The Apologue of Life
Man lives of that which he perceives around himself: these are the shadows of existence. Albeit he was born to discover what is hidden within himself: that is the light of existence.
As we observe a child's behavior, we cannot but notice that his world is a world extremely apart, a world full of visions. He might look at a corner of the house and, terrified, he will start crying and that experience may last for quite a long time, even years: what does he see that we cannot perceive? Or he starts speaking to someone invisible amidst the flowers of a garden, apparently completely unconscious of the real world surrounding him - taking notice of nothing whatsoever - but of his mind's friend. Who is his vision's friend?
As he grows up experiences of this type slowly subside and sink deep in his unconscious, yet they become a strong force within which most probably will actively shape the rest of his life. Nevertheless, these experiences do not get lost - they are still there, in his mind, hidden deep within and unreachable and, to a large extent undetected and unsuspected, covertly they still influence his life.
What did really change during those years from childhood to adolescence? As a child, apparently and to a great extent he is unaware of anything but the contents of his mind insomuch as, in its totality, environmental experience is the shaping force of his existence. As time goes by, gradually a greater awareness of the world, of the environment around him takes hold, but in the wise of a discriminating and filtering process. He still has imaginations and turmoil in his mind but he has experienced that he needs to control and keep them at bay if he his to proceed safely and profitably in life. So, to all appearances, the great change is in the quality of his level of awareness – what often does not properly develop in a deranged mind.
This conscious awareness, this survival tool which slowly forges itself is a process of the mind which to a great extent mirrors the personality of the individual on a psychical level. Here we are compelled to leave the mind, that is, that which thinks itself without exactly knowing what both itself and the thinking process are, aside for a while and give a look to what are primarily related to the same: the brain and the psyche.
Presently we do have a relevant knowledge – albeit far from complete – of the brain's anatomy, physiology and the main processes which keep it thriving. To put it very simply, we may look at the brain as an extremely complicated piece of biological machinery activated by electrical impulses and biochemical processes in response to both inner and external stimulations, namely, physiological and psychical stimuli, sense perceptions and, withal its task in maintaining active those autonomic functions which are strictly necessary for life, like heart beating, breathing, proper control of the nervous system and so on. Concerning sensory input stimuli impinging on the brain, it is obvious that these stimuli leave some sort of information which can be recalled, analyzed, and tampered with at diverse levels of awareness which we term as conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. The subconscious speaks to us with symbols; this "language" has its own roots in inheritance from the past, including genetic inheritance, as well as tradition, culture, social and physical environment. The interpretation of this symbolism is strictly subjective although, to a certain extent, it may be exemplary within some established paradigms. As such, it may be taken as an evolutionary prototype, that which gave rise to the notion of a collective unconscious. The unconscious, as the word itself implies, lies fully beyond awareness; nevertheless, apart from EEG (electroencephalographic) recordings and other brain-scanning techniques which may reveal an apparently inert or simply autonomic state there is no reason to exclude that it has a fundamental structural action in mentation at some undisclosed level and we may reasonably suspect that within this apparently dormant realm many important elements from acquired experience, or, more likely - inheritance (hence, evolutionarily, the first brain, termed also reptilian or limbic system) - contribute to the complex structure of the psyche.
The sum total of these perceptions, both sense perceptions and mental activity at diverse levels of awareness, is what makes up the psyche. The psyche is nothing existing per se but conceptually a process resulting from diverse causes which, on the other hand, leave a trace – more aptly, is somehow memorized - by the brain and as such a construct liable of recall and reaction subject both to the contents stored at various perceptive levels and to the necessary requirements met with in confronting the overt environmental necessities. As such, it is a fundamental causal agent, whose processes are - as characteristic human responses and reactions - openly observable, even though dynamically active to a greater or lesser extent and, as well, more or less concealed beyond the threshold of awareness.
Clearly, brain and psyche as above described suggest something not very different from an automaton: a modulating process, informed and intelligent must be inserted in the picture and so we are back, for a moment, to the brain which, at the cellular level, can be clearly visualized in terms of electronic constants: inductance, capacity and resistance. These constants are affected mainly by cellular permeability and ionic transport and from these interactions resultant signals are transferred or received and vibrational frequency is established and, quite likely, this is the modulating mechanism which sums up in that intelligence which we call mind. The mind itself, as termed above - a process - then results from the interaction of the brain and the psyche. This resultant is not simply reactive but somehow subject to self-discrimination and supplying a proper feedback which, in turn, again informs and activates psyche and brain in order to obtain envisioned - namely, intelligent - results.
This will presently bring about a digression concerning volition or, better, free will. The debate between eristics, supporters, and deniers in the matter of free will has an endless history. Perhaps, just not to see life's experience purposeless as a blind automaton this small dissertation will fit in. Le us set brain, psyche and mind in an imaginary sphere where they interact with each other while the sphere's emanations due to this interaction is what we call intellect: thought, analysis and response. To what extent we are freely responsible of the interaction of brain, psyche and mind we will never know for certain but the emanation, intellect, gives us some clues. Something just like the imaginary picture above described emerging from the subconscious. As it flashed spontaneously - "unwilled" - through the mind the thought came forth that it could be inserted in this discourse and the subsequent response was not automatic but a matter of conscious choice and decision after analyzing the situation: would it fit in properly? Is it worth writing it down before it sinks in forgetfulness or its originality gets intellectually marred? To all appearances, though, analysis and response are a indisputable reality which leaves us a choice within some constrictions proper of the intrinsic interaction of brain, psyche and mind within environmental circumstances and the intellect's response; by this is meant that free will does exist but this freedom cannot be absolute due to elements beyond our control, that is, the interaction of brain, psyche and mind and, as well, it may be conditioned or constricted by other elements or circumstances beyond intellectual choice or capability, beyond full awareness and conscious volition, or by environmental factors beyond our control.
The soul is a useful mental contrivance to dispel our fear of death and, yes, of a most dreaded extinction. It is nothing but a creation of the mind to put us on safe ground – or so we believe – but there in nothing like that: it is an illusion, and a delusion. As for the spirit it is a most useful mental tool: both a beacon guiding us in the darkness and a lamp to find our way in the dark labyrinths of the mind. As both soul and spirit are mental creatures, the former imaginary and the latter a useful tool of the mind, they will inevitably follow our demise. We may now return to the paradox of this extinction: do we really live our life? No doubt we are a complex physical organism, furthermore endowed with a thin – two millimeters thick – covering of convoluted gray matter which is not to be found in other mammals and which endows us with an additional mechanism which allows thought, language, manifest intelligence, and self discrimination. And thanks to the latter, self discrimination, we perceive ourselves as individuals with a personal life and purpose: this is as true as illusory. Of necessity we look at life from our pedestal: we have to survive in a not always friendly environment and do our best to cope with all that which we meet in life, not less so visualizing a glorious end reaching, disincarnate, some wonderful paradise or nearness to any one of the thousands of gods which the human mind has conceived. This precious, great life of ours, which in terms of cosmic time is so brief that practically it does not even exist, albeit real as it may appear, is doomed to unacceptable extinction: we apparently come and go by mere chance, with no definite purpose, useless shadows vanishing in a flash in the cosmic vault. The manifest organism will return to the earth, all his functions – none excluded – will be lost. As we see it, there is no justice in such event; however, nothing can be meaningless in the universe.
And this is the heart of the matter: we neither come, nor go. Like it or not, we do not even live a life – but as seen from the individual’s standpoint. What we do not perceive is that it is not us who live a life but that it is the other way around: it is life which lives us. Let us say that, apart from the physical standpoint which enabled us to examine the mechanisms of life all the way down to the molecular level and even beyond to the infra-atomic world, we do not know what life is. Somehow this brings us back to the worm eating our carcass: that which keeps it thriving is not different from that which kept us thriving. Its experience and our experience are indeed different but this experiences do not belong to the worm or to us, they belong to life; life seen as a universal necessity meant to give meaning to the cosmos - since we cannot conceive of that which our senses perceive, nor that which our mind analyzes, as utterly meaningless - a manifestation of cosmic intelligence which goes beyond any cosmic origin or demise.
