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The Meaning Making Machine

We all have one.

Sometimes, I just want to flip the lid, take it out of my cranium and rest the damn thing on the window ledge.

There is no meaning. There is meaning. There is no meaning. There is meaning.

Chunter chunter, huffle puffle puff.

Wittgenstein was right.

Signs of Brain Frazzle

When you drink or eat something really cold you can get an attack of Brain Freeze *shudders*. Brain Frazzle is something else I get from time to time and I’ve got it right about now. I like to think of it as the opposite of the freeze because your brain just overheats and short circuits out. In me it’s like the pre-frontal cortex, the executive functioning part of the brain that takes decisions, forward plans and applies rational thought to situations and problems, has gone on holiday – without notice.

It means I am left to navigate my way through life based on my more ancient brain, the brain part that in humans resembles that of all animals down to lizards. It means my responses are based on the survival imperative. I am more emotional (I swear more), I am more tired (I want to sleep more), I eat indiscriminately (too many chunky Kit Kat fingers) and the passage of time has gone all abstract on me (time and days of the week are becoming elusive).

It also means I can’t write very well, if at all. It’s not that the words won’t come if I tap, tap, tap – usually something does arise, but it means it comes from a place that I don’t have cognitive access to. I can’t plan what I’m going to say, and when it comes out, I have only a limited ability to fix it up into something resembling a readable state. Usually, writing makes me feel more like myself, at the moment, it makes me feel further from myself.

Perhaps I need an extended rest. The problem with stopping, in my experience though, is that it can make it nigh on impossible to get started again.

Clouded Thinking

Science as a belief system or a method of enquiry?

This is the central question posed by Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Science Delusion, and I think it is an extremely pertinent one.

I have, for a while, been losing patience with the attitude of media scientists (most particularly the irritating Brian Cox) who talk and write about their subject as if it were some kind of dogma rather than a body of knowledge and theory that rightly evolves with time. It is not so much that Cox and his ilk deny the evolution of knowledge. The fact is, I heard his honestly pointing out, when the neutrinos in the OPERA experiment at CERN appeared to travel faster than the speed of light, that science is a discipline wherein you merely remain at any given point in time less wrong than before. No, my petty irritation arises from the arrogant and haughty dismissal of any experience or possibility that sits outside the current scientific orthodoxy.

Sheldrake writes most interestingly on the subject of the mind, something that many scientists will insist exists entirely as a set of experiences formed in the brain through the activity of chemicals, electricity and neural pathways. In fact, there are some who will say that because they can measure activity in the brain before we make a conscious decision that any free will we may think we have is a delusion, our brain has already decided for us. Thankfully, there are scientists that understand, from their own experience and that of others, that there is a lot more to us, our minds, our conciousness than that. I heard a psychiatrist on the radio the other week likening the use of brain scanning techniques to understand mental illness with the idea that you would better understand the plot of Eastenders if you dismantled your telly to observe its wiring. Comparing apples and oranges? Well I suppose so, but they are both fruit and it’s an analogy with some mileage in it to my mind.

When I write ‘my mind’, I don’t mean only my brain – I am sure of it because I have observed my own experience. I might mean a combination of my brain, epigenetics, embodied cognition, collective conciousness and quantum mechanics. If I were to agree with Richard Sheldrake I might mean the field of my mind and morphic resonance too.

You see there is a lot more knowledge out there, up in the air, or wherever, but not just in our skulls than the orthdox scientific community feel compelled to enquire into. What’s worse, those that do enquire are given short shrift by the establishment. Richard Dawkins refused even to look at the evidence contained within Richard Sheldrake’s Science Delusion, let alone discuss what it might mean. Yes, the orthodox scientific community’s methods are superb for describing what goes on in the human brain but these descriptions should never be conflated with our understanding of why, or perhaps how.

Many scientific leaps have been made through close observation of experience and that includes the observation of trial and error. Many trials and a few errors or accidents have created the breakthroughs in medicine and technology that we so rely on in our lives today; hence the sworn fealty to the scientific way. Not all of that effecting of positive outcomes has given us the lowdown on the Why of it though. For example, we regularly make people lose consciousness through administering general anaesthesia in hospitals. The person has a painfree surgical procedure that improves their life. Then the anaesthetist brings them round. We can do all this, but we still don’t know where consciousness comes from. We go to sleep daily and we have a different sort of conciousness, we can describe what it might feel like if we dream, but still we don’t know where conciousness comes from. After all the brain is still there, doing its thing. It doesn’t entirely nod off too, does it?

That is why Sheldrake’s central question is a valid one. I do not necessarily agree with all his various hypotheses, but his insistence about the necessity for the scientific community to get its collective head out of its arse and enquire methodically into all aspects of the human experience (not just those that fit with its current preoccupation with the materialist model) is a valid one. After all, metaphysics is not just for poets, philosophers and religion.

Quizás, Quizás, Quizás

Every day, lately, it feels rather like I am scraping the remains of my mind up off the floor and stuffing them back into my head, in any old order, wherein the rabble will form a simulacrum of a brain and, if I am lucky, attempt some rational thought.

Perhaps I could be rewired.

Perhaps I could not.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

…it performs quick and dirty sketches of the world…

What does you may wonder. It’s description of the mind – mine & yours.

from The Evolution of Consciousness: The Origins of the Way We Think by Robert Ornstein

Like the rest of biological evolution, the human mind is a collage of adaptations (the propensity to do the right thing) to different situations. Our thought is a pack of fixed routines—simpletons. We need them. It is vital to find the right food at the right time, to mate well, to generate children, to avoid marauders, to respond to emergency quickly….

The mind evolved great breadth, but it is shallow, for it performs quick and dirty sketches of the world. This rough-and-ready perception of reality enabled our ancestors to survive better. The mind did not evolve to know the world or to know ourselves. Simply speaking, there has never been, nor will there ever be, enough time to be truly rational. “

Personally, I find that notion somewhat depressing.

This is much more like it. A 3D brain scan published in National Geographic this summer showing the neural pathways in the brain. Truly, a thing of beauty.