Going Mental

Take a good look at the table of elements.  I bet some of the people reading this remember the table from seeing it stuck up on a wall in high school chemistry class.  Others, who work in the sciences, no doubt have a more intimate working knowledge of it and a deeper familiarity with its intricacies and aspects.  But, for most people, it’s just a list.  It’s the big list of all the different kind of bricks they have down at the cosmic brick yard.

Everything in the universe is made up of these elements, these bricks if you will, that are found in the table of elements.  That’s all there is because there ain’t no more.  Not that we know of anyway.  Stars, galaxies, glasses of beer, you and me… we are all made up of elements found on that list.  Everything there is in the whole universe is made up of elements found on that list.  It’s all the same stuff put together in different ways, individually, or, in combination.  Have we all got that straight so far?

OK… look at the Table of Elements again and try to answer these questions.  What is there in or about that table, that list of different kinds of bricks, that would lead you to conclude that… one day… they would, or could, become aware of their own existence?  How does matter assume a form that can become self-consciousness and capable of formulating universal laws that encompass its own existence?

That’s what happened folks, clearly, and that is what we are.  Matter went Mental and we have no idea how or why.

Hamburgers, Hondas and half-pints of beer  are ALL made out of the same sorts of elementary particles and there is absolutely no explanation of how consciousness arises and awareness becomes a characteristic of some objects, but, not others.  It’s a characteristic of us… to lesser or greater degrees depending upon who we are discussing, and it has traditionally been determined to “happen”, or, take place between our ears.  In the brain.  But, we don’t know how.

Now Mrs. N. is going to come to the point of this little essay.

We don’t know Jack-Shit about how the elementary particles listed in the Periodic Table above became conscious of themselves and we sure as hell don’t know how that lump of folded, weird looking tissue we call a brain adds up to, or produces that wondrous thing we call a mind.  We are told that our brains are like computers that “evolved” to process information and that because our brains are bigger than the brains of other creatures, like our cousins the chimpanzees, humans jumped over the line from dumb animals to sentient, self-aware non-animals… with a mind.

That’s Bullshit.  The largest computer on the face of the earth is no more self aware and has no more of a “mind” than the smallest, most primitive hand held calculator.  Size isn’t the answer.  The truth is we simply don’t know what the mind is, or, where the mind is.  We have no explanation of what “is working” when this thing, or this activity we call a mind is working.  Sure, we know some stuff, maybe a lot of stuff about the brain.  The long history of observation and the  study of injuries to the brains of unfortunate individuals has taught us a great deal about its functional anatomy.  But the mind? … No… that’s another kettle of fish entirely.

Realizing this, coming to grips with this conundrum if you will, has caused Mrs. N. to pause for a few moments on her never ending quest to discover all she can about just what it means to be human.  The more she thinks about it the more it feels like a punch in the gut.  A “stops you in your tracks and buckles you over” hit to the solar plexus that puts everything else out of your head… except getting your breath back.  Wondering, at least at the time, if you ever will.  In one way at least I hope I don’t.

I hope I don’t lose sight of the fact that there are an army of people out there, doctors of various stripes, and religious leaders of a thousand denominations who ALL would like you to believe that they have the answers to the big questions.

They are full of shit, even if they don’t realize it.  At best they have shitty little answers to shitty little questions that usually boil down to attempts to increase their power and prestige and decrease your power and bank balance.  Maybe, for one reason or another, that’s the best we can do.  I sure hope not.

As it is we can’t even imagine an answer to how it is that the bricks that make up the Periodic Table of Elements above happened to arrange themselves (or became arranged) in a way that is sitting here, sipping a cup of Joe, and typing out this essay.  The tools we have are outrageously inefficient and clearly not up to the task.  Our theories don’t cut the mustard.  Our imagination… even our imagination seems to fall short of “The Right Stuff”.

I can only close with this quote from “Aping Mankind” a wonderful read, by Raymond Tallis.

…”And imagining the brain, a material object subject to the laws of physics, as a place where the products of the blind laws of physics discover those laws and utilize them to shape the material world must drive us to think harder about ourselves…”

Good Luck with that

Kiss, kiss

Mrs. N.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Going Mental

  1. I am glad you are enjoying that book; I think Tallis is hugely underrated and sadly ignored by mainstream academics. Your post reminds me, if I may, of a rather lengthy quote by Camus:

    “… all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases . . . But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which the planets gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know . . . . That science that was to teach me everything ends up in hypothesis, that lucidity founders in a metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft line of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more . . . I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world.”

    • Thanks Brad, and thanks for turning me on to Tallis. I enjoyed the book a great deal and I am working my way through it a second time. I read Oliver Sacks “Hallucinations” over the weekend, just for a break. I studied hypnosis years ago, but, it’s been decades since I turned anyone into a chicken.

      Putting ALL that together makes my head hurt. It also makes me laugh when I think how pathetically little we understand about how what we are… works. What reality is…

      I have had two patients with conversion disorders over the years and that was eye opening enough. Then I read “Born on a Blue Day” by Daniel Tammet. Perhaps you are familiar with him? “Inside the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant”

      When I read how he does math in his head. …”When multiplying, I see the two numbers as distinct shapes… and locate each spatially opposite the other. The space created between the two shapes creates a third, which I perceive as a new number.”…

      …”When I divide one number by another, in my head I see a spiral rotating downwards in larger and larger loops, which seem to warp and curve. Different divisions produce different sizes of spirals with varying curves. From my mental imagery I’m able to calculate a sum like 13 divided by 97 (0.1340206…) in seconds to almost a hundred decimal places.”…

      At the end of the day I can only ask myself….. “Where’s your reality NOW Mrs. N.?” As far as our knowledge of how the mind works, let alone what the mind is goes… hubris doesn’t seem quite strong enough of a word.

      Thanks again Brad
      I very much appreciate your comments
      Mrs. N.

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