Tag Archives: Mind

Consciousness Versus Momentum

Like the moment when the brakes lock
And you slide towards the big truck
Pink Floyd

This morning I fell down some stairs.

I was carrying a recycling tub overflowing with plastic bottles,  a small sack of cans mixed with bottles and cans perched  on top. The bag spilled, sending some of its contents cascading down the stairs. Oh, great, I thought, and started to resume walking when I tripped, taking me and the recycling tub tumbling down the stairs, banging into the door at the bottom that leads to the outside world.

I was more shaken up than hurt, though it could have easily been  the reverse.

During the fall, it felt like I had no control. And maybe I didn’t. Time feels weird during such episodes. I was aware of falling, or at last of knowing the fall was imminent.

No, that’s not quite right. Imminent seems to imply a time right before, offering a temporal window, albeit a narrow one, where a decision could be made. I think my awareness was when the fall actually began, the process already in motion. Regardless, where did it go during the whole fall? For being conscious seems to not only imply awareness to me, but some kind of agency as well. Yet, during the fall itself I was aware (or maybe half-aware?) of  the fall but unable to consciously do anything except let the momentum play out.

This does not mean necessarily that I did nothing. We have reflexes and instincts that kick in. Those two things can operate a lot more quickly than our consciousness, which is comparatively slow. In fact, so slow it might be a safety feature of our brain to rely on our training rather than our thinking in cases of potential bodily harm.

Think quick is a nice thought and part of our idiomatic vault when we throw an object to someone, but is thinking really involved in such cases. Or is that another example of reflexes kicking in based on how our bodies have been primed?

It certainly felt like there was nothing consciously that I could do during the fall. I was a passenger in my amusement park ride body. Presumably if it had been a longer fall, that would change. That my brain just needed more time to process things in order to generate a sufficient agency response.

Or would it have just been a longer ride?

The Flapping Wings of my Personal Butterfly

My last post was inspired in part by the well-documented and somewhat self-evident Butterfly Effect.

Indeed, most of my thinking is in response, one way or another, to this concept. For when I reflect on my actions, I am concerned first and foremost with their effect. Underneath that focus there is an assumption of some level of  agent efficacy that may or may not exist.

The things we quibble and quarrel about, like Good and Evil, Accountability and Blame,  Morality and Righteousness, God and Country, are shallow and somewhat vacuous intellectual romps compared to the really hard and far more fundamental question of just how much a flapping butterfly wing matters.

On the one hand, proof of mattering is all around us.

That may not seem so obvious when we describe the Butterfly Effect as the flap of butterfly wings on one side of the  globe causing a Tsunami on the other side. It may even sound absurd. But it becomes less so when we call it the more technical sounding Chaos Theory and look at it instead as simply saying that a small change can have huge effects down the road.

And it becomes immediately personal when viewed in terms of us existing at all.

“Us” in the plural sense, certainly, when you realize how many extinctions have occurred, but here I am meaning “us” in the singular sense: you, me,  and other would-be agents of change.

For when I reflect on my own existence, I can’t help being awestruck at how amazing it is that I am here at all. My presence might not seem like a particularly grand effect when viewed by someone other than me, but from the biased perspective of JD Fox, it is an inconceivably huge effect

But  the other hand is present, too:

Effects can be easily wiped out. One vote makes a difference. But an opposite vote cancels it. The flapping of wings can have an effect. But  the flapping of other wings can negate it. I am here, but I could have easily never been.

Such things in no way disprove the butterfly effect, of course, since those negations are also reliant on the small changes of long ago and act instead as further proof.  But they humble me, as I not only look at myself, but I look at the systems and processes involved.

The further out we move our lens, the more the effects, however huge,  get negated.  Trump’s insane tantrum-tweets, Kim Jong-un’s childish missile-waving, and all the other imbecilic, get-out-of-my-sandbox acts that spin us into hysterics are to the universe like a drop of water clinging to the edge of a pail.

That’s been left out in the hot sun.