posted on Oct, 22 2015 @ 12:23 AM
When it comes to this 'thing' we call self, we have to first realize that this 'thing' is a process.
Everything about our self is based in the evolution of our species over the last 500,000 years. We moved from hand walkers to leg walkers, giving our
hands the freedom to communicate more abstractly with others. But why do we have hands to begin with? We derive from the branch called "primates",
who brachiate, which means they swing from tree to tree. So in order to get hands that can be cognitively manipulated, you first need to develop arms,
elbows, wrists, hands and fingers i.e. brachiating.
I find it so interesting that all this "form" is a result of evolutionary function. The species that became primates became as they did
because they were a mammal surrounded by trees. The evolutionary ancestor of primates (lemurs, monkeys, apes and human) created together a 'niche'.
All species are niche creators. The environment presents a certain set of conditions (trees, in this case), and the species adapts itself genetically
make use of the "ladder like" nature of trees.
This is how the world moved forward as it does. Environment and species co-create one another. Species of a higher recursion - like primates - act
upon the environment by becoming tree climbers, while the trees keep on being trees. The primate-tree relationship presents the primate as more
recursively "separated" from the older evolutionary species we call trees. Primates live with trees, make use of trees, giving trees a 'moving
life' to be with.
The human self exists and reflects a similar recursivity. The self as our general consciousness, built by evolution to be genetically programmed to
express a particular recursive organization, will always express the same embedded structure. For example:
When we talk, we talk in a way that makes each of ourselves comfortable as we do it. Thus we communicate and express something, in which I am expected
to respond in a civil manner, because "this is how we do things".
We in other words are organized in the same way to know in the same way. My awareness of your interest in something, for instance, allows me to
predict what will effect you. The psychologist Michael Tomasello persuasively argues that human beings evolved towards a state he calls "shared
intentionality", where human beings can together share a common referent, not only in a joint way, as chimps do (that is, we all focus on the same
environmental object) but in an embedded way: I know that YOU know this.
This process is both affective (or bodily feeling) and cognitive, each acting upon and changing the other. Cognitions such as, I know you believe
this, so I way will talk about this, are based upon feelings and emotions that impel you to care about another persons feelings. Cognitions, very
often, are expressions of deeply felt emotional energies.
What's very interesting, in terms of psychotherapy, is how human beings come to heal themselves. Its all about self awareness, we know. Our brain has
a "high road" and a "low road". fMRI data show impulsive actions as being mediated by 'ventral' or lower brain structures (like the striatum).
These low road ways of acting and being are compulsive in our lives. A nice term for it, coined by the psychologist Alan Fogel, is "Subjective
emotional present". In this state, we reflexively respond, speak words, and only catch the "tail end" of our selves having just acted. Indeed, this
experience is mediated by different brain processes from those involved in 'high road' processes.
When we act this way, we relate with that built in genetic awareness of other peoples emotions. This is made possible by a fundamental communicative
musicality, a rhythmic, vitalistic flow of energy from person to person. The late psychologist Daniel Stern called this experience "vitaity forms",
which he described as electo-chemical rhythms that organize how information is felt by the organism. The whole idea of metaphor builds from this
process. Vitality forms are generic, archetypal, and can be reconceived in different formats and domains. A hard sound is similar to a punch in the
face. They both have a "bang quality"; this 'quality', is what Stern means by vitality forms. They are the very feelings that allow semantical
associations to even exist in the brain.
But when we move to a higher level, we move to a higher level of recursion. We watch ourselves, catch ourselves in action, and then wonder, curious,
what am I feeling? And what can I do about this? This level of recursion is the self turning towards the experiences it picks up in social
interactions. The recursion of the original is itself brought under a watching eye.
But this process doesn't end! The mind watches the mind and actually "catches up", plays with itself, understands itself, and influences how the
self is 'flowing' through the feedbacks that make its every state. Any thought is to be attended to; the more morbid, the more shock-inducing, the
more interesting. The more complicated the "low road" state, the mote complex the relationship with the "high road" state. The high road acts upon
the low road as the low road acts upon the high road. And there is of course the additional complexity of doing such stuff while in the process of
communicating with other people.
The whole idea of mindfulness is about remembering. Being 'conscious' is to activate, again and again and again, a certain focused relationship
towards something. I do not, however, wish to diminish the joy and pleasure in being in low road states; for play, dance, and fun, they're a must.
But there is still nevertheless a dissociation - a moral blindness - to the ways these states of consciousness organize us. Unconscious defense
mechanisms fly out our mouths and fixate our minds because the emotional process has already started - and were already too 'in it' to stop
I just find it funny that this mindful relationship of a calm, active awareness with a reflexive, embodied being, can stimulate such wondrous
organizations in human beings. Just as monkeys needed trees to brachiate, and thus become us, we need consciousness of suffering, to expand our
awareness beyond ourselves, and realize our embeddedness in a larger system. This human response is just as "functionally adaptive" as primates
making use of trees. We find the meaning the universe puts into us. We position ourselves, find ourselves, and lo and behold, we are in the middle of
it all. We are conscious actors that can imbue - and take intense pleasure in doing so - goodness into the world around us. That we feel this way was
just what worked. The environment set up some fairly abstract conditions for 'mere' multicellular organisms. The organisms - us - communicate not
just with their unconscious behaviors, but with conscious reflections on one another's mental states. Our body's are 'tuned' into one another;
knowing before we consciously know that this person feels this way; we only know because our body's 'cue' us towards this cognitive interpretation.
To be our own "physician", in the words of the dalai lama, is an enormously high state. But it is a state that we all desperately need to cultivate
and know; we need to know our embeddedness; our structure; our biology.