Saturday, March 12, 2011

Belief, the Brain, and the Nature of Memory

Isn’t it funny, how a blog is like book chapters going backwards? You, lucky readers, get to know how it ends before it’s even begun.

Let’s assume I already know how the story ends before I’ve written it.

The Buddhists and the Freudians identify three layers of human cognition that more or less parallel or the consciousness we have available to us at any given moment. Our ego projects our perceptions of our reality and takes in stimuli for sifting. This stimulus is filtered into the second layer, the consciousness, where our reactions to stimuli get filtered and refined for our own purposes.

Stimuli, information, and perceptions not immediately useful to our consciousness get stored away into the dark deep of the subconscious, where it can come back to torture us in sneaky ways (Freud) or become locked into our Karmic cycle (Buddhism).

It’s interesting that there’s little to be accounted for in terms of memory and memory loss. The idea is that, everything observed and lived is recorded. What we remember depends on whether we need to remember, or whether we, subconsciously, want to remember.

In The Nature of Personal Reality, Jane Roberts as Seth writes that all material observed becomes recorded; in fact, since time and space as we know it are cognitive functions dependent on the physical structure of the brain, and have no bearing outside this anchor, there is no recording done at all. It is all existent, simultaneously, and all available to us at any time.

The most fascinating ideas propelled in the book stem from examining our physiological structures to their tiniest minutiae. Within the atom we have protons, neutrons, and electrons, within which we can identify quarks. These particles are measured by their electrical charge; they are energy. The Nature of Personal Reality challenges science to find that beyond these particles, all material on earth is comprised of light, sound, and electromagnetic patterns.

What is human consciousness? What comes first, the consciousness or the brain? If the energy is already inherent within the particles that comprise cells, it could stand to reason that each cell, each atom, already holds within it some form of consciousness - a recognition or consciousness of its own history. As stated in the book, within the human body, as each cell dies, the other cells know that this cell has died and another cell has been “reborn” to replace it. By the time you are 27, each cell in your body has been replaced since you were four years old. Somehow, however, you retain memories of your early childhood, fuzzy though they may be.

In fact, the memories could be clearer if you believed they could be. As we grow we observe the information given us by the world around us. We assimilate ideas until we have formed our belief systems. Beliefs are reality. One such belief is, we cannot remember our early childhoods. This is the major basis of psychoanalytical thought, and one that holds much sway to us today. If someone says they can remember being one or two years old, that person is met with incredulity, possibly derision. They were probably dreaming, or they just aren’t normal. The person believes there is no way they could have remembered something from infancy, and thus, it’s forgotten. It’s still there, but now it has been relegated to the depths of the subconscious. His consciousness no longer has access to this information.

This is where the idea of repression holds forth even though other Freudian ideas have been largely discounted - such as Oedipal complexes, or penis envy. The darkness beyond our consciousness holds terrifying memories that we’ve buried because of their threat, and these memories come back to haunt us in inexplicable ways later in life. Even though they’ve been “forgotten” they have the power to affect our psychological health as adults.

It’s seems incongruous that forgotten memories have the ability to affect a person in later life, if they have been lost. If they are still around, that means they haven’t been forgotten at all, and still exist to some degree. If they still exist to some degree, they must be accessible to the conscious mind.

The mind has organizational tendencies, and will group like ideas together according to its own system of beliefs. It will operate something like an assistant to your consciousness, efficiently grouping and filing information. You hold certain beliefs that can be called to your conscious mind at any time. Ideas that don’t coincide with your beliefs still get stored in your memory, but won’t be used. Even though you are cognizant of these ideas and their existence, you won’t use them, and you continue to operate within your own system of beliefs.

You choose your beliefs. The other ideas you disregard. It’s up to you whether you examine their contents and decide which you want to keep and use for your purposes, and which you’d rather disregard. It’s up to you whether the beliefs you find useful are positive or negative ones, and your conception of positive and negative depend on your beliefs. The job of examining your beliefs and how they affect your life depend on you alone. If you regularly examine your beliefs against your reality, and realize that your beliefs are indeed beliefs and not necessarily reality, then you should have no problem amassing beliefs that benefit your life and steer your life in the direction you want it to go.

Now, if the cells of your body can be completely replaced from the age of, say, 10 to the age of 33, how can we still hold those memories? The entire physical structure of your body has been replaced. Every single brain cell that lived when you, say, skinned your knee or learned to ride your bike, has since died. How is it still possible to remember what happened? If every cell in your body is completely different at 60 from what it was at 35, how can habits or memories be attributed to physiological structures? Does this memory capacity lie within the genetic structure? Is it harbored within DNA?

If you examine DNA, of course, it’s comprised of atoms as well as any other structure in our physical universe. It, too, is comprised of energy, of what Roberts-as-Seth calls “invisible light, inaudible sound and electromagnetic patterns.”

