Reflection 266: Or Is It Just Me?

May 24, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Everywhere I look, I find loops of engagement whirring in other minds, striving to make sense of the world so that the owners of those minds can act appropriately in it. Or I find disengaged minds angry at the world for not cooperating with their covert desires.

Do loops of engagement exist as the basis of consciousness in individual minds—or is it just me projecting my fantasies onto all of humanity?

My life experience has led me to believe that conscious engagements are sparked in two ways. Either our sensory impressions convince us that our engagements with the world are even more effective in bringing about hoped-for states of affairs than we dared imagine, or those engagements fall far short of our hopes and expectations, leaving us in the lurch.

Whether we win or lose, are happy or sad, we are conscious of the situation we are in. Either way, we are engaged and have a clear grasp of what to work toward in the future. It is the middling, so-so state of neither winning or losing but being an also-ran that dulls consciousness into a “what else did you expect” state, when we resort to habitual performances requiring no special effort or attention. We can achieve that mental state of “business as usual” by coasting along without conscious exertion.

As I see it, good times and bad times both get us moving ahead by igniting consciousness and our loops of engagement. It is the in-between, blah times that dull our senses and actions, putting us to sleep on our feet, or into the coma that passes for everyday life.

Novelty wakes us up, as does calamity, joy, laughter, or sorrow. Therein lies the ignition of consciousness, with the goal of adopting a program of action in the world to sustain or remedy our situation in the world. So do we engage our surrounding situations with deliberate behavior, and invite those situations to engage our senses to apprise us of how we are doing. I see such looping engagements around me every day, and within me as I awaken to every moment of life.

My brain, as I see it, is the master comparator that holds my sensory impressions up against the intentions that led me to act, the resulting agreement or disparity telling me how I’m doing, and suggesting the direction I must take to do better. If my brain can invent depth perception from lateral displacement of images in two eyes, it surely can engender and maintain a dynamic interaction with my world situation. That is the origin of what I call the loop of engagement.

Everywhere I look, I see others engaging their worlds by venturing similar loops. Socratic dialogues are such loops written down in crude language. The exploits of Don Quixote reveal a man driven by a singular passion and sense of identity. As are Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Lear. As is every statesman and politician, celebrity, author, artist, musician, and dancer. All driven to engage, to review, to engage again.

I see exactly the same comparison in myself, the same drive and passion, the same adjustment, the same propulsion of awareness around and around in engagements with horseshoe crabs, eelgrass, eagles, producing books, writing blogs—being myself again and again, ever the same, but always in new ways. So do I seize my little world and fit myself to it through continuous adjustment. I do not think I’m crazy. Indeed, I am everyman and everywoman, doing my best to survive under difficult conditions.

Lately, I invariably come to the same conclusion. I am not crazy, just doing my thing because it’s the only way I know. My father wrote at his Underwood typewriter behind closed doors seventy-five years ago. Today, I write behind closed doors, as do my elder and younger brothers, turning out pages, thinking, reflecting, tearing up pages, starting anew. Growing weary, but always reviving to play out the game.

What could be simpler? Yet traditional psychology is baroque in comparison, needlessly complicated in conforming to the elaborate understandings of those who invented it. Engagements, yes, without archetypes, egos, ids, superegos and all the parts once thought necessary to consciousness but in the end explained nothing. Consciousness is energetic and kinetic, the result of interacting forces, not eternal qualities or capacities. At every stage, each instant of my life has resolved conflicting desires and inputs in the spur of the moment. I have made up my life as I have gone along, always striving, never finding the anchor I was looking for.

No, I haven’t amounted to much in this world, but I have been myself every inch of the way. My life has been my life because I made it happen as it did. It has always been my engagement and no one else’s. If I have internalized the ways of my father, that is my doing because that’s how I have learned to be myself, the one in charge of my singular engagement. When I die, that engagement will come to a halt. But for now I’m still at it.

How’s your engagement going? I hope you reflect on it daily and don’t think you are crazy. In my case, it’s just me; in yours, just you. Here we are living through these times side-by-side, doing our best to make sense of it all while being true to our innermost selves. What else can we do but occupy ourselves as we do? Y’r friend, –Steve

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