Welcome to my mind
This is my journal
After some transitional stress into college, I discovered the joy of journaling. I tend to write when there's something on my mind, and once I showed some of my journal entries to my family they recommended I start a blog for my journal entries. This here is that blog. Welcome to my journal; welcome to my mind; welcome to me.
Entry #9, 10/22/13
Nature self corrects. When the frequency and intensity of forest fires decreases, the increased forest density means that the next ensuing forest fire has the potential to rage out of control. The universe, theorized to have begun at the big bang, is said to be in a constant state of entropy - or a constant state of progression towards thermodynamic equilibrium.
When populations of animals grow too large (and their geographical distribution becomes too dense), they begin to act in ways that hamstring the population growth of their species, often through internal conflict and increased competition for resources. Eventually the population will shrink until it finds an equilibrium thus restoring them to a more balanced population density.
Nature self corrects, and humanity is still growing. I believe that eventually there will be some natural force that balances our species out (reduces our population density to an equilibrium), whether it be traveling to another planet or through warfare - something all too regular for our species.
But what I have really been thinking about is the impact on the growth and development of a species due to correction. Specifically, I have been thinking about a specific dichotomy of the impact of a given trait; traits that were both beneficial to our growth as a species and could one day cause of our downfall.
For example, fear. Fear enabled our species’ ancestors to avoid danger and harm - thus ensuring the likelihood that their genes would be passed down. As a result, modern day humans have this same fear instinct, despite the fact that they live in relative safety. As a white man in modern America, I am of course referring to the modern western world - the only world which I really know. That is not to say danger is not present here, but rather that it is fairly contained. A car could hit you, but you can look before you cross the road; a fight can escalate to the point of danger, but I have yet to see a situation in which the fight could not have been avoided; and it is possible to find yourself in one of those freakish school shooting scenarios, but to my knowledge those are fewer and farther between than the media presents it. There are other dangers, of course - obesity, heart attack, disease - but these are things that rarely set off an instinctual fear reaction.
The fear instinct has enabled our species to avoid danger, and as a result grow and develop. However, we now fear each other. Simple interactions can incite a fear reaction and escalate into a brawl. But what’s more is that despite the many policies, laws, and rules present in the macro-world of international/inter-government relations, the massive organizations that rule chunks of our globe are run by groups of humans. Humans who, within each and every one, still hold the fear instinct in the deepest neural fibers and wetware of their very own brains. One of the lower levels of our brains, indeed one of the earlier brain structures in any species, contains the fight-or-flight response. We humans have labelled this part of the brain the limbic system, or more specifically the amygdala. This ancient yet sacred centerpiece of developed life may hold the key to both our rise and our fall. And to me this is magnificent. It is something that I have difficulty putting into words, perhaps there is a word for it - but if so I have yet to learn of it.
The way I see evolution is as the progressive growth of a species in a given direction, cultural, genetic, or otherwise (in fact, I would argue that the two are inseparably related - but that’s something for a different entry). I picture different species branching out in different directions, like an electric current burning through wood (as can be seen in this video: http://vimeo.com/60814695#). Sometimes the path of burning wood stops, other times it finds a strong path and burned part of the wood becomes darker and thicker. I see each branch of burned wood as a collection of traits, a specific grouping of genomes, and the ones that are collectively successful dominate the species and create the main large columns of blackened wood.
But the way that I am amazed by the notion that one of our core survival mechanisms, indeed one of the core survival mechanisms for all developed life, could be our downfall is that along with this model of evolution imagine that the burned wood grows so unstable that it sets the wood aflame and a huge chunk of wood crumbles. And even this analogy doesn’t do justice the idea that I’m trying to express.
It is like a man whose cute sense of humor gets him a girlfriend, who later leaves him because she cannot stand his sense of humor. Ignoring the fact that she probably just got tired of his sense of humor, it appears that the very same thing that led to his acquisition of a girlfriend led to his abandonment by his girlfriend.
Or imagine a student who studies rigorously for school, and works so hard to get perfect grades. However, he overworks himself so hard that he doesn’t sleep enough. As a result he misses some classes, and his grades drop. Working hard got him better grades, and working hard got him worse grades.
Or picture a cartographer back in the days of exploration, whose employment relies on both his ability to map out new land and the knowledge of unmapped land. Imagine, for a moment, that he is unlike any cartographer before him - he has an inhuman ability to map landscapes, to the point that he soon maps the entire planet. In doing so, he has ridden himself of work. His legendary ability to map is what gave him work, and what took his work.
And so it may be with our species; it may be that our very traits that were essential to our survival will be the key to our demise. Perhaps that is one method through which nature self corrects. Maybe there is a certain yin and yang in the universe, a certain balance, to which all things cannot stray too far from - and the father they stray, the more sudden and intense their return. Just as with the example of forest fires, the more fires are prevented the more wood there is to burn - and so the lower the quantity and intensity of forest fires for a given length of time, the more extreme and dangerous the next forest fire will be. Mayhaps that is the true meaning of flying too close to the sun; rather than the common emphasis on the sun melting the wax wings, maybe a more suitable meaning would be that the higher you fly, the greater the fall. That does not mean to presume that one should avoid flying as much as possible, but just that if he fails to look down he will not be aware of the inevitable fall.
