342. Know Thyself

October 9, 2014

When was the last time you heard that ancient Greek adage? The last time you tried to follow it? The last time you gave up because you weren’t clear how to go about it? Welcome to the club of strangers to ourselves.

Everything I’ve learned about my mind is due to trial and error. That, and my emotions, are what I pay attention to. My perceptions are often in error. I see and hear things that aren’t there. I’ve seen a trash bag by the side of the road as a dying crow; snow on the Rocky Mountains as a line of clouds; a cartwheel display of aurora borealis as a procession of snakes, wolves, spiders, eels, and fingers climbing to the zenith overhead when what I was looking at was a stream of flaring lights in the sky climbing the spokes from treetops to the top of the sky.

In each case, I tried to account for the difference between what I saw and what I eventually realized I was looking at. I know a woman who saw a giant rhinoceros waiting on a mound of snow at the end of her driveway. Everyone sees faces and figures in tile floors and stained walls. Dr. Rorschach based his familiar test on that familiar phenomenon. When I have such an experience, I try to figure what my mind was doing in turning one sensory experience into another. If I keep at it long enough, I learn a good deal about the workings of my mind.

Too, keeping track of what gives me joy and what sorrow teaches me a lot about how I make sense out of my world of engagements. Successful engagements make me happy; engagements that don’t pan out make me sad or angry. When I commit myself to a course of planning and action, fulfillment gives me satisfaction, being thwarted makes me frustrated. My mind seems to talk to me in the intimate language of emotion. It’s not the world that has that effect on me; it’s my mind trying to do its thing. That is, guide me to make a response appropriate to the situation I find myself in.

Knowing yourself, it turns out, is wholly up to you. It’s a gift you make to yourself so you don’t blame the world for the workings of your own mind. So you take full responsibility for being yourself, psychic warts and all. I strongly recommend sticking to anything that causes you to doubt your own sanity. You’re probably not crazy, just not up-to-date on the tremendous difficulty your mind has in just getting you through the day.

I find nothing as rewarding as knowing my own mind. If you can stick with such a project, you’ll know what it means to take responsibility for your own mind, and act more effectively and appropriately in the world to boot. Believe me, it’s truly worth the effort.

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Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

We all have a right to claim that we were behind the door when manuals for our minds were handed out, but there are no such manuals, and never have been. Instead, we are given a life of trial and error. If we live long enough to make all the standard mistakes, along with those we invent on our own, by the time we die we will be familiar with one mind at least, so should count ourselves lucky.

In 2011 when I was 79 years old, having observed the workings of my own mind for thirty years, I brought out Consciousness: The Book, which deals with my particular brand of consciousness–too late to do me much good.

My aim now is to help others undertake introspective studies of their minds before they max out their normal life expectancies in partying for a living, or perhaps studying, working, going to the beach or the movies–whatever seems a good idea at the time, but diverts attention without helping them to know themselves any more than they already do.

Yes, you can approach your own mind through the well paved avenues of psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, and all the rest, but since each one of us is unique, I don’t recommend -ologizing yourself, which is bound to lead you into the error of confusing your mind with the road you are traveling at the time. Instead, I recommend treating your personal uniqueness as a virtue to be pursued to the end. No matter if it’s a sample of only one. To amount to something, you have to count as something. You have to count as something, namely, yourself.

I have found that a good way to to begin a program of personal introspection is by considering your likes and dislikes–what cheers you over against what upsets you. Our consciousness is driven by such polarities all our lives, so monitoring our engagements (projects, relationships) is relatively easy in terms of how we feel about what we are paying attention to at the moment. Like now, this very instant. How’s it going? Good, bad, or so-so? That is, is your present engagement progressing as you’d hoped it would, is it being impeded by some obstacle, or just lurching along ready to veer toward the better or worse?

By observing the state of what we’re trying to do, we can get a grip on our goals, our feelings, our tools and equipment, our skills, hopes, fears, our energy level, and so on. We come to see ourselves standing amid several dimensions of the expectant consciousness we bring to bear on the engagement we currently have under way.

How do you do?, you ask yourself. What’s up? How’s it going? Yes, it’s OK to talk to yourself. That’s what introspection is for–getting to know yourself. Not looking at things on the outside (as if you could see them), but inside your mind where the action is. Just checking. Things running smoothly? Or perhaps a bit rough? Hey, this is your life! It matters what sort of answer you give when you pay attention to yourself by asking personal questions. How is it with me? I says to myself, What’s been keeping you?; I thought you’d never ask. Maybe you didn’t care, or didn’t like me very much.

Once the ice has been broken, there’s no end of things to get into, questions to ask yourself, things to explore and find out. In the past, you may have been shushed by others who were preoccupied when you asked one question too many. But when you’re both the questioner and answerer in your own best interest, it’s astounding what a simple mic check can lead to.

So that’s the preface to my personal manual on introspection–if I were to write it today–which I just did in the form of this post to my blog on consciousness.

How are things going with you? What’s on your mind just now? Perhaps not introspection, but certainly related to introspection, the skill no one mentioned to you or taught you in school.

I remain, as ever, y’r friend, –Steve

I am off on an island in Maine, having these thoughts.

My primary engagement is not with money, power, truth, god, or technology, but with the ways of my own mind, which I must get clear on before reaching out to the mind of anyone else.

If I can grasp how I pay attention to sensory impressions, how I come to understand those impressions, and act upon them as I do, then I will have no need to inflict my personal style of engagement on others through dogmatic repetition, oversimplification, intimidation, ridicule, sophistry, or other rhetorical tactics such as dominate so many social interactions in today’s world.

If I can free myself up to be me, then I can let you do the same for yourself, and together we can coexist side-by-side as unique selves among seven-billion others doing the same.

But as long as I am invested in your being who I need you to be, then I deny you the basic freedom of being yourself, and the entire human enterprise falls apart around me from my insisting that I can know you better than you know yourself.

Henceforth, you have no obligation to vote as I tell you, to buy what I want to sell you, to pray as I command you, to think as I taught you, or to perform as I would have you.

And vice versa.

We are as free as we make ourselves through self-study and -understanding.

If we don’t each make that effort, who are we to engage anyone else?

(Copyright © 2009)

Last Friday I watched the first episode in the TV series Charlie Rose is putting together about Understanding the Brain. Sit a group of experts around a table, all coming from different perspectives, and you get a poker game with each player being an expert on his own hand, striving to outdo everyone else and take the whole pot. One plays the memory card, someone else the neural underpinnings of consciousness, followed by the social underpinnings, or the genetic underpinnings, then on to brain pathology, levels of brain functioning, round and round, hand after hand. Who wins? It all depends on how you look at the brain, and talk about the brain, and bluff your way by trying to convince the rest that you hold the answer they’ve all been looking for.

I have a game like that floating in my head all the time. Writing my blog or teaching an adult ed class, I have to decide what’s really important to know about consciousness, how it all fits together, how it relates to the brain, to behavior, to childhood development, to life experience, to evolution, to genetics, and so on. How do I lay my understanding of conscious out for others to grasp and compare with their own? Blogging and teaching, I have to engage my audience, not stuff my particular views down their throats. It all has to make sense, or if not, at least point in a direction that seems plausible.

When your conscious mind looks at itself—at its own hand—and is not at all sure what consciousness is, or even what the possibilities are, then the problem is doubly compounded and the best thing to do is fold to cut your losses. Sure, know thyself, but don’t try too hard because it’ll drive you nuts. That’s the feeling I had watching Charlie Rose and his panel of brain experts. Which is similar to the feelings I sometimes have while blogging and teaching about consciousness.

Fortunately, one aspect of consciousness is its flexibility, which allows for improvement and self-correction. Old synapses can be abandoned or strengthened, new ones encouraged. So when I feel I’m not getting my point across, I review my situation and try to see how I can do better. After posting 154 essays on aspects of consciousness, together with teaching my recent adult ed class, I offer a few thoughts intended to unclutter and refocus my mind so in future games I can play similar hands better.

