I made a post today in another forum that was related enough for me to repeat most of it here.
It seems to me that there are many aspects to getting a germ of an understanding of what we are as human beings.
One of those aspects is getting some idea of number, some idea of the vastness that resides within each and every one of us. Most people get lost with big numbers, they are just big.
How many things can you see in a second?
For most people the answer is about 10, if they are focused.
If we were to spend 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, directing our attention to see new people, we would be able to see about 100 million people in a year. At that rate it would take 70 years to see all the people alive now, many of whom would have died in the interim.
Within each of us are about 10,000 times as many cells as there are people on the planet.
Within each cell are about roughly as many molecules as there are cells in our bodies, of about 50,000 different types within each cell, and up to a further 30,000 different types of molecule between different types of cells.
Each of these molecules has magnetic and electrical field resonance, as well as physical properties of vibration and resonance.
Cells have electrical and chemical properties.
To think that we know what is going on in all that complexity is an absolute nonsense.
We can certainly understand some of the principles that are in action within that amazing complexity, and to think for an instant that we understand all of the relationships/strategies/interactions/emergent properties is hubris in the extreme.
Having clearly said that, and keeping that uncertainty clearly in mind, there are some things that do seem to probably be important factors in the understanding of the reality of being human.
We have bodies.
We have very strong and confident evidence that these bodies are part of the whole evolved genetic/cellular system that are very largely the result of evolution by natural selection acting out over some 4 billion years of existence on this planet.
Evolution is an amazing concept.
At its core it is an extremely simple idea.
The idea is that if we have something that replicates, and that there is occasional error in the replication process, then there will be competition amongst the variants for survival.
In the world of organic chemistry there are a couple of families of molecules that can replicate like this, they are known as DNA and RNA.
We call the thing that is replicating a gene.
That competition between variants drives changes in the genetic makeup of the population.
It gets more complex.
These genes have lots of different sorts of impacts on the world around them, as well as being influenced by lots of different things in the world around them.
Under certain conditions, RNA molecules can replicate themselves.
Under other conditions, RNA molecules can fold up into very complex shapes that can be relatively stable. One such set of RNA molecules is called the Ribosome.
The ribosome has two major components made of RNA.
When these two components get together, they create an environment where other different types of RNA molecules can feed through a slot in the ribosome, and attract different amino acids to form chains based on a sequence of three of the nucleic acid sub-units within the RNA molecules.
The sequence of Amino acids so formed is called a protein.
Proteins fold as they form, and form very complex shapes, with very complex chemical and electrical properties.
Some of these proteins can act as catalysts.
Catalysts are things that are involved in change, speed up the rate of that change, but are not themselves altered by that change.
When a protein has a role as a catalyst in living systems we call it an enzyme.
Enzymes can create environments where very complex organic molecules can be formed, from very complex chains of reactions.
Enzymes can have very interesting secondary and tertiary properties.
Some enzymes are so shaped that when the concentration of the thing they catalyse the production of reaches a certain level, that reaction product binds to the enzyme and inhibits further activity – effectively giving it an “off” switch when it reaches a certain level.
Other enzymes have similar off switches, that are affected by the products of other reactions, 2 or three or four or more steps down the chain.
The complexity of the chemical molecular feedback systems, and their interaction with each other rapidly gets way beyond the ability of any human mind to follow in detail, yet it works. It is what we call life, and it is what we see in bacteria, algae, plants, animals, ecologies, and the mind-boggling complexity of interacting life on this planet.
If you haven’t got a headache yet, you soon will.
Our species, human beings, has evolved a very interesting set of abilities.
We are complex mammals, and share a host of complex patterns that assist us to live, with most of the other mammals.
There are many thousands of those, including being warm blooded, brain organisation, sense organ structure, etc ….
Most mammals have complex brains that allow them to learn behaviours based upon interaction with their environment, as well as patterns of behaviour that are inbuilt, and for the most part simply trigger when they do, as a result of some environmental cue.
As a species, we have far fewer of the inbuilt behaviours than most other mammals.
We have very large brains, capable of very complex action.
We have brains capable of processing multiple streams of information simultaneously.