Man has risen from protoplasmic goop
A clustering of gray cells
Programmed to “reproduce,” essentially on loop
He has grown smarter than his competition
Developed tools, technology, science and art
Perpetually striving toward his ambition
He works and works, resting only on the way
Each generation with a new sense of where to go
He fights resistance, pushing harder each day
His aspirations cultivating motivation within
Always wanting more, more, more
Pushing humanity further, always finding new places to begin
His intrinsic wax wings beating harder against the wind
Flying ever higher, man’s Icarus soars
Entirely unaware that his plan may soon come unpinned
Only as the wings begin to melt does he realize
Looking side to side, the warmth of the sun resting gently on the back of his neck
His strives for naught more than his demise
A masochistic energy surges through him
A final endulgement of his humanistic desire
Beating harder and harder, fighting chagrin
As the wings lose utility
He loses flying ability
He loses control of mobility
He falls, reflecting on his wings viability
As a tool of not flight, but of falling
For what better tool could man make to give way to collapse;
What better way to illuminate a fall;
Is there any greater way to show, perhaps;
That rise is inseparable from fall;
Growth impossible without stagnation;
Balance only possible with imbalance;
Right inseparable from wrong;
Up from down;
A lesson, deep down, known all along
And thus man’s flight
Was no more than the perfect tool for
Nature's balancing act; man's self-inflicted plight
Entry #8, 10/3/2013
How do you define an image? If there is an outline of a face, drawn in pen - is the face the pen marks, or the white space inside of and around it? I would argue that it is ultimately both, for the identification of either could not exist without the other - you could not see the space between the pen marks if there were no pen marks, nor could you see the pen marks if there was no paper/canvas (or, if around those pen marks there was no white space - if the rest of the canvas was also covered in pen ink, for example).
To what extent is a life run by fear? Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of success, fear of wrong, fear of right, fear of punishment? And how do you define fear? If you need to make a decision whether or not to do something - say, go to an 8 AM class when you are very tired - is fear a factor? Is the lack of fear a factor? Are you scared of repercussions to your grade, and does that factor in; do you not give your grades a thought, and does that lack of a thought factor in?
Is fear a spectrum from afraid to comfortable? If so, is comfort still, in essence, fear - just at an extremely low level? And if this is also true, then is life not governed by fear? Well, surely not entirely - after all, there are other motivators. Fear, however, has proven to be one of the greatest. And unless other powerful motivators (or many less significant ones) align themselves in the opposite direction of fear, is it likely that fear will be the deciding factor?
This is obvious for cases of extreme fear - if you’re very scared of something, and don’t have a strong motivation to do it, then chances are you won’t. But what about low levels of fear? If you experience a lack of fear, then is that a driving force?
I suppose the first question raised by this is the following: is the lack of fear an experience, or the lack of an experience? Is non-fear comfort, or is it simply not experiencing fear? This brings me back to the earlier point about the outline of a face - so is it ultimately fear and non-fear as an interdependent system/spectrum that creates the experience? But the face is a drawing, not an experience; and likewise, fear is an experience - not a drawing.
What exactly is comfort? Mental, emotional, and spiritual comfort. What is it? What about physical comfort? If I sit on a chair and say “Wow, this is so comfortable!” is it to an experience of comfort I am referring, or to a significant decrease in levels of discomfort?
I want to say that comfort exists, because it is so familiar and readily available to me as a concept; but at the same time it seems to me that comfort is simply the lack of discomfort. After all, if I were always comfortable, then when I sit on a comfy chair I would have no comment on comfort. Yet on the other hand if I were always uncomfortable and sat on a cold metal chair then I would have no comment referring to the discomfort.
I suppose the intangibility of concepts bound into communicative reality by a fairly imperfect language system makes certain contradictory thought processes appear simultaneously true (is this not the essence of cognitive dissonance?).
For now I will assume comfort exists as much as discomfort, that is as a state of experience. And assuming comfort exists as experience, I will likewise assume non-fear exists as an experience - as many questions as this may raise. Now, if fear is a strong (if not the strongest) motivator, and non-fear exists as an experience in an interdependent state with fear - then is non-fear also not an equally strong motivator? Is non-fear as influential as fear, allowing for the motivation to be [potentially] directed towards a different outcome?
If this is true, and if its inner workings could be discovered - then would that not be the most significant advance in population manipulation and control? After all, the great leaders who have been feared have been among the most powerful humans in the history of our species. (And, arguably the most powerful beings in the known universe - given that we have yet to discover alien life and we are the dominant species on our planet. The key word in this claim is “known.”)
So the obvious next question to someone with an inclination towards world domination, or at least some sort of addiction to power, is assuming that non-fear can be used as a strong motivator - how would it function? Well, this is the really tough part for the same reason that so many questions were raised earlier and so many assumptions had to be made. It is fairly obvious how fear motivates - there is a threat of a negative outcome occurring if you don’t behave a certain way. The motivation resulting from that encounter is a function of:
- What you are being threatened with
- How seriously you take the threat
- What are you are being told to do to avoid the threatened outcome
For example, if someone threatens to harm your family if you don’t give them a lollipop, then you will hopefully just give them a lollipop - the value of a lollipop typically isn’t near the value of the well-being of one’s family. However, if the person threatening you is your best friend and says it with a grin, then you might not take it seriously, and say “yeah and if you don’t give me a million dollars I’ll steal your dog.” In this example, what you are being threatened with is your family’s well-being, something that is generally considered high-value. How seriously you take the threat depends on the delivery of the threat. And what you are being told to do to avoid the outcome is give away a lollipop.
