What is Consciousness?

What is Consciousness? What is Its Purpose?

In neuroscience and psychology, the concepts of love and fear are more than just emotions. They relate to how the deepest unconscious regions of our brain operate. How the reptilian brain only craves what it lacks and is unaware of what it takes for granted. And how what we believe we lack ends up defining what we love. But by gaining insight into the realms of our unconscious mind and the reality that it emerges from, we are presented with a choice.
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
While this quote from Albert Einstein sounds relatable, one can wonder why a man of his profound intelligence would specifically claim this is the most important decision we make.
This documentary answers that question.

Tens of thousands of papers are published each year in the field of neuroscience alone. Our knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of our mind and of our universe is expanding at an astounding rate. If you seek rational answers to fundamental questions about consciousness, this documentary could change your life.

The human brain is by far the most sophisticated phenomenon we have thus far been able to observe in our universe. And after decades of neuroscience, we still have endless questions about this mysterious structure that holds as many neurons as there may be stars in our galaxy. Yet we don't have to veer far into hypotheticals or resort to superstition to answer some of our deepest existential questions.

One of the most baffling observations in neurology has been that some experiments seem to reveal two distinct personalities or streams of consciousness present in our brain, one in each hemisphere. Surprisingly, only one of the two can talk. Under the right conditions, neurologists have even been able to ask questions to each hemisphere separately. Resulting in cases where a person would say he is not religious when asked in conversation. While when this person sees the question in writing, the mute hemisphere responds by writing down its own answer, in some cases disagreeing with the other hemisphere. Many more experiments that reveal similar results indicate that this is more than a random oddity or hallucination, but instead some legitimate level of split or double consciousness taking place in our brain.

Fortunately, this strange disagreement between both hemispheres only occurs when the connection between them is broken. As long as they are connected they try to cooperate and create the perception that we are a singular individual.

So where are we then in the brain? If science can pinpoint those parts of the brain that are largely responsible for language, mathematics, specific primal emotions and so forth, what does it say about the parts of the brain that make up the core of what we are? Not only have scientists, despite their best efforts, not been able to locate such a region of the brain. But all evidence even points towards this core not existing. It has become more and more clear that in this miniature universe of the brain, roughly 100 billion neurons all act by themselves and communicate with each other as if the brain is an astoundingly complex vehicle with no driver. Or a computer without a CPU.

In our quest for finding some sort of core of what we are, we could also look even deeper and zoom into the most basic building blocks of what our brain is made of. But if we peer into the individual molecules that make up our neurons, our findings become even more counter-intuitive. Not only will we not find any mysterious trace of a soul here, we will also not bump into any kind of marble-like structures that high school physics classes taught us are the tiny particles everything else is made of.

You might have heard that roughly 99.9% of all solid matter is nothing but empty space. This is true. But zooming into the .1% that consists of the stuff everything is made of only results in showing us a different kind of emptiness. The electrons, the quarks, all the fundamental particles are not solid objects. Thinking of them as somehow tiny spheres is a convenient simplification, but it does not represent the fascinating reality of this strange quantum void. The only things that exist here are waves. Waves that behave similar to vibrations of sound or ripples in water. But rather than oscillations of matter, the peaks and valleys of these quantum waves are not made of anything tangible, they are waves of probabilities. Their peaks reveal the areas where there is a high probability of detecting the energy of what we may call an electron. Their valleys indicate that the chances there are much lower. As bizarre as it may sound that the building blocks of our universe seem to behave according to chance rather than being intuitively predictable, this is not just a theory. It's a simple fact that can be tested and observed with nothing more than a laser pointer and a comb to replicate part of the famous double-slit experiment.

The counter-intuitiveness of this discovery has been the root of popular misinterpretations and metaphysical confusion where it's been described as particles being aware and knowing that they're being observed or the universe being influenced by the power of our thinking. The truth is at least equally fascinating. The real principle at work is that if we can not know where a particle is, it exists only as a probability wave that tells us where the particle is more or less likely to be found. And only when we take action to measure where the particle could be, the wave will suddenly cease to exists and the particle reveals itself. The particle has no defined location until we make the measurement.

This is why we say that light, for example, is both a wave and a particle. But this quantum weirdness does not just apply to light, it applies to all the particles that everything is made of. It even applies to molecules. If we fire super-tiny rocks (visuals show C60 molecule) instead of photons, they'll behave like waves when we're not measuring them. We intuitively believe our universe consists of solid stuff. But in reality, all of it, from the neurons in our brain to the galaxy we are a part of, is the result of probability waves and particles that pop in and out of existence

All this weirdness led Einstein to famously say: "Do you really believe the moon is not there when you are not looking at it?". But no matter how weird it is, quantum theory and all experimental evidence reveals that our universe is inherently probabilistic and things within it can not be predicted with 100% certainty. This doesn't mean that science cannot make accurate estimates as to what is more or less likely. The mathematics and statistics of quantum physics reveal that the seemingly random oscillations that make up our reality are still deeply and perfectly consistent patterns. Many of our modern technologies, such as solar panels or microprocessors, would not have been possible if we had not deciphered much of the intricate and unique behavior of quantum mechanics.

