Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What's that?

A lot of noise between two silences is how Isabelle Allende refers to the time between birth and death. Who am I and what is it all about wander round our minds throughout this noise. All there is is now is confused by what has gone before and what is yet to come. The filter of judgement feeding our emotions and letting us know if what we are experiencing is good or bad. We cycle through purpose and wondering what is the point with no real understanding of how we shift from one to the other. All of us spending time thinking there must be a better state than we are currently in. Leo my two year old grandson says all the time now 'what's that?' nods approvingly if the answer makes sense and looks quizzically if it doesn't quite fit. I love the phrase and wish there was someone to answer the question for me with more than fifty years behind me. What is it all about?
Some things are clear. We are here to perpetuate our species and improve its ability to survive in the environments of the day. Survival and reproduction are two of the objectives of the human organism. Survival is a tricky business with the requirement of a very limited range of atmospheres and environments that can sustain us. Change the quality of our air or move our body temperature outside a 5 deg range and we struggle. Most of the survival job is done automatically with our bodily systems bringing our heartbeat, blood pressure, temperature and physiology back in to balance when they go astray. This all happens below the surface with little or no participation by our conscious mind. Then there is the conscious layer contributing to the task. There are debates that will run awhile about the role it plays in volition. In one camp Libet and his followers seeing the conscious layer as a post event rationalisation of what occurred to file a memory of understanding for future survival tasks. The other camp Wegner seeing it as the instrument of free will and our ability to choose what we are going to do. Experientially it is the most present with over 60,000 thoughts a day whizzing round our minds, analysing, judging, learning and deciding. The two camps deep in conversation about the role of the conscious layer in any decision made. I think I can live with either argument being true. If my unconscious mind has actually made the decision before I consciously think about it I should be ok with that as it controls most of the important physiological decisions for my survival. If it is my conscious mind in control there is some comfort there also as it consumes so much of my waking time. It would be good to know which one is true as it would allow us to increase the enjoyment of the good aspects of being conscious.
Reproduction presents its own challenges. Floods of estrogen and testosterone course through our bodies in cycles driving us to take the species forward. Moods, misunderstandings, orgasm, moral questions and societal norms all fed by this pre programmed cocktail mix. The interaction of these chemical balances with the conscious and unconscious mind determining how we feel at any moment in time. The problem for us is we do not understand the formula for this brew. We experience the state as frustration, anger, pleasure, happiness or some other emotion and boy do we feel it. Whatever the feeling we then need to explain it and create all sorts of stories to find a reason. These are at the heart of many of our unhappiest moments as we explain away an internal chemical recipe by having a go at ourselves for something we have done. The reality is probably something else and we feel as we do because of the current chemical balance we hold.
It could all be about the life of a plant. We respond to the environment seeking sunshine, salt, water, air and sustenance growing roots, leaves and moving towards helpful stimulus and away from harm. Buddhist advice to see our thoughts as just that and a route to something better could be so wise. The natural processes of the mind fight or question this idea as it searches for meaning and gives its quizzical look when dissatisfied with the answer to 'what's that?'.

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