Nothing matters. Everything matters. Both statements are true to equal degree. Clearly, our job as individuals is to pick and choose the engagements that are most meaningful to us. Which puts us in an awkward position because those around us want us to engage in ways that are most meaningful to themselves. 

It is the nature of mindfarers to occupy public spaces where such conflicts are out in the open. The only thing we can do is pay attention to the forces acting on all of us and select the issues we as individuals find most personally meaningful, letting go of the others to be dealt with by those who choose to do so.

We each serve as helmsman of our own ship, correcting our course as we go. The choosing of a course is why we are here, how our ancestors got us to this point by navigating under their own stars. We owe it to them to do the same under the stars that shine most clearly for us.

As to the relation between mind and brain: consciousness is not contained in either our brains or minds but in our engagements as they couple perception to meaningful judgment and on to purposeful action in nature, culture, community, and family. Our minds do not fit neatly into our brains but extend to include our sensory and behavioral engagements as well.

You might expect an octogenarian to issue generalities of that magnitude. But as a unique individual, I am at the core of my own generalities. I am speaking for myself, trying to use fitting, encompassing words to do so.

However you take my words, your unique person is at the core of those same words as they speak to you as you know yourself. I read them my way; you read them your way. The main thing is to maintain our intelligent judgement as we consider our own minds.

Those in the truth-seeking professions—philosophy, psychology, history, anthropology, theology, forensics, and law, for example—already know this. Each person is primarily out for himself, and can justify whatever act she commits in the name of private (not public) service.

To simply act on our beliefs is not good enough. We must catch ourselves sharpening, emphasizing, distorting those beliefs for personal advantage. Throughout this blog, I have drawn attention to the self-serving nature of our mental processes. In rounds of self-reflection, it is essential to keep a neutral perspective.

Robert Bly advises us to follow our bliss. Thoreau says to follow our dreams and imagination. I say we should engage as we must the situations we get into as the ones having most to teach us, while remaining somewhat remote as if we were truly impartial, not agents of our own beliefs and opinions. It is that critical faculty that is essential to self-reflection. Without it, we become little more than lobbyists or apologists for our subjective beliefs.

As children we do as we are told because our parents are not only bigger and stronger, but also likely to be wiser than we are. We have neither the strength nor the wit to resist. But as adults, to do as we are told binds us to the will of others who have not lived our lives or thought our thoughts, so are addressing their own motives from their own perspectives, not ours.

Too, those others are likely to be dealing with situations different from those we face at the time. The problems we work on are best answered in the context of our unique repertory of personal options.

To ask what Jesus (Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mohammad, et al.) would do assumes that we understand the situation he was in when he did what he did, and that that situation is the same as the one we are facing today. Which, given the vagaries of time and place, is a highly questionable assumption.

We learn most from situations we analyze and address as our own. When we make mistakes, as we surely will, they are our personal mistakes, leading to our personal learning. The essential thing is to engage our inner selves without subterfuge.

Advertisements

Some migratory birds may use the stars to navigate by. And we humans have long relied on the stars to guide our travels at night. We are born to them, after all, to the sky at night as well as the day. Once we escape the glare of city lights, what else is there to see at night than the moon, planets, and stars?

We may not be taken by individual stars so much as the luminous array stretching across a dark sky. Who (in the northern hemisphere) has not oohed and aahed at the sight of Orion in winter months or the Milky Way spread overhead in summer?

Our primal relation to the stars is demonstrably preverbal. We utter appreciative noises that hint at the awe within us as we lift our eyes to them, but words generally fail us, as they fail astronauts gazing down on Earth from their capsules, shuttles, and stations in near space.

It’s not so much that stars have no meaning as that we aren’t accustomed to grandeur on so vast a scale. There’s nothing else like them. The stars may be remote, but the feelings they engender in us are at the core of our being aware. You can’t get more intimate than that.

Navigators, of course, have long steered by the stars. And along with clouds, winds, currents, and waves, have used them to populate remote Pacific islands. Astronomers make a living trying to understand the stars, along with astrophysicists and cosmologists. Tell an astrologer your time and place of birth, and he or she will plot the positions of sun, moon, and planets against the twelve houses of the zodiac, producing a horoscope that is yours alone.

