The physiology of being versus the stuff we tell ourselves
Given humanity is facing a range of problems, the quantity of which we have not experienced in history, it would be worthwhile to start an objective discussion about the situation, rather than leave it up to emotion and conflict to decide our future.
What is the nature of human experience?
We are mobile, intentional organisms, with a sequential process of perception, analysis and decision making, in order to navigate our situation.
While it might seem we perceive the world around us in a fairly straightforward fashion, the mechanics are somewhat analogous to a motion picture, as our minds create these flashes of perception, so that it is not a whiteout of overwhelming light and information. This process then permeates every aspect of our thinking, as we constantly sort through the overall noise for the signals that fit into our model of reality. Making reductionism primary to thought.
Occasionally though, these nuggets of insight leave us at loose ends, when they are too removed from their original context. The usual reaction is to find a solution to fit the problem at hand, but occasionally these patches no longer work and we have to step back and look to see if there might be an answer in the bigger picture. The networks in which our bubbles of perception reside.
So what I’m proposing, is to really step back. To try to blank sheet our existence and the process leading up to this point in history.
We have had this linear, go forth and multiply, bottom line, quantized, atomized, monetized, idealized vision of life building up and leading us on for thousands of years, but the feedback and blowback is starting to catch up. How might we envision a more cyclical, reciprocal, integrated, analog understanding of life, as that seems to be how nature actually functions?
One of the more obvious observations is that as these mobile beings, with a narrative based culture and civilization, we are weaned on the notion of time as the point of the present, moving past to future. Even physics codifies it as measures of duration, in order to correlate with measures of distance.
The reality is that change turns future to past. Potential, actual, residual. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns. Duration is this physical state, as events form and dissolve.
There is no literal “dimension” of time, because the past is consumed by the present, in order to inform and drive it. Aka, causality and conservation of energy.
Energy is “conserved,” because it is always and only present. It is the state of this dynamic which is the present, not some dimensionless point between past and future.
As such, time is an effect of this activity, similar to temperature, pressure, color, etc. We could use ideal gas laws to correlate volume with temperature and pressure, but no one refers to them as the 5th and 6th dimensions of space, because they are only foundational to our emotions, bodily functions and environment, not the sequence of perception. Think frequencies and amplitudes.
The left, cause and effect, logical hemisphere of the brain is analogous to a clock/ruler, while the right, emotional, intuitive side is to a thermostat/barometer.
Different clocks can run at different rates simply because they are separate actions, no space travel required.
The fact that much of human history has been about getting everyone following the same narrative, adhering to the same rules, dancing to the same tunes, playing the same games, speaking the same languages, using the same measurements, trading in the same currencies, etc, it might seem like there should be a universal time, but there is rabbit time, turtle time, tree time, etc.
When everyone is playing the same game, for the same goals, it becomes a race and everyone is on rabbit time, but the turtle is still plodding along, long after the rabbit has died.
A large part of what allows life to be so diverse and so integrated, is that everything doesn’t have the same goals, follow the same rules, speak the same languages, use the same currencies. Everything is finding their own niches in the bigger system.
Which goes further into our modeling. As these mobile organisms, with a narrative based culture, those stories with the most compelling plot line are the most widely told, so the assumption becomes that life must lead to some pot of literal, or figurative gold, at the end of the narrative arc. On this basis, much of society is defined, from religion, to economics. Heaven, to the bottom line.
As there is only this present state, it does open up seriously different ways to think of reality. We are the only life form to escape the present, but it is still the essence of reality.
For example, we aspire to a temporal immortality, as a continuation of our journey and process of perception, yet we are all just lenses through which this light of cognition shines. So the only real immortality is in that presence. The element of being motivating all life, such that when we truly connect, it is like two magnets, becoming one. We become extensions of each other, like a tool or a book is an extension of our minds and bodies.
Consider a fully formed thought as like a cresting wave. It is only complete as it is finalized and so we really only see a reality that is fading into the past. It is our emotions and instinct, the thermostat and barometer, that sense the wave starting to build, as well as feel that underlaying turbulence. Once we have cognitively processed and finalized it, the energy has started to recede, leaving only the residual structure, of memory.