The idea is that, if memory is housed within the physiological structure of the brain, and that every thought originated within consciousness via the proxy of sensory perception, then we should have any and all ideas, thoughts, and memories available to the conscious mind, at any time. It may take a few moments of stillness, of quieting the normally raucous stream of mind-chatter that flows through our minds most of the time, but any information, once received into the consciousness, can be retrieved as well.

Roberts-as-Seth goes farther to write that we, as beings comprised of the energy that previously comprised any number of other organisms, physical structures, planets, stars, etc., should have access to all that information. Since our bodies comprise that very stuff that had existed in different forms previously, we have conscious access to infinite information within our grasp. That is, if we quiet ourselves and ask ourselves for certain information, it will come to us, intuitively. All the answers to all of our questions, and all the energy we need to accomplish anything, lie within ourselves.

Finally for today, I’d like to close my post following the line of cellular growth, death, and replacement. If cells are regenerated and completely replaced within a few decades without hindering or interrupting cognitive awareness or memory retention, what, then, came first, the brain, or consciousness? Here is where I beg serious consideration and contemplation of my readers, and where I sign off, to tackle this topic in my next post.

May each moment of your life be lived in the awareness and joy of spontaneous creation.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Nature of Personal Reality

The Nature of Personal Reality is the title of the 1975 new age book that’s slowly changing my life.

Whether it changes my life for the better I feel deep in my heart to be the inevitable result, but the going in the meanwhile, since I started reading it - was that already one week ago? - has been considerably worse.

To be honest, dear readers, I began studying the concept that we create our own realities through a series of coincidences - or synchronicities - that brought me into possession of Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization. Astoundingly, the methods she described in that book brought everything to fruition that I began to visualize.

It started with an experiment that she suggest. I wrote “$50” on a piece of paper, and then the date ten days later. Lo, through tips and various other happenstance, the money materialized: in ten days, I’d gained a windfall of $75, completely unexpected and from improbably sources: tips, found money. Mostly tips. I work in the service industry.

She recommended The Nature of Personal Reality, and readers nearly unanimously gave the book rave reviews; the book had changed their lives.

The idea is that we create our reality. Since the Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution, man has increasingly distanced himself from nature. This has resulted in a sort of surrender to circumstances we believe are beyond our control. Things happen at us, not to or for us. We are the unwitting pawns in some perverse metaphysical game, where all we can individually do, really, is hang tight, grin, and try to bear it. Watch TV to numb our minds, perhaps.

No! says the book. In reality, we create our own reality. Every belief that we hold, results in the manifestation in physical reality of that belief. In other words, every aspect of our lives is a result of a belief that we hold, within ourselves.

I examine my own beliefs, and begin to change them one by one. I keep a notebook, where I note the things that I want and the goals I want to achieve, and the biggest one is, money.

Money, now, can be infinitely creative. In fact, it’s an astoundingly clever and useful tool for us to maximize our creativity. With money, we can bypass steps in production and directly manifest our means to our own ends. For example, I don’t need to grow hay in order to get horse. I can just buy it. Or something like that.

Artists can purchase paints and brushes. People living in the desert, their means creating programs on computers, can enjoy the fruits of an abundant universe while living in one of the physically most inhospitable ecosystems on the planet - barring tundra.

The past few days I’ve been reading this book, and I realize that there must be some beliefs I harbor that I must overcome to achieve my goals of being wealthy. I’d like to be wealthy, in all honestly. I’m a good person. I’d like to be loving, joyful, happy, generous, kind, wise, and spiritual as well. But I would also like to be able to live independently, in abundance, with leisure to pursue the pleasures that I enjoy and that I believe I was born to do; that I chose, so to speak, this life and this particular body to be the vehicle for.

I have an aversion to the rat race. I don’t like the idea of spending my time in competition, grasping toward paper dollars showering down from some crude, malevolent hands that control the mechanisms for our monetary system. I rather like to think that as I toil, joyfully, contentedly, at what I enjoy doing, abundance will flow to me naturally. Checks arrive in the mail, for work well done.

This leads me to my first discovery in a major belief I hold about the nature of money and of life; money arrives after some hard work.

Naturally, this belief is unfounded. How many readers out there receive money for having done nothing at all? Winnings, inheritances, trust funds, generous relatives, bonuses, or even very easy jobs. This is income that many accept, sans misgivings, and enrich their lives with; perhaps because they believe, it’s very possible to gain abundance in life without working at all.