Now, how does non-fear work? Maybe it would have to be some kind of reverse psychology. Imagine being given a task or told what to do, but it is made abundantly clear that there is nothing to fear if you don’t do it. Well, the first thought might be “Ok, if there is no fear that I can make the decision. I can make the decision rationally because I’m not afraid.” So by inducing a state of non-fear in person A, I believe that they would trust their decision making rationale a lot more. After all, in a state of fear the decision making is conflicted - I need to choose between two things I don’t want. So in a state of non-fear I am enabled to pick between what the motivator is trying to convince me to do and the comfort of acting without regard to his influence.
From here I can see three approaches stem forward: either the motivator plays the ‘good-guy’ card and gives the message “hey, no pressure but I’m a great guy and I’d like if you did this/I advise you to do this/you should do this” or he plays the more deceptive role of presenting something undesirable in order to make the person act the opposite way (reverse psychology), or he tries to manipulate person A to do what the motivator really wants him to do, while presenting an entirely false overt influence so as to distract person A from his true motivation.
Approach 1: Ask your friend to do something for you, and if he asks why just say something along the lines of “for me” or “I’d like you to” or “because I said to.” This method really does not seem particularly effective.
Approach 2: Tell your friend not to do what you want him to do OR tell him to do the opposite of what you want. This can work, but typically only in less than obvious circumstances (maybe as a piece of a larger plan). If you were to look at your friend and say “Hey, don’t pass me that soda on the table,” then he might pass it to you, but it would be obvious to both of you that you were actually asking him to pass the soda to you. I would provide a different example where reverse psychology might be more effective in acquiring an outcome of greater value, but I think that it would require too much context.
Approach 3: Distract your friend by trying to convince him to do something you don’t care about, all the while creating circumstances for him to do something you do care about. To give a simple, low-value scenario: imagine you were sitting with your friend on the couch and you wanted a soda off the table on the other side of the room. You convince your friend that right now is the perfect time for beer and TV, but you aren’t drinking tonight because you might want to drive soon. He gets up to get himself a beer and the remote, and on his way back (when he’s near the table with the soda) you say “Hey, can you grab me a soda?” Since he is right next to the soda and coming back to sit next to you any way, there is no real reason for him to say no. It is in the state of comfort and non-fear that he has been influenced to do what you wanted him to, without him ever knowing.
While it would take much more than a journal entry to understand how to use non-fear as a key motivator, it seems to me that the state of comfort causes people to let down their barriers and engage of a state of elevated trust (especially when compared with fear as a motivator, which causes people to almost instantly engage in a state of distrust). On a final note, while I haven’t given it enough thought to form a full coherent thought on the matter, I would not be surprised to find that a large part of how the western world (especially America) is influenced is through a state of non-fear influence/manipulation. That is not to say that fear is not a strong motivator in America, but rather that I would not be surprised to find out that a lot of non-fear/comfort in American media/politics is intentionally created and then used as a motivator to create the illusion of choice and freedom while people, typically, behave as intended by the major motivators (media, politicians, big corporations).
Entry #7, 9/25/13
I have many times heard that nobody knows what they’re doing, that everybody is just pretending to know what they’re doing; that adults are really children, still stuck trying to figure everything out. And yet hearing this did not assuage any anxiety I had. Knowing that everybody else was just making it up didn’t make me any more comfortable with the fact that I, too, am just making everything up. I suppose there is a distinction between intellectual understanding and perspective. When I was insatiably obsessed with certain books on Buddhism, I came across this same concept. In many texts that I read it was suggested that even if enlightenment could be explained, the listener would only obtain an intellectual understanding of it - and not the perspective. But where does that leave the man seeking enlightenment? One main reason I have become significantly less interested in Buddhism over the past 6 months or so is that it felt like I was being duped. It seemed to me that what I was reading was saying:
“You might think you are happy, and maybe you are.
But you still have anxiety, pain, suffering.
There exists a mental state immune to such displeasure.
However, I cannot tell it to you - I can only try to describe it.
And you won’t understand my description, because it will be far from perfect.
And even if you did, it wouldn’t help you.
But in order to attain this mental state, you cannot seek it.
To avoid suffering, you must let go of your desire to avoid suffering.
To attain happiness, you must let go of your desire to attain happiness.
To attain enlightenment you must seek enlightenment.
To attain enlightenment, you must stop seeking enlightenment.
You are already enlightened, but you don’t know it.”
And so on. So eventually I stopped taking the advice that said I must seek enlightenment and started listening to the second half of everything that seemed to say “you’ll get it if you don’t seek it anymore.” Well, I stopped seeking it and as far as I can tell I am not enlightened.
That is not to say, however, that I did not learn invaluable perspective changing lessons from my study of Buddhism. I learned presence. I learned how to sit with discomfort, pain, anxiety. I learned much of the nature of happiness and suffering, even if I do not seem to have control of my own.
But perhaps most importantly I learned that the universe is perfection. That my life is perfection. I began to see the universe as an interdependent system of affairs, of which just one dimension, which we perceive as linear, is time.
It dawned on me that I no longer wanted to change anything. I didn't think to myself “I wish this was different” anymore; or if I did, my next thought would be a reflection on that thought and an understanding of why I don’t actually agree with it.
