Why understanding nature liberates our minds from useless things.
Few of us ever stop to ask one of the most basic questions about the Universe: Where is it? The answer can help us understand the structure of nature and rid the mind of useless things.
To do so requires us to deviate from conventional thinking. We’re taught since childhood that the universe can be divided into two entities — ourselves and what’s outside of us. This seems logical and apparent. What is “me” is commonly defined by what I can control. I can move my fingers but I cannot wiggle your toes. The dividing line between self and nonself is generally taken to be the skin.
Of course, when a chunk of the body has vanished, as some unfortunate amputees have experienced, one still feels oneself to be just as “present” as before, and not subjectively diminished in the least. This logic could be carried forth until one arrives at solely the brain perceiving itself as “me” — because if a head could be maintained with an artificial heart and the rest, it too would reply “Here!” if its name were shouted at roll call.
The central concept of Rene Descartes, who brought philosophy forward into its modern era, was the primacy of consciousness; that all knowledge, all truths and principles of being must begin with the individual sensation of self. Thus, the old adage: I think, therefore I am. In addition to Descartes and Kant, there were a great many other philosophers who also argued along these lines. All start with “self.”
Much has been written about this sense of self, and entire religions (Buddhism, Zen, and Hinduism, for example) are dedicated to proving that a separate independent self, isolated from the cosmos, is a fundamentally illusory sensation.
The obverse side of this coin is experienced when thinking stops. Many people have had moments, such as when watching a baby or pet, when they feel a rush of joy, of being taken “out of oneself” and essentially becoming the object observed. Some might well shrug it off to wishful thinking or hallucination. But perhaps we can grant that something happens when the thinking mind takes a vacation. Absence of verbal thought or daydreaming clearly doesn’t mean torpor and vacuity. Rather, it’s as if the seat of consciousness escapes from its nervous isolation cell and takes residence in some other section of the theater, where the lights shine more brightly and where things feel more direct, more real.
On what street is this theater found? Where are the sensations of life?
We can start with everything being perceived around us — this page, for example. Custom says it all lies outside us in the external world. Yet nothing can be perceived that isn’t already interacting with our consciousness. According to biocentrism, the external world is correlative with consciousness. One can’t exist without the other. This means when we don’t look at the moon it effectively vanishes. If we still think of the moon and believe that it’s out there orbiting the Earth, or accept that other people are watching it, all such thoughts are still mental constructs. Bottom-line: if no consciousness existed, in what sense would the moon persist, and in what form?
So what do we see when we observe nature? The answer in terms of neural mechanics is straightforward. Because the images of the trees, grass, and the computer you’re looking at are real and not imaginary, it must be physically happening in some location. Physiology texts answer this without ambiguity. Although the eye delivers its payloads of electromagnetic energy, these are channeled through cables to the back of the brain, augmented by other locations that are as vast and labyrinthine as the Milky Way. This, according to the texts, is where the actual colors, shapes, and movement “happen.” This is where they’re cognized.
If you consciously try to access that visual part of the brain, you might be frustrated. But that’s because it’s unnecessary: you’re already accessing the visual portion of the brain with every glance you take. Custom tells us that what we see is outside ourselves, and such a viewpoint is necessary in terms of utility, as in “Please pass the butter.” But make no mistake: the visual image of that butter, that is, the butter itself, actually exists only inside your brain. That’s its location. It’s the only place visual images are cognized.
Some imagine there are two worlds, one “out there” and a separate one being cognized inside the skull. But the “two worlds” model is a myth. Nothing is perceived except the perceptions themselves, and nothing exists outside of consciousness. Only one visual reality is extant, and there it is. Right there.
The “outside world” is, therefore, located within the mind. Of course, it’s possible to over-think the issue and come up with attempted refutations. “Yeah, but what about someone born blind?” “And what about touch; if things aren’t out there, how can we feel them?” None of that changes the reality: touch, too, occurs only within consciousness or the mind. Every aspect of that butter, its existence on every level, is not outside of one’s being. Some are loath to accept this because it destroys the entire house-of cards worldview we’ve embraced all our lives. If that is consciousness in front of us, then it extends indefinitely to all that is cognized-calling into question the nature and reality of space.
Language was created to work through symbolism and to divide nature into parts and actions. The word “water” is not actual water, and the word “it” corresponds to nothing at all in the phrase “It is raining.” Even if well acquainted with the limitations of language, we must be on guard against dismissing biocentrism too quickly if it doesn’t seem compatible with verbal constructions. The challenge here is to peer not just behind habitual ways of thinking, but to grasp the universe in a way that’s at the same time simpler and more demanding than that to which we’re accustomed.
Finally, some revert to the “control” aspect to assert the fundamental separation of ourselves and an external, objective reality. Although we commonly believe that planets spin and our heart beats “all by itself,” we’re accustomed to holding that our minds possess a unique self-controlling feature that creates a distinction between self and external world. In reality, recent experiments show conclusively that the brain makes decisions faster than we’re aware. In other words, the mind operates all by itself, without any need for external meddling by our thoughts.
Indeed, Benjamin Libet found that unconscious brain electrical activity occurred up to ten seconds before there was any conscious sense of decision-making by a subject. This and other experiments prove the brain makes its own decisions on a subconscious level, and people only later feel “they” have performed a conscious decision. It means we go through life thinking that, unlike the blessedly autonomous operations of the heart, a lever-pulling “me” is in charge of the brain’s workings. So control, too, is largely an illusion. As Einstein put it, “We can will ourselves to act, but we cannot will ourselves to will.”
What, then, do we make of all this? First, that we’re truly free to enjoy the unfolding of life, including our own lives, unencumbered by the acquired, often guilt-ridden sense of control, and the obsessive need to avoid messing up. Second, and more to the point, modern knowledge of the brain shows that what appears “out there” is actually occurring within our own minds, with visual and tactile experiences located not in some external disconnected location distant from ourselves. Looking around, we see only our own mind or, perhaps, it’s better put that there’s no true disconnect between external and internal.
It would be well perhaps if we were to remember the old Hindu poem: “Know in thyself and All one self-same soul; banish the dream that sunders part from whole.”