(Copyright © 2009)

I’m finally getting around to linking the summaries of my posts to the actual posts themselves, making it much easier to navigate around my Blog. This wasn’t an issue when I had only a few posts, but now with well over 100, it’s hard to move around without getting lost. So here I am out in the housing authority lobby (where I can get a wireless connection) editing the summary of each post, selecting text to click on, carefully typing the link—https://onmymynd.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/reflection-108-integrity-i/&#160; –I’m really concentrating so I won’t make a mis-! <daaght-daaght-daaght> <daaght-daaght-daaght> Bleepin’ fire alarm goes off <daaght-daaght-daaght> two-and-a-half feet over my head <daaght-daaght-daaght> with strobe lights firing into my brain! <daaght-daaght-daaght> Fire doors slam shut right and left. I’ve never jumped out of my skin before, but <daaght-daaght-daaght> that’s what I do. Heart pounding, I scrape back my chair, trip <daaght-daaght-daaght> on the rug, catch myself, get to my feet. Did I leave the stove on so a potholder could fall on the burner?—better check. I don’t want to abandon my computer, but there’s <daaght-daaght-daaght> nobody else around—I’ll be right back. In the hall in front of apartment 38 I find a lady fanning the smoke alarm with a dust pan. “I burnt my toast!” she says, “How do you turn this damned thing off?” “You can’t,” I say, “the police have to do it.” [Dear reader, please imagine <daaght-daaght-daaght> and strobe flashes all through this narrative.] I run to my apartment, check the stove, call 911, get connected to the police, am told they’re on their way. I go to the main entrance to wait for the police. A guy in a baseball cap fumbles with the key—must be them. Only the one guy. I tell him the lady in apartment 38 burned her toast. He goes to check. I check my computer. I can’t stand the noise, but I don’t want to abandon it. Not that I don’t love my neighbors—I just don’t trust them. Eyes closed, fingers in ears, I wait in the commons room for the noise to stop. My brain taken over by the klaxons, I can’t think. I just sit here, feeling stupid.

That’s about five minutes of a story that took over half an hour to unfold, klaxons and strobes going full bore the whole time. Problem was, the policeman’s key wouldn’t turn in the lock to open the door to the alarm system panel so he could turn it off. He radioed for another key, but the guy who had it wasn’t around. Fingers in ears, I watched baseball cap try again and again to unlock the door, with a fireman looking over his shoulder, and another guy over his other shoulder. In the movies they would have shot out the lock, or broken down the door, but this wasn’t the movies. So the three of them kept parading back and forth—baseball cap, fireman in full gear with boots, and this other guy—from the locked door to somewhere else and back again, always single file. And me watching, sitting on a sofa in the commons, fingers in ears, going crazy from the noise, not being able to think.

Back and forth, back and forth, <daaght-daaght-daaght> all the while, with the blitzing strobe—talk about torture, this was my version of hell. It was like somebody plugging my wits into the wall outlet and frying them then and there inside my skull. Here was a new kind of consciousness, being aware but not being able to think or find meaning in anything. Commotions and alarms! Confusion. Chaos. Whatever you want to call it, it felt awful. I was frazzled, with no end in sight.

But there was an end. Eventually the other key arrived, the lock turned, the klaxon ceased, and in another minute, the strobe shut off. I took my fingers out of my ears and went back to my computer. It took ten minutes for my heart to stop pounding, but I finally calmed down and was able to concentrate on what I was doing.

When had my mind ever been commandeered in that way? The infiltration course at Fort Ord during basic training comes to mind—that was 1955. Me hugging the ground, crawling along on the hardpan through barbed wire, cradling my M-1 rifle in my arms, everything raw and aching, machineguns firing live ammunition overhead. I hadn’t a thought in my brainpan then, either. It was like living the life of a scorpion, or maybe Kafka’s cockroach.

Wait! Suddenly it dawns on me—what frenetic torture really feels like. The reign of the G.W. Bush administration. When crazy things happened you couldn’t do anything about, so you stuck your fingers in your ears to block out the noise. This whole nation was stunned by irrational acts that made no sense. You’d call your senators or write letters to the editor, but nothing did any good. <Daaght-daaght-daaght>—the party line was always the same. This is for your own good, your protection. We’ll take care of it. Go shopping. Go back to sleep. But who could sleep through that terrible time? I remember Colin Powell speaking at the UN, presenting “evidence” of Sadam’s evil intentions consisting of ambiguous radio intercepts and photos of trailers equipped as bio labs—as if these justified the preemptive invasion of Iraq.

Then there are jigging pop-up ads on the Web meant to distract you from what your are trying to do—and the whole business of advertising pounding messages and images into your brain so you’re no longer in control of your own actions. Because the mindless <Daaght-daaght-daaght> became such an onslaught, I threw out my TV in 1986 so I could follow my own thoughts. But the klaxon still sounds in the person of Rush Limbaugh, to name one example, who keeps sounding the alarm over and over again like a tin horn in the wilderness.

Alarms are meant to co-opt your mind so you will switch to automatic pilot in performing some carefully rehearsed plan you’ve been told to follow. But when the key to the shut-off is lost and the noise and bright lights persist longer than they should—or you learn through other channels there is no emergency at all—then the risk is a sense of helplessness (me sitting on the couch with my fingers in my ears), total surrender of consciousness, and the inability to act in an appropriate manner to the actual situation.

Where I live, the alarm system is made by Simplex and every part is painted bright red and labeled FIRE or FIRE ALARM in bold letters. Sometimes, though, it serves as a burnt-toast alarm, and it’s hard to tell the difference. My learning from writing this post is that what’s really required in the modern world is the wit and judgment to tell the difference between true emergencies and alarms that are hyped by those with a vested interest in getting the public to respond a certain way, whether it’s appropriate to the true situation or not. It is always important to know where the key is so you can get in and turn off the system that is the real source of the trouble.

Fire Alarm





(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.