Resolved 1:  Put consciousness in a context of alternative ways to bridge from sensory input to action in the world; that is, show how reflexes, habits, rote learning, and assumptions offer other paths to action with more immediate results at a cost of much less mental effort than required to sustain full-blown consciousness.

Resolved 2:   Remember, since the point of consciousness is effective action in the world, the mind must be seated in the brain somewhere near where sensory inputs connect to motor planning areas—between, say, an incoming pole on the lower side of the temporal lobe near where faces and objects are recognized, and an outgoing pole in the lateral prefrontal cortex where working memory translates sensory inputs into motor responses—an area encompassing cingulate and entorhinal cortices, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, midbrain reticular formation, and mediodorsal thalamic nucleus. Though the entire cerebral cortex may contribute to consciousness, the mind seems to comes together between the two poles I have mentioned.

Resolved 3:   In everything we do, our values, feelings, and past experiences (memories) moderate the tension between the poles of perception and action. Reflexes, on the other hand, produce hardwired responses that would be slowed and made ineffective if we had to think about it when, say, sand or liquid is thrown in our face. Consciousness develops over time, so is much slower to produce a bodily response. Values come into play, that set of salient priorities which promote our adaptation to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Feelings give a positive or negative tone to the occasion, alerting us to reach out or be on our guard. And memories of past occasions suggest what we might do (or avoid doing) in light of our history of past successes and failures. Where perception and motor planning intersect, values, feelings, and memories are in the vicinity, ready to influence our judgment.

Resolved 4:   Neural correlates of conscious (NCC) aside, the mind is situated in the brain, the brain in the body, the body in a family within a community within one human culture or another, and that culture within the habitats and ecosystems constituting a region within the biosphere of planet Earth. It is often hard to tell which combination of our several layered environments influences us as any one time. It is safe to assume that, one way or another, all of them are impinging on us all of the time. We are creatures of the whole—of Earth, our region, our culture, our community, our family, our body, our brain, and our mind. How we treat any one of them always comes back to us as a sure sign of how we regard (or disregard) ourselves.

Resolved 5:  It is good to remember that consciousness is autobiographical. The history of any one person represents the history of a good portion of the Earth, including plants, animals, watersheds, and cultural communities.

Resolved 6:   Too, our every conscious act reflects our state of mind, which in turn affects every layer we are embedded within. In acting for ourselves, we act for our families, communities, and the living Earth as a whole. We are made of Earth stuff, and can’t help enacting it every day of our lives.

Resolved 7:   Where consciousness is, unconsciousness is not far away. In a very real sense, the goal of consciousness is twofold: 1) to solve problems that affect our survival, and 2) to build facility in solving similar problems so we don’t have to work so hard next time we face a similar situation. That’s why high school English teachers assign term papers, so in college and at work we don’t find writing reports as daunting as we did the first time. In that sense, the role of consciousness is to convert the stages of a complex project into an automatic (that is, unconscious) routine in order to save time, energy, and a great deal of worry. As William James put it in 1890:

We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work (Principles of Psychology, page 122, italics deleted).

Resolved 8:   Regard the history of human works as a reflection of the history of human consciousness. Every work of the human hand is a work of the mind before that. We are revealed to the world, not by good intentions, but by what we plan and bring about. Action suited to our life situation is the goal of consciousness. Nothing can have more survival value than that. Growing rice, corn, wheat, and other grains is an act of will. Milling them into flour is an act of will. Baking bread is an act of will. All so we can break bread together and be grateful to be alive and receive the gifts of the Earth. Poems and songs serve the same end.

Resolved 9:   Beware the powerful, for they are out to shape our endeavors and our minds to their advantage. Buy this, they tell us; Do that; Vote as we tell you; Trust us, we are your friends. All the rest of us need to do is retire our minds and let them make our decisions for us. Those who control our culture create an infrastructure allowing them to think for us and control our minds. Their goal is to be alive in our stead, to steal our life’s energy so that we must work for them, not ourselves. Free will is the prerogative of the arrogant. Our job (they tell us) is to obey. When the infrastructure of our minds bears their trademark—and it amazes me how often that is true—we are lost to ourselves. Freedom is freedom to think for oneself. To surrender that privilege (it is no inherent right) is to surrender to slavery on behalf of The Controllers, who are happy to co-opt our privilege. Fox News, for example, is not just standing by but actively reaching into our brains to implant its alien new world. As Eric Alterman writes in The Nation of November 9 (page 10):

Fox is not a news organization; it is a propaganda outlet, and an extremist one at that. Is it any wonder that according to survey after survey, Fox News viewers are among the worst informed Americans when it comes to politics, despite their obsessive interest? A recent study by Democracy Corps finds that this audience believes “Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives,” with the ultimate goal of “the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.”

The scary thing is that in our own little world, we are the powerful, and it is ourselves we must beware lest we mistake the way the world seems for the way the world really is. Irony of ironies, our own values determine what kind of world we discover around us. We paint that world to our liking, or more often, disliking. Cultural values—religious, political, economic, military, social—make us who we are and set how we act and react. Yet our values are invisible to ourselves and, instead of reflecting how we were raised and our earlier experiences, seem to be properties of the world itself. This tragic error is the root cause of the misjudgments rampant in today’s world. We blame others for our disaffection, and determine to eliminate them as the “cause” of our discomfort.

Resolved 10:   In order to understand consciousness, look to the culture in which it is immersed. And vice versa, to understand culture, study the consciousness of one who is embroiled in it. It is difficult to tell where culture leaves off and consciousness begins. The language we speak is the one we are born to. The gestures we make, the tools we use, the work we do, the manners and ways we take into our personal selves as our very own—are cultural in origin. Every member of a particular culture or subculture shares in similar repertoires of values, and is apt to express some variation on those values. The ways we prepare food, eat, dress, dance, entertain ourselves, make love—are ours largely through imitating or learning from others. We are distinctly ourselves, yet at the same time suppress our uniqueness in order to resemble our companions. We personally exemplify the ways of our culture in almost everything we do, think, and believe. At the same time, we contribute our uniqueness to the texture that makes our culture what it is. It is of us, we are of it. Loops of engagement carry us into the cultural world, and the cultural world into us. The reality we find is an extension of our conscious life; the two feed into each other as if parts of an endless Mobius band feeding into itself. Religion gives us our cultural god, who we then make responsible for creating the natural Earth, which clearly emerged billions of years before anything like culture existed in the human mind. Strange business, yet business as usual because we don’t discriminate very well between the cultural and the natural—between what we make happen and what makes us happen in the first place.

Resolved 11:   Finally, be clear that the basis of good and evil is in us, not the world. Our memories come in two sorts, those giving us pleasure and those causing pain. We have soothing dreams, and nightmares. Our feelings come in pairs of opposites: happiness/sadness, love/hate, confidence/fear, triumph/failure, and all the rest. Our minds color everything that happens either positively or negatively, making sure that whatever happens, we remember it for better or for worse. The world is the world, its seeming goodness or badness depending on how we seize it and take it into ourselves. Similarly, integration and differentiation are built into consciousness—putting things together or taking them apart. Induction and deduction are aspects of mind, moving from the sensory, specific, concrete, and detailed toward the conceptual, generic, abstract, and schematic—and back the other way. And we distinguish between chords and melodies because the qualities of simultaneity and succession are built into our sensory apparatus. Too, relative motions in the world are told by the brain, which for survival’s sake struggles to distinguish personal motions from those of others, the difficulty being that sometimes it’s ours, sometimes the others’, and sometimes both are moving at the same time. Dancing is possible because there’s a beat to the music, and both partners key their moves to that rhythm. Without such a frame of reference, the brain searches for clues to help it decide how to act when everything, for whatever reason, is in flux. We may think it trivial to distinguish our own motions from those of other objects and beings, but if you’ve ever sat in a railway car and compared the relative motion of your car and the one on the track next to you without being able to tell which train is moving, then you’ve had the giddy experience of (your brain) not being able to say whether you are moving ahead (without a giveaway jolt) or the other is silently sliding to the rear.

Reverting to my earlier metaphor, it’s not the hand we are dealt that determines our fate, but how we choose to play it. Consciousness is as consciousness does—as we make it happen. Up till now, those thought to understand how consciousness works have tended to use that knowledge for their personal advancement. Think politics, education, advertising, public relations—think John B. Watson, inventor of behaviorism. It is crucial that the workings of consciousness become widely studied and eventually known, so enabling people everywhere to act advisedly on their own—and their common culture’s—behalf.

Consciousness of Nature

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Consciousness is given us to solve personal problems. Given the world situation of today, we are all in our element because we are all equally challenged. We can’t go on as we have gone in the past. Earth would not be able to withstand the collective stress, nor could we. The work of consciousness is to come up with a plan of personal action suited to the fix we are in, and to execute that plan.

 

So what do we do?

 

My point in this blog is that in order to come to grips with the world situation, we must each first come to grips with our own contribution to that situation. Every one of us is personally implicated because, collectively, our carelessness in living on Earth has led to the collapse of our economy, backbone of today’s culture.

 

Put succinctly, too many of us have consumed world resources at too high a rate for too long a time for Earth to meet our demands. We need to scale back our expectations from now on to give Earth’s ecosystems a chance to recover from our cumulative onslaught.

 

Can we do that? Can we replace the idea of perpetual growth and increasing profits with a truly sustainable level of consumption by scaling back our desires? Or does the inertia of cultural habits condemn us to perpetual decline unto oblivion? If we look to a technical solution to bail us out, we will delude ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. If so, so much for consciousness, Earth’s gift to every one of us through our shared heritage of Earthling descent.

 

No longer can we sustain the myth that we live in the real world and are doing our best to respond to its challenges. The implication being it is the world’s fault for falling apart, not ours. My response to that, in one word, is “Nonsense!” Each of us is wholly responsible for creating the world we live in—that is, the simplified version personal consciousness paints of that world. When facts are twisted, it is we who bend them out of shape. When truth is slanted, spin is spun, evidenced overlooked, data deleted, outcomes shaped and colored to our advantage—it is we who are pressing “reality” to conform to our desires. Earth cannot heal itself without our healing ourselves first—healing the way we take Earth into ourselves and distort its truths for personal gain.

 

The way to a better world ahead requires each of us to heal his or her personal attitude toward, and outlook upon, the world we inhabit—ultimately, Earth itself. Which requires us to heal our personal consciousness of the world if we as a people are to avoid inflicting only further abuse on all people’s planet.

 

We have taken our personal points of view so much for granted that we are not accustomed to seeing life as an interaction between the knower and the unknown mystery that lies beyond the limits of human understanding. We do not know it all. In fact, we know almost nothing. Even the most highly educated among us live in a world of concepts and constructs in their heads that have slight relation to, or bearing upon, the world beyond their own minds.

 

Great comfort is to be found in living in such orderly worlds—and every specialist seeks tenure in just such a place. Every scientist, economist, theologian, merchant, engineer, construction worker, and all the rest of us. But also great harm flows from the resulting disconnect. Think of the great engineering projects that have forced our magnificent vision of the world on the world itself. In remaking the world to our specifications, we have almost killed the Earth, our sole means of support in the universe.

 

Think of the great dams we have built on our rivers; hundreds of thousands of miles of asphalt laid down; mountain ranges mined for coal; carbon dioxide spewed upward; global warming and sea-level rise; topsoils plowed, polluted, eroded; marshes converted to golf courses, suburbs, and cities; species harried or “harvested” to extinction; nuclear weapons designed, built, upgraded; the horrors of every war fought for whatever cause; deforestation in the name of progress and wealth; misrule of the governed as a matter of course; corruption of living systems managed for human use only; and the many other follies we boast of as improvements and accomplishments on our cultural resume.

 

No wonder our present situation is dire. We created it all by ourselves for the sake of temporary profits and advantages, unconscious that we were putting a long-term—even fatal—curse on ourselves and our homeland. A man’s gotta make a living, we say in our defense. But at what cost? Well, now we know.

