Monday, September 15, 2008

Brain Tripping

Don't believe everything you think. I saw that on a bumper sticker a few years ago and it really stuck with me. I was heavy into meditation at the time, experiencing that expansive state of being more than just my little self with its biases and blind spots. I was drawn to sit because of shoulder and neck pain which had turned chronic, finding that the meditation allowed me to relax my own resistance to the pain, thereby lessening it considerably. But the pain was still there. The remainder went away only after I realized that it was repressed anger and fear manifesting physically. Shining light on the real issues, the physical pain disappeared, it's job done. Amazing how our bodies never lie.

It's so good to be back in school. I love the feeling of engaging on so many levels, getting my head firing on all cylinders. Here's one concept that's intrigued me. Our brain does something called the summation of inputs. We process things both in parallel as well as heirarchically. Both within neurons and between them, sensory information is collected and collated. Every little bit of data is not sent to a central decision-making area. Rather, the different pieces are coalesced and merged. So at each level, new information is being created and then passed up to the next level. Our brains are like a corporation, with individuals compiling reports which are sent to their manager who then sends a report from his group to his manager and so on, the information edited to focus on priorities and discard the extraneous, until it reaches the final decision-maker. I like thinking of it this way, because it reinforces my skepticism about my own thinking. Sometimes vital information can get lost in the shuffle, ignored or prioritized incorrectly. We have been wired to believe our own thinking is infallible, our emotions tell us so, yet in many cases we need to re-check our premises.

I've heard of a study where they could detect the impulse which triggered a movement before our consciousness seemed to make the decision to move. Our awareness just seems to be in control, but perhaps is closer to a projection of the actual processing going on. It's like our avatar, a representation which we wholly identify as our self. Yet brain trauma can permanently change this personality (and drugs can temporarily alter it). Our personal predilections, tics and habits are based on the existing connections and biochemical balance which is us in this moment, yet ultimately maleable. If you've meditated for a long period, perhaps you've encountered a bigger you staring at yourself, timeless and not attached to that little persona.

I enjoy thinking of this form I inhabit as my avatar. Yes, the geek in me feels an affinity with the idea, made popular in the film 13th Floor and elucidated in a lecture I attended by Nick Bostrum, that we may be living in a computer simulation. Yet really what it does is help remind me not to overly identify with the happenstance of my creation, but rather to embrace my many blessings and continue to seek out enriching experiences in this world.