Imagine modern life without images provided by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, or many orbiting satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope. I have to admit to being star-struck as a kid, ogling meteor showers, passing comets, and, lower down, displays of green and sometimes red auroras borealis.

I am struck by fireflies, too, and glints off the water, but anything to do with lights in the sky at night commands my attention, including airplane lights and sun-glinting satellites. The cosmic aesthetic may be ethereal, but it is compelling nonetheless.

Too, we are all born to the lore of the constellations that guided early explorers on their far travels across deserts, snowfields, and oceans alike. When we peer at the stars, we subjectively group them into familiar patterns, whose names we then cast onto the heavens. The constellations are in our minds more than in the stars, but we use them nonetheless to map the skies at night as seen from our respective locations on Earth.

From my perspective in midsummer Maine, Cygnus the swan and Lyra the lyre are high overhead amid the sweep of the Milky Way. Whether seen as bear or dipper, Ursa Major and Minor round the (north) pole star through the course of a year. Sagittarius the archer (or teapot) is more to the south in summer. On maps of stars of the Southern Hemisphere, I find Horologium the clock, Sextans the sextant, Musca the fly, Telescopium the telescope.

Constellations are a cooperative venture between meaningless stars and the pattern-seeking minds of humans on the lookout for meaning by projecting recognizable shapes onto the heavens. Even the patterns are illusions in being made up of stars distributed in three-dimensional space (not spread thinly across the supposed “dome” we make of the celestial regions). In that we do violence to the stars for the sake of making them conveniently familiar and comprehensible.

Seeing a parade of godlike figures along the zodiac is no different. All of astrology is in human heads, along with the naming of planets after ancient gods, envisioning the stars as circling the Earth in twenty-four hours, and the sun as gliding through the twelve constellations of the zodiac in a year’s time.

Such doings illustrate our human yen to engage the stars to discover their meaning. If we don’t find it there, then, well, we make it up to suit our needs at the time. We’ve been doing just that—and then painfully trying to undo it—throughout the course of recorded history. It is one thing to see what we see; something else again to take responsibility for our part in the process of putting mind and night image together as if they were one and the same.

That is a profound lesson the stars have to teach us because we now know there are no actual groupings of stars such as the houses and constellations we chart on our maps of the heavens. As I personally know that the figures I project onto the wavering filaments of the northern lights are a result of my mind doing its best to find familiar shapes where no such disciplined forms actually exist.

It might seem like our home planet is at the precise center of universal goings-on, but that is a story told by our Neolithic perspective, which gives no account of galaxies, arms of galaxies, minor suns in the arms of galaxies, or of minor planets circling such stars—of which we now know there must be billions.

It only strikes us that we occupy the center of the Great All because our minds are trapped in their black boxes in our heads, and that’s what we make of the puzzle of the outside world in a kind of grand guess about what may be out there in clear view above the horizon of what our naïve minds have any chance to understand.

My contention in this blog is that I, you, we all play the same game. We are smoothers-over to suit ourselves. We can’t help it, our auxiliary loops of perceptual adjustment and refinement do the work for us in the name of clarity, good contrast, and proper emphasis. To a man, to a woman, we are biased toward our own predilections, the teachings of our personal life experience.

Far beyond Dr. Roget’s influence, the evidence is all around us in the polarities with which we apprehend the world. In the military battles, political in-fighting, religious strife, business practices, sporting contests, artistic preferences, social engagements, entertainments, literary tastes—we know what we like, like what we know, and dispense with the rest.

Our minds work in ways that are almost as pat as that. As set according to our gleanings from the survival niches we have sowed and harvested up until now. We are self-made in ways we hardly suspect because we filter our own interests out of our engagements, seeing those of our partners with far greater clarity than we do our own—almost as if our interests played no part in our dealings with the world.

As if our personal meanings were accurate, just, and true, while the unmeanings of those we engage with are no more than scrabble, scribble, scrawl, and daub.

