Tag Archives: neuroscience

What a Concept?

About a decade ago I was in my friend Michael’s apartment when we were having a discussion about what might be “real” and he said, “Russia doesn’t exist.”

As I pondered this he continued, “If you fly over a large land mass in Eurasia and look down you see a bunch of land.  The fact that we consider it Russia is simply agreed upon by many humans.”

And he said humans and homo sapiens don’t exist outside of human understanding.

In today’s context I would cite the many speeches given by politicians that proclaim “America is an idea” – exactly right, and we now know that the idea originally was that an American was a male property owner – sometimes with slaves.”

The slavery concept, of course, needed to be enforced with power and those who were its objects might not have known the word “slave” but they knew exactly what their reality was day to day.

Right now the concept of the “Dollar” is under assault by foreign governments and entities that want to substitute their own idea of something that can concretely represent value – cypto, digital currency, anything that would also reduce the power of the current concept of “America.”

But the concept of the dollar remains pretty strong for the moment, although the ability to move conceptual dollars electronically has created many problems and now threatens its stature because if the world completely grasps that the dollar is just an agreement – it’s time might be limited.

All concepts as actually implicit or explicit agreements among a collective sharing a common language and consciousness.

Big problems arise when these concepts evolve – for example many immigrants came to America because they believed in its concepts – but group after group like the Irish and Italians, before the current African Americans and Asians – discovered that those that were already here did not actually think that the newcomers were American.

Problems with more significant concepts like Justice and Truth.

Each group had to learn and adapt to the collective agreements about these subjects, and sometimes they were enforced by a government which had been agreed to – and sometimes they were decided in other ways, often violent.

Well are all concepts just agreements and ultimately meaningless?

Science (another concept) actually suggests that no, with systematic analysis and experiments we can know certain truths.

Mathematics seems to ratify this with “constants” like Pi and finite measurement of seemingly solid objects.

But you could show the numeric sequence of Pi, or the human symbol, to alien and it would mean nothing until you and the alien agreed on the values for those symbols.

And it turns out that a big part of the usefulness of concepts to measure and perhaps understand what seems to be real is good faith.  The humans using the concepts have to agree that what they’ve agreed upon still stands.  Alternatively, the concept of fraud arises.

While neuroscience strongly suggests that concepts are electrical signals in the brain, upon deeper investigation those ideas are once again – just more concepts.

We use the word “mind” conceptualize how ideas and words arise, and many believe that they are the products of independent sentient beings – again in their brain.

If we try to define precisely what we mean by mind it gets sticky

Where exactly is the “here” that arises in the mind?  Is it somewhere amid the conceptual lines of longitude and latitude that we have conceptually overlaid on the planet we seem to inhabit?

Philosopher Ken Wilber coined the concept of two different realms of Mind – he called them Big Mind and Little Mind.

Little Mind seems to be the independent self that concepts convince us that we are – separate from “everything else” and with an interesting concept that we call free will.

Big Mind is what we might call a Metaphysical concept and refers to the presence of an intelligence beyond our brains and physicality that is infinite and without limits or separation.

This is presumably where the current concept of nonduality in philosophy comes in – plainly what happens with ideas or concepts is the arising of a “thinker” who seems to be separate from everything else – particularly the objects of thought.  There seems to be, especially within the structure of the language we use to articulate concepts a subject and an object to reality.

But is there really?  Can you find the subject that seems to be “you”?  Is it behind your eyes, or in the brain with the “neurons”?  We now know that there are neurons elsewhere in the body – like the gut and even the heart.

So theoretically if the concept of gratitude somehow arises – it might literally be happening in the heart – or even the gut.

And of course, it would appear that we being “organic” creatures that something like gratitude would be biochemical reaction or electricity of some sort?  That’s what neuroscience might suggest.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about these issues because I’m not working and have been recovering from a brain injury.

In my recovery I’ve become familiar with the work of a psychologist specializing in trauma – Dr. Gabor Mate – who has a new book which I have not read.

But I’ve watched a lot of Dr. Mate’s videos and I love the title of the book:  “The Myth of Normal.”

I love the title because in the course of my recovery very little has caused me as much anguish as the concept of “normal.”

As I connect to physical sensations that cause discomfort I can connect many of them to notions what I have been conditioned to believe is “normal” – or the way things “should” be.

It has been mainly by questioning all of these concepts and seeing them as agreement rather than facts or absolute truths, that I have been able to lessen their hold on me, and with it the power of what I think Wilber calls Small Mind and others call the Ego.

This would be the repository of concepts and beliefs with which I was socialized – first by my parents and then by society and peers – beginning with the concept of my name as “me.”

But when the Greeks suggested at Delphi that one should “know thyself” they wouldn’t have taken one’s name as the actual self.  They were going much much deeper.

Maybe what we are – and I believe Jesus said, “You are the truth” – perhaps we are Big Mind fooling itself with the dream of Small Mind while the life force animates our organism.

Can we wake up from this dream?  Maybe but we’d have to be sure we weren’t attached to another concept.

Self Observation and Identity

So I’m sitting here a bit high playing chess, Words and online Texas Hold’em, and my email informs me that my package from Home Depot has been delivered.

