Visions, or Vision?
Now that the world has ended uneventfully, we can re-examine some of the issues left dangling at the end of time.
The top of my list is… revelations. You know, like being told the world is going to end. The revelation remains a constant of human experience no matter what level of technology or social infrastructure is achieved. Leo Szilard said that the idea for an atomic chain reaction came to him while stopped at a traffic light. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski said the entire story arc of the Shadow War hit him all at once. Sometimes, revelations are reported to take much, much longer. Talking supernatural animals flying through caves and magic ladders without proper support form the basis of large show pieces… as if some kind of staged performance is occurring just for your benefit.
A recent example of the latter is Prof. Eban Alexander’s popular FUN with MY COMA where he describes an elaborate and time-consuming pageant of Heavenly Revelations. Like other examples, this one is supposed to have happened while the revelatory recipient was otherwise dead to the world. That puts these revelations in a whole other league than a neat idea for TV show. Or does it? What if the atomic pile and the flying horse and the travelling dead all had a single explanation?
I read the account and was struck by the preposterous notion of placing the “event” during a period of no brain activity. No reason is given for this assumption and it can only lead to wild conclusions about becoming and-or interacting with spirit beings. Simpler and quicker Eureka Moments tend to be described as very alive-like and not at all dead. One does not need a soul or a cosmic sub-realm to account for a sudden bright idea. These two categories of revelation have a chasm between them as broad as life and death. What could possibly bridge them?
Enough reading, it’s time to get YOUR EYEBALLS involved.
If you have a personal beverage nearby, point your finger at it and, using YOUR EYEBALLS, steer your fingertip quickly toward your drink but stop just short of touching it.
For those without a beverage, step outside and chose your least-liked neighbor and, using YOUR EYEBALLS, hurl a brick through their front window.
If you have neither neighbors nor fluids, but you have a stairway, walk up it and then back down again. That should cover most everybody.
I’m going to assume that nobody had to draw a vector map or carefully think out the path and the muscular movements necessary. Nobody had to decide how far to bend their knees. In all the discussions of Free Will, no one ever talks about their knees.
Some part of our brain and/or nervous system is taking care of these details. Let’s call it our unconscious mind or, if that’s a problem, an unconscious mental function or process. Obviously, it is a perceptual process but one that we don’t need to see. That statement, at first glance, makes no sense. If I am persuasive here, it still won’t.
This kind of perception is called Sub-Cinema because it includes all the visual input that we don’t need to see to enjoy the cinema. The movie screen only produces the kind of visual input that we are aware of seeing and very little of the type that informs our unseen visual processes. That keeps costs down and cinema chairs nailed to a single spot. The kind of sub-perception that helps us with stair climbing and brick throwing is blisteringly fast and well below the threshold of the kind perception we will pay good money for. That’s why I call the latter kind the Cinema View. The point is, if you didn’t knock over your coffee, or fall down the stairs, or hit the wrong window… why wasn’t that a revelation, too?
There was a time when these things qualified as revelations. Julian Jaynes’ examination of Homer and Bruno Schell’s examination of the Greeks describe an outlook of physicality that we simply don’t need anymore. Your arm could have a spiritual relationship with the cosmos that the rest of you didn’t. Spirit beings could make your tongue say something that you needn’t answer for. Running swiftly was a blessing from the god of knees. But now, doctor bills have taken all the mythology out of how our knees work. We accept all this apparent departmentalization as our own machinery making the spatial and mechanical conclusions that emerge to our cinema perception as something that is already happening in our view. Our arm is moving. We are going up the stairs. None of this bothers us as much as some of our ancient ancestors.
Our trouble starts when we talk about the origins of big cinematic revelations. So, let’s talk about them. That starts with closing OUR EYEBALLS and picturing the first car you ever owned. If it’s out in the driveway, that doesn’t count. How about the first car you can remember your dad owning? If you pictured it, that is a cinematic visual memory. Somewhere in your brain, where you can’t see it, is all the info necessary to cinematically reproduce a memory of the car. Don’t worry… you can stop remembering without losing the memory. You can call it up over and over again.
As to from where… all we can say is that it is from somewhere we cannot see. That good, right? Imagine if you had to remember all your memories all the time just to keep from forgetting them.
Let’s try something non-specific and see what happens. Picture a park bench. Next, picture a purple park bench. Next, a pink one and then a blue one. Now, what color was the park bench before it mattered what color the park bench was? Was it a default color? Likely green or brown… or was it a color that was there but you didn’t need to see it?
Remembering cars or park benches is no great shakes and won’t send anyone off thinking that there is a soul inside them with a big filing cabinet. We are more likely to picture neurons firing like a bush full of sparrows or maybe little electric sparks zipping down synaptic highways. However it works, it is how you are picturing the zipping sparks.
Also obvious, is that wherever it is you keep your car memories, it’s a lot more than a filing cabinet. When you suddenly remember that you left the wrench in the attic or, suddenly realize the connection of facts that proves the guilt of your client, or finally settle on which cake to bake… all that figuring out happens somewhere that we cannot see. But when something is figured out, it becomes something you can see. And that is how you know that you figured it out. When you see it.
