Wednesday, August 10, 2011

loopier and loopier

Aware that truth doesn't arrive gift-wrapped on the doorstep, a pragmatic thinker should be willing to consider ideas from any source. In particular, sources of false ideas can be more useful than anticipated. The source could have true ideas intermixed, if not often. False ideas themselves could be stepping-stones or flawed clues to the real truth. Still more subtly, ideas could possibly be literally false and yet "true" through hidden correspondences to nuggets of truth.

For instance, the concept of the human mind, of a nebulous decision-maker that mysteriously controls the brain/body (not vice-versa), is a handy fiction. The self's "mind" provides the setting for an otherwise gaping hole in the categorization of human experience: the locale of subjective mental phenomena. These are actually real in the sense of being real effects of the real activity of the self's real brain. But from the self's perspective, which naturally doesn't include moment-by-moment observation of the originating brain, orienting ethereal thoughts in a dual mind domain is a tidy solution; when one "sees" things without eyes or "hears" sounds without ears, some explanation is warranted, no matter how far-fetched!

At a more advanced level of abstraction, a deepest ghostly "soul", which is distinct from the mind, scrutinizes and directs the gamut of human existence. The mind contemplates and manipulates objective items, but the theorized soul in turn contemplates and manipulates the mind. It thinks about thoughts. Events in the mind, as well as objective reality, are the raw material for the soul. Just as the idea of a mind is constructed to answer the fundamental question, "What and where are subjective mental phenomena?", the idea of the soul is constructed to answer the fundamental question, "What observes subjective mental phenomena?"

Besides having explanatory value, souls are instrumental in behavior modification. Specifically, all the many procedures for "transformation" recommend the triumph of the soul over the mind, although "soul" may not be explicit in the procedures' language. The sign is the treatment of the mind as an object rather than the subject: "calm your mind", "analyze your motivations", "recognize your negatively-charged aura". According to their accounts, transformed humans purposely change their minds. Afterward they cease their past actions and habits, because their new minds are incompatible. They will say that the old inclinations return occasionally, but each one is rejected and ignored not long after inception.

Such tales pose no problem for someone who believes minds and souls to be factual (my position less than six years ago). This isn't an option within the context of the belief that minds and souls are convenient human inventions for meeting some needs. Regardless of the deceptiveness of the impressions described in the stories, something must be behind the honest storytellers' impressions. Since everything occurs in the confines of one brain, the clear indication is that the illusion of hypothetical entity Q observing hypothetical entity M arises from out of a internal brain loop. That is, brain network Q interacts with brain network M. Activation of network M somewhat indirectly activates network Q.

Therefore, in effect human culture's encouragement of the dominance of the "soul" is encouragement of more sophisticated brain loops. Deliberate introspection ("meditation") is a loop in which thoughts appear, enter short-term memory, and then undergo processing. It requires training precisely due to its essential parallelism. Paying too much attention to momentary thoughts interrupts the arrival of new thoughts. Paying too little attention to momentary thoughts fails to accomplish the overall goal of "detachment", of treating thoughts subsequently as independent mental objects. Unsurprisingly, practitioners who are working to set up the brain loop benefit from periodically returning their attention to their breathing. Breathing is a sensation whose inherent rhythm aids in coordinating the brain network that acts as the "observer soul" and the brain networks that act as the "observed mind". (Reminiscent of the synchronizing "clock ticks" of a computer processor.)

Similar loops constitute the enhanced impulse control of the "transformed" human. Someone whose consciousness frequently returns to a moral standard (and/or an omniscient judge) will incidentally discover whatever shortcomings were in progress immediately before the return. Or, after spending extended time associating unpleasant reactions with "evil" impulses, a conditioned response of hesitation starts to accompany the impulses in the future. Alternatively an association could be built up between a strong desire for a positive aim and impulses consistent with that aim. At the ultimate extent, loops could be so ingrained, sensitive, and efficient that some parts of the brain virtually prevent other parts from intruding into decisions under normal circumstances. In any case, the human brain is amazing in its loopy ability to employ its incredible capacity to react to nerve signals that originate from "inside" as well as "outside".

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