Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Boredom and Consciousness Part Two

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF8bDBmPlVg

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPNHbuVoIlg

Are you bored with your life? One of the ideas I've been promoting with this project is an all-encompassing definition of life as being "any process that is interested in what happens next".

As regular visitors to this blog will know, I have come to believe that there were certain organizing patterns and forces that can be seen to have influenced the creation of our universe right from its beginning, and that each of us is a participant in the ongoing act of creation that was set in motion back then and which continues to this day. In Boredom and Consciousness Part One, we talked about the respected physicists like John Wheeler have even suggested that the quantum observer could change not just the present or the future, but the past right back to the big bang! Still, no matter what perspective you approach this idea from, we have to recognize the name that is given to those organizing patterns and forces is contentious: and since some people are uncomfortable with words like "God", I have tended to call these the "big picture memes" that we can see were a part of the narrowing-down processes that caused our particular universe to be the one selected out of all possible universes within the multiverse.

Most of us (but not all of us!) believe that we have free will, which implies that we have some degree of control over "what happens next" as we travel down our 4D line of time, twisting and turning in the fifth dimension down at the planck length. What this means, then, is that very simple truths like "attitude affects outcome" have profound implications if in fact the parallel universes that are created by the branching choices of our actions really do exist, and we have talked in previous blogs about some of the modern cosmologists who say that this is indeed the case. Are you bored? Depressed? Ill? Then of course you will tend to make different choices than if you were excited/happy/healthy. There's nothing unscientific about simple statements like these.

In my book I talk several times about what happens when we stop being interested in what happens next:

...many of us are painfully familiar with the experience of watching a loved one who, due to illness, extreme depression, or simple old age, have had their soul material gradually dissipate or be ground away. This can reach the point where we can see that the person that used to occupy that body is no longer there, even though the body continues to function. Where did they go? Perhaps they really did lose coherence and drift away. Or, more likely, most of the meme-set that made up that person lost interest in the diseased and tired body they were in and has already freed itself from its confines.
Witnessing the death of any living creature shows us one of the great mysteries of the universe: what leaves the body?

For our planet, every living thing is based on water. To quote from Paul Davies' article on alternate lifeforms on earth in the December issue of Scientific American:

...even the hardiest microorganisms have their limits. Life as we know it depends crucially on the availability of liquid water.

A couple of blog entries ago we looked at the relationship between music and creativity, and not long before that we looked at a song of mine ("Change and Renewal") which proposes that creativity and water may be more closely tied to each other than any of us realize. In a sense, this is because the opposite of creativity is death: with no water, there's no life, and therefore no creativity. So, as I say in the song: "take a drink of water and find a new idea". :-)

We could also say that the opposite of boredom is novelty. But boredom and novelty are much more subjective terms, because they are based upon the way that our conscious minds perceive reality: in other words, one person's boring is another person's novelty. In part one I talked about synchronicity: the joyous connections our brains can make from seemingly unconnected bits of information, and how that can make it feel like the universe is trying to tell you something. I had been planning last week to write about Julian Jaynes and the bicameral mind, but then two magazines arrived in my mailbox the same day and I saw so many connections to what I was thinking about that I felt it was important to explore them.

The first of the two magazines is the new special issue of Scientific American "Mind": the cover story is dedicated to the study of boredom, and there are quite a few articles within that issue that relate very nicely to what we're talking about here. The other magazine was the latest issue of New Scientist magazine, which has as its cover story "The Smart, Strange World of the Subconscious".

The article in New Scientist makes the point that neurobiologists sometimes prefer to use terms like "non-conscious", "pre-conscious", or "unconscious" in these discussions about the subconscious. This is because it's much easier to define what is a conscious activity for our minds, than it is define all of those other processes which are bubbling beneath the surface, some of which are operating at much higher operations per second, and some of which are stretched out into much slower processes. We have already talked in this blog about how consciousness is thought by modern science to be a process that, for most people, operates at between thirty and ninety "bings" per second.

One of the studies discussed in the Scientific American "Mind" issue concerns persons with long-term substance abuse problems: an ongoing study of 156 addicts at a New York methadone clinic revealed that the only reliable indicator of whether an addict is about to relapse was their reported level of boredom. My song "Addictive Personality" talks about the pitfalls that can happen when people are trapped in repetitive loops that lead them to believe that "what happens next" will always be the same as "what happened before", a sure-fire recipe for boredom:

Julian Jaynes, in his epic masterwork "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", proposed that our current mode of operation, with a conscious part of the brain that is "narrating" our activities from moment to moment, and a subconscious (or non-conscious/pre-conscious/unconscious) part of the brain that is processing data "behind the scenes", is a fairly recent development. He proposed that only a couple of thousand years ago humans lived in a more integrated form of consciousness, where conscious and subconscious processes were not divided. This seems to imply that everyone existed in a semi-dreamlike state, a state which modern society has taught us to be suspicious of: which is strange, because there are still many activities that we perform much better when we are not "Thinking" about what we're doing. Athletes talk about being "in the zone": the place where they become one with their activity, rather than thinking about all of the component parts, is how they achieve success. Be it musicians, public speakers, or a teenager on their first date: the times that we become self-conscious about what we're doing or saying, we are much more likely to not be at our best. Here is another video with me in discussion with master musician Jack Semple where we touch upon some of these ideas:

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

PS - We wrap up this exceedingly long entry in part three. Click here to read part three now.


dave davison said...

serendipity or meeting on another dimension linked me to your movie and your blog( actually it was a sidebar link in a gmail conversation with a colleague where the 10th dimension appeared(so you must be buying the adsense link)

Notwithstanding the above, I am fascinated about your blog combination of music, videocast and full text approach to narration - and I also like the theme. I will buy the book and follow your blog and comment when it appears useful for me to do so

Best wishes

Dave Davison

Rob Bryanton said...

Well, thanks very much Dave, feedback like this is always good to hear and much appreciated.

Rob Bryanton

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist