend, and while it wasn’t a particularly unpleasant interaction, I left the room abruptly and proceeded down a hallway to a short set of stairs, where I promptly sat down in the stairway and began to weep for a moment or two.

 

 

The very next moment, I found myself walking outside in a large park of some kind, and pulled open a large green metal gate, just enough to allow myself to squeeze by and descend a long walkway leading to an open area, where a family activity was underway, and as I engaged the members of the family in the middle of this scene, I somehow found myself having to explain my reason for being there.

I shortly left that area and walked up to an adjacent building, and entered a hallway leading up to a large room with a group of young students, waiting to have a class.  The subject of the class was to be the nature of time, and it became apparent after a few moments that I was about to assume the role of teacher in that room.  As the classroom settled down, I started to speak.

 

 

 What follows is a surprisingly lengthy accounting of the ideas I expressed in that setting:

 

“The nature of time is not like a river,” I began, “as most people think of it.  It is more like a continuum.”

 

“The concept of time itself is still somewhat mysterious, especially when you consider that the current wisdom on the subject suggests it is not a linear phenomenon moving inexorably from the past to the future, creating a relentless flow of events taking place, but rather as a streaming sequence of moments that follow each other at all times. It appears now that we may be the ones traveling through time, which exists as a constant, and within which we always participate in our own way.”

 

 

“When we speak of ‘where we are’ at any given moment, it may be more correct to speak of ‘when we are,’ when that moment takes place.  The moment in which any event takes place has always been there before we ‘arrived,’ and remains there long after we have ‘departed’; it is we who are ‘traveling’ through the time continuum, experiencing each moment as we ‘arrive’ in it, and remembering each moment after we move on to the next.  Time doesn’t flow; moments in time remain where they have always been since time began, and where they will remain for whatever amount of time our universe continues to exist.”

 

 

“The beginning of the existence of space occurred at the ‘Big Bang,’ and with it, the existence of time as we experience it also began.  As we now know, for example, the light ‘arriving’ on Earth from space of distant stars, depending on how many ‘light years’ distant they are from us, is doing so long after that light actually left the location of those stars, and so the light from a star that is 100 thousand light years away, is only now arriving when we look up at the area of the sky where it can be seen, but what we see is light that left that location 100 thousand years ago.”

 

 

“The idea that time flows is based on the assumptions we make as physical creatures, who exist on a planet which rotates predictably about every 24 hours in its orbit around the sun, part of the time facing the sun, and part of the time facing away from the sun, which is also tilted part of the time more toward the sun in one hemisphere, which then eventually ‘wobbles’ back the other way, so that the opposite hemisphere then is tilted more toward the sun.  The entire planet travels in an orbit around the sun, predictably about every 365 days, and presents us with the experience of the ‘passage of time,’ with seasonal changes taking place as a result of the tilting of the angle of the Earth toward the sun, and the apparent ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ of the sun as we spin on an axis.”

 

 

“Time itself is unchanging, unmoving, existing at all moments as we experience them, and those ‘moments’ that seem to unfold as we ‘arrive,’ have been there waiting for us all along, and the moments which we describe as being in the ‘past,’ are still there, as we remember them, but to which we cannot physically return, since we are the ones ‘traveling,’ through the continuum of time.”

 

“It’s not obvious from our experience of the time continuum that this is the case, and as physical creatures, our perceptions of time and space and of the sequential events that we experience as our daily existence, rely on our sensory systems of sight and sound, scent and taste, and the all-important sense of touch, to determine what is happening in each moment.  Since we are limited in each of these areas regarding the range of what we can experience, as sophisticated and complex as the process of sensory experience truly can be for each of us, our perceptions of our experience can only provide us with a partial picture at best.”

 

 

Some Afterthoughts Upon Reflection

When I awoke from the dream, I immediately got up and wrote down everything I could remember.  I was astonished to see how much I was able to recall of what transpired in the dream.  It was an extraordinary dream sequence that I actually found somewhat disturbing, at least in the sense that I seemed to be quite familiar with the environment and the individuals within it, but have never actually experienced any such circumstance in my waking state.  I don’t have a clear sense of how I could have arrived at an explanation of the nature of time in this dream, even though it seemed to make sense to me while in the dream state.

