Archives for category: Frames of mind

As much as we’d like it to be unique, reality is a spectrum.

Varying from factual to ‘seat of the pants’. And everything in between.

But what is this thing we call ‘reality’?

The key word here being “we”, of course!

First of all, reality is a concept. Which covers everything we know it exists ‘out there’.
Mind you, not everything ’which exists out there’, only ‘what we know about’.

We know about how?
Here’s where things become really interesting.

Maturana says that we, humans, are the first animals able to ‘observe themselves observing’ – his definition of ‘self-awareness’.
We not only observe things, we’ve developed the ability to set them apart from us. To understand that ‘things’ are both separated from us and still connected to us.
Even this understanding of ours comes in various degrees.
Some of us behave as if there is no tomorrow while others have developed intricate thought systems which connect our past actions (a.k.a. ‘sins’) with our future (a.k.a. ‘redemption’).

‘But most of the religious people base their faith on myths rather than facts!’

Well… myths are facts too.
Not in the sense that all the content of all myths had necessarily happened!
My point being that a story becomes a myth/fact as soon as enough people believe in it. Regardless of that story being a factual description of a real incident, an interpretation thereof or even the figment of somebody’s imagination.

Too much confusion… facts are no longer factual, reality is no longer real… everything is in a sort of limbo…

Yep. You’ve got the gist of it.
Our own consciousness has thrown us in limbo. Which, obviously, is yet another of our own inventions…
The funniest thing being that our consciousness hates being in limbo. And tries to explain everything it comes in contact with. Which explains why we have so many myths.

Now, if we want to explain the difference between the factual and the seat of the pants realities, we need to retrace the whole argument.

We have the ‘real’ reality – everything that exists out there, and the conceptual one. Everything that actually exists versus what we know it exists. Or it may exist.
What we know it exists can be further divided into things we think we have completely understood, things we ‘know’ but we still cannot fully explain and things which continue to baffle us.
For instance, we think we know everything there is to be known about internal combustion engines, we know when we are in love but we cannot explain ‘love’ and we are completely baffled by the callousness of some of our brethren.

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Perfection is absolute. Hence unattainable.
Yet chasing it constantly improves the reckless who attempt it… simultaneously keeping their pride at bay.

Success is relative. Hence always reachable.
All you have to do is beat all your opponents. Preferably to a pulp.
The only limitation being that you are expected to remain inside the rules.
Only nobody says anything if you bend them. No matter how ‘creatively’.

Well, this is yet another perfect example of a sentence simultaneously true, false and indeterminable …

First of all, it is indeterminable simply because we’ll never know, let alone ‘for sure’, everything ‘under the sun’.
It is obviously false because we continuously discover things previously unknown to us. From another trench on the bottom of the ocean to a new satellite circling around Jupiter. Not to mention the huge number of materials and gadgets which have not ‘seen the light of day’ until the moment they have been invented by us. And they might have been made starting with raw materials which had previously existed… but denying their novelty would be shortsighted… to say the least.
And it is obviously true because no matter how many things we have discovered/invented, we have remained practically the same. We entertain the same passions and fears, we continue to behave in certain ways…

And the worst part is our refusal to learn from past experiences…

We’ve experienced the malignant consequences of the extreme ‘propaganda’ used by the nazis during WWII.
By the communist regimes trying to build ‘the new man’.
And we’re currently ‘repackaging’ the same king of destructive propaganda into ‘fake news‘…

Are we nuts?

Specially that we already know that what we learn actually changes our brain

Until some two and a half centuries ago, there were two kinds of people.
Those who did, because they could, almost all that crossed their minds.
And those who had to suck it up, because that was all they could do.

OK, there had been, for a few millennia, a Middle Eastern religion whose teachings suggested that all humans had been created equal – because all of them had been made to resemble their creator,… but not very many people used to bother with this interpretation…

Then, all of a sudden, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

From that moment on, all of us have started to ‘have rights’. To express our opinions about things, to carry arms…

And we eventually made full use of those rights… by publishing porn magazines, by buying, for our own protection, AR-15s…

Some American states, Florida among them, have recently stated that people have the right to ‘stand their ground’. Or, more exactly, to defend the ground where they happen to be at any one moment. Using deadly force, if necessary. As if it that ground were their castle.