But if neither any specific region of the brain, nor the neurons, nor the building blocks that our neurons consist of can account for the phenomenon of our consciousness, what do scientists think brings it about?

Over the years, there have been many theories, some of which have since been debunked with modern understandings of neuroscience, others that are considered too far-fetched and exotic to be of merit without hard evidence. But there is one general school of thought that most scientists consider to be likely. An idea that is not only logically sound and fits our observations, but that can transform how we think about life, even though its implications are thus far rarely discussed and explored. In fact, this video marks the first time all these logical conclusions are brought together to bring into focus what science can really tell us about some of our deepest existential questions.

If we look at evolution, it's not so hard to roughly imagine how life started here on earth. 4 billion years ago, a unique series of coincidental probabilities occurred that led to the existence of very simple biological cells that could replicate. These were the first forms of life. And as they replicated, subtle differences between the old cells and the new cells would crop up, mutations would take place. We see it in the genetics of offspring with every lifeform known to us and we can trace it back in the remains and fossils not just of animals and plants, but sometimes even of bacteria of as far back as 3.5 billion years ago. Microscopic crystals and fossils provide us a glimpse of life on earth before the first plants or even algae emerged.

Over billions of years of replicating and mutating, these biological mechanisms found more and more sophisticated ways of growing and spreading. The tiniest initial differences such as offspring with a coincidental protein molecule that is sensitive to sunlight would end up with eventually more beneficial mutations over many generations. 4 billion years is a very long time. Enough for extremely sophisticated results such as the human eye to emerge from origins as simplistic as a single light-sensitive protein molecule. As a result, even our most advanced technologies are often still no match for some of the mechanisms that has taken evolution aeons to engineer.

But when we begin to contemplate early animal life, and observe its beautiful legacy all around us, wherein we constantly recognize parts of our primal selves, it's tempting to wonder why in the process of evolution there emerged this phenomenon of consciousness that has bewildered and confounded philosophers and mystics since the dawn of humanity's tribal structures. To approach this scientifically, we can not allow consciousness' elusive nature to be a reason for giving up on trying to understand it. Because if consciousness is not a magical exception and is rather a direct or indirect consequence of evolution, the scientific conclusion is straight-forward: just like every other feature of the human brain and body, experience or consciousness is a tool that evolution has engineered for us through billions of years of mutations. Conscious forms of life showed a richer capacity for learning and course-correcting. So evolution favored this development and nurtured it to a point where we became sentient, self-aware and capable of interpreting our own evolutionary drives and our purpose in ways that can even go against our own survival if we so choose.

So how would science then describe the phenomenon of consciousness? Surprisingly, most scientists do theorize that consciousness is not simply inside our brain. Consciousness is generally considered to be an emergent phenomenon of the brain. Meaning consciousness happens when enough activity takes place in the brain in a way that can be compared to how music emerges from a record player. The music is not anywhere to be found inside the record player. Intuitively, we tend to say the music is on the record, but even there we really only find a circular vinyl disk with peculiar grooves, it does not produce any sound or music at all. It is only when the mechanisms of the record player are activated in a certain way that all its activity produces an emergent phenomenon that we call music. Consciousness is somewhat similar, we can't physically locate it at one point or in one area. And if we zoom in on the grey matter of our brain, we find as much evidence for consciousness as we find tiny marbles inside a molecule, which is none at all. Yet when billions of neurons fire and communicate with each other, the combination of this enormous amount of activity creates a phenomenon that is consciousness.

But it would seem that this is far from a complete summary of what brings it about. Because there is an inevitable consequence that complicates things to an incredible degree. The more this emergent feature evolved in ways that allow it to course-correct and significantly reprogram the brain, the more it became a feedback loop of incredible complexity. Just like when we point a webcam at the screen that is showing what it's recording and we see a seemingly infinite pattern, the brain does something similar with the activity from its billions of firing neurons, resulting in an unimaginable depth of iterations and permutations that gives rise to what we call consciousness or experience. And this experience is not a goal, it is simply the ultimate tool that our brain has for finding its way and coming to grips with the consistent patterns of our reality. This is the true nature of what we are.

We are the unfathomably intricate interplay of what seems like infinite loops of neural processes. Our essence may have had humble beginnings, but it exponentially grew on its voyage down the rabbit hole of boundlessly mirroring itself and learning from each mirror image. Our brain waves ripple and reverberate, creating constant feedback loops of wildly varying degrees of complexity before even a single emotion, let alone a conscious thought can emerge, which in itself inevitably brings about feedback loops of higher levels of abstraction where it is no longer just about the interaction and cascade of neurochemical processes, but also of language, ideas and concepts that then allow such magnitudes of recursive thinking that we become capable of observing and dissecting the patterns of our own existence. We are incomparably more than the sum of our parts. Which is why our evolution so greatly favored this extraordinary capacity for reasoning and intuition and promoted us from biological machines to sentient architects of our own future, tasked with making the right decisions for ourselves and for our species. We are a feedback loop that is, depending on how we choose to live, to greater or lesser extent aware of its own processes

In addition to all of this, we must also factor in the brain's remarkable ability for changing itself, called neuroplasticity. Whatever it is that we are doing at any point in time, we are training our brain to become better at performing those actions, for better or for worse. While more pronounced at early age, neuroplasticity and even neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, continues to take place throughout our lives, shaping and reshaping the hardware of our consciousness every step of the way.

And while human beings have a remarkable capacity for rationality, enabling us to fly rockets to the moon and build incredible machinery that allows us to better understand the fabric of the universe (show LHC), we are also still very emotional creatures. As we grow up, we for a big part learn and shape our behavior through basic Pavlovian conditioning. In the famous psychological experiment by Ivan Pavlov, a basic observation was that a dog tends to salivate as soon as he recognizes learned indicators hinting that he may be rewarded with a treat. Same mechanisms are present in the reward system of the human brain. As children, we innocently want to understand the world. But if trying to understand things is not rewarding enough, our brain adopts other strategies. An unfortunate phenomenon often observed in psychology and also once famously described by Carl Sagan is that kindergartners or first-grade kids tend to be sincere science enthusiasts with a genuine sense of wonder as they question everything around them. But talk to children in the 12th grade and much of this curiosity has become extinguished.

If our natural tendency to logically question things is discouraged and we are instead rewarded for actions that we often don't see the meaning of, the brain adapts to this and gradually gives up on independent logical inquiry. Instead, we become disproportionately dedicated to seeking approval of others. Our opinions, our identity, our way of life ends up depending on how we are judged by our social circle and by society at large. At the time of recording this documentary, fake news, post-truth and so-called 'alternative facts' are much discussed topics. But these are mere symptoms of a much deeper problem. One that goes beyond misinformation and imperfect social media algorithms. And while we may not be aware of it, the Pavlovian conditioning from our contemporary culture deeply defines how we look at life and by extension how we intuitively perceive consciousness.

To understand just how much culture constantly evolves while it shapes our behavior and beliefs, it can be helpful to look at how much has changed even in recent history. Only around 15 years ago it was controversial to ban smoking and cellphones were considered inappropriate for teenagers or for use on public transport. Ten years ago we could barely imagine why anyone would want to put random thoughts along with personal pictures on the Internet for everyone to see, now just about everyone including our parents and grandparents have Facebook accounts. And in only a few years, taking selfies went from a strange and narcissistic habit to a cultural norm.

Keeping this in mind may then make it less surprising when we consider that up until around 300 years back, people would brand a great deal of our most commonplace routines as selfish, decadent and morally corrupt. As trivial and innocent of an act like buying a box of our favorite cereals would fall into this category. While society gradually improves and evolves over large periods of time, our culture takes many twists and turns along the way, some of which move us closer to valuing facts over fiction, some of which do not. Nevertheless, our conditioning lays much of the groundwork for the operating system of our brain. In a constellation of brain areas that is known as the Default Mode Network, information is constantly being processed even when we are seemingly at rest. This is partially why social conditioning can have a profound impact on us even while we are unaware of it.

Our current mainstream culture is generally defined as individualism, which finds its origins in the industrial revolution not long ago. Just as in previous eras, we go as far as to sometimes rewrite history to fit our current narrative and we repurpose ancient sayings such as "Carpe Diem" to support our beliefs. The complete sentence of the old latin poem roughly translates to "do what you can today, to make tomorrow better" and it had no connection with indulging in personal desires. While our scientific progress can tell us a lot about the brain and even to significant extent about consciousness, our culture is currently not so much geared towards trying to understand what we are. It is instead more focused on celebrating the pursuit of fashionable personal interests. Ranging from material possessions to impressing our social circle and from momentary thrills to romantic adventures. The individual's desire and its freedom to pursue it is currently our most cherished ideal. Many aspects of our society, most of all our economy, rely on our pursuit of these popularized objectives. Aside from rare exceptions like a futuristic tv series about a unified humanity working to advance the species, culture has a way of submerging us in signals that make us believe, without question, that the way we currently perceive things is simply the way it has always been and the way it's meant to be. Not so long ago, we believed people of color were always inferior, the world was always flat and the gods always controlled the skies.

In a cultural setting such as this, the brain's reward system becomes, in a sense, disconnected from its purpose. Throughout evolution, the ways in which our DNA has mutated and our brain has expanded have all been part of the same process: all these mechanisms simply try to overcome the obstacles in their path. Life fundamentally tries to align itself with reality, genetically and biologically, instinctively and intellectually. As children, the way we try to align ourselves with reality is by seeking approval from parents, teachers and various cultural influences. The older and the more aware we become, the more capable our brain becomes at independently recognizing patterns. A duality arises. We possess the intelligence to grasp the consequences of our actions and of our inaction. Yet our Pavlovian reward-seeking urges pull us in other directions, such as living up to the expectations of society and family. We feel fragile and dependent on the judgment of others because our reward system values their approval more than logical deduction. We feel little satisfaction or even discouragement when acting upon our own independent rational judgment.

This confusing duality is a natural consequence of a society wherein we never really grow up. We seek the approval of our guardians when we are young. And we continue to seek approval of whichever forces take over as we grow older. We become eternal validation-seekers. Neurