Tag Archives: Philosophy of Mind

Clashing Worldviews

My notion of  “Web of Beliefs” shows that our beliefs are organized to support our lives – yet they are not as substantial as we may think. For example:

  • Two people can hold similar beliefs yet use them very differently
  • Two people may hold very different beliefs but lead lives clearly having the same values

Thus, I often view our beliefs as mere clothing.  All that said, this video illustrates some of this so much better than my words !  Ironically enough I found this on a Christian’s site — he was using it to open the eyes of his fellow Christians.  You see, the religious world does have hope.

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Mini-deaths

scared turtleThe fear of death can be painful and crippling. It can arise just before you die, but in the extreme, it can haunt some people daily.  Fear is a basic human emotion and evolved to serve adaptive advantages–keeping us safe. But the fear response is often our enemy, for like many unconsciously evolved modules of mind, it operates rather indiscriminately at times.  Like all evolved systems, our mental modules are often good-enough for survival but not good enough to aid in our happiness.  Evolution only cares about our genes survivals, not an individual’s happiness.  So it is our challenge to transcend the non-discriminant functions of mind if we desire to gain some happiness.

The fear of death result from the working together of several modules of mind. The major module, for which we are usually thankful, helps us avoidance of death.  This module can be a hinderance at the inevitable end of life, giving fear during the only precious time one has left.

Another module, however, is the fear of the unknown.  These are tied together because death can hide within the unknown. So fear of the unknown has many benefits, but many times it can be a major hindrance. Certainly it is a hindrance when we go through unavoidable transitions in life.

Transitions offer us a chance to practice mini-deaths. These transitions offer us a chance to tame the fear of the unknown within ourselves. They can even allow us brilliant vision.

We have many selves which are composed of ideas, emotions and habits-of-relating. These modules are our anchors in the real world such as where we live, who we spend time with and what we do. When out outer world changes (new jobs, new relationships, new locations, losses etc) we can feel disoriented as our mind formulations new selves — new relationships between our modules.  But in this transition state we can watch our minds in ways we never can.  For most of the while, when the mind is not stress and operating well, it is also habitual and blind.  When things are “normal”, we are strongly under the spell of our habitual selves.

But when abrupt changes occur, our hypnotism is broken and we have choices in our responses:  We could crunch into fear, close our eyes and hope for it all to end soon.  Or, the eyes-wide-open approach and learning to find pleasure in our mini-deaths.

I am reminded of this tonight as I went through boxes of books to finally give-away or sell. I will be getting rid of 5 boxes of oriental medical books (most of them in Japanese), I no longer practice this medicine, nor will I in the future. I remember as I slowly came to realize I was an EX-oriental-medical doctor. Oriental Medicine was a big part of my life for 7 years as you can see by my bio. When I decided to give it up, I slowly lost all my memories of the 360 some acupuncture points with all their various uses and of the hundreds of herbs and the conditions they treated and ways of compounding them. I also lost the whole culture of the world of those who practiced that medicine. I entered Western Medicine and have not really looked back.

When I first landed in Japan from India, where I was working on a Ph.D., I spoke about the Indian Languages I knew (Hindi and Urdu) to everyone. Every time I made a mistake in Japanese, I explained my error in terms of “how it is done in Hindi”.   I was not enjoying being so dumb in Japanese after I had just got some degree of competence in Hindi. But a friend took me aside one day and said, “Sabio, no one gives a shit about Hindi–this is Japan.” He was right and from that day, I just embraced Japanese and let Hindi go.  I let Hindi die.  I embraced the mini-death.  Life was much better after that.

As a Physician Assistant I have changed fields several times. Just eight months ago I stopped practicing Pediatric Dermatology which I had done for three years. My book shelf was lined with Derm books, most which I have now sold. I spent much time learning and studying. I published in Derm Journals and was a ghost writer for some speakers. Now, even after eight months, I feel much of my Derm knowledge slipping. And now I am studying urology.

The Derm doctors I worked with will practice a lifetime of Dermatology. In three years I was probably able to experience at least 80% of what they will experience during their entire life of Derm. I also worked with a urologist who has done Urology for 30 years, and again, within 4 years, I got a feel for about 80 % of his life experiences in Urology. So giving up the old stuff has only allowed me to live more lives in this short life.

Change of religion is a major transition. When I left Christianity, I lost all my friends and most of my acquaintances.  Fortunately I did not have to face this mini-death head on, I moved cities shortly after admitting to myself that I was no longer a Christian.  This move, away from people who have only known me as a Christian, allowed gentler mini-deaths.  After the move, I felt like a new person and the new city with new friends allowed me to more fully explore that person — for which I am thankful.

Happy_TurtleI think fear of mini-deaths holds people from taking new jobs or moving cities. By practicing raw awareness and the joy of exploration during mini-deaths in your daily lives, you can slowly learn to limit the fears of large transitions — large deaths.  This will broaden your pleasures and potential. I find that thinking of transitions as mini-deaths is helpful for me. For many Buddhist and Hindus, after death we are reincarnated to live yet another life and we rarely have any memories of the past life, we just carry with us our habits of relating.   But in these reincarnations, usually the past life is totally forgotten.  So when I have mini-deaths in this life, like changing jobs, language or cities, I think of how fun it is to have a new reincarnation and yet still being able to remember the old self.  It has helped me to understand the illusory nature of self and the ability to find happiness at a level unattached to accomplishment, possessions and myths of who I am. Mind you, it is a small happiness, but every little bit helps.

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Related Posts:

  • My cognitive Narratives:  Views of self & beliefs
  • En: the value of vibrant connections
  • Ironically, 1 hour after I posted this, when talking with my son about my job, out of nowhere he asked, “Dad, when you left your jobs or moved from various houses, did it make you sad?” [he was thinking about moving]  So now we are reading this post together. You see, there must be a Buddha — nothing happens by accident. (that is sarcasm, by the way – this post says why).

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Filed under Consciousness, Events, Personal

Many-Selves, No-Self

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).
— Walt Whitman  (Song of Myself, 1855 Leaves of Grass)

I call my view of self  “Many-Selves–No-Self” — its is a view similar to insights found both in cognitive science and in some Buddhist psychologies. Many-Selves–No-Self resembles the computational theory of mind which many popular science writers have written about:

But my version of a computational model of mind has a Buddhist flavor. Some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism contend that we have no substantial self — “No Self”.   They are right that there is No [one-stable-uintary] Self, but I think there are Many Selves.  Thus, it is not necessary to be flagrantly paradoxical by saying there is No Self. In the Buddhist view and my view, our normal understandings of self is deluded — self-deluded.  Many forms of religious mysticism have expressed similar insights.

I will now try to illustrate my model of Many-Selfs.

Slide3Let the orange polygon (right) represent your mind.  The yellow dots (stars) represent modules or functions in your mind. A function can be a belief, tendency, a habit or a skill your brain/mind has.  Indeed, the modular view is too simple — instead it is complex networks, but for simplicity sake, we will discuss them as discrete modules.

Of course your mind has many more functions (yellow dots) than I have illustrated here, but for sake of illustration, imagine you only have these few functions.

Slide2Next (left), imagine that there are a few functions that you rarely use. The ones you commonly use are in the purple oval — you consider this to be the “real” you. Imagine that these rarely-used traits are ones that you may have expressed in the past, but you haven’t acted on in years.  They are traits you thought you grew out of years ago. So what you consider to be your “real you”  is within the purple oval.

Slide1But then imagine that you bring a close friend to a family get-together at your childhood home with all your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins etc …   Your friend notices a change in you at the get-together.  She states she sees a side of you which she has never seen before.  You feel it too, but can’t explain it.  Of course you are still “you”, but you seem to slip back into old childhood behaviors when arguing with your siblings.  That “you” is represented by the blue oval (right) where you have revitalized those two supposedly dormant traits and one of the traits from your purple self is turned off (or toned way down).  Thus another self emerges.

There are countless times where we can see the many-selves unmasked.  The unmasking is apparent when a person, and those around them, are surprised by the odd actions of someone they thought they understood.  Here are a few examples of when a person acts “out of character” similar to my above example of dropping back into childhood behavior :

  • In an emergency, she does something she would normally never do.
  • She kills someone in a “fit of passion”.
  • She completely deceives long-term trusted friends to hide shame.
  • After winning a million dollars, she takes on a different behavior.
  • She is observed to be completely different at a class reunion.

It is such changes in self that makes for statements like:

  • “I don’t know what came over me”
  • “I couldn’t believe what I said”
  • “That wasn’t me.”
  • “I don’t know what came over me”
  • “I shocked myself”
  • “I felt like a different person”

In actuality, they are surprised only because they are under the illusory spell that they have “one true self”.   They don’t understand the way mind strings together traits to meet different settings — to form new selves.  We are different at work, home, church, clubs, with family etc…  Some people shift less than others, be we all shift.

Slide5In my “Many-Selves, No-Self” model of mind, instead of “one true self”, there are many selves.   Actually, my mental model is not ovals, but constellations.  Each function is related to another function by a connection (a line, in my diagram to the left).  Thus I can re-illustrate my model of self as a constellation of functions of the mind or modules of the mind.  In the above illustration, I simple put an purple oval around this constellation.  But you can imagine that a model with many selves and thousands of functions, the oval illustration would fall apart but then, the constellation model would appear a jumble also.  This captures the complexity of networks and systems a little better.

Slide4Continuing with the constellation illustration:  When an individual gets into a different environment with significantly different triggers — a family get-together with people with a long past history in an old setting (home).  Old traits are triggered and old linking of existing traits re-link.   And thus the light blue self — a new constellation of traits — emerges.  Most of the functions (modules) are still present in the “new self” except one trait drops out and two old traits are re-enlisted.  The linkages also change.  It is these linkages that are key.

A common objection to materialism is that the sum of the parts do not equal the whole, which is indeed true.  However, it is not the parts alone that make an organism (or a machine), but it is the parts and how they relate to each other. This web relationships (nested functionality) is the magic of the machine.

What makes the model non-intuitive is that part of the brain also weaves the illusion of a continual self.  This continual self becomes our identity which is the “you” of normal conversation.  It is true in the sense that all these “you-s” are happening in one brain, but not in the sense that your personality and behavior are stable.  It is a useful illusion, but it is false, because there is no true self.  Instead, we have many selves.

The hexagon in my model is the individual.  And the individual is anchored to the world of finances, family, tribes, safety, and pleasures via lines from all the functions. It is these external anchorings that trigger most shifts between different selves. But some people can shift due to illness or even by pure imaginations — as skillful actresses and actors can attest.

It is this complexity of Self that makes many philosophical discussions difficult.  And it is this picture that generates apparently paradoxical statements like: “Many-Selves, No-Self”.  But the paradox only exists because we don’t understand the true nature of mind.

I hope this explanation has worked. This idea of Many-Selves, No-Self  is core to my philosophy of religion, language and relationships.  Without understanding this view, many of my writings may appear unnecessarily enigmatic.

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Filed under Cognitive Science, Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion, Science