The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
the difference between brain and mind
It seems to me that we make a fundamental mistake in the West, and have been doing so for millennia – at least since Greco-Roman times, reinforced by mainstream Christianity after that, and now the prevailing paradigm since Descartes: thinking, and therefore acting, out of dualism.
I've written whole articles on this elsewhere, as of course have many many others, most of them better qualified than myself. The point is that this view, in my opinion, underpins and reinforces the mindset that allows us as individuals but also collectively as a society to see ourselves as separate from (and, at least in relation to non-human species, in the arrogant western reductionist mindset superior to) all other beings. 'Me' versus 'you'.
This 'us and them' view is supremely dangerous, and I would argue is what allows us to exploit and/or harm the planet and her other inhabitants. It's also diametrically opposed to the Eastern perspective; and in fact even Jesus Christ said 'Whatever you do to another you do to yourself', or words to that effect.
Much of my writing is predicated on picking apart this dualistic view, so I won't continue it here except to say that seeing the one in the all and the all in the one is the holistic view that also encourages compassion, and means that we take a very different attitude to the universe.
I've written before on my blog about the Indra's Net model; and I was thinking of it again as I watched the woodpeckers and greenfinches at the feeder in the garden, and the rain opening the flowers to which a damp bumblebee or two were paying attention, and the pumpkin seeds germinating at last and my heart lifting at it all and seeing almost visible lines of connection between us all: the ecosystem manifest on so many levels.
Where I'm going this morning though is somewhere more defined, and actually brief and simple. I woke thinking of the difference between brain and mind (as you do), and I want to write a few words here about this, as this too is fundamental.
In the reductionist materialist viewpoint that characterises contemporary Western thought, we tend to see brain and mind as interchangeable, synonymous, and basically all 'in here'.
I was at a talk the other day where the speaker, a professor of consciousness studies, seemed to me to be making the fundamental mistake of conflating the two (it's possible that, in a limited time slot, he was simply being a little careless, but it struck me quite forcibly). This view suggests that there is 'me' locked in here in my brain, where 'mind' is, and there is the world, outside and separate.
Of course, on one level, the reductionist model's level (the purely material model of reality), that view is, or seems to be, true. The speaker, however, is aware of both the Eastern model and the holistic paradigm, but still seemed to be falling into the narrow materialistic perspective, which is, of course, what we're all steeped in here in the Western world. But this view seems to be flawed, to me; and being unable to keep my mouth shut I raised this point.
I should add that my views below are informed not only by the Eastern perspective but also by psychology which, other than in its laboratory-rat-study manifestation, also puts forward the view that 'the other' is not merely a being outside of us but also very much coloured, as we respond to that other, by our own projections; to this extent we are also shaping that being, at least in our own perception/imagination, in some way, and cannot therefore easily declare that he or she or it is entirely separate from us. ('We don't see others as they are, but as we are', as someone famously declared.) Then there is the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious to be taken into account, too.
The brain, I suggest, is the physical organ, located in the human body; basically a collection of flesh and neural impulses, used to receive and transmit.
The mind, however, is something altogether different: it is consciousness itself. It is the what that is received and transmitted, where the brain is the how.
Mind inhabits us and we inhabit mind, and our 'portion', by which I mean the particular collection of experiences, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, sense of meaning, etc, that makes me call myself 'Roselle', is that portion of Universal Mind to which, in this incarnation, we (I) have access. However, on a supraconscious and subconscious level, I have access to so much more than I am consciously aware – all the time.
And if 'my' mind is connected to universal mind, and everything is interconnected, while my brain as an organ might degrade at physical death, that has little to do with mind.
This view of mind is a participatory model, and it is both inclusive and co-creative. This is a really significant point. This is one way of looking at Indra's Net, the web of being of which we are each a node; and in this model a tug anywhere on the net affects the whole.
Jai Lakhani, a Hindu scholar, who also spoke a year or two back in the same forum, invited by said professor, expressed it brilliantly: 'Thinking that consciousness resides in the brain is like thinking that electricity is generated in the light switch.'
That says it all.
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