Where Do I Stop?
There is a membrane between you and reality. It is the moment by moment experience of your life. There is a declared border beyond which the outside world rages uncontrollably. The only barrier you have between you and all the fuss is an identity. It is our window of experience for as long as we are going to live our lives. The window will be closed, latched and sealed over with paint for the entire duration. That’s a good thing, because your life would cease to exist if the window of experience were open. If you consider yourself a person with a future, it is vital to that person’s future that you keep the window shut. An identity is the experiencer’s calling card to reality. It is the single enabling component of leading a life, in whatever form that might take. Leading a life might put one’s identity through many forms, but at any given instant, it’s always there in some form.
Keeping a consistent form is another issue entirely which deserves a different term. A self is something an identity may choose to pursue, if it’s leading a life in a form that evolution granted with the ability to have its own opinion about what that form is. That’s a blessing and not a curse. Granted, the self is an illusion. That’s no reason to exclude it from examination.
A self is what you think you are, and in the case of living forms that can experience their memory, it’s also what you think you were. It’s a way to maintain your individual distinctiveness as an ongoing sub-organization of nature. A self is an attempt to categorize any continuity that may emerge from living. As animals, we experience forms that were extensively pre-chosen by natural processes. These forms provide a template from which leading a continuous life can build a self. Most of us choose this option. Keeping a consistent and coherent explanation of what one is, is not easy.
Having chosen a life as a self behind the window of experience, the challenge becomes keeping a decisive role in the shape of the window. Compiling a self is a complicated business. Questions like, “who am I?” have to be decided every day. The pressure has to be kept up. On the other side of the window, the outside world is telling you what you are and pressing the window into that shape. Pressing the hardest, will be the people in your life. Only a contrary force that insists on telling the world what we are will hold its own against an outside world full of other humans.
That makes us keenly interested in making the right distinction between our selves and our surroundings. We want to know where we stop and the world begins; what is self and what is other. There are many ways to define the border between us and the world depending on the point of view. In an electromagnetic context, the boundary of you could be considered as the furthest extant of your body’s magnetic field. Geographically, it might mean the furthest extent of one’s territory. There’s a multitude of self/other dichotomies in the physical world; epidermal, genealogical, social, one for every organization that one is physically a part of. Any distinctions we can draw between us and nature are practical and dynamic. We don’t necessarily draw the same distinctions for ourselves that nature does. The border between you and the world is flexible as far as nature is concerned.
As animals, we have inherited some basic issues like, “What’s bothering me?”, “Am I in danger?”, and “Where is he/she?”. Any animal’s personal sense of self must be shaped by a lot of outside input because survival demands looking at yourself as what the outside world sees you as; as prey, as a mate, as a parent or a rival. Animals need to know what they mean to the world around them. It could be dinner. The circumstances of living can be changing all the time and shifting an animal’s identity. Each time the world becomes a different “out there” or other, we become a different self,because as animals, we tend to believe we are what our environment says we are. Animal life responds with a parade of pre-programmed biological biases and expectations and each species has its own unique answer to what’s out there, who am I, who are they, where do I fit in, and what do I have to do to get what I want?
Modern humans have complicated lives and developed many further issues about what’s out there, and what do I need to be to deal with it, and that makes us extra-aware of our identity. We look for consistency in our selves. There’s no easy way to do that because our physical bodies are inconsistent, dynamic sub-systems of nature. Our experience may be seamless, what we’re experiencing is anything but. Our physical form changes with the demands of our lives. In the course of any day, we experience a parade of different selves for different occasions like, interacting with people, working in the garden, driving to work, or reading a book. There’s a self for facing new and unfamiliar situations, and one that’s only around when you feel at home. All of them will have different emotions and memories. Even our view of the world is dependent on what are bodies are prepared to let us see. Any experience of ourselves will always depend on what the world around us organizes our physical form to be. And that includes mental experience since any mentality we can experience is generated by our body’s brain activity, and we all know what a roller-coaster ride that can be. Life will constantly re-organize what we experience by changing our emotional dynamics and altering, moment by moment, our intelligence, acuity, memory and mood. For civilized people, it could mean looking for consistency where there isn’t any to find.
By keeping us focused on some sense input and tuning out other stimuli, our physical state can influence or determine how we figure out important issues like what’s going on right now? and what are we prepared to do about it?. Our bodies are always in some kind of state. Many of our physical states are externally induced by something in the world around us; something we see or hear. We can mentally stop them, sometimes, but only after they’ve started. Some of the perceptual signals coming in from the outside world speak directly to our animal instincts and provoke reactions which any mental experience could only observe as something that already happened. Our body’s immediate priorities about what’s going on and what do I want can emphasize or de-emphasize different parts of your overall sensory experience. Almost any state you could describe a person being in would contain components that are physical responses designed by instinctive ancient knowledge genetically implanted us.
Everything you need to know about the basic functions of whatever you are is covered in a genetic code. We call them reflexes when they manifest themselves in our actions. When we do something we could not control or did not decide to do, we disavow any responsibility for choosing to do it. Our accumulated inheritance from all our ancestors has predetermined certain choices and made them unavailable for free will. All reflexive choices were once a free choice made by someone for the first time, even if it was millions of years ago. For a lizard or a tiny squid-like thing, a free choice would be any response that had no clear cut recommendation from existing pre-programmed reflexes. A good improvisation or an act of desperation might be the only prompt to action when there is no instinctual response to cover the situation. Nature has found a way to turn those pioneering choices into a vast and comprehensive guide to success in biological life. All who made the wrong choice are lost to the past. All who made the right choice would be proud of their progeny.
Passing on pre-chosen reactions to well-established events like being startled means that each generation doesn’t have to learn everything all over again. Pre-programmed fear or aggression can be triggered by the presence of a predator or prey, or even something else that almost looks or sounds like one. When an angry gorilla jumps out in front of you, his threatening movements would be so much perceptual gibberish if you didn’t have certain preconceptions about what they meant. Your emotional reaction (fear, probably) is nothing less than a comprehensive organization of your physical self and mentality. Perception triggers an instinctual response and identity shifts as a different physical configuration becomes our highest level of organization. The body has taken on an un-elected physical state, as if the gorilla had cast a hypnotic spell of fear on it. The shape of our self/other border was altered by an outside force in a way that changed our nature and experience. We were also altered by an internal force that is outside of our control; our reflex to run away. There is also hunger, lust, sleepiness and more, which can often make our bodies as much a part of the outside world as not, as far as our personal experience is concerned.
We may look to our minds for more stability than our bodies may provide, but consider where our minds come from. Mentalities are not independent entities. They exist at the pleasure of the physical self and only when it gets around to it. That puts the mind at a disadvantage. Instinctual triggers like fear or lust can get in under our mental radar because they can entranced the animal that then generates an entranced mind. For the mind, being generated by an un-chosen physical self could also be likened to being hypnotized, which results in an un-chosen mental state.
That’s just one way of generating an entranced mind. The mind is capable of being hypnotized directly and differently than the body because it has its own sense of self and other. This is a little different than a physical self which is actually there and thus plays a major role in how we see ourselves physically, or our body image. We don’t picture a brain when we’re thinking, and it’s probably best not to. A mental self has no mentor, and so it differs in how it starts. The mind doesn’t even begin with a mental self until it has generated a satisfyingly whole mental other. The other in this case is not the actual outside world, but our understanding of the world that we put together from everything we’ve learned or were taught about it. We may think we’re not paying attention half the time but little details stick in our minds and slowly, bit by bit, define the world we expect to perceive again tomorrow. Our minds can recreate the outside world by assembling a mental map built from memories of our perceptions. In the middle of that map is a hole that the mind fills with memories about itself in hopes of growing an ongoing identity that defines itself as the being to whom all these memories belong. Our minds are telling us where we stop and the world begins. Our minds do this really well. The experience of this vivid mental reconstruction might convince us what the boundaries of our identity actually are. If we accept this experience of our mind and act accordingly as if it were true, then we experience our mentality as a mental self. That gives us access to all the tools a mentality has to offer and, more importantly, it gives us access to each other in ways that are beyond the physical self’s capacity to know.
This independence allows us to live in a mental world that our physical selves can’t experience directly unless we surround them in artifacts designed by the mind. The mental world can be much more than the world our bodies live in. It can be anything we want as long as whatever that is remains useful to our physical survival. Should it become counter-productive to physical survival, it won’t endure long. That’s all right, because our mentalities have ways of utilizing our intelligence that should be able to tell the difference.
