Posts Tagged ‘consciousness’

Connections

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.– Ray Bradbury

The human brain:

  • 85 billion neurons (nerve cells)
  • Each neuron is unique
  • Each neuron connects to 10,000 other neurons
  • That’s up to 1,000 trillion connections possible

The universe is not composed of mere matter, but of mind stuff. – Charles Birch

Photo: ‘Facebook’, my limestone bookends inspired by a Polynesian mask.

Unconscious Writing

Friday, April 10th, 2015

The first step towards being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.– Dorothea Brande

The 1934 classic Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, is a practical writing book which is also in tune with current neuroscience. Brande wrote that the writer’s unconscious mind should ‘flow freely and richly, bringing at demand all the treasures of memory’ – meanwhile the conscious mind does the hard work to  ‘control, combine and discriminate’ words and sentences. Our unconscious is the source of our most original stories but it’s a reluctant creature, resisting the discipline that writing requires. Brande has some intriguing exercises designed to tap into the unconscious:

  • Writing immediately after you wake up before any associations invade the mind.
  • Writing at a prearranged time every day.
  • Moments of meditation and mindfulness.

Brande also says, most importantly I think, that every writer has something unique to offer the world:

There is just one contribution which every  one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us.

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The Little Prince

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a fable about a pilot who crashes in the desert and meets a wise child. It’s one of the world’s most translated books (in 250 languages) and the top selling French book. It has the most intriguing sentence in all children’s literature:

What is essential is invisible to the eyes. (L’essential est invisble pour les yeux.)

What is ‘essential’? Is it truth, love, soul, uncertainty? These are the questions the story evokes. The opening chapter about following your dreams is brilliant. Saint-Exupéry was a pilot who also wrote great adventure books (eg. Wind, Sand and Stars ). His delicate watercolour illustrations are near perfect too.

Le+petit+prince+-+First+edition+cover++-+1943

Science and Soul

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Does the universe have a purpose or is it an accident? Scientists have divergent views on the significance of the universe. At one end of the spectrum is the iconoclast, Richard Dawkins, who sees an indifferent universe which has “precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose.” At the other end is biologist Jane Goodall who believes the universe is both purposeful and meaningful. In between there are theories ranging from a ‘conscious universe’ to a ‘self-creating universe’. Whatever their beliefs, at least there’s usually a shared sense of wonder among scientists…

…Read the rest of my essay, Science and Soul, here.

puppisPhoto: The remnants of supernova explosions, Puppis and Vela, birthplace of some of our atoms. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Tapping The Unconscious

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

There is just one contribution which every  one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us.

Dorothea Brande (in the classic, Becoming a Writer) suggests our unconscious is a good source of original stories — but it’s a reluctant creature, resisting the discipline that writing requires. She describes several exercises designed to harness the unconscious:

  • Writing immediately after you wake up before any associations invade the mind (or caffeine invades the body).
  • Writing at a prearranged time every day.
  • Meditation also improves clarity of thought.

Photo: morning, Lake Alexandrina.

Science Set Free

Monday, December 17th, 2012

sheldrakeThe Science Delusion by rebel scientist Rupert Sheldrake challenges the current scientific dogma that life is mechanical and purposeless. His chapters ask: “Are the laws of nature fixed? Is nature purposeless? Are minds confined to brains?” The title is a bit misleading but perhaps it’s a dig at Richard Dawkins (of ‘God Delusion’ fame), who describes living things as ‘machines’. The US edition title is Science Set Free, and it’s Sheldrake’s aim to break free from rigid materialistic science. Anyone who has ever had a pet, kept bees or grown a tree, knows that plants and animals are living organisms with a sense of purpose, not just an assembly of chemicals:

 All living organisms show goal-directed behaviour. Developing plants and animals are attracted towards developmental ends…Even the most ardent defenders of the mechanistic theory smuggle purposive organising principles into living organisms in the form of selfish genes and genetic programs.– Rupert Sheldrake

Even the smallest entities seem to have a form of consciousness. He describes remarkable single-celledStentor_roeseli swamp creatures, called Stentor (photo), which have a memory despite having no nerve endings (synapses). Sheldrake writes most lucidly about science and philosophy, and he’s not afraid to theorise about fringe science events (which he explains with his rather cryptic theory of ‘morphic fields’). Read a review.

The Case of the Mindful Universe

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Photo: Mysterious cosmic egg (supernova): NASA Images

I love a good mystery: in my 20s it was the search for God; then family mysteriously absorbed 30 years; and now questions rise again: What is the purpose of life? What is quantum physics? Consciousness? And why am I always the one on the spot when the loo paper runs out?

I’ve cobbled together the following Great Mysteries (with much help from pop-science books):

Around 14 billion years ago (for motives which are unclear) matter gained an advantage over anti-matter and the universe became slightly biased towards life. But only a ‘mere- smear’ of the universe is ordinary matter – galaxies, elephants, us – the bulk is ‘dark stuff’ which is mysteriously connected to the rest. Matter is made of atoms, which are energetic, enigmatic little tykes. An electron inside an atom behaves like a two-year old – it seems to be everywhere at all times – but when humans give it some attention, its behaviour changes. Intriguing. The little grey cells (our brains) enfold another mystery: consciousness. So we’re able to find meaning in life: we can make up our own minds.

And now the story takes a twist, from science towards soul. Mystical biologist Charles Birch reckoned that the whole universe is made of ‘mind stuff’. He suggested that even electrons have a whiff of consciousness:

We exist only because of subtle connections between the very small and the very large.

It seems to be all about connection and meaning, and I admit I’m biased towards finding both – hopefully without scrambling the cosmic egg. But I’ll leave you with a more appealing metaphor, by poet Muriel Rukeyser (I’m off to buy loo paper).

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.