Immediately, the mind reminds me that I’ve seen this message before, and the package wasn’t there, and I had had to initiate a bunch of calls to either find or get it refunded and so on.

Then another voice informs me, ‘hey, why go into this negative spin.  You’re better than that now.  I’ll bet it’s out there” and so I laugh in quiet recognition of what “I” noticed and get my sunglasses.

I go to the front door and open it and look down to my right, where 98% of the packages are left.

Nothing.

I look to the left where it can get a little wet and I have to look around the door, and – no package.

In my chest there is the familiar flutter of a relatively mild fight or flight response – and then down straight a ahead five feet from the door – IT IS THERE.

I pick it up with organic gratitude and go back inside to the air conditioned sanctuary I inhabit, and put it down on the divan unopened.  It doesn’t need to be installed til Labor Day and until then I want nothing to do with it.

I sit back down and get creamed in chess having attempted a second level.  I used to play some in college but only for fun with friends and once read a book on openings a long time ago.  I figured it was going to be brutal playing the computer because the PC knows every opening and all of its consequences.  I am going by memory and gut and I surprised myself in winning a few – getting slaughtered at a 10:1 ratio but finally moving to level 2.

So I move over to Words which I am playing for blood with an old friend from high school and I think about the package.

Maybe I should open it?  What if they’re the wrong filters?

I burst out laughing. It’s that same fucking program. Life has improved dramatically – at least today.

A Memory For a Lifetime

I am reminded of a trip to Europe 50 years ago.  I caught up with a classmate and he persuaded me to go see some porno movies.  We went into a crowded auditorium with thick smoke, and soon after the film started….

I woke up looking at the ceiling outside the auditorium, people above me with smelling salts.

All I can remember of the film was that it began with bestiality – and I blacked out.

However, I made it a point to remember the “dreams” I had while unconscious – which apparently in “real” time was only a few minutes.

But I went a lot of places in that time.  I saw other beings, went to other planets and vaguely remember all sorts of unexplainable experiences until I had a deep feeling of concern.

I remembered by parents, back in New York, and how it would hurt them if I vanished.

Still unconscious “I” determined to return, but how? I was deep in the dream when I started to recall details of my “life” before I fainted.  I remembered my name, where I was from, and slowly a few other details that only I would know.

And then I remember that these various facts sort of circled around inside my head almost like gears meshing or as I later recalled, the “tumblers of a complex lock” – and when they all clicked into their proper place, presumably in my brain – my eyes opened and I was “me” again.

It was such an amazing journey that I tried to tell my friend and then sat down quietly, determined to make it an experience I would always remember.  It was that profound.

What stayed with me was the sense of the fluidity of my “real identity” – how it had actually gotten lost – or “I” had – in a completely foreign “place” but specific memories reemerged in consciousness and I returned – through my open eyes.

When the eyes opened other familiar information surged in, and in a moment I “knew” who I was, again.

What is interesting about this incident now is that after my recent brain injury, I went through many modalities to try to heal.  I’ve written elsewhere about how it was only when I began to relax into acceptance of some of the symptoms – like the incredible fear and fatigue – that I began to recover.

I am sure that what enabled the neuroplasticity for the brain to rebuild broken connections was playing Words with Friends and online poker in the afternoons – after a bowl of weed.

The thing that I began to notice, which was mentioned in Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s book Super Brain is how the mind is geared toward the negative.

To some extent, it is a matter of survival.  We are programmed in this way to enable us to presumably take precautions and live intelligently to avoid existential issues, like tigers.

But there are only a couple of tigers here in Las Vegas, but I noticed how geared I was to anticipate negative outcomes.  It took a determined effort to let things happen and not try to control them to loosen things up a bit and allow me to enjoy little things in life.

I love looking at my cat, lying on the rug, while I listen to music on the stereo.  Whether in motion or repose, she is a regal and elegant sight.

As I got better, while high, I would have some amazing experiences in poker, and I began to taunt the avatars that represented the other players.  And curse them when I lost – which I could do with impunity because of course I was alone.

And then I started laughing a something noticed the familiarity of old patterns of humor and sarcasm; these qualities also emerged on my occasional social opportunities, where I began to tell stories and laugh again with some of my friends.  This was over a period of about two or three years.

Epiphany

I have also written about how cultivating a sense of Oneness – or non-separation – through various systems I encountered was a large part of my recovery.

That came about through intense self observation; after all what else did I have to do except stay alive, which was a challenge as a 74 year old living alone with a brain injury.

For a while, and during the pandemic, it was a relief just to get one thing done a day:  empty the dishwasher; laundry; change the sheets.

It also took all I had to get food into the house and take care of other matters I deemed important or existential.  Planning a breakfast, lunch and dinner consumed a good part of my limited mental space.

I also relegated many things that I knew I “should” do to being ignored.

This led to guilt and shame that manifested as sensations in my body, which I began to welcome instead of attempt to banish.  As consciously as possible, I learned to accept these feelings as part of the totality of life which I sought to embrace as it was – not as my thoughts told me it should be.

And this self-observation prompted the laughter when I caught my “self” involuntarily bursting out with verbal reactions while on the computer, playing poker for no money.  Even there my competitive nature made me viscerally “upset” when things went against me, and I responded with delight and outbursts of satisfaction when the universe gave me a big payday of electronic nothing.

Again there was no money involved.  It was pure ego and after a long time of a dull acceptance and disinterest in almost everything these outbursts were welcome shocks out of my doldroms.

What was also noticed at this time, however, was many of these patterns of behavior that came up while I played, were parts of “my” old personality before my accident.

It reminded me of one excellent book I read during my recovery, “The Ghost in my Brain” by Clark Elliot, a college professor who described his own recovery from a concussion that almost cost him his career.

The notion of a ghost was perfect as way to describe my own experience.  I felt that there had been a “normal me” who had been lost – similar to my experience in Copenhagen – but this “me” was lost in what we call normal reality.  The psych term for this may be dissociation.

In any event it made me deeply uncomfortable much of the time and I suffered and yearned to return to the “old” me and be “normal” and be able to socialize with more people and my friends.

But as I believe the author of that book also found, the ghost only became discernible again when “I” was forced to accept that the old me was gone forever.

I had to let go of any reasonable expectation of ever returning to my old “self” – and I think it was around that time that glimmers of how “I used to be” returned, often unexpectedly.

As I described above – there was almost constant negativity.  What if the package wasn’t outside.  It was – but would it be the right stuff?  Would I have to make many calls to retrieve it?

The Patterns of Negativity Had Been Deep

Each time I caught myself expecting something awful to happen – I made an effort to relinquish control, and waited and let things develop – and noticed time and time again that the fears I had had did not manifest.

There were obviously exceptions; things have been out of whack in many ways and there were challenges like getting a new central air conditioner.  It was a big project that intruded on my solitude greatly, but I was able to accept the feelings that came up and when it was done, it was an amazing sense of satisfaction.

For whom? For something inside me that sensed I had more strength than I had thought.

But the deeply shameful and negative mental patterns had been exposed, and with them, by also sometimes laughing at them, I realized I was no longer who I had been….

I might even be “transformed” – somebody new.  Another ego trip.

I rested with the notion that I didn’t need to be special after all. I had now seen who had still accepted me with my difficulties and continued to love me.  I soaked up the love of my cat, and noticed the quails outside my house drinking from a platter of water I set out for them in the heat.

Over time, where I had been so distraught over my injury, I began to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and appreciation for the things that were still positive, happening all the time. I took notice of those and then I would be grateful for waking up unafraid, or noticing that I DID have enough energy to go out to a friend’s house.

Most of all, I was continually amazed that I was still here – no longer entirely sure where “Here” or “Me” was or is, but somehow realizing that I was indeed a ghost.  My reality as a separate “person” was seen as ephemeral without all of my thoughts and patterns. 

I could let it not be about me.  And it got better.

A Proposed Hierarchy of Awareness

 

Thought has been getting a bad rap lately in various circles. Ever since Eckhart Tolle pointed out that there is an awareness that observes thought, so that a thought itself cannot be “me”, all hell has broken loose.

Of course a central problem is that we mainly think in words, and words form the basis for much of our conditioning, so the realization that the persistent thought “I am a mess” is not “me” is extremely helpful.

And as anyone who meditates knows, the ability to observe a series of thoughts and not attach or identify with them, creates “space” for other types of inquiry and experience. We become less and less caught up in any one thought or pattern of thinking.

Inevitably, however, the question of free will comes upas we try to discern whether the thought “I want to get up” causes the action that makes us go to the kitchen. My friend Michael Jeffreys, in his deconstruction, points out that “we don’t make any thought happen so what makes us think that a thought that happens of itself has any power?”

We can even go as far as to negate the reality of thought entirely when we again recognize that there is an awareness beyond thought, that can observe our thoughts, and it appears after the actions that seem to result from them have already occurred. Life never stands still.

We sometimes call this quality of mind “consciousness,” and there are teachings that maintain that the awareness of consciousness is in fact “all” that there is that we know for sure—that the brain does not take in but rather projects the outside world entirely.

It is difficult to refute such an argument, but when it’s time to go to Trader Joe’s it’s a lot easier to assume that we can get in the car and drive because we need food and it’s “out there.”

It seems to be much less painful to live “as if” there is a real world “out there” beyond our thoughts.

And it is also very helpful to accept the world as it presents itself, regardless of our thoughts. The entire Eastern concept of suffering, or Samsara, is based on the illusion created by an overly powerful mind that “thinks” it knows better than reality. We can see some of that in hubris of modern science which sometimes believes “Nature made a mistake” and “we” can do better.

So how can we approach these issues, using our flawed language, and understand them more deeply?

It helps immensely to look at the language we are using more closely. For example, teachers like Rupert Spira point out that when we examine the subject-object structure of the way we communicate with words, it is easy to see where the notion of “ownership” by a self came from – for every action (verb) there seems to be a doer (subject).

E.g., “I had a dream”…

Or when we say “it is raining”, what is the it? And again, when we say “I feel bad”, who is the I – when we discern that there is always an awareness that knows what is being felt, sensed or thought, we move “above” thought, as Eckhart Tolle says. When we numb ourselves with drugs or alcohol, or habitually follow conditioned patterns, we are “below” thought.

