When Did You Begin?

From the journal of an ontological observer

Cover: This infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Helix Nebula, a cosmic starlet often photographed by amateur astronomers for its vivid colors and eerie resemblance to a giant eye. The nebula, located about 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, belongs to a class of objects called planetary nebulae. Discovered in the 18th century, these colorful beauties were named for their resemblance to gas-giant planets like Jupiter. Planetary nebulae are the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our Sun. When Sun-like stars die, they puff out their outer gaseous layers. These layers are heated by the hot core of the dead star, called a white dwarf, and shine with infrared and visible colors. Our own Sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about five billion years.

Image: NASA

I was listening to an interview with the late Robert Anton Wilson, who had mentioned a very effective exercise he read about in a book by Aleister Crowley, who learned it from a Buddhist monk in Ceylon. The essence of the exercise is basically a simulation of enlightenment or satori, a term used in Japanese Buddhism and meaning ‘awakening’.

It’s actually quite simple and very interesting. Sit in a room where you will not be disturbed for a half hour and begin thinking about as many aspects of the answer to the question ‘Why am I sitting here doing this exercise?’.

Well, I’m sitting here doing this exercise because I came across Wilson’s Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance interview. And he read about it in a book by Aleister Crowley, who learned it from a Buddhist monk. And I came across Wilson’s interview because it was suggested to me on Youtube, most probably because I was listening to lectures by Allan Watts and Terrence McKenna…

As you continue adding reasons long enough, you come up with arguments that you are sitting here doing this exercise because sometime between 1808 and 1812 around two hundred Bulgarian families from Malko Tarnovo, then under the administrative control of the Ottoman Empire, were forced to leave their homeland and settle in a small village close to the city of Nikolaev, serving as the Russian Empire’s Black Sea Navy Headquarters. And this is because Catherine the Great issued a special manifesto in 1763, which encouraged and supported foreign colonization of the new territories, acquired during the Russo-Turkish Wars.

As you go further down into your past, you begin realizing that once upon a time you were also a part of the polytheistic Baltic tribes, who founded The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century, which by the 15th century comprised a massive state that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

And ultimately you come to an argument that you are sitting here doing this exercise because the Sun is a G-type main-sequence star that has planets, and Earth is the one planet that we currently know of in this solar system that is capable of supporting living organisms.

Why are you doing this exercise? Obviously, because you read about it in this article. Why did you decide to read this article? How did you get interested in this subject? Where are you doing this exercise? Why do you live in this particular city? Why this continent? Why do you exist? How did your parents meet? Why, where, and how did their parents meet?

Repeat this exercise and each time try to think of new questions. You can also observe any item in your household, like a desk lamp or a laptop and perform the same exercise as above. Why is this object here? Who manufactured it? Who invented it and when?

Every consciousness enlightenment demands the practice of yoga, meditations, and various spiritual techniques when the ideas are tested in the laboratory of the nervous system. In a similar way, try doing this exercise at least three times a month and discover an infinite number of events, accidents, coincidences, and synchronicities that resulted in you doing this exercise here and now. For greater efficiency, I suggest writing everything down in a journal.

By the time you’ve finished reading the paragraphs above, that curious big rock beneath your feet has traveled around 5580 km around a much larger and more peculiar ball of thermonuclear fusion reaction called the proton-proton cycle, in which four hydrogen atoms are combined to form one Helium-4 atom. And that ball has respectively traveled around 42780 km around the center of our barred spiral galaxy, and the neighboring Andromeda moved closer to us by 20640 kilometers.

The sun is captured in a “starburst” mode over Earth’s horizon by one of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station, as the orbital outpost was above a point in southwestern Minnesota on May 21, 2013.

Image: NASA

“How can you expect fairness or decency on a planet of sleeping people?”

George Gurdjieff

William James, the father of American psychology, was of an opinion that if we don’t read the books with which we line our apartments, then we are no better than a house cat or a dog. Animals have no conceptual terms, they can’t describe classes of things or think in generalities. Your cat or dog can’t think successfully about the past or the future, or about events which are remote from them in space and in time. In this sense, an animal’s behavior is extraordinarily intermittent. It’s very curious, for example, to observe two cats fighting. They will first spar against one another and then suddenly stop. One cat will start licking itself, the other will scratch it and they will begin fighting again. Something that among human beings would be impossible.