The nature of the universe is abundance. From a tiny seed, grow all these crazy, tasty tomatoes we can eat. We can even eat rosebuds, if we wanted to. From a tiny seed grow the roses, come the bees, and hence, sweet honey. This is the natural state of energy; potent energy driving all the physical processes we take for granted lie dormant within ourselves. This is the direction I will take my blog. I’d like to document how this new belief I’ve encountered in my life changes it.

Perhaps, dear readers, an astute observer will point out that this entry points to a tendency towards despondency; no wonder the abundance I wait for fails to materialize; I’m clinging. I’m striving. My desires are backed by strongly negative feelings of fear and, admittedly, desperation.

Because I have plenty in my life already; clothes, an internet connection, and food.

I need to stop fearing a failure that hasn’t happened yet, because the failure will wind up materializing, not the success. How to stop this vicious cycle? This is the question. Therein, lies the rub.

Be as a child, though be not immature. Play. Regard this life as one budding blossom of possibility after another, manifested in ever-flowing moments ripe with possibility, pregnant with the possibility of change. Regard each thought as energy, radiating toward the cosmos. The things we think, and the things we believe, are exactly what manifest in our reality.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why I'm Glad I Pay Taxes

I’m glad I pay taxes. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Am I insane? Well, maybe. Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t find a job for a while after I graduated college. I’d spent a lot of money going through school, so much that I had to borrow some more. I was a little worried about that, but I figured, hey, at least I’ll be able to find a sweet job and build a sweet career, buy a spouse and a car and a dog and all that. When I got my job serving coffee in a cafĂ©, I was relieved; all that interest was starting to pile up! You can imagine my disconcert when I opened my first check, earned from two weeks straight on my feet, and discovered that $100 had gone to taxes. Holy moley! I was only making $9 an hour. I was pretty angry, but now, not only have I begrudgingly accepted the inevitability of my lower station in life, I embrace it and the implication of having one-sixth of my money turned over to taxes.

Think about it. If we didn’t pay taxes, where would the state get the money to keep the floors of the state government buildings shiny and gleaming? Nowhere, that’s where. And catered lunches to politicians? Forget about it. Anyway, when I had pondered the system over long and hard, I came to some very soothing conclusion that my little portion handed over for the greater good – for the wealthy political elite of Washington and my state capital to be able to do their jobs in comfort and style – may seem like a lot to me, but it’s really nothing for them, anyway.

I mean, the meager sum of cash flowing from my paycheck to the state coffers doesn’t really pay their salaries. Well, it does. So do sales taxes and loans from the Chinese. But when I see them on TV, with their tailored suits, and I wonder what kind of cars they drive, and whether my state representatives regularly take the Acela to Washington, I feel comforted knowing that their large houses and their children’s private schooling doesn’t come from my taxes at all. Those things come from campaign contributions and their investments in companies that use Chinese slave labor to assemble raw materials from Africa.

That’s a relief. So my taxes are just paying for law enforcement and the library, and keeping the state buildings clean. I can rest easy. Obviously, people who are elected to office do so for a burning sense of civic responsibility. I can only imagine the overwhelming compassion and kindness that colors their very souls.

Sometimes, when I have to face another day with dread and underwhelming inertia, flavored with a hint of simmering rage, I think, at least those people enter their offices each day confidently, cheerfully, with a sense of purpose. They wouldn’t spend any time getting paid with public money to take naps at their desks or Twittering or check out Facebook or take really long lunch breaks. They work hard every day. They are making sure that our government is being run efficiently. Like the Swedes. They wouldn’t steal pats of butter from their employers, the public, the way we dregs do.

What people like me and you need to realize is, the people who have power arrived at their power because they are better than you and me. It is thoroughly natural and just that those who have the moxie and spunk to extract natural resources from Latin American countries should have every right to be deified by our society, lead opulent lifestyles, and be placed in charge of the administration of public resources. It’s also very natural that politicians who receive large amounts of money from financial and commercial interests would be placed into office by shmucks like us who wouldn’t be smart or kind enough to fulfill these roles. And it’s even more natural that we should pay for it by working at overpriced restaurants that these people go to for brunch on Sundays.

I hope these musings have helped soothe someone else’s discomfort with the way our great system works. Don’t worry, poor citizen. Your bitterness stems from total ignorance, and the fact you are a bad person. Have faith that those your taxes are paying truly, somehow, help make this country better, even though it seems like it’s getting worse. Now if you’ll excuse me, my cat and I were just going to cross-dress and smear lipstick all over our faces while staring maniacally into a mirror.

Carl Jung and How To Find Out Who You Really Are

As a floundering twenty-something seeking my life’s purpose, I came across Carl Jung’s personality tests, and finally found the answers to the questions that my psychic and horoscope just couldn’t answer. I took a test of 65-odd yes or no questions and lo, the computer’s algorithms zipped and whirred and spat out all the answers. I am an extroverted, intuitive, feeling, judging person.
This is all great, though initially concerning, because I don’t want to be an emotional nag. The test told me that I am a great people person, that I can tend to have dark thoughts, and that I’d make a great counselor. Or scientist.