However useful, the mental self does have this one side effect. While we experience both halves of this self/other recreation entirely in our brain activity, our identity assumes control of only the self half. We assume that the world controls our minds’ own understanding of the world. Any social self we create must assume that we are what others treat us as, like a social role or class. As mental selves, there is much of what we mentally experience that we don’t believe we have any control over and is left open to determination by outside forces. That’s another way of saying entranced.
Gaining control of someone’s surroundings and circumstance is a good way to manipulate their self, and so is speed. Let’s say your boss is aggressive, intimidating and quick to temper. She’s taken you to the woodshed and started swinging. Instead of confidently standing your ground, your response was submissive and servile. Afterward, you regretted not saying what you wanted to say. Your boss walked up and shuffled your brain like a deck of cards. You experienced that conversation in an externally induced state that was intended to put you into a tightly fixed trance with many of your abilities made unavailable to you. Her trance was abrupt and easily slipped into before you noticed it happening. Even before she let loose, we were already in a trance. We are always in a trance of some kind or other. That’s what being awake is. The boss induced a sudden change of trance. The cards were already there the way we organized them and then the boss changed them. The shape of our mind’s self/other border was altered by an outside force in a way that changed our experience and our nature.
That may seem like a violation of our personal sovereignty, but only if we presume too much about what is and isn’t our territory. Our minds can be just as much a collaboration between us and the outside world as our bodies. You might stop here and ask yourself “am I hypnotized by outside forces?” Of course not. When you stopped to ask yourself, you reorganized into a self-induced trance and then, since you’re reading again, into a me induced trance. Losing yourself in something engaging means letting something else drive your mind with you as a passenger. Reading, or being spoken to, is a good example of a mild spell which requires that your mental experience be at least partially sublimated to the hopefully apparent identity of the text or voice. To read, one must sublimate to the narrative by accepting the trance state that it broadcasts. That’s always been the trick to good storytelling. Make it a worthwhile experience to read it and make it easy to give up the driver seat. God knows I’m trying.
The best way to learn to recognize an externally induced trance is to recognize that any other mental experience is an internally induced trance. The mind’s own inner perception can keep both the body and mind focused on a particular state of being. Our identity becomes organized around some emphasis or impulse- some center from which everything looks a particular way. These configurations determine how we will process our incoming senses, what we are sensitive to, and what action we are prepared and primed to take. That’s why there are times when it seems like there are parts of us that are inaccessible, or uncontrollable, or we are inescapably focused on a single mood like being tuned to a certain note. You may wonder, where does the rest of me go when I can’t find it? Nowhere of course, what changed is how the inner mental structure is configured, or even how the whole nervous system is organized. A person is not one vast and stable organization that uses different parts at different times. We use the same parts to become different kinds of organizations at any given time. Any illusion of consistency is of our own making.
Obviously, this is a very broad use of the word trance. The word fits if you consider that it’s a matter of degree. One common meaning refers to a pronounced mental and physical state that is to some degree under external influence and beyond the victim’s control. Another meaning, like hypnotism, can refer to anything from zombies to subtle imbedded commands that are received unnoticed. Those meanings only recognize trances when they are more focused and pronounced than our everyday state of mind. Any engagement between us and the outside world involves some degree of sublimation to and acceptance of outside information about what we are, where we are and what we’re suppose to do about it. To experience life through either mental or physical means is our most fundamental trance, with our local part of creation as the hypnotist. Our lives continue as we stay mesmerized in whatever opportunity we were granted to experience creation. By we, I mean the experiencer that doesn’t exist in the material world. I had to add it to my spellchecker.
It is useful to maintain some contextual flexibility about our selves. As a practical matter, it’s best to include our biomass as a component of our self, since it is our opportunity for experience and things would be dull without it. It would be hard not to include our mental experience on the list. I’ve heard some say that the mind is the truer self and the body is a shell to be denied, even though that shell must be maintained properly in order for it to generate any brain activity that could deny it. Most animals don’t do this. They except the resulting collaboration as what they are and try to enjoy it knowing or not knowing that it means some parts of ourselves will be beyond our control. Agreeing to accept that we are what nature made us is to assume the trance state of an animal self. We extend our identity to encompass our physical and mental selves and believe they are us. Nature is the first to cast a spell on the experiencer and thus define the shape of the border between us and the world. Apparently, we respond enthusiastically.
Next on the list of spell casters after creation itself is each other. Next, because we must already be under the spell of what we are before what we are can become further entranced by our neighbors. In order for living things to affect each other, they must be more than they are, they must be leading a life. We know each other is there because of the messages and signals we send out like gaze, scent, posture, voice, color and facial expressions. Life is full of spell casting, and we eat it up.