 

In a labyrinth, the way in is the way out. After slaying the Minotaur, Theseus followed the thread he had laid down, the thread Ariadne had given him for that purpose, and off they sailed for Naxos—with disastrous consequences for them both. If we think the solution to our problems is to apply more of the same techniques that got us where we are now, we are deluded. There is no techno-fix that can save us because in applying it we would be leaping into the same void, the same state of unconsciousness that has been our undoing.

 

No, this time we must take a wholly new approach. The problem lies not in any assumed world beyond consciousness, but in the world of consciousness itself. The solution lies not in unexamined consciousness, but closely monitored consciousness as a means of being aware of the far world that lies beyond ourselves. We must graduate from mythologizing the Earth as ours to control to following Earth’s example in regulating ourselves in keeping with our ecological circumstances. We are not lords of the Earth; Earth is lord of us. We have fought that battle for too long, with little but disaster to show for our pains.

 

The point of this blog is to share the good news—we can do it. We may have to radically rethink who we are, but it can be done. We can take responsibility for our own judgments and interpretations of events, learning over time to manage ourselves instead of others, leaving management of our physical environment to Earth itself.

 

Looking inward, we come to understand our own consciousness so that we can look outward with true compassion and understanding, advancing to a new stage in our development. We have been stuck on this level of vaunted personal achievement for too long. It is time to advance to the next level, that of true understanding and cooperation. We can do this through a process of truth and reconciliation. By being accountable not just to ourselves but to all others on the planet, and to the planet itself.

 

We can do this. Largely untried, the way is still open: Know thyself. Which is a challenge, not an answer. Rising to it is the key to finding solutions to what we see as the world situation, but is really our situation, the situation we have created for ourselves by not fully appreciating our greatest gift, our conscious minds.

 

See the following two posts, Reflections 100 and 101: The Way Ahead I and II, for details of the course we must set for our coming journey.

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

 

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

 

Shakespeare got that right. But he goes on to develop the theme of seven acts or ages as if that were the essence of life’s drama. From my point of view in writing this blog on consciousness, the acting out of personal scripts in each scene (situation) by the players themselves is the heart of the metaphor. That’s where the moment-to-moment drama takes place. The overall intent may be to impress the audience, but interactive relationships between characters are the means for revealing the inner tensions that drive the plot. It is the rise and fall of those tensions which support the drama. Underneath it all is the interplay of personal consciousness acted out in full public view.

 

In an earlier post (Reflection 87: A Mind of My Own) I wrote:

 

Consciousness is an integrated synthesis of many parts . . . . Our left-brain interpreter takes all those parts and weaves them into a story that binds them together into a coherent narrative. Whether factual or fanciful, it is that internal story of which we are conscious. All of which may or may not shed light on any so-called real world.

 

That is, internal stories concocted by our respective left-brain interpreters provide the script each of us plays out on the world stage in the company of our fellow players—all following scripts of their own.

 

Which sounds like it may produce a very confusing drama with each player scripting her own actions. And looking around, that is exactly what we find. Bernie Madoff reading from his own script, Rush Limbaugh his, Rod Blagojevich his, Jimmy Carter his, Palestinians and Israelis respectively their own, Democrats and Republicans theirs, and so on. There is no master scripter; each of us is privileged (or condemned) to follow the cadence of her own inner voice.

 

Whether looking into various crises such as that of credit, energy, health care, climate change, world trade, wealth distribution, overpopulation, or any of the rest, we find individual players acting out their personal narratives as if in each case they were delivering a monologue with the stage to themselves .

 

Storytelling is the name of the game we are playing. In the belief that what’s good theater for me is good theater for all, a gross distortion of Adam Smith’s invisible hand has become the doctrine of free enterprise in our nation and now around the world. This applies not only to the wealth of individuals and nations, but to any sort of human enterprise. What following the dictates of self-interest produces is chaos, period. The heralded state of harmony never arrives.

 

The problem being that in denying any sensible checks on the stories we tell ourselves, they wander on endlessly without feedback from other points of view. Research on split-brain subjects reveals just how strained and bizarre such stories become without input from even the other side of our own brains, much less other people. As Pieter Brueghel has shown, when the blind lead the blind, all are deceived and end in the ditch.

