Science says that consciousness is not the base of the human thought pyramid, that encompasses everything else. It is the tip of the pyramid, a little instrument added on when everything else works right. You are not “you” because of your thoughts, you are you because your body is you and all the things it does — pump blood, digest food, excrete, listen, taste, hurt, itch, move arms and legs, bend over — and all the autonomic nervous system reports about unconscious homeostasis (glucose level, breathing speed, heart beat, salt level, ph score) — THOSE are you. Your introspective investigation of what you “think” is only a little hat on all the rest of the stuff. “Think” comes last, not first.
No matter how much you agree with this, as soon as five minutes have passed, you will forget all this and go right on thinking that consciousness in identity, that consciousness should be limited to the rational, and that the rational has nothing to do with feelings. Curse you! It’s killing you!
Next denial: You are NOT a unified, solid, unchanging identity. You are a process, different from one moment to the next, not entirely under control, capable of being half a dozen “people” at once and neither virtuous nor evil but just THERE, a dance, a song, responding to everything. Because that’s the secret to survival.
When your body wakes up in the morning (thanks to the autonomic functions that kept it alive all night) it assembles you, bit by bit. First, your hearing comes back. Then the other senses. Then your memory gathers up the time before you went to sleep, though now it has been much sorted while you were asleep. If you were a little bit awake, you might have relived some of the sorting in dreams.
Your ability to move comes back. It was shut down while you were asleep to keep you from wandering around with no consciousness. If you become conscious before this mechanism is off, you will not be able to move and it’s terrifying. There may be a period of waking motionless wandering, mental drifting around without focus. This is a nice buffer. If you are awakened abruptly with no interval, it’s painful and dislocating.
Sometimes people say, “You’ve changed.” Sometimes they say, “Oh, you’re just the same.” Neither is true. When a mass murderer is found and locked up, people say, “Oh, he always seemed quite normal. I never saw signs of anything bad.” As though they knew what those signs were. They were looking for excuses to reject the person, to find him or her lacking — not trying to get an empathic feel for how this person was in the world. Anyway, they probably never saw the murderer at the time the lever was thrown that activated the neural connections for fear/hatred/panic/unreality/
flashback or whatever was the tipping point that set off the tragedy.
It often seems to me that the “depression” everyone talks about and claims to be plagued by — so that they say, “Oh, I don’t follow social issues. They’re so depressing.” — is not about some sad sympathy for the suffering, but denied and converted rage against them: the people who suffer. “How dare they exist in a perfectly nice world where I’m happy? What do you expect me to do? Give up something that makes me feel good, that proves I’m valuable and cherished?” A call to action makes them even more angry.
Freud taught us that our parents and other family made us who we are, both our organic bodies and our mental corridors. That’s true, but I find it also helpful to look at the great cultural thought streams that carry assumptions down through the generations and across continents. They are not inheritably genetic — they are mimetic and something else contagious and unconscious. Some are possibly part of the substructure we carry that was created by our evolutionary ancestors: the idea that anyone different is a danger and should be destroyed. The notion that repetition is a good thing and change is bad.
We have the idea that parents meet, fall in love, marry (which is a legal obligation and an economic arrangement), and assume the care of whatever children they produce so that they turn out well. I will possibly exaggerate by saying this is not always true. Parents meet, consider whether this partner is the best they can do, make compromises, meet circumstances that they cannot possibly cope with unless they have help which is not forthcoming, decide to abandon the partner, have children because to NOT have children one must actively resist, and take care of them only enough to avoid social punishment which doesn’t usually start until school years reveal a damaged kid. If then. If there is a stable community. A great many people are now living in surging masses of deprivation that systematically kills many of them. They don’t just evaporate, but come to live in our communities where they might be integrated or might be stigmatized or criminalized.
We are now accustomed to seeing photos of children born with no brain (results of an originally African mosquito-carried virus in South America) and thinking that it is an atrocity, but not OUR atrocity. Nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with nations. Or the global economy. Until one studies carefully how the mosquitoes got there and why this new infection is so macabre.
Maybe the most troublesome thing we have learned from science but totally misunderstood is what genes do. Inheritance, yes. (“You’re just like your father,” my mother declared when she was mad at me.) But inheriting WHAT? All you can inherit are MOLECULES. There is no gene with little eyes or toes inscribed on it. There are only MOLECULES that interact. And not one-on-one. It takes 200 — 200 — of these gene-produced interacting molecules to determine human height. That’s without factoring in nutrition and exercise, let alone something like the lead in gasoline and paint. Genetics are an interaction, both among the genes and against the outside world. The same gene under different circumstances will produced different results.
A related problem is that every time the scientists isolate ONE of the POSSIBLE precursors or enablers of something sensational like an adult desire for sex with children (a missing molecule can be just as powerful as an extra one or a “bent” one), it is translated by the media into a reliable sign of an actual and inevitable action by a person with an irresistible compulsion. It’s witch-hunting that no good scientist would endorse. But the media in our time have become devouring monsters avid to promote half-truths and titillating speculation about the neighbors, all the time ignoring something like “normal” beating of progeny as “discipline.” Media loves stories about people executed though innocent (proven later) thus indicting authorities and proving that life is evil, as though they themselves are redeemed by their cynicism and pure motives, like the pursuit of truth. They ignore all the things I’m talking about here.
(Sorry. The image feature wouldn't work except for the first one.)