It is very difficult to describe and pin down what thinking is. It is primarily a discriminator circuit tuning consciousness into a particular dimension or mode of reality. It is originally an organic organ that receives, compares and assesses external stimulus and responds accordingly. The most primitive brains, belonging to small simple life forms, do not involve choice but rather a direct stimulus-response pattern. Higher order animals receive and process alot of external information but a large majority of their responses are programmed instinctive behaviors that once again do not involve choice. The intelligence is pre-programmed into the fabric of their organic machines, or their social structures and norms. They make typical choices which any member of the species would make under the same conditions, they respond mechanically, or autonomously to what is outside them. Some creatures can learn some simple behaviors and pass them on their progeny, like birds who learn to crack hard shells by dropping them onto rocks, and monkeys and apes who learn to smash open hard shells with stones to get to food. We could say these are the rudiments of thinking and intelligent choice. Instead of leaving the large nutritious nut, the creature solves the problem using a tool. Maybe he was shown by his father how to do it, or maybe he figured it out himself and will show his children. Its a good idea that enhances survival and well being, and leads to other good ideas.
In the human sphere we have developed language to quite a sophisticated level. From the rudiments of mere direct pictorial representations of objects to record simple communications, we have developed languages that use a simple collection of symbols for sounds that are able to represent every object, feeling, emotion, idea, concept, percept, symbol… etc virtually everything that is perceived by human experience, imagination, inspiration and intuition can be described in human language and communicated to others. We have a shared collective memory which has led to the remarkable developments of science and technology. But because our fixation has been externalized into an outside world we are far more advanced at describing and communicating about the things of that ‘outside’ world. We struggle with the inner world, the world of sensations, feelings and emotions.
Many of the things in our daily life are just given and become routines which we do not have to really think about like wake up, have breakfast, wash, brush teeth, get dressed, drive to work… We utilize the products of many many other people’s intelligences like: cereal in a box, milk in the fridge, sugar in the sugar tin, toothpaste and electric brush, piped water and geysers, showerhead and pomegranate and coconut aloe vera body wash, and if we’re good at ‘outside world’ stuff, then perhaps a mercedes benz… turn the ignition, put it in gear, and go! But during all the routines we do apply what we have learned and programmed into various parts of our brain, a kind of memorized intelligence, and also from time to time we have to decide about certain things like: green tea over coffee, or blue shirt over the white one, but occasionally we are called on to apply our intelligence and this is when we are really using our faculty of thinking. At work we also have much that is routine, habitual or memorized and repetitive but often we have to solve problems and think and generate solutions, and sometimes this involves being… creative!
Creative people, or artists tend to be very independent and self determining. They are often troubled and sometimes tortured, but they have this unique gift of digging deep and finding something of beauty and bringing it out into the world in painting, sculpture, music, or even science. Many people do not realize that many of the most gifted scientists were actually creative visionaries.
In order to know your self you have to observe your self but in order to truly observe yourself, your inner and outer self, you have to know your self and know other people, or more specifically to know what belongs to you and what belongs to others. It may seem like a chicken and egg conundrum, but its more like a beneficial self reinforcing cycle, the more you do it, the more you observe, the more you learn about yourself, the better you can observe, the more you learn about other people, the more observant you become, the more you can recognize positive and negative in yourself, the more you can recognize positive and negative in others, the more you will see the patterns you have been conditioned with, the more it provides insights and realizations that unravel the negative programming and enhance your life and functioning in the world. If you cannot or struggle to individuate you will always remain a member of the herd, with a specific position in the flock. Sometimes striving for individuality feels like fighting for one’s freedom. It means becoming counter conventional, strange, having weird ideas, entertaining unorthodox belief systems, even heathen religious doctrines… being your self is not easy in any society, and seeing your self as you really are and as you can be, can feel like lifting your head out of the swamp… the primitive quagmire.
But ins’t it true that all the people in our lives, the society we belong to, are in a sense a multi-fragmented projection of our inner state and the inner states of all in the collective? Isn’t there great value in how we reflect each other to ourselves and vice verse. Isn’t there great value in social norms, and laws?”
That which is truly inspiring, which inspires you and me to explore religion, spirituality and science for meaning, and understanding that could lead us to that sacred something, has only ever come to the world through empathic intuitive creative geniuses: messengers, saints, gurus and visionaries, each of whom had to win his individuation and freedom, only to face persecution, imprisonment and in many many cases exile or death. They are the sources of all that is good in any society, they are the source of whatever beauty, harmony, peace and order prevails, they are the original source of inspiration from which the laws were derived but not the ‘norms’. The majority of people are quite ancient and primitive despite being alive in the modern era, they are still rooted, some hundreds of years, some thousands, some millions of years in the past. I’m not referring to specific racial groupings, or even modern urban vs indigenous tribal, or any such comparison. I am referring to the state of consciousness and mode of interaction with people and world, the way in which they behave, feel and think, and their proximity to that turning point, when they begin exercising their own moral imagination, their own power of intelligent thinking and choice, that truly differentiates them from the animal kingdom.
