Assimilation of the concepts herein may lead to mental anxiety if the external world is believed to be reality.
Who or What Are We?
We have an unbroken lineal connection to our very first ancestor, the bacterium/protozoa/Protista or organo-chemical molecular combination that jerked into reproductive life when the observable universe was a mere ten billion years old.
That strand of life evolved into billions of life forms (mostly now extinct) including, among the current survivors, us, leaving a trail of fossil history to prove it. It was a bumpy ride for evolving life: the planet groaned and belched fire; the crust cooled and cracked; tectonic plates drifted aimlessly about, fracturing Pangaea into continental Laurasia and Gondwana; while a cocktail of two bits of hydrogen mixed with one bit of oxygen and violently stirred by bolts of lightning formed the oceans. Survival became paramount. Anything that could not adapt to the violent upheavals was consigned to File 13: extinction.
A massive experiment was underway, in which Nature selected the fittest life forms for reproduction—i.e. fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and insects, as well as vegetation, viruses and bacteria—under constantly varying climatic conditions, providing all with the necessary instinctive behaviors needed for survival, including, most importantly, a central nervous system controlled by a brain.
We humans eventually threw off our hirsute anthropoid garments, descended to the plains, adopted bipedalism, and began to wonder what life was all about. We hunted and gathered, made babies and stone tools and spread across the planet. With not a little hubris, we eventually called ourselves wise (after we had learnt to use speech to communicate in proto language) and were able to dominate our food supplies and competitors. Eventually we discovered that, as a sapient species, we could work things out. This became an obsession and soon there was no subject on or in the earth, oceans, sky or space that we did not want to know more about. We just had to know!
This led to obsessive curiosity: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? This desire to know emanated from the brain, which was coupled to a spinal neural stalk, comprising electro-chemical relay stations. The human brain grew and grew in volume and electro-chemical neural complexity, the cranium expanding during evolutionary embryonic development to accommodate it. Our brain—together with the brains of other animals (particularly our primate relatives)—gradually became self-aware.
This needs an explanation.
The brain’s internal interactions of trillions of neurons, tightly networked three dimensionally and nourished by hormones and oxygen-rich blood, developed into a throbbing autonomous powerhouse. This dynamic state of neural activity may be defined as consciousness—a condition of self-awareness (which is absent in the pathological condition of unconsciousness). The state of consciousness is a platform which energizes the faculty we call mind or the operating system. In this state, the brain’s mind started to think, using its neural arsenal and newly acquired language and conceptual skills. True sapience emerged.
Consciousness/unconsciousness and mind are conditional states of being—attributes—and do not exist as physical entities.
The journey of evolution equipped manifest life with sensors, or senses, to allow it to survive and reproduce, a mandate handed down to all life forms from the original ancestor, via Nature. These sensors conveyed the state of the external world to the brain via neural pathways, and, via intricately interwoven somatic nerves, the state of the internal world too. The thinking brain/mind collectively became an interpreter, able to co-ordinate incoming sensations as well as internal somatic nerve impulses, with regard to its own survival.
The interpreter manipulated and assessed, as a coherent whole, the electro-chemical nervous systems, sensory input/output data, cognitive and memory functions, turning them into thought processes. This is the real causal experiencer—the quasi self.
In its broadest sense, this sequence applies to all life thus endowed.
So, with survival at stake and guided by evolutionary law, the brain formed an identity and sense of agency or selfhood. The brain thus developed into a thinking organ, wearing its concomitant body as a vehicle: with senses for spatial orientation, organs for breathing, legs for locomotion, arms for feeding, all under the interpreter’s control, via extremely complex networks of nerves. Since survival was of utmost importance to the evolving organism, automatic responses to dangerous quotidian interactions were hardwired in by nature, allowing for fight, flight, feigning, yielding and other instinctive survival behaviors. Access to memory allowed the brain’s responses, which led us to compete or co-operate, to become options, choices exercised by the faculties of discrimination and volition.
