This is what I wanted to do tonight instead of write a paper:
I wanted to tell a story about how I just saw, just now, a male bluejay pass something, beak-to-beak, to another male bluejay, as they sat cross branch from one another in the maple tree that blocks my view of the clouds, but that I cannot bring myself to cut down.
Usually, male bluejays fuss at one another and I take this small exchange, such a delicate affair, to mean that something has shifted in the world.
Today, as I walked to the Downtown Market to go to the ARMHC gathering, I noticed someone had left their car windows down. It was noticeable, because nobody ever leaves their car windows down. Then, when we went outside on break, all along the street there were cars left with their windows down, at least four of them.
“Look,” I said to the person beside me, “the world changed.”
The other day, I saw a young adolescent sitting in a car in a supermarket parking lot, alone and waiting for his parent to be finished with the shopping.
On that same day, I noticed that the frog pond in Fairview was no longer filled with round globes of frog eggs, but that in their place were thick coils of some other sort of egg, that looked like the case of a whelk, which looks like something from outerspace.
“Toad eggs,” my father said, not for better or for worse, a simple statement of fact.
I took a nap on that day, and I dreamt of swimming in a storm surge of the prettiest clear blue, tunneling in the waves beside a near-ruined coast that I have dreamt of before. I think it might be somewhere in California.
The next day, when I tried to take a nap, I couldn’t fall asleep.
This is what I wanted to write about, instead of writing a final paper:
I wanted to write about how many people were happy to see me today, and how I sat closer to the man on the steps of BeLoved and said plainly, “I can’t hear you. I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
He looked like a stereotyped
man, with his hair all wild and white, his beard and fingernails overgrown, his black jeans, his new shoes and hospital socks, his pleather jacket stitched in white tribal. Another fellow stepped around him on the stairs, “Don’t you go cutting me now!” Both men were drunk and both were laughing, and the man with the jacket mumbled something and the other man said, “What? What, man!? …you’re crazy man. There’s something wrong with you.” mad
They laughed more and I said, from place in the sun at the picnic table, “Hey, there’s something wrong will all of us!” Then we all were laughing and then I was sitting on the step, leaning into the fellow with the jacket.
“What did you say? I can’t understand you.”
“Well, here I am…I’m came back.”
A little laugh, bitter at the edges, and the man said, looking at me dead on with his eyes like some stone that you find at the bottom of the river, brown run through with green, the way eyes are sometimes. “They all think I’m crazy.” He laughed.
“We’re all crazy.”
My new answer for things – for anything really – is that “We’re all…”
For the most part, whatever it is, this is true enough.
“I came back and here I am.”
The man laughed to himself some more and I looked at him closely, studying the details, the single hairs that grew from his nose, the deep wrinkles everywhere. He was an old man, but not ancient.
“My wife got married to someone else.”
“…and here you are.”
“Do you want to trim your fingernails?” I asked him plainly. Some nails were hanging split and ragged and I felt the imagined feeling of them catching in the sleeve of a coat, the lining of a pocket.
I had fingernail clippers in my bag. I had actually gone back inside the house to get them this morning, intending to pass them to my son in the backseat, so he could trim him nails before school. I forgot, however, as I backed out of the driveway, and so I put them in my bag, trimmed my nails a little at work.
“Can I cut your nails?”
He looked at his hands, “Well, I shoot pool, so I need a little thumbnail left.” I could understand him when he spoke.
His nails were thick like toenails, and I told him as much. “Look, this one looks like a mountain range,” broken into peaks and a valley.
He told me that he was from Chicago, and that he was Blackfoot. He told me that you had to be quiet about those things around here.
He told me again that they all thought he was crazy, the people who lived in the camps.
He said something about going somewhere 4 times. “Where?” I couldn’t understand him again and so I just watched his eyes.
I couldn’t tell if he said Vietnam or napalm, but I understood the word helicopters and, for some reason, I felt tears come to my eyes and an out of nowhere sorrow and something like anger, because I pictured the man with a jacket as a kid, about the same age as the kid I saw waiting in the parking lot at the grocery store.
All I could say was, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry you went there.”
…and it felt like a stupid thing to say.
I wanted to write about that and about the fact that I am going home this weekend for the first time in 7 years. After work on Thursday, I am going to pick my children up from school and we are going to pick up the dog and I am going to drive them down to the coast, where we will meet my parents and their golden retriever, and where we will all stay in the house that I grew up in and that my oldest child still remembers.
We will see the river, and on Saturday, we will go to Cumberland Island, where I lived when I was a baby, for a just a little while. Hopefully, we will see horses.
I wanted to write about that and about the way that I have decided that this trip will not be about the trauma of home, and that it will be about revisiting the best of where I came from and saying hello to old ghosts, greeting them with bravery and love.
Those are the things I wanted to write about and the things that, if anyone should write about anything, I should write about.
I don’t want to write about the world in a way that makes sense to consensus reality. I want to write about my life and things that make sense to me, the details of the things I want to have a record of.
By the time the ARMHC gathering was over and I had gone to the store to buy catfood, I had forgotten the man with the jacket. Of course, I would remember him, standing in some line somewhere, and everytime I cut my fingernails or anyone else’s…but, he wasn’t on my mind when I saw him lurching down the sidewalk in the transition between the afternoon drunk and the evening black out. He was walking with three or four other people, not folks I recognized, and they parted with him, crossed the street at a diagonal, and kept walking. The man with the jacket leaned on the street sign, and was saying something, you could tell by his hands, but the people didn’t look back.