Language, as a telic construct, has its own structures and its own rules, which are not always the same as the structures and the rules of nonverbal experience, namely, they obey to diverse rules hence here is the origin of the difficulty of expression which often besets our handling of the thinking process so as to properly express the contents of our mind. And, not unlikely, the moment chosen to express verbally the contents of our mind depends also on our actual psychical stance so that furthermore verbalization may not properly reflect the actual mental image.
Somehow, in an inscrutable process of the mind, we visualize things which are not things, which have consistence without having real consistence, that is to say, which are or appear to be real and tangible without having substance. Therefore, with reference to the above formulate "a manifestation of cosmic intelligence which goes beyond any cosmic origin or demise" and which knows neither origin nor end beyond the purely physical cosmic manifestations that come within our sensory perceptions here defined as "life" the word flux is here employed. We cannot put it under the microscope like the molecules which, under its influence, assemble to form organisms and we must be content to define it, this flux, as a process which eludes our comprehension.
An incomprehensible universal mirror reflects these mental images, materializes and enlivens them for an instant and then they are reabsorbed by the same but as images with the taint of a material existence. Since nothing is better than exemplifying from our factual human experience, we might even conceive of a process, borrowing the term from the psychoanalyst's lexicon, not completely at odds with mental projections - even within the frame, because our mind cannot brim over the limitless, is thrives within a framing process - of things which are not things. Nor does it appear unseasonable to state that the verbal expression is a projection of the mind’s contents although the words may be amiss and fail to adequately purport the object within the mental context. We cannot discount that a mental image has and is its own reality independently of subjective reality.
Summing up, what appears as physical life is an enriching experiential process of life per se; life does not belong to the enlivened creatures that we see around ourselves, neither to ourselves: it belongs to life itself. And this is where we can give up our terror of extinction; whatever passed to be during our physical existence is not lost, not a trifle of the same, it becomes part and parcel of life itself, of a greater intelligence. It becomes part of that incomprehensible flux which is beyond an origin or an end, beyond time and matter. As such something becomes obvious: we were never born nor will we ever meet an end; we are part and parcel of something which defeats eternity.
We suffer, toil, rejoice, love or hate but, in truth, there is no “we”! This individuality is a fiction; insofar as we understand it, it is a necessary and indispensable factor for survival, we cannot hope in heavenly manna but have to strive for sustenance and hold up to environmental forces and constraints. Once we understand this, perhaps it won’t make us any better but it might help.
All that was said above is but the first step into the realm of the unknowable. We have discovered life, albeit not its secret. We have discovered that it must pre-exist the physical universe, albeit not the reason of its being expanding beyond the restricted conceptions of time and space of our minds; beyond any beginning, beyond any conceivable end. Described by the use of the word flux we see it as something moving, as an unending process and here, again, we come upon the stumbling stone: as a process, an activity, and according to reason it must have a source. (The word source here retains its proper meaning but without the restrictions imposed by time and space; namely, source but not as a causative agent as we normally understand it, and with no determinable origin.) We wish, however, to go around this stumbling block without diving into dubitable transcendental insight or deep, more or less valid metaphysical speculations. To deal with the concept of source as above described we may use a term which defines a process without any material implication; an apt word in this context could be ”function”: it implies a relation and a consequence while dispensing with physical subjectivity, and here we reach a point where we may state that life is a function of something else: presently undefined and undefinable, irrespective of the depth or cogency of our conjectures.
