When I was in college in the late Fifties, the schemata for a human being’s mind was stimulus -- blackbox -- response. No one had much of an idea what was in that black box metaphor for a mind, symbolic of a transformation recognizable only by “before” and “after.” It wasn’t wrong. It was very incomplete and not very helpful. Most of the research was inflicted on rats: making them push down levers for rewards and shocking their feet when they did something wrong.
Raising kids at our house was along the same lines. Not much insight into the mediating black box. In my case it fermented resentment. I despised the punishment and eschewed the rewards. I was that party toy where you push the button on the black box, a lid opens, a hand comes out and shuts off the box. But in that tiny “room” I had a stack of books and was reading. Nowadays, of course, I have a computer internet connection. Today’s understanding of how a human being becomes a self-conscious identity is far more complex. There’s a lot of writing on the walls of the box. It becomes more of a glass box.
Here’s my current diagram of all the stuff that goes into a body to lift it into being a person, so it can move, speak, digest and excrete, and make molecules.
First, this is a list of what can be perceived by the body either through the skin or other specialized organs mostly on the head: nose, ears, eyes, mouth. Anything else can NOT be perceived, though some people will claim direct contact with the universe somehow. I won’t contradict them -- just ignore them. Kindly, no offense.
PHENOMENA IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD
(EACH FILTERED BY A NEURONAL HUB)
What follows is a feature of belonging to a group: the sorting, cooperating, studying that make us humans in society.
CONSCIOUS, SHARED, CATEGORIZED THINKING
INCLUDES BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO THESE:
But the real bulk of the individual identity as a body happens in the whole body under the management of the brain, which is the dashboard.
SECRETLY CONTROLS CONSCIOUS THOUGHTS
AMONG THESE UNCONSCIOUS FUNCTIONS ARE:
SALT & SUGAR
CORE LOOPS WORK ON MOLECULAR HORMONES, THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM, AND ELECTRICAL WAVES TO KEEP THE BODY INSIDE THE PARAMETERS NECESSARY FOR HEALTH. THEY OPERATE LIKE A HEATING THERMOSTAT IN A HOUSE. TOO MUCH ONE WAY, YOU DIE. TOO MUCH THE OTHER WAY, YOU DIE.
Most thinking is subconscious, for instance, the molecular and neuronal functions of the intestines which are so active that some researchers call it “a second brain.” (WE call it, “ a gut feeling” or “butterflies” or a “tummy ache.” The actual material of brains is a development of the primal gut cells.
Much of this is good, because we don’t want to have to remember to beat our hearts. Breathing can go back and forth between conscious and unconscious. Actually, a yogi adept can affect heart beat and so can other people to some extent, along with blood pressure. If you can do these things, you can fool a lie detector test which uses technology to “see” these internal phenomena.
The list below is of things that go in and out of consciousness and are largely a reaction to thought and sensory input. The main homeostasis goes between what is familiar and safe versus what is strange and therefore challenging, stimulating, or dangerous. Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop or Fuck. These are whole body responses, intensely felt and clearly visible.
Managing all this is the job of the control board in the skull, but the whole complex of interacting forces called "thinking" occupies the whole body, everything inside the skin. The control board works by developing whole-brain networks, variably connected hubs, small specialized organelles, even cells with special abilities like detecting edges. Besides the usual brain waves we are used to seeing in depictions of hospital patients (beep, beep, beep), there is a “master wave” that waxes and wanes in a gradual constant way and seems to have the purpose of unifying and recording what is happening in the more volatile wave, chemical and neuronal activity.
People vary within the limits of what will sustain life. Some functions can be lost and worked around through other brain cells or even organs: sound or feel instead of sight, for instance, like braille reading. Keeping a schema like this one above -- and altering it to keep up with the ongoing research -- seems a helpful thing to do.
The point of life -- in Darwinian terms -- is to survive, first as an individual and second as part of a group. In an ideal world, these two intermesh and support each other. Assuming these two driving forces do not contradict each other, we should ask, “what kind of person is likely to survive in the circumstances” and “what kind of group is likely to survive.” The changing demands of the second of these lists will be the most immediate that come to mind, but there is another set of forces that can overwhelm them: the universe, always changing. If the climate shifts, if an asteroid hits, if volcanoes erupt or river deltas flood in hurricanes, then that overwhelms every defense and arrangement of civilization. Besides, waves of social movement come and go, new ideas sweep the culture.
In fact, the more a good environment for a certain kind of person or group (college professors, soldiers) has been built rather than formed naturally, and therefore requires maintenance, the more susceptible it is to social disorder and neglect. Those people will suffer. That applies to the Internet, power grids, our monetary system, the highways and bridges, and so on. In one way, being an adept on the computer is a wonderful skill that means high achievement and rewards. But it also means vulnerability to power outages, changing technology, solar flares, and the health hazards of sitting in a chair staring at a screen all day. Driving a car, which has become an expensive advantage (or pleasure) makes one dependent on gas prices, availability, and highway maintenance.
Our arrangements of compensation for the young, the old, the weak, the damaged, turn out to be easily disrupted when ideology turns against them. Alliances with others and sharing resources would seem like a good strategy for survival, but not when factions among those alliances war against each other. Being from the wrong group at the wrong time becomes lethal.
All that apart, there are good rules for survival that will work for most human beings. They are generally summed up in rules defined as moral and religious: do unto others as you would do unto yourself; live for the day; save for the morrow, stay loyal, and so on. But there has to be a certain amount of wiggle room for special circumstances. Still, a civilization with too much wiggle in it will collapse. A person who wiggles all the time will lose track of their center.
So you have to go to specifics and ask what this person must do to survive. Then ask what this group must do to survive. But you’re not finished there. Ask how the group can change in ways that make your survival more likely and ask how the larger society can change -- perhaps MUST change in order for you and your group to survive. Now we’re talking homeless people in the streets, pandemic diseases, schools in collapse, war around the world, displaced people starving everywhere.
What’s even scarier is that we are realizing that we, here in a privileged country, may NOT have prepared our own children, the children we think we love and protect, for survival as individuals and -- in fact -- those children as adults may not be able or willing to provide survival for the whole group. Survival may shift to those we have thought of as unworthy, damaged, and excluded. Could YOUR kid survive on the street? Can your kid survive YOU? We just gotta ask . . . for all our sakes.