For at least a couple of generations university scientists refused to consider consciousness, whether or not it exists, because they believed that the question fell outside of empirical hard science, that it was Woo woo! Mystical mud that had no place in the lab.
But as it becomes more clear in physics –as it has long been stated by mysticism and spirituality –consciousness may be the center of all natural phenomenon as we know it, that is, reality itself. Without conscious experience the cat is both dead and alive.
Consciousness creates reality.
And how does reality come to us, how does human consciousness work?
We tell ourselves and hear stories about everything, and we believe many of them, even when they’re not true, like the memory we had as children, getting into a fight, giving my first blackeye, when in fact, if you asked somebody else, like the kid I supposedly gave a blackeye too, I’m the one that got the black eye.
The truth doesn’t matter to our physiology, in cases like this; what matters is meaning. Our brains encode memories based on their meaning and emotional impact.
We believe two main stories, one about ourselves, who we are and one about truth, God or science or how we think the world works.
These two stores scaffold millions of the micro stories we tell ourselves or are told by others in our life time.
The mere act of reading this text is a story. Why are you still reading? Most people gave up after the title.
Why are you reading?
Whatever you take from this —is a story, and it more or less reinforces your belief about the two main stories, who you are and what is reality.
If you’re reading this you’re probably interested in consciousness, you like to have fun with metaphors of philosophy and science, and you like to look for connection in things, to use your imagination.
Our two stories, the story of me and the story of God or Science or both,
are only stories. They are false.
There is no God, no Theory of Everything, and no such thing as you.
I would never quote Nietzsche, I told myself when I was a young, Chicanx iconoclast.
I rejected him the way some people disvalue Picasso, a painter too familiar and too valued by the culture.
Chale con Nietzsche!
Take your western ideas and shove ‘em!
But now, as an older man, I find myself wanting to quote him.
He calls the UNDIFFERENTIATED WORLD, that is, all the information-energy-consciousness in the universe, absolutely everything that exists “a primal swirl of pain-cum-pleasure.”
It got me thinking that maybe this idea reinforces what I believe: that everybody creates their own reality.
As biological organisms, it’s impossible for our brains to notice or process the quadrillion upon quadrillion bits of information that come at us every moment of our lives, every nanosecond. We are surrounded by too much data to process. Sometimes information even goes right through us, like radio raves or neutrinos.
What we filter through our senses creates what we see and what we believe to be true, and because we use our bodies, our realities can indeed be shaped by pain and pleasure.
That’s why it’s important that when you feel pain, to not singularize the meaning. Don’t say, Oh, I feel bad because I could’ve done better in class today, or I could’ve been more articulate, or more brave, and I’m a loser.
It’s very important not to use pain to destroy ourselves, or further limit our reality, but rather use it to empower ourselves. We need to understand our bodies/brains/minds require that we feel pain, not always, but on occasion.
It’s the same with pleasure, we get stuck on the meaning, because the dopamine comes with a particular activity that we return to over and over again looking for the same pleasure.
The monks were right, too much of an emphasis on pleasure does not lead to joy or peace, or oneness.
What we think about reality is an incredibly limited perspective, our conclusions being tiny fragments of information with no basis to make the claim that they are true.
We believe this limited version of reality to be all there is.
But reality is not true.
And if the reality we believe is not true, then we can create our own.
We could be in charge of what information we process, what we notice, what we feel in our bodies.
We can carve a reality out of pure energy, the primal soup, God, the ein sof, the spiral of pleasure cum pain.
The Chicanx youth in me is shaking his head and saying, Ok, boomer!
Our intuition is simply a way of unconsciously reading a situation and converting it into feeling.
Intuition is in the gut. Intuition is in the body, which means intuition can be influenced by the food we ate the night before, or how much sleep we got.
Our intuition can be deeply wrong.
But there’s times when it’s absolutely right.
Like when we walk into a room and we see someone walking towards us and immediately our intuition tells us whether or not this person is a threat, or if we’re going to like them, or whether not they want something from us.
Our intuition can be right, and surely the percentage of right and wrong impulses can vary from person to person. This is why we think some people are more intuitive than others.