Control of autonomic life operations (heart rate, respiration, blood, hormones, cell metabolism, organ functions, salinity, temperature and moisture control, regulation of pH levels, digestion, immune systems) were denied direct access to the conscious brain by a selected genetic block, or guardian—for self-preservation. These are functions of vital importance to the organism’s survival, the responsibility for which, apparently, Nature could not trust to the brain’s conscious agency.
So, in the beginning, the physical body was formed by the natural laws of genetic inheritance, the vital awareness of which entered into the brain’s consciousness at birth. Further development of the infant’s brain took place by way of stimulation, through external and somatic impressions and speech mimicry. The brain became aware of its appendages (body/limbs) and its apparent centrality in the new environment: the brave new world. Nurture, language and mental activity followed, with the result that the brain assumed an identity and self-awareness and acted, collectively, as an interpreter.
The results of years of growth, learning, assimilation of parental and peer life interactions and social indoctrination mask the true person, the brain, with its complex cognitive ability. This faux person is merely the container, the packaging, the physical body, the one in the mirror, the one who is named and who adopts a persona or personality or ego—all of which are false. Humankind socializes, works, plays and breeds in a completely blind fashion. The brain’s eyes cannot directly see the other person/creature (who is also the brain as agent): all that the eyes see, all that the brain’s interpreter experiences, via its visual sensors, is the outer packaging. Every creature endowed with a brain is therefore invisible to every other. Shakespeare touched on this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which a frustrated Helena says, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”
Humanity’s interactions with each other are entirely based on customary conventions, conditioning, and the appearance and behavior of the vessels interacting via their respective interpreters i.e. brains. An individual’s brain utters words, performs actions and is responsible for social behavior, all of which represents the clothing of the mind. The condition of the mind—healthy or otherwise—is revealed through the quality of the subject’s behavior and speech.
When an impression arrives through a portal of sense such as sight, the brain/interpreter does not and cannot see the object located externally in space. The visual stimulus is transmitted electrically from the rods and cones in the retinas to the appropriate center in the brain, where the object is experienced in the mind. (Hamlet’s mind’s eye?) The mind (or operating system) alerts other brain centers simultaneously in order to produce a coordinated physiological response, as necessary. The evaluation of the (in this case) visual input into actual experience happens via a similar neural mechanism, which causes the manifestation and experience of dream shapes and imaginings. This mechanism is related to, and draws on, memory. It accounts for the confusion often caused by misinterpreting the outer (sensational) world from an inner (dream) world. This confusion results in the widespread but erroneous belief that the outer sensational world comprises reality, when in fact the inner world is the only reality for the subjective brain. Other sensory experiences also derive from the relevant neural memory stores, as activated by the interpreter via the faculty of imagination.
So the brain is the subjective experiencer or interpreter, who may be rightly described as I, me and my for practical purposes of identification. All one’s apparent hopes, desires and ambitions, fears and disappointments, pleasure or pain, hubris or humility, sociability or aloofness, sympathy, empathy and altruism reside in the brain, including, importantly, the illusion of free will.
Faith, belief, opinion, religion, intelligence, philosophy, art, superstition; language and creative skills; study, meditation; achievements deemed successes or failures; love, happiness or depression; courage or cowardice; extraversion or introversion; technical mastery or emotional disturbance; and all habits may be laid at the door of the brain’s interpreter.
Soul, Essence, Psyche, Aatman and all such names for a quasi transcendent entity within are by definition false. Only the living brain is credible.
At last, we have an answer to those enduring enigmatic statements:
- Know thyself (the brain is the knower and the self);
- I am not this body it is an instrument for my use (I and my are the brain).
Can the brain as interpreter experience an awareness of itself?
Yes! It would require a specific condition to achieve this: complete stillness and mental inactivity, such as may be obtained by meditation. This would produce a state of pure being: a conscious state of rest and serenity, unqualified is-ness.
All personal experience of the world is subjective, having entered through the portals of sense, dream or memory. No experience is possible—be it pain or pleasure, ecstasy or despair—unless it is experienced in the brain. External objects—stars or rocks, oceans or mountains, people or animals—all provide the sensory stimulus for subjective experience, but can never be experienced objectively.
What about the rest of living creatures, our natural kin?
Similarly, they experience life subjectively only. According to their respective degrees of brain development and communication skills, they think, possibly in pictures or desires. The fact that Homo sapiens occupies (however unethically) prime position on earth is due to his brain’s acquisition and practical (mis)use of reason, perhaps the most important mental function.
Do different agents experience similar impressions in the same way as each other? Do I see what you see?
Yes! Inter-subjectivity is revealed by group activity—in business, socializing, sport, aggressive or peaceful interaction. In the absence of mental pathology, all species with similarly evolved equipment clearly do have the same or similar subjective experiences under the same or similar circumstances.
What could account for anti-social or criminal behavior in humans?
The answer is obvious. Behavior antagonistic to the march through time of the naturally selected individual, or the species, indicates pathology in the perpetrator’s brain, with or without dysfunctional nurturing in the formative years. Neural complexity in the brain and central nervous system is vulnerable to the detrimental physical effects of disease, drugs or injury, or the harmful anti-social psychological effects of toxic conditioning.
We are our brains.
Practical Self-Use of the Brain
The mind, like an undisciplined child, sometimes wanders off in directions unproductive to its own well-being. Without self regulation or restraint it may enter a dark state, characterized by negativity, resentment, bitterness, sadness and depression. If chronic, this may lead to self destruction.
It behooves the brain’s interpreter/mind to recognize its waywardness at an early stage, otherwise a remedy will be difficult, if not impossible, to apply.
One procedure that the brain can adopt to create a peaceful condition or avoid a dark state is as follows:
- Using its skeletal muscles and spatial competency, it must select a comfortable seat to rest its body on, ensuring that its spinal column is upright and balanced. Appropriate times of the day for this exercise are sunrise and sunset.
- The brain should now disengage its optical resources via the body’s eye shutters (close the eyes) and remain in an attentive state.
- The brain’s interpreter will now become aware of its own thinking process: thoughts dredged from its conscious memory will arise and disappear randomly.
- It is crucial that the interpreter’s attention does not engage with any of the fleeting thoughts or visions but merely observe their motions. To assist this observation process, it may be useful to fix the attention on a repeating sound (mantra) or regular body function (breathing/heartbeat).
- After a period of dedicated (inner) objectivity, thought activity will slow and eventually cease.
- The absence of mental activity will result in the brain’s entering a peaceful state of rest. This will dispel any original negative mental disturbances, which will simply melt away.
This procedure may be described as re-booting the mind. It is motivated and controlled by the brain itself and it is important to realize that feelings of self-worth or despair, joy or sadness, are the result of neuronal activity.
The practical implications of the concept that we, brain-endowed creatures, are invisible to each other suggest that:
- all seven billion humans and trillions of natural beings do not, cannot, see each other in the hitherto conventional sense.
- only the external packaging is indirectly experienced: indirectly since the experience occurs in the observer’s subjective brain.
- I love you, my darling when removed of its sentimental context, is one brain (#1) informing another brain (#2) that brain #1 admires the packaging of brain #2 and as per the dictate of Nature’s reproduction fiat hopes to replicate it.
NB: It’s not my packaging in love with your packaging, since my packaging is essentially senseless (only the brain senses).
- So how does everyone coexist, while remaining invisible to one another? Obviously, all interactions are brain-to-brain, each interpreter acting appropriately, according to circumstance.
- Note the deception offered by the idea of the packaging.
Here is Shakespeare’s allegory of the golden casket, from The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio is attempting to win the hand of Portia:
So may the outward shows be least themselves;
The world is still deceiv’d with ornament …
Thus ornament is but the gulled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the most beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest. Therefore thou gaudy gold,
Hard food for Midas I will none of thee.