But what about thought itself. We may compare thought to software, and it has many similarities in that it seems to “trigger” events and solve problems. But where is this realization pointing?

But if we’ve used computers, we have confronted the following set of circumstances:

We have tried to perform a task, like create a report from data, and it doesn’t seem to work. We may even open the manual, but the language of the manual is obtuse and we cannot follow it. We try the task over and over but we are stuck in the realm of thought.

We think we are doing it right, and we’re attached to our concept of how it ought to be, but it is not working.

Then we go from thought to an idea that takes us “outside” of our “selves”. We’ll call an expert and we dial tech support.

This idea takes some courage to implement, as we all know. We might encounter more linguistic frustration by being connected to someone in India or the Philippines; but let’s assume we have an experienced friend who has used the software more extensively and has experienced the same issue.

This friend, or someone competent at tech support, takes us through the steps and now explains the operation from the point of view of the program (or the programmer who designed it).

Suddenly the entire process “makes sense” – we have gone from Thought – to Idea – to Insight or Realization.

In many ways we have taken our “selves” out of it in order to make space for the “solution” to unfold.

I had an epiphany along these lines last year, when I was invited to Chicago for a weekend to celebrate the marriage of a niece I had never met by a cousin with whom I had recently reunited and bonded.

I wanted to go but was anxious about getting out of my comfort zone and had many “thoughts” about what could go wrong. I could get stranded, delayed, lost, stuck on the tarmac, lose my stuff or massively inconvenienced, and these thoughts were inhibiting me from taking the trip.

When I expressed these fears (thoughts with a powerful self-attached) to Michael Jeffreys in the Santa Monica Eckhart Tolle Meetup Group, he said, “what if you went to Chicago (and none of that happened) and you had a really good time?”

This came from beyond my “self” and was a new Idea. It had not appeared among my thoughts previously, which had been all self/fear-based.

Suddenly I laughed (a common reaction to insight or realization) and said, “I never thought of that.”

Again, it seems to me that I had gone from a coarser, materially controlled sense of experience (a threatened self) to a broader perspective (someone else’s input or idea) to a “finer” realization of a much higher frequency (hence the insight and laughter): I did not know the outcome (and it could be favorable).

And in fact, I went into the trip without expectations and open, and had a blast.

A big part of the experience was the ability to meet every situation “fresh” – without the need to orchestrate or control the outcome – and accept it as it unfolded. In fact, when my cousin picked me up in the car in Chicago and told me I was going directly to dinner downtown, instead of to my hotel for a nap, I had no choice but to surrender… And nothing horrible happened.

I now find it immensely helpful to attempt to create space and use my awareness to discern the quality of thoughts that arise – and let them go unless they have the taste of an idea, or occasionally, an insight or realization.

As I’ve learned, ordinary thought is just sound in my skull, like the traffic going by, and frequently negative bringing up a “problem” that I didn’t even know I had.

And such negative, habitual low frequency thoughts can easily become obsessive.

But beginning to notice different qualities of the same energy as ideas or insights, and not “taking credit” for them as an “I”, gives me the ability to potentially effect a different outcome from one that other thoughts might have envisioned.

Is there a “me” freely doing any of this? I am now prone to dismiss this entire issue as a “word trap”.

And what about the use of the word “Divine” in the diagram above – certainly modern science would frown upon such language.

When I look out at the stars and galaxies, which can take me easily beyond thought or ideas, I have a profound realization – I don’t know. My language is incapable of grasping the “meaning” of what I perceive from “my” own limited perspective.

I can only fathom that there is Something far Greater than my own limited capacity to “think” that comprehends the vastness that is HERE and obviously EXISTS.

It is an experience beyond my mind to grasp. Neuroscience tells me it is all happening within my brain, so it in fact IS Mind, but hardly a mind for which “I” can take credit.

To “me” this becomes the ultimate insight or realization—awe and humility in the face of experience that none of my thoughts cannot comprehend, and that the “I” that I think I may be, and need to get to Trader Joe’s, is nothing in comparison to… this infinite and vast Intelligence called Life.

Thinking of Food as a Software Program

It’s the premise of this blog that consciousness is not “like” computer software as a metaphor, but rather it IS a computer program in its real existence as mental intelligent energy.

The source code for “our software” is found in DNA, which also acts as a storage center (hard drive) for the software which we “run” as “Us”. (Click the link for a Wall Street Journal article on the findings).

So what do we know about software, from our own experience?

Well we already know that based on written symbols (code) a different set of actions (programs) can launch and run, resulting in different sets of experiences – in such a way the computer simulates “human” thought.

So what about our sense of “Self”? The feeling about “us” that we take without questioning is “real”?

Consider this —

Can thought arise out of matter? Can self, soul, consciousness, “I” arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? This is a profound question raised by neuroscience as it studies our hardware – i.e., the brain and nervous system (which I like to call an awareness system).

In I Am a Strange Loopneuroscientist Douglas Hofstadter argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is the “strange loop”—a special kind of abstract feedback loop inhabiting our brains. The most central and complex symbol in your brain is the one called “I.” The “I” is the nexus in our brain, one of many symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.

How can [such] a mysterious abstraction be real—or is our “I” merely a convenient fiction? Does an “I” exert genuine power over the particles in our brain, or is it helplessly pushed around by the laws of physics?

Let me digress to the teachings of a mystic and philosopher, G.I. Gurdjieff, who also suggested that we have “three brains” (intellectual, emotional and physical) and that we actually process (digest) three types of food: air (as breath), nutrition (actual “food”) and impressions (thoughts/feelings).

P.D. Ouspensky, another philosopher who popularized portions of the Gurdjieff work in his seminal work, In Search of the Miraculous, describes the nutritional system (all three types of foods) as forming different “I”‘s or selves until they are integrated through intense self observation and psychological work.

His work suggests that under proper circumstances, Impressions (received through the senses) are converted into the finer energies or substances needed for Higher Intellectual or Higher Emotion centers to develop within the organism – but these conditions do not exist naturally at our current level of being.

Due our inner fragmentation into multiple “I”‘s or centers, the shock necessary for the proper processing of impressions is consistently thwarted by the various ego and mental illusions that distract the organism. Our current state of being prevents and obstructs us in from summoning the consistent attention necessary for the proper processing of Impressions to take place naturally.

Another way to describe this is that as a complex organism we have a main “operating system” that we consider ourselves – which “grows” as we derive our conditioned identity through our parents, peers and “education.”

But Gurdjieff/Ouspensky suggest that this “normal” sense of self is illusory – actually a series of ego and mental illusions, that interfere with alignment with our true nature – consciousness – or a proper connection to higher intellectual and emotional “centers” – Life itself.

Evidence of this can be found by simply loading a different set of “programs” as “real food” – namely energetic input through nutrition that is “healthy”. I “experimented” with his recently when a friend suggested I change my diet in the morning (when I felt sluggish and negative) with a different set of chemicals listed here:

Daily Shake for breakfast

  • 1 banana
  • 4 strawberries
  • 1 spoonful blueberries
  • 1 spoonful goji berries
  • 1 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 tespoon acai powder
  • 1 teaspoon cacao powder
  • 2 glasses of coconut water
  • piece of ginger
  • teaspoon honey
  • 3 shakes of cinnamon powder

What I believe happened as a result is that my operating system of Ego was modified sufficiently to see myself as less “separated” or differentiated from nature, and consequently more lucid and energetic.

While my DNA (software code) in the nuclei of my cells remains the same, its “activation” has been altered chemically – different software is running within me.

This concept of environment (Life) or energy input activating software (like a mouse click on the computer) is the new field of Epigenetics and also, as Hofstadter’s work suggests, the current trend in neuroscience.

The Newtonian materialistic universe has been replaced by Quantum Physics; energy (nonmaterial reality – including thought and intelligence) – also known as “software” – is part of our organic/biochemical “nature” – and we can feel its influence.

I suggest that you also think of “chemistry” and “biology” in terms of software – and the periodic table of elements as software “code” for how this “program” of Nature “operates.

Some of these chemicals when combined as “molecules” are classified as “organic” – but what does this mean?

It simply means that a different level of programming is operational – higher conscious energies are at work – Consciousness “lives” through their manifestation and expression. (Wikipedia describes the table as a “tabular display” of the (known) chemical elements – if you compare it to “sequenced” DNA it is just our own English symbols for Life and Nature – it is not Nature itself – it is “code” for Nature – or software).

Within “our” consciousness we have developed an artificial and basically arbitrary set of programs that we think of as “Me”.

Most important, this illusory operating system of a single, separate self apart from Nature/Life can be over ridden by a new layer of programming.

The result is a deeper connection with Life and a sense of “joy” – not the ephemeral “happiness” that the mass media promises through material gain, but an energetic connection that runs experientially deeper and that begins to soften the egoic sense of “Me”.

This softened sense is less prone to anxiety and suffering because it begins to “trust Life” – it surrenders “control” because it begins to realize that “I am not inc charge of everything” – in fact, you can “do” very little in many, many circumstances.

It is interesting to speculate where this separated sense of a fixed, solid Egoic Self came from – is it the natural result of an evolved greater brain more able to survive through mental activity – as scientists would have us believe?

Or was there actually a “Fall of Man” – as the bible and some religion suggests, and might that have been an actual bit of genetic “tampering” with our organism to increase suggestibility through our Ego – and more readily control our actions?

I do not pretend to have the answer to these questions – and in fact I think they are more profoundly effective as deep QUESTIONS than as facile answers.

As open questions they again activate levels of software, in our brains and bodies, that more directly connect us to Life and decrease our sense of separation and ultimately the fear of death.

“Lord my body has been a good friend

But I won’t need it when I reach the end”

Cat Stevens (“Miles from Nowhere“)

It is precisely this deeply sensed fear of the extinguishing of our sensory and mental processes that increases the control of the mass media—through a fear of violence (terrorism) or sense of lack (not measuring up to standards).

These are the negative” impressions” Gurdjieff described in terms of reprogramming our three brains (consciousness) and again separating us from Life (higher centers).

As my friend Michael Jeffreys says, “don’t be a victim [under outside control] – become a ‘scientist'” and actually experiment with these energies.

You can see the same results with meditation and yoga as you do with nutrition – and they are actually new software programs not like a computer – but really and truly – in alignment with Life – truly higher energies that lead to a lessening of separation and an increase in vitality – which is again, another word for LIFE.

How Shift Happens: Nature Uses Templates

So many beliefs in our culture are beginning to shift; I believe that is at the heart of the current protests both in the Middle East and on Wall Street. Here in the U.S. it’s a matter of values—do we worship balance sheets or human needs?

Our predisposition toward one value or another is sometimes called a “meme.” Wikipedia defines a Meme as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

One huge meme that was the basis of our democracy was that individuals have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of what a monarch decreed or wanted. People had a right to self determination.

Of course on a more mundane level a meme would be that the iPad is cool but Microsoft’s old tablet PCs, which came out several years earlier, just weren’t. A lot of that meme’s acceptance was the result of the design of the iPad, and the WiFi infrastructure and number of Apps to support it.

In a comparison to computers, a major meme like Democracy might be seen as installing a “new operating system” – one that was first downloaded during our American Revolution and later adopted in Europe and spread to various places around the globe.

That “Age of Enlightenment” operating system also seems to have supported the Industrial Revolution and the growth of technology, which has seen the spread of science and knowledge for its own sake, and for the sake of profit, as an “obvious set of values.” Of course these values weren’t at all obvious to the Native Americans who had no concept of the ownership of land when they signed their rights away.

But now that so many of us use computers it’s worth considering what it really means when the underlying programs can be changed, and things we took for granted can suddenly be revealed as arbitrary concepts everyone just accepted.

Some Native American cultures like the Toltecs, as described by Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, refer to these as “dreams.”

Many of us who use computers, as Douglas Rushkoff has written in Program or be Programmed, remain obliviously unaware of the conditioning that technology can impose, especially when we don’t really understand how it works.

But if we take a closer look at computer programs we use every day, and how they operate, we can perhaps also shift our own sense of who and what we are, and what life itself is.

Bear in mind that our DNA, literally, operates as computer code. We can copy and paste it to create another species, as biologists are now doing—or to grow new organs.

So in terms of memes, or beliefs, what if we viewed them in terms of computer “Templates”?

If you’ve ever used templates in a program like Word or PowerPoint, you know the powerful way applying or opening a different template—or set of coded instructions—can alter the features of a document or presentation. You can instantly change the font types, sizes, and colors, along with a myriad of other attributes to the text or overall appearance of a file.

In genetic terms, perhaps we can see race as an obvious template for humans in terms of physical characteristics, and memes for mental or intellectual belief systems. Once a meme or cultural belief is widely adopted, it is transmitted genetically from one generation to the next.

But how are memes changed? Essentially like a new template, a cultural belief is adopted first by a small group or a few people, and then more and more.

Unfortunately for the people who suddenly come up with a new template for human beliefs, the cultures have not always been kind. Think of Jesus and Galileo as two prime examples of unconventional thinkers whose ideas caused them persecution.

But if the template or meme resonates and strikes some deeper level, of understanding a shift happens, first in individuals and eventually in entire cultures, and suddenly beliefs change.

The Gods become One God; the Sun becomes the center of the solar system, and more recently in our culture, we “know” that our location is merely that of one planet orbiting a minor star on the periphery of a galaxy among billions.

But what happens when we suddenly begin to understand the very nature of our own belief systems and templates, and realize their arbitrary nature–and the extent to which they sometimes cause us suffering?

A book that is part of a movement in just this direction is A New Earth, which opened many people up to the possibility that many of the memes and beliefs they’ve always taken for granted are misconceived—and a new template was suddenly applied to millions of peoples programming when Tolle’s work was promoted by Oprah Winfrey.

And then we might ask, what happens when we can connect the operation of life itself (DNA and Epigenetics) with the functioning of our own inner and outer worlds and belief systems?

Does the realization suddenly hit us that we are not separate “things” composed of protoplasm but rather energetically connected to a Cosmos that is itself Intelligent on a level way beyond our own—that has manifested life according to a set of intentional instructions (DNA)?

Can we drop the intellectual arrogance imposed by the scientific templates and expand our awareness?

Then looking at the stars which seem to dwarf our existence, and a newly discovered subatomic quantum world that clashes with our common sense notions of cause and effect, can we then begin to completely reconsider what is truly significant and important?

That is the shift that is taking place right now.

Wake Up Call: Why I’m Writing This

Today a lot of people are suffering—studies suggest that one in nine Americans are depressed. And in fact many have lost their jobs and homes, and these are traumatic experiences that can shake anyone’s foundations.

But I can speak from personal experience when I say that many of us are also the victims of a deeply conditioned set of beliefs that are now being challenged, and our suffering is not only the result of our actual circumstances, but rather conflicts within us about what the point of anything may be.

Another study has shown that people in developed nations suffer from depression more than poor nations; some of this may be attributed to the fact that “advanced” nations have more of an infrastructure and interest in even analyzing such facts—and the time and resources to do it.

But I believe that the crux of the matter (crux presumably being a word related to crucible) is related to the famous parable of Jesus that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven.

The reasons I am putting forth here are two: first those who are in advanced countries and not completely preoccupied with just surviving have developed an expectation of prosperity, which when threatened, leads to tremendous anxiety. In our country people who today have no job or home just a few years ago had both, plus all of the “things” that were supposed to bring them meaning—cars, boats, flat screen TVs, stereos, vacations, and so on.

The second reason is that people in advanced countries and our own population in particular have been “educated”, or conditioned, into a reality that simply takes existence for granted—we seem to be here to consume and live without thinking much if at all about what the nature of Nature may be.

In fact, our science tells us directly that questions about meaning, consciousness, existence, and our own participation in “what is” are unanswerable and meaningless. Our brains are used only for calculating how to survive and thrive—to build roads and bridges, go to the moon, cure disease—but not really to reflect or consider our relationship to what was here before we ever arrived.

The immense power of the scientific prejudice that we don’t need to know or wonder “why,” just worry about “how,” has led to the dominance of a technology that now contributes to our feelings of powerlessness. We spend hours on the phone with faceless technocrats to fix mistakes in our credit, banking, billing and other critical matters, and even if we talk to a human, they are working from a script written by lawyers and accountants.

Douglas Rushkoff has cautioned about this aspect of our reality in a book called Program or be Programmed, in which he urges people to understand the nature of brute technology for its own sake and how programming can literally operate to strip us of the ability to exercise control over our lives.

And programming has its effect not just externally, in our ability enjoy life and be free of constraints of bureaucracy, but also internally in the way we have become conditioned to believe that we have the correct perspective and knowledge of how things “should be” – and when reality deviates, we suffer.

I had a personal experience several years ago when two of my most fundamental beliefs about my financial stability and my emotional ability to live alone and apart were challenged to the core.

My first reaction was a deep fear—like the foundation or floor of my existence was suddenly taken away and I was in a sort of free fall.

I’ve been helped enormously by a deeper, more profound insight into the fact that much of what we think we “know” is in fact wrong.

Writers like Eckhart Tolle have convinced many of us that our talking minds (the Ego) are not free, but in fact conditioned to believe we know how things should be. His concept is that when we fight with the present moment—how things are—we suffer.

Again, this suffering is not because of the circumstances themselves—some of which can be dire to be sure—but rather because we have a false set of expectations, deeply programmed and conditioned, about how things ought to work out for us.

Byron Katie puts it well, she says, “when you argue with reality you lose at least 100% of the time.”

When my beliefs were suddenly exposed as wrong and my fear came up, it was my mind itself which was able to make a bit of a leap, using the ideas in the first entry in this blog, to recognize that I am not the center of the universe, but rather that I was subject to a set of programs that worked like computer software or an operating system.

And, what’s more, all of life was programmed the same way, according to a set of instructions or commands that came into being before our “civilization” ever existed. Life has an intelligence beyond my own limited mental understanding or conditioning.

Remember that it takes supercomputers to decode the genome – or our code or set of instructions—and that’s just the code. The energies or programs that run according to these instructions, through us and around us, are infinitely more vast and powerful than anything created by Apple or Microsoft.

This enabled me to take a step back from the many assumptions I carried around about the nature of reality, and how things “should be” and recognize that they were mainly beliefs based on other peoples’ ideas—other people who may have meant well but who knew no more than I did.

Please understand that this is not an argument for complete passivity or total surrender to “fate.”

First of all, coming to this perspective is a daily practice and a choice—it takes effort to notice and understand, for example, that the noise being made by the leaf blower isn’t there to annoy me—I just happen to be there.

In fact, nothing is about “me” in truth, because most of what I think “I am” is a set of beliefs that I’ve adopted from my culture—and the most massive belief is that what I experience every day is significant beyond my own emotional realm, and that nothing higher, more intelligent or greater really exists or matters.

And I can’t just decide to discard these beliefs. They are in fact “my programs” and a living part of my own reality, which I also need to understand, accept, and perhaps even embrace.

 

Life suddenly got a lot harder for many of us for whom it had been relatively easy (even if we didn’t realize it at the time). But we need to remain aware that we have the capacity to see it in perspective as it really is, and not the way we may have been conditioned to expect it to be.

If We Can Copy and Paste Life—What Does It Mean?

I’ve taught quite a few people how to embed a video into a web page or blog as a means of creating compelling content for their social interactions online; in fact I’ve featured the process in webinars which drew upwards of 1000 attendees.

The process essentially is to copy and paste a block of “code” – a segment of computer instructions written in English – from a video hosting site like YouTube into the HTML panel for the destination page.

HTML is the coding language of the Internet and instructs the web browser what to display on screen when a web page loads. Once the code for the page includes the proper syntax for the “embed” tag that points to the video, that video will display when the page loads.

Here you can see a block of embed code from You Tube pasted into a post for Blogger, Google’s blogging program—in the HTML tab—so that it will display in the blog page as shown on the right.

Coincidentally a few weeks ago, Sixty Minutes did a segment in which they showed exactly the same process—used to revive extinct or endangered animals

Essentially the DNA of the endangered species is “copied and pasted” into the egg of a host animal that is similar in type. The only difference from the YouTube embed code is that DNA is made up only of combinations and syntaxes represented by the letters ACTG, not the entire English language.

As I’ve noted in the past, geneticists like Juan Enriquez, whose video I mentioned from TED, make no distinction between the way computer code operates and instructs, for example, a web browser, and how genetic code works with Life.

* * *

Here is the relevant portion of the article about the Sixty Minutes piece:

On the day we visited, they were laparoscopically removing eggs from an ordinary housecat, then sending the eggs down the hall to have the housecat DNA literally sucked out of them.

“What she’s doing is she’s removing the DNA from this domestic cat egg. And she can see it by what we call fluorescing it,” Dresser explained, while observing the procedure with Stahl. “It becomes just very blue, and so now she knows where it is. And now you’ll see her go in there and be able to remove it.”

Once the housecat DNA is deposited outside of the egg, they will replace it with the DNA of an endangered Arabian sandcat, a completely different species, gathered from a tiny piece of skin.

“And there you see it being inserted into the domestic cat egg,” Dresser explained.

“And you made that from just skin?” Stahl asked.

“Just from skin cells, right,” Dresser said.

An electrical impulse starts the egg dividing, and if all goes as planned, the now sandcat embryo will be put back into the domestic cat to grow to term.

* * *

Now, for most of us, copy and paste is a process we have used and understand.

So for those of us who use computers and the Internet every day, how do we react when see that the language of programming literally runs within Life?

For me, when I first encountered this fact, as a tech writer, it opened me up profoundly to a completely different view of life.

After all, programs on the Internet, Blogger, Google, YouTube, and on your desktop; for example Microsoft Word which I am using to write this, were created not my one person, but by enormous teams of programmers who planned, wrote, and implemented their code to achieve a specific set of purposes.

In reality, this code take electrical impulses, like the ones used to jump start the division of the egg of the Arabian sandcat inside its new host—but in the case of computer code it uses the electricity and silicon chips in the machine to manifest the ideas of the programmers—based on the interaction of the software with the end user.

In the case of Life, the interaction is much more complex because it involves the brain, and the entire cosmos or environment with which the “software” interacts. In his book The Biology of Belief rogue biologist Bruce Lipton identifies the cell membrane as the “computer chip” that literally processes the information from the environment—a process that forms the basis for the new science of epigenetics.

It also means we are not determined by our DNA code—genes express due to environmental, cognitive and other factors, but that the essential code itself—the combination A,C,T,G referenced chemicals that comprise the potential or blueprint for all living things—works like the code in your PC and responds to “user input.”

If I replace the embed code in the web page with a different set of symbols—I get a different video.

If I replace the DNA code of a house cat with that of an Arabian sandcat, that’s what I get.

In both cases the final outcome is an expression of a set of symbols—an idea in the mind of a set of programmers in the case of computers—and inevitably in the case of Life…

What?

Unlike some, I don’t see this as an argument for Intelligent Design or fundamentalism of any sort.

To me, the answer to this question, at this point is, I Don’t Know.

As I said, for me it is a powerful opening to the realization that life is far more than the merely random events that seem to happen through cause and effect, but rather that just as there is in your PC or laptop, there is an intelligent energy or software that is beneath or within the fabric of Life – or indeed is Life itself.

Certainly the recent advances in quantum physics and neuroscience also suggest, indeed they proclaim, that mental and subatomic phenomena are not simple cause and effect processes, but rather that the presence of an Observer or participant is fundamental to their nature.

So far, we have attributed the property of higher intelligence only to ourselves, and perhaps dolphins and whales, connecting it somehow only to our brains, which seem to host such mental activity exclusively.

And, we speculate about finding it on other planets or in other galaxies.

But if we understand that the same principles that we have come to know through our own experience with computers, the actual working of software—the ability to cut and paste symbolic representations to effect both electronic and natural expressions and manifestations—then it becomes clear that somehow a higher intelligence is at work in our cells.

For one thing, decoding the DNA within us has taken supercomputers to do the sequencing.

It is the expression of an immensely vast conglomeration of potentialities and variables—even for a one celled creature (some of whom have more genetic material within them than humans).

Moreover of the DNA already sequenced, a large portion is called “junk DNA”—but that’s because we don’t know what it does or expresses.

Some modern thinkers, like Eckhart Tolle, have said literally that a far higher intelligence than our own runs our digestive system, nervous system, respiration, and so on.

Conventional scientists will argue that DNA “evolved” as life formed billions of years ago from organic molecules.

It is clear that the mutation and changes in DNA, over millions of years, have produced many different species, most of them extinct.

But if DNA is software ask yourself this: could software “evolve” out of an “uninspired” organic molecule—or is the notion of manifesting an idea through a set of coded instructions a function of consciousness of some kind?

In other words, a mind – a term much of science finds extremely inconvenient—because a mind is not mere processing—but the capacity to conceive and manifest an intentional idea through mental activity.

How do we know that mind exists in nature, even if science finds the concept problematic? Because we experience it each moment we’re alive.

And now that we have created software (in our image), and have found it in nature and within ourselves we might say that consciousness is the intelligent energy behind the software of Life.