What do the most advanced, technically capable creatures do with their talents? We engage our great big brains into the pursuit of a great big trance. We will work very hard to create something that will powerfully hypnotize us. Something to do, something to watch, something to get sucked into and let someone else do the driving. Modern popular cinema strives to achieve maximal fatal-minus-one enchantment. Obviously, being hypnotized is a highly valued, sought after experience. Conversation is an exchange of spells, full of expressive brow movements and jaw repositioning in a competition over who’s casting a spell on whom. Arms wave and hairlines shift to drive home the message, “please sublimate to my narrative”. Obviously, being the hypnotist is also very popular.
The potato plant produces a fruit whose only purpose is to make humans desire to look out for the plant’s survival. That’s a good spell. The same can be said for plants that enlist birds and insects to promote their survival and increase their mobility. A cat will puff up and try to be scary in order to induce fear and panic in its prey/opponent/owner. Males will use intimidation in their competition for dominance. In all of these examples, the point is to influence the shape of someone else’s self/other border and define their experience. Spells aren’t spooky ethereal energies that pass through the air. Spells are messages, most of which we know already and are merely triggered by cues we were designed to receive. We are capable of casting spells of great complexity that are built from lots of simple messages that we all know. More can be said with a greater vocabulary within a given species, but we all know when the gorilla is pissed.
Inductions into new trance states come one after another, usually with no experience of the induction itself as if, in an instant, one were floating one way and then another. Animals are too busy to keep track of this or that state of being and just take in the ongoing experience. For humans, reality is via a steady procession of diverse physical and mental states, each with its own perception and abilities. Spells can change without us noticing, and the people around us can miss it, too. It’s surprisingly easy to disconnect or disassociate one mental state from another, especially if that is your trade. A professional knows how to speak to our animal self while pretending to talk to our mind. As a parlor trick, this is usually done with simple, sensual commands for the animal self with an engaging, zigzagging narrative for the mind that separates the mind’s trance from the body’s trance. Once given the pre-arranged cue to trigger the planted association, the body will react just as if your mind told it to, while you experience a mind that has no idea what’s going on. Even with us amateurs, this principle plays a large role in how we interact with each other. For a long time it has played a large role in what we call politics. We don’t always call it hypnotism.
Changes in our mental state can be jarring, and can make you forget exactly what the last state of mind was. But first, the mental self must remain the HLO in order to be experienced at all. The body knows that thinking can be a fragile trance. A strong physical spell will be cast by the body upon the mind. Moments of dominance of the physical self are what the mind later calls losing control. Our minds learned long ago how to turn this around and cast spells on the body. In order to get a grip and regain control we have to mentally remind ourselves of who we are. Our animal self will perceive any imagery or associations we mentally choose to recall, and respond accordingly. Or, it can decorate itself and add ornaments that keep both the mind and body focused. That’s how our mental self gets to lead its mental life- by keeping the physical self in an almost constant hypnotic trance. For some of us, the relationship between body and mind is an ongoing struggle for control of our lives. For those who live in a modern society, contemplation can require solitude, medication or even meditation, and, ironically, exercise. Despite our efforts to remain in control, much of our mental experience is induced by external influences.
Maybe we expect too much from our minds. We shouldn’t take them too seriously. The illusion of being in control has made our minds drunk with power, but our mental self is not the one in charge. Our mentality is a very focused, bio-electrical organization which results in an experience so focused that we call it awareness. That awareness, supported by brain activity, is not the same as physical awareness. Physical experience is less focused and hence quicker and, maintains greater fidelity of the sense input that proceeded it. The mind is a second hand experience of our physical selves and highly selective. If what we usually mentally experience of ourselves was really all we were, we could never keep our hearts beating. What does? Think about your physical, material self and how little you know about what’s going on in there. Breathing… are you doing that? I guess you are now. Sorry. A lot of biological operations are vital to being alive, but really aren’t a vital part of the life we lead. Could someone else be leading the life you aren’t? Who took over your breathing, or may yet eventually resume control? Is that you? Then who took it away from you? A mental self doesn’t need to breath, and shouldn’t try to control it. How come the animal self can handle it?
