Musings on the Nature of Mind

CONSCIOUSNESS copyAnyone paying attention in the last few decades of life on Earth can’t help but think there’s something wrong in the human world. It’s something that doesn’t and, I suspect, can’t work.

I’ve thought many times this unworkable bit is our own understanding of ourselves. As in: We think we are one way, we expect ourselves and our fellows to be this one way, and yet we are very different from it. Which means a great deal of what we think of as the “should be” of human life is wrong. We get right answers about ourselves – about how we should live, how we should treat each other or the natural world – only by accident. In the main, things continue to go wrong, progressively worsening over and over through the cycles of history until we suffer each new catastrophic, civilization-wide disaster.

I wonder …

We think of ourselves, when we think of ourselves, as conscious beings. And yet most of us is UNconscious. Meaning that the real essence of what we are is, in the main, invisible to us.

We talk about our “subconscious” as if it’s some minor apparatus that does these mysterious and not-very-important things off in the darkness, but in truth, this subconscious is the largest part of us. It’s consciousness that’s the sideshow, the also-ran, the comical sidekick, the small spotlighted area of a vast, dark stage. Consciousness is an app that runs on a much larger, much more complex underlying brainframe. It does certain things very well, but only those things.

It’s also a sort of distraction. We wallow in the attraction of consciousness and ignore this huge other part. Because consciousness is what it is – the self-referential noticing and knowing of one’s conscious self – it almost by definition must exclude notice of the unknowable parts. Even understanding that we are NOT conscious for some large part of our day – in sleep, in the sort of muzzy reverie that accompanies “automatic” actions such as driving or eating, and even in the machinations that go on all the time below conscious notice – we can still fail to credit our unconscious selves. Yet because we are conscious – because we position our apparent Selfness in our small conscious zone rather than this much larger unconscious part – we are necessarily unable to imagine anything different.

Most of the endeavors of Earth life are done without anything we think of when we think of conscious mind. I observe animals doing their specific things out there in the wilds – beavers that build dams, birds that build complex woven nests, all sorts of wonderful and complex creative endeavors – and the only thing I can compare them to in the human sphere is those rare and near-unbelievable savant talents in autistics. Most animals live without consciousness, and we tend to see them as lesser and limited because of it, yet they do these amazing things – not just with mundane regularity, but with brains in some cases hundreds of times smaller. What looks out of their eyes is not a “me” in the way we have a “me,” but a silent sort of machine, beastly in nature and yet marvelously capable of conducting its survival in the unimaginably complex surround of wild nature.

I wonder if civilization itself isn’t an artifact of consciousness, a perpetually conscio-centric socio-cultural structure that could only be possible to beings who have this add-on “Me” app.

I wonder too if we haven’t made a very basic mistake in creating this sort of civilization. If, as I suspect, we’ve built civilization according to conscious needs, conscious mandates, largely ignoring our larger, quieter, apparently more secret selves, we have, in a way, built something that isn’t quite human – worse, something that can’t work for humans as a whole.

To us here in civilization, the subconscious is “other,” something separate from and subordinate to – or rebellious from – the real you, the real me. The relationship is one of separation rather than of solidarity, cooperation, or wholeness.

Given the nature of consciousness, I doubt we could have done any different, here in our infancy. But I imagine that if we recognize the subconscious as the main “us” – if we built entertainments and accommodations meant to nurture and comfort our larger selves, and societal understandings that recognized and accepted this Self-Other in our fellow men – a lot of things would become possible, both within our individual selves and in the larger world.

Such as this bit that isn’t looking good at the moment – the survival of the lot of us.

Beta Culture: Mapping the Parasites

St Johns
St. John’s Church — Schenectady NY

Here’s a little idle exercise: Open up Google Maps, and put this word in the search window: “churches.”

Wait for it to do its thing, and you will see the map fill up with little red dots, like the worst case of chicken pox you ever saw.

Look at the lower right of the map for the scale, and zoom on your town to where the “one mile” is about an inch long. Zoom out to where that same scale says “five miles.” You’ll see that the entire countryside is … infected.

Zoom out a bit more, to where each inch represents “20 miles,” and think of each red dot as a parasite, feeding on some sort of prey. You’ll notice how they congregate thickly around cities and towns, but there’s never a part of the countryside that is completely without one nearby.

Now leave the map where it is, but change the search word to “schools.” The red dots diminish in number — not a lot, fortunately, but there are definitely fewer — and spread out more evenly across the map.

A few years back, I went into the Schenectady County tax assessor’s office and looked up churches and church-owned properties within a 2-mile radius of my house. In a town of about 60,000 people, there are CLOSE TO 80 of them. They cluster thickly in the city core, on some of the most valuable property around. Farther out, they occupy large tracts of land, like millionaire estates, with buildings that range from the industrial chic of recent years to soaring castlelike structures built with artisanal opulence rarely seen today.

Just sayin’.

I hope one day there will be at least ONE Beta Culture Nexus in each town, a friendly, empowering alternative to these parasitic temples of worship.

