Weather of the Mind

I work right next door to Century 21, a fabulously popular discount department store, famous all over the world.  At one time or another, I have gone through various levels of involvement with the store.  For periods of weeks or months, I have visited it daily on my lunch hour, usually buying a few shirts, a belt, socks, or during some stretches, a different pair of shoes each week.  Now, I never go there.  The thought of walking in there bores me stiff.

What changed?  Why did it change?  Oh, you can say I just “got bored,” but why?  Is there some time-dependent mechanism involved?  Can we quantify it, at least for me?  Is it an accumulation of small things adding up to a big, final, ho hum?

Consider all the similar changes that happen over shorter time scales – a month, a week, a day…an hour?  We seem to have no control over them, we just react to them.  Or are simply aware of them.

This seems to wreak havoc with our normal ideas on the nature of the self.  Is our personal mentality simply a mental landscape over which storm fronts and high/low pressure areas shift endlessly, on their own power?  Reason seems to have a small part to play, and is present only because we have abstract language to talk about all this.

I come back to my bedrock conviction that people are more like plants than they like to think.  Free will exists, but there’s less of it than we pretend.  We are just organisms in an environment, responding and surviving.  Even our mental life, about which we are so proud, is hardly of our “own” creation.

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5 Responses to Weather of the Mind

  1. cathleen says:

    Interesting you should talk about Century 21 and awareness. The first topic caught my attention and the second subject triggered a response. During that last week spent in Vipassana meditation,, the focus was primarily on how to disconnect the sensations and thoughts from knee-jerk reactions. Awareness is actually the first step. By simply being aware of these subconscious desires, the consciousness can disconnect the reaction from the trigger. I experienced it on a very crude and undeveloped level. I heard a more profound experience described in Radiolab’s episode on Words. A woman experiences complete loss of language following a stroke. Incapable of forming word-based thoughts, she discovered profound peace and happiness. But, she described herself as an infant, not a freed individual. If that can also exist in a being with her complete left brain intact, do they differentiate themselves as beings with free-will apart from the plant, the rat, the monkey?

  2. sledpress says:

    I think it’s just as valid to say that you craved some experience that you got from that urban hunter-gathering, and once you processed it into your “experience bank,” you didn’t need it any more.

    Look at little kids (I try not to, but they’re hard to avoid), who will learn a new skill, like going down a slide or something, and do it until they just about make themselves sick. Later it’ll be something more abstract, some sort of puzzle for instance, but anyway something that will eventually be regarded as a timne-waster. There is an instinct to repeat something until it’s laid down in the permanent structure, after which it becomes as superfluous as polishing something that’s already polished.

    Our egos or conscious awareness don’t have sole hegemony over our mental lives, but that doesn’t mean said mental life isn’t “ours.” Heck, if it weren’t for dreams, which my conscious mind by definition does not provide, I’d go nuts from boredom. I have my most interesting ideas asleep, but they’re definitely still mine.

    Maybe you at last had enough shirts, socks, etc., or maybe you reached a place in life where the exhilaration of thinking “Hey! I can buy pants whenever I want to!” was no longer an effective or needed euphoric.

    (Darth Vader: “Your lack of pants disturbs me…) http://www.keepersoflists.org/index.php?lid=1906

  3. lichanos says:

    @Sled:

    Maybe you at last had enough shirts, socks, etc…

    How much is enough? Why? Is there a marginal utility function at work in my mind? It’s all invisible to me. Beyond language.

    …but they’re definitely still mine. Why? Because they happened in your head?

    @Cathleen:

    We can learn some profound lessons about consciousness from people who have suffered the misfortune of loosing some of it.

    To paraphrase an old saying of the Z-people to summarize the arc of consciousness: When I was an infant,I felt was a thing like a pillow, a cat, or cloud; then I grew and learned I was not like a pillow, a cat or a cloud; when I achieved enlightenment, I saw I was a thing like a pillow, a cat or a cloud.

    • sledpress says:

      I’d say that “enough” was “enough experience of buying pants to get whatever it is your inner self gets from buying pants.” Or an experience of another kind that finally, definitively gets you where you were trying to go when you bought the pants, since as we know, shopping is not always about utility or practical need.

      And those dreams belong to an essential self that is certainly me — it’s not anyone else, unless you are going to take the next step towards assuming participation in a Universal Mind. But it’s still processed through my brain and stamped by my accumulated (and previously processed) experience. I don’t doubt that as we cultivate awareness, we do everything more consciously, just as you can even learn to dream lucidly. But I still think there is some reason integral to you or me why a certain action is attractive.

  4. lichanos says:

    …unless you are going to take the next step towards assuming participation in a Universal Mind.

    I’m certainly not going to do that. I don’t even know what a ‘mind’ is.

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