They are also prone to errors in judgments, but if we let them mull over it, delaying our intuition before we act on it, we can make better decisions and predictions. We consult the abuelos, not because they are always right, but because like the Proverbs say, “The wise one has many advisors.”
Delayed intuition is more likely to be right than wrong because there are more processes happening in your brain allowing you to make accurate assessments.
Delayed intuition is almost always correct.
Obviously you can’t always delay intuition, like when you’re walking down a dark street and something tells you to go the other way, and even though you haven’t figured out why your reptilian brain is telling you this, there’s a gang of thieves lurking in the dark waiting for a victim.
The abuelos in the cortex have no idea why, but you take flight. Get out of there fast.
But when it comes to intuition about more abstract and larger questions, like should I take that class? Should I write this novel or work on my book of poems? Or, if you feel something tells you you shouldn’t marry that guy, or that gal, or that they, Think about it for a while. Consult your Abuelos, and a more accurate answer will come to you.
Practice delayed intuition.
I don’t have scientific evidence for this, it’s mostly my intuition telling me what to write.
Some neuroscientists call the prefrontal cortex the CEO of the brain, because it’s supposedly in control of your executive functions, your conscious decisions and thoughts, and how you create narratives about yourself and reality.
But as a Latinx writer who cares about how we use metaphor, I don’t like the CEO image.
The model is based on capitalism, corporations and profit. And even though it’s ONLY a metaphor (neuroscientists don’t use the term literally), any explanation of a system that uses the elements of a larger metaphorical structure, in this case capitalism and the market, limits the possibilities of the overall meaning.
If my prefrontal cortex is the CEO of my entire biological system and the consciousness created by it or in correlation with it, then my reason for being, like a business, is to expand my possessions, to get more, which in Western culture is getting rich.
I prefer to think of the prefrontal cortex as the Mexican Abuelos in my brain.
Notice how I didn’t say “Abuela” or “Abuelo”, but Abuelos, both of them, the grandfather and the grandmother, left and right side of the brain.
The abuelos in a Mexican family are in charge of the direction of the family, the decisions, the family narratives, and so on.
Or so they think.
They often create narratives about decisions that have already been made by other parts of the brain, their hijos and nietos in the limbic system and the brain stem, that is, the reptilian brain, the flight or fight decisions.
The grandchildren may get into occasional trouble, but eventually the abuelos will find a way to fit that behavior into the family narrative.
This morning I was taking a walk with the baby when I saw a house with a small front patio, and on it was a round rot-iron table with two rot-iron chairs.
And I knew I wasn’t looking at a table and chairs.
I was looking at a meme, in the Richard Dawkins sense of the word, “an element of a culture passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”
Consciously or not, the people who live in that house with the table and chairs replicated an image they’ve seen before, an image that perhaps came to them as they looked at that empty spot. The odds are good that they will rarely, if ever, sit on those wobbly chairs.
But everybody wants chairs and a table on their front porch!
Everyone wants to be able to sit outside and have an iced-tea and watch the sunset.
Yes, but the impulse to put chairs in front of a house is not the meme itself, and is in fact a logical thing one would want to do, sit out on the porch.
But wouldn’t one want to sit on COMFORTABLE chairs?
Does anybody ever think, I would love to sit on hard iron!
This is a meme:
Obviously, all of us to some extent are meme-machines.
A toddler follows you around the house and repeats what you say, those things that are easy and fun to say, like Mama, Dada, kitty, even without knowing what they truly mean. Some words are easier to replicate than others, and as much as I hate to admit it, that’s why my daughter said dada, before she said mama.
One of the challenges of the poet is to know the difference between an image, a rhythm, the dreamworld, maybe a sound in the distance that finds its way into their work and the cultural memes that keep pounding on the door to be let in.
I don’t think that you can avoid memes, they will be there, and you will practice some level memetics.
But as a writer, you can deepen a meme. Subvert it. Use it to arrive at beauty or truth.
Statistically, my two-year old daughter will see her daddy die before she turns 30, because I’m old, a Baby Boomer raising a Gen Alpha.
But because I spent at a great portion of my life in the digital age, where billions of bits of information about me are stored, she should be able get an app on her future device that has access to all of my available data and the ability to process it in algorithms that can predict my behavior regarding specific inputs.
