Traditionally, people have looked outward toward mystery.
For a long time maps of the world had large sections labeled "terra incognita" (unknown land). Now Earth is almost entirely explored, but the vast universe beyond attracts those who are lured by the unknown (witness the popularity of Star Trek and other forms of science fiction).
Religions have capitalized upon our human fascination for mystery. God often is viewed as unknowable, unfathomable, beyond being -- leading apophatic theology and mysticism to emphasize what God is not, rather than what God is.
Searching the (almost) omniscient Google for what I've written about mystery on my blogs, I find the search results span 10 pages.
Mystery and me are old friends. Inspired by my ever-questioning mother, for as long as I can remember I've been drawn to the alluring borderland where we stand on familiar ground and gaze outward into the hazy darkness of... who knows?
Now, though, my looking is trending in a different direction. Well, it'd be more accurate to say in no direction, because my current fascination is with the brain that is me.
(So the title of this post is epistemically inaccurate, the "your" in it actually being identical with "brain," since there is no evidence that the me who is so fascinated by the mystery of my brain is in any way different from what I'm mystified about.)
My meditation area used to be filled with inspirational reading on Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, and various forms of mysticism. Popular books on neuroscience now are more common, along with scientific inquiries into the ultimate nature of physical reality -- which also turns my attention towards Material Me.
I'm still inspired by mystery. I'm still committed to digging as deep into reality as possible before I die. The only difference between my churched and churchless self is what turns me on, inspiration-wise, and where the focus of my truth-excavating is.
What never fails to amaze me is the source of amazement: the amazing human brain.
Our conscious awareness is the small tip of a vast neurological iceberg. Our sense of who we are is terribly restricted, the equivalent of a medieval monk believing that Earth is the end-all and be-all of physical existence.
In his new book, "The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement," David Brooks shares core insights of modern neuroscience and psychology in a style that, so far in my early reading, I find engaging -- though some readers are irritated by.
Over the centuries, zillions of books have been written about how to succeed. But these tales are usually told on the surface level of life.
...This story is told one level down. This success story emphasizes the role of the inner mind -- the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits, and social norms. This is the realm where character is formed and street smarts grow.
We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few years, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, and others have made great strides in understanding the building blocks of human flourishing.
And a core finding of their work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.
The subconscious parts of the mind are not primitive vestiges that need to be conquered in order to make wise decisions. They are not dark caverns of repressed sexual urges. Instead, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind -- where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place.
...So this intellectual revolution removes the conscious mind from its privileged place at the center of everyday life. It points to a deeper way of flourishing and a different definition of success.
...The conscious mind merely confabulates stories that try to make sense of what the unconscious mind is doing of its own accord.
Yes, indeed. Someone has an intuition, a vision, a sudden sense of what life is all about. They make up a story that explains what happened: Wow! God is speaking to me!
No, most likely their brain, working away behind the curtain of consciousness, produced this seemingly "miraculous" experience.
It seemed to come out of nowhere because the unconscious aspect of the mind is, by definition, not part of our awareness until something produced in the psyche's depths pops to the conscious surface.
So mystery remains, since we can't know how the universe within our skull functions with such astounding complexity, creativity, and connectivity. But with scientific understanding the need for God-stories vanishes.
The brain's mysteries are left as is: mysterious. Wonder and awe remain when imagined myths and theologies depart.
So the conclusion is: reality is primarily unconscious, and consciousness is a spurious outgrowth of complex molecular arrangements.
Seems kind of obvious to this particular brain - I cannot speak for other brains.
No awe or mystery here - consciousness is a mistake of sorts - a blind alley. There is nothing the brain can become aware of that will be of value in stopping the inevitable disintegration of all forms of organization - particularly the organization of the tissue that conceives of disorganization.
To perhaps paraphrase a snippet from a Pink Floyd song : "all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be".
Posted by: Willie R | March 11, 2011 at 03:07 AM
hmmm you say you love 'mystery' and yet seem to KNOW that 'you' = your brain?
Well, let me see. Ok light implies dark, and vice versa. For you not only cannot HAVE light without dark, and 'it' is a wholistic dyanmic process and polority---same is so for good and bad, front and back, inside and outside, life and death, annndddd know and unknown...! This means you will never be able to know the mystery of what you and everything is, becuase there is no such thing as JUST-knowing. There is always know and unknown. So therefore you cannot know you = your brain, can you? Well you can, but........
Posted by: Juliano | March 11, 2011 at 03:26 AM
Willie R. Indeed. That is what it is all about in religion and spiritual paths. Death. Is there anything left of *me* after tissue disintegration? If not, what does it matter, we are just babbling away on death row.
Brian! Please write another book. We could begin suggesting titles, like: "AfterCult"
Posted by: Jon Weiss | March 11, 2011 at 09:10 AM
Jon, it wouldn't be hugely tough to write a book based on my churchless musings, given all the stuff I've put up on this blog over the past six years-plus.
I just need to do it. Along with getting my first book re-published (it's been rewritten but not completely edited), which is my first priority.
Keep those title ideas coming.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | March 11, 2011 at 10:29 AM
Where may one question you?
i am interested in nondualism (Advaita)but i haven't found the answer to, why on earth do we have a body if only the Self is real.
Om Shanti, Sholom, Salaam, Pax te Cum,
Posted by: Bob Bollinger | March 11, 2011 at 12:27 PM
Jon Weiss - there is no "if" about anything being left of us when the brain ceases to function. There is nothing there to begin with!
I guess it is easy to refute such an assertion by asking what it is that knows for sure that there is nothing there to begin with.
Well...it is the "nothing" itself (sic!) that knows this. The universe (which includes anything that any sentient brain could imagine) is equivalent to the condition out of which it proceeds.
My prosaic summation: Reality has absolutely no features whatsoever. Intrinsic to Reality is a tendency to attempt to be something that Reality is not, which defines impossibility. Ergo, existence is impossible. The hallmark of existence is transience. It is transient because Reality, no matter how it "tries", can never exceed itself.
But is has loads of fun trying!
Posted by: Willie R | March 12, 2011 at 06:53 AM
Bob, you could always send me an email. (click on "email me" in right sidebar) I don't have any answers about duality and non-duality, though. I'm not even sure if we humans are able to ask the right questions.
We're alive. We're conscious. We're experiencing. More and more, that's enough for me.
Worrying too much about the why's and wherefore's increasingly strikes me as unproductive, but since I used to engage in such ponderings a lot, I can understand the appeal of doing so -- and don't see anything wrong with this.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | March 13, 2011 at 11:08 AM
http://adf.ly/2FvCb life after death
Posted by: ana | August 04, 2011 at 08:02 AM