Mind, Brain and Consciousness
By Martin LeFevre
It was a day of intense, opaque light during a break between storms that have been pounding California. Though there wasn’t a smidgen of blue sky, sunlight reflecting off the creek-turned-river was so brilliant that you couldn’t look at it without sunglasses. I live at the northeastern corner of the Great Central Valley, the most productive agricultural region in the world. It’s the bowl in the middle of the state that stretches for about 300 miles north and south, and about 50 miles east and west. Though the late great state of California is experiencing the worst floods in decades, we’re still a long way, in years and precipitation, from the worst. At the end of 1861, during the American Civil War, it rained for 43 consecutive days, turning the entire Central Valley into a lake. The oral tradition of native peoples described such an event, but the Gold Rush invaders of 1849 had never experienced anything like it, and couldn’t have imagined it. The 40 million people of present-day California can now. The atmospheric river off the Pacific has produced one storm after another, but the rain hasn’t been continuous, and there have been short breaks of brightening days like today.Sitting on the bank with a 300-meter view downstream and a 100-meter upstream, the mind of thought quickly yields to the bare and spare beauty of the afternoon, and a meditative state begins. It was good that it did, because after about a half hour, a chain saw started roaring a short distance away. Meditation is an event and phenomenon, not a method and practice. It begins when passive awareness grows quicker than the observer, which is the ancient habit of psychological separation. The illusory observer and separate self are common to all humans, in one form or another. The condition of man is to be conditioned, and the observer is the crumbling cornerstone from which all conditioning is built and accumulates in the mind and brain. When the judging, choosing and interpreting observer ceases its infinite regress, the movement of thought is observed as a single movement by the whole, non-reactive brain. Attention gathers unseen, and without volition or effort, the mind of thought falls silent. Time ends, and the silent mind enters the infinite field of the unknown. The brain produces the mind of thought, but it does not generate the silent mind. Without duality, I’m speaking about mind in two completely different senses, since the silent Mind can only emerge when the mind of thought is completely negated, still and empty. The brain and mind of thought are temporal, whereas the silent mind that emerges with the complete quieting of thought is timeless. So the human brain, which is a physical, temporal organ, has the capacity to stand in silent awareness of the cosmic mind that permeates the universe and life on Earth. Given this is true, and the timeless Mind brought about, through random but directional evolution, a brain on this planet with the capacity to be one with cosmic mind, why is total awareness so difficult and rare in human life? Just as mind has two different meanings, so too consciousness has two different meanings. There is the consciousness born of and dwelling in the known, based on the symbols and memories of thought. And there is the consciousness of the unknown, which flows from stillness, silence and emptiness. The consciousness of the known now belongs to the thought machines man is making in his own image. Nonsensically, some people are trying to imbue AI with self-awareness, even though most humans are utterly lacking in it. These are not abstract, philosophical ideas and questions. The human mind is dumbing down, and we will soon have second-rate minds to our thought machines unless we understand that there is a completely different meaning to mind. As to why the human brain, which has the potential to be directly aware of the whole and the numinous, lives in such small spaces, it boils down to unconstrained and unexamined self-centered activity. The smallness of the mind of thought is unacceptable and unseemly for a human being. It’s not remedied by experiencing the smallness of ‘me’ in the face of a fierce storm, but by the apperception of beauty. Though billions of people still struggle to feed themselves and their children, meditation is no longer the luxury of consumeristic wasters in the West. AI poses a truly existential crisis for the human mind and brain, and no scientist can resolve it. Only the self-knowing human being can resolve the crisis of mind, brain and consciousness within herself and himself. However much insight into these matters another may have, anyone take the time, ask the questions, and watch without the watcher or comparison the movement of one’s own mind. Martin LeFevre
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org