The Conscious Ape

Exercise in futility

1. The Puzzle of Consciousness:

Our mind is a puzzle. An unsolvable puzzle, it seems. When it comes to forces that operate in or with our mind, consciousness and unconsciousness, we are without answers. What is the exact origin of it? Is it biological: a complex net of pathways built by biological hardware of the brain, or is it something wider, something outside of us—a shared system among human beings that connects us in a single consciousness. To answer, it would be on the same level of proving once and for all that there is or is not a god. When we observe nature, we stand alone, an absolute, an apex predator with an identity. An apex predator in a way that we re-shape our surroundings, where one bear can kill one type of prey at one given moment, a man can obliterate himself and the entire world in a matter of seconds—the direct result of our consciousness. With other beings, for example, cats, they are to a degree conscious, and in general, lifeforms are reactive to surroundings (a dog catching a ball or a plant growing toward the light), so there seems to be some level of being conscious. And cats are often unconscious, meaning they are sleeping for most of the day—but at other times, they are quite conscious, as in knowing when it’s an excellent time to go to the kitchen after you, so they get a snack. But is there a sense of self, an identity? I would say we’re unique, and a lot of it, it seems, is due to the evolutionary process to survive and conquer our surroundings. Because, physically, we are weak, soft, easy to break, but our minds are powerful. With them, we can sway nature, build magnificent monuments and destroy swaths of terrain, but why, is it really just an evolutionary trait? How come we are the only one(as far as we know, that is)? A chimp understands that with a rock, it can cut through meat harvested from a kill. If it finds a sharper rock, it will use it instead, but it does not understand the concept of sharpness, it cannot think in abstractions, and here again comes our consciousness—a multi-layered puzzle with no answer in sight.

2. At the intersection of mind and consequence:

To follow on that, we have the trappings and tribulations brought upon us by our unconsciousness. Homophobia, racism, sexism, and other similar hatred-infused beliefs, are seen as problems we should deal with directly. I rather see them as by-products of a complex underlying puzzle that leads to those angry emotional responses. All the ways we have created for mistreating ourselves and others speak volumes of our inability to understand our unconscious mind. Our burgeoning insecurities, which lay in the deep recesses of our minds, lead us through our day-to-day lives. We act almost as “biomechanical machines” operated by an outside force – a Skynet of the souls, but instead of T-800 coming back to kill us, it’s our thoughts that torment us, in their incessant way of just coming up and staying there. And to fight that, we are doing everything we can in our power to escape from ourselves and form our identities around group thinks to give us comfort and security of ignorance. It is funny to think about it, but we are at the same time conscious and unconscious. We are consciously unconscious. We can think of and pontificate upon our existence and try to dig through our minds to find the answers, but we are incapable of actually coming to any findings. Our minds will not allow us to do so. So how can we overcome this problem? Is this even a problem? When it comes to the before-mentioned symptoms like homophobia, racism, and sexism, it has been shown to us time and time again that those belief systems stem from our insecurities and fears of the unknown. When we read in a newspaper article about some extreme homophobe that turns out to be gay himself – I would say, is the best example of us as humans not being able to deal with ourselves and our problems. Possible solutions that show promise are education, self-examination, and meditation. The societies that possess higher levels of public education usually have the lowest levels of deep-seated hatred against the unknown, which I would argue in part comes from the ability to deal with your thoughts and emotions. You have the tools and freedom to try and make yourselves a functioning part of society with education, but it’s up to you to choose if you will delve into the tar pit of your thoughts and try and figure out what is going on. Relentless self-examination and deep meditation are additional tools to help where education fails us. The inherent failing of systematized education is its inability to comprehend or acknowledge what is outside of scientific and probable. There is no room for alternative thinking. And going into self can be a good solution paired with a self-imposed study program. On the other hand, if you live in a community affected by economic and social distress, you are less likely to be encouraged to go into self-discovery and more so into survival mode, which leads to losing interest in what lies in our unconsciousnesses. Self-examination and meditation are pretty much null. Those unaware of the torrent of thoughts that constantly flow through their mind or those unwilling to admit to themselves that they are not in control of themselves seem to suffer the most, both on a receiving and giving end, here the victim and the attacker are on equal grounds. Most of the problems that assail us in our daily lives come from within ourselves. And I would argue that for those unwilling to take the path of self-discovery and self-examination awaits a life of daily torments, bouts of depression, and that feeling of emptiness that slowly but surely eats away your soul and will to live.