 

 

Through the development of our advanced technologies, we have been able to extend our knowledge about the nature of our physical existence, and expand our understanding beyond the speculations and superstitions of the past. Even with every advancement made over the tens of thousands of years in which humans have been capable of deliberate investigation and subsequent discovery, there still remains much that we have yet to fully understand, and mysteries abound throughout the Universe, some of which we are likely not yet aware.  Exploration continues at an amazing pace in many areas of science and technology, but our understanding and appreciation of the fullness of our experience of life seems often not to be keeping pace.

 

Physical Reality

Physical reality, within which our moment-to-moment experience of life as a human being takes place, has revealed many fascinating and terrible aspects of existing in a physical universe, and we know for certain now, that there are a number of layers to our experience of space and time, which clearly do exist, but which we cannot affirm or prove using any traditional scientific methodology.

 

 

 

No one has ever actually seen an electron, traveled at the speed of light, or penetrated the farthest reaches of space, but their existence is not in question.  Other dimensions outside of the three we experience physically and the one dimension of time as we know it must exist, in order for the ones we experience to be explained.  Since they are somehow beyond the capabilities of our science to detect or demonstrate currently, we must “infer” their existence, based on what we do know.

The entire universe, in which all of everything takes place, appears to be made up mostly of undetectable “dark matter,” and is being influenced by some kind of undetectable force we call “dark energy,” which is responsible for the expansion of the universe currently. 

There are even limits to our knowledge regarding the well-understood force of gravity, which show up when we encounter what we call “black holes,” like the one at the center of our own galaxy.  No one really knows the full extent to which such extreme gravitational forces might affect our physical reality, but we do know that we don’t want to get too close to a black hole.

 

 

All of these ideas and explorations show us an undisputed aspect of our existence—there are a great many parts of our experience as a human being which are clearly understood and known, and still others which are beyond our understanding and which remain, as yet, unknown.  There are many aspects of our existence which we can demonstrate and explain through science, and others which may never yield to any scientific investigation we might devise. Even so, the existence of such aspects can be “inferred,” as a consequence of what we know to be true subjectively, and which point toward a level of experience that exists outside of our temporal existence. 

 

Experience and Existence

The words “experience” and “existence” are themselves an approximation based on our limited physical capacities for perception and observation of physical phenomena.  Any person with a nominally functional sensory apparatus, and central nervous system attached to a functional human brain, who has accumulated a sufficient amount of knowledge of the world, can determine that they exist physically and appreciate the range of experience possible through the use of those assets.

 

             Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

Every “experience” in the temporal world is made known to us and is understood through our perceptual and cognitive talents as humans, but our objective knowledge and appreciation of what takes place temporally is only part of the story.  Our objective physical “existence” is perceived and processed by our physical systems, but our moment-to-moment “experience” is profoundly and wholly subjective in nature, in spite of being reliant on our brains and senses to sustain our access to our subjective awareness. 

 

The Nature of Light

Light photons enter our eyes and strike the retina, which is connected to our visual cortex in the brain, which processes the electrical signals it receives in various other regions, which then “inform” us as to what it is we are seeing.  Our memories of having seen similar objects is retained in the neural networks, which have been established from previous encounters, and strengthened by repetition and sustained learning.

The eye is the portal through which light is perceived, but our subjective awareness of what we are seeing does not take place in the eye.  Our cognitive functioning allows us to process all the signals coming in through our sensory apparatus, to remember what we’ve learned, and to respond according to our respective talents. 

 

Subjective Awareness

Our inner subjective awareness of our temporal experience informs us about the nature of our existence, and although it relies on objective physical systems for perception and data processing, the awareness itself is subjective, and it has no physical existence in the same sense as objects do.  Thoughts are not experienced in the same way as objects, even though they are facilitated through similar objective processes. 

We can dissect a brain, determine its physical attributes, and map out the neural pathways through which the electrical signals travel, but we cannot dissect our thoughts with a scalpel, or surgically extract our awareness.  We can injure our brains and surgically remove parts of it to impair or disable our access to awareness, but the awareness itself has no objective substance.

 

              Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

What’s Next?

In the weeks to come, I will be re-examining some of my previous work on the nature of subjective experience, in light of more recent investigations and progress in the related fields of thought surrounding the nature of our existence, and hopefully shed some additional light on the continuing struggle to determine how it is that we experience our lives in the way that we do.

Galileo’s Error


Anil Seth Twitter

Finally made substantial progress with Philip Goff’s recent offering on the subject of consciousness, and as someone equally intrigued by the advancements of science and their implications for both neuroscience and the efforts to develop a science of consciousness, I must admit that I find myself in agreement with many of Goff’s assertions, even though I’m not quite completely convinced by all of his arguments. His review of the variety of approaches to understanding the nature of human consciousness and his fairly even-handed treatment of views which differ from his own is especially encouraging, since this approach is less evident in other treatments of the subject.


Justus Sustermans Uffizi Gallery, Florence

One of the most interesting general starting points in Goff’s approach is when he pointed out Galileo’s idea to separate our subjective experience of objects from the objects themselves: “Just as beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder, so colors, smells, tastes, and sounds exist only in the conscious soul of a human being as she experiences the world. In other words, Galileo transformed the sensory qualities from features of things in the world—such as lemons—into forms of consciousness in the souls of human beings.”

This “error” led to the scientific revolution where mathematics could describe the phenomenal world like never before. Galileo also was able to deduce through reasoning alone that objects, no matter how much they weigh, fall at the same rate, by revealing the contradiction in the idea that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. Goff takes great pains to point out the value of philosophy in this way:

“It is sometimes claimed that the scientific revolution, and the great progress which followed it, have rendered philosophy impotent as a tool for understanding the natural world. And yet the father of the scientific revolution is in fact the great vindicator of the philosophical method. Galileo is one of the few philosophers to have produced a philosophical argument which nobody has ever disputed; and with this argument he transformed our understanding of the physical world.”


NASA.gov

As we know, Galileo’s idea that all objects fall at the same rate was demonstrated by Apollo astronaut, David Scott, who dropped a hammer and a feather during his mission on the moon, and they both hit the surface at the same time. While waking consciousness is made coherent by our ability to remember each moment as it happens and becomes the next moment, our dreaming consciousness, while often remembered, as explained by Goff, may not follow logically in the same way:

“Even in the dreams we do remember when we wake up, what is experienced from moment to moment is often not so tightly bound together by memory. One moment we’re back in high school being taught French by Miss Clarke, and the next moment we’re on top of a mountain without noticing anything has changed. Memory is still recording the dream (if it weren’t we wouldn’t be able to remember it upon waking), but it is not binding moment-to-moment experience into a coherent whole as it does in waking life.”

After reading through this section of the book, I awoke suddenly twice that night from two elaborate dreams: Many of the exact details of the first dream escape me, but realizing that it was quite elaborate in its details surprised me upon waking. Briefly recalling such details after having a dream of such length, made me wish I had gotten up and written it down.

In this dream, I was a teacher or an instructor for a relief agency in a third world area and responsible for helping a large community build relationships for local cooperation between groups. I remember answering questions in a group setting, as well as having one-on-one conversations with individuals in a teacher/student situation. I was definitely enjoying the process and feeling a sense of accomplishment in serving this community. Upon waking, I was surprised at the level of detail within the dream, and how long it seemed to go on. There was barely a hint of light evident in the windows, so it must have been near dawn…

The second dream involved an elaborate journey through a large city. My GPS located the vehicle I drove into the city, and after my activity in town was accomplished, the signal on the GPS screen showed the way back to the car, which took me over a much more elaborate return path, including several buildings, an indoor mall location, a large concrete structure which I had to climb down, and past street vendors with colorful framed images displayed. As I approached the destination, the screen of the GPS showed a network of red boxes connected by red lines. I was frustrated and anxious that I was having so much trouble locating my car, right before I was awakened by someone grabbing my toes.

As the room slowly brightened with the morning light, I was reminded of Emerson…

“I see the spectacle of morning…from daybreak to sunrise with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of clouds float like fishes in a sea of crimson light. From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations; the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind.”

