10/01/2016 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carl S ~
|The church militant' (William Markham), by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1779. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
"Know thyself" is an ancient recommendation. Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." Funny thing is, I don't think it's possible to really know oneself. (Sometimes I look at my wife of 21 years and ask myself, "Do I really know this person?") What we think we know about ourselves, on examination, may make us wonder: should we cry or laugh? Take for example, the minds of true believers. Personal experiences with believers are always revealing. They will talk intelligently and logically about serious matters, but when it comes to answering questions about their firm, all-important beliefs, they're not listening to their answers. (As Thomas Jefferson noted, men who are "otherwise sane" believe crazy things.).
Maybe I am not the master of my mind, but the servant of my brain? Maybe I'm not dealing with mind over matter, but with matter over mind. Since the brain is wired for imagining solutions for reality problems, it also creates unreality and possibility, via imagination. "Reality" is both objective and subjective to each individual. And it can be tampered with and altered by others. Jesus, God, gods, Allah, Vishnu, et al, may be just as "real" as you are, to those who only believe in them. (All those spiritual beings playing hide-and-seek in the gardens of the brain cells!)And, just as others interpret your personhood in their minds, so do they interpret the personalities of their imaginary spirits. That's how brains are wired.
You may be surprised by what you have accomplished. You wouldn't be if you knew yourself. People goad you on, telling you that you don't know your own strengths; but they're gambling. Friends, lovers, and family don't know enough about us as they're certain they do. Some will tell you outright, "I know you better than you know yourself," but they don't even know what you think about that statement. And their judgement is just as prejudiced as yours.
How do I know me? Let me count the ways. No - this is impossible. How do I know my mind while not knowing my brain? Every one of us has about 100 billion neurons in our brains, separated by gaps called synapses. I don't have anything to say on how they interact, yet they are "me." If we know anything about organisms, including our brains, they are in the business of surviving, defending, and healing themselves. That's evolutionary biology working. My brain is "me," but I don't understand its activity as me. I conjecture my brain is an organism which analyzes input and re-creates the world as it sees it; its "understanding" of reality. If something is out of kilter or missing in those billions of neurons/connections, my brain's understanding of reality is also. Discrepancies in the circuitry create inaccurate interpretations of the world. I have no choice about its miswiring or misfiring.
Brain “understanding" can be altered by drugs, electric shocks, seizures, accidents, etc. Brain “understanding" can be altered by drugs, electric shocks, seizures, accidents, etc. All these happen without the permission of those affected, The brain, the "me," is delicate as well as mortal. What believers call "a soul" is brain activity without an active brain. But a sufficiently strong blow to your prefrontal cortex can change your personality from a loving to an indifferent or cold one. If you become brain-dead, you will have no emotions. (But if you died, you would be looking down from heaven and smiling on your loved ones!) The "he/she" everybody "knows" becomes "was." If this happened to you, could you wonder: did I ever care?
What if there is a built-in survival mechanism for the brain necessitating lying to itself? After all, what we call "faith" may be no more than experienced feelings interacting with brain activity, interpreted to be "reality." Some brains might have organically evolved to have "tweaks" for lying to themselves, for justifying irresponsibility. This possibility could explain why so many of us are inclined to automatically lie and evade responsibility, in varying degrees. And, evolutionarily speaking, maybe some brains are ill-equipped to adapt to social changes.
We are a powerful mix of brains led by emotions. We speak of humans who are "well-balanced" with their emotions and brains as "sane." Passions and feelings drive us, often so strongly that men like Sts. Paul and Augustine taught passions are at war with our minds, and thus we are continually prone to choose evil over virtue. Those idiots had zilch understanding of how the mind-body functions. Emotions and thoughts are not "sinful" or "virtuous," but natural to our organisms. "We" are not at war with them, because "they" too are "us." And maybe we would be more humane if we were aware of ourselves as passionate, self-contradicting, not as reasonable as we think we are humans and see others that way, and ease up on everyone else.
I can say, "I think, therefore I am," and that requires consciousness. But what about when I'm not conscious? Ergo, I am not? What of humans who, as a result of accidents, lie in comas for weeks, months, years, and come out of them? Were they thinking, since they can't recall anything after their accident? Without awareness, what can "Me" mean to me? Reality is subjective; we experience it through our brains. When the brain no longer functions, everything ceases to exist. "We" are not present to experience. Even if there existed a heaven or hell. It's no big deal.