I took C. Kenneth Meese’s Theory of the Photographic Process with me into the Army when I was drafted. I’ll bet no other draftee has ever chosen that particular book to take with him into the service. But the choice made sense to me because I wanted to know how light striking a light-sensitive emulsion could produce a photographic image.

Kodak made emulsions out of cheek pieces of cattle obtained from slaughterhouses. The makeup of those cheek pieces depended on what the cattle had eaten in the fields they had lived in. The sensitivity of the photographic emulsions invented by George Eastman depended on the amount of sulfur from mustard weed the cows had ingested.

Kodak film came to depend on very strict quality control of the diets of cows whose cheek pieces went into the gelatin from which that film was made. Who could have known, or even suspected? I loved it, reading that book by flashlight after taps during basic training. The Army didn’t own me completely; by clinging to such idiosyncratic engagements, I was still my own man.

So here I am today, writing about the exploration of my own mind, trying to finish this project before I die, continuing a tradition begun so long ago under the influence of the family I was born to as middle male child out of three. I loved my parents, but felt distant from them. My older brother had my father’s attention; my younger brother was my mother’s chief concern. I turned my engagements into the world of nature and discovery. Given the family I was born to, I didn’t know what else to do.

Here I am, still at it, but with a twist. Looking inward because so few others have taken that path, and among all choices, that is the one that intrigues me the most. The real action is not in the world or its universe. It is in the miracle of our own minds that dare entertain such mysteries.

Einstein’s famous thought experiments were all in his mind, as current theories of how the universe works are in the minds of modern cosmologists, astrophysicists, and astrobiologists. I can’t understand taking on the universe with an incomplete grasp of the primary tool I use to observe its features. Talk about carts before horses, that strikes me as insane, employing a mind you don’t understand to probe the biggest mystery of all. The blind leading the blind. Trapped in worlds of conjecture and opinion.

All going back to the families we were raised in, to our primal engagements, and the lifelong habits we build around them. To the situations we found ourselves in early on and tried to understand. And to explain, often mainly to ourselves. The very selves we have to understand in getting beyond our limitations to a true appreciation of our place in the cosmos.

The development of our minds begins in our families where we catch on to the trick of linking perception to judgment to acting on purpose, then extending our reach into nature, culture community, and back to us in our families. Taking full responsibility for such loops of engagement, we can begin to understand features of the universe beyond our true grasp.

This post concludes my series not only on family engagements, but engagements with nature, culture, and community as well. I now switch to considering three examples of engagements that distinguish us as a people: our engagements with baseball as our national pastime, Roget’s Thesaurus as a reference on every writer’s bookshelf, and with the stars which serve as a luminous slate for projecting our deepest needs into the mystery of the night sky.

347. Self-knowledge

October 29, 2014

My quest is for self-knowledge before I act in the world lest I confuse my view of the world for an accurate portrait of the world as it really is.

Just look around you at the world of today. It is largely a product of actions taken by people on the assumption that they look out on the real world and do not have to take their personal assumptions and beliefs into account. Ha! What a mess we are making in putting our unexamined selves forward in that way. Look at politicians, financial advisers, celebrities educators, and most of the movers and shakers who determine the nature of our lives.

My message is: know yourself first before turning yourself loose on the world.

That is: turn your attention inward to focus on your trials and errors, your emotions (which are trying to tell you something) across the spectrum from ecstasy and joy to fear and anger, your trifling grasp of the way the world works. Once you come to an understanding of and with yourself, then you are qualified to make forays into the world beyond your private shell. I refer to that shell as the black box your mind uses to protect itself. Before appreciating the isolation that box imposes on your mind, you are an apprentice just learning the ropes of how your mind works.

Everything I know about my own mind I have learned from careful study of the many mistakes I have made in perceiving, judging, and acting in the world. That study has been the greatest adventure of my life.

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).