Even a simple mathematical solution is a sort of revelation. If asked what is 3 times 8, 24 just pops up from somewhere we cannot see and becomes something we can see. Either the answers to every math question you could possibly handle are all stored in your brain, or this unseen place is capable of doing actual thinking work without you seeing it.
So… in some unseen “place”, all our sights and memories from our lives are safely contained… all our calculations and categorizations and comparisons are handled without conscious supervision or know-how… and all our sudden realizations and eureka moments are authored.
As all this thought takes place somewhere we cannot see, we must be cautious about reflexively making casual assumptions about how and when it works. For example, why assume that the eureka moment is the moment the actual processing takes place? It’s actually the moment of delivery. The processing may have been hours ago. Or days ago. Maybe it had to wait for a chance to slip in amidst all the mental chatter.
All revelations big or small need a clear path to the surface. A break in the action… an opening in the mental flow. Mr. Szilard was stopped at a red light. Mr. Newton was parked under an apple tree. If getting a revelation was that easy, imagine how many you could get by lying comfortably and quietly in the dark with YOUR EYELIDS shut and thinking about nothing for a six to eight hour stretch.
Dreams are often regarded as revelatory or coming from somewhere beyond the confines of our heads. Modern explanations place them squarely in our heads as some kind of natural sleep phenomena. Dreams can be elaborate compositions that seem like long experiences. They seem to tell stories when we talk about them after we are awake. We have all seen the DANCING EYEBALLS of REM sleep. Sleepy science says that dreams are actually compressed into quick experiences when observed from outside the dreamer. A dream that seemed like hours only took a moment to occur.
Does that mean a dream is really full of lightning fast movement and chipmunked voices like a sped-up tape? Maybe it’s more like a perceptual skimming. Like picturing a park bench… did you picture it in a park? Were there trees in the park? How many? What species? How tall were they? Odds are, you don’t know. What you recalled was not a bench in a park but some information about a bench set in a little information about a park. Were there weeds in the grass? No, the info did not manifest at that level of resolution. Dreams may play quickly because we are just skimming over low-level perceptions. Later recall of dreams involves filling in a lot of blank spaces with things or events that must have been there, like trees in the park.
Somewhere, metaphorically at least, is a place in our brains where all we know and all we have seen and heard is stored. It doesn’t just park there waiting for you to need to remember something. The sort of smart thinking we think we are doing by “thinking” is really taking place in this cauldron of concepts. We might even believe that we have “thought something through” or “figured it out” because we consciously steered our way through the process. But still, at any step of that process, it was the cauldron that did the real figuring. You just steered.
We don’t have to plan our dreams in advance. We don’t have to ask for an inspiration. We don’t consciously make the cauldron work. Like our hormone regulation, it does its job in its own good time without any application of “free will” from our surface consciousness. Part of its job is making conclusions that park like little stored charges waiting for an opportunity to make their way to the surface. Until they do, it is knowledge you will have but never know you have.
Sometimes, when we have a problem that we can’t think through, it is best to let your consciousness steer the way through something completely different and leave the cauldron to do its work without conscious pestering.
Intellectual talent, like any talent, varies from person to person. Some of us can run fast and some of us have very bubbly cauldrons. And a few of us froth over like a pot of boiling potatoes. Not necessarily smart, just real busy.
This perceptual/learning/thinking system could not be new to the primate strain. Its basic operation may go far up the evolutionary chain. However, horse rides to Heaven apparently do not occur to say… horses. Some would say that is because we are spiritual and the millions of other species we share the planet with are not. They may have revelations, but they never lead them to build a house of worship or found a religious institution. That’s a stark contrast and should be accounted for.
Can this be done without half-goat people and super-realms of reality?
I think it all boils down to those little stored charges boiling away somewhere in our heads.
There is a point where most descriptions of the evolution of man run into a problem. Evolutionary science can describe how we gradually got an oposable thumb or lost our tails or got STEREO EYEBALLS. But how do you gradually acquire a soul? You either have one or you don’t. How do you go from a sex-crazed ape to a disciplined devotee of God’s Message gradually? Atheist readers will of course say that you don’t get a soul anyway and I would take that position as well except that it doesn’t matter here. Let’s grant that we have the experiences that many call spiritual. If there was a way we could have gotten them gradually, that would complete the evolutionary path from microbe to messiah to anyone’s satisfaction, wouldn’t it?
The process took place before there were egos or histories or much of anything we would call continuity. That’s because, at the beginning of the process, we had no perception of continuity. No one ever needed one before. A busy animal’s unfolding day provides all the continuity they need. There is no survival value in seeing a continuity of your own. With one possible exception… as a means to harvest what the cauldron has learned.
As our brains grew, so did our cauldron and so did the little stored charges. A crisis was reached when the little stored charges exceeded the perceptual abilities of our Cinema View system. We could see up to four separate chunks of perception in no particular order other the one nature presented them in. Oversized cauldron charges would bubble up as incomprehensibly zig-zagging images… like dreams. Adapting a solution required nothing less than establishing an internal and independent carrier of continuity… a stable playback device that would turn the cascade of thoughts into a parade.
That addition made the cauldrons more complex output into stored narrative charges. These will be “told” or played-back as stories in that they won’t mean much if not consumed in their entirety. The story would use the visual and abstract internal language of an individual’s mind plus any established words they might know. We would sit and stare or sleep and allows these big charges to play out. We would perceive and summarize them into smaller perceptions as we followed along.
People in an established society with a broad vocabulary would have a cauldron filled with words that made word-filled narrative charges. These would be mankind’s first run-on sentences. But this new trick was not just for hearing speeches in your head or designing Fellini movies to watch while you sleep. We can follow its operation in real time. If there is something you want to say in words, leave it to your continuity processor. What you want to say will flow out in sentences and maybe a whole paragraph of properly sequenced words without any conscious effort or supervision on your part. The alternative is to speak very consciously like a State Department official… “Um. Our policy… ah… at this… ah … time… ah…” No continuity there. Our continuity processor allows us to speak in sentences that are too big and complex for our own chunk limited perception to see at once. We have to read or hear them, and summarize as we do. This is unlike a good slogan or catch phrase, which you can see or hear all at once because it doesn’t exceed the chunk limit. This often leads to the erroneous impression that statements are somehow more correct and truer if they can be perceived within the chunk limit, like a truism.
Running a continuity processor is a bit of effort. Many people don’t like to do it or are just bad at it. Former President Bush comes to mind. Without schooling and disciplined training, we are likely to do it at little as possible but it gets easier with practice and use. So, in training our ability to talk, we are muscling our machinery of dreams and thoughts and visions. Even so, the same old restrictions apply to us as our ancestors. We need a break. We can’t run a continuity processor while running from a charging gorilla or while deeply engaged in a fast game of ping-pong.
We give our cauldrons some amazing stuff to work with. All kinds of little learned notions of how the world works are loaded in throughout our lives. Many are loaded when we are so young that we don’t recall them anymore but they remain written into the algorithms that process the cauldron contents. Humanized animals, supernatural realms and life without physical form have been inputted into all of us in the form of stories, mythology or religious teaching. Mix in Hubble pictures and scientific understandings and we have one strange brew.
Now… all the components for COMA FUN are in place but one. There are two ways that we can experience the running of our continuity processor… as a visitation or a possession. No voodoo here. It’s more of a mechanical issue and a question of perspective.
From the perspective of the Cinema View, the continuity processor is impossible to localize. The process runs in a different time frame that disassociates it from direct experience. That makes it seem like a visitor in your head. Does that sound crazy? Remember the author of your dreams and the inner voice that helps you talk real purty and civilized? Those are visitors too. It just means that there is a function in there with you helping you along or giving you a presentation. You don’t experience this function directly in these cases, so it is a visitation of the continuity processor.
The alternative version is rare in the uncivilized and a requirement of living in modern society. Briefly, a possession means that we cease to experience the Cinema View and instead experience the continuity processor itself from its time frame. Our perception takes on the Post-Cinema View, which sees the Cinema View as something happening or passing in front of it. In this state, we possess our own inner sense of continuity. This state is often considered to be our most conscious or awake state but it really isn’t. It just looks that way to others in the same state of possession.
All that is left to presume is that there is no limit to the frothy possibilities of a healthy and bubbly cauldron. That’s where we get to the really big playbacks of intellectual projects that may reflect weeks or even years of processing in the cauldron. Monotony, toxic reactions and mild sun-stroke are all moments of vulnerability that make great opportunities for one these babies to come blasting through. If awake, this is a moment of skimming perception where much seems to happen in a short span of time. At least, once we start remembering it afterward, it bulks out because of how much real elapsed time our explanation of our memory of it would require. But for most, it is likely to occur a whole different way if at all.
That is, unconsciously… but not necessarily while unconscious or asleep. There are states that aren’t quite either awake or asleep. Meditation, a heavy buzz… even the moments after a blow to the head, and most interestingly, being really absorbed in something. In all these cases, we end up using less than the full functions of the Cinema View and, in a sense, leave them exposed. While you and YOUR EYEBALLS are busy in their little world of putting a ship in a bottle, the process is skimming along just behind you. Your stored narrative charge is becoming cognitive using un-experienced machinery. You didn’t hear a thing but you come out of the state with a feeling like there’s a message light blinking about a missed call.
These are experiences we can only remember having. That may convince us we had them because why else would we be remembering them? They are, of course, brilliant and represent the acme of the intellectual powers of your cauldron. There is simply no other way for this level of learning to become cognitive… or ever be made cognitive to others. The show must go on.
Revelations can only be made from existing parts. They often reveal a truth that is already expected. In the Prof’s case, his coma revelation was probably the result of many years of cauldron bubbling and skimmed-loaded into his Cinema view in the moments of emerging to consciousness again. It became an experience that he remembered having, but it involved nothing he wasn’t well-prepared to perceive or believe. As if his cauldron dutifully cooked up a massive rationalization for his desires.
If you had one of these vivid spiritual experiences, did it include anything that wasn’t something you have seen, heard or come to expect as a result of you life experience?
And lastly, the next time you have one, try to notice… Do you see vanishing points?