If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If your only tool is a gun, every stranger looks like an enemy. If your only tool is faith, every cause looks like God.

These are the wages of consciousness. What we’re seeing is not the real world but the world puzzle as we solve it day-by-day with the primary tool available inside our black boxes, our fallible human mind.

We do the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed under the conditions that prevail at the time.

The problem being that once we’ve solved the world problem, we consider it solved for all time. That is, we elevate our personal convictions to the realm of knowledge describing the world as it truly is.

But an idea in the mind is a glimmer that shines in our eyes like a beacon of truth. Actually, it’s a guess or hypothesis that seemed like a good idea at the time. If it’s truth we’re after, not just operative truth, then follow-through and reconsideration are all important. Our primary tool of mind is more like trial and error or successive approximation than sudden revelation.

And from the vantage point inside our black boxes, that is a hard lesson to learn. We make a benefit of any doubt that we have so that, as it turns out, no White jury will ever convict a White police officer of needlessly killing a Black man.

Scientists speak of the brain as an information processor that operates by computations based on data, as if the brain were actually the precision machine they want it to turn out to be. But that is just their way of casting their beliefs ahead of them, so guiding their search for understanding from behind the shelter of their living convictions instead of what may lie before them in the shadow of their uncertainty.

All of what I have written so far in this post says far more about how the mind works than how we want it to work. Whenever a new metaphor for a wondrous machine become available, it becomes the rage of the hour for explaining how consciousness works as a function of an orderly brain. People earnestly propose the mind in terms of clockworks, quantum theory, holograms, or the staid conventions of the scientific method—in every case mistaking the tool at hand for the solution they seek.

My approach is different. I start with my mind as it presents itself to me, and take its folly seriously enough to wonder why it should work in that way. My only method is to pay attention to everything my mind does. Incidents of mistaken belief pile up; questions accrue, my answer file stays empty. My own mind remains a mystery. Which I keep poking and probing with everyday incidents of lived experience.

I don’t play the games of peer review or publish-or-perish. Truth is, I am going to perish anyway, no matter what I come up with. Rather, I take my time, waiting on my mind to reveal itself to me in new ways. Which, when my files are stuffed, it does, offering a response to the whole of my uncertainty all at once, not one bit at a time.

So here I sit at my computer while trying to clear the walk of ice and snow, cook breakfast, and work on my blog simultaneously—because my mind is working on three problems at once. I am only its recording secretary, so I do the best I can to keep up with it. Oops, the egg is getting overdone. . . .

Back and forth I run between walkway, kitchen, bedroom (where my computer happens to be), on a roll because my mind won’t let me alone after I awoke well-rested and ready to do what I’m told.

I’ve been living with my mind for eighty-two years, and respectfully scrutinizing it for the last thirty-seven, so I’m starting to get clear on a number of issues all at once. I wouldn’t say it’s an additive process so much as an all-hands-on-deck process that shares what’s going on with all concerned.

My first method was to keep notes on a yellow pad with pen or pencil. But as soon as I wrote something, I’d want to change it with an insertion or correction, so very quickly I became unable to read my snarled notes. What to do? I turned to a typewriter, which I thought would be neater. But the urge to make changes persisted, so I wrote one draft of a paragraph after another, and page-by-page, my neat record of my thought became gibberish.

The word-processor on my computer helped me produce cleaner copy because I could cut and paste-over what I had written. Then I thought of having a small, selected audience of true believers to keep me on my writing toes, so started a blog—this very one on WordPress in 2008, Consciousness: The Inside Story. That effort led to two self-published books meant to summarize what I’d written so far, and a couple of Acadia Senior College classes based on those books.

But my thinking on trying to understand my own mind was always a work in progress, so as soon as I reached another stage, I’d want to change and expand it. Last year I wrote down my thoughts on consciousness in an article one-hundred-and-forty pages long, which I set up a new Website to host. But seeing my summary on the Web, I saw it was still gibberish, so went black to blogging the material contained in that piece in small chunks.

And that is where I am today. The challenge will never end. I will die a work-in-progress. Thinking about consciousness, or my consciousness thinking about me, either way, I’ll never reach a tidy conclusion. Too many problems; too many suggested answers.

Consciousness is what it is, different in each instance, and I’ll never get it down on paper or in digital form.

