Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Consciousness and Christmas Wishes

Christmas 2003: The NativityImage by DUCKMARX via FlickrYou know,  at times during the course of this year, I have been laying around with not much energy as I have been waiting for time to pass as the body heals.  The Beethoven piece about Thanksgiving during Convalescence that I blogged about recently really sums up that wait stage.  It's kind of like Advent...waiting for birth of a new me. 

So, I have thought on and off about "What is the point of getting all my senses: ears, eyes, balance, feet, hands, smell all working?"  All this therapy begs the question, "To What End?".   As each day progresses, my world changes as my perceptions of that world change.  At times, I really haven't been able to do much other than lump about in bed as I have been quite tired.  At other times, I'm not so tired mentally as I am physically.  During these times, I can be a bit bored.  To pass the time, I meditate or pray or I listen to podcasts.   I have been too tired to read so listening to a podcast is a nice way of kicking back and occupying the mind as the body recovers.

Since I am all things neuroscience these days but I can only take so much of the neurology of binocular vision, balance, and hearing and I am wondering about the greater meaning of all this, I have turned to  iTunes  UC Berkley course on Consciousness by John Kihlstrom.  Kihlstrom steps you through daydreaming, hysteria, sleep and dreams, introspection, explicit and implicit consciousness, and the mind-body problem.  As Kihlstrom walks through these alternative states of consciousness, he is pointing towards a cognitive unconscious that executes automatic processes but lacks the complex mechanisms of repression of a purely psychological (emotional) unconsciousness. I am thinking that there is perhaps a bit of an interplay between these two realms-- that there is a cognitive unconsciousness that exists purely but that there are parts of this cognitive unconsciousness that react to and influence a purely emotional unconsciousness. 

So what does this mean to me and what about Christmas?  I'm coming to that in a very longwinded way.  Bear with me.

It's pretty obvious that my senses haven't been feeding accurate information about my world around me for quite sometime and that the world isn't exactly as I have been seeing it.  Since the beginning of therapy, my world changes every 3 days to every couple of weeks.  What has been so is not set in concrete and will not be for some time.  For the most part, this is a pleasant discovery of the world around me as I see or hear new things.  On the other hand, it is a bit jarring to run your daily errands and suddenly stumble across the fact that the awnings on Applebee's actually have apple images on them!  I mean, you know, you really want to take some things for granted  in your day to day living and not be disrupted!  With all these changes in your day to day environment, you really do want some sort of roadmap to the universe around you and also the universe inside you.  And this pondering of how the world is organized starts to lead you down a path of the new laws of science, that structure the universe:  string theory, quantum mechanics, the physics of cosmology, ecology and biophysics/biochemistry.  Biophysics  and biochemistry is where the rubber starts meeting the road in terms of exactly what happens physically during consciousness.  As I am gathering wool, I also note that there is a lot that is being talked about as we discuss consciousness that overlaps how philosophical and religious thinkers start to think about structuring our minds and knowledge both abstractly and how we relate to the world around us.  From a variety of disciplines, thinkers are grasping for the "grand theory of everything".  As these various thinkers start to bring these thoughts to bear on a peaceful relationship with our physical, emotional and social world, I can't help but think of the Christmas message of "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men".

There are a variety of translations of the Hebrew word, Shalom.  Shalom can be peace in the absence of war. Shalom can also mean "wholeness", "fullness", "totality", "completeness". Shalom means wholeness in the sense that no component part is missing, impaired or damaged. It means also that all parts are in harmony, order and unity.  This search for the "grand theory of everything" is perhaps unconsciously (lol!) motivated by a desire for harmony, order and unity.  As we change how our conceptions of how the physical universe is ordered from the revolution of the heavenly bodies, through evolution of our planet, and the workings of our bodies, minds and souls, we change our ideas of what it is to be whole and complete. 

When we ponder anew the ancient questions of "Who Am I?"  and "Where Did I Come From?" in light of these new scientific  discoveries, we are rewriting our narrative.  As we look anew at the marvels of the universe, we can't help but be struck with gratitude for living in a world filled with physical wonders. As I look at the intricate wiring of the brain, I can't help but feel a sense of awe at what God has wrought.  When I think about the capacity of human beings to respond to life both human and not, I can't help but think of ourselves as "Gifts of the Universe".  We are Gifts each and everyone of us as individuals and we can Gift each other and our planet through acts of love and kindness.  As we gift, we create our identity and  answer the questions of "Who Am I?": "our deep identity - an accumulation of freely given gifts from the immensity of the Universe through the intimacy of Earth to us, as us." 

As a Christian, this is what I believe the message of the Christ Child.  That we are connected to each other, to the Heavens where the Angels Sing, to Nature as Shepherds tended their flocks by night.   That we are connected to God and we when take the time to think of our connections that we can't help but praise his glory.   Because there exists these feelings across geographies and time and peoples and disabilities where people can't get completely accurate reads of their environment, I can't help but think that there is an unconscious cognition that recognizes these connections built inside us. 

Merry Christmas!  Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!

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