And here’s Schenectady’s pox:

Churches Map

Random Tidbits

COE 235Telling Your Own Story

I have this very strong feeling that each person must “tell his own story,” and that others around him should honor that. For instance, if a friend tells me “I really like that little Jewish girl down the street,” or “I sure don’t like that lemon strawberry cake that Aunt Nita makes. I wish I could tell her but I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” in each case that’s HIS story, and not mine. If he wants to tell his story to others, he will, but it’s not my place to spread around that story. I might WANT to – maybe go to Aunt Nita and say “Nita, I’m not sure Bobby likes that cake. He seems to choke it down each time, but I don’t think he likes it.” Or tell the Jewish man down the street, “Ha! Bobby Summers told me he wants to bang your daughter!”

Or I might tell people “Hey, did you know Bobby Summers has an IQ of 80? I saw the test scores on the teacher’s desk! I thought that guy was just quiet, but it’s because he’s so stupid he can’t keep up with the conversation!”

Or I might whisper “Bobby Summers told me he’s gay! Did you know that? I can’t believe it! Oh, man, wait’ll I tell the others!”

In every case, what I say will change the relationship between Bobby and others – not because of something Bobby might want, but just as a side effect of something >>I<< have done. In each case, I’ve taken the choice out of his hands by telling HIS story. I’ve stolen away some of his freedom.

This is not about saying good things or bad things about people, it’s about who has the right to tell the good things or bad things.

In the cases above, it’s better for me to keep my mouth shut. I might tell people “I like that Bobby Summers. He’s a damned hard worker and a true friend.” Or “Seems to  me Bobby Summers can drive a car better than anybody I ever met. I think he should be a professional driver!” Or “That lame-ass bastard Summers was late to work today, forcing me to work overtime.” That’s me sharing stuff that includes Bobby, but I’m  telling MY story, a part in which Bobby plays a role.

But in all the personal stuff, the things in which Bobby should be free to make his own choices, it’s better to let Bobby tell the thing, or not tell it, and have each situation and relationship go on as HE chooses for it to go on.

Tell YOUR story. Let others tell THEIR story.


The Tribes of Man and Woman

Speculation: In every time and place, there’s a Guy Culture and a Gal Culture, with different mandates in each. Guys have some say over Guy Culture, women have some say over Gal Culture, but ordinarily neither has any say over the other.

For a girl to be fully accepted in Gal Culture, she has to do and say and think the Gal things. For a boy to be fully accepted in Guy Culture, he has to do and say and think the Guy things. There’s an intersection culture in which both boys and girls fit, but there are also these distinct side cultures.

I suspect there’s a certain evolutionary necessity that creates and maintains these two cultures, that being a part of Guy Culture is a vital part of a boy’s growing up to be a man, and ditto for Gal Culture and girls.

The Internet flattens things out gender-culturally, so that jokes that might usually be told exclusively in Guy company, or thoughts that might formerly be expressed exclusively in Gal surroundings, are now – if they are shared online, that is – opened out in front of everybody. Which brings some interesting pressures to bear on both.

As of now, the side cultures haven’t disappeared. For instance, there are jokes and thoughts and observations I tell only my close male friends – things I deliberately do NOT say online – and I know there are things women say to each other that men don’t get to hear.

But it would be cool to jump ahead a thousand years or so and see what the two cultures look like, or even if they’ve survived, to see what social or personal pressures the situation brings to men and women of the time.

Get Your Motor Runnin’: Reason Riders Going National

Reason Riders 2If you are 1), an atheist, and 2) ride a motorcycle, you seriously need to join and support Reason Riders.

I first wrote about the idea of an atheist motorcycle club a little more than two years ago. I tinkered up a rough logo and a name — Reason Riders — and just dropped it out there.

Pierino Walker picked up on it soon after, redesigning the logo and turning it into patches for his motorcycle jacket. He sent me a couple, and supplied them for fellow riders in Northern California and elsewhere.

Brian Christian, fellow rider in Buckeye, Arizona, joined in, and the two are now co-founders, stepping up the pace to take the idea national.

Christian has a Meetup group — Reason Riders of Western Arizona — and hosts road trips for enthusiasts in his state. Walker rides in northern California.

Apparently it’s common for riders to be known either by their last name or a road name. As the leader of a group of atheist motorcycle riders, and ironically named Christian, Brian’s riders have given him the road name “Bishop.” So:

founders 1












There is a Reason Riders Facebook page, where riders post announcements of cross-country rides and pics of bikes and friends, as well as thoughts on atheism, religion, life and such.

Anyone interested in joining — either as riders or as organizers for local chapters — can contact the two founders (who are also local-chapter Presidents) either through the Facebook page or via email:

Walker: ktown1213 [at]
Bishop: darknightdad [at]

There will be additional Reason Riders swag coming soon, but meanwhile you can order the large back patches, shown below, from Bishop.

Look for a near-future post on the group’s Mission Statement, but don’t let that stop you from RIGHT NOW becoming a part of the world’s only, first-ever Godless Atheist Motorcycle Group.

Side Note: Speaking of riding clubs, Bishop clued me in to an important point that I wasn’t aware of, but that riders thinking about joining in — or forming a chapter in their home territory — should know. There is a neighborly etiquette regarding already-established riding groups and motorcycle clubs in each area. Anyone forming a group in their area will want to introduce themselves to the local clubs, maybe take a few rides with them, before leaping out onto the road with the new patch. It’s an important issue with all the large clubs, and not one to be taken lightly if we want Reason Riders to find its own place out there.

And when Reason Riders goes INTERnational, you’ll see it here first.

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