The Human Show

It’s natural and intuitive to use the same mechanical methods in the psychological realm as we do in the physical one just as if changing our minds was similar to changing a wheel on a car. However our thoughts are not so easily manipulated but both cause and effect tangled up together. The very attempt to change thought – effect – is a thought itself – cause – and we will end up like a dog chasing its tail.

Time obviously exists externally and is needed to act and plan but internally and psychologically time is one of the actors itself. To think of time needed to change psychologically is to have one set of thoughts chase another set to no net effect. The very heart of the subjective self is time – or the entity that travels through time, that continues through past and future – and we strengthen it with the habitual metaphor and attempted use of time as change.

A thought experiment that can make this clearer is to imagine oneself temporarily at the controls of an advanced humanoid robot provided with all the senses of the human body so that “our” actions and feelings while resembling our own body’s are freed from the ideas of past and future that might inhibit us. Because we’re not protecting a future self or identifying with a past one the idea may be both liberating and enlightening.

We can consider the brain to be the primal theater, a device made of biochemicals and electron flows that nevertheless gives the semblance of psychological continuity, of a tangible self. It may be the greatest illusion ever devised.

It’s quite possible to negate personal memory, to live and act from the impersonal – aside from practical administrative matters of course. What we think of as being the essential us is in any case a chimera, a constantly roiling mix of memories, habits and reflexes with no fixed basis.

A measure of the effective neutralization of personal memory is the perceived strangeness of the here and now. There’s an exhilaration to pure perception as it loses the comfort of familiarity; to recognize is in a sense to be asleep. Comfortable complacency is the mind’s ideal state and what it will continually gravitate toward. Certainly to carry the past is to burden the here and now with a heaviness not its own. 

Each moment free of time has its own intelligence. The mindful present is electric, bare attention becoming a gently tingling live wire that lights up the here and now. To respond wholly to a concrete present is the death of reaction from an illusory past and vice versa.

The sense of self is static while to be here and now is to surrender delightfully to change. Observe the present moment as it moves – unless awareness moves with it the brain dissolves it into imagining and escape.

Living is both more effective and enjoyable when it is seen and acted upon objectively, as at a distance. Just sit back and watch the human show as it plays out in your mind and others.

Understanding as art and science