Undoubtedly 2+2=4 and we have no uncertainties concerning it: if we add two coins to two coins we get four coins; if we add two coins, one pebble and one tomato we get a group, or set, of four objects; and there are, conceivably, innumerable ways of getting this result. We are not concerned here with what we add to what and the resulting number, what we are concerned with are the “+” and “=” signs because they will help us to reach some conclusions apart from any elementary arithmetical exercise. Here the “+” and “=” signs have an exact meaning, their function is to express a relation but, whether or not these two signs are graphically displayed on a piece of paper or just a mental image they are a concept of the mind serving a definite purpose. This concept is nothing that exists per se, nothing tangible. As stated, it has a definite relational, but not causal, function and its source is as tangible as the concept itself: intelligence – or what we define as the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience. It is real and causative but we cannot in the least say that it exists; we may feel that we have a mind and even assign some boundary to the same but intelligence baffles it although, to all appearances, we may see it as a function of the mind, a relation such that one thing is dependent on another and in such a way that they are, constantly and reciprocally, a feedback to each other, as such a perfect symbiosis. And here we may return to that undefined and undefinable flux, life, and reach the conclusion that it must be a function of what lies beyond both the perceptible and the perceivable universe although we do not understand, nor can we since life is not within us albeit not apart from us as we are within that flux. And, yes, now we are at loss and in complete darkness: a function of what is it life, that unexplainable flux?
The only analogy which we can find is that of the relation between mind and intelligence. The mind, we are reasonably apt to believe, is not subject to restrictions of time and space nor can we prove that it is not so. Intelligence itself is a process which, we may safely think with little if any uncertainty, shapes the mind, it is a causative process. Life, not casual and by itself causal is proof, by itself, of an intelligent process shaping and sustaining its own reality beyond any conceivable physical boundaries. Clearly, there is nothing new in the age-old concept of a universal intelligence apart that here, as life, it is deprived of the attribute universal because the word itself falls within the limits imposed by our mind and, for that very same reason it is deprived also of the attribute eternal. Furthermore, even if we defined it as a flux, and as such implying dynamism, it is deprived also of the attribute existence because the latter, as well, falls within mental perceptions. Since we deprived life of any perceivable dimension in time and space it becomes obvious that our mind cannot cross the limits within which it is restricted and bring about a suitable answer; we are, nevertheless, a lilliputian and intrinsic part of a grand design, painted on the canvas of the universe. Can a picture understand the painter?
Life is not your experience, you are the experience of Life
It becomes evident that on acceptance of the foregoing thoughts, not just at an intellectual level but as a felt realization, as a way of living, religion as we know it would loose its intrinsic value. Looking deeper into the mind, along its evolution on a time scale, we have little, if any doubt that doctrines of the past and related faiths do not fit anymore the present intellectual-social situation of mankind. No one can, on a rational base, deny that religion is a "social injection" and hence that, psychically, God is a mental projection. Man is still attached to superstitions, mythological gods, and anthropomorphic images hidden in the cosmos or anyhow innumerable creatures of the mind – most of them powerful forces handed down by tradition – forces which are but useful tools to disperse the innate anguish of darkness, the specter of the unknown hunting humanity since the inception of reason but which are nonetheless illusory. There is, obviously, no way to prove that, as aforesaid, “it is life living us and not us living life” since that must be experienced as an inner reality. However, rationally, this makes more sense that searching something clouded beyond the clouds, however useful this something may have been in the formation of actual societies. From our standpoint and with no uncertainties, religious diversity on a global scale appears not as a uniting but as a dividing force, that coercion which has brought about, through past millennia and to the very present moment which is, likewise, unrelentingly pushing into the future, clashes, death and destruction; maneuvered by elites of savants acting in the name of some supernatural being that no one has ever discovered and, anyhow, undiscoverable as hidden beyond the mantle of useful, albeit unreal mental images. Nor can it be different so long as peoples will not find that common denominator which cannot be expressed in a multitude of deities and discordant doctrines.
brain is the painter, the mind is the canvas and the psyche is the observer.