Emerson belonged to the Transcendentalist Movement which expressed the values of “idealism, nonconformity, self-reliance, free thought, and the divinity of nature.” I often find myself in accord with these values in spite of experiences with a fair amount of resistance or push-back from others I have encountered along the way.

Like Carl Jung, who described “a curious resistance” and “an almost total unwillingness to understand,” his choice of psychiatry when he was preparing for his future career, my own experiences with conversations regarding subjective experience as an indication of a non-physical component to human consciousness, which clearly invokes free thought and the divinity of nature, often met with a similar “unwillingness,” even to suppose that such elements exist at all.

As I awaited the fullness of the morning light to brighten in the room, Emerson’s words echoed in my mind, stirring memories of my own struggles with coming to terms with a number of extraordinary experiences in my life. Reflecting on them now, in my maturity, they seem more clearly to embody the transcendentalist values, and re-enforce my resolve to pursue the path I have actively explored these many years. Reading Philip Goff’s book, “Galileo’s Error,” has also provided additional encouragement to persist in my explorations.

Intelligence, Cognition, and Consciousness

Vitruvian Man

 

Conventional wisdom these days isn’t much help when we look ahead to the future of life on earth, since life is fairly unconventional these days by most reckonings, and even what might previously have been described as common sense hardly seems common at all anymore. If there is any consolation to the currently prevailing uncertainty of it all, it is that with so much uncertainty there’s still a chance it might all turn out okay. That doesn’t sound like much of a chance until you consider the alternatives which include a clearly downward spiral toward the abyss.

Life itself arose in our little corner of a minor galaxy in an astonishing confluence of matter and energy and environment in our solar system, but took billions of years to produce significant results of the sort that permitted intelligent life to unfold. Once established, intelligent life progressed rapidly by comparison, and we see human progress increasing exponentially as the years pass.

 

 

When you consider the unlikely way in which life itself sprang into existence on Earth, our own uncertainty in the 21st century starts to look far less daunting. In the earliest epoch of humanity, the first truly useful and meaningful awareness of human consciousness in our ancient ancestors could only have appeared once the hominid brain finally possessed the necessary prerequisites for cognition and awareness. No matter when the architecture of the brain and the physiological structures within the body finally became mature enough to allow heightened sense perception and cognition, possession of these talents alone could not have produced significant results right away, and consciousness must have taken an enormous amount of time to develop into a recognizable phenomenon.

 

One can see in the parallel of our modern development from human babies to functional adults, that the ability to utilize the brains’ miraculous capacities requires an accumulation of knowledge and experience over many years before becoming notably useful beyond basic skills. Modern children normally have the advantage of being surrounded by already functional and accomplished human beings with a fully developed language and plenty of knowledge and experience from which to learn. For our ancient ancestors, who were starting from scratch, there was no such advantage. Of course, increased intelligence isn’t necessarily a harbinger of good news for humanity.

A recent article in Time magazine expresses this idea well. Ray Kurzweil’s predictions of what has been described as the “singularity” (Time magazine, February 21,2011, pg. 42), “n: The moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history,” points to a sort of tipping point in the progress of artificial intelligence. According to this theory, by 2023 computers will surpass human brainpower, and by 2045 they will possess “super intelligence,” or brainpower “…equivalent to that of all human brains combined.

While the author of this article, Lev Grossman, admits that such a “Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, he also believes that “…it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.” The problem for me, aside from equating artificial intelligence with the human variety, is his assertion that when “All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is that our brains are doing when they create consciousness…then all bets are off.

It always intrigues me when so-called “experts” attempt to simplify “human consciousness” as being some sort of evolutionary adaptation easily explained by brain physiology or cognitive functioning. It’s a “no-brainer” that our development of a complex and integrative cerebral cortex gave us access to a level of cognitive function (as yet unmatched by any other species to our knowledge) that permits an exceptionally keen awareness of BEING conscious, but consciousness itself is a much larger and expansive subject than brain physiology or cognitive science and any attempt to explain consciousness in a comprehensive sense clearly requires a much broader understanding.

I recently encountered the writings of Julian Jaynes, a Princeton professor who wrote extensively about the origins of consciousness in humans, and his theory posits that humans did not immediately develop into conscious creatures fully until around 2 B.C. when a fully developed “metaphorical language” provided the necessary requisites for the achievement of a fully functional human consciousness.

There can be no doubt that our awareness required the development of metaphorical language for our apprehension of consciousness to be expressed, and for meaningful thought to formulate ideas and concepts necessary for recognition of the existence of consciousness, but it seems much more likely that consciousness exists as a “fundamental feature” (Chalmers) of existence and that, as consciously aware creatures, we are “aware” of consciousness in the same way that we are aware of electromagnetism.

Whatever sort of result comes from technological progress in artificial intelligence, what we will no doubt find, as we look toward the uncertain future, is that no matter how intelligent we or our machines become, no amount of fiddling or advanced technology will change the fundamental features of existence.

Pen and ink drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, showing how a man’s body fits into a circle and a square by adjusting the position of his arms and legs, called Vitruvian Man.

“Vitruvius was an ancient Roman architect who wrote a series of ten books on architecture – one of the few collections of books of its type that survived into the Renaissance. In the third volume, which is on the proportions of temples, he states that these buildings should be based on the proportions of man, because the human body is the model of perfection. He justifies this by stating that the human body with arms and legs extended fits into the perfect geometric forms, the circle, and the square. “– excerpt from article © Robert M. Place 2000

http://thealchemicalegg.com/leotaroN.html

The Blossoming of Consciousness

Contemplating recent comments about what it means to be a conscious human, I began to consider what really distinguishes us from all the other inhabitants of our planet. There are some distinctively human traits to be sure, but it seems more like a combination of several important capacities and foundational characteristics that sets us apart.

Most living creatures with an adequately developed brain and functional central nervous system, given sufficient stimulation in the appropriate circumstance, will generally demonstrate a fairly predictable response in their behavior, including, many times, human beings. The familiar “fight-or-flight” response when in close proximity to a dangerous carnivore would be a good example. Under most circumstances, depending on the degree of danger and the creature’s inherited abilities and previous conditioning with regard to facing such danger, if adequate motivation was present for either running away or standing up to the danger, most organisms would instinctively tend to select the behavior which provided the best option for survival. While this behavior could still ultimately result in the demise of the organism, in spite of whatever resources may be available to them, when the behavior is instinctively chosen, no judgment or further implication can be inferred.

Conversely, as cognitive creatures, with both instinctual and volitional capacities, humans can not only deliberately override instinctive tendencies, but can also consciously review the available behavioral selections, calculate the likelihood of success of any choice, contemplate previously untried alternatives, innovate extemporaneously with available resources, and even in the face of very low probabilities of success, choose behaviors which instinct alone would generally not permit. In the human brain, with all of its genetically inherited and deeply-rooted predispositions, as well as a variety of involuntary and unconscious functions, we observe mitigation of this sort by virtue of the capacities provided by our distinctly human version of the cerebral cortex, particularly from activity within the frontal lobe. The capacity to deliberately alter or mitigate our instinctive responses, and purposefully alter our environment and behaviors is a characteristic of our species, and one of the distinguishing hallmarks that separates humans from all other living creatures.

One might wish to argue that humans respond instinctively all the time, or that we tend to confer deliberate choice to our actions far more often than is actually the case, but we cannot easily disregard millions of years of evolution simply because we now have a sufficiently sophisticated cognitive capacity. We are, by most cosmic standards, a fledgling species, whose progress from being primarily impulsive creatures with a survival instinct to the more modern self-aware variety has spanned less than a hundred thousand years. Whatever degree of cognitive skill might have been adequate to qualify the earliest version of modern humans as “conscious” or “significantly self-aware,” the earliest evidence of such characteristics being demonstrated seems to fall during the Upper Paleolithic period, which saw the coexistence of the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon.

In the waning years of survival for the Neanderthals, some evidence of expanding skills with tools has been found, and examinations of Neanderthal fossils show that the skull architecture would have supported the ability to produce language if they were able, but the available fossil evidence is not adequate to support a definitive conclusion in this regard, and there is a fair amount of speculation and disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a fully developed and meaningful vocal communication. However, the capacity and ability with language is another one of the predominant characteristics of modern Homo sapiens, and represents a significant evolutionary survival advantage.

Along with the ability to communicate through language, modern humans were finally able to associate temporal objects with symbolic representations of those objects, as evidenced in the ancient cave paintings in Ardeche, France in the Caves of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, now believed to have been placed there some 34,000 years ago by the Aurignacian culture. However the actual progressive skills of Homo sapiens unfolded, it is clear that when it finally became possible for our ancient ancestors to make significant and meaningful use of their cognitive skills, human beings were profoundly altered, and were no longer simply another primate species struggling for survival in the ancient world.

If we begin with the idea that truly modern humans had finally achieved a significant degree of useful and discernable “consciousness” around this time, it would take another 30,000 years for the first appearance of “writing” to occur, when the Sumerians created their “cuneiform” writing system, and by definition, the beginning of “recorded history.” Everything that happened in between these two landmark developments represents a period of “blossoming” of our human consciousness, within which both language and culture flourished and expanded into what would become a global phenomenon.

Methods for communication have also been documented among other species on our planet, and we have observed a whole range of behaviors which could be described as an indication of various degrees of “consciousness,” in those life forms, including astonishing achievements in the construction of habitats, particularly tenacious species surviving unimaginable adversity, and mind-boggling evolutionary adaptations within species, over the millions of years of evolution. As amazing as they are, these accomplishments pale in comparison to what one lonely branch of primates has managed in the last 50,000 years.


Overcoming instinctive behaviors, deliberately and “consciously” choosing our path through the millennia, as disastrous as some of those choices have been and continue to be, distinguishes humans from every other known species. Whether we are able to survive and thrive in the future, could very well depend not just on our progress toward understanding human consciousness, but also on our willingness to transcend both our history and our narrow view of what might possibly explain “consciousness.”

Reason and Intuition

 

“It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery has conveyed a survival advantage…provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would be valid also in our search…and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.

– Stephen Hawking quoted in “A Brief History of Time.”

 

“Intuition is the indubitable conception of a clear and attentive mind which proceeds solely from the light of reason…By ‘intuition’ I do not mean the fluctuating testimony of the senses or the deceptive judgement of the imagination as it botches things together, but the conception of a clear and attentive mind, which is so easy and so distinct that there can be no room for doubt about what we are understanding…another mode of knowing in addition to intuition (is) deduction, by which we mean the inference of something as following necessarily from some other propositions which are known with certainty…because immediate self-evidence is not required for deduction, as it is for intuition…but the first principles themselves are known only through intuition, and the remote conclusions only through deduction.

– Rene Descartes from “Rules for the Direction of the Mind,” written circa 1628, first Latin edition published in 1701.

“Language is entwined with human life…it reflects the way we grasp reality…It is…a window into human nature…Human intelligence, with its capacity to think an unlimited number of abstract thoughts, evolved out of primate circuitry for coping with the physical and social world, augmented by a capacity to extend these circuits to new domains by metaphorical abstraction…some metaphors can express truths about the world…So even if language and thought use metaphors, that doesn’t imply that knowledge and truth are obsolete. It may imply that metaphors can objectively and truthfully capture aspects of reality.”

– Steven Pinker, from his book, “The Stuff of Thought.”

 

There is something in the air, out in the world, something inside of me, that is pervasive. It’s always there, relentlessly seeking me. It feels like an embrace, and yet it does not always bring me peace. Sometimes, I cannot easily face it. In my life, I have known there is the possibility of pain–the other side of joy–and also of fear, as there has always been. Early in my life, I did not understand–did not see why I had to feel certain things. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why can’t everything just be okay? When you’re young, there’s no way to process or fully understand thoughts like that. There is a keener sense of the unknown; a resistance to potent emotions, inexplicable or mysterious energies, anything that suggests aspects of our reality which may be beyond our normal understanding.

 

Logically, of course, science and reason can provide us with a methodical and considered approach when it comes to investigating the unknown, and can often point to reasonable scientific principles which are clearly at work in certain situations; we can observe them, we experience them and assume because we know WHY these things happen, that we understand them. In my experience, truly apprehending the nature of things requires something more. Naturally, we see what we see, we hear what we hear; we consider information we bring in from the objective world; we interpret what comes through our senses and process the information utilizing the various talents of specific brain regions. We come to conclusions which often can be affirmed by comparing them to our experiences and memories, and by testing them through our subsequent actions, and we may even make choices regarding potential future actions.