I am certain that Dr. Roget never recognized such a state of affairs in his own mind. How could he have? He was convinced that he was writing about states of affairs in the world, not in his mind. As scientists filter out their very standpoints as trained scholars in dealing with a supposedly objective universe of pure events happening within reach of their instruments of observation. As the Pope is considered to be infallible in his judgments as referee of all proper human engagements. As politicians paint their opponents as caricatures, themselves as noble knights in armor. As Buddhists avoid human suffering by declaring the individual self to be a mere construct, so how can anyone suffer in a mind focused on nothingness?

Without our knowing, the answers we seek are contained in the questions we ask. We don’t want the truth; we want affirmation of our proprietary truth as only our loyal prejudgments can deliver it. The ones we recognize as familiar because they are already within us, safe from harm in our very own black boxes, where they are part and parcel of any effort we might make to engage the world beyond our perimeter.

Talk about self-interest, we can’t live without it, which puts everyone we interact with at a disadvantage in being respectively self-interested in their own welfare. If we weren’t self-ish to the core, without a fairy godmother, we wouldn’t survive for one day. So we tilt the playing field in our favor, and do just fine on the basis of foregone conclusions that aren’t conclusions at all but unquestionable axioms of personal faith.

Who could imagine discovering such an outrageous position backed up by no less an authority than Dr. Peter Mark Roget? I, for one. Lone wayfarer that I am in hot pursuit of any secrets my mind might be holding back. I identify with Roget in having a lifelong interest in the workings and foibles of my own mind.

I offer myself as Exhibit A of the very ideas I am talking about in this blog. I may be only one authority, but I certainly serve in that office for the only mind I have access to. As you yourself serve in that capacity in service of your own mind.

I am trying to provoke you into examining your credentials for holding that office. Are you as fair and impartial as you believe and maintain? Can any of us be that fair? Can we seriously believe we are rational beings in any sense of the word?

Rather than dissolve the constructs that bind us together as conscious beings, I truly believe our best option is to get to know ourselves without the self-support system that comes with the territory of being an earnest and well-meaning person.

I think we can work around that inherent support system by regarding ourselves as if we were total strangers, and had no power to edit the data on which our conclusions are based. Yes, we can see ourselves with new eyes, hear ourselves with new ears, correct our self-image by including the very data we’ve been suppressing for all of these years.

A priori, we are neither good nor bad. We are what we are, wayfarers on a minor planet for a brief instant in the history of the universe. Imagine going to our deaths not knowing who we are. What we have truly accomplished, and at what cost to others and to our home planet.

It is never too early to take stock, and to keep taking stock for the rest of our travels. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to get to know ourselves before we inflict unwitting harm on others, believing all the while we are blameless.

Facing into myself, that is my project in this blog. No one can do it for me. The buck stops with me. As it does with each one of us. If we don’t respectively rise to that challenge, we know that no one else ever will. We are born to that challenge. It comes with being human. If we don’t take it on, can we truly claim to have lived, or claim to have lived truly, being stuck in the darkness within our personal black boxes for the duration of our lives?

Thank you, Peter Mark Roget, for unwittingly reflecting that wisdom back onto your readers, if only we would take effort to follow the line of thinking you set before us in your work as a light shining on how our minds might be organized.

The moral being: that everything we notice from our privileged position sheds light on our minds if we will but look for that hidden message.

Mindfully play and watch baseball; mindfully pore through Roget’s Thesaurus; two down—mindfully ogle the stars yet to come, starting with my next post.

It is difficult to appreciate the profound difference between offense and defense in the game of baseball. From the batter’s point of view as he awaits the pitch, he is almost rooted in the ground like a tree, unmoving, watching for signs that will tell him whether or not to swing.

When the pitch comes, again from the batter’s point of view, the ball quickly grows larger and larger, not by any doing of the watchful batter, but seemingly on its own, like an asteroid bearing down on the Earth.