What an animal is aware of is not the Universe as we know it. It’s not aware of the sky, the sea, the wind, and the trees. It is just aware of those particular objects which are either edible or dangerous to itself. Its nervous system is constructed to select out of an infinite amount of data in the world — only those aspects which are biologically valuable or perilous. For example, the world in which the frog lives is profoundly unlike any world of which we are aware. Its eyes are optically very efficient but it perceives only that which moves. When things stop moving the frog doesn’t see them. This must be an extremely weird world to live in.

Most people would argue that they constantly remain in a state of full awareness, but how many days have been blurred by the Master of Time, when days become minutes, weeks become days and suddenly you realize the full magnitude of the fact that the last decade of your life now occupies the realms of the past. Or as Alan Watts had pointed out, “We don’t notice the valleys so much as we notice the mountains, because up is good and down is bad. So all wisdom begins by recognizing and emphasizing the valley aspects of life as distinct from the peak aspects.”

When we are not being self-aware, most of our thoughts and actions are impulsive and the idea that we are randomly reacting and not making conscious choices is instinctively frustrating. Our brain resolves this by creating explanations for our behavior and physically rewriting them into our memory through memory reconsolidation, making us believe that we are in control of our actions. This is also called backward rationalization and it can leave most of our negative emotions unresolved and ready to be triggered at any time.

Self-observing profoundly changes the way our brain works. It activates the self-regulating neo-cortical regions, which give us an incredible amount of control over our feelings. Every time we do this, our rationality and emotional resilience are strengthened.

Being self-aware can greatly enrich our life experience. When we are self-aware we can alter misplaced emotions, because we control the thoughts that cause them. This is a neurochemical consequence of how memories become labile when retrieved and how they are restored through protein synthesis.

It’s an irony, really, that nature gave us the most complex apparatus in the Universe, the brain, but forgot to supply it with an operator’s manual.

We start off as a lump of multiplying cells of consciousness attached to the walls of a female uterus and continue developing until eventually, we come into this world naked and helpless.

A human embryo at the 8-cell (left) and 16-cell (right) stages, three and four days after fertilization respectively.

Image: Dr. Yorgos Nikas/Science Photo Library

At birth, the human being is presented with an extraordinarily valuable gift. An instrument, magical and intricate, and powerful beyond belief. This is, of course, the human brain.

Our brain is made up of matter in electro-colloidal suspension, unlike Solid-State Computers which exist outside our bodies.

At birth, the human being is presented with an extraordinarily valuable gift. An instrument, magical and intricate, and powerful beyond belief. This is, of course, the human brain.

Our brain is made up of matter in electro-colloidal suspension, unlike Solid-State Computers which exist outside our bodies.

Colloids are pulled together, toward a condition of gel, by their surface tensions (agar, gelatin, jelly). This is because surface tensions pull all glue-like substances together.

Colloids are also pushed apart, toward a condition of sol, by their electrical charges (milk, pigmented ink, blood). This is because their electrical charges are similar, and similar electrical charges always repel each other.

In the equilibrium between gel and sol, the colloidal suspension maintains its continuity and life continues. Move the suspension too far toward gel, or too far toward sol, and life ends.

Any chemical that gets into the brain changes the gel-sol balance, and consciousness is also influenced accordingly. Interestingly, potatoes are, like psychedelic mushrooms, “psychedelic” — in a milder way. The changes in consciousness when one moves from a vegetarian diet to an omnivorous diet, or vice versa, are also “psychedelic.”

Neurologists tell us that the brain contains around 100 billion nerve cells. To make matters even more complicated, neurologists tell us that a single neuron has on average 7000 synaptic connections to other neurons.

The number of possible associations of the human brain at any second is larger than the number of atoms in the Universe. Neurologists tell us that the human brain fires off around 20 million billion bits of information per second. There is a tremendous amount of information and awareness going on in a small area behind our forehead. Your brain is aware of thousands of activities going on in your body, your stomach, your kidneys, and your liver. It’s processing the most incredible kinds of chemical information — blood levels, sugar levels, oxygen, and CO2 levels.

But our conscious self, the individual we identify with, is cut off from the awareness of most of these processes. Almost every culture and every religion have some way of explaining how we lost the connection between what the mind is aware of and the limits of consciousness within our head. And most cultures and most religions have some theories as to how to get it back.

Eastern philosophies tell us that most of the things we see going on outside are Māyā, or processes that pull us into external awareness and prevent us from enjoying and understanding this fantastic series of activities within.

There have been several developments in science which have suggested new methods for expanding consciousness. These developments are the study of the genetic code, the research on the process of imprinting, which is the way the nervous system is structured early in the life of any species, and the development of the psychedelic drugs.

From the standpoint of the strategy of the genetic material, every living species is simply nature’s creative solution to meet the particular environmental challenges that that species face on the surface of this particular planet. When you get to the more complicated life forms like mammals and humans specifically, the challenge is much greater because of the human body, which is an enormously intricate machine. In order to keep the mammalian body going, you have to have a nervous system that coordinates and registers all the information going on inside this incredible machine and outside around us.

We receive more than a billion different signals from the environment and most of them we are not even conscious of. They affect our arms and legs, our eyes, ears, and nose. If we tried being conscious of all the signals we couldn’t do it, because to be conscious of that many signals simultaneously means we would only perceive chaos. Which is the usual first reaction to LSD or psilocybin — things turn into chaos and then they turn into different kinds of patterns. We can’t handle that much information and organize it rapidly, so we leave out all the information that seems unimportant, which means that we also leave out a lot of information that seems threatening to our belief system or to our dogma and ideology.

R. Buckminster Fuller suggests that you can’t perceive or understand the whole Universe at once when he says, “Universe consists of non-simultaneously apprehended events.”

The way the genetic code solves this problem is through the process of imprinting. The research on imprinting has been done by scientists called ethologists, who study animal behavior and learning in the very early hours of the organism’s history.

In the first hours and days of almost every bird and mammal species is a period when the nervous system is sensitive and vulnerable to registering certain environmental events and imprinting them. After this period, the process of imprinting can no longer take place.

Konrad Lorenz (1903–1989), one of the founders of modern ethology, the study of animal behavior.

The baby duck, for example, will imprint the first object which moves and makes noise. In almost every case, the first moving object that makes noise that the baby duck experiences is the mother. And this is great because the baby duck imprints the adult of its species and then is hooked on the duck game. But if you remove the mother duck before the critical period and substitute any other object which moves and makes noise, the duck will imprint that.

One of the most amusing and horrifying studies which have been done by ethologists is when baby ducks, during their critical period, were presented a large round orange basketball which led to the heartbreaking picture of the baby ducklings following the basketball around the room. To test whether imprinting has taken place, you repeat the imprinting sequence after the critical period. In this case, the baby duck was put in a Y-maze and on the left-hand side of the maze was a nice round fluffy mother duck, and on the right-hand side was an orange basketball. The baby duck took one look at the mother duck and followed the basketball.

Because the human brain acts as an electro-colloidal computer, it follows the same laws as other animal brains — the programs get into the brain as electrochemical bonds, in discrete quantum stages.

Each set of programs consists of four basic parts:

  1. Genetic Imperatives — hard-wired programs or instincts.
  2. Imprints— hard-wired programs which the brain has genetically designed to accept only at certain points in its development. These points are known as times of imprint vulnerability.
  3. Conditioning — programs built onto the imprints. They are looser and fairly easy to change with counter-conditioning.
  4. Learning — even looser than conditioning.

Our brain constructs a model out of all the information coming from the entire nervous system and we project that model outward and consider it a reality. However, this is not reality, this is our reality tunnel, an idea coined by Timothy Leary (1920–1996).

We all perceive a different world because our brains are organizing it according to patterns it has developed to organize the incoming information. And those patterns have been created by our genetic programs, by our early imprints, by our subsequent conditioning, by our learning and by whatever experiments we have done in reprogramming our nervous systems, which involves yoga, psychotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming, and psychedelic drugs.

There’s some evidence from human beings that little babies who have had no human object around during the early hours, develop into what’s called childhood schizophrenics — they can never develop proper language and motor skills or normal social connection with another human being.

Most of us go through life interpreting and experiencing everything in terms of some very old and tired snapshots which were imposed upon us many years ago. The job of our mind is to relate every new experience in our lives to some object or person on that tired old snapshot.

All of this raises the question, in the case of the human being, what accidental orange basketballs have you and I been exposed to early in life?