Monday, January 23, 2012

Are You Your Brain?

Brent Spiner as Data.
© Paramount Pictures, "Fair Use"
under critical commentary. 
The 20th century TV show "Star Trek: The Next Revenue Generation" featured a walking talking iphone named Lieutenant Commander Data.  Ignoring for the moment that the noun "data" is a plural while there was (initially at least) only one android, a lot of airtime that would otherwise have been dead air was filled up exploring the question of whether Commander "Datum" was really a person, or just an invention.

True to the form of classic Science Fiction, the writers took a strongly Materialist view that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be someone's cell phone ringing.

No! Sorry - I meant it is therefore indistinguishable from a real duck.  In the early 20th century before handheld digital devices and their apps were even thought possible, this logic was irrefutable.  But by the time TV producers realized that there was money to be made in SciFi again, the question of what made us "us" was further muddied by at least the possibility of some very convincing technology.

Alan Turing, mathematician,
pioneer of Artificial Intelligence,
and an uncanny likeness of Brent Spiner.
No?  Well, you humans all look alike
to me. (oops!)
In Geekspeak, Lt Cmdr Data could pass the famous "Turing Test."  Ask some questions of an indeterminate entity and see if you can tell by its responses whether that entity is artificial or human. The argument was strongly put forward by Star Trek TNG that if someone's thoughts, reasoning, creativity, relationships, originality, memories and experiences doesn't make him a real person, then what does?

Fair enough.  If it works for Cmdr Data, then it should be good enough for you, too.  Are you your brain? Is your reasoning the real you?  Your past, kept alive in your memory, defines who you are? Limits you and encircles you, and forms the boundary conditions of your future?  Is who you are the sum of the opinions that you hold, the information that you can recall, the relationships you have and the people that you know or think you know?

A good number of my readers will answer, "Yes, that is who I am."  A minority will answer, "No, I am those things but also much more."  And a very small minority, if any, will say, "No, John.  I am not my brain, I am not my thoughts, I am not my past or my future.  I am ME."

"My brain is just something I use, unless it gets out of control and starts using me, assuming my identity, and asserting control."

"My thoughts and ideas are things I created, so how could they be who I am?  '... for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?'"

"My past is just some things that happened.  I am not limited or defined by them unless I choose to be.  And I realize that I have that choice."

"Pull harder! Never - stop resisting what is!"
To be mind-identified is in some ways to be trapped in thought.  Yes, there are worse things to be trapped in. Or are there?  Thinking can get you unstuck from a hole, a net or financial difficulty.  But how do you get free of thought?  By more thinking?

The ability to do so takes some searching and effort on your part.  I do not recommend pharmaceutical shortcuts, which in the end do nothing at all.  A starting point for you could be to forgive the day.  Every morning and every night, forgive the day. For everything that did or might go wrong, forgive the day. For everything that should have been but wasn't, forgive the day. For everything you are or aren't, and for what others are or ought to be but aren't, forgive the day. Forgive the past and forgive the future too, but make sure to forgive the only thing you ever really have. This day.  This is the beginning of what some teachers call "surrender," which is not the same as acquiescing to suffering or negativity.  It is merely accepting a situation as it is, as the first step towards changing it.

But to be free of mind-identification is to be able to use thought, memory, forecasting and reason with volition rather than to be controlled by them.  To be free of your past painful memories is the freedom to create a new future as well as to create new, liberating and empowering meanings for past events.  To be free of fretting about the future is the freedom from fear, worry, stress, and from the almost certain failure that those compulsive mental activities bring.

Being free from your mind's control is the freedom to chose happiness at any time, in any circumstances, while  still being able to respond to situations as necessary, plan as necessary, anticipate with pleasure the future, and enjoy the wonderful memories of the past. Freedom from the mind means peace.

It also means being able to learn, to grow, to be teachable like a child again, and to experience the wonder of discovery again. Being free from the mind's control means freedom from old thought patterns, assumptions, opinions, cemented old dogma, and ideas that no longer serve you so well.  It means your future is yours to create, and is not cast in rigid stone.

Freedom is the end of suffering, the end of worry, and the beginning of peace.  You can have this without giving up any of the good that your mind can do.

I am not my mind.  You are not your mind.  And that is a wonderful thing.


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