We can store and retrieve vast amounts of information very rapidly and very reliably.
We store and retrieve that information as interference patterns, which has an interesting side effect of allowing us to make abstractions and intuitions.
To understand a little of how that works, we need to consider how our nerves transmit information.
Our nerves use FM (frequency modulation), for the same reason that modern radios do, it has a much better signal to noise ratio – ie the message is more likely to get through, less static and hiss (as is found in AM signals). The nerves in our eyes for example have a standard rate of firing. They fire at that frequency all the time when our eyes are closed. When we open our eyes, the effect of light hitting our retina either increases or decreases the rate of firing. This is FM, frequency modulation (modulation just means changing).
Thus our brains have natural frequencies, and we speak of brain waves – billions of neurons in our heads firing in synchrony. This synchronisation has many similarities to how LASERs work, and LASERs provided us with a great analogy for how to think about many of the fundamental processes of brain. One of the things about LASER holograms is that every bit within the hologram contains a little information about the whole (Zen anyone). So it is with human memory, human intuition, creativity, creative contextualisation, etc.
Our brains are a mix of information, habit, context, intuition; and those abilities seem to be able to be recursively applied into potentially infinite levels of abstraction and awareness.
These abilities have bought a new replicator into existence.
We can transmit ideas, and actions from one individual to another.
These units of transmissible information have been termed “memes”.
Memes are subject to very similar rules around their evolution to those that apply to genes.
We see in humans very similar meme structures to the sorts of gene structures we observe in the natural world – right up to the level of ecosystems, and beyond.
Each of us, as human beings, comes into existence with a genetic lineage that goes back billions of years, and has complexity that is numerically mind numbing.
We then begin our mimetic existence. Our brains start to learn.
We do not exist in a learning vacuum.
We are born into a “culture”.
For the first five to seven years of our lives we are genetically programmed to accept most things that we encounter without question.
Thus we learn from our parents and our peers, and such learning is, for the most part, uncritical.
Some in society try to continue that uncritical learning and extend it as far as possible through adult life. People influenced by such structures tend to obey without serious question, throughout life.
Others in society attempt to teach individuals to be critical (to question, to test, to critique) of everything they encounter, and to go back through all that they accepted in childhood without question, and re-evaluate that also.
These two modes of operation are extremes of a spectrum that is infinite.
This line of thought leads to some very interesting analysis of trends and systems (economic and political) that is beyond the scope of this post.
For most of us, somewhere about age 3 (in the range 3 to 7 usually) we will have been children simply being, acting and languaging as per our genetic and cultural inputs, and we will have learned the concept of right/wrong (or good/bad, or some other simple binary distinction of valuation) along with the rules for how we ought to be in relationship to it. Sometime shortly thereafter we would each find ourselves in a situation where according to the rules we learned, we must declare ourselves to be wrong (or bad or whatever).
The brain (being a problem solving machine) solved that problem for us by declaring something in language – in the general form “being x (x being whatever we were doing) was wrong, so I am going to be y (y being something within the rules and culturally appropriate)”.
It seems to be, that that declaration is what is known in computer parlance as a bootstrap routine (from the idea of picking oneself up by ones own bootstraps – which is physically impossible, yet we can think of it). It starts a new pattern into existence, which pattern, when matured, we will come to call our ego. It is pure software, running on the hardware of brain and body.
Thus, as adults some of us get to learn about disciplines involving questioning everything, and trusting our own intuitions.
We find ourselves to be beings that are tied to the physical bodies we find ourselves associated with, yet at the same time to also be intimately linked at many different levels to all that surrounds us. In certain states of mind we are able to access certain aspects of different levels of connectedness.
Historically many individuals have achieved such states, and very few, have had any real idea about just what is going on.
I do not make any claim to “know” all there is about such relationships, and it does seem to me that those relationships are, in reality, very different from most of the explanatory frameworks that most cultures provide.
So yes – we can have profound and deep experiences.
Yes we can feel and experience connectedness and clarity.
And it is highly unlikely that any explanatory framework more than 50 years old is even partially accurate as to what is actually going on.