Consciousness is a way of life for each one of us. I’ll never get to the bottom of it because its bottom is leaky and runs into everything else. But I will never wallow in that psychic slough of despond. At least I’ve made it this far, and have learned a good deal, if not all there is to know.

I’ve been thinking of retiring from this long search and enjoying what time I have left on the coast of Maine, which for me is the center of my little universe. I’m almost to the end of the discussion and conclusion sections of this blog. When those last posts are done, I don’t think I’ll turn around and go over the same material in yet a new way. Enough, already.

But the issues I raised at the start of this post on the wages of consciousness still weigh on my mind. To kill in the name of racial or religious belief is a heinous crime. Conscious conviction plays a central role in every such death. To kill for an idea in the mind is absurd, no matter how lofty, beautifully crafted, or convincing.

So there’s still a mountain of work for humans to do in not only understanding, but civilizing their own minds. I’d like to think I could become part of the solution, and I suspect that such thoughts will occupy me as I take my ease in the land of my dreams here on Earth—even as the North Atlantic rises ever higher against this section of coast.

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In training, individual players build their respective skills on one level, and practice working together as a team on another. There may be individual heroes in baseball, but it takes heroic effort by all concerned to build a team that can face every possible situation with shared skill and confidence.

Each player must stand ready to play his part without advanced notice. Each is playing an inner game of expectancy before a play even starts to unfold. As is each watcher in the stands, stadium, or living room. In that sense, players and fans are engaged for the duration of the game, however long it takes for one side to win.

Baseball is all about arousal, anticipation, seeing what happens, recognizing what that means from a personal perspective. Then, of all possible responses, seizing instantly on the one judged most effective, and following through on plays that have been practiced in countless situations under a variety of different conditions.

Anything can happen, and what actually does happen comes as a spontaneous show of coordinated (or not) team skill, strength, speed, effort, and accuracy.

Baseball gives fans an endless flow of opportunities to be personally conscious. Each witnesses the game with her own eyes and ears, own sense of anticipation, own flow of perceptual, meaningful, and active engagements.

Being there at the game is like inventing yourself on the spot, again and again as situations come, evolve, and lead on to the next. This is what fans live for. If baseball didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it as a rule-governed alternative to the horrors of war, revolution, strife, violence, genocide, and mass murder.

Civilized nations rely on games to ward off the inevitable slippage into violence and chaos resulting from friction between factions having different perspectives on the world. Harnessing such perspectives in orderly pursuits such as baseball, soccer, basketball, and tennis makes the world safe for civil governance that actually serves to keep people meaningfully occupied and productive.

Baseball is no frill; it is a civil necessity—along with art, music, dance, Earthcare, full employment, and a fair distribution of wealth—to maintain a healthy state of mind among peoples accustomed to different ways of engaging one another in their separate worlds. Or worse, as in boredom, not engaging at all.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.       [Including 16 photos.]

Where do Mitt Romney’s non-taxpaying moochers go on vacation? I don’t know about the others, but this September I allowed myself three days to explore Campobello Island in New Brunswick off Lubec, Maine, where I wanted to do some serious mooching. By mooching I mean engaging my surroundings with my eyes and my camera, checking on the situations I am apt to get myself into so I can make a fitting response to what’s going on in my world. My partner was ready to take a break, too, so we drove together through Washington County and over the international bridge between Lubec and Campobello, to the island where F.D.R. took vacations long ago before he got polio.

We spent three days in Herring Cove Provincial Park and Roosevelt International Park, as beautiful an area as I have ever been in. Since this was our only vacation all year, we had some heavy mooching to do if it was going to have to last us for twelve months. I took the makings of three breakfasts and three lunches, she provided three dinners. We tented out in Herring Cove Campground, and did little but explore the whole time.

Since I feel obligated to submit a report to Mr. Romney to justify my existence for those three days—on the off-chance he might approve of how I occupied myself—I offer this accounting of how I used my time. We arrived just at dusk, so set up the tent in a hurry, avoiding low ground where rainwater would collect, and then ate a quick dinner. That was Friday night. The forecast for Saturday was wind and rain by early afternoon, so we started out early in the morning by visiting the beach at Cranberry Point. Yes, there was the Lubec Channel Light, just as the brochure said it would be—looking every bit the giant sparkplug they said it resembled. Carole, that’s my partner, suffered from stomach distress, so lay on the shore with a smooth beach stone in each hand to heal herself. And I walked up and down the beach, photographing the Duck Islands, the waves, clouds on the horizon, a painted lady butterfly, the lighthouse, and West Quoddy Light across the channel in the U.S. of A.