Perhaps the best way to explain this understanding is to perform a thought experiment that I first heard on a YouTube video from a philosopher whose videos are old enough to be black and white. Imagine for a moment that you are given the ability to control your dreams entirely, and that in your dreams you are able to dream 100 years of experience. Essentially, each dream is an entire lifetime for which you are god. In the first one, two, three dreams you might find yourself fulfilling every fantasy you can conceive of. Eventually, however, you might want a surprise. So you’d say to yourself “Alright, I’ll control almost everything in this dream, except I will leave a few things up to chance.” I think that you would find this surprise a little exciting, and over the next few dreams would explore further into the realm of surprise. And as you traded your control for surprise you would become more and more stimulated by this notion of surprise, of not-knowing what comes next. And when you've become sick of being god every night, bored with the ability to do whatever you want, and once you've experimented enough with surprise, one night you might say to yourself “Ok, tonight I don’t want to know. Tonight I want the whole dream to be a surprise. Tonight I will have no control. Tonight, I will not know.” And when you go to sleep and do you that, you would find yourself right where you are here and now: sitting in front of a computer reading this. No longer would you be in control, no longer would you know what was coming next (but would you still be god?).
I'd like to end with two passages from the Tao Te Ching:
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
Entry #6, 9/24/13
I sometimes find myself kept up at night by an acute awareness of the time that I live in. I’ll look around the room, marveling at the technology I have, and wondering about what technology will exist in the future that will make my current dwelling seem somewhat primitive. It occurs to me that though I live in a wonderful time, the experience of living in a different generation, or a different era, must be similar. Invent a time machine. Go back to ancient Egypt. After cultural barriers are understood and dissolved, I hypothesize that you would relate to people just as you relate to them today. You would make friends; you would make enemies. You would spend more time with some, less time with others. Some people would be annoying and others might find you annoying. It is only the distant span of time between us and them that allows the assumption that we are uniquely different from them to lurk in my mind.
In fact, I find this phenomenon very interesting. The incident to which I am referring is the human ability to conceive of very large… stuff. For example, imagine a brick. Now picture five. What about 10? 50? 100? How about 10,000,000? While you can fairly easily picture a low number of bricks, after a certain point there’s no real difference between imagining 10,000,000 and 100,000,000,000 despite the fact that the difference between those two numbers is far more significant than the difference between 1 and 5. When I think of Egypt two thousand years ago, the first thing that pops into my head is an image from a disney movie. I picture modern representations of it (which, ironically, is in itself a modern representation. Meta, right?), which are very possibly nothing like what it was.
It is for this reason that I have had my head in the clouds over the past few days. I've been pondering what it is that makes clouds so magnificent, and I've come to the conclusion that a large part of it is that is it a beautiful intermediary. When looking at the stars, they are so far away that they all meld into a two-dimensional image of twinkling spots. In this day and age we know that this is simply not the case, and in fact many constellations only appears at our exact vantage point - two stars in a constellation can be very different distances from us. But when you look up, what else is there to see? The sun and the moon, which have indubitably played a major role in the life of our species’ culture.
But where does that leave the clouds? They’re close enough that depth can be observed, and they move quickly enough that we can often watch them float by. On the other hand, for most of the life of humanity they were too far away and too odd to really appear to be that close. After all, what other things in daily life can you think comes in almost any shape, sometimes covers a huge field of vision (the entire sky) and other times isn't there at all, and lazily floats along? There can be no doubt that clouds have been a major part of human culture; after all, even today people spend time staring at the clouds. There still exists the expression today “You've got your head in the clouds.” People will have conversations about what they see in the clouds; about what the clouds are to them.
To me, clouds are an immaculate reminder of our place in the universe. We are a system of systems, making up larger systems; the entire universe being an interdependent state of affairs. I may be bigger than a dog, smaller than a giraffe; shorter than a tree, taller than a shrub; smarter than a chimpanzee, slower than a cheetah. I may be massively larger than an atom or a molecule and inconceivably smaller than a solar system, galaxy, local group. But many of these things are so distant that I cannot conceive of them, in the same way I cannot picture any real difference between 10,000,000 or 100,000,000,000 bricks. But if I can picture two buildings of certain height and then read about the number of bricks either build is made of, that makes the buildings an intermediary between the two points of understanding; and just as I can see the clouds and understand that they are absolutely massive, but on a scale I can at least somewhat grasp, my understanding of my system grows. Clouds are wonderful, beautiful, magnificent. And even if I still can’t grasp systems too small or too large for me to observe, I can understand my system as a reflection of others. After all, crystalline structure is indicative of atomic stacking.*
"In mineralogy and crystallography, crystal structure is a unique arrangement of atoms or molecules in a crystalline liquid or solid. A crystal structure is composed of a pattern, a set of atoms arranged in a particular way, and a lattice exhibiting long-range order and symmetry. [...] A crystal's structure and symmetry play a role in determining many of its physical properties, such as cleavage, electronic band structure, and optical transparency." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_structure
Entry #5, 9/17/2013
When I write I often drink coffee and listen to music. This habit was transferred from when I read, during which I enjoy coffee and music as well. The drink doesn't matter, though I prefer to have caffeine.
However, this post is not about my preference of drink but rather music. Music is fascinating to me for so many reasons. Some of the earliest artifacts from early humans include ancient instruments. While perhaps the earliest human instrument was the voice (or, arguably, the hands/feet for percussion), there is evidence that bones were used to create prehistoric flutes. The Divje Babe flute, disputed as the earliest flute ever discovered, is dated to be 43,000 years old. If I think back to what I know of history, I think of modern history: revolutions, conquistadors, political reform. If I try to stretch back to what I know (what I’ve learned) happened before then, I come to the beginnings of modern religion. But if I go back further, I recall that the agricultural revolution occurred some 12,000 years ago. The Divje Babe flute is dated to be 31,000 years older than agriculture.
Music has been around for a while, and the modern variety is astonishing. Funk, rock, jazz, electronic, dubstep, metal, industrial, classical, pop, dance, and more are available for my enjoyment at the click of a button. One of the most resilient industries is the music business. People from every country, every culture, every background, hear music. Music is universal. Music is part of what it means to be human; indeed, to attempt to describe humans to an alien/nonhuman species while leaving out music would be an utterly incomplete depiction.
Music elicits emotion; music communicates feeling. Music, as it is often said of math, is a universal form of communication. It is difficult to argue whether or not music is ‘hard-wired’ into our DNA, but it is clear that it is an essential part of humanity. Furthermore, music goes beyond humanity; bonobos, the closest relative to humans (along with chimpanzees), in captivity have been observed to develop musical talent. Additionally, if I recall correctly, chimpanzees have been observed to perform rhythmic percussion by tapping their hands and stomping their feet in recognizable ways for extended periods of time.
But what I find perhaps most fascinating about music is the vast sea of meaning it communicates while simultaneously existing only as a combination of sound waves. While this is true of all forms of communication, there is a slight difference between most forms of communication and music: music is art. For example, take spoken language: while also art at times (poems, for example), language used to communicate specific ideas. For example, “I went to the mall” is an arrangement of sound waves with a meaning, but there is a little room for interpretation. Music, on the other hand, provides a huge wealth of meaning but allows itself to be interpreted. Spoken language is sound waves with specific meaning; music is sound waves with nonspecific meaning. And this is what I find both fascinating and beautiful about music. It is almost as though it perfectly exemplifies the notion that an event only has meaning after it has been observed. Music looks at the world and says “I have no meaning; I have every meaning,” and yet this apparent contradiction holds true.
Entry #4, 9/16/2013
I believe that people have power. I believe that, while many aren't consistently aware of it, people are in control of most of what is happening around them. On the two ends of the philosophical spectrum are that man has no control and that man has all control; man is playing a part in a predetermined play, and man is thrust into chaos in which he is in control of everything around him. While I do leave some margin for chance and circumstance, I believe they play a very small role in one’s experience. To give a very basic example, imagine the first time a boy talks to a girl he likes. He may not even know that he likes her until partway through the conversation, but at some point he identifies a new feeling, romantic attraction, for his conversation partner. His behavior will naturally change with this newfound feeling, and he will slowly manipulate the conversation towards topics of relationships or the like. Without having any previous practice, training, or understanding of this type of situation his role in the conversation will develop a natural tendency towards romance. He may not be aware of it. He might not realize the implications of these discussions, nor what they might lead to. Yet he is still controlling what is happening around him; he is still changing the topics and guiding the conversation, and should this conversation lead to his first relationship or first kiss he might chalk it up to chance. But this would discredit him in having earned that outcome.
If we use the labels “conscious” and “subconscious” to categorize different aspects of the mind, it is unclear if we have even descriptively covered all parts of the mind. But regardless, for now let’s assume that these are two mutually exclusive parts of the mind and that they are the entire mind; the basic assumption is that they are complementary. Consciousness, on the one hand, is awareness; one can become conscious of what’s going on around them in the same way they become more aware of their surroundings. The subconscious, however, is as the name implies: that which lies beneath the conscious; those things that elude awareness. Now we have made a few basic assumptions: the brain is a finite system composed of two parts, awareness and other. Now, in the same way that the team is better than the player, the combination and collaboration of the conscious and subconscious is a more effective system than simply one or the other; they are both mathematically and colloquially complementary. And so while the conscious is quite often frantically running around trying to solve all of the problems, the subconscious is working on the same problems. However, as the name implies, the work of the subconscious often eludes awareness, and as such the conscious often feels an extra responsibility to work all on its own. It methodically works through problems assuming that there is no teammate, no subconscious. However, I believe that the subconscious guides the conscious. Raw emotion, intention, desire - these are all the key players of the subconscious. And as the players of team SC work to guide the players of team consciousness, namely analytical and descriptive thought and planning, consciousness takes all or none of the credit/responsibility. Either success or failure were entirely circumstance or entirely someone’s fault. Rarely do people say “circumstance led to the outcome, but I played a large part in circumstance”; or similarly, “I am responsible for this outcome, but circumstance also played part - it was only partially me.” While I believe that the second phrase is more common than the first (at least when trying to avoid blame; and less so when taking credit for victory), neither seem more common than their opposite statements.
People live their entire lives guided by their subconscious, yet rarely attribute any credit or responsibility to it. Trust your organism. Trust your brain. Trust yourself. It is all a natural process being carried out by the system resulting from millions of years of evolution. We are the smartest species we know of. You are the up-to-date version of the smartest known species. Your brain is the best tech around.
I believe that people will fulfill whatever intention they have, and that their subconscious will guide them to control whatever situation they are in to acquire the desired outcome. Even if they don’t know it, even if what they’re doing seems contradictory to their desired outcome, team subconscious is working without rest, nor recognition, to get what it wants. Often I have found myself in a situation that I did not understand, and while I knew certain decisions wouldn't lead to a desired outcome I allowed myself to make that decision in order to learn. And I knew that what I was learning would mean that next time I had to make that decision, I would be better prepared. I would be smarter, more cognitively agile, and better suited for the situation. And so while it might at first appear to be contradictory to my theory that man fulfills his subconscious intention, this decision is actually merely a stepping stone towards my desired outcome.