Our bodies can do what they have to do without the need for any internal someone knowing about it. It is best to let some things just happen and trust that whatever we are will react wisely. Reactions come from the past, where they were once choices. We mostly choose to leave to the past most of our bodily functions. They’re probably best kept on instinctive autopilot, anyway. By autopilot, I mean trance, of course. Besides, it wouldn’t be the mental self that would ever experience your body or reach down into the animal mind, it would be our identity. It’s not something we can just think about. It wouldn’t be like mental experience. If you can make the brain activity that controls your pulse or body temperature your HLO and identity, you could make decisions about those actions. Decisions are made in the here and now, based on priorities that are created right then and there. Choice requires an experienced identity and instinctive reactions do not. By ceasing any experience-able brain activity, we can make our body our HLO and experience a strictly physical identity. This will interrupt the natural trance state of our physical organizations so know what you’re doing or be prepared to learn fast. If left in their natural trance state, those choices will be made by all those who came before you since the beginning. Meaning, your body will work in the manner that creation intended, plus updates, according to creation’s original design. The same one that governs every animal’s heartbeat.
At all different levels of organization, we are all drawn into one hypnotic trance after another. Some spells are aimed at our physical organizations, and some at our mind. If we are entranced, they will define for us the shape of the border between self and other. Every trance has its own seminal memories, favorite vocabulary, out-of-the-box temperament and tunnel vision. Some of these spells are loud and easy to notice, others are subtler, and some cannot occur if we are aware of them. We may think some of the people around us aren’t experiencing the sort of ride we are, but they do, and they’re wondering the same thing. Isn’t this predicament easy to see happening to other people? Don’t others often seem like a vaudeville revue of discontinuous trance states? Like the right lobe doesn’t know what the left is doing?
We are surrounded by spell-casting aimed deliberately at our sense of self. The louder the background noise, the more solid our self must become in order to retain its integrity. We are surrounded by powerful inducements that are pitched at our inherent desires. But better traps led to better mice. Modern civilized selves are strong and solid. While the professional hucksters honed their craft in entrancing the self, some turned to a more nefarious alternative.
Most of us aren’t professional hypnotists and most of those around us have a pretty good grip on their identity and a solid sense of self. It can take some serious time and effort to directly influence an individual mental self. Far easier, and the method of overwhelming choice, is to influence the design of the other half of mental experience which identity does not claim. Elaborate imagery is not required.
Hypnotism of this kind doesn’t have to be imagery at all. A slow, meticulous description of the ways thing are will capture the self by convincing it that it is a part of the world described. Yes, I’m going to call these a trance, too. For complex mentalities like ours, ideas and language can induce sustainable trance states. If hypnotized by a conceptual or political spell, the mental self willingly sublimates to an external paradigm. That means accepting the perceptions and assuming the priorities of a system of ideas that has its own idea about what the outside world is. Accepting that world is the price of admission to the mental experience possible within it, whether it be the Fudd Corporation or the New Black Panther Party. For the sublimatee, this becomes the costume that must be worn by the self in order to gain access to that world. For the sublimator, this is a chance to draw the big map- our understanding of reality, what the world is and which bit of it it thinks is you. This can be serious in the case of politics. If some voice can convince you of a certain description of the world, then they’ve managed to describe you, or proscribe you, because you’re the bit that fits into the world that you believe is there.
On the one hand, we believe we really are here because it can rain on our hand. On the other hand, we tend to believe that the core non-being, the soul, what I’m calling the experiencer, isn’t really there at all, or exists in a supernatural reality that is just as unreachable to either hand. What we believe about what we physically are will influence the nature of our physical experience. The same is true of the mental self with the bonus of a very flexible mental world that isn’t really there, either. It can rain on your head, but not on your mind.
Identity has extended itself into the shape of a self which will be pressed against the window or membrane or other metaphor for self/other border. If you peel away the mental and physical self, the true shape of the membrane is revealed. Our blood and bone is on the other side of it and so are our thoughts. We have a grip on the pre-physical organization of ourselves that was granted to us at birth(or thereabouts). We hold a blueprint or mold or funnel down which matter will form this instant and the next. Thanks to our design, our physical and mental existence can largely take care of the basics themselves. We are free to choose our level of commitment to determining our ongoing existence. We create ourselves and shape our lives by building on the foundation of the basic human/earth border. From there, we can be entranced by all kinds of things and become a ballplayer having a season, or a soldier in a Great Cause, or an American having a Manifest Destiny, or a cynic in a world gone mad.