I drove by, not stopping to say, “I’m sorry…”
…and I came home and wrote this. I think I will turn this in as my paper, with some notes on my unstudied thinking about consciousness and evolution.
The consciousness of human beings has fascinated us for as long as we have had the wherewithall to think about what it means to think. Descartes is famous for his statement: “I think, therefore I am.” This reasoning, which established viable existence in relation to the ability to think, ended up causing a great many distortions in our considerations of what thinking is. It became a thing that humans do, and the thought that developed out of this syllogism was that beings who do not think in the way that we think were someone less than us, not possessing of a sense of their own being, not existing as we thinking, conscious humans do.
The conclusion that thought begats existence drew hard lines between human beings and other animal species, not to mention the seemingly thoughtless land and seas. Of course, the primacy of human beings over all other species and habitat cannot be solely attributed to manipulation of Descartes’ small statement. Popular religious narratives also contributed to the placement and conception of humans as separate from other beings.
The rise of reason was accompanied by a shift in our thinking about what constitutes reasonable thought, and what musings may be best be considered dismissable. The interests of those in power were gilded as desirable, while endeavors or expressions of thought that were aconducive to the structure and function of the world as they saw fit were defined as being immoral, hysteric, sentimental, or insane. Thus, those who thought along lines which did not fit within the established rubrics of reason were deemed to be without the capacity of reason. Therefore, if thinking beings are human, those that did not think in the ways ascribed as worthy by the determinants of reason and quality, simply were not human.
Our study of consciousness has been an effort to determine what it means to be a human being. We have a long-standing with why our experience seems so different than the experience of a dog, or a bird, or and insect in an apple tree.
What is thought? Really? What is it?
I remember happening upon this unfortunately perplexing question as a young teenager, thinking. Sometimes, an awareness of just how strange and arbitrary it was that I found myself looking in a mirror and having a name, a face, some thoughts about the beach and food. I think I am, due to the way I process information, particularly prone to existential crisis. One perspective of what has been the driving force in my life’s course could be that I have been spurred and beleaguered by the simple fact of my being and why it is that I am who I am.
In that sense, because I tend to think of the personal in terms of the broader context, the enbafflements and struggles with my own sense of identity and purpose somewhat mirror the conflicted evolution of meaning that I see expressed in the world around me.
It is astounding to me that, knowing all that we know, we still have failed to engender a cohesive collective identity as a species and that we are still so persistently at odds with ourselves, eachother, and the world in general.
I think about this, about what’s missing in our reason. Then, I think about why I am thinking, about how I am thinking. In my mind, thought is the product of signal and code. It is a multimodal event, encompassing words with no letters, images, and feeling. the strangely soothing logic that is believable knowledge, or the nagging of dissonance, the fear or delight in the absurd.
It is a matter of sequence and signal, a series of reactions. However, in human thought, we have that distinct capacity to conceptualize our thoughts as thoughts, and we have the capacity to think of things outside of our present place and state. We remember, we anticipate.
Animals do this, too. Dogs get excited about riding in the car. Friends are made, happiness is expected or fear is anticipated.
The span of our human consciousness is really quite incredible. We are able, for example, to imagine what it might be like to be a dog, and yet we know that we could never really know what it is like to be a dog. We see beauty. To some people it is ugly. We are able to stand on a mountaintop and understand that the land we are looking over is old beyond our understanding, we are able to think about who came before us, or to not think a think about any of it.
Perhaps it is not thinking that separates us from animals, perhaps it is remembering: the ability to conceive of ourselves as existing in relation to what came before us, either real or imagined.
“I remember, therefore I am…”
What? What am I?
Maybe it is our capacity to forget that makes us distinct?
What if we imagined consciousness as the culmination of a hundred billion little electrical signals, a landscape of current and pulse that constructs an interpretation that in our subjective and receptive minds carries meaning and significance?
Would we think differently about what makes us who we are? What if, on the basis of evidence that all living things possess an electrical nature, an electrical field, our conscious does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it have any particular quality that makes it unique in raw quality.
Our interpretation, our reception and expression, the cognitive abilities to make meaning and association, may separate us from other species, but the elemental features of human consciousness is shared by all things that exist as alive.
If life is defined as naturally possessing an electrical current, then so much of everything is alive in its own ways.
What happens when we die? To me, the obvious conclusion is that whatever electricity was contained within our physical forms simply flies up into the air, and joins with the bigger field of currents and energies. Our unique frequency and wave pattern, carrying rudimentary characteristics of our former patterns and tendencies, finds its place in the universe and what is most core to us never does really die.
I felt so much better about death when I realized that.
So, is consciousness a feature of evolution? Absolutely. If the ways that we think are impacted by the events and stuctures of our times, our consciousness changes and evolves with the demands of the current era. However, because our consciousness does not exist in a vacuum, we are also affected by the collective evolution of the planet and by particular forces at work in the metaversal mechanisms.
We are evolving right now. What we do today contributes to who we will be tomorrow.
If we humans evolved from less complicated lifeforms, protozoa and fish, then it stands to reason that our brains – and thus our consciousness – also have evolved. We tend, it seems, to consider human consciousness as something which is fixed, a given attribute of our species that has not changed in its capacity since we were identifiable as a species distinct from apes or lizards. Yet, because we do – and have – changed, our capacity for consciousness must have surely changed. Our brains, in relation to our knowledge of the world and in the attentions of our daily lives, have changed and, furthermore, they are still changing.
Thus far, these considerations of consciousness have been applied to humans as a species. However, it is fair to suggest that individual consciousness has the potential to change over the course of our small lives.
It would even be fair to say that shifts in consciousness are part and parcel of human life.