But, to take this one step further, I must concede that I do not, and cannot, fully know the machinations of my subconscious. In the wise words of Patrick the Starfish: “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.” After all, if the subconscious is those processes which elude awareness there must, to some extent, be aspects of it that elude my awareness. However, I believe that this may further support my theory. While it is mental extrapolation, and so it assumes a consistent pattern in a given direction (basically, a big “IF”), should the behavior of the truly sub-conscious follow the behavioral trend of the semi-sub-conscious in the above recognized way, then there is simply more control, more power, in the hands of the subconscious. And this extrapolation is what my belief, somewhat, relies on; the extent to which this extrapolation can be trusted is related to the extent to which the subconscious has power.
But being that awareness is the core of experience, the natural first question is: how can the conscious alter the subconscious? After all, if there were a way to consciously alter that which is in control of much more than the consciousness, then intentional power can be developed (power in a given direction, circumstance, or type). However, a philosophical question is implicit in the original question; namely, if the conscious is guided by the subconscious then how can the conscious come up with an alteration to the subconscious that didn't itself originate in the subconscious? I think it might be useful to take another look at the players of team subconscious and team consciousness. Team subconscious is driven by emotion, intention, and desire and team consciousness is run by analytic and descriptive thought and planning. While these teams might be incomplete, I believe the necessary players to continue the discussion are present.
So how can analytic and descriptive thought and planning change desire, intention, and emotion when these are the very players that guide team consciousness? This is a doozy, and I’m not sure I have a good answer but I’ll give it a shot.
Maybe outside information which is useful only after being relayed to team consciousness can be later 'incepted' into subconsciousness. For example, if you decide to a read a book called “The Economics of Daily Living,” and find within the text some useful life tips you may begin to play around with some that you like. After playing around with them, perhaps the reasoning behind behaving in alignment with these tips will become apparent, and such reasoning can be reapplied within the subconscious. Thus, learning is one way to potentially control the subconscious. However, the philosophical question arises here again. Why did you pick that book? How did you decide which life tips to employ? How did you interpret the lessons behind the life tips? I would suggest that these things may have all been guided by the subconscious. And as such, is it consciousness that altered the subconscious, or rather the natural growth and development of the subconscious with the use of the conscious as the middleman?
I do not presently have an answer to this conundrum, though I may address it in a later entry. However, my current theory is that the currently labeled “conscious” and “subconscious” are interdependent systems which are not descriptive enough titles to say that they comprise the mind-system (conscious means awareness, but subconscious basically means “other”). I believe that both parts of the mind use each other as stepping stones and as teammates, and that they are a strong symbiotic coupling of the different aspects of the mind.
Entry #3, 9/12/2013
The Human Social Hierarchy and the Importance of Perception
Whether or not you are aware of it, in every interaction there is a perpetually changing set of interpersonal dominance roles. Often, but not always, it can be observed by the asymmetric quality of respect between two people. For example, when two people walk together - who walks in front? Who is vying for whose attention? Who controls the conversation? Who decides where you are going to get food, or what you are going to do next? How much consideration does each person give the other’s preferences? Essentially: who is in charge?
Every person, at least every person I know, seems to have a multitude of relationships in which he is the alpha male, and a entirely different set in which he is is not. The development of the roles in a given relationship are dependent on innumerable intricacies, many of which (read: most of which (read: almost all of which)) never reach the level of conscious awareness. Body language, which is not a display of what you are thinking but rather how you feel about what you’re thinking, is key here. The subconscious is constantly scrutinizing minute details of how people feel about what they are saying (as a side-note, women tend to be much more observant of body language than men). Are they nervously picking at something? Are they averting eye contact? Do they slouch slightly or does their inflection waver as they say something? Are they confident in what they are saying? Are they hesitant? Are they waiting to see how you respond before they display confidence? Are they reliant on your agreement in order to be confident in their expression?
Slowly the relationship develops and evolves, sometimes with the dominant role being traded back and forth between the people.
But clearly this system is exploitable. After all, it is perhaps fitting to say that the motto of humanity since it developed the first tool is: “Maybe if I understand it, I can control it.” And thus with the supreme availability of instantaneous information and the inherently pattern-forming brains that humans are equipped with it is possible to understand and manipulate the very system which we cannot escape. I believe anybody and everybody can transform their lives with the right understanding of their relationships. I intend to provide you with the core tools necessary for such a transformation.
As I said above, body language is essential. While the context of the conversation might be held with words, the feeling of it is held with body language. The importance of feeling is perhaps best stated by the award winning author and poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Feeling matters; feeling is what counts.
Now that we have established that body language displays feeling, and that feeling is what determines social roles, it is clear that body language is what should be focused on. However, here is where the inevitable hurdle lies: body language is out of your control. Allow me to clarify: body language cannot be faked. Unless you are a master buddhist monk, it is essentially impossible to feel one thing and display another. Maybe you’ll feel intimidated, recognize this feeling, and attempt to straighten your back and puff your chest out. While this will help a little - not only is it a display of confidence but the simulation of confident body language can increase confidence - you might forget that you’re fiddling with your hands, tapping your feet, or avoiding eye contact and looking down. There will always be things that give away your true feeling.
So the exploitation of the human social system appears to be at a dead end. It’s clear that body language is the key to the lock of human interaction, and yet it, too, remains beyond control.
