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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

What I Have in Mind

A recent article in a scientific journal posed a controversial definition of our minds. The definition was first posited by UCLA professor of Psychiatry, Dan Siegel, at a meeting of forty or so neuro-scientists, sociologists, anthropologists and physicists wrestling with an explanation that would satisfy a multi-disciplinary understanding.

Their agreed upon language is a mouthful: The mind is “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us”.

If you are struggling to make sense of this you are not alone, but one part of this definition in particular struck me because it broke new ground on the subject of existentialism. That is the part that says, “embodied and relational”. In other words, our minds extend beyond the physical limit of our bodies.

While you are chewing on that, let me add an observation offered in the article. It is not just our perception that constitutes our experiences, but the experiences themselves. Our subjective experiences: what we feel, think, remember are all part of the experience and cannot be separated into a part that we call real and another part that is unreal—they are intertwined and the one profoundly affects the other.

Siegel offered this by way of further explanation. What is the shoreline? Is it defined by the ocean or the beach? Any reasonable definition includes both—the shoreline is the place at which they intersect. In a similar fashion our perceptions and our experiences define us.

It turns out the inspiration for this insight came from the field of mathematics—perhaps the least likely discipline. To quote Siegel, “in math, complex systems are self-organizing….and self-organization is adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable,” though it may be either fixed or chaotic. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it?

Reading through the article I felt both uncomfortable and entirely at home with this explanation. Many of you may be familiar with the famous physics experiment known as Schrodinger’s cat, or have heard of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Don’t worry I am not about to try explaining either one. What you may recall though is that a key theory tied to both is that the act of observing an interaction changes it.

Just for fun, let’s take these insights and put them up against some statements that appear to be more subject to debate.

First this: How I think and act affects the universe. By harnessing my intuitive and demonstrative forces I can bring about desired outcomes.

If you read this in a book of meditations you might be prepared to dismiss it as some new age nonsense but all it is saying is precisely what Siegel and his colleagues have said. By aligning my perceptions and interactions in the real world I can bring about things in the way I desire.

Let me try pushing the envelope a little further. How about this: The world that I perceive is only one dimension of reality. If in fact the mind is, so to speak, extra-corporeal, then it follows that what I perceive as reality is not bounded solely by what I see, touch, and feel. There is more to reality than what I perceive.

How can this be? If reality isn’t the finite limit of what our senses recognize what is it? Recognizing that I am in deep waters, let me suggest a simple answer. We have an agreed upon shorthand for reality—it is an experience that is common to all or at least most people. Notice I am not saying that reality is what we commonly experience, just that we accept common experience as a placeholder, unless or until our experience is altered.

But let’s not forget that our observation of that experience is also a part of reality and affects it in ways we cannot know. This is the shoreline where mysticism, religion and the supernatural are to be found. And just like Dan’s Siegel’s explanation we must admit that the point of intersection is blurry. Many people will tell you that they have experienced things for which they have no rational explanation. They have experienced things that seem outside any conventional explanation of reality.

Our tendency in response is to dismiss such experiences as unreal. They are, after all, outside our commonly agreed upon definition. But that’s all we might say. Were we to suggest that these alternate reality experiences were real, we put ourselves at risk of being dismissed, rejected by others because we are out of step. Do it often enough, and you might find yourself labeled, or even separated from the rest of humanity.

I am going to take my stand here. I am not asking you to go along. I don’t accept a confining and one-dimensional view of existence. What we call reality extends for me a good deal further than some people might find comfortable. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have enough questions to suggest that whatever limits we place on our commonly held view are insecure. For me, the universe is boundless. When we put it in a box like Schrodinger’s cat, we may think it is contained but it extends far beyond our ability to comprehend.

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