Consciousness in the World: Finding Our Way

I have felt such a broad range of emotions of late, and have switched between experiences of different key elements so frequently, that I have been unable to focus very clearly on any one matter for very long. The crux of the matter seems to be that the disparate elements vying for my attention all seem equally urgent to me in their own way. Without the benefit of some sort of priority evaluation, it puts me at a distinct disadvantage, not to mention creating a degree of paralysis, which, while daunting, is also the subject of some fascination in a funny way.

Looking back now, more than fifty years ago, at the very first memories of my life, there was a long period of those early years when I had virtually no concept whatsoever of what my existence was about, how it came to be, or what the purpose of it all might be. In the photo above, according to my mother, I was fascinated by my younger brother, and apparently unaware that I should be anything BUT fascinated. My other siblings appeared not to have as much interest. In some ways, how we view our existence is formed in these early years, due to the nature of our dependency as young children on the inclinations of our caretakers. We all must rely on our parents or guardians for sustenance and guidance as we become aware that we exist, and depending on the character of that intervention at such an early age, we begin to form our view of the world and our place in it, based on those influences.

Generally speaking, once we begin to more independently perceive the world through our own eyes, and construct our own notions of our experience of the world, we come to understand that there is a great deal more to the process than simply absorbing our caretaker’s view of life. Even with all of our mental faculties intact and nominally functional, as a young person lacking in experience, we may not fully comprehend the experiences we DO have, even when our perceptions are accurate and take place in an advantageous environment. After accumulating a greater number of experiences over many years, our ability to more fully appreciate similar perceptions has a larger context culturally; our perceptual skills have expanded in breadth and depth as a consequence of our expanded baseline of both life experiences and practice in applying our cognitive talents to interpret and analyze those elements.

Imagine how our early ancestors, previously having only limited opportunity to expand their perceptual and cognitive skills, finally began to utilize perception and cognition TOGETHER in ways that only became possible after the newly expanded cerebral cortex began to be exposed to experiential reality! Perceptions, memories, and accumulated cognitive experience, at some point, finally became sufficient to produce an enhanced range and depth of comprehension. Once the progress of the general population within groups and regions reached an adequate level of “shared experiences,” which produced common results and enabled routine processing of specific thoughts and similar ideas, analysis and comparisons of perceptual experiences slowly formulated the beginnings of more generally homogenous “view” of reality. Even as WE look back on the early Homo sapiens limited experiences, thousands of years from NOW, our own progress today will, no doubt, seem primitive to the future human world.

Resonating through the eons of time, all varieties of human experience frequently influence the subsequent character and quality of experience for future generations. Some of this influence is the result of witnessing first-hand particular events or the consequences of those events, by many individuals, who then not only report their accounts of those experiences to others, but also devise solutions, or take actions, to ensure that others about whom they care either benefit from the positive effects, or are warned against the negative effects.

In the morning, I will be participating in the memorial service for my dear brother, who lost his struggle with brain cancer this past Monday, and dedicate this posting to his memory. In so many ways, my life, and the lives of every one that touched his, were influenced by his passion for life, his devotion to his beliefs, and by his relentless pursuit of understanding his existence in the context of our mutually shared experiences. Our conversations in these last few months, while he was still able to converse competently, have both inspired and empowered me to continue to pursue my own passion for life and understanding, represented in my many postings here. In the middle of all this emotional and spiritual upheaval, at the core of every loving and joyful moment of our time together, I saw so clearly, the soul of the man I had come to love beyond measure. Throughout all of the medical treatments, doctor visits, and the struggle to persist in spite of the odds, even in what would become the final days of his life, the light in his eyes never dimmed.

In my tribute to him tomorrow, I will read these concluding lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses:”

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Artist: John William Waterhouse
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

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