(Copyright © 2009)

 

Writing this blog, I seem to be above myself looking down upon my own self being conscious of myself being conscious. Is that how it is? How many copies of me are there, anyway? Is there really such a thing as a self or a soul?

 

What I do know is that I am an orderly assemblage of molecules and cells working together to accomplish some purpose in life. What purpose might that be? The usual: obtaining food, drink, warmth, shelter, sex. In a word, survival. When it comes to my personal molecules, they have work to do; the longer they keep working together, the better. And what work am I—are the molecules I am—here to do? Basically, reproduce. Create more molecular assemblages after my own pattern. Stick around to help them get over the rough spots so they can reproduce and survive in their turn.

 

Trouble is, the particular molecules and cells I am talking about aren’t really mine. They create me; I am their creature. They make me who I am. In studying my own consciousness, I am really employed by a physical entity—this body—that is monitoring itself. “I” as a separate entity don’t exist. There’s no “me” apart from this body I call “mine,” which really it isn’t.

 

Since this body didn’t create itself but was conceived, nurtured, and raised by parent bodies situated in a community, it is fair to ask who owns this body? Parents? Community? Tribe? Gene line? Planet Earth that sponsors us all? That nearby star sharing its energy with its planetary offspring? The universe responsible for spawning the sun? Back to whatever triggered the Big Bang?

 

Who am I, really? Do I even exist?

 

What generally goes unnoticed is that while consciousness is made up of concrete sensory, emotional, and cognitive details emerging one after the other in more-or-less coherent order, the self whose consciousness it is—namely me, myself, and I—is a total abstraction compiled from myriad instants of ongoing consciousness as filed away in various forms of memory. I am a construct or concept, not a person. A construct in whatever mind will have me, which seems to be the one whose neural processes created me in the first place and keep me going.

 

I don’t have or entertain consciousness; consciousness has or entertains me. I am a figment of this body’s imagination—of Earth’s imagination.

 

No wonder existence is so tenuous. When life hangs by an imaginary thread, the gentlest wind is disruptive. If you think you’re in charge of things, but you’re not, others will treat you as a prideful usurper. An upstart. A wannabe. A hoax.

 

How humiliating! I thought I was head honcho all along; now my own body is in revolt. Without a home, where can I go? Where is sanctuary? Where can I go to collect myself, which is a forlorn hope—as if figments had any substance worth collecting.

 

That’s the kind of bind studying your own consciousness can get you into. I know very little about not much at all. The king is dead; long live . . . whoever. It’s humbling. Good thing we all do it—make the same mistake. From my point of view that makes me king of fools.

 

But out of the ashes, Phoenix lifts its scrawny self with its talons. Don’t waste time looking at origins, look at deeds. Bodies are actors in situations where actions count in finding food, drink, warmth, shelter, sex—in furthering survival. This particular body is an actor, a mover, a shaker, a blogger. It has both incentives and motives for keeping itself going.

 

Here’s the good part. Between actions on one hand, and incentives and motives on the other, this body has a space for deciding what to do next regarding the situation it finds itself in. That space is consciousness. Which emerges on its own within this very body. One more body that’s here to act, and act now! So let’s get with life’s program and forget about origins. Actions are what count. Look ahead to future deeds, not back to murky beginnings.

 

Consciousness fills the space between incentives drawing the body ahead, motives pushing from behind, and the actual behaviors the body will perform in adjusting itself to the conditions in which it hopes to survive. Within constraints of motivation and appropriateness, consciousness considers possibilities for action, weighs their energy costs and likely effectiveness, selects the action plan it judges (on the basis of past experience) most likely to succeed—and commits to action.

 

Without any need to fall back on a fictitious self, consciousness handles the whole process. It fills the void it was created to fill. It is moved to act, and it does. Then on to the next round of feedback, modification of plans, and refined actions. Through successive approximations, guided by feelings and sensory feedback, this body moves ahead (or not as the case may be). Either way, it keeps trying, doing its thing, living its life.

 

The self, if we insist there be one, goes along on the ride to record the adventure. Memory is this body’s scribe. Whether that memory is working or long-term, emotional or situational, it truly belongs to this body, not any self, soul, or actor having jurisdiction over the body. The self is a fiction we create to give us a role in the process of living, which is always this body’s doing. We think we give a name to each self as it is born, but we are giving bodies an identity, not selves, not independent souls.

 

When in the end this body can no longer keep going and dies, the body that has lived the life is buried or burned. Meanwhile, its name is reserved for the fictitious soul or self, which is regarded as though a bloodless spirit alone were responsible for the deeds this body and its consciousness pulled off in surviving as long as it did. Which isn’t fair, but there it is.

 

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Reflection 56: Beauty Day

January 28, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Saturday, it snows all day. Leaving about a foot on the ground. Carole and I plan to take a hike after Quaker Meeting next day. Where should we go? The south ridge of Norumbega Mountain is close-by, that seems a clear choice. We park by Lower Hadlock Pond. Across the white pond, the wooded slope of Norumbega looms like a smooth iceberg. We’re the first ones out. Snowshoes on, we cross the outlet and head up the Brown Mountain Trail (Norumbega used to be called Brown Mountain). As the ground rises, Carole’s snowshoes slip and slide; she decides to do without. I have crampons on mine, so I break trail. We’ve both hiked this ridge many times, but this time is different. The landscape is frosted with snow. Everything is smooth, soft, white. Except for a few fringes of forest green, and gray-brown stems of spruce. We’ve never seen it like this—stripped of all conventions as if pared down to basics. Like a line drawing. Everything is clear and clean. Winding between trees, we both agree it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever been in. It’s more than the snow. These sloping woods. Low angle of light. Brisk air. Fresh scent. Stillness unto silence. “A beauty day,” I say, quoting my friend Gene Franck. Up and back, we are both in its spell, as if this were the first day of the world. The old and worn are new again. Past thoughts don’t apply. Wholly engaged in the present moment, we are new to ourselves.

 

Beauty and newness are often closely related. With novelty and freshness not far removed. Think babies, sweet sixteens, fresh laundry, hot dinners on the table. Character comes later, on the downhill slide. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show were freshness personified. America loved them. They were so youthful—just boys. As men, they proved more challenging. Innocence is an asset not to be wasted.

 

Is that it? All that can be said on the subject of beauty? Hardly. Trying to come to terms with beauty, I have taken two courses in aesthetics. Irwin Edman could say the same thing five different ways, and invariably ran through them all. Marx Wartofsky said he could declaim endlessly on the similarities and differences between a pencil and a stick of chalk. Beauty, I found, is not a matter of words. Words can be beautiful, particularly when pithy and pared to the core. But philosophizing about beauty tends to be un-beautiful.

 

Beauty is not something to be talked about. It is experiential, involving any or all of the senses. Beauty is an intuitive judgment in which strong feelings have a say. It is not something you can capture in words but something you feel. A kind of attraction that gets your attention. Captures you. Makes you want more. Awe and respect are often involved, or deepest respect—unto devotion.

 

But of course the beholder (hearer, scenter, toucher) in the case of beauty is judge and jury, not the beheld. Beauty is as much given as received. It is something you participate in, for yourself as well as others. What’s new is what is new to you, beguiling to you, seems fresh to you. Others may or may not concur with your taste.

 

Beauty is active, a way of seizing the world. It is always a discovery. Sought, but never fully anticipated. You have to be there, present, to feel the effect.

 

Some art tries to project or preserve beauty, as if it were an insect in amber. As if it were solely a matter of sensory proportions and relationships. But such features can fall on deaf ears or blind eyes. Beauty requires an audience open to its charms. And beyond that, an audience ready to reach toward those charms, welcoming and embracing the presence of something wonderful beyond itself. Beauty is performance and audience engaging, working together in mutual affirmation. Carole and I affirmed Norumbega that day as much as it affirmed us. Such a place is worthy of status as part of a national park, which it is—Acadia National Park.

 

Beauty, in other words, is situational. That is, it emerges within consciousness as one aspect of the ongoing relationship between self and world. It is neither a property of that world nor of the self, but is an aspect of the flow between them, the perceptual give and take forming the basis of the primal loop of experience. Experience arises from expectations cast onto the world through active behaviors, and from the feedback those expectant behaviors stir up and redirect from the world to the actor-become-perceiver. Consciousness is privy to the flow coursing through itself, which betokens a world without being of such a world.

 

Like beauty, consciousness itself is situational, emerging from the interaction between perceiver and the perceived. Either self or world may incite the interaction, but once begun, both are active participants. As long as the engagement lasts, beauty endures, rekindling itself. Here is long-term stimulation of cells in the hippocampus, enabling memory of the occasion to be laid down. That is beauty’s power, and why we have such a hard time defining it. It is that which enables memory, right up there with fear, anger, and jubilation. All of which set nerve cells firing in concert and brain waves humming, integrating consciousness so it is not at sixes and sevens as it often is in lives full of distractions.

 

Yes, that sounds right: beauty is memorable because it enables the process of laying down memories. That’s why I remember one figure standing next to me on a subway platform in Times Square 56 years ago (see Reflection 41: Christmas Tree). And hiking Norumbega with Carole one winter Sunday seven years ago. My brain is made to remember such events. Memory is not incidental to beauty, it is its essence. Unmemorable experiences fall away like chaff from the wheat. Beauty discovered deserves better. And sees to its own preservation. Just as other strong feelings do.

 

This is beautiful! Better remember it, it may have survival applications. The future is built on what we retain from the past. All else is unworthy of retention. Beauty is no frill. A life lived in search of beauty is an exemplary life.

 

¦

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Putting the pieces of a dismembered picture puzzle back in their original relationships to one another is an intriguing aspect of consciousness because people so love to do it. What is it about putting Humpty Dumpty together again that we find so inviting or even compelling?

 

The day after Thanksgiving, I clear off the table, open the sealed box, and dump out the pieces of a picture puzzle my partner has had lying, undone, around her house for twenty years. A seaside painting by Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924)—lots of impressionistic ladies in white dresses with parasols. Turning each piece face-up, I get started mid-morning and finish it (with help) just at midnight. Each parasol is a different tint of rose, which helps somewhat in grouping the pieces, but every edge is soft, so the tones blend subtly into one another. What amazes me is how intently I keep at it for 15 hours, working on one piece then another. Relying on a variety of clues to fit them in—shape, color, pattern, edges, texture, and so on. I start with the outside edge, then move on to the hard part of situating color masses. It gets easier in the end when there are fewer pieces left. The last twenty pieces are a joy to drop into place one after the other. That was it, a day in the life doing a picture puzzle. I think I may have worked on only one other during the past 20 years.

 

Is that what life is about, doing picture puzzles? I hope there’s more to it than that. Which gets me thinking. What is it, exactly, that’s involved in working on such puzzles? They are visual, obviously, so eye-hand coordination is involved. Not gross, not truly fine, somewhere in the middle. A kind of situational dexterity. There are no rules as there are in games. Each puzzler can chose her own tactics, and switch them at will. But to maintain such intense visual concentration hour-after-hour for so long a time, in my experience, is unusual. I sometimes get fidgety after doing the same thing for 20 minutes. How come with puzzles I can keep going so long? Not out of duty but pure engagement in the task. What holds my attention as if life itself depended on it?

 

One thing about doing picture puzzles, the goal is crystal clear. There may not be rules, but the object is to get every piece in its place so the image will emerge picture perfect. But I find completing the task anticlimactic. It’s the process that matters, the engagement, the doing of the puzzle, not its completion.

 

It’s a matter of fitting one piece, another, and another, without any sense of time or the stage of the process you’re in. Pure dog work, that’s what it is. Doggedly moving from one piece to another, one gap to another. Yet pleasurable dog work. That’s what is so captivating about puzzles, and so rewarding each and every time something fits. Picture puzzles cut gratification into microsteps, each as rewarding as the next, and the next. Maybe knitting is like that. It’s taking this perfect stitch, this, and then this—and it all adds up to something, a scarf or a sweater.

 

Piece work, literally. Is that a survival skill? One foot in front of the other. One shingle in place, then the next. One raspberry picked, then on and on until your basket if full. Life lived not one day at a time but one instant after another. Slogging onward. But it doesn’t seem like slogging. Each step is a challenge in itself. Which earns you the right to undertake the next. How does that work? I think there must be something about consciousness itself that is assembled that way, involving one neuron firing at a time until the job is done. 

 

When you work on a picture puzzle, where is that activity taking place in the brain? Certainly the retinas are involved, the visual nuclei or relay stations, the visual processing areas (of which there are many) in the cortex, the motor planning and actuating areas, the cerebellum to tidy up the process. But a picture puzzle is a kind of map, and I’ll bet the hippocampus deep in the temporal lobes of your brain and mine is involved. Through studies with rats, it has been known for almost 40 years that the hippocampus maintains a cognitive representation of the territory where the individual is situated, and when doing a puzzle, that’s exactly where you are—inside that puzzle, examining every detail. Not only are you in the puzzle, the hippocampus maintains nerve excitation as long as you’re there, neural activity lasting until this section is done, then this, then the whole. Two months after doing the Prendergast puzzle, I can still remember working on specific sections of it. I was building the map of my current situation one piece at a time. And the hippocampus has the know-how enabling me to do that.

 

The hippocampal map of our personal space is so finely divided that individual nerve cells correspond to where we are within the larger field, different cells being activated as we move about—or focus on different areas within the puzzle. Our brains, it seems, are made for doing picture puzzles. Or more accurately, picture puzzles are popular because they are designed to make use of mental capabilities that fit us to the situations we put ourselves into—which including puzzling situations.

 

On Christmas day, I take out another puzzle depicting a whorl of dolphins among a school of small fish. I had given it to my partner years before, and decide it is time to face the challenge of piecing together fragments of all those fish and all those dolphins in their blue-green sea. It is a killer puzzle, not because the fish are getting eaten, but because all the fish look very similar and the bits of dolphin flesh, ditto. Yet there are clues to where a given piece might fit into the overall scene represented in the cognitive map assembled by my hippocampus. I suspect that each of the over 500 pieces has a cell in my brain to itself. I say that because I work piece by piece, characterizing each one in relation to the overall pattern provided by the picture on the lid of the puzzle box. I know each piece has a specific placement in the field, and I use a variety of clues to suggest just where it might fit in. Illumination comes from above, so I can often tell the orientation of a piece by studying highlights and shadows. Which tell me whether the small fish are swimming to the left or right, and at what angle. Most of the fish on the left side are swimming down and to the left, most on the right are heading down and right. The quality of the light differs top to bottom, which lets me make a rough guess about placement in the various strata of the puzzle. I do the top and bottom edges first, then work on particular dolphins and nearby fish. Again, I start after breakfast, and finish at midnight, fully engaged the whole time. Never bored, never restless, just working away, away, away. That’s the kind of work my hippocampus seems suited for. Puzzling, I decide, is very much like knitting, where the map of the sweater is inside you, and you know exactly where every knit and purl fits into the overall design. Doing picture puzzles, I decide, is like massaging the inner workings of my brain. Maybe knitters feel the same way.

  

 

“Human consciousness is the way it is because of the way our brain is,” writes Joseph LeDoux at the end of The Emotional Brain (Simon & Schuster, 1996, page 302). Eric R. Kandel expands on that theme in his chapter on the Biological Basis of Individuality in Principles of Neural Science (McGraw-Hill, 2000, page 1277): “Everything the brain produces, from the most private thoughts to the most public acts, should be understood as a biological process.” Even working on picture puzzles, even knitting.

 

¦

 

 

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

The human mind comes to us in a plain wrapper without a users’ manual or even a Help button. Well-meaning others try to show us how it works, yet it takes a lifetime of experiential trial and error to figure out how to use even its most basic routines effectively. And on our deathbeds, many of us will regret we didn’t do more with it when we had the chance.

 

Which need not be the case any longer. Brain science is a booming industry, with research reports issued daily. Even 25 years ago, I had access to a journal on brain research that was issued every week in a volume half-an-inch thick. Which meant that knowledge about consciousness and the mind was beginning to spread among scientists trained to speak the specialized language of neuroscience. Popular books followed in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Now the presses hardly stop rolling between books about the mind written in (more or less) everyday English.

 

Terminology about the brain can be daunting at first encounter, but after the reader becomes familiar with the brainstem, cerebellum, prefrontal cortex, motor areas, primary sensory processing areas, thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, neurons, and neurotransmitters, along with other parts of the brain—that is after you get acquainted with the workings of your own mind—you find it is fascinating stuff and begin to catch on.

 

My blog is intended as a bridge between the technical literature and those who take using their minds seriously because they want to improve the richness of their experience and enjoyment of their own mental processes. To make headway in such endeavors, it is always best to touch base with the professionals responsible for our current understanding of mind and brain.

 

Visiting books on the mind and its brain is like taking a trip to a foreign land: you’ve got to learn new routes and place names, and pick up enough phrases to get by. If you want to do it thoroughly, it’s like learning a new language. If you just want the two-week tour, you can get along with a lesser commitment.

 

So here are a few suggestions about books you might want to read or delve into. They range from popular treatments to technical reference books, with a middle level of serious books about aspects of neuroscience, including, especially, consciousness. To different degrees, all are challenging, but that is always the price we must pay if we want to improve our understanding of ourselves and our world.

 

Caveat: This is by no means a complete list. These are books I have read, marked up, and am personally acquainted with. I welcome suggestions of other books to add to these few.

 

 

Popular Books About Mind and Brain

 

Carter, Rita. Mapping the Mind. University of California Press, 1999, 224 pages. Carter, a medical journalist, has produced a smart, coffee-table book about the mind, with, as you’d expect, glossy illustrations. The book is written from the popular angle of what people are likely to be interested in (an approach that sells books) rather than what scientists have to say about mind and brain. This is a good conversation piece, the kind of book I enjoy leafing through back to front.

 

Doidge, Norman, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Viking, 2007, 427 pages. Doidge deals with the practical application of neuroscience to the lives of people with real problems. His book puts you on the forefront of human understanding right away, as seen through the eyes of selected beneficiaries of modern research. If you want to test the waters, this might be a good place to start.

 

Jourdain, Robert, Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination. Harper Collins, 1997, 377 pages. (Added to list March 6, 2009.) Where Daniel Levitin (see below) draws examples from jazz and popular music, Robert Jourdain works more within a classical frame of reference. A science writer, he is also a composer himself, and plays piano. Living in the two worlds of science and music, he is highly skilled and motivated in building bridges between the two. This book takes as much concentration as playing the violin; the understanding it provides is well worth the trouble. I am no musician but found this book fascinating because of the insights it provides on both ends of the bridge.

 

Lehrer, Jonah, Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 242 pages. This book deals not so much with the brain as with discovery, which is about bringing new information into consciousness. Lehrer contrasts the methods of artists and scientists, showing through specific examples how artists opened up new territory, and scientists subsequently fleshed out the details.

 

Levitin, Daniel, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. Plume/Penguin, 2006, 322 pages. (Added to list Jan. 31, 2009.) I am neither a musician nor a scientist, but I love this book because of the insights it provides into one of humanity’s most compelling—and revealing—passions. You will learn a great deal about music, why you like it, and about the role it plays in your innermost being. Christof Koch (below) informs us about the visual brain; Daniel Levitin does something similar for the auditory brain (as does Robert Jourdain, see above).

 

Luria, A. R., The Mind of a Mnemonist. Translated from the Russian by Lynn Solataroff. Foreword by Jerome S. Bruner. Harvard University Press, 1968, 160 pages. This is the tale of a memory artist who could recall vast quantities of information with ease, and retain it for the rest of his life. Which might not appear to be a problem until you realize how cluttered his mind became because he had scant ability to generalize that information in the form of concepts requiring less storage space. Luria is one of the pioneers of research into the mind.

 

Ramachandran, V.S., and Sandra Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Harper, Perennial, HarperCollins, 1998, 328 pages. This book of adventures is as exciting as those of Mr. Holmes. Not about crime, it is about disclosing the hidden and often surprising organization of the brain. This is as entertaining as learning can get.

 

 

Introductory Books About Mind and Brain

 

Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Harcourt, A Harvest Book, 1999, 385 pages. This book explains in eloquent terms how consciousness extends the reach of the unconscious autonomic nervous system into the varied and unprecedented predicaments hominids got themselves into as they evolved into humans. It provides great insight into the workings of the mind.

 

Koch, Christof, The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach. Foreword by Francis Crick. Roberts and Company, 2004, 429 pages. Koch’s true quest is for visual consciousness, because that is the sensory modality he is most familiar with. If he hadn’t limited his topic, the book would have been three times as long. As it is, it’s a wonderful book, showing not only how the visual mind works (which we are all interested in), but how scientists have figured that out.

 

Konner, Melvin, The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit. Henry Holt, A Holt Paperback, 2002, 540 pages. This book has more information per page than most books you will read, all presented with a poetic flair. If you are versed in genetics, physiology, neuroscience, and philosophy, the words will flow into your mind. If you are not a polymath, you’re in for rough sledding through beautiful terrain.

 

LeDoux, Joseph, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. Simon and Schuster Paperback, 1996, 384 pages. LeDoux writes clearly about research into the brain without getting overly-technical. He truly wants to find out what is going on during the experience of emotions, and uses a variety of avenues to reach that understanding. He focuses on fear and anxiety because that has been his research specialty. He has a way of making the reader feel she is on the leading edge of getting to know the emotional centers of the brain and how they work.

 

LeDoux, Joseph, Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. Viking, 2002, 406 pages. The wiring of the brain is just a metaphor; LeDoux takes the reader beyond art to an actual understanding of how neural connections are made, what they accomplish, and why they are significant to you and me. On the way, you learn a great deal about how thoughts can make things happen through the agency of consciousness.

 

 

Technical Reference Books on Neuroscience

 

Gazzaniga, Michael S., Editor-in-Chief, The New Cognitive Neurosciences. The MIT Press, 2000, 1419 pages. Here displayed in full view is the broad array of modern research on the brain written by those in the know—the researchers themselves. This book is more for scientists than laypersons. But because everything is laid out in detail in one place, this is my favorite among the books listed here. A great book for browsing, I regard it as an explore-it-yourself book on any aspect of consciousness.

 

Kandel, Eric R., James H. Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell, Editors, Principles of Neural Science. McGraw-Hill, 2000, 1414 pages. College texts have come a long way since I was in school. This book excels in its organization, clear illustrations, and concise text. If I could redo my education, this is where I would start. This tome is more about the underpinnings of consciousness and behavior than about consciousness itself. In effect, it provides a prologue to the understanding of consciousness. It leads up to and ends on this note: “We are optimistic that future cognitive neural scientists will identify the neurons involved and characterize the mechanisms by which consciousness is produced.”

 

¦

 

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

I got the following comment from a friend in North Carolina the other day:

 

You write in your Blog of December 31 [A Sense of Space], “We take it for granted we can walk through woods without crashing into trees, pursue quarry across almost any kind of terrain without losing it, or cross busy city streets. . . .” You could have added, “or walk at all.” I watch people walk down West Beaufort Road, from my perch on the front porch, or from my scooter at the grocery store—there they go, putting one foot in front of the other without hesitation and without wondering about the complex machinery of muscles and brain coordination that make it possible, and I want to shout to them, “Become aware of yourself and the miracle of being able to walk at all, it is a gift from The Gods not to be taken for granted,” while I watch myself, as in a mirror, stumbling around, having to touch surfaces in order to remain standing, needing support by a cane and a companion for the short trip to the mailbox, the motor nerves misfiring at times.

          No, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I have learned to live with this condition, now in its 9th year. It is just that I have become very aware of the ease with which [most people] walk, and how.

 

Exactly so! We are aware from the center of our lives, and that center assumes the conditions within which we achieve consciousness—including injuries, personal frailties, and aging. It cannot be any other way.

 

Thank you, Friend, for sending that comment. It underscores how each of us has no choice but to be conscious in our own way. Which is likely to be different than how it was yesterday or ten years ago. Consciousness is fluid because our life situations never stop changing. There are too many variables involved. It takes effort and concentration just to try to keep up. Life is always challenging and hopefully exciting because its daily course runs from What now? to What next!

 

Consciousness exists in neither a perfect world that is the same for all nor in a vacuum. All of us live with special conditions that affect our outlooks on personal experience. For each one of us, consciousness is constrained as my consciousness in particular because it arises within this actual body as it lives out the details of its actual life.

 

I say that consciousness is situated in the circumstances bearing on that actual life here and now. Which involves an ever-changing mix of feelings, memories, acquired skills, actions, relationships, companions, expectations, goals, and all the variables affected by genetic makeup, family interactions, education, training, and a host of personal life experiences. As a consequence, consciousness is not a general property of being human, but is the specific attainment of a given person carrying on as best she or he can at a particular time and place under the limited selection that pertains out of all possible circumstances.

 

Consciousness, that is, has little to do with any supposedly “real” world. It is more a mental contraption that each of us assembles from the materials we are given in living our lives. And, as I have said, there is no airspace between the self and its consciousness—they are one and the same. I am my consciousness; my consciousness is me. All else is a matter of imagination and wishful thinking, which, too, are aspects of consciousness.

 

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Reflection 52: Inauguration

January 20, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Inauguration! Think what it means to make a new beginning under favorable auspices. Augurs foretell the future through the reading of signs, then usher in that future by steering the course of public events. If the signs are not favorable, events are put off until the situation improves. Joy has been stifled in this nation for eight years. Today, hope is the watchword, for today Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th president of the United State of America.

 

Yes, America’s first black president. That is auspicious in itself. But Obama is more than that. He has not been elected solely because he is black but too because of his spirit, intelligence, understanding, and abilities. As a matter of fact, he is black.

 

In a democracy, the powers look not to flights of birds or animal tracks as signs but to the collective voice of the people. We are those powers—the augurs of today. The people have spoken. Let the celebration begin! Millions are attending inaugural events in the nation’s capitol with great expectations. Change is in the air. Optimism is high, even as days are short, chill, and gray. Music and dancing are wholly appropriate to this splendid occasion.

 

For eight years the consciousness of the American people has been manipulated by national leaders to suit their own purposes. Government transparency has been undone by secrecy. The national purpose has been implemented through torture and violence, not diplomacy. Imagine waging a preemptive war to spread freedom and democracy! Initially, the people went along because their leaders played on their fears. September 11, 2001 was a terrifying day. Needing to make a bold response quickly, our leaders took an old plan off the shelf and prepared to invade Iraq, hoping no one would notice that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Twin Towers attack. They also diverted public attention from their confusion by telling people to spend in the national interest. But when spending and fighting led only to more violence and chaos, the people no longer believed what their leaders were telling them. They opened their eyes and saw for themselves.

 

Come to their senses, along with their true feelings and judgment, the people of America deliberately selected the Obama-Biden team to lead them, not McCain-Palin. Today, the situation is reversed. Bush-Cheney and the stupor they foist on the public are ousted. Hope founded on competence and compassion are installed in their place by the new administration taking office today.

 

Indeed, signs are favorable that the new administration will implement justice for all, not just the powerful few; true economic recovery, not undeserved pork; an era of dialogue, not military coercion. Starting today, the American people can hope to thrive again under President Obama. Their wits restored, the people can dare to be conscious for themselves and not bow to the will of a devious and aggressive elite.

 

The signs are auspicious, the time is right, the people are ready. Let the inauguration usher us into the next eight years with hope and determination sufficient to keep our minds focused on the challenges ahead.

 

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Reflection 51: Memories

January 19, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Ten years ago I bought a hair drier to get the moisture out of a headlight that had been nicked by flying gravel so I could seal it and get my car through its annual inspection. I have hardly used it since, never think of it, yet know exactly what shelf it’s on buried between the sheets and towels in my bathroom closet. What a strange mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness. I know the pedigree of that drier, why I bought it, what I did with it, where it is now—even though it doesn’t play even a bit part in my daily activities.

 

Too, I have a pencil sharpener screwed to the end of a bookshelf in my living room. An old one. Full of shavings from every pencil I’ve used for fifteen years. It’s in full view and I must walk by it twenty or thirty times a day—without seeing it. Until I want to sharpen a pencil. Then I know right where it is. Here, too, is a strange mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness. In plain sight, yet unseen until need arises, when it materializes right where it was last time.

 

I seem to possess a utilitarian memory that files the function, location, and pertinent history of these items in such a way to be readily retrievable on cue. No emotion is involved; this type of memory is purely functional. It covers the books on my shelves, tools, kitchenware, linens, and other items of practical, if infrequent, use. I include the Leatherman Tool in its sheath on my belt in this category. I seldom see it, yet reach for it when it would be useful, and there it is, right where I expect it to be. What time is it? I look not to my wrist but to the watch hanging from its caribiner on my belt. I know where I bought it, why I bought it (I don’t like the feel of straps around my wrist), where I’ve gotten its batteries replaced, that sometimes the stem unseats itself, and so on. All that is retained in my utilitarian memory, as if I were conscious of it all the time, which I’m not. Until needed, I never think of my watch.

 

Paperwork is different. I generate lots of it every day, and unless I deliberately file it away where I can retrieve it, I have great difficulty knowing which pile or piles I should look in. I seem to have no memory for paperwork—where it is, why I wrote it, even what it’s about. The process of writing down what’s on my mind is everything; once done, it simply disappears from my consciousness as if it went up in smoke. That’s true even of my posts to this blog. If I didn’t make a list of them, I would have no memory of what I said. I may have a vague recollection of dealing with that topic sometime, somewhere, but that’s about it. My utilitarian memory doesn’t do paperwork.

 

Yet it is somewhere within me. I keep having the same thoughts I had twenty or forty years ago—as if they were wholly new discoveries. Or I come across something I wrote long ago and find it accurately expresses something I thought I hit upon yesterday. It’s lodged in my unconscious mind in amorphous form, but not neatly placed or categorized.

 

I have a fair memory for faces, but not necessarily the names that go with them. When I search for a name, I can often come up with it, but it may take me an hour or even a day. When the face is a bit fuzzy, I often have a sense of the person—where I met him or her, maybe their profession, family, where and why we were together, and so on. You know, Whatshisname, the mustache. Such vague memories are not in the same class as the fixture memories of my hair drier and pencil sharpener. They are easy come, easy go memories, more like paperwork.

 

My autobiographical memory is usually punctuated by strong feelings. Like the time I raised my hammer over the last roofing nail when I built my camp—and whammed it down directly on my thumb holding the nail. Pain, sadness, happiness, any feeling will cement a particular episode in memory as long as it crosses a minimal threshold. Many memories are categorized by the feelings that accompanied them. Excitement—being outdoors during an earthquake in Seattle, seeing a manta ray leap out of the gulf, finding fifteen dollars blowing across the lawn, picking up an ancient stone knife at the base of a cliff. Shocking loss—crying in the assembly before school was let out when FDR died, working in the darkroom while listening to the news that JFK had been shot, being furious when Jack Ruby shot Oswald, the phone call from my mother when my father died unexpectedly, that other phone call 27 years ago from the police on the morning they found my son’s body in the park.

 

These emotion-based memories are not buried very deep. They fairly leap to mind at slightest provocation, making the then accessible to the now as if no time had passed. Such memories have greater clout than mere pencil sharpeners or paperwork. They are very much part and parcel of who I am, key constituents of my ongoing consciousness.

 

I don’t know much about conceptual memory, except that words and ideas seem to emerge from nothingness when called upon. I think of concepts as being distilled from similar experiences, and of words serving as labels that index them, making general summaries of experience available when a particular situation calls them to mind. Where do words come from? I don’t know. We have all had the tip-of-the-tongue experience of knowing a word is there, but not being able to retrieve it. We may have the meaning, number of syllables, first letter, or rhyme (it sounds like . . .), but the word itself remains elusive.

 

When I write, words flow from inner space, and quickly disappear, making room for others that follow. It is the process that is important, not the words themselves. I mean the meaning-making process by which a yearning to say something is coupled to particular episodes of experience within compass of a conceptual field given voice in the vocabulary and phraseology of one language or another. I am aware in myself that the entire process is underwritten by kernels of meaning—what I mean to say—that are more fundamental than the words I actually use. I often sense the presence of such a kernel just before I express it in words, realizing that words are redundant because the one kernel anticipated them all. I don’t know how it works, but the language kernels serve as seeds from which words themselves bloom.

 

Lastly, I rely on a kind of situational sense or memory to hold these different pieces (and many others) together in coherent form to produce the running script of my consciousness, the narrative of my life. Situations have specific locations, casts of characters, furniture and props, relationships, and ongoing actions. They are not scripted beforehand; but develop according to the active relationships which bind them together in one place at one time. Consciousness is always situated, so that it follows only the most relevant details as they unfold in the mind. Those details take on meaning and relevance because of their placement within a particular situation. This happens, then this, then this. All making sense because of the flow of events in a particular place among a specific cast of characters.

 

Consciousness is a kind of theater, for an audience of one, who acts all the parts, and imbues unfolding events with personal significance. Inner life is nothing if not dramatic in nature. Playwrights simply transcribe it into the idiom of some outer world. Which is why we can find ourselves in Shakespeare. He deliberately wrote us into his plays. As all great artists are sure to include each of us in her works.

 

Neuroscientists worry about the so-called binding problem: about how the myriad shards of experience fit seamlessly together in the one vessel from which the stream of consciousness flows. My thought is that the unity of experience is made possible by the situational nature of consciousness. If it is a stream, it is a stream through a particular landscape at a certain time under specifiable conditions. Where one part of the brain (the amygdala) appears to activates emotional aspects of memory, another part (the hippocampus) provides a map of the relevant landscape, while consciousness itself keeps track of meaningful events as they transpire within that setting.

 

That is conjecture on my part. What we know is that different parts of the brain are involved in storing and activating different aspects of memory. And that whereas the amygdala is activated in emotional experience, the hippocampus is activated in relational experience. My hunch is that men and women rely on the situational-relational aspect of experience in different ways, so the same area of the brain (the hippocampus) creates a detailed map of human connections and relationships in the female mind, while in males that area may generate a more utilitarian map of objects (hair driers and pencil sharpeners) distributed in space. I base this notion on my long years of interacting with men and with women under a great variety of circumstances. As my partner sums it up: women relate, men report.

 

Here I am, duly reporting on consciousness as I experience it on the inside of my skull. As I do so, I realize that there is not a single degree of separation between me and my chosen object of study. I am my consciousness; my consciousness is who I am. Put differently, consciousness is all. I, as a separate entity, do not exist.

 

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Reflection 50: Cleavage

January 16, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

I am walking up Holland Avenue in the middle of the road because the sidewalks have not been plowed since the last storm. A strong northwest wind is bringing arctic air down from Canada. I watch my footing because the road is so icy. Looking up briefly, I see a man’s back as he scrapes the side of the house at the end of the street, moving side to side, pressing his body against whatever tool he holds in both hands. I’ve done that when sanding. Cold day for that kind of work. Looking down, I pick my way between patches of ice. Fifty feet farther on, I look up again. The man is gone, replaced by a man-sized cedar tree blowing back and forth in the wind. It even has shoulders where its spire spreads out into branches.

 

From November through April, I love Bar Harbor. Just another small village on the edge of the bay. No cars to speak of, hardly any walkers. Schools and banks are open, the library, post office, and two movie theaters, but most stores and restaurants are closed. A few fly the snowflake flag declaring themselves open for business, but there are even fewer tourists to take them up on the offer. It’s just us locals, happy to have our town to ourselves for the duration.

 

The other half of the year is a different story. That’s when cars and buses and RVs and cruise ships flock to town. Everyone wears shorts, even people who shouldn’t even dream of wearing shorts. Varicose veins on parade. Pink, hammy thighs, Venus-of-Willendorf bottoms stretching the limits of modesty. And, too, breasts of all sizes, belly buttons, and cleavage come to town. Not only do they spill onto the streets, but they are displayed for maximum visibility. Guys tend to all look the same, cut from the same brownish-gray fabric, outfitted with sneakers, baseball cap, shades, ill-fitting T-shirt. Their function is to carry the money. The gals’ job is to make themselves attractive while they spend it.

 

But back to cleavage. What is it about cleavage that so sticks in my mind for a couple of seconds until the next candidate comes into view? My personal consciousness has special sections for wildlife, books on the brain, and cleavage. My mother had her cleavage, my partner has hers, as, to one degree or another, does every female of the species once her hormones start flowing. You’d think by now I’d have gotten used to it so my brain cells could move on to philosophy, say, or aesthetics. Which is the study of beauty, and that brings me right back to cleavage. There’s no getting away from it.

 

Cleavage is an outward and visible sign of vaginas, ovaries, and eggs—in a word, fertility. Cleavage, I learned in school, is a secondary sex characteristic. Seen that way, it is just another physical attribute, subject to a wide range of variation. But an attribute with a difference. Men don’t have cleavage, unless you count the gap between well-developed pectoral muscles. Men do have nipples of a sort, useless ones, proving they are a variation on the female body plan rather than vice versa. But men don’t have cleavage per se, up front and personal.

 

What men have is—no, not cleavage envy—but a lust for cleavage. Let me rephrase that: I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I have a deep appreciation for cleavage. Cleavage is a way station to babies. I don’t have a lust to go that far, but I do enjoy the way station. A little bell goes off in my head when there’s cleavage in the neighborhood. I don’t see it so much as just know it’s there. By a kind of sixth sense. Which is reassuring. Beyond admiration, nothing is expected of me, much less required. I go about my business, the cleavage bearers about theirs. It’s a great arrangement with no strings attached.

 

Sexist writing is politically incorrect these days, but I’m here to declare there are fundamental differences between men and women that need to be talked about since we have to live with them every day. Cleavage, cleavage, cleavage. There, I’ve said it. Long may it wave! Long may breasts wave, vaginas, ovaries, and eggs. Without them there’s be no babies because word would get out how much work, time, and money it takes to raise them to adulthood. As long as there is cleavage, however, there will be reproductive sex, and babies will be born. That’s one of consciousness’ main jobs. If it wasn’t, none of us would be here today.

 

In some cultures, women are hidden under wraps so their cleavage may be inferred but is never explicitly on view. Until it’s too late, that is—until the bearer is undressed and sex is precisely the issue. That creates a different form of consciousness, consciousness that must make the most of very few clues—such as an exposed toe or ankle, or a burqa pressed by the wind against the lithe body within. And leads to customs such as allowing temporary marriages for dalliances and on-the-job training.

 

Regarding sex, consciousness handles the aesthetics while unconsciousness tends to arousal and the details of execution. Just as, in the case of nourishment, consciousness enjoys colors and flavors while unconsciousness makes sure that food gets properly digested. Consciousness makes both food and sex appealing, setting the stage for unconsciousness to see to the biology of making babies and maintaining metabolisms. Centerfolds and cookbook photography appeal directly to the conscious mind: Doesn’t that look tempting! But it takes the unconscious mind to get bodily processes past mere enticement to the reproductive payoff that vertebrate genes have achieved so successfully for over 300 million years.

 

Consciousness is just the surface of a pond whose depths remain hidden and mysterious. Once allurement leads us to take the plunge, consciousness gives way to unconscious processes that accomplish deeds far beyond what we may have in mind. Which suggests that we belong to consciousness more than it belongs to us. The art of living is largely a matter of deciding how readily to do the mind’s bidding. Beyond that, connoisseurship (enjoying the view for its own sake with a certain detachment) requires learning how to stop short of taking that fateful plunge into the depths of the unconscious.

 

I’ve never heard it said, but any time of year, Bar Harbor is a great place for the human mind to witness its own consciousness in action. But so is every other town. Look at what Sherwood Anderson found in Winesburg, Ohio. There goes Doc, writing great thoughts on pieces of paper, stuffing them into his pockets, where he rolls them between his fingers into little balls as he makes his rounds, only to dispense them onto the side of the road like so many paper pills. Life is the story consciousness tells us as we make our rounds. It’s worth paying attention to else we might think we have to get somewhere special while the entire spectacle is within us the whole time right where we are.

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

 

My basic premise in writing this blog is that most people assume their consciousness gives them immediate access to the real world. Or put differently, that the world really is as their senses depict it. My aim in this series of posts is to test that hypothesis by examining a variety of episodes drawn from my own consciousness to see if they are consistent with such an assumption or not.

 

My findings up till now are that my personal consciousness is not a one-to-one replica of any world other than the one in my head, which is demonstrably one of a kind. As for the real world, I have no way of recognizing it by sight, sound, touch, scent, taste, or any combination of senses. It is always my world, that fragment of a world my consciousness presents to me at the time. Does that make it real? To me, perhaps, but not to anyone else. And even I have to test it by acting in that world to see how it accords with my expectations. Sometimes it might, but usually not.

 

What is real is that I have to ease into my world through a series of rough approximations of how I think it might be configured. My world is my current situation as I construe it. I make a move, and the feedback I get tells me whether or not I might be on the right track. Slowly refining my consciousness through a series of such tests, I arrive at an operational view of my situation that meets my standards of proof. For practical purposes, that serves as my current reality.

 

Beyond that, if others replicate my tests and come to similar conclusions, that adds some weight to my convictions. If those whose judgments I respect—my peers—tend toward consensus on the matter, that adds even more weight. But there are always rough edges that are inconclusive or surprising, so we have to investigate them before we can reach full consensus.

 

And so it goes. Reality is a moving target, a goal we can aim at but never attain because by the time we reach it, it has moved on beyond us. What is our situation now? we ask, as we run through the whole process one more time. 

 

What is our situation now? That is always the main challenge to consciousness. Unless we develop a feel for what’s currently happening, we can’t act appropriately—and survival depends on our fitness to our actual situation. Yesterday, it was this; what is it today? Think of how we try to assess our situation when we meet someone we know:

 

How are you? How’s it going? How’s business? How you doin? What’s going on? What’s happening? What’s up? What’s new? What’s the score? Who’s winning?

 

We ask newspapers, magazines, Web sites, blogs, and hundreds of TV channels to fill us in on the latest bulletins about the lay of the land. About the situations we are in, the ones our fate depends on. Which are invariably complex and fast-changing. So we need more and more details about what’s happening. Locally, regionally, nationally, globally, we want to know so we can anticipate what’s coming and act accordingly. This is not an intellectual exercise to stave off Alzheimer’s. This is a matter of life and death. My life and death. Of updating my personal consciousness so I can act appropriately regarding my current placement in the world I take to be real.

 

Gang wars, wandering bears, serial killers, terrorists, uprisings, bombings, stock prices, epidemics, tsunamis, hurricanes—I want to know how these and other events might affect my personal welfare. I depend on consciousness to keep me informed. To tell me what’s happening, who’s winning, how business is going.

 

Friends are people we trust with the details of our personal situation; strangers and enemies are people we fear might misuse those details, so we reply with socially-acceptable conventions when they ask what’s going on. We practice sizing up situations by playing games or watching sporting events—rule-governed situations where we are familiar with the territory, know the score, and recognize all the players. Being on the winning side tells us we must be doing something right.

 

Trouble is, events in the real world don’t always follow rules. We track cyclones and hurricanes so we can predict where they’re headed, and listen to Earth rumblings to tell us where the next earthquake or volcanic eruption will be. But terrorist attacks, wandering bears, and stock prices, for instance, defy rule-governed predictions.

 

If the cultural world were a walled-off precinct within the natural world, it might be easier to understand in terms of natural law. But consciousness often confounds nature and culture, so it is hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins, the admixture defying accurate description, much less prediction. Even the so-called hard sciences are disciplines within consciousness, so they are never as pure or reliable as their practitioners claim. Just wait a week and you’ll see. A given situation is usually more complicated than it seems at first glance, reality more elusive and harder to pin down than we think it should be.

 

Gauging reality is essentially a matter of soul searching. Of probing consciousness for clues to where we are and what is going on. It is more a matter of raising doubts and asking questions than mindless belief, which terminates exploration before it can get started. The real nature of the current situation is always a matter of conjecture, informed opinion, and judgment. All of which bear on the degree of conviction with which we feel we can rely on consciousness to tell the straight story.

 

The pursuit of reality begins with uncertainty, not surety. You’ve got to catch yourself being conscious of yourself being conscious, then ask why things appear as they do. To know reality, first you must know thyself. Which can only follow from a course of self-doubt (for starters, never take your senses or emotions at face value), followed by self-exploration, and endless self-reflection. Keep in mind that reality, should you come across it, is likely to be rigged (by yourself or someone you love or admire).

 

The first question to ask is: How do I know that I know what I think I know? If you get beyond that one, your judgment of conscious reality will improve remarkably. But in a world of hype, spin, illusions, lobbying, bribes, favors, payments, donations, traditions, strong opinions, public relations, and outright deceit, that is likely to be only the beginning of a life devoted to inquiry and the pursuit of reality.

 

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Copyright © 2009

 

I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I’d been working late in the darkroom at the observatory, and was walking the two-and-a-half miles along Garden Street to Harvard Square, along Mass Ave., down Putnam Ave. to Magazine, jog right then left onto Tufts Street, to my home on the ground floor of a triple-decker in Cambridgeport. It was eleven o’clock at night. When it’s dark, I usually make a point of skirting Cambridge Common, that island of greenery in an ocean of traffic, but was tired so, carrying my yellow Kodak box of 11×14 prints, took the path straight through the trees. There were no lights. I was surprised how dark it was. By the glow from the Square, I could see the silhouette of the Abraham Lincoln memorial up ahead. And two shadows walking toward me. Two guys heading my way. I immediately thought of humming or whistling to signal I was no threat to them. The shadow on the right started running—a light, athletic burst toward me along the edge of the path. The other kept coming straight ahead. The runner stuck out his right arm as he passed, grabbed me by the neck and pulled me back, his left arm pinning my arms to my chest. The other guy walked up and started punching me in the face. As if still in the Army, I yelled “Mother fucker” as loud as I could. He struck again; I yelled again. Which is how it went for maybe ten seconds. Other people on the cross-path started making noise. Thinking about it later, I figured my shouting obscenities kept them at a distance. Having made their point (whatever it was), my assailants ran off across the grass, leaving me breathing hard but still standing at Abe’s feet, yellow box and prints spread along the path. I was furious, but had no object to vent my fury on. Faster than before, I headed for home. In front of the camera store in Harvard Square, I realized blood was clouding my left eye and spilling onto my jacket. At the police station in Central Square, I told a cop what had happened. He said there was nothing he could do. Walking down Putnam, I schemed to clutch a monkey wrench up my left sleeve from now on. I got home, cleaned myself up, and went to bed. I had a classic shiner for a couple of weeks. And carried the wrench for a month or so, until I forgot about it.

 

What interests me about this episode forty-three years later is that I felt anger when attacked but not fear—even as the situation became obviously threatening. Instead, I thought of signaling the two guys that I was no threat to them when—at the time—I had more reason to believe they were a threat to me. All I can say is my head must have stayed behind in the darkroom. Perhaps I had walked that route so many times that I had switched to automatic pilot as Thoreau did when navigating the woods between Concord and Walden at night. But that feels like a rhetorical cop-out.

 

Looking back, I see now that my consciousness was in submissive mode. As it used to be when I jogged past a barking dog and looked everywhere except into those angry eyes. When it comes to confrontations, one tactic is to back down and become nonthreatening by blending into the background. That’s the Casper Milquetoast ploy. Become a nonentity and danger will pass you by.

 

But once the first guy held me from behind—lake a cornered rat—and fear was beside the point, I became angry. Not being able to physically defend myself, I shouted obscenities into the air. I became the cat standing sideways, hair standing on end. The mother sandpiper spreading her wings against the blue jay lusting after her brood. Yes, I tried to make myself larger than life.

 

I’ve done that a lot. Maybe that’s where road rage comes from. Being meek until somebody cuts in front of you, then you explode. I’ve exploded at cops a number of times, like when I’ve edged out to get a view of traffic coming both ways, and one says I didn’t stop at the stop sign. Me, the almost perfect driver. Who does he think he is!? Nothing is more satisfying than righteous indignation. From zero emotion to full fury in sixty milliseconds, bypassing fear altogether.

 

Come to think of it, I’ve often been a risk-taker while, at the same time, telling others to be careful. What’s going on? At an NTL training session in the 1970s, the trainers arranged chairs in a spiral for a particular session, then let us students into the room to sit where we wanted. I sat in the lap of the big black trainer who was anchoring the spiral from chair No. 1. How obnoxious could I get? He was sitting where I wanted to be, in the center of things. We locked eyes and neither backed down. Talk about consciousness emerging full-blown from particular situations, here was Exhibit A for the two of us.

 

As a hiker, I’ve always pushed beyond terrain that was familiar to me. What’s up ahead, around that boulder, over that hill? I have always pushed beyond where I went last time. Often transgressing where I didn’t belong. I remember a Bird Colonel telling me I was the only enlisted man he’d let tell him where to stand (I was taking a picture of the regimental baseball team).

 

Fear, risk, anger, aggression—in consciousness they all fit together somehow. My autonomic nervous system is telling me that I’m venturing into the emotional mother lode here, a hint of the wealth that’s sure to lie ahead. I’ll turn back now, and leave those discoveries for another day when I’ve more time to spend.

 

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