She could ask her Dead Daddy App things like, Daddy, what should I major in? Should I take the job, Daddy? Who makes the best tacos in El Paso?
And the answers the Dead Daddy App provides would accurately represent my consciousness and what I would be likely to say.
It may be even BE my consciousness, since we really don’t know what consciousness is.
The hard problem of neuroscience is that nobody can figure out how the brain creates the mind, that is, consciousness, personality, what makes me ME (if there is even such a thing as me). But the information Clouds would certainly posses enough data on me to predict my (I’m sure my very predictable) behavior. To determine my likes and dislikes, my fears, my hopes, the things that I hate and the things that I love.
In fact, the Daddy App my daughter could someday consult may be a wiser Daddy than me, more reliable than me, because it won’t be made of flesh and all the weaknesses that come from it.
The app won’t fight, get tired, become angry, or be offended.
These are the known human evolutionaryreactions to an enemy, a threat like a sabertooth cat wanting to eat us.
Although most of us no longer live in the savannah grasslands, we still experience these reactions to perceived threats, every day, but we don’t use them against the enemy, we use them against ourselves and the ones we love.
Sometimes when we feel aggressive or negative energy from our lover, we respond with one of the three Fs.
I’m leaving! I yell to my partner as I slam the door and walk to my car headed for the bar.
But here’s the thing:
With a lack of a real threat in some people’s lives, they also use the four Fs against themselves, as if they were their own enemy.
People fight with themselves (I’m worthless!), or they flee what they believe is reality through whatever addiction takes them away, or they freeze their abilities and live a numb of life, one of ennui, which Kabbalah suggests is the greatest sin.
(When I use the word sin I mean it in the Hebrew חטאה sense, a missing out.
To sin is to miss an opportunity.
To ignore the gifts of life is a sin, because you are missing out on a fundamental opportunity.
If we understand that when we feel threatened, we WILL feel one of the four Fs, if we know that it’s a reaction of our homo sapiens species, then we can be more active in choosing the best F for a given situation, and not slowly destroy the ones we love.
For example, if I get in a fight with my lover, that is, my wife, and my instinct is either to do one of these three F’s, I can understand the physiological origins of that feeling and not put it into thoughts that I end up believing.
And I can choose instead one of the other two F’s of evolutionary survival, Feed or Fuck.
Well, maybe not.
But I guess it could make sense.
We get in a fight, instead of using one of the three F’s we grab a bite to eat or we make love.
That music is time travel for those who listen to it is such a basic idea that we hardly need to present proof. Still as an example, when many people reach a certain age, even when they can listen to all the available music in the world on iTunes or Amazon Music, they return to the same old songs from their past, mostly from adolescence.
Not everybody does this, but it’s common.
They listen to the songs they loved as teenagers, maybe even as they were going through puberty, and they feel emotionally connected to the past. They relive it in their imaginations.
But what about Time traveling for the artist?
Artists, writers, and musicians know that there is such thing as arriving in the Zone, or whatsome neuroscientists call Flow.
It can be defined as the times wherein you are so absorbed in the creative act that everything disappears and you lose sense of time. You are completely inside of the work.
When you come out, when you’re interrupted by something like a pounding on the door, you immediately lose the Flow or come out of the Zone.
When an artist arrives in the Zone, space-time doesn’t exist.
There’s no arrow of time.
There is no matter and thus no laws of classical mechanics, which means that the artist in the Zone can time travel.
Physicists agree that theoretically time travel is possible, but nobody can do it because we are matter and matter cannot travel faster than the speed of light nor can it go through an event horizon into a wormhole without being torn into pieces, completely obliterated.
However, artists in the Zone appear in other space-times, non-spatial realms, places of the imagination, the astral plane.
A poet who follows her language and ends up in the Zone or experiencing Flow will often run into spirits of the dead.
If you follow language, you sometimes hear voices that come from somewhere else, maybe an old text you read but forgot about, or a sentence you overheard in a coffee shop, or something your abuela used to tell you when she was alive.
The dead come to us in Flow.
Think of improvisational Jazz, a sax player hears a rhythm and follows it.
As they are in the Zone, they hear the bop of another beat, distant but getting closer, and they pick it up, play with it, follow it up and down, all around, back and forth. They may very well be channeling the spirit-sound from a musician long dead or a song sung to them when they were kids.
Music is time travel.
Later I’ll write about how the music you choose to listen to over and over again, especially as you age, can begin to shrink your ability to time travel or to appear in the zone, but for now, I want to show proof of an artist who time traveled.
Or, to be fair, who time travels NOW, because although this artist is long dead, he’s still out there in the Zone.
The example is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3.
(Hmm, I won’t go into the numerology of it, 3+3+2, the number eight, which circles around and around like an infinity sign.)
I admire his work, but until I heard this piece, I never thought of him as great as Bach, who spends so much time in the Zone that he can appear anywhere and anytime unannounced, even in a Led Zeppelin riff or jazz improvisation.
But in this Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, we can map his journey into the Zone.
To experience this, imagine here’s what happened:
One early morning, Ludwig, still in his Ebenezer Scrooge nightgown, walks to his piano, sits down, still glowing from a peaceful night’s sleep.
He begins to play a tune he heard in his dream.
It’s very early, still dark outside.
Everybody else is sleeping.
He starts to play.
But listen to it, and imagine each note is a step along a path leading into something, a forest, a garden, a portal, a wormhole. He may or may not have been conscious of where he was going as he was playing that morning, because he’s following the music from the dream.
The player in the link I provide is Lang Lang, a badass pianist who I’m sure spends a lot of time in the zone.
At the 1:14 seconds mark, the portal opens.
He falls into the future.
He communicates with multiple artists who are also in the Zone, maybe Philip Glass is there, Thelonious Monk, maybe Ludovico Einaudi, and because there’s no time-space in the Zone, all can be in there at the same time, although this is ineffable, because there is no time.
Every time you enter into the zone, you enter into every time.
So after 1:14 seconds in this video of Lang Lang, Beethoven falls into a wormhole, and the music become dances, geometrical rhythms, triangles and circles, spirits of the New Age, entities outside of his own time-space.
Listen. At exactly the 1:14 mark.
(Sorry if you have to sit through part of a commercial before the music begins)
But go with Ludwig.
Follow him with your imagination, not your intellect.
This morning, when it was still dark and the room was lit by candles, I picked up my coffee mug. I like my coffee strong and bold, and I took a drink, but it tasted like a peach.
I felt like I had taken a sip of an entire peach, bitter and fuzzy.
And I realized the peach is a wormhole.
There are times when we taste something, even if it’s something we eat often, a cheesy cracker, a donut, and for some reason and for only a flash our brain tells us that we’re tasting something entirely different. We might take a bite from a chocolate bar, but for a pop not-even-a-second we taste broccoli.
We usually ignore these moments, shift our focus back to “reality,” and the next bite tastes like a chocolate bar, like it’s supposed to.
These are seemingly meaningless moments of life.
But perhaps when those moments come, if I allow my imagination to play with the idea that there is a reason why my coffee tastes like a peach, I might be able to see other slices of reality.
I’m not only experiencing the thing in front of me, the coffee, but my neural network is lighting up all over my brain, moving around like an aerial view of LA freeways.
Other tastes are evoked in my memory, other flavors linked to emotional experiences throughout my life.
When my coffee tastes like a peach, all times of my life from birth to death come together.
The peach is a wormhole, and it allows me to time travel.
I’m writing a collection of essays called Writers are Witches.
The pieces are somewhat thematically connected (mostly about physics, mysticism, and the craft of writing), but the title comes from my belief that great poets, that is, ALL great creative writers enter into realms of the imagination most people do not have access to without guidance by a spirit, i.e, the writer.
These imaginary worlds have been identified by mystics and hermetic thinkers as the astral plane, the underworld, infinite field, a place not in space wherein one can have conversations with angels.
In other words, to be a writer is to be a mystic or a witch, one who accesses these realms and often channels energy from within and releases it into our world, usually for a particular purpose.
When I read a good novel, like something by Toni Morrison, I’m enchanted.
The etymology is pretty obvious, yes?
Enchant. “To cast a spell upon (often one that attracts or charms).”
Obviously chant is to intone something over and over, rhythmically, poetically, like how writers follow language and end up with new rhythms and incantations and innew places that surprise even the writer.