A few days ago, a guy had parked his car on a spot reserved for people with special needs. Right in front of a convenience store. He went in, accompanied by his five years old boy to buy something, leaving his woman and his other children in the car.
Another guy, apparently having ‘the right’ to park in that spot – the first one didn’t, came up and engaged the woman about the whole situation. The driver came back from the store, exchanged some words with the ‘challenger’ and then shoved him to the ground.
The challenger drew his gun and shot the offending driver, despite the fact that he wasn’t in any immediate danger – after shoving the challenger to the ground, the bully had retreated a few paces.

According to Florida statutes, what had happened was nothing more than ‘self defense’, a.k.a. ‘holding your ground’. Furthermore, the gun involved in the incident was registered and the owner had a permit to carry it around. No charges was pressed.

Which makes me wonder…
We have these “unalienable rights”… including that to ‘pursue our happiness’ … but do we really need to press them on… regardlessly?

The ‘bully’ parked where he was not supposed to because he wanted to buy an ice-cream for his toddler – I’m imagining things here, I confess.
The ‘shooter’ wanted to use his right to park there, so he confronted the woman he found in the wrongfully parked car.
The bully returned to his car and, perceiving a threat to his family, used his right to defend it.
The shooter eventually ‘stood his ground’ and walked scot-free…

You see, I not trying to make any fine point here. To contest the concept of ‘standing your ground’ or the idea of people carrying heat when shopping for groceries…

I’m just wondering… what happened to the concept of ‘rights’? Why some of us have arrived to see them as obligations?

The whole thing might have started as the deceased parked in the wrong place…. but if the shooter had chosen to call the cops instead of confronting the guy… he wouldn’t have had to shoot the ‘bully’ in front of his children….

https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/7/23/17602312/stand-your-ground-florida-michael-drejka-markeis-mcglockton

As I mentioned before, life is about individual organisms being able to interact with their environment and species being able to evolve as a reaction to what happens in the same environment.

Interaction between environment and individual organisms is based on sensations.
The organism ‘feels’ itself and its environment and (re)acts  based on the gathered information.

The (re)action ca be very basic – as in voluntarily abstaining from breathing when submerged in water, to utterly sublime. Writing a love poem or saving a toddler from a burning house.

Please note that only writing a love poem ‘demands’ a human being. Abstaining from breathing while under water comes naturally for all animals which don’t have gills while saving a toddler from a burning house can be very well ‘performed’ by a dog.

I mentioned earlier that (re)actions can be grouped in three large categories. ‘Mechanical’, ‘learned’ and ‘self-supervised’, a.k.a intentional.

The ‘mechanical’ ones being those also known as ‘instinctive’. They are practically inscribed in our DNA and constitute our default mode. None of us – plant, animal or human, needs any training whatsoever in order to ‘perform’ them.

The ‘learned’ – or ‘trained’, (re)actions are those which depend heavily on past experience. They start from the same kind of sensations as the instinctive ones but the organism takes the time to transform the sensation into a perception before (re)acting.
A very good example would be riding a bike. A child can learn to do it well before becoming able to entertain such complicated notions as ‘destination’ or ‘goal’. They are simply happy to do it. Same thing being valid for trained circus dogs or monkeys.

The really tricky (re)actions are the ‘intentional’ ones. Those which are performed under self supervision. Of which we are, at least perfunctorily, aware.

‘OK, very nice recap. You’ve already covered this ground. Get to the point!’

I’ve already reached it.
According to this ‘scheme’, given the fact that we pretend to be rational and that we all live in the same world, all of us should behave more or less in the same manner. Right?

‘Like bees? Or ants? Like a school of fish?’

Yeah, something along that line…

‘Or like Pol Pot/B.F. Skinner tried to teach their respective followers?’

You’re stretching it a little bit but yes, you could say that …

‘But this ain’t happening! Not even the most bigoted followers of any cult nor even the most disciplined soldiers will ever behave in such a manner…’

I told you we’d already reached ‘the point’! You made it yourself…

And here’s why:

Yes, we all live in the same world.
More or less…

But we shouldn’t forget the differences!