 

As we observe what happens out there, we say, “So that’s why the planets are all traveling in loops around the sun,” or “no wonder it seems that light suddenly appears since it travels so reliably and predictably at the same speed.” All of these aspects of our reality that we can observe and affirm, tell us why things work the way they do, because the laws of physics require them to conform in this way. When all of our observations confirm the laws, we feel confident in establishing those principles as true. I haven’t always been convinced by what I see or hear or observe, not because I supposed that my senses weren’t working properly, but rather because those aspects did not conform precisely with my personal recollections of previous experiences. It’s possible for us to be mistaken about what our senses tell us, as in the case of optical illusions, and we can occasionally be easily misled by the clever application of deliberate or manipulative deception, but it can be much more difficult to persuade us of any suggested explanation of events which does not match up with the way we intuitively feel as we process that input.

 

Experience has taught me to trust the way I feel, especially when it comes to connections to other individuals, places, and ideas which resonate so strongly within me in particular circumstances, but our modern chaotic world doesn’t always encourage us to trust our intuition or to have the confidence always to listen to our genuine “gut” feelings. Throughout my life, there have been innumerable examples of instances where my inner urgings and startling responses to unexpected provocations have been right on the mark. There have been times when it seemed to me that I was virtually “standing on a precipice,” dangerously close to and looking over an edge, either about to fall, or maybe even getting ready to “take a leap of faith.” Conventional wisdom might suggest that if you’re near some sort of a virtual edge and you fall, it’s not necessarily your fault, and yet, at the same time, somehow you got yourself out on that ledge. That same wisdom might suggest that if you find yourself on that proverbial ledge and you decide to jump, for whatever reason, that is a choice for which you alone are responsible.

 

 

We can’t always control what happens TO us, and sometimes we may even feel compelled to make choices that we don’t necessarily agree with completely, and why we feel that way is not always crystal clear. All sorts of influences and pressures from even trusted sources can weigh on us as we contemplate our next steps, distorting or mitigating our normal process of reasoning or, if we are fortunate, clarifying it. Our reasoning can be faulty and we can occasionally even refuse to consider outside influences which are meant to be helpful, but ultimately we must choose, one way or another.

The struggle between reason and intuition has become something of an epic battle these days, and considered and informed opinions may seem less prevalent in our modern social interactions, and so giving attention to sorting it all out is even more important now.

 

 

Celebrating Life and Love

By coincidence, all day today, I was working at my part-time job, which places me in a position of interacting with a large number of random people, and as I am naturally inclined to be social, as the opportunity presents itself, I try to engage each one in a brief conversation, mostly as a polite way to greet them and maybe get a smile out of them. Apparently, marking this particular day as one in which we celebrate love in all its many forms; love clearly was on the mind of just about everyone. Most often, the exchange would be brief, and took the form of well-wishing and polite banter, but several of the exchanges, while also positive in nature, revealed a different layer of attention to the subject of love, including a few which required diplomacy on my part to acknowledge the gestures, without slighting the intention of the well-wishing, but also maintaining the appropriate demeanor. As I contemplated my responses in the brief minute or so in which they were required, it occurred to me that the subject was fairly challenging to address under these circumstances, and upon completing my shift, I began to consider the subject at length.

There’s almost no telling how love will unfold in our personal lives or as we move through the world-at-large. As we progress through our lives, we all seem to arrive at our own understanding of what it means to love someone. We learn first about love from our parents or primary caretakers whoever they end up being, and often it’s amazing to us as adults what sticks with us through all the changes and stages of growth we go through. In some circumstances, where our lives are most often in balance as we grow, we learn to appreciate the love we are given, and have a fair idea of how to demonstrate our love based on these experiences. For most of us, though, the balance is often tipped in one direction or the other, and it can take a long time to appreciate how other people might differ in their understanding of what it means to love another person.

