Out of Our Heads and Other Musings

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:

The Four Types of Clinging

The Buddha’s Four Types of Clinging bear reposting: 🙂

  • Attachment to sensuality– “the fundamental desire for gratification, pleasure and stimulation. The sensual hit that seems to make life worth living… the belief…that seeking gratification is better than doing nothing.”
  • Attachment to views– “the tendency of the mind to seek out a viewpoint or opinion where everything is clear… Now everything is safe and comfortable for me… The Buddha is pointing to our tendency to seek security, peace, well-being and happiness in our views and perspectives.”
  • Attachment to “to rules and vows, to precepts and practices that one assumes will lead to purity.”– “The idea of ‘I’m doing the practice’ gets in the way of being attentive to what’s happening in the heart and mind.When we are attentive, we can actually do the practice and enjoy it, delight in it and benefit from the results.”
  • Attachment to self– “The self has a function, but we get caught up believing in the story or even the doctrine of it, which then creates havoc. It’s important to recognize how the sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ insinuates itself all the time — craving and clinging around the feelings of ‘”I” need to have this, it has to be this way for “me”.’”

As I grow and learn, I’m finding my Ego likes to change the Story on me. Yes, I am changing, I am improving and leaning toward the Light on the other side of the Prism (my neuro-pathways are realigning, adjusting my personality). But, this adjusted Ego can so easily fool me into thinking that I am completely free of Attachments, at first because these new attachments, or new view of my attachments, are unrecognized as such. But, sooner rather than later, my power chakra’s “karma alarm” goes off and lets me know…. I’m Attached… And perhaps about to base my actions on my related karma…

Be grounded today, open and trust your chakras and the Observer, refrain from all judgements… Go through the Four Types of Clinging within yourself — trust your Inner Guide — and release them each to Heaven…. Be in love with yourself and find peace.

Align the Universe Within

Some Carl Sagan wisdom (excerpts from “Cosmos“, in no particular order):

We are made of stellar ash. Our origin and evolution have been tied to distant cosmic events. The exploration of the cosmos is a voyage of self-discovery.

We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose.

And you are made of a hundred trillion cells. We are, each of us, a multitude.

We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.

Some part of our being knows this is where we came from… We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

The juxtaposition of mind and body vs. spirit is a topic that has been explored in many a myth and philosophical exercise across the ages. We all somehow sense that there is more to us than this mere physical body which we inhabit. Yet it is still an elusive mystery…

What can we say about the nature of who we are?

  • The Fundamental Forces
    The Fundamental Forces

    We are a “mini universe”, we are a multitude; in a sense, our ultimate Personal Consciousness is built upon the delicate balance of myriad other “lesser” consciousnesses, if you will. My cells, genes, every bodily function readily perceived and not, even operations on the quantum level upon which the operations of the entire Universe are based, are all directed, expressed, and controlled by various processes: such as the quantum-mechanical forces, DNA and RNA, energy cycles, and much, much more. Because of our amazing evolutionary legacy, this “mini-verse” of ours is able to operate at its current utmost via its own cyclical system of communication processes, without Me getting involved, aside from providing it the necessary fuel and energy sources it needs to continue normal operations.

  • Incidentally, this is why I so enjoy and resonate with the notion of the fractal multiverse; we ourselves — and all of nature around us — are a smaller version of the intricate interweaving of processes and structures that make up the larger cosmos we inhabit! All is unfolding and overlapping in fractal symmetry; Nature begets after its kind in ever-evolving improvement and adaptation to changing surroundings. The truth of these things is all around us to behold. All we have to do is observe and understand…
  • The evolution of the human brain is wondrous and revelatory!

    …moving from the simple to the complex over an extended period of time. The billions of cells that work together to make the brain and body function harmoniously have numerous critical functions. …the brain has adhered to Charles Darwin’s “natural selection” methodology by ridding itself of less important functions while enhancing the more essential ones over time.

    It is a fact that as man evolved, certain mutations took place within the nervous system that forced it to evolve in time with the body. …mutations in the nervous system were also forced to prove their might against environmental challenges.

    …as man’s ability to survive began to necessitate increasingly complex actions and reactions to his environment, the nervous system was also compelled to adapt accordingly. –(from The Evolution of the Human Brain)
    –>(Next segment from Consciousness In The Cosmos: Perspective of Mind: Carl Sagan):
    Sagan notes that in “the human intrauterine development we run through stages very much like fish, reptiles and nonprimate mammals before we become recognizably human.” And thus it is not surprising that we possess a corresponding “Triune Brain.” [Carl Sagan, THE DRAGONS OF EDEN: SPECULATIONS ON THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, Ballantine Books, 1977, p. 59.]

    The schematic of a human’s Triune Brain is as follows: * The Reptilian Complex * The Limbic System * The Neocortex

    Declaring that there is considerable evidence for the localization of brain function–as well as discussing in detail the electrochemical nature of brain function–Sagan lays the groundwork with his depth discussion of the Triune Brain.