But there is a way around this, which in my opinion is far more rewarding than the original idea of being in control of one’s role in the dominance hierarchy. If you cannot change your body language by faking how you feel, you must obviously change how you feel. “But my feelings are out of my control,” you say. “How I feel is part of who I am,” you retort. This is where perspective comes in. Your feelings are beyond your control, that is true. But if you can begin to change your perspective with intention, then perhaps you can change how you feel in a given situation. For example, maybe you see an attractive member of the opposite sex walk past you and then hear them laugh. If you perceive that as them mocking you, you will feel hurt - and your body language will show it. You will look down, slouch, avoid eye contact, and maybe walk faster. Your hands might reach into your pockets and reward you with the modern universal safety-blanket of the smartphone. But what about if you perceive that as them being nervous because they must have thought you were cute. Well you’ll smile, look up and seek eye contact, straighten your back, take long slow strides and so on.
The next question, then, is how can you change your perspective with intention. What does that entail? What does that even mean?
First it is important to look at what perspective is: it is your interpretation of your experience (and once you interpret it and it becomes a perspective, that new perspective becomes part of your experience - perfectly available for further interpretation into a new perspective and so on and so on).
So to change your perspective is essentially to alter your interpretation of experience. This is not easy, nor is it quick; and as I sit here trying to write it out in plain english the words seem to elude me. One method that I’ve employed in the past is what I’ll now name the “poly-perspective” method. The name gives it away: in a given situation pay attention to how you’re interpreting the events and just make up a different one. You don’t have to believe it, but just say to yourself “how might someone else interpret this?” It doesn’t have to be a more or less desirable perspective, but this practice will enable you to develop an acute awareness of how you respond to things. In order to make new ones, you are forced to look at the original one. Over time you will begin to see certain patterns in how you respond to things. Maybe you’ll find responses you like and others that you don’t.
After you’ve chosen your intention - the direction in which you want your perspective to change - and certain patterns of perspective being to rise to your conscious awareness, you need simply ask yourself what someone who is further along in the direction of your intention would interpret certain experiences as. For example, if your intention is to become a more motivated worker then when your boss tells you that you did an awful job at something you might perceive that as “I did a bad job even though I tried, I might as well stop trying.” But if you can make up a motivated worker’s perspective that says “I did a bad job even though I tried. I just need to try harder!” then that’s it; you’re done. That’s all that’s required.
That’s the beautiful thing about perception: it is reliant on your thoughts. What you think is your perception; your perception is what you think. And if you can start to plant little seeds of change in your thought processes then eventually your belief system will start to shift. As your beliefs shift, your perception does too; as perception changes, feeling changes; as feeling changes, body language changes; as body language changes, your role in the social hierarchy changes. And this is how you can exploit the human social system from within.
Thrust into this world I was
Crying and screaming
What is this?
I did not know, because
I could not determine meaning
What is this?
The elusive details
Pass right through my mind
What is this?
Few successes and many fails
Allowed me to find
What is this?
Where I should start to look
To learn what I’ve now learned
What is this?
And so much time it took
But what I now have I’ve earned
What is this?
The lessons of my life
Began to take shape
What is this?
But after effort and strife
And the details I’ve scraped
What is this?
I learned that the real joy;
What it is I’ve wanted
What is this?
Is the planning; not the ploy
And I’m now daunted
By having lost what I want
But having what I wanted
Entry #2, 9/11/2013
I can think of nothing else to write about today than my thoughts of the tragedy of two buildings and some 3,000 lives being destroyed 12 years ago today. I understand this is a very personal subject to many, and to whomever reads this please understand you have my deepest sympathies.
The universe is old. Very old. So old I can’t even comprehend it. Sure, it’s about 14 billion years old - but to me that number is as meaningless as superman’s usage of undergarments. Earth isn’t quite as old, some 4.5 billion years old. Still unfathomably large, but a bit less so. The earliest life has been estimated to be somewhere in the range of 3.5 billion years. Ok, we’re getting closer - but not there yet.
Let’s jump forward. Complex life may be about 600 million years old. Humanity begins under 2 million years ago.
We are young.
We are new.
We are a neotenous species, still in our infancy.
Let’s jump forward again. Some 12,000 years ago something incredible happens. For the second time (the first being the partnership between humans (or as I often like to refer to them, smart apes) being with dogs) our species gains control over life. An often overlooked analysis of the agricultural revolution, to which I am referring, is the fact that while a major step in the ascent of man was the use of tools - indeed the manipulation of the environment - another huge stride in the same direction was the manipulation of life. That is the agricultural revolution. No longer do we simply make spears, arrows, hammers. Now we control life itself. We plan, plant, and cultivate life to fit our needs and desires. Suddenly we are no longer nomads; we settle with our domesticated crops. I mark this as the turning point in the relative developmental rates of culture and evolution. While culture may have been advancing quicker than our genetics for a while before this, agriculture and the notion of prolonged settlements gave way to society. Society provided us with the necessary ingredients for the cultural explosion that ensued.
At this point a reader might not see the connection between what I am saying now and the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. But I will make that clear soon.
It seems to me that people sometimes forget the nature of our existence. That is a bold statement to make, and I do not mean to imply that the numerous existential questions about life, the universe, existence, and everything are answerable.
What I mean to say is that when a smart ape, a human, looks at a rabbit - what does he see? A furry critter; maybe a pet. They might see dinner and a pair of very comfortable socks.