The thinking brain
The brain is where thinking happens, and more specifically it is in the cortex that discrimination and analytical assessment takes place, leading to decisions, and sometimes, choices. The cortex wraps itself around the older parts of the brain the limbic, mid brain and brain stem, or the ape, the mammalian, and the reptilian/amphibian brains. It is what is different about humans, and it has a fantastic array of interconnections into every part of the more ancient brain, permeating them with… intelligence!
What was different about the mammalian brain was mainly the results of being warm blooded and giving live birth to children. It was the beginning of family and community and sustained interaction with a number of other mammals of the same species. Communication, feeling and emotion had no choice but to expand. What was different about the ape species is that their tribes grew to be the largest of any mammalian species and their brains also grew mainly in response to social life, and the development of more sophisticated emotional machinery. The machinery of sensory perception, movement and survival was already perfected… the further development and growth of the brain was in its social dimension. In a certain sense it is this capacity that enabled them to live in larger groups and so it seems like another chicken and egg scenario but we will not trouble ourselves with the unfathomable intricacies of evolutionary conundrums. The point is emotional wiring = bigger brains = enhanced survival = larger societies = more social structure and emotional nuance = bigger brains = more harmonious interactions = larger societies = bigger brains…
At some point some of the many ape species, and ultimately one in particular did something very different and became something different. Sufficiently different to mark themselves not merely as a new emerging species, but rather as an entirely new and higher kingdom of existence, as far beyond the animal kingdom as it is beyond the plant kingdom. The scenario is that changes in climate leading to changes in plant life, forced our tree dwelling ape like ancestors out of the tall trees and into the fields and plains for food and water but they still needed the trees for shelter and safety and as the trees transformed so the proto-humanoid became upright and lost most of his hair. His upright stature allowed for much greater freedom and movement of the hands independent of mobility. He became better at survival by finding new food sources, and using tools, and as a result his family group expanded into large nomadic tribes. His emotional circuitry continued to develop somewhat but it is in the analytical circuitry or the cortex and the memory that would turn the humans into something the world had never before seen, and never could have imagined or anticipated…
Why did the human brain grow and develop in such a new and unique way?”
This is probably the great question which has puzzled true evolutionary scientists for hundreds of years. Some put it down to the upright posture and the hands, some say that form follows function and that the hands and the posture were in service to a growing intellect. But what is clear is that ape like instinct, emotion and the rudiments of love, and willing and the rudiments of thinking and choosing would all be ultimately limited without the ability to learn, which required greater depth and facility of memory, and all the interconnected circuitry to link memory to every facet of perception and response, expression or movement. Memory would enhance every facet of existence, from movement, to expression, perception to discrimination and thinking, and choosing intelligently, and in time beginning to recognize patterns and… principles.
The cortex has many parts and does many things but one of its essential functions is to regulate the more primal emotions, and instinctual reactions. Those primal emotions like fear and anger, and even the more seemingly sophisticated emotions are what we feel at the heart, because the heart is the central core of the human felt experience, it is where we feel our emotions most in the body. We perceive many types of sensations from the outer world according to where certain sensory tissues are distributed in the body, and because the eyes and ears are in the head we perceive ourselves to be located in the head. But when it comes to the core of how we experience reality and ourselves in response to the world, and inner experiences, it is that always beating pump that distributes everything we need to survive that somehow feels it first and most, and responds even before we can see it hear it or think about it and analyze it and attempt to make sense of it.
But let’s not over romanticize our notion of heart, because in reality, the heart is controlled by the brain. The beating of the heart is controlled in the brain stem, and the response to danger, elevated heart rate etc. are also regulated by a very complex and intelligently programmed and brilliantly coordinated response primarily in the limbic system and the hormone synthesizing and secreting glands – the perception of danger results in a release of certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol which have a direct effect on the heart. You feel danger and your body is prepared to respond milliseconds before you actually become aware of the danger. Conversely when you need to outrun a predator or when you need to recover from injury or stress, then endorphins have a relaxing and calming effect and the body and heart. Intimacy and sexual activity leads to release of dopamine in anticipation and later oxytocin and endorphins, a cascading flurry of of hormones and impulses that shut down most of the discriminating brain and focuses on the pleasurable feeling in the sexual organs and from the brain through the heart.
Now why am i talking about all this, technical sounding heart and brain stuff? If you really want to heal you have to understand that you have the power to regain control over your body and your runaway emotions which are causing you so much suffering. But the problem is that generally the run away emotions also run away with the mind and its intelligence and use it to further negative destructive behavior patterns and emotional routines. If you want to heal, if you have made that choice, then you have to begin the next step of reclaiming your power of thinking, you have to control your mind, and use your intelligence effectively to solve your problems. You are so used to using your intelligence to solve problems for your employer in return for money and benefits, you are adequately motivated to train your mind and to use it productively. But when it comes to your personal life and the problems which you sense and experience, you somehow feel powerless to solve, you feel stuck and unable to think, understand, learn, change things…
…why is that? what can we do?”