Originally posted on 08-30-07:
The title above is a quote from the Buddha, and I read it this morning in Marvin Minsky‘s latest book, The Emotion Machine. If you’re at all interested in how your brain works, what makes your experience of everything possible, and what it means to be human, you should read this book.
I thought about that phrase for a bit, wondering how it related to my experience, and didn’t come up with much. I imagined eternity stretching out in all directions, and imagined the universe coming and going, and whatever else there was before or after coming and going, and eternity seemed to have a certain reality, but how that might relate to the idea of immortality was not immediately apparent.
So while I was making breakfast, I was listening to Bare Brains Episode Four again. I don’t remember most of what I’ve thought, or written, or said, and it’s often surprising to encounter things this brain came up with in earlier times. I was impressed with how well it was working in this podcast, and decided it would be worth the drudgery of transcribing it at some point, that it might be more widely accessible as text.
Then, while I was eating breakfast, the Buddha’s phrase, and Minsky’s book, and the podcast coalesced somewhat. The first realization was how limited consciousness is. It’s wonderful being conscious, don’t get me wrong, but our conscious experience is so limited compared to all the processing that is actually going on in the brain to make it possible, that it makes it seem that my conscious self is an idiot. The more I learn about the brain and how it works, the more idiotic my conscious ideas of myself seem, and as I realized what a simplified version of reality I have conscious access to, it hit me—immortality…
The brain, amazing and wonderful as it is, is only a tiny cog in the total process of the universe, and in whatever came before the universe as we know it. Billions of years of evolutionary processes have brought us to where we are, and the brain—yours and mine—is both a product of all those processes, and totally enmeshed in them. I become so caught up in my separateness as one human being among many, as one organism among many, as a creature upon the earth, that I lose sight of my total enmeshment in the universe. I see my little purposes and projects as belonging to me, when they are, in fact, as much a part of the flow of the universe as is today’s weather, or the movement of this planet around its star, or the whirling of the galaxy.
I am an infinite process, immortal in my enmeshment in all that came before and will come afterwards, but I’m easily seduced by the tiny perspectives of a limited conscious experience into thinking I am only that. I am that, true enough, but I am also everything else.
Somewhat Limited Perspective