I am surrounded by information. Each day I see, hear, smell, taste, touch and read, read, read as much as life allows. On my bedside table this week: Nick Humprhey’s Soul Dust and Douglas Hofstadter’s Surfaces & Essences. Stockpiled on my kitchen counter, this weekend: National Geographic, New York Times, Popular Science. In my browser, this moment: CNN – “Bananas Thrown at Italy’s First Black Minister.”
Bananas have been thrown at Italy’s first black minister… What does that mean? Politically, sociologically, psychologically, culturally it means unacceptable racism. But what does this mean in a larger, say, evolutionary sense? It means (as I see it) that many of us are still pitifully blind to our own origins. I am a modern day ape and knowing this has helped me cultivate my “zen” more so than any Buddhist teaching.
Not all of us are so blind to our origins: the Neural Tribe is expanding. Just recently India has made a ground-breaking decision to ban captive dolphin shows positing that dolphins are non-human persons. The radius of identification (and, thus, compassion) has been finally expanded! It makes sense that this kind of wisdom would emerge from India, which is home to the ancient Jainist doctrine of ahimsa - a nonviolent stance towards all sentient life.
So, here we are, at our paradoxical best: de-humanizing and re-humanizing. Some – intoxicated with ignorance about their own origins – are throwing bananas at each other. Others – evolutionarily sober about their shared kinship – are expanding the radius of planetary personhood.
I want to close this Sunday morning blog with an excerpt from Nick Humphrey’s excellent (albeit not easy) book Soul Dust in which he cites the findings from the Gombe Stream Research Centre in Tanzania:
“Gombe scientists have [...] observed examples of [...] Byronic sensation seeking [among chimps], as when a chimpanzee emerges into the open in a thunderstorm and dances and stamps and screams as torrents of rain run from his back and lightning forks …
Context: please, if you haven’t yet, read my posts on the Neural Tribe (NT) Perspective – Neural Tribe (an Introduction to the Meme) and Neural Tribe Doctrine - to get a better sense of where I am coming from with all of this. Both of these posts introduce a new narrative about what we are and what we aren’t.
Neural Tribe is Information-Processing Tribe
Neurons process information and share it with each other. Thus, neural tribe is an information-processing tribe. Any life-form that processes information is part of the neural tribe, is part of us. But (!) the Neural Tribe is not the information itself: we are not the information that we process, we are the ones that process that information. We are the neurons and the neural colonies that live inside various life-forms that rely on the information to process for survival.
For example, a neural tribe that you are, you inhabit a so-called human body (that consists of various non-neural cells and organs) and, in exchange, for your information-processing prowess this body supports you with nutrient blood flow. You give the body the information necessary for its survival and the body feeds you so that you can survive. Neural Tribes are in a kind of information-nutrition barter arrangements with other non-neural cellular tribes as part of the overall metazoan (multicellular/animal) body-plan. A nervous system is an information-processing system.
As a Neural Tribe, we make our living by information-processing. And we work in a variety of animal offices, so to say. Wherever there is a nervous system, there – as a neural tribe – you are.
Neural Tribe is Sentient Tribe
Sentience is a capacity to process information, i.e. to feel, to experience. No neurons, no sentience. Thus, anything neural is sentient. Anything sentient is us. We, the Neural Tribe, are the Sentient Tribe. Wherever you find sentience, there – as a species – you are. Wherever you find neurons, there – as a species – you are. Whatever neural shapes you are, if you are a neuron then you are sentient. Whatever complexity of awareness you are, …
A couple of years ago I wrote about BugZooka which is a “fast, simple, safe and clean way to rid your home of unwanted spiders and bugs.” (See God-Training with BugZooka )
Well, it broke. Which is no big deal, of course, particularly after a couple of years of use. So, I readily and promptly ordered another one. It arrived: nothing has changed – same excellent product that it was. The packaging, however, seems to be just a tad more psychologically sophisticated. The product promises a “kinder, gentler way to win the war on bugs.” I am impressed: this is a message of compassion, albeit kind of tongue-in-cheek.
But the word “compassion” itself is nowhere to be found, either on the box or in the manual. And this, I believe, is symptomatic of our culture. In my blog from two years when I waxed poetic about BugZooka I talked about how its use is truly a compassion-training opportunity. After all, each and every time we catch a bug, we are playing god. “Shall we kill or not kill?” becomes the question of the moment.
Back in the late 90s, as part of my doctoral training at SUNY Buffalo, I did a psycho-oncology practicum at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and was later briefly employed in their pain clinic as a clinical research assistant.
Naturally, in those days cancer was very much on my mind (as well as the interplay of pain and time perception). It was back in those days that I finally dropped the hyphen of distinction from the notorious mind-body dichotomy: it became starkly self-evident to me that both words (body and mind) refer to one and the same system.
It was also around that very time that I harvested my first crop of conclusions from my readings of Eastern philosophies and one of these conclusions was the following: anything that is alive is also conscious.
When “the body is but the foam of a wave” (as Dhammapada teaches), the mouth has nothing to do but to foam with words.
It’s always been like that. What’s a haiku but a medieval tweet?! Mind watches its own passing and mourns itself with verbal sentimentality. Community through communication.
This constant communication-compulsion to rejoin the stream of “what is” is what makes this communal life-stream flow in the first place. Pour out!
The phrase “to make a mistake” implies purposive, conscious, planned action. That’s utterly inaccurate: there are no intentional mistakes, no one consciously sets out to fail.
When we fail on purpose, when we make a mistake by design, we are actually succeeding with some kind of covert plan. Therefore, even an act of conscious sabotage isn’t a mistake (to you) even if takes the form of a mistake (to others).
Bottom-line: No one makes mistakes because no one ever makes a mistake on purpose (sabotage notwithstanding).
A year – astronomically – is a spin of a celestial object around a center of gravity. In our – Earthly – case, a year is, of course, a spin around the Sun.
As we yearn for stability and balance in our lives, we are zipping around the Sun at an orbital speed of 30 kilometers per second (that’s 108,000 kilometers per hour) – and not down some well-paved straight line, but on a perpetual curve, without any chance of ever getting off this mind-boggling ride!
Ponder this as well: a straight line is but a geometrical abstraction. We live in the world of tremendous centripetal/ego-centric forces and inevitable curvatures.
Know all and you will pardon all.
This is a follow-up to my previous post Rediscovering Your Motivational Innocence. As I see it, when you dig down to the motivational depths of all behavior, there is only one core motive: pursuit of wellbeing – we all move away from pain towards pleasure. It is my firm belief that all conscious existence is lined up along this motivational vector. The rest is just variations on the theme. How we go about pursuing our well-being is pre-determined by the intricate interplay of nature and nurture.
Some of us do a better job than others – that is when we compare people to people. But any such comparison is a comparison of apples and oranges. After all, as I have noted before, similarity isn’t sameness and everyone is unique. The difference between how any two people go about pursuing their wellbeing has to do with the differences between their histories.
We are all doing the best we can no matter how much our best pales in comparison with personal and social ideals. Your core motive is always the pursuit of wellbeing. Your effort is always the best that it can be at any given moment in time. Motivationally innocent and perfectly imperfect, you have nothing to blame yourself for. This isn’t some neurolaw argument that “my brain + my past made me do it.” No. You are not hiding behind your history. You are simply taking your psychological determinism into account in an attempt to accept reality as it is.
I realize that you might bristle at this idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. We’ve been culturally conditioned to judge. So, we aren’t particularly keen on forgiveness. But let’s be clear: I am not proposing a legal reform or a new code of ethics (after all, the goals of law and psychology aren’t necessarily aligned), just a a path of wellbeing.
Know all and you will pardon all.
Guilt and/or shame leads to rumination and dwelling on the causes of what happened. At a glance, this seems to be a potentially useful information-processing habit. The problem, however, is that this post-mistake analysis is biased and the conclusion is typically foregone.
You have already decided that a) if you “made” the mistake, then, of course, it was your fault, and b) that the reason why you “made” the mistake is because you are flawed. Let’s work on reversing this process in order to rediscover your motivational innocence and to learn to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.