Once I was watching a small insect fly about and was amazed that its small neural mass could do such a thing, almost as if it were a miracle. But, as I looked about I saw many insects flying and crawling about. Then I remembered what I said once, that on the mountainside there are probably billions of insects. Then it occured to me that the workings of their neural mass can’t be that complicated or miraculous for there are so many . . . its almost too common. It became clear to me that I was making things out far too complicated and fantastic than they really were. I saw how I was “too amazed” to envision the brain correctly and that it somehow clouded my understanding. On reflection, I felt that this was true in my understanding of the “brain,” the “mind”, and “life” in general. In fact, almost all perceptions of “life”, I found, was influenced by this sense of “amazement”. As a result of this, It became clear to me that this sense of “amazement” had great impact on how we perceive life.
What is this “amazement” I speak of?
It seems that one of the best examples of “amazement” involves feelings that often surround death (at least for me). When a person dies we feel, perhaps, this “amazement” in its most profound form. There a person that was once alive, with a distinct personality, who was moving, talking, and walking is now completely and absolutely still. This often stunned me when I went to funerals . . . the incredible stillness of death. I once remarked that the stillness that surrounds a dead body is the most stillest thing in the world, nothing is more “still”. This is because a living personality . . . a person . . . a human being . . . has ‘gone’, disappeared. Its absence created a stillness that seemed almost profound, almost frightening. This sense is really a version of the “amazement”. Its an amazement of life, of livingness, found through its disapearance, sort of like a ‘negative amazement’.
At a funeral I would often look at some inanimate object, like a chair, and ask myself what the difference is between that and the stillness of death, as if they were different. Really, in an abstract way, there is no difference, but thats not how its experienced, at least to me. There is a difference! I could see that the sense of “amazement” made it seem more, made it profound. Its like it hid something.
TRACING THE AMAZEMENT
With an inanimate object there is no “amazement” that surrounds it. The object is just “there”. In fact, in many cases, we don’t even notice it. Everyday, we pass objects without so much as a consideration. But when the object has a use, it becomes more than an object, more than something “there”. It becomes ‘alive’, so to speak. It becomes “real”. This, I felt, was part of the key. Once something found a use in our life it becomes more than just an object, a thing. We give it a relevance and, in so doing, make it a part of our self . . . it becomes an extension of our self. In this extending of our self we as if ‘breath life’ into the object, injecting it with “our life”. It seems, to me, that “amazement” is a reaction of ‘breathing of life into something’.
Life is breathed into things in a number of ways.
- Passive – This is finding oneself in lifes situation. Or, to put it another way, ‘finding ourselves in the grand play of life’. In reality, we find ourselves in a situation which we are compelled to play a part, in which we must participate. In that sense, its sort of a ‘discovering our helplessness’ as we have no control. Because of this, it is associated with a sense that things are beyond us, that there is more than what we know. Since we are compelled to act (that is, helpless) we play a passive role. As a result, it becomes a passive association. This gives a great religious-like sense of “amazement” which could probably be described by words like “profound” or “awesome”.
- Active – This is where we give things meaning. In other words, we are the ones who give it life, by our own effort. In so doing we make it ‘personal’. This makes “amazement” strike a deep cord with us, making it very ‘real’.
Either way, “amazement” is a result of association. It is based in experience, that is, the experience of life. In many ways, “amazement” is really nothing but being ‘impressed’ or ‘affected’ by life. As a result, its a deep inner emotional reaction to this association. This makes “amazement” become ‘alive’ because we see it in our life as a reality. As a result, life does not become ‘inanimate’, like a rock, but alive, a miracle in a profound way (passive association) and a personal way (active association) . . . in short, amazing!
We must remember that we are the ones who give it that life. Things become alive by gaining relevance in our life. A rock on mars, that we are unaware of, is ‘nothing’ to us. But a rock here on earth can become a part of our life, as a decoration, as a seat, etc. When this happens it becomes more than a rock, we breath life into it.
When we breath life into it, active or passive, it becomes deeply ‘personal’. By this I mean that we treat it as ourselves. Therefore, the self concern and self preservation we have toward ourselves becomes attached to it. This is part of the way we extend ourselves into the world.
It is not the object that is real and alive but our association with it. What’s living, then, is not the thing but our attachment to it. This shows that what is experienced as “life” is not one of objects and situations but one of associations. How we view and experience life is based on our association with it. I call this the ‘association-centered point of view’. I mention this as there is a tendency to view life as one of situations and objects, that one must seek this situation or that object and that life revolves around a situation or object. The emphasis is on ones self and the situation/object one seeks, completely missing the association which connects them.
In the ‘association-centered point of view’ the association is where life is “at”. It is the glue that bonds the self to situation/object. It is here that “amazement” is found.
THE PROBLEM OF AMAZING OURSELVES – CONCEIVING THE WORLD AND ITS ENIGMA
I’ve often felt that one of the things that hampers psychology, neurology, and any conception of the human mind, and life in general, is this tendency to “amazement” as a result of ‘breathing life into things’ and making it ‘personal’. In so doing, we make it out far more complicated and ‘amazing’ than it really is. In other words, our vision is clouded by our own “amazement” and “personalness” with life. As a result, much of our reflection on life ends up revealing “amazement” and “personalness” more than life itself. One effect of this is that we tend to make any conception a deeply personal affair. And, as we all know, when things become “personal” we start to do things such as:
- We ‘see’ things that aren’t really there.
- We take things as more serious than they are.
- We feel bonds and connections to things that are ‘deep’.
- We fabricate realities.
This is because we project ourselves onto it, so that it becomes nothing but a reflection of us and who we are. This is why psychology, neurology, and any conception of the mind and life (such as religion, philosophy, etc.) is often more a reflection of a ‘personal association with the world’ than anything else. In fact, much of psychology consists of just this, though they generally try to ‘scientify’ it, making it appear objective. This tendency, of course, becomes more dominant with more scientific orientations, such as neurology. In the end, though, all our conception of it becomes somewhat clouded and distorted because of our making it ‘personal’ and projecting ourselves onto it.
But this creates an enigma as any conception of life is influenced by our self, our projection. This means that any conception of the world is never completely ‘accurate’. It will always be different with different people. This is because any conception we make of the world must begin with our minds. As a result, any attitude of the mind transfers over into any conception one makes, meaning that there is no escaping “our selves” in conceiving the world. In effect, it is inevitable and unavoidable that any conception of the world becomes nothing but a “projected me”. Hence, it is not the “real world” we see but ourselves in the world, as the world.
Because of this, any attempted “objective” conception of the brain or mind or life must entail great separation from self, treating it almost cold-like. We can do this to some extent but if we go too far we can do this to the point that it alienates us. This shows that any conception of life requires a degree of the projection of our self to make it relevant and meaningful. Remember that we must do this, to make life “alive” and real and, more importantly, to make it human. This means that there will never be an “ultimate conception of the mind or life”. Any conception always has too much “me” in it.
So what conception do we use?
I’ve always felt that the choosing of a conception of life is similar to what I said when we choose film critics: find the critic that has similar tastes as you and that will be the one that gives you an accurate portrayal of the film. In other words, find a conception of life that fits your nature and character and that will be the one that will be best to follow. In actuality, this is what most people do anyways, though they may not realize it. In any culture, religion, social body, field of study, etc. people will naturally congregate around the points of view they relate to most. This means that any conception of life is actually based more in our familiarity with its point of view than in its inherent ‘truth’. Of course, because we are familiar with it, and relate to it, we think it is ‘truth’. But that’s the enigma . . . it isn’t the truth . . . it is just a reflection of our self that makes it true. As a result, ‘personal’ nature dictates the conceptions we take and creates the ‘truth’ we live by. It isn’t science, it isn’t logic, it isn’t objectiveness, it isn’t “truth”, it isn’t even what’s right . . . we just think that.