Introspection and Consciousness
The many observations and fundamental truths about the world that we take for granted….are discussed below. These simple observations are strong evidence and a firm foundation for exploring the truths of Life.
We live, breathe and feel our individual-ness on a continual basis. Each of us has a consciousness that is very real and is the foundation of our existence. We each have a strong concept of “I” called the “ego”. (“Ego” is the Latin word for “I”.) This definition is consistent with the writings of great thinkers such as Descartes, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung.
The stream of consciousness that we each experience is experienced by our ego. If we introspect or try to study our consciousness, we fairly quickly conclude that it is filled with thoughts and observations.
We each have a strong sense of “self” or “ego”
Our stream of thoughts comes to us as an internal voice – as if in a conversation with our self. We can almost hear ourselves think. Our Right Brain, the essence of our awareness, understands Life from its vision-based world awareness of the things in its environment. The Left Brain then interprets that feeling into its language of words. For example, we can look outside at a snowy field with trees and a river, our right brain has a “feeling” of this environment that emanates from the deeper vision-based sense of “self”. Our left brain then puts words around it. We can almost “hear” our left brain say “It’s cold out there”. We may also have a deductive thought about the snowy scene such as: “I should put on my heavy parka when I go out”, or “I won’t be able to jog outside today”. These thoughts, which come to us as an internal voice, come from our left brain. The left brain is based upon the sense of hearing and processes information in a serial or sequential manner. Speech is located in the left brain. Our verbalized thoughts come from the left brain. These thoughts are effectively our “attention” to matters – whether they are objects in the environment or deductive thoughts. When we have thoughts, we are said to be “thinking”. When we have a thought it comes from “I” or our individual ego.
The right brain is based upon the sense of vision and uses parallel processing. This parallel neurological organization enables the right brain to simultaneously process many pieces of information and assimilate them – very similar to processing a picture (i.e. vision). The right brain is sometimes called the “silent brain” because it does not have verbal thoughts. The right brain does not have verbal processing capability; therefore it does not have thoughts. However, the perceptions of the right brain are equally part of the “I” along with those of the left brain. The right brain can simultaneously process information from several different senses and create a holistic image or gestalt of a situation. When we say that we “understand” something or have an “intuition”, this comes from the right brain. Such understanding or intuition comes about because the right brain has processed information from several different sources (i.e., several different senses or several different facts or deductive thoughts that have been processed by the left brain) and has come to a conclusion about something. Each of us has had the experience of toiling over a problem and after thinking about the problem and looking at it from every conceivable viewpoint; the answer just “comes” like a bolt of lightning. The answer can come to us when we are least expecting it – perhaps in the middle of the night, when showering, or having our morning coffee. The right brain has assimilated the information (from our left brain deductions) and given us the answer. Our feelings are also non-verbal aspects of our ego and are experienced by our right brain. The holism, understanding, orientation, awareness, intuition and feelings of the right brain are a strong part of our ego.
Ego, Death, and the Soul
Our ego, or sense of individualism, is extremely strong. Every existing moment of our life is experienced by “I”. For each of us, our ego is based upon the activity of our brain and its interpretations of and interactions with the world around us. Our very strong sense of ego makes it easy for us to believe in a soul that continues beyond our death.
Our entire perception and understanding of the world around us is accomplished and experienced by “I”. For each of us, our ego is the most fundamental and believable thing in life. Our ego feels so palpable that we can’t believe it will die with the body, even though we know our brain is dependent upon the body.
The ego exists because of the inputs and actions of our body and the actions and interpretations of our brain. There is no solid evidence to support the concept that the ego exists independent of the body. Our primary observation in Life is that when a person dies, we no longer experience them. It appears as if their ego has died along with their body. Of course, we also can’t refute the possibility that the ego (or soul) does somehow exist separate from the body, and some people report spiritual-type experiences with people who have died. We have such a strong sense of self that it is easy for us to believe that the “I” is somehow bigger than our body and that the “I” must continue after the body dies. Our ego is so tangible to us that it is almost impossible for us to believe that it ceases when our body dies. However, we have no evidence that the ego is in any way separate from our body or that it continues beyond the death of our body. In fact, from the preponderance of our observations, it appears that each person’s ego dies when their body does. We see no remaining evidence of a person’s ego (or soul) when their body dies.
The most solid evidence we have indicates that our ego is intimately and totally tied to the body. Solely based upon observable evidence it appears that the ego is born when we are born, and dies when we die.
If there is something in the ego that continues beyond our death, it is referred to as the “soul”. We have scant scientific evidence for existence of a soul.
Our Human Bond – the sense of “Group”
The external world that our ego perceives is filled with an amazing array of objects – both inanimate and animate. We perceive the objects in our environment with our senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Based upon the signals that our ego receives from our senses we are able to distinguish most of the objects in our environment from one another.
The objects in our environment generally fall into categories and the relationship we have with each strongly depends upon the category. For example, our ego perceives rock, dirt, clouds, and water as inanimate objects. We can admire them for their beauty and utility, but our relationship with them is one-sided. We perceive them as non-living things. We don’t provide care for inanimate things or have a personal relationship with them. This is why the “pet rock”, a 1970’s fad, was so clever – the concept was an oxymoron.
The next level of objects consists of plants: trees, bushes, grasses, and flowers. We know they are living and we respect that. In many cases we provide care for plants – although this is usually in order to harvest them for food or building materials. We can also have a personal, or “feeling” relationship with a plant that we care for in our home. But, our relationships with plants are almost entirely one-sided. Plants are not mobile, and to our knowledge they do not see or hear, and have no capacity to think. Our ego relates to plants, but we don’t have any evidence that they relate to us in any way other than passively receiving soil, water, sunshine, air and fertilizer.
The lower animals are next – and what a wide variety among them! We relate to lower animals such as amoebae and insects similarly as we do to plants – we know they are living, we respect that, but we don’t feel that they are relating to us. Next are animals such as fishes, amphibians and reptiles. We understand them to be self-directed animals with a brain. We can relate to them. We also know that, in a rudimentary way, they relate to us – if only to avoid us when they perceive us. We have a rudimentary shared relationship with these lower animals.
Following them are the birds and mammals – ranging from ground hogs to squirrels to mice to deer to tigers to parrots to dogs. We can typically relate better with birds and mammals than to the fishes, amphibians and reptiles. We can make almost any mammal a pet or at least captive in a zoo or circus – and develop a behavioral relationship in which we both develop reactions to the other’s actions. This is especially true for domesticated animals such as horses, dogs and cats. We clearly can assign to them an ego and mortal feelings. We give them a name. We have a reciprocal relationship with mammals – we can identify with them. We even attribute human-like thoughts and feelings to them. These animals clearly have behavioral patterns and instincts. We know they are not our cognitive equals, but we can develop a caring and feeling relationship with them.
….And, then there are the monkeys. When we come face-to-face with a monkey, the felt relationship can be considerably stronger than with other mammals. The human-like facial features and expressions cause us to also assign them human-like attributes. The relationship we feel with a monkey encroaches upon the boundary between animal and human – which can be both intriguing and unsettling.
And then we observe humans in our environment – animate beings that are the same as we.
And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”. Genesis 1:26.
Our ego knows that every human also has an ego. The shared relationship has an overall sense of parity. We relate to other humans in a very special way. Our relationship with other humans is usually much greater than with animals – it transcends all other relationships we have with objects or animals in our environment. The relationship with other humans has a sense of commonality and sharing that strikes to the core of our own ego.
We feel the sense of “group” with other humans. This sense is the same that other animals feel about their own species. It is similar to the herding instinct that exists in so many animals.
In a Darwinian world, the sense of “group” is a necessary part of survival - required for defense and reproduction.