    The Reptilian Complex is the site from which our propensity arises for “aggressive behavior, territoriality, and the establishment of social hierarchies.” The Reptilian Complex still performs dinosaur functions, according to Sagan. [Ibid, pp. 62-63.]

    The Limbic System is mammalian. It is the base for our emotions. Our passions, our altruistic behavior, spawn from the Limbic System– which also is devoted to oral, gustatory, and sexual functions.

    The Neocortex is our third, newly human brain in terms of evolution. “Among other functions, the frontal lobes seem to be connected with deliberation and the regulation of action; the parietal lobes, with spatial perception and the exchange of information between the brain and the rest of the body; the temporal lobes with a variety of complex perceptual taks; and the occipital lobes, with vision, the dominant sense in humans…” Sagan suggests, too, that the Neocortex is the locus for abstract thinking and nonverbal intuition. The Neocortex is what makes possible our judgments, what makes for the moral knowledge of good and evil. It is also the site from which our creativity emerges. And the Neocortex is home to our sense of self. [Ibid, p. 98.] (Bold-facing my own emphasis.)

  • Might we then say, that our myths and concepts of achieving Enlightenment have an actual basis in science and biology? I like to think so!

Consider this:

…Sagan draws upon the Platonic metaphor about the human soul as an uneasy charioteer drawn by two horses in different directions. He considers this metaphor as remarkably similar to our “neural chassis.” The two horses correspond to our Reptilian Complex and Limbic System, and the charioteer to our Neocortex–which is barely in control.
…It is, however, the Neocortex where “matter is transformed into consciousness.” It comprises more than two-thirds of our brain mass. The realm of intuition and critical analysis,–it is the Neocortex where we have our ideas and inspirations, where we read and write, where we compose music or do mathematics. Sagan puts it thus: “It is the distinction of our species, the seat of our humanity. Civilization is the product of the cerebral cortex.” [COSMOS, p. 229.]
–(Ibid.)

It is an observable and scientifically established truth that our physical bodies are directly integrated within itself — all parts function together in harmony (or are meant to, at least!) — and therefore our bodies and physical brain matter are also an integral part of our minds and personal consciousness. Part of the practice of meditation is to position ourselves in such a mindful manner as to begin to simply observe — apart from judgement or reaction — the various parts of Us.

…This is my Ego, telling me how I should interpret and react…

…This is a manifestation of Karma, an unmindful gut reaction based on memory and, consequently, judgement…

…Etc…

So, perhaps this age-old struggle of our mind, soul, body, and sprit, is, in fact, the age-old struggle of the older Reptilian and Mammalian remnants of our evolved brain with our higher functions of the Neocortex.

Naturally, all parts are thus far integrated and are all important to life as we know it, right now; we cannot function without all portions of our brains intact! Perhaps one day in the distant evolutionary future, however, our brains will have but reduced these former forms of brain structure to naught. It is the former animalistic propensities for violence, domination, leadership, and blind judgement that I see in current Culture Wars and instability across the nations and earth in our present days. If all would turn inward and Align the Universe Within themselves — find reconciliation between the lower and higher forms of thought, and embrace their Higher, True Selves of the Neocortex — then, I believe, this race of humanity may be able to survive and heal, and continue to evolve toward greater and greater planes of consciousness.

Carl Sagan holds hope for human intelligence, for our extension of Mind. We are still people from divergent and cultural backgrounds, yet our intelligence is beckoning us toward greater webs of global relationships. In due course, he hopes that we will simply be the “whole human community, the entire planet Earth.” And further, Sagan dreams of our comprehension that we are a “local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness.” We have become “starstuff pondering the stars.” [Ibid, 286.] (Bold-facing is my own emphasis.)

Indeed, Carl Sagan has said that the evolution of our higher brain structure is an effort of freedom — a gift from the nature of evolution to liberate us from the necessity of merely storing information in our lower systems, liberating us from this limited universe of operation in our environment and enabling us to create and evaluate… in a sense, “helping” evolution along. But if we do not align ourselves within, will we allow the lower forms of brain function to control the tools and gifts our neocortex has bestowed upon us — more than likely bringing destruction upon ourselves? I sincerely hope we will awaken to our amazing legacy and heritage as inhabitants of the planet Earth, and work together in peace toward our unfathomable destiny!

Encountering Human Nature

As you move through your day today, you will undoubtedly encounter fellow human beings. And how will you feel, respond, react… when fellow humans interact with you, especially if the encounter is negative?

Remember:
Responsible = Able to Respond.
React = Re – Acting (acting out, mimicking) what you see and/or hear from the other person.

You alone are responsible for your feelings and how you choose to act upon them. But don’t fret– this is, in fact, good news! Because, through practice, observance, patience, and meditation, you can decide and shape your inner conditions, to make way for peace in your life!

So, today, will you simply mimic and blindly throw back what the other person is confronting you with? Or will you pause, get grounded, and take Responsibility?

Make it a beautiful day! You have all the resources and power you need within you to make it so.