Full Speed Ahead
It’s funny the way things work out sometimes. There are all kinds of stories about how some character spends their whole life running away from something only to find it was what they needed all along. They just needed to see it in a fresh light. Or the familiar story of somebody running away from something, where that thing turns out to be their destiny. They weren’t able to face it unless they went through whole journey to escape, which in reality was a journey to give them the experience of understanding what it truly was.
There’s that familiar one about the guy form Egypt who sees a fortuneteller, who tells him me will meet death in exactly on week. So the guy jumps on the next ship to the furthest possible port away from Egypt. Exactly one week later he is wandering through a marketplace, completely confused but happy. Confuse because he has no local currency and can’t understand the local language at all. Happy because he has escaped death. Then he turns the corner, and is shaken out of his daydreams by death himself. Death stares at him in disbelief. The guy finally decides to confront death, and ask him why he is so confused. Death responds that he is surprised to see him, because he has an appointment with him in Egypt in one hour. But unforeseen events took him to this faraway land. He is glad he ran into him, and promptly takes him on the spot.
I was reading this interesting book on biology the other day. (The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore) .Not really biology, it was all about meme’s and how meme’s spread. The particular chapter, however, was talking about recent discoveries in brain chemistry and activity. They have figured out a way to light up different areas of the brain, to see which areas are active during which thinking processes. In many cases, people make choices before we are consciously aware of them.
They’ll hook somebody up to one of these machines, and tell them to press a button when they see a ping-pong ball coming at them. They have identified the area of the brain that “lights up” when we are consciously aware of things going on around us. At least consciously aware of people throwing ping pong balls at us. They have also identified the brain areas that light up when our automatic muscles respond to the approaching ping-pong ball. Certain bits of adrenalin is sent to certain muscles that would move in case the ping pong ball needed to be deflected. They’ve tried it with several different angles, and from a biomechanical analysis, can determine before hand, which muscles would be primed with energy for motion, and sure enough, these are the muscles that primed by the brain when the ping-pong ball is thrown.
The interesting thing is that our conscious minds are the last to find out what is going on. The ping-pong ball gets thrown, our reality detection system (eyes, ears, etc) register the ping-pong ball as coming, and the brain automatically primes our muscles to respond. Only after our mind/body system has been prepared for the “intruder” into our personal space, is our consciousness pulled into the loop. Only then do we start to give meaning to events. After the fact.
They’ve even done more complicated studies, where it’s not a simple ping-pong ball. Where there is a range of choices to make, based on the physical incident. And many times, our conscious minds don’t get to take part in the decision making process. Our conscious minds are only made aware of the fact after the quick decision has been made, and then we come up with a bunch of stories and rationalizations about what is going on.
The purpose of this particular chapter was to question the whole idea of choice, and free will. Every choice we make is based on choices we made before, and those are based on choices we made before that. If at the most fundamental level, our conscious minds are only made aware of certain events after the fact, how in the world are we to believe that we are cruising through life as conscious, sentient beings making rational choices about how to live our lives?
It’s like our conscious brains are the captains of gigantic ocean liners whose course has been set long ago by unknown agents, and we find ourselves at the wheel, and delude ourselves into thinking we are actually steering the boat.
There is a fairly popular idea among Christians to “Let go, Let God.” Meaning that the good Lord knows what He’s doing, and when we try and force the issue, we just make it more complicated. When we simply “Let go,” and let God chart our course, life will be much easier, or at least we will fulfill God’s plan with much less resistance.
This works great if you are a devout Christian, but what about the Atheists among us? What happens if you take that same argument, to “Let Go,” who is doing the steering then? Is our mind/body system really smart enough, knowledgeable enough, and experienced enough to get us to where we want to go, assuming we really know where we’re going?
There’s the analogy that we really do steer the ship, it’s just that it takes a long time to change course. And when you do set your course, you’d better make certain that it’s really where you want to go. If you are trying to steer a giant ship around the ocean willy nilly, you’ll only frustrate yourself, and make the passengers sea sick.
One of the things that can happen when growing up in modern society is our course gets pretty much set for us, and it can be terribly hard to change it halfway through. It seems like a good enough idea to go through school, get a decent degree, get a job, find a mate and start a family. Those of you that have made drastic career changes halfway through adulthood know that it can be met with resistance by those around you, and even by yourself. Many are essentially dissuaded from making drastic changes, some for better, some for worse.
But if you are heading for a crash, I think it is better to change course much sooner than later. I’m pretty sure the captain of the Titanic wish he would have seen those icebergs much sooner than they did.
The beauty of having a mind/body system that works so well on auto pilot, once you choose a decent course, and make sure it’s the right path, you just have to input the coordinates, figure out the actions, and get to work. Everything after that is automatic. Just keep plugging away, knowing that you’ll get there eventually. So long as you double-check every once in a while to make sure you’re heading in the right direction, you can be fairly certain you’ll arrive.
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