Reflection 21: Mind to Mind

November 10, 2008

(Copyright © 2008)

Do we all live in the same world? Or, put differently: Does anybody live in my world besides me?


I have evidence suggesting my two eyes live in different worlds, so even “I” don’t live in one world. Used to be, when I looked through my left eye (the good one), the scene before me was brighter than when I looked through my right eye (which I never thought of as bad, even though it rendered everything darker and greener). Having had the cataract in my right eye removed two weeks ago, I now find the vision in that eye much brighter, and the vision in my left eye to be green and comparatively dim.


So the worlds rendered by my two eyes are not the same. Just as the worlds rendered by my right and left hands are not the same. I carry buckets, open jars, bail boats with my left hand; I write with my right hand. The muscles and sensory apparatus on the two sides of my body are not symmetrical, as if each side lived in its own world. Which, as far as I know, and operationally, is true.


Those with cataracts see the world differently than those without. Which is also true of the colorblind and those with vision impairments of any kind. Think of veterans with amputated arms and/or legs. Even with high-tech prostheses, they may still receive sensations as if relayed from the missing part, as in the phantom limb effect. The leg is missing, but at the same time seems to be there. It is hard to imagine the worlds of the wounded, and hard for the wounded to imagine the worlds of the whole. Without doubt, their life worlds are specific to their conditions. As are the life worlds of those with Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, unusual genetic make-ups, and all the other conditions that vary person-to-person, causing us to differ at the core of our being. To adopt unique perspectives. And, yes, projected outward, to live in life worlds of our own.


Even if apparently whole and sound, each of us—because of our genetic make-up, rearing, education, training, and life experience—is not only distinct but unique. On the inside as well as the outside. Not only physically, but perceptually and conceptually. So from Stephen Hawking to Mohammed Ali, Helen Keller to Hillary Clinton—we live different lives in different life worlds. My body is not your body. If I had your body, I’d be you. Thinking your thoughts, looking through your eyes.


Where is the real world scientists purport to study? Not out there waiting for them, ever the same, but in their heads as their methods and traditions have fashioned it over the years. The “real world” is a statistical concoction made by a great number of observers over time. That world smoothes out the differences between observers—the personal equations—by resorting to mathematical conceptualizations that make particularities and irregularities vanish, leaving only such vague generalities as survive the process of thinking about the world while not actually living in it. Scientists go home to dinner like the rest of us, leaving their mental worlds at the lab.


Which is why scientists have such a devilish time telling the rest of us what it is, exactly, that they do. Nothing is more difficult than translating the details of one world into perceptual language that others can understand. Like the truck driver without his truck, like the pilot without his airplane, the MRI technician without her machine cannot exist. They all depend on the perspective their apparatus gives them to be who they are. Which is no different from those of us who depend on our unique sensory equipment to be who we are in the life worlds we have fashioned for ourselves.


Scientists keep trying to reduce the world to its essential equations and numbers, when the world itself exists beyond such realms as mathematics and physics. The world is the world, unknown and mysterious. The mathematical formulations scientists come up with say more about themselves and the positivistic assumptions they started out with than about the world they seek to describe. In every case, the world is what we make it out to be. We, the assorted perceivers and thinkers of the world, fashion our respective worlds with our personal perspectives at the core, building worlds around our experience, not the other way around. When we are gone, the world will go on without us—without numbers, words, concepts, which belong to us, not the world.


Going blind, we ask for more light. Becoming deaf, we tell others to speak louder. Breathing oxygen from a green bottle, we have windows opened to let in more air. Consciousness factors out its own workings as if it gave upon a world incorporating such failings on its own without us. If we have a million dollars in the bank, we sincerely believe that sum is not sufficient to meet our needs, so find ways to manipulate the world into doubling our worth. There is no limit to how consciousness can distort our life situations, always with sound justification.


Just as for decades Congress has been lax in exercising its oversight responsibilities over the Judicial and Executive branches of government as spelled out in the Constitution, consciousness cannot recognize its own flaws and deceptions. Blame is always cast outward onto someone else. I am the last person to remove the wax from my own ears, my dog from my neighbor’s garden, my thumb from the scales weighing my just deserts. It is as hard for the obese to stop eating as for the anorectic to eat more. We, personally, are never the problem. Except we are always the problem and can’t see it.


To set a limit is to challenge all comers to do better. Witness The Guinness Book of World Records. Slower growth is a crime against the economy. We have to have more, and more after that. Consciousness can never be satisfied. It is calibrated in relative terms, not absolutes. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Someone else’s wife is more desirable than my own. What, me write the foregoing sentence? I never did. Except I did. Consciousness is restless, always searching, scheming, striving to get ahead.


Do we all live in the same world? Not very likely. Consciousness is a process, a way of seizing the unknown, which is a myriad of processes in itself. With consciousness, everything is on the move, like a juggler’s Indian clubs. Consciousness never rests. Today is day one of the life of the mind. We are born again every hour, every minute. On the lookout for personal advantage, we look at the world from our shifting perspective. When conditions are right, we make our move. Then shift to the next situation, and start again from there.


Does anybody live in my world besides me? Does anyone share my outlook or consciousness? No, we are on our own. Not mothers or daughters, fathers or sons. Certainly not husbands, wives, partners, lovers, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else. Those you know most intimately you don’t know at all because you aren’t in their heads. Intersubjectivity is a fancy word for the dream that we all share the one world. With that myth—that fallacy—as a basic assumption, then we end up with the world we have built for ourselves because we are constitutionally unable to manage and take responsibility for our personal outlooks and actions. I cite the perennial differences between Shiites and Sunnis, Palestinians and Israelis, Hindus and Muslims, Hutu and Tutsi, Serb and Albanian. Think tribal warfare on every continent, rich and poor, native and immigrant, young and old, and on and on.


In brief, we will never be able to come together across the gulf of our differences until we confront the uniqueness of our respective minds and the worlds they give us. Only then can we make concerted efforts to span that gulf with bridges anchored firmly on both sides, so allowing meaningful engagement between us.


The irony of consciousness is that to come together, we must go our own way. We must learn to take our differences into account in order to grow close enough to understand one another. You must be yourself, I must be myself, if you and I are to grow into us. We are seldom taught that, but the wise among us acknowledge it. Which requires sustained effort on all sides, mutual feedback, caring for one another, and willingness to put nurture and cooperation in place of dominance and surrender.


Can we imagine such a life, much less bring it about? I think the answer requires us to take a hard look at the world we have made for ourselves—the world we actually live in, separate and alone. Is this the best we can do? More of the same will not help. What we need is a revolution in consciousness based on the gifts we have to offer one another from our separate perspectives, not on the wealth and ecstasy we see others denying us, practically daring us to have our way with them by force.










One Response to “Reflection 21: Mind to Mind”

  1. insomniac said

    Howdy Steve,

    Good job! Looks very similar over here in my world. 8)

    “What we need is a revolution in consciousness based on the gifts we have to offer one another from our separate perspectives…”

    You bet… doin’ our best.


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