Before he swings, if he does, the batter’s eyes are the only eyes in the stadium that look from that exact perspective, so exist in time, wholly removed from the approaching ball that grows larger in his eyes as it subtends an increasingly wider arc on his retina due to no effort on his part. Just as we all observe the sun moving though the sky due to no effort of our own, its motion serving as the very standard of uncaused movement by which we gauge time itself, and set our timepieces accordingly.

But if the batter swings against the oncoming ball, his personal actions shift him from an orientation in time to an orientation in space within which he is accountable for his movements if he is to keep his bearings, the smack of the ball against the swinging bat being a consummation of his framework of time turning abruptly into a framework of space, requiring him to compensate for his motions if he is to keep a clear head, because now the ball’s decreasing size is the batter’s doing, and he owns it by watching the struck ball fly out over the field of play as fielders jockey to be in the right place to catch that very ball when it returns to Earth. While he, meantime, picks up speed on his run to first base, no longer watching and waiting as time passes, but now on the go along one leg of the diamond, moving, shifting his position in space with all the speed he can muster.

I first became aware of watching and listening in time and acting in space during the opening minute of the film, Lawrence of Arabia, a sequence in which the figure of a distant camel (viewed through layers of desert air shimmering with heat waves) looms larger, ever larger, as I, the stationary viewer in my theater seat, experienced a sense of change over time because I was just sitting there, doing nothing to affect the illusion that the camel was growing larger by moving toward me on its own without any help from me.

Sitting still watching the opening of the movie, I had no need to compensate for any effect I might have had on the camel, so the change in size came to me gratis, on its own, much as the sun and moon apparently move through the sky without any help from me (though secretly powered by Earth’s rotation, which, unappreciated, dips the horizon of my silent chariot, creating the illusion that time is passing before my eyes).

That scene with the looming camel opened the eyes of my understanding, giving me a Eureka! moment in which I grasped in a new way something I had never doubted before. We still talk of “sunsets” and “moonrises,” when in both cases we should admit to witnessing Earth rises and Earth falls or turnings.

The preceding excursion may sound like nonsense to you, but it is the kind of nonsense that when ignored, lets us think of time and space as properties of the universe when, in truth, change may be such a property, but calibrated changes in the case of time and space are properties of human discernment that we unwittingly project onto the universe, while they are truly our own doing because representing different ways of our engaging the world.

Without situated or moving observers being present to impose a calibrated framework on change, there would be no sense of time or space, only change, uncalibrated change in appearance without reference to standardized units of measurement

As Immanuel Kant maintained, time and space exist in our perspectives before we cast those perspectives onto events in the world. In his terminology, time and space exist a priori in our minds and ways of perceiving. We bring them with us as our frames of reference for judging changing events we may come across; they are not inherent properties of the universe.

Or of, since this post deals with baseball, baseball itself. Time and space are inherent properties of the way pitchers, batters, catchers, and fielders see the world around them. Depending on whether or not they are moving or stationary in their points of view, which travel with them wherever they go.

In Baseball, I think we sense the difference between the viewpoints of opposing teams at any given moment, depending on whether they are scattered around the spacious green field of play, or stand in serial order still and alone at the plate awaiting the pitch that is about to come, and so must decide how to respond to that pitch.

That is, players’ perspectives are determined by whether they are moving about the field under their own motive power—and so constantly compensating for their ever-shifting positions and changes in perspective—or they are still-as-a-post, alert, yet poised, waiting for the ball to appear due to no effort on their part, so requiring no compensation, but expecting the ball to appear as propelled by the pitcher’s motive force. To hit the ball where they want it to go, batters have to begin their swings at just the right moment in time. Fielders, to catch a fly ball, have to be in the right position in space.

Hitting pitched balls hurtling toward you and catching balls having trajectories in space are two entirely different skills. Some players can do both, others can do one or the other, still others can do neither very well (but they can steal bases, say, or pitch screwballs). Not everyone makes a great baseball player. As it is, players vary tremendously in their skillsets, some being able to play every position, others being specialists in doing one thing exceedingly well. It takes all sorts of players to complete a team.

Having here raised the issue of time and space as aspects of baseball, I will continue and conclude the discussion in my next two posts (Nos. 463 & 464).

 

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.

 

Nothing seems to be played more on the surface than baseball because it’s so physical in nature—a minor tempest in a stadium under bright lights with fans sitting around drinking beer.

But beneath that surface there is an inner game of moves, tactics, strategies, felt situations, motivating tensions, and the life force itself that gets us out of our seats and into the game, where we play, indeed, very hard.

That inner game is what baseball is all about because that’s where our engagements lie. And it is those engagements I am writing about here, not the statistical game played-out in the media and public press. We are engaged in a fundamental way with baseball because engagement is based on situations within us, and situations are not set for all time but develop, turning into wholly new situations, in turn leading on to other new situations and tensions, surprising us at every turn of events, taking us further and further into ourselves as we become more deeply committed to our involvement.

The motivating situations are in us, as well as in the players on the field. We map them onto sensory patterns passing as images in our heads, where the life they take on is sparked by how the players perform, but because of the play of tensions we find in ourselves, very quickly become colored by our emotional perspective.

Two games are being played at the same time, outer and inner. We are spectators attending the outer one, and players ourselves in the inner one. We can feel it in our muscles as well as see in in our mind while it’s being played out on the field.

The proof is in our feelings, which are in us, not on the field. Engagements are . . . well, engaging. They stimulate us to focus on the action as it develops, and at the same time inhibit us from paying attention to anything else, no matter how important it is. Ebola cannot compete with baseball, nor can ISIS, The Ukraine, Putin, or Obama. They aren’t in the same league, so get snuffed out—just like that. In our minds, that is, not the world.

Too, our values and loyalties are at stake in our engagements, as are our memories, skills, interests, and concerns insofar as they bear on our current engagement. All else is dismissed by our minds as irrelevant, so fails to register in the heat of the moment. We are aroused, stimulated, excited—our minds are shaped solely by the inner game. The field of play is nothing less than the life we are living at that very moment. We have a personal stake in the game. We give it our all. And it becomes us.

That is the nature of our engagements in general. The price we pay is to be broadly selective in simply eliminating everything else for the duration of their hold on us. By the time we locate our car in the parking lot outside the stadium, we are back in the world again. But during the game, nothing from that world matters. We watch our hopes and desires fulfilled or dashed before our eyes, as if the game were being played out directly in us, not out on the field. It bears the import and coloration we give it due to our subjective interests, which are proprietary in the extreme. Whatever we engage with becomes our personal property, and is nothing less than the claim it makes on our attention, abetted by the extent to which we sympathetically open ourselves to that claim.

Watching baseball is like watching a part of ourselves being made clear to ourselves, a great favor once you realize what is happening. Situation after situation, batter after batter, pitch after pitch, we want to find out what happens next, and next after that. We’re in for the long haul, to the end of the game. The players are good at what they do, so we’re good right along with them. We cheer them, they carry us along on every pitch, swing, hit, catch, and error.

As wayfarers, we look to the players to show us the way into the winding labyrinth of ourselves. That’s a powerful relationship, like having a mentor or guru, someone who listens and acts on our behalf.

The best thing that happened to baseball in my lifetime was not the emergence of players like Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth, but TV coverage by cameras with sharp lenses that focus the game on the screen in our living room, literally bringing it home to us. We can watch a pitcher with glove to his chin shake off a signal from the catcher (the defense team’s tactician), spit, chew gum, go through his windup, then abruptly spin around and hurl the ball, not to the catcher, but to the first baseman in time to catch an off-base runner in the act of diving for the bag. Now fans can sit in costly stadium seats hunching over their smartphones watching the game they came to see through the well-placed lenses of TV cameras. And we can enter into the game more effectively from within our black boxes because it is brought to us so up-front and personally, even intimately.

 

Many of my projects are based on a close relationship to the natural history of the region in Maine where I live. Projects, in fact, establish a kind of intimate relationship, very much like building a friendship over time. I strive to respect my subjects by focusing on their integrity, the set of qualities that make them what they are in achieving a particular identity.

