The Pleasures of the Mind

I love playing puzzle games with my wife.

We are still playing Filament together, and we have learned a lot about each other. Things that we knew we loved going in, as well as some annoyances.

There are those moments in puzzle games of transference. I’m not talking about the falling-in-love-with-your-analyst kind of transference. But rather I’m talking about making real connections, real learning.

Okay so one of the core tenets of the game is wrapping string around pillars. In the game, you have a character that guides a string along, but he (or she) can only fit in certain spaces if your string does not block the way to another pillar.

This idea is all about making sustainable connections.

Making friends with toxic people is no fun. There is hardly any chance for the conversational nature of reality to open up, for you both to grow and learn from one another. Instead, much of the friendship is used for putting out fires. It’s an unsustainable connection.

It is not just playing Filament with Claire that has opened up new ways to think of making connections, but it is the lessons from playing itself. And I am starting to see that this is the way of everything. That not only is this nature of experience something that you interact with, it is something that your brain takes with you and applies to new situations. We are always, all the time, taking our identity for the ride.

Get Comfortable With Yourself

I have always felt that we had better begin at an early age to understand ourselves, because we are going to be in this body for a long time. I continue to be amazed at the people who walk down the street, walking the dog while also committed to staring at their phones. Yes, the amount of learning out there is incredible, but also we must be able to step away from the digital world. And going on a walk is the perfect moment!

It seems as though, rather than presenting opportunities for us to reencounter our deepest held beliefs, we simply look for distractions.

This morning, after an interview, and after I meditated, I thought back to last night. In Thomas Metzinger’s book, they have done MRI scans of accomplished monks who have meditated for over 10,000 hours. The results of paying attention are profound:

“Apparently, repeated meditative practice changes the deep structure of consciousness. If meditation is seen as a form of mental training, it turns out that oscillatory synchrony in the gamma range opens just the right time window that would be necessary to promote synaptic change efficiently. To sum up, it would seem that feature-binding occurs when the widely distributed neurons that represent the reflection of light, the surface properties, and the weight of, say, this book start dancing together, firing at the same time.”

In other words, the time dilation that consciousness uses can be remarked upon with meditation. Could meditation, therefore, bring our brain back to our younger selves, and make learning much more palatable?

But 10,000 hours, my goodness. Just one hour of practice each day, every day of the year, would mean that learning a skill takes 27 years given that amount of practice. The amount of time we spend in school for a single subject? Barely over 1,000. I desperately wish that, in hindsight, I could have started meditating at an early age. Listening to example meditation practices from Annaka Harris, I see now the chance for deeper and more contemplative thought that meditation provides. And I see why many people go on meditation retreat, as they hope to make up for that lost time.

Fears of Losing Oneself

Many have this binary when it comes to neuroscience, meditation, and the loss of self. They believe much like our ancestors did: that morality is based on a proper calibration with our consciousness. Without that guiding conscience = conscious principle, many feel as though the opportunity for self knowledge is impossible. Until modern philosophy, this was the predominant idea. After Descartes, there was a doubling back, as we were convinced that because we thought at all, because we have an experience, we are capable of having an identity. This slight change should not be discredited, and a big part of the rise of Humanism was the idea that we, all of us, are capable of conscious thought. We have expanded this idea now to both gender and ethnicity, spreading the possibility for popular sovereignty to as many as we can. And now, even the animals we inhabit the Earth with are also being scrutinized for signs of a light powered on inside of their heads.

But this new wave of thinking, this pushing the pole back further from the self, worries us. What am I if I am not my memories?

Despite the fact that this feels as though it is a reductive form of thinking, it actually has made me far more empathetic when in discussions, and sympathetic for those with bad luck.

It has made me realize just how much I need to take care of the body I have been given. We are sponges to the world, and though we are given a genetic profile with which to work with, we still must take care to provide not just the right diet, but the right experiences, in order to flourish.

And more than ever I am interrogating the rationale behind my ideas. If I am not my ideas, where do they come from? Why do they matter, if at all?

Suddenly, nothing is boring.

The pleasures of the mind have opened up. Sure, I am sort of lost at sea right now, because all this is so new to me, but was there a time before where I felt properly moored to the mainland of reasoning? Was I ever the paragon of logic? No. Not even close. As much as I tried to hide it, I made emotional decisions and used reasons to cover them up.

And what were the purposes of all those arguments? There is a great line from Casino Royale, the first Bond movie to star Daniel Craig. Eva Green has just entered the elevator to go up to the hotel room. Green stops Craig and says, “Take the next one. There’s not enough room for you and your ego.”

That is what I mean. The practice of meditation, as well as the learning about the structures of the brain, frees you more and more from the hardships of having to prop up this identity. You can stop pretending to be brilliant, or witty, or strong or agile, or tough or sexy. Instead I feel as though I am happier without those things. Finally, I can start learning for its own sake. Because it’s fun.

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