What does a smart ape see when he looks at a dog? A companion; man’s best friend. A hunting partner, or maybe something to be hunted.
What does the smart ape see when he looks at a chimpanzee or a bonobo monkey?
What does a smart ape see when he looks at himself?
Humans are often in danger of being dazzled by the unprecedented cultural explosion and acceleration that have occurred over the last 12,000 or so years. They see themselves as created in the image of god. They are unique; they are special; they are different; they are somehow unnatural.
But it is this point that I simply cannot agree with. Humans are as much a part of nature as a monkey or a rabbit or an amoeba; cities as much a part of nature as a beaver’s dam. As much as it might not seem to be so, human pollution is nature too. Everything is made up of systems; atoms make molecules; molecules make cells; cells make organs; organs make people. Our solar system, and our planet, is a people growing planet. If you have a big enough laboratory to recreate Earth in the same circumstances as our own, you would find that it naturally produces life over the course of billions of years.
But people seem to forget this. They act as though we are not a natural process. They pretend we are not smart apes, but are special beings created in the image of an arbitrary omniscient father and that after we die we shall ascend into the realm of the godhead.
People forget that we are all humans. We are all on a team. We can find enemies in each other, but that is only self-destructive to our species. We forget that we are just one level in a system of systems, and that through cooperation we can grow and expand. We, at times, choose to focus our energy on destroying ourselves rather than cultivating ourselves. We fight. We start wars. We murder. We kill. We destroy thousands of innocent lives.
These decisions are the result of a thought process that spreads like a virus throughout our species and while not everybody is affected, the few that are can destroy the many that are not.
But we must remain vigilant. For the sake of our own lives. For the sake of the effort of our ancestors. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the growth of life. For the sake of the system which we experience, all the underlying systems that are too small to see and the larger ones which we cannot even recognize. For the sake of everything and anything, we must continue to grow, evolve, thrive. For the sake of whatever you believe in, there can be nothing more important than the survival of life.
We are the dominant species on this planet. In the same way that many adults are children just pretending to be grown-up; our species is a child species pretending to be grown up. But the responsibility of our species is just as real as the responsibility of an adult, despite the childlike nature of our being.
And so I implore you, the reader, to take into your daily life the determination to improve. Cultivate compassion for others; cultivate compassion for yourself. Understand that there is no blueprint to life; and thus no way to do it wrong. Believe that whatever you do is essentially your individual contribution to your species, to life. This, to me, is the meaning of life.
Entry #1, 9/9/2013
Coffee. Music. Library. Homework? Sent. Class? 90 minutes. Journal? Sure.for
Experience is ephemeral yet infinite, In the same way that it has been said that the universe is both finite yet unbounded. There is a defined beginning, and a defined end, but in any given moment there is an infinite amount of potential experience compared to the ability of attention. While there might not be infinite experience, relative to the dimensions of attention there may as well be. I can only focus on one, two, three, n, things are a time and only in so much detail. And there may as well be n^n^n options of what to focus on. And so there is a beginning and an end to experience - namely birth and death - yet for the interval between there is potential for an infinite variety. One major benefit of this being so is that the huge variety of potential experiences lead to an individualist world in which everybody is genuinely unique. No matter how many people I meet, no two will be the same and it will be impossible to run into myself. On the other hand, this theory implies a sort of solitude. After all, if the specific string of experience leading up to a given moment is a large defining factor of personality (namely, the impact of nurture on personality), then the chances of me ever being able to express exactly what I wish to express to anybody is infinitesimally tiny; any thought/idea I try to encode in english will be decrypted by someone with a different encoding/decrypting sequence than myself. The other approach to this repercussion of my theory is that I am provided a unique experience, and should I befriend myself and all of my experience, then I should be provided with a wonderful story, bereft of spoilers. Plot twists are truly unpredictable; boredom is therefore a choice. After all, is boredom not the blurring together of apparently repetitive… stuff?
On that note, I would say boredom is inherently reliant on labeling. After all, if I think of a chair as a chair, and everytime I see it I think “well, that’s just a chair”, then I am enabled to experience as much repetition as I see the chair. However, if I recognize that “chair” is just a label and that, beyond that, a chair is a hunk of matter. Well, “hunk of matter” is also a label but it’s a more general one that I’ll use to make the point, because I cannot think of how to express an idea to a general audience without using some form of commonly understood labeling (AKA, language).
But if I think of the “chair” not as a chair but as a label, and then begin to label it as “hunk of matter” I am enabled to think of new applications. I can not only sit on it, but I can put things on it. I can turn it upside down, place planks of wood along the top, and things can roll/slide down them. I can think of it as a sort of oddly arranged toolkit, in which I am delivered a few pieces of twisted metal and some plastic. Maybe it could be a weapon, or a shield. Perhaps it is a form of communication, and things can be engraved upon it. Maybe it is used for food transportation, and food is placed on it and it is rolled places. Perhaps it is a petri dish in an experiment that tests what sort of things rub off pants.
I could go on, and while the list of other potential uses for a chair might seem nonsensical, it is the practice of what I will call “anti-labelling” that allows for a greater variety of ideas and, in my opinion, free/independent thought. After all, if you allow your world to be taken over by labels then your thought is restricted to thinking in terms of the labels, in the same way you think of a “+” plus sign rather than a “-” and a “|” or maybe two right angles connected by the vertex. Breaking things down in different ways allows for a much larger variety of ways to build it back up.