When it started to rain, we visited the Roosevelt International Park visitor center, and spent a couple of hours refreshing our memories of F.D.R.s life and presidency. They had fifteen of his notable speeches piped into a cathedral-style table radio, so it was like old times, reminding me of December 7, 1941, when I first heard of the Japanese stealth bombing of Pearl Harbor. If it hadn’t been for F.D.R., I wouldn’t be the moocher I am today, so I had no difficulty paying my respects to his memory.

When the rain let up, we headed for the northern end of the island to visit East Quoddy Light, which a woman walking her dog told us might be turned into guest accommodations. An adult bald eagle was riling up the gulls on the rocks, looking like he (a tercel one-third smaller than a female) was determined to eat one for dinner. He landed on top of a nearby spruce and balanced himself in the wind by much flapping of wings, then dove off and made a fly-by of where we were standing. I got several photos of that foray, before he settled down on the rocks and just sat there eying the gulls, who mercilessly harassed him by diving at his neck from behind.

You get the idea of how I go about mooching by following my nose to whatever looks interesting. I took 355 photos in three days, and the day I got back, made a 106-slide PowerPoint summary of my brief Canadian engagement, a sample of which I include in this blog. That’s the best way of letting Mr. Romney and the rest of the world know what I was doing by actually posting the evidence of my nonstop engagement with birds, flowers, butterflies, stones, beach art, and my partner Carole. That’s how I justify my existence when somebody challenges me, by showing them what I’m up to.

Whether you’re ready or not, here come the photos: 1) The Duck Islands, 2) Herring Cove with storm clouds, 3) shiny black stone on the beach, 4) the eastern horizon (I’m fascinated by that limit to my existence), 5) a bunch of pebbles, 6) more pebbles, 7) sandpiper on Raccoon Beach, 8) two urchins in sea wrack, 9) a new-hatched monarch butterfly, 10) cliff at the end of Herring Cove, 11) folk art made of the rubber bands lobstermen use to bind lobster claws, 12) a spiral engraved in the sand of Herring Cove with a stick, 13) a totem made by piling up beach stones, and 14-16) constructions such as people leave behind when visiting Raccoon Cove on Campobello Island.

The first ten photos are products my actions in engaging the island, the last six are products of other people’s engagements, left behind for posterity to appreciate, then to succumb to the natural forces ruling all engagements on the island.

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That’s the kind of thing I engage with when I and my partner go on vacation. It’s pretty close to my life’s work, engaging the landscapes through which I pass as I go. I see myself as living a life of civility and respect for the wonders of this Earth. At least I don’t make pornographic films, weapons of mass destruction, or money based on bilking others of their life’s savings. I do as little damage as I can, and above all, take responsibility for the workings of my mind because, after all, it’s my mind, and I’m the only one with access to it. My mind directs my behavior, and my behavior affects other people, so I try to set up an exchange of civility as I walk the way of my life.

Oh, yes, this is my 329th post to my blog on consciousness, my effort to understand my personal brand of absurdity so that I can fulfill that last promise to live on peaceful terms with my neighbors by conducting myself as decently, courteously, and respectfully as I can because I know that no one has it easy, and a ruckus from my direction is the last thing anyone needs. Not that I haven’t caused trouble in the past, but I’m getting better by knowing myself up-close and personal, as they used to say on TV, which I know because I was there watching it as recently as twenty-five years ago.

That’s my mooching report for this week. Pretty bland, I would say—especially when compared to the trouble a lot of workers cause by fighting needless wars of aggression, wringing other people’s money out of the economy, keeping people locked up in detention and solitary confinement, shipping jobs overseas, and generally causing mayhem the way politicians and corporate executives like to do to keep folks stirred up and out of sorts so they’ll consume more than they need just to keep the money flowing to the coffers of the well-off and famous.  

Between mooches I work with an estuary and its watershed to keep it in good shape for coming generations, and hang out with remnants of the Occupy Movement in Maine, trying to convert to an assembly for promoting civil exchanges within the local community as opposed to monetary exchanges—as if sports and the economy are all we have to talk about when people get together. How about learning from and about one another, since each one of us is unique and largely unknown to anyone else?

Submitted with humility and sincerity, –Steve of Planet Earth