3. Gift of guilt:

One of the surest ways our unconscious mind tortures us and eats away our soul and will to live is guilt. Is guilt learned or inborn? We observe with children remorse when they do something terrible, but is that pure mimicry, thought by patterns of behaviour by surrounding adults, or is there something hidden, something baked into the firmware of the human soul? Guilt moves us as few things do. It is the primordial shaker of beliefs and opinions. It will unconsciously gnaw at the base of your mind, keep you bereft of sleep and give you stomach ulcers. What is the price of pride and stupidity, and what remains subsequently on the receipt of your soul after lashing out in prideful anger? In what form will the unconscious mind kick you in the proverbial balls? As a human species, we are specialized in destruction and grinding down our strongest bonds when we feel threatened or attacked when we think that our insecurities are being revealed. In just a few moments, we will destroy years of trust-building and poison the well of friendship just because our ego won’t let us listen to the person next to us- instead, we want to say our piece and be right no matter what. Brothers in arms are hard to find. They replace those pieces of your soul that were broken of by life or never given to you. They are a pillar on which you can lean on in time of need and a beacon of light in storms of life, and to betray a person like that is a moral equivalent of murder. Time flies like an arrow through the sky, at first so fast you barely notice it, and then comes the sudden drop, and you realize that years have passed by, and that deep-seated guilt starts to gnaw at you. But there is nothing more you can do. All that remains is the gift of guilt. I say gift because even though the feeling of guilt feels terrible, and what you did is irremediable, you have been given an opportunity to learn from, grow from and try and not repeat the sins of the past. Albeit, just because you feel guilty, that does not in any way, shape or form justify your past, present or future behaviour. Feeling guilty is not enough. Continual repetition of abhorrent behaviour is simply abominable. You should learn from your mistakes and not simply live in your head and think that everything is okay just because you realized what you did is wrong. And be confident, you will not forget it, your mind again, won’t let you, a mind whatever it is, is no doubt a perfect keeper of the unwanted and uncalled for. So, what is the price of pride and stupidity? Everything. You do not only lose essential people in your life, but you also lose a part of yourself. You kill the body of kinship and leave a rotting carcass of betrayal and ignominy in the foundations of your soul, and your unconsciousness is here for you to help you stay awake at night and lose sleep. It’s a fantastic system put in place, no doubt about it, and even though I sound a bit sarcastic here, it really is. Nothing will give you pause and force you to think as much as the fear of the gift that is guilt.

4. Heart full of napalm:

And in my case, where does the unconscious strike hardest? My whole life, I have been dealing with anger issues. Everything from small outbursts of rage in traffic to wrath of god explosions in my dealings with other people, succumbing to anger was my “favourite” pastime for many years. It worked as a perfect shield from others, and it gave me a false sense of empowerment. All the while, I was utterly blind to the irony that revelling in that kind of anger reflects not power but internal weakness and insecurity. It took me close to 15 years to realize from where that anger flows and that it seldom has to do anything with the present situation. So much of it stems from childhood trauma and the feeling of being disrespected and not being given the attention that you wanted. Now, I don’t want to say that I became some levitating Buddha and that my enlightenment brought me inner peace, far from it. Still, my discovery has put me on a path to mend myself and my relations with others who suffered from my impulsive and angry behaviour. So many of my negative experiences with other people came from me being unable to listen to them or understand them. I measured myself by my intentions and others by their actions, without considering the position from which they were coming. It is so easy to denounce others when you are not willing to think about their intention, and you go into a blind rage on a whim. Mindfulness and meditation helped me immensely in this journey of trying to work out the inner daemons that poke my brain with tridents of past “slights” against me. It is daily work trying to see and hear better and be more mindful of others and yourself. And here again repeats the underlying theme of this essay, the unwillingness and inability to notice yourself. To witness the tempest brewing in the unconscious part of your mind that is steering you to the shores of personal doom where you will be left marooned.

5. Exercise in futility:

So what does this all say of our lives, our experience on this earth, if we can’t even possess a semblance of control over our thoughts? Christians believe that God with the capital G gave us free will to roam about, but that seems so far-fetched at this point that I find it more incredulous than believing that Moses parted the Red sea. What force is moving us, if any? What is the plane of our existence? The possibilities and permutations are endless, from Gnostic beings from another plane to “we live in a simulation” theories. I do not possess answers to any of these questions, and I doubt any of us do. So what does that leave us with? The question of choice, I would say. Is there any real choice behind this lack of free will under the slavery of consciousness? Everything you perceive is a direct result of internal computations based upon external and internal factors. Even something simple as “do I eat something sweet now, or wait until after dinner?” is being decided by an unaccounted number of factors, such as genes, the way your personality has been shaped over the years, your metabolism, the time of day, the weather, maybe some “fat joke” comments someone made about you. Our unconscious mind entirely rules us. Every sleight you took, every spiteful response you made, every violent outburst you exploded into, or opposite of these adverse reactions, any time you were happy because of something good that has happened. Every single reaction in these situations was ruled by processes outside of your hands. In the end, all you can do is be mindful of yourself and your actions and maybe somehow sway the unstoppable force of the mind based on new input of data into the ever-flowing stream of consciousness because every other endeavour would be an exercise in futility.