Consider then, this relationship between energy and form. Galaxies are energy radiating out, as form coalesces in. Our bodies have the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems processing the energy driving us on, along with a central nervous system to sort through all the forms precipitating out, as well as referee the emotions and impulses bubbling up.
Societies are the organic energies bubbling up, while civil and cultural forms coalesce in. Youth and age, liberal and conservative.
While morality and ethics are taught as right and wrong, the fact is that good and bad are not some cosmic duel between the forces of righteousness and evil, but the basic biological binary of beneficial and detrimental. The 1/0 of life. Even bacteria sense that dichotomy. When we treat it as aspiration, rather than elemental bits of preference, conflicts naturally polarize into us versus them and any effort to consider nuance and complexity is shunned. This is because our base emotional response is fear and greed. Yet all the higher order emotions and impulses, respect, responsibility, trust, love, humility, honor, etc, are complex interactions of this push/pull, much as a computer program is based on 1/0. Consequently when conflicts arise, rather than each holding the other to a higher standard of human decency and evolved culture, potentially using such obstacles as opportunities to further advance and refine society, it becomes a race to the bottom, of us versus them, black and white.
Such as with the prisoner’s dilemma, or the tragedy of the commons. Thus our Kafkaesque situation of today, where many of those in charge seemingly lack any sense of honor and trust, yet remain publicly respected, while those trying to shine light on their deeds are treated as the criminals.
The real tension and conflict of life is between desire and judgement. The heart and gut driving us on, versus the head doing the steering. Our desires, like the future, are nearly infinite, leaving the judgment to decide which are to be encouraged, which to be tolerated, which discouraged and which to be resisted. The fact is that we can’t take both directions at every fork in the road. Not every acorn gets to be an oak tree. Short term desires and longer term goals don’t always fit together. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Yet without that desire, judgement is meaningless. It is the appetite that gives the banquet of life meaning. The desire that makes the objects of desire special.
So we fluctuate between the anarchy of desire and the tyranny of judgement. Feedback.
Process churns along, past to future, while the patterns generated rise and fall, future to past.
Consciousness goes past to future, while thoughts and feelings go future to past.
Lives go birth to death, while life goes onto the next generation, shedding the old.
Even products go start to finish, while the production line goes the other way, consuming material and expelling product.
The feedback is that patterns define and direct the process.
Such as that while thought may be slower than our instinctive reactions, its executive function is cognition, recognition and reflection. In order that future reactions are better informed.
Motor and steering.
The future is not determined, as the process of calculation only exists as the present. The total input into any situation cannot be known prior to its occurrence, so neither can its output.
While free will is an oxymoron, as a will free of cause would be equally free of effect and the premise of will is to affect. We are part of nature’s process of selection.
The future is as much a reaction to the present, as a continuation of it. Fluctuations and feedback.
What this train of thought expresses is that life is more the yin and yang of energy and form, desire and judgement, than it is any singular entity. Every node exists in its network. Our process of reason is reductionism and contextualization. A truth is relevant to its context.
The fallacy of monotheism is that a spiritual absolute would be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell.
We may have this ideal of a father figure lawgiver, but the absolute and the ideal are not the same. That consciousness both seeks form and seeks to transcend it, makes the ideal a very slippery concept. The absolute is where everything sums out. The zero between positive and negative. The opposite of the absolute is the infinite, where everything fades out. We fluctuate somewhere in between.
The God of monotheism is a cultural construct, to give form to society and the spirit manifesting it. Yet without the balance of context, this ideal can become a tyranny. The divine right of kings. Democracy and republicanism evolved in pantheistic societies and when we went back to them as political models, separation of church and state, culture and civics, became necessary.
The Ancients didn’t distinguish between religion and culture, so pantheism was their interpretation of the multiculturalism that occurred as humanity advanced from individual tribes to cities and states. Monotheism was an effort to meld these diverse beliefs into singular communities and it had as many complications as it does today.
So what if there is no ultimate moral ideal and goal? Would facing up to it be better than constantly chasing down one ideology after another and eventually finding their weak spots?
The fact is that life evolves upward, branching outward and tends to congeal around those laying down initial patterns. This has its pros and cons, but if you don’t like it, study the weaknesses on the structures possibly deterring progress. Obviously those currently defined by these structures will resist, but it is that tension and friction that tests everyone and everything.
For example, the world’s current primary ideology is capitalism and while it is evident there is something wrong with a system intent on abstracting all value out of everything and storing it in the financial sector, there doesn’t seem any obvious solutions, since finance serves as the exchange mechanism of mass society.
Then again monarchy once seemed pretty infallible as a political institutionalization of tribal authority….
Capitalism is identified as free market economics, but the problem is that the tool which enables markets to function, money, has become their God. It is no longer about the efficient transfer of value, as it is about creating near infinite amounts of money, as an end in itself. Desire run amok.
As a medium of exchange, money can occasionally be a commodity in itself, such as gold, or bitcoin, but what is mostly used amounts to a contract, with one side an asset and the other a debt.
Now we individually experience it as quantified hope and try saving and storing it, like it is a commodity. Even Econ 101 tells us money is a medium of exchange, store of value and price setting mechanism, though that last is a function of being a medium.
Yet medium and store are distinctly different, as one is dynamic, while the other is static. Blood is a medium, while fat is a store. Roads are a medium, while parking lots are a store. Doctors and highway engineers would never confuse the two, so are economists missing something?
For one thing, in order to store the asset, similar amounts of debt have to be generated. This creates a centripetal effect, as positive feedback draws the asset to the center of the community, while negative feedback pushes the debt to the edges. To a degree, this can be brutally healthy. Yet it can easily get out of hand and destroy the community and economy. Younger generations drowning in debt cannot support the future of the system.
The Ancients used debt jubilees to overcome this, but in our fast paced reality, the current powers that be lack the necessary perspective.
Given the financial system acts as the value circulation mechanism of society, the effect is like the heart telling the hands and feet they don’t need so much blood and should work harder for what they do get. As such, it’s like clogged arteries and the solution, quantitive easing, is like high blood pressure to compensate.
The other primary problem is that the government has been manipulated into being borrower of last resort. Where would those trillions go otherwise? Derivatives? Junk bonds? Blow the market bubble up a little more? Public debt is used to back private wealth. As much of this gets poured into the military, we are fighting endless, strategically inept wars and building weapons boondoggles in order to spend the money, so more can be borrowed, keeping Wall St. happy.
As a medium, the functionality of money is in its fungibility. We own it like we own the section of road we are using, or the fluids passing through our bodies. It has to be regulated as such. The punch bowl gets taken away, when the party gets going, not more vodka poured in, when it gets low.
The fact is that no matter how much we believe in our objective, linear, goal oriented reality, it still exists in this cyclical, reciprocal, feedback driven nature and simply pushing up an enormous wave of political, bureaucratic, institutional power only means it will crash that much harder. The foundations are not rock, but the network giving it strength and support. When the node becomes dis-attached from its network, as many of our political, media and economic power players seem to be dis-attached from the broader society, the effect is like a scab, slowly peeling away from the organism giving rise to it.
Just as a hypothetical, what if the government were to threaten to tax out what it currently borrows? Obviously just hypothetically, as those holding the debt effectively own the government, much as the bank holding your mortgage effectively owns your house, but just suppose;
People would have to start finding other ways to store value, than just in their bank accounts, if the financial system cannot create nearly infinite amounts of debt.
Now we all save for many of the same reasons, from raising children and housing, to healthcare and retirement, so if ways could be developed to invest in these functions communally, than everyone trying to save for them individually, we would have stronger communities and the healthier environments they would insist on.
As it is, our individualistic ethos leaves us with an atomized culture, that is more easily controlled by institutional authorities and mediated by a predatory financial system. Networks matter as much as the nodes.
Not that banking can be a direct function of government, any more than the head and the heart are the same. Politicians live and die on the hope they inspire, so printing more money has always been an easy cheat.
The fact is that the climate doesn’t need us saving it. A hundred million years from now, the last ten thousand years and the next ten thousand years will be several inches of coal, whatever we do. That’s earth time. It is the human conscience that needs saving, if we ever hope to make amends with our planet. Maybe a hundred thousand protesters camped outside the court, for Julian Assange’s trial, might be a start. That would give a direct message to those most responsible for wasting the collective effort, that they really cannot hide and cannot scare everyone into submission.
I could go on with this, but I would mostly like to see a conversation started, where we could sort through the big picture, than having everyone running to their corners and proclaiming everyone else wrong and evil.