It seems to me that, as a rule, we are far too rigid in our views of what reasonably might constitute a loving relationship between parents and children, amongst siblings, between extended family groups, and between the many different levels of friendship that we encounter as we age. Our best friend in grammar school can still be our best friend in our adult life, or they can vanish from our lives for any number of reasons, and every variety of circumstance can either contribute to the longevity of friendship or make it impossible to continue, just as every other sort of relationship can experience long periods of enriching and enduring affection, or be lost or mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

I have often encountered circumstances in my life, where people have inspired me to feel a loving connection in one way or another, but who have a difficult time understanding how it could be that such a connection is even possible. I have often thought that there should be some guidance in our educational system, particularly when children are approaching adolescence, to begin to appreciate the many different varieties of emotional connection that people feel, and to broaden the definitions of love across the whole spectrum of human interactions.

history of the world

The amount of time in which a life takes place, which includes everything from a few moments to, at times, nearly a century of life, is one of the least important measures of a life. Each of us is given a certain amount of time to live our lives, and none of us knows in advance how long it will be before we must relinquish our lives. This is the very nature of life–uncertainty. In some ways, uncertainty DEFINES life. If we knew about everything that would happen in our lives in advance, and the exact moment when life would end, there would be no mystery, no wonder, no sense of anticipation, no expectation, no reason to try anything. Because life is unpredictable, it is worth getting up in the morning to see what will happen! Life is about potentiality. When we DON’T know what will happen, or how long we will have to do anything, it’s up to us to discover how our lives will unfold. It is always sad, as an observer of life, when we see a life that is, from our perspective, cut short, before it has had sufficient time to unfold in the normal way. But really, each life, no matter how long it is, is precious, and worth every effort to live each moment fully, for however long we have to live it.

I do not claim to be an expert. I am not a scholar, or a magician, or a superstar quarterback. Even though I attended two universities for more than four years, I haven’t turned my education into a platform for expertise or exploited those opportunities into a particularly abundant life. What I can say about my life, given the measures we normally apply to accomplishments in education, in my case at least, the results were not especially impressive, but my life EXPERIENCES have been extraordinary.

Every memory I have is precious to me. I have been the father to six amazing children. I have served my country in the military, traveled to Europe for two years, and met many extraordinary people. I have experienced great joy, as well as terrible sadness. I have experienced hunger, deprivation, loneliness, bitterness, rejection, loss, and just about every sort of unhappiness imaginable, but I have also been a witness to and a participant in spectacular experiences of loving; I have attended feasts, and eaten at fine restaurants; I have vacationed in beautiful natural settings; I have attended family reunions with some of the most fabulous people on the planet; I have been satisfied in many different ways, and cried tears of joy as I held precious newborn children in my arms.

I could go on, but you can see from just these few examples that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, when it comes right down to it, what we EXPERIENCE is what means the most to us; it’s what hurts us the most; it’s what drives us and what slays us; what we experience is more important than what we accomplish almost always, and all the skills and knowledge we acquire, as vital as these aspects are in helping us to function in and to understand our world, we must BE IN the world and experiencing our lives in order to make any good use of any of it.

The dynamics of each unique personal relationship has always been a subject of interest for me, especially since I began to explore the nature of human interactions as they relate to our very human spirit. As we make our way through our lives, we probably encounter hundreds of other individuals through our educational and social circles, but normally only a very select few become particularly significant to us in one way or another. We generally become aware of these connections when proximity permits sufficient opportunity to do so, but proximity alone cannot account for the development of close, personal (and dare I say…spiritual) connections, particularly those which endure across great distance and long years. While there are many different foundations for our unique relationships, and much that is not necessarily self-evident regarding the psychology which supports them, the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance.

As is the case with the many forms and degrees of love which we celebrate today, there are also other more subtle and more mysterious forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are part of the life of the human spirit within us. The power to alter our lives at any time is within our grasp. We have the means to evaluate and discern which choice is best for us. We can choose to act in our own self-interest, or in consideration of what is in the best interests of others. Depending on our choices, a whole variety of alternate realities are possible.

If our minds are simply and only the result of neuronal functioning and the basic electro-chemical balance in our brains, then none of us can be held truly accountable for our actions, since we are at the mercy of brain chemistry and the endowment of adequate neuronal functioning. My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part and parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.