 

Tales spun by consciousness need impartial editing before being played out in life. As you like it—or laissez-faire—is not a sufficient check on personal action. Behavior based on monologues leads consciousness to gallop unbridled through public affairs, causing the tumult of these days. Signing statements, for example, which excuse the executive from having to observe legislation passed by Congress, distort the law of the land into a parody of itself. Having two laws, one for the executive, another for everyone else, is wily chaos attempting to pass as good order.

 

All due to letting our left-brain interpreters of events have their way with us and the world. Can it be that simple? I believe it can. Michael Gazzaniga locates our personal interpreters in the left frontal cortex of our brains. As The Brain from Top to Bottom (http://www.thebrain.mcgill.ca) puts it:

 

When a person with a split brain is placed in a situation where the two hemispheres come into conflict, she may use her left hemisphere’s language capabilities to talk to herself, sometimes even going so far as to force the right hemisphere to obey the left hemisphere’s verbal commands. If that proves impossible, the left hemisphere will often rationalize or reinterpret the sequence of events so as to re-establish the impression that the person’s behaviour makes sense. It was this phenomenon that led Gazzaniga to propose that there is an “interpreter,” or “narrative self,” in the left frontal cortex not only of split-brain patients but also of all human beings (Can States of Consciousness Be Mapped in the Brain? Advanced level.)

 

I believe Gazzaniga is on the right track because I can observe my own interpreter at work when it goes beyond the evidence to produce an explanation for things it doesn’t truly understand: to wit, this blog. I can produce a theory to explain any phenomenon that catches my attention. Usually, I realize I am transcending my own limitations, so don’t force my opinions on others. But when I sacrifice good sense to vanity or self-deception, then I can watch myself spinning a yarn for the impression it makes. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Making up bedtime stories can be both fun and entertaining. Where does fiction come from if not our left-brain interpreters? But in the service of fraudulent or self-deceptive motives, the interpreter can quickly take us out beyond our depth.

 

When I am unsure of myself, I fall back on trial and error. “See if this might work or suggests a different approach,” I tell myself. Most of what I have learned in life has come from making mistakes and correcting them. If my interpreter isn’t up to a situation because it lacks the necessary data, then it makes a stab at understanding what’s going on and—right or wrong—always learns something that can be useful next time around.

 

What gets us into trouble is pretending we know more than we can know—about the market, terrorists, Iran, creation, the will of God, or even ourselves. Actions based on insufficient understanding for the sake of self-importance, illusions, power, wealth, or personal advantage are sure to get us in trouble. Which is why the human world is in the sorry state that it is from too much pretense and self-righteousness.

 

My approach in writing this blog is to come at consciousness every way I can think of based on my personal experience. Yes, I am spinning a yarn. But at the same time I am gathering evidence from my own life that bolsters my understanding. Writing every post has taught me something about myself. If I never made the effort, I’d still be as dumb as I was at the start. All knowledge is self-knowledge, and if we are not perpetual learners, then we risk passing ourselves off as smarter than we actually are. There’s a lot of that going around these days.

 

Which is why I pay special attention to the care and handling of my personal interpreter. Even the FBI and CIA don’t know what thoughts are passing through my head. I am the only one who can pay attention to my inner processes. If I don’t, I miss the opportunity of a lifetime, because I am not privy to the workings of anyone’s consciousness but my own. If I don’t live up to my own self-set standards, no one else will do it for me. So here I am, having the adventure of my life in full public view. That way lies transparency, light and understanding. We know what lies the other way: been there, done that. Just look around at the mess we have made for ourselves and our home planet.

 

It is time to take a new direction. Namely, to heed the oracle and finally get to know ourselves inside-out. That way lies hope, eventual mastery, and true understanding. To get there, we have to develop prototypes for the new man and new woman. In my own small way, that’s what I’m working on. I’m trying as hard as I can to put Gandhi’s wisdom into practice by becoming the change that I seek.

 

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