It also told me that I have a tendency toward low self-esteem, unwarranted since my ability to get along with people and change my personality according to who I talk to makes me a really popular person.

This is interesting stuff. So I wonder; is there a personality type for a sociopath? The quiz didn’t feature any questions like, do you ever entertain graphic fantasies of killing your boss in a raging hell-storm of fury, and experience sexual arousal? I’d sure oscillate less on that question than on some of the other ones. Some of the questions I felt confused by, such as, do you enjoy being at the center of activities involving other people? What does that mean? I mean, no one likes being the monkey in the middle, but doesn’t everyone love surprise birthday parties? Doesn’t everyone secretly hope, yet fear, being the goose?

I think I was personally insulted that the quiz didn’t offer me the sort of career I really want: swashbuckling explorer and legendary lover of epic proportions. I was placed into the same personality category as Pope John Paul II. Pfft, bo-ring. I’d rather be mixed in with Joseph Conrad and Casanova, or Cleopatra meets Bill Gates.

I’d like to see someone take this quiz and their personality profile comes up something like this: you are an INFP. This means you are somewhat dull to anyone who spends less than 5 hours a day watching TV. You are likely to spend vast amounts of your money on potato chips, and you enjoy coarse banter with others about professional sports. You are likely to be quite average in society, and even if you wanted to do something better, you’ll probably have a pretty mediocre, somewhat mind-numbing job for the rest of your life. Divorce unlikely, but marriage assuredly banal.

Perhaps Jung’s followers, the people who come up with these tests and write these “in-depth personality profiles” are no better than my astrologer after all. The website just looks far more academic; read: boring. The astrology site has graphics and pizzazz. Case in point: “Today, the planetary alignment promises to enhance your creative genius, bringing you to the forefront of your work environment!” Versus: “Your personality indicates that you tend to use logic to perceive events, and then process them systematically” or some such academic humdrum. This site never holds the promise of meeting someone “electrifying who will stimulate your soul and send you soaring to great heights.”

For another thing, my friend took the test and got a different personality type, but a number of the careers, that happened to require degrees offered by sponsoring academic institutions, were the same. Perhaps anyone could be a counselor, as long as they get their qualifications at DeVry University.

One thing disturbingly accurate about Jung’s site is how well he knew that I am likely to look to other people, rigid psychological theories, and bloggers for advice about career choices. You got me there, Dr. Jung. You certainly got me there.

Want to try it out? A link to the test itself:

And a couple of websites to interpret yourself, because you never really knew yourself:

I'd love to read your opinions about this, folks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Observation on Camden Municipal Woes

Some five days after the Camden, New Jersey police force laid off half of its officers, commuters hurried from one train to another across the limbo known as the Walter Rand Transportation Center, the unfortunate hub connecting the Philadelphia-bound Patco train with Trenton-bound Riverline lightrail.

Known as "Drug Alley," as pointed out in this week's Philadelphia Weekly, the transportation terminal is a hotbed of narcotics trafficking, and the location of choice for junkies and homeless alcoholics to dry out and mingle. Commuters rush through the foyer to catch their trains to work, passing amidst and through the morning stirrings of those who congregate along the walls of the station, who for their part ignore the rush-hour traffic and carry about their own intimate affairs. If a commuter were to slow down to listen, he would become privy to the social underpinnings of the people assembled, as if walking through a stranger's house during a dinner party, hosted in the seventh circle of hell.

Camden, New Jersey lies across the Delaware from Philadelphia. The iconic Ben Franklin Bridge spans its breadth from bank to bank, serving as a pedestrian and vehicular conduit between the two states. From Independence Center and the Liberty Bell, the bridge arcs over the vast waterway and descends into the belly of Camden, Philadelphia's long-neglected and decidedly uglier sister.

Enveloped in tweed and wool, under hats and scarves, commuters try to get from Point A to Point B quickly, preferably without touching anything. Loud arguments, heavy eyelids, slurring, heavy tongues, gaunt cheeks and hollow eyesockets characterize the Center's denizens who often seem to know each other and who frequently complain of impending court summons that they discuss loudly on the trains.

Five days or so after Camden's police force laid off half of its officers, five police officers stand at the southbound lightrail platform. One of them idly kicks a pile of snow. Inside the station a 22-year-old girl slouches on a metal bench, eyes glazed atop deep, dark bags, under heavy closing lids, a graduate of Riverside High School, 15 miles up the line. Another ghost, held under the heady, drug-filled sea of this place, sucked into the potent vacuum of depair, recession, apathy and unemployment that the lightrail has become.