A Million Different Things: Noon, Meditation #10
I paced along the estuary, walking with meditation, abundance... abundance... abundance, repeating in my mind, and found that the routine world I looked at every day became more beautiful and varied with each exposure.
Watery curls developing on the irregular surface as huge volumes of energy passed on the tides resembled the illustrations of the wave functions I’d read about in physics. It taught me that action in isolation enhances knowledge, but not understanding.
The water curled as propulsive energy interacted with resistant or contrary forces. It seemed muscular, power enacted against resistance. White foam escaped from the peak of a curl. Wind whipped it into sprays. On a blue-skied day when the interactions were maxed, the mix of blue, gray and white riding on the current was entrancing, a constant churning, a push-pull, nature conducting a boundless symphony of sound and sight, always reliable, playing this part of the physical environment.
On most days, the sun washed the waterfront and skyline buildings with light, much of which reflected down and across the water. Photons smacked against dense materials, rebounding into the estuary, some absorbed, some bouncing again, upward at a slant.
My eyes took in the scattering of light as some of the particles from each interaction bounced into them. Riding my occipital nerve, the information rushed to my brain, and in less than a second, that incredible spongy chunk of equipment gave me enough information to integrate that part of my world.
Simultaneously, many other events were happening. My ears gathered sound waves and dumped them into the repository that keeps constructing my reality. It collects and correlates with the lights. Receptors on my skin reminded me about hot and cold, the wind and its directions, while my nose picked up information from smells, with which the City is flooded, natural smells and manufactured smells and the aftereffects of industry.
My mouth, crammed with sensors, was less busy, closed and numbed by the overwhelming tastes of toothpaste and mouthwash still lingering on its surfaces. Second by second–or however we measure a moment–my brain took all this and far more, scrambled it together with history, anticipation, acquired knowledge and innate skills and made up a reality that was instantly replaced by the next and the next and the next.
That, for me, is the most stunning thing my brain or anything else in my personal make up does: it creates a tangible universe out of a ceaseless flood of information and lets me walk in this created world without hitting trees or being overwhelmed with influences. My brain condenses and shortens the world so that I can go through it, happy in the illusion that I am aware of most of what is around me.
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What we as humans “see,” what we universally accept as reality, is composed from an interesting set point at which we’ve agreed that this condition or level in the seamlessness of matter is the one on which we stake our claim.
We’ve agreed on the material compositions our brains have evolved to translate into what we call “the world.” What is actually “out there” (accepting for the moment the unsettled argument that something definitely is) is both too impossibly small and too hopelessly large to see.
We speak knowledgeably about light years, but no one can honestly put that measure into mental space. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. The distance it travels over 365 days equals a light year.
The universe we believe ourselves a part of is many light years wide. Impossibly large, but as investigating creatures, we want to understand it in some way and write it down. That’s our gift, our unique motivation.
Take this incomprehensible structure down to the human level of trees and water and living rooms, and then keep going. Smaller than the structures we find our way through every day, often manipulating and testing, is a varied world of things that make up what we stand on and/or are built from.
Some are so minuscule, we probably have no chance of ever seeing them, except in our experiments and mathematical constructions. Neutrinos, the most commonly used example, are theorized to be so small they race across the universe, passing through massive objects such as the Earth without running into anything or changing directions.
Beyond that, things get so small they are suspected of being not matter at all but potentials expressed as energy, strings with qualities as strange as having only a single dimension. Try imagining one of those. Then, try getting used to the idea that such bizarre items may underly every physical thing we see, including ourselves.
Learning quantum physics or astrophysics is not so important as is knowing there are so many things out there that we know about only conceptually or experimentally. We are relatively large or relatively small–pick your perspective–clumps of the something that makes up our singular universe.
Don’t accept for an instant the proposition that there is nothing else, nothing more, for the fact is that there is much more to be known than what we have already found. Our scientists have not come close to exhausting the search. No one has every answer. Even the words and terms for some things have not yet been invented.
Any mystic claiming understanding that surpasses knowledge is guessing. Mystics can guide science with inspired insights, but they can also misinterpret what contemplation tells them. Volumes can be written about bad ideas that fascinated and earned the trust of millions. Our brains are still personalized filters, adjusted for each of us according to our determination and direction. Truth is universal and personal, all at once.
Is what’s going on in my brain while I walk by the water or write this book merely an accident in material space or a directed activity? Am I an illusion created to facilitate evolution or some other process or is there a me at the wheel?
According to my recent reading, most scientists concur that self-determination is an illusion, a flexible invention of the material laws that make our universe hum. Consciousness is a happy accident that somehow lets us enjoy the illusion that we are in charge and steering our ship.
I’ve gotten lost in the unanswerable question of, what’s the diff? If we think we are real and making choices, does it matter in any practical way if we are or are not? Finally, I took the unorthodox position in favor of free will and conscious awareness. I did this, at least in part, to kick off an experiment.
If I consciously make choices, or believe I do, in favor of a goal or direction, what happens next? Who is this “I” anyway, and what makes him tick? How effective is he? If I decide on one thing and experience takes me somewhere else, does that prove I’m not in charge or that I’m simply participating in the human experiment of determining effectiveness?
It seemed like a fun approach capable of occupying me for years. I even found laughing at my tangles and puzzles easy.
Am I deluding myself about free will and consciousness? Gradually, I’ve come to understand that such self-deception is impossible. In the end, I’d have to delude myself about deluding myself, and evolution would never waste its energy designing me for that. Evolution has better things to do.
No, I think science takes an unjustified shortcut. Since we can’t explain free will without resorting to something ineffable, like the dreaded God or other divinity, the whole idea must go.
Speculation quickly whirls into infinite regress as we look inward to ask what the “I” each of us always contends with is. Each penetration steps down to one more me beneath the other, without end. We discover no bottom.
It’s a condition of science that if we can’t touch, measure or define (read “confine”) something, it can’t be confirmed as real, and if not real, it can’t stand. My belief, to the contrary, is that anything taking such a hold on our imaginations as free will has must be thoroughly entangled in reality, and even if it seems permanently beyond our full comprehension, we still should lasso it and hold it in our corral until discovering everything knowable about it.
Choices are what we do. So, let’s get into choices.
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