Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I have a day off from work and I’ve been listening to spiritual teachers on the Internet all morning. Now I’m full.

They all teach that nothing is real but the present now. They talk about the now much in the same way as the Christians talk about Jesus. They are forming a new religious cult. In a way they are right, I suppose, but they forget that the human brain is wired to plan for the future. The planing function is in our biology and has helped us to survive through two hundred thousand years. To denounce the planing function would be like if a bird denounced its wings. And they also forget that the present now is also a mental construct? Everything is mental constructions in the brain.

When you, for example, hear something, the sound has to travel to your ears and then from your ears, along the nerves, and then it has to be processed in the brain before you can notice it. What you hear belongs to the past. What you perceive as the present now is actually something that happened in the past.

And ponder this: When you look at a beautiful sunset, the sun may have exploded five minutes ago but you are not aware of it because it takes eight minutes for the sun rays to reach you. And if you look at a twinkling star it might be a galaxy that disappeared a million years ago.

Twenty years ago Benjamin Libet made neuropsychological experiments and was able to show that the will to act, for example move a finger, will start 200 milliseconds before you are aware of it. You feel that you are voluntarily moving your finger, but the brain has already started the process 200 milliseconds before your conscious act of moving it. Isn’t this weird information?

Maps are useful but they are not the territory. We mistake the map for the territory. We are obsessed with our different maps, spiritual maps, political maps, scientific maps. My map is better than your map. Nobody is looking at the territory. This is our problem, not our capacity to plan for the future. If we are completely engrossed in our maps we don't even notice what the world is like around us. To wake up for a moment, I think, is to put away the map and take a look at the trees and the birds, the sun and the moon and the stars, the traffic jams and the stressed out people in the commuter trains, all the horrors on the evening news on TV, whatever is there in front of us.

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