Biological ones come first.
Those which make each of us feel differently, even when all of us experience the very same conditions. Temperature, time past from the last meal, elevation from the sea level, etc., etc.

On top of those come the ‘social’ differences.
In this instance ‘social’ has a far wider meaning than in everyday life. Yes, there is a huge difference between individuals belonging to different social strata but that’s only a small part of what I have in mind.
‘Social’ differences means all differences consecutive to the ‘mere’ existence of human society.
Let’s make a thought experiment and evaluate the ‘social’ differences between a guy born in what we now call France some 20 000 years ago and another guy born in the same place 2 000 years later. What do you reckon?
OK. Now let’s consider a Frenchman born in 1920 – two years after the end of the WWI, and his son, born in 1947. Would it make any sense to compare the two sets of differences? Those between the conditions encountered by the two prehistoric guys separated by two almost inconsequential millennia and those encountered by the father and son born 27 years apart in the XX-th century?
Or we could compare a native of the Amazonian forest to a New Yorker. Both born in, say, 1999. Statistics have it that the Amazonian native might already be dead…

Small wonder then that perceptions are so different from one individual to another… given that individual perceptions depend on both our senses and our individual experiences – which, in their turn, depend heavily on where and when each of us have been born.

Right now I feel the need to insist on the difference between sensation and perception.
Sensation being, simply put, what we feel while perception is what reaches our conscious mind.

‘What?!?’

Yeah…  strange, isn’t it?
Let’s return to ‘riding a bike’ for a moment.
It was a big moment when your dad removed the ‘helper’ wheels and you soloed for the first time, right? Just as big as when you walked for the first time… only you can’t remember that, do you?…
You were paying very close attention to everything you were doing… while your father kept telling you ‘relax, you’ll be fine’…
And now – if you’re still riding, of course, you do it instinctively. You pay attention only to where you’re going, without bothering about maintaining the balance or other ‘mundane’ things like that. The whole process takes place ‘behind the scene’. It was you who had learned what to do. Consciously, of course. Only once learned, the whole ‘thinking process’ was moved ‘to the attic’. Out of the way, that is.
There are a lot of things which are done in this manner. Subconsciously and not unconsciously. Riding bikes, driving cars, operating machinery… perceiving the world…
We learn how to do it – according to some rules which depend on our culture, and then we continue to do it subconsciously. For all our lives or until something happens. For instance, until we move to a country where they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. And we have to learn some new rules…

Otherwise put, ‘perceiving’ means subconsciously making sense of what we feel by using some previously acquired ‘rules of thumb’. Those who specialize in this field use ‘heuristics’ to describe them.
The problem with the rules of thumb being that they can very easily become ‘cognitive biases’. A.k.a. ‘fences’ which divert us from the ‘straight and narrow’. As in the situation when some of us feel uneasy in the presence of an unknown person with a different skin color.

‘But what happens when consciousness kicks in?’

I thought you’d never ask…

It depends.
On many things. Both ‘social’ and individual.
On the education experienced by each particular individual, on their ‘brain power’ and, last but not least, on something vaguely called ‘individual character’. Something which some people are convinced it can be educated, one way or another, while others are convinced it is ‘hard wired’ into each of us.
If you ask me, both are right. In various, individual, degrees. Character has as much to do with how each of us have internalized their particular experiences as it has with how much ‘spiritual stamina’ exists into each of our souls.

On the practical side of the matter, after each perception reaches the frontier of our consciousness, each of us starts digesting it in earnest. As in attributing ‘value’ to it. Determining whether what has just happened was a consequence of an intention or a happenstance.  Then whether that intention was good or bad. And, finally, the ‘judging’ consciousness establishes a plan of action.  Which can vary from ‘do nothing’ to ‘no holds barred’.

Which explains why no two people will ever react in exactly the same manner when confronted with the very same set of circumstances. There are no two individuals who feel exactly the same, have been exposed to the very same cultural influences AND internalized them in exactly the similar manner. Nor have exactly similar characters and amounts of brain-power.

But what was Mathew trying to tell us?
I’m afraid we are dealing  here with a badly translated metaphor.
‘Poor in spirit’ doesn’t make much sense… unless we consider it an attempt to dull our senses… which may make some sense in certain circumstances…
Only I’m more interested here to determine what Mathew tried to say rather than to interpret the intentions of those who had done the translation. And of those who had, manually, copied the many successive generations of Bibles which had been produced until Gutenberg had, for the first time, printed it in many identical copies.
So, the way I see it, Mathew was speaking of those who are able to stop their conscious mind from building far-flung ‘scenarios’ out of everything that happens to them. Or in their vicinity.

Very similar to the Buddhist concept of ‘non-attachment’?

Well… we do live in the same world, after-all… and we have been ‘made’, more or less, ‘the same’.
We might not be identical, nor having had the very same experiences during our lives… but we do have a lot in common. Despite our differences.

In one of my previous posts, I was arguing about everything belonging to one of these three categories: ‘Aphasic’, Alive and Alert.

The point I’m trying to make now being that each of us ‘rubber-stamps’, according to their individually biased interpretation, each people who crosses their path into one of those three categories.

Some consider that the ‘brain dead’ should be ‘eugenized’ while Plato had talked himself into believing that the ordinary people were too stupid to participate into the collective decision making process and should have been governed by specially trained ‘king-priests’. Thus setting the stage for all subsequent dictatorships, by offering any would-be authoritarian figure a ‘solid’ philosophical backing….

Meanwhile, the ‘alert’ among us are doing their best – or their worst, to accede to the ‘king-priest’ status.

Their favorite method?
You must have already inferred from the title… interpreting the law to fit their goals.
Or even rewriting it to that purpose.

In a yet older post, I mentioned that rules, a.k.a. laws, are made by us.

Intentionally, all of them. Regardless of their nature. Regardless of us only having discovered some of them – like the law of gravity, convened on others – like driving on only one side of the road, or having devised yet others ‘out of the blue’ – the rules for playing bridge, for instance.

Coming back to the judicial system, it’s simple to notice that even here the laws belong to the same three broad categories.

‘Don’t kill/steal’ are ‘natural’. People – well, most of them, have long ago understood/noticed/learned that it’s far more comfortable to live in a society were people don’t kill each-other. Hence they felt the need to set an uniform manner in which to react to ‘trespassers’.

Then, as social life became more complex, people have felt the need to ‘code’ many of the frequently occurring interactions. Matrimony, for instance. Or inheritance. Commercial law. And so on.

Finally, as we’ve become more ‘sophisticated’, some of us have started to ‘jump the gun’. Or to put the wagon in front of the horses…
Believing that laws, if enforced forcefully enough, can change – more or less ‘overnight’, human behavior, they started to impose over the rest of the society various ‘synthetic’ ones.
For instance, the communists have imposed their weltanschauung over the societies which have been weak enough to accept it… Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the only instance in which the more powerful have imposed ‘new’ laws over those who were too weak to protest efficiently. The Spanish have forcefully baptized the Aztec and the Inca, the North American Whites have transformed the more or less nomad ‘Indians’ into ‘reservation’ dwellers while imposing abject servitude upon imported Irish and then African people…

And so on…

 

 

Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?

 

Human Nature as a social construct

Now, that some doctors are not only able but also willing to perform sex/life changing surgery, the subject has spawned a rather hot debate.

The ‘inputs’ being ‘sex’, ‘gender’ and ‘how each of us feels about it’.

Feels about what?

Well… this is the tricky part.
The what of the matter isn’t so simple…

There are so many things that might be felt here…

How each of us feels about the sex they have been born with.
How each of us feels about the gender role assigned to their particular sex by the particular culture into which they have been born.
How each of us feels about those who have enough courage/money to assume another gender/change their sex.

Please note that while neither the society nor the individuals have anything to do with the birth sex, both the society and the individuals are instrumental in shaping all those feelings.

Since sex/gender is too ‘hot’ right now, let me take a parallel road.

Many of my friends are glad when I invite them to dinner. To a home cooked dinner.
Their appreciation has driven me to improve my cooking skills, over time.
Yet in my culture, men are not supposed to cook – if they are not professionals, of course.
Which I’m not.
Yet very few people, if any at all, see anything strange here.
That being the social construct part.
On the other hand, cooking implies certain individual characteristics. For instance, I find it harder when my nose is running. I have to do it ‘mechanically’. It also demands a lot of patience and the ability to plan in advance. Not to mention the fact that one needs both hands.
My point being that cooking, and gender, is based on a certain physical configuration – both hands, a working nose – a certain state of mind AND a lot of study/social conditioning.

My real point being that every ‘social construct’ is based on ‘nature’.
Just as no builder will ever be able to build anything without ‘bricks’, no society will ever be able to build anything out of nothing.
And just as all builders have to adapt their plans to what they have at their disposal, all social constructs will be limited by ‘human nature’ – how ever adaptable and ingenuous it might be.

Now it’s the moment to remind you that other cultures have dealt differently with this matters. Driven by different kinds of necessity.

“It began hundreds of years ago, deep in the Albanian Alps—an unusual tradition where women, with limited options in life, took the oath of the burrnesha. A pledge to live as a man. To dress like a man, to work like a man, to assume the burdens and the liberties of a man. But these freedoms came with a price: The burrneshas also made a pledge of lifelong celibacy. Today these sworn virgins live on, but their numbers have dwindled. Many Albanians don’t even know they exist. What happens when the society that created you no longer needs you? And how do you live in the meantime?”

 

“In Samoa, gender identity is largely based on a person’s role in the family and if one family has numerous sons and no daughters, it’s not uncommon to raise one of the boys as a girl.

In fact, being a Fa’afaine or the practice of males adopting female gender roles and the attributes traditionally associated with women is deeply embedded in much of Polynesia.”

Confused?

You’re not alone…

“Some Polynesian elders believe there are boys born with the “Fa’afafine spirit,” while others say it can be nurtured.”

 

Every thing we may find around us can be stashed in one of these three categories.

Only the boundaries between them are not so clear as it may seem at first glance.

”Aphasic” means ‘being unable to speak, even though your ‘throat’ and your intelligence seem to be OK. By stretching the term, one can use it to describe the inability to get in sync with the ‘exterior’. To react other than in a purely ‘mechanical’ manner. Push back with an equal force, sneeze when inhaling an allergen… you get my drift.

‘Alive’ is, at least apparently, a little simpler.
There are many definitions for ‘life’ but none is considered ‘good enough’. Yet all of us are convinced they know what ‘alive’ means.
In my view, life is a multi-generational affair. For starters, Darwin’s ‘seminal’ book was “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life”. ‘Species’ and ‘Races’ mean genetic information transmitted over many generations. The transmission mechanism being accurate enough to preserve the species as long as nothing happens yet flexible enough to allow for evolution to proceed when the prevailing conditions allow/demand it.

‘Alert’ is even simpler.
Quick to see, understand, and act in a particular situation“.

As I mentioned earlier, these categories only seem clear cut.

While it’s obvious that a boulder, or even a fully functional gas engine, can be safely tucked away into the ‘aphasic’ drawer, what are we going to do with somebody suffering with senile dementia? And, for good measure, well past the ‘reproductive age’…. Can that person be considered alive? Truly alive?
What about the ‘brain dead’ – literally, those who cannot do anything by themselves, but who are young enough and otherwise able to procreate?
Furthermore, it is very easy to say ‘that kid is very alert’ when describing a ‘tomboy’. Or a trader dealing on the New York Stock Exchange Floor. But can we use the same concept when describing the fly which has successfully evaded all our attempts to catch it?

A blonde was playing Trivial Pursuit one night… It was her turn.

She rolled the dice and she landed on Science & Nature.

Her question was, ‘If you are in a vacuum and someone calls your name, can you hear it?’

She thought for a time and then asked, ‘Is it on or off?‘”

Have you stopped laughing?
Gave it a thought?

Her answer wasn’t so ‘out of tune’, was it?

‘If you are in a vacuum and someone calls your name, can you hear it?’

For those who haven’t yet seen my point, consider this.

If you find yourself in ‘outer space’ without a breathing apparatus, would you really care about anything else?
If ‘someone’ was in ‘outer space’, inside a breathing apparatus this time, would their calls be audible outside the apparatus?
If inside a breathing apparatus, could you hear anything if the comm were out? Or ‘out of tune’ with that used by ‘someone’?

And you thought she was asking whether the vacuum ‘cleaner’ was on or off, didn’t you?!?

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