One of the joys of reading for me is finding connections between seemingly disparate books. As I wrote about a few days ago, I'm reading a book about depression and mindfulness.
I've also started a book by a neuroscientist, "Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness." Patrick House, the author, says that he doesn't agree with all of those ways, but in brief creatively-written chapters he makes the case for each way in accord with how proponents argue for it.
In his first of the nineteen ways, House puts us in the place of a sea creature.
It needs fast reflexes rather than slow contemplation because by the time either prey or a predator appears in the short distance things are visible in highly murky water there's no time for planning. By contrast, when creatures evolved to live on land, now they could see a lion, say, on the far-0ff horizon, and so had an opportunity to decide on the best course of action.
Thus there isn't much need for clock making beyond intervals of a few seconds [for the sea creature], which means that there is no need for the brain to whir up an emergency motor-response plan for the shark cresting over the horizon of the Adriatic shelf, because there is no way to sense the shark cresting over the horizon of the Adriatic shelf.
This usefully constrains the metabolism needed to keep track of the far outer reaches of the outside environment and means any need to plan movements is limited to the timing of events with a small, near-reflexive range.
Hiding in the center of these plans is the observer, the conscious creature, who is just an accumulation of movement preferences and plans trapped inside a sensorium, keeping track of what it thinks the objects around it are and what it might otherwise do with itself.
Then, in his third way, House speaks of a theory of consciousness focused on movement, on doing, which fits with the first way.
A body, too, is restless to get moving; in fact, the entire purpose of the brain is to make efficient movement from experience, and everything else, including consciousness, is downstream of those efforts.
...Any act of thinking is just pretending to act out. Consciousness requires cells that want to move and that know roughly what will happen when they do, but are prevented from doing so.
...We are irritable animals that move well and think no faster than ten times per second; we are the product of the reduction of the one-trillion body problem [number of cells in the body, I believe] to the one-body problem; we are the product of a brain that is creating hypotheses the entire time about how best to act, knowing that all the outside world can do is irritate it and all it can do is learn, while alive, as much as possible from those irritations.
So we're hard-wired for doing, for action, for dealing with problems and opportunities in the world as conveyed to us by our senses and interpreted by the brain.
Which returns me to the depression and mindfulness book, "The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness,"
The authors persuasively argue that a central problem of being human is that we try to apply the same procedures that work well in dealing with problems outside of us to problems inside of us.
This is a big mistake, though one that makes sense to most of us, since it is how we've succeeded in figuring out why our car won't start, how to get a better job, and so many other things that pop up every day that need dealing with.
In short, we assume that doing will work as well for our internal problems as it does for our external problems, while actually what we need is being.
We're rightly proud of what we can do through critical analytical thinking. It's one of the highest achievements of our evolutionary history as human beings and does get us out of a whole slew of fixes in life.
So when we see things are not going well in our internal, emotional life, it's hardly surprising that the mind often quickly reacts by recruiting the mode of mind that functions so effectively in solving problems in our external world.
This mode of careful analysis, problem solving, judgment, and comparison is aimed at closing the gap between the way things are and the way we think they should be -- at solving perceived problems. Therefore we call it the doing mode of mind. It's the mode by which we respond to what we hear as a call to action.
...Imagine a car trip during which, every time we check to see how close we are to our destination, we find that the car has instantly moved farther away from it. This is tantamount to what happens in the interior world of emotions and feeling states when we call in the doing mode of mind.
That's why we often find ourselves saying things like "I don't know why I feel so depressed; I've got nothing to be depressed about," and then discovering that we feel even more unhappy. We've checked our destination of feeling happy and found ourselves farther away from it. We can't seem to stop reminding ourselves how bad we feel.
No big surprise, given the title of the book, but the way out of this trap is mindfulness, which puts in a being mode of mind. A subject for another blog post.