The Immaterial Origins of Life and Intelligence: an imaginary interview

 

Is the Self an illusion?

On one level I’d say no, because the Self is merely the means by which the body refers to itself. So the Self isn’t delusional from that perspective, because the word and image are grounded in a real referent (the body). However, this projection of a bodily image quickly morphs into a sense of Self that controls the body, or is trapped within the body, as if it were a spirit or separate entity. This is where the illusion starts.

The brain tends to be imagined as a seat of consciousness (also semi-independent from the rest of the body) – wobbling up there like a big, fat turkey on a telephone pole. But this image of a body/brain dichotomy easily morphs into a projection of an even more independent-seeming “mind” drifting above the body like a balloon on a long string. And this “mind” tends to become a synonym for the Self, which sits at its desk behind the eyes and acts like a CEO of the in-corporation, or an overlord of sorts. The varieties of imagery are endless. And even among atheists, this Self tends to take on the qualities of a “soul” as well, a lively essence possessing or inhabiting the body.

But these are not minds, Selves or souls, but merely images — masks that have lured this bodily intelligence into dreams of an autonomous existence over and above the comparatively material level of biology. They are deceptive illusions of minds and souls, illusions of identity.
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Technical Note on Why the Last Essay Isn’t Really About Writing

Maybe what I’m really after in speaking of an imaginary “you” and “Me” is a rapport with these persistent thoughts of self and other, these imaginary beings that occupy center stage in life. I’m not interested in being a writer, it’s not my career. But in looking at the dishonesty of thought honestly I’m dealing with a communal mess. And part of the resolution of a communal mess will necessarily involve communication of this sort.

Writing provides the opportunity for an elongated span of attention on these matters.  But it’s not the only way to approach all this. So it’s not about writing, it’s about the communal movement of thought. In any communicative case (speaking, fighting, using sign language, doing math) the same issue looms that I was trying to contend with — what to do about the self-image that insists on acting like a middle-man at all times, even poking its ugly little head between two embracing lovers more often than not in the form of anxieties and worries. This spoiled brat of thought has to be the center of attention and is constantly driven by insecurities, because it is by nature a deception, a projection posing as a reality.

So the question tends to be, how do I look at thought honestly knowing full well that a fictitious “I” or “me” will inevitably intrude on the scene demanding to play a central role?

There are a million ways to handle this and all have been tried in these essays, with varying effects. The one is to do what is being done in this paragraph, which is to refuse to use personal language and speak from the third person’s perch.

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Starving the Tree of Racism: How Seemingly Benign Values and Beliefs Feed Racism

Strange Tree

Dear fellow white men, but I hope others stick around as a Greek chorus.

An honest recognition of this culture’s history of treachery, kidnapping, torture, and murder is needed to read this. This is my fundamental starting point. So I’m essentially only speaking to those white men who recognize this and want it to end.

I’m arguing that if this is really our passion, then we can’t solely focus on stopping overt racists, or eliminating the racism and sexism baked into our institutions. These are necessary goals of course. But ultimately we won’t be very helpful if we don’t simultaneously (and primarily) work to expose the subtlest roots of racism in ourselves. And if we dig deeply enough we discover that we’re contributing to this violence through our identification with many of this society’s seemingly benign (but in fact toxic) values.

Magnification, Not Abstraction

I feel that poisonous minerals of racism seep into our bones microscopically through values that often appear innocuous and beneficial. But it might not seem practical or relevant to talk about these subtleties at first, because this can feel like an escape into abstractions from more pressing racial problems. But these are magnified examinations of the subtle roots of racism, not abstractions.

Nevertheless, it feels like I’m asking readers to pause for a moment in rescuing the drowning people downstream. But I don’t feel anything can be resolved downstream. I think we need to discover the deepest source of the problem, which remains hidden in us.Read More »

The Radical Derelict: Giving Up the Work Ethic for Peace

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This appeared on Counterpunch and Dissidentvoice.

The same relentless energy driving a toddler in its Terrible Twos still drives that voice in my head. However, when I see a toddler, I know I’m in the presence of a genius, albeit a naïve one. It’s not the size of the intellect, but the velocity of learning that describes its intelligence. I, on the other hand, tend to move in well-worn circles, constrained by prejudice and vested interest. I’ve learned to “circle the wagons”, so to speak, around particular conclusions.

Essentially, I’m what happens when a toddler’s unstoppable urge to learn gets diverted into supporting a predatory status quo. Open-ended learning gets replaced by a narrowing framework of instruction as the driving force; and a dawning sense of some innate order or intelligence in the world gets short-circuited by dependence on authority and by conformity to the culture’s creeds and isms.Read More »