I think of women building human relationships day-by-day, of men making tables and bookshelves and model boats by shaping and putting their pieces together. It takes the same qualities of mind to accomplish each such project, women concentrating on human qualities, men on the qualities of the materials they put together toward a given end over time.

Please forgive my resorting to stereotypes. Of course women can be artists, CEOs, and presidents; men can be caregivers, spouses, and friends. I am speaking from a general impression built-up over a lifetime of some eighty years. My point is that human relationships are a kind of project that requires maintenance and attention if they are to work out as we hope.

Projects and relationships are examples of our wayfaring, of taking one step at a time until we get where we want to go. That is how we build bridges, skyscrapers, families, organizations, and civilizations, each contributing as she is able during whatever time he has to put in.

Most significant actions take time to consider, prepare, plan, assemble, and execute. Sometimes we operate as a team of one, at other times we join together to make up teams of five or nine or hundreds or thousands, all aiming at a common goal.

That synchrony and coordination within and between ourselves is what we get good at by paying proper attention to the details involved in such engagements. Engagements within ourselves at different times, and with others distributed through a field of activity. One of our chief characteristics as workers in the world is whether we are team players or do better by ourselves working alone.

But always our jobs require suitable attitudes, workplaces, preparations, materials, tools, skills, and sufficient time to get the work done. From making a PowerPoint presentation to constructing One World Trade Center to building friendships that last a lifetime, our actions require attention to detail at every step of the way.

And that is precisely what we wayfarers are good at, paying attention to what we are doing as we go. In every instance, our going is a stage in the journey of a particular person who is mindful of what he is trying to accomplish, and pays attention to what’s happening around her at every step of the way.

Every stride of that personal journey changes the point of view from which we look out at the world. The reason we are wayfarers is to deliberately change our points of view so that we discover what has been hidden from us before. Our aim is to make a difference in the world by making use of the new perspective we have gained from our travels. Our every action is aimed at adding to that difference, of accomplishing what we want to do in our lives.

By acting to bring about change, we try to build the sort of future we want for ourselves, our loved ones, friends, associates, and neighbors.

 

390. Vivre la difference!

December 27, 2014

Mental judgments, the very stuff of consciousness, are based on either-or comparisons. On summing good points and bad points to see which tally is more convincing. Comparison of possibilities is one of our primary means of survival because, as I see it, it is the method that our nervous system is dedicated to.

In these posts, I have already pointed to the role of comparison in such vital functions as depth perception, directional hearing, and maintaining our balance. Simple acts such as steering a boat by a compass are acts of comparison, in this case between our charted and actual headings, the difference—the dis-parity—between them indicating the degree and direction of the course correction it is our duty to make in order to reach our destination.

The disparity between two signals is what we are aware of, not either one or the other by itself. As the French say regarding the sexes, vivre la difference! because it is precisely such relative differences that elevate us into states of awareness.

Consciousness is all about relationships, not things in themselves. About how the present stands up against expectancies grounded in bygone days. About how engagements turn out in comparison to our original intents. About how jokes defy our expectations. About how perceptions gauge the fit between our intentions and the concrete results we actually achieve.

Our primary approach to judgment is to assess how a given turn of events fits with the situation we find ourselves in. That is, fits our purposes and engagements at the moment. Trial-and-error is the gateway to consciousness. Let’s see if this works or it doesn’t.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? That depends on our perspective, which further depends on our situation. If we want more to drink, it’s half gone; if we’ve drunk all we want, it’s half-full. Being situational, consciousness comes in two polarities, encouraging or discouraging, affirming or negating, good or bad, considered or rash, wise or foolish. The sharp differences heighten the clarity and emphasis of the comparisons by which we decide our course between the well- or less-traveled roads ahead.

Comparison can be a measurement to a standard, or a simple judgment of the similarity and difference between any two things or events. We quickly notice the wrongness of the wasp in the jam jar, the rightness of the cherry atop the sundae.

I remember a teacher of aesthetics once remarking that he could discourse endlessly on the comparison between a cigarette and a piece of chalk (he then having one in each hand).

Being a highly visual person, I find symmetry and other comparative relationships in the features of almost everything I see and photograph. It is the tension or balance told by such graphic relationships that I notice more than the things in themselves, which are often incidental. I remember a faculty wife whose face was so perfectly symmetrical that I found it painful to look at her because, without any disparity, I had no comfort zone within which to admire her beauty.

Standards often turn out to be what we are used to, so are rooted in personal experience and opinion. I get tired of cold days in February so think a daytime temperature above freezing is just fine; a skier would find it too warm. Men and women vary widely in their primary, secondary, and behavioral sexual characteristics and preferences, yet convention has it that men are men and women are women, period. Only recently in America do we provide a few boxes to check for those who don’t fit either stereotype.

We are often optimistic or pessimistic about world affairs, reflecting polarized judgments about how things are going from our point of view. Optimists are prone to seeing virtues where pessimists harp on faults. Pollyannas find good in everyone; fault-finders thrive on what’s wrong. Some people shift moods between extreme states of mind: euphoria and depression, bursts of creativity and bouts of despair. At New Year’s we resolve to improve ourselves, and promise to do better next year. If sins didn’t call for either penance or forgiveness, church attendance would crash overnight.

Such polar attitudes toward comparative differences shed a clear light on the nature of consciousness. Of which I will say more in my next post.

 

If mind is a collaborative function of brain, body, nature, culture, community, and family, what may not be obvious is that human consciousness is a largely edited version of both internal and external reality.

Our minds sharpen, clarify, emphasize, and inhibit as they go, creating models of the great world, but not an accurate rendition of that world itself. Evolution may have brought us this far by allowing us individual discretion, but the specific situations each person is born to are subject to unique, non-genetic influences that shape each life world in idiosyncratic fashion.

With the result that the world each of us lives in is unlike any other in finest detail. The more the brain sharpens and emphasizes the signals it processes (a necessity for survival based on fast and appropriate action), the less the inner world of awareness can be assumed to portray the world itself as it might exist on the far side of our senses.

Our minds leap the hurdle of non-representation by sampling our surroundings as often as possible through rapid deployment of as many loops of engagement as we can sustain on different levels of awareness. This allows each mind to update its input as frequently as it can, and so judge its situation and govern its behavior accordingly.

But such rapid sampling comes at the high cost of rendering a world as more of a précis than an accurate representation. We see what we see, and don’t what we don’t. To sense sharply and clearly means we see boldly and schematically. Our sensing becomes warped without our knowing because we see what we see so clearly that we take it as the true state of worldly affairs rather than our rash stab at portraying such a world.

We create a world that suits our purpose of the moment, which is all the more believable because memory recognizes that world not as it is but insofar as it conforms to our beliefs as based on personal experience. The world we are likely to find is the world we seek in keeping with our background of expectations.

That is, we see through the filter of the history behind us, making the now conform to the then out of habit rather than updating the past. We are gold standards unto ourselves so it makes sense to judge world situations by the performance of our own eyes (ears, nose, grasp, memory, and so on).

Successive approximation is the name of the game we play with our minds. Sometimes we are right on; other times close. Often we are dead wrong without a clue which way to turn. We muddle through, and if we are smart, learn from every engagement to do better.

 

346. Self-deception

October 29, 2014

My chief discovery through the medium of introspection is the degree to which our minds are creations of our own experience. They are not given to us so much as made by us out of the wholecloth of our daily living and memory of prior experiences. So when we gaze out at the world, the world we see is not so much the world that is there, but more the world we have created for ourselves to suit our personal temperament and inclinations. When Sunnis and Shias are at odds (or, say, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, Blacks and Whites), it is their respective world views that are at odds, not segments of the real world.

We all know this in the abstract, yet find it easier to do battle with one another on the basis of our favored, internal perspectives. Strange business! The history of the world is the story of our being at each other’s throats, not of reaching out in an effort to increase our personal understanding of what’s going on. In that, we seem determined to put our worst foot forward, as we did in waging war against Iraq in 2003, and now bombing ISIS out of existence (which is part of the same problem due to our myopic vision of the world).