Over the past several days I’ve been enjoying the audiobook listening of Alva Noë‘s work, “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain.” In it, Noë elaborates the philosophical rethinking of our definition of consciousness and how it isn’t merely the result of the neural crackle and pop inside of our brains– it is not found inside our skills and it is more than the simple wiring of synapses.
Since I’m musing here only on my initial thoughts and my personal intellectualizing connections through this work — and to be sure, I’m only halfway through! — I don’t have full-on quotes I’ll be referring to, but more overarching concepts, that are mine, based on my understanding of it thus far. I highly recommend this book to everyone; read it to fully understand Noë’s premises and to comprehend the numerous enlightening examples he gives! In the words of LeVar Burton, “…you don’t have to take my word for it…” 😉
Where do we end, and the world begins?
- Consciousness is not to be found inside of us, through dissection and analysis of neuro physical workings, but via our reactions and interactions with our environment. We are so fully intertwined, ingrained, and at home in our surroundings, in our world, that we are a part of it and it is a part of us. Or, perhaps better, we are it, and it is us.
- It is through our interactions and relationships with a culture and the rules and people inherent to it that we find who we are. We are defined by our place within a culture, and when we are forced to leave for one reason or another, we must change who we are; we are not ourselves any longer. This, to me, is a grand example of what we can call the Ego, and its choosing of who we are. And it’s not to say that we are one Ego-personification only; I’ve found that my Ego will transform to be a different Personality depending on the cultural situation in which I find myself. This is entirely natural. I am very much different depending on with whom I am speaking; there are cultural rules that govern which aspects of Personality our Ego reveals at any given moment.
- To take this a step further, then, we can be and are all things. We are each other. It’s only a matter of recognizing this fact through meditation and practice. It is the idea (or myth) of embracing the Shadow.
- Then, too, we are not beholden to merely one image of ourselves. Yes, it is our interaction to our surroundings–to others–that gives our Ego reason and ammunition in determining who we are at such a moment. But, in the basic understanding of karma, we realize that these Ego-Personifications will arise without us even realizing that it is not us, or that it is not merely us… When we are not in a position to observe and understand without attachment the given Ego-Personification at a given moment, we are only reacting to our surroundings via karmic habit.
- Is this wrong? Well…I’d ask, is anything wrong? It is human. It is consciousness. It is what we do, thanks to evolution and our shared consciousness passed down to us for eons and generations who’ve gone before. It is only wrong if you say it is. We are creatures of habit. And knowledge is built upon the knowledge we’ve accumulated and absorbed into the fabric of our beings. Habit is good. Habit is what makes us the intelligent beings we are. BUT this also means, we are able to change and grow and acquire new habits and skills.
- Noë describes a fascinating aspect of habit and knowledge and skill in our species of intelligence. Look at a novice acquiring a skill–his acquiring of it is vastly improved by his paying close attention to the mechanical details of that skill. Now consider the expert in that same skill. If she focuses her attention on the rudimentary mechanics of her skill, she will lose proficiency. Rather, her mind must occupy itself with the general, broad artistic world built upon those rudimentary mechanics which she has already achieved. She must go beyond and live in the grander fuller meaning of that skill.
- Now, consider a musician who has been honing her craft for decades. In learning a new piece of music she has never before played, in a sense, she is reverting back to the focused mechanical detail of the novice. To accurately train her muscles to execute the notes and rhythms on the page, she must drill and repeat and pay close attention to every detail of motion in her body. However, when she has learned the piece well and seeks to perform it better and better each time she executes it, these must never focus on the beginner’s details, but must instead focus on the greater artistry derived from the very essence of the notes and patterns themselves…. Believe me, I experience this on a daily level…. 😉 It’s highly enlightening!!
- So, when ascertaining our minds, and how we tend to react and integrate in this daily “grind,” we can use meditation to bring us back to the level of the “novice,” to train our Egos to react and transform differently than to that which we may be accustomed. Focusing on the details as we mold and shape our integrations and reactions will later free us to embark on the greater artistry and meaning of our daily working consciousness.
- Vision and perception of our world is something that we unthinkingly take a critical part in. Think of this: how when we look at an object, how it appears to us depends not only on our physiological biology, but also on our physical relation, or placement, to that object! We are an active part of what we see, and we unknowingly influence our reality in vital ways! Likewise, then, what happens when we close our eyes in meditation? We are freed to ascertain our world in other ways. We are freed to clear our mind of visual distractions and simply feel… We are freed to feel the earth connecting to us with its energy, we are free to feel the wind on our skin, we are free to hear the soothing vibrations of peaceful sounds wafting over us…. We are freed to become detached and simply observe ourselves and our place in our environment.
These are only a few of my current musings! 🙂
Enjoy this short video of Noë speaking on this topic: