The Ghost in the Machine pt. 1

Scattered over my life have been times when the so called “mind/body problem” was an issue. In general I have treated this as a deep and overarching puzzle that impacted how I understood things. High School was probably the earliest I began to actively wonder about the contents of my mind in a self-conscious and mature(?) way, in part by digesting elements of modernist literature beginning in my mid teens. Since then it’s been an on again/off again occupant of my thoughts, often in response to local life circumstances. It’s led me to where I am now, with a wide array of perspectives on the question, as this is what mainly interested me. How do we or I see? Just begin with that simple question. I becomes we when you start to explain phenomena such as the persistence of mind or the origin of life and consciousness. 

This “problem” reaches into how we individually and collectively view the world and ourselves in it. The term “Ghost in the Machine” is an apt and evocative way to describe this view and is accompanied by the virtue of highlighting the error in it. It’s a metaphorical description of a historical mental process with a deep origin, so deep that it is much easier to say “it’s in everything” and step back from that mild overstatement. It’s easier to understand it in patterns of thought, emotion, or behavior. I like to do what is easy. I like to start with the basics.

Most of us when we think of “ghost” we think of something unreal. “Ghost” has many shades of meaning but this is how it is meant. It’s an imaginary being inside a real machine. In essence, it is a dualism telling us how it is our bodies are animate. What makes the thing go? So, whether or not you believe in ghosts, the other key is found in “machine”. Are we or aren’t we machines? To me it’s obvious we are not, but the culture, this culture, at it’s core, seen in our collective conditioned mind, understands it as such, and has for many centuries. Again at the core, this is behind what I personally have experienced, and many, many others have as well, as disembodiment, or an underlying sense of disconnection from a unified experience of being alive.

So, the mind/body problem manifests from a cultural myth we experience reality through which I contend has had it’s day and can now be escorted out. I say myth sympathetically, and truly believe the brain is a myth making “machine”, among a lot else. In other words, we with human brains must always have a belief system to function individually and culturally. These mind systems come and go, but if they aren’t replaced we are in the wilderness. With that said, replacing a cultural myth is a project of generations that can be daunting to undertake, fun to undertake, fascinating, necessary…if I were texting this, I would put a little smiley face emoji in answer to the question of how I intend to approach this.

For the next several posts I’ll discuss a TEDtalk video, which I’ll link below, by Anil Seth on the latest in his work as a neuroscientist on the subject of consciousness. In my next post I’ll point to ways subjects in the video relate to the mind/body problem and in the post after that I’ll move to how the research supports some specific views of somatics and yoga on the mind/body relationship.  After that, who knows.  It will go to a smiley-faced somewhere, given how vast the subject is.

Anil Seth is quite entertaining and I find the video accessible. It is an effective launch pad for my mind rocket, so I’ll use it. If this video seems too abstract or that it doesn’t apply to anything tangible or useful, just hold on because a part of what makes myths effective is their on the ground practical value. You can call it a paradigm, even, if you want to make it more “sciency”. It has many names like all big mysterious subjects do. Chairs are chairs, myths are paradigms.

Anil Seth on conscious reality

Until next time.

Thank you for reading and all the best!

2 thoughts on “The Ghost in the Machine pt. 1”

  1. I went back to re-watch this video and to think about your post a bit more. Human beings are indeed meaning/myth makers. I am curious about the somatic approach to these issues because in many ways, the body “encodes” certain aspects of our mental states, which is why change can be so difficult for people. I have been studying some of the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, in which he explains how our temperaments and beliefs become our personalities over time but that it is possible in the “quantum” field to make changes in these areas with intentional practice. I am fascinated by this concept, and how our consciousness can modify our reality in very real ways. I also wonder if our current paradigm makes it so difficult to access these states because we so frequently want to escape pain and negative emotions rather than allowing ourselves to fully experience them. Being human is about 50/50, right? But we all strive to be happy all the time.

    I am eager to read your next post on the topic. I was going to ask you about whether there is a mind/body/spirit problem, but perhaps that arises because, for some people, there is a tripartite separation rather than just dualism… but that could probably spark another discussion entirely. 😉

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    1. Yes, this is definitely somatic in the zeitgeist sense of it being the mind’s experience with the body, or the internal view of it. Thomas Hanna wrote quite a bit about somatic sciences, or somaticizing fields like psychology and biology. I think of it as embodying knowledge through memory. Consciousness itself is within a field, or embodies a field which you experience as a hologram. When you are aware of the hologram then you are in the field, as in you see it. Knowledge of the quantum field would work like that. The yoga view of the mind/body/spirit is like this, too, which uses intention all the time to turn over samskaras, which involve temperaments and beliefs and personalities. These connect to vasanas, which are deeper currents, temperament fits in here, too, as far as it is an inherited trait, or maybe a genetic disorder. The real deep stuff. I think if you think it’s fun to think about quantum physics then why not?

      As for escaping pain, I know I want to escape pain. Doesn’t always work. We bury our pain and negative emotions because it’s easier. Life tries to do what’s easy and there’s wisdom in that. It’s forgetting that’s the case which causes all the problems. Experiencing anything painful, whatever it’s origin, needs time, space, and attention so that you can get to the origin. The current paradigm dissuades you from doing it through distraction, it seems, by way of our cell phones. It fixes rather than heals, especially in conditions like depression, and I’ll venture a somatic explanation for depression sometime soon. The current paradigm undervalues or outright ignores the mind’s capacity to heal the body. Maybe that’s the uberflaw.

      And yes, I held off the spirit definition because it’s simpler and doesn’t alienate. The spirit is the animating element and glues it all together, but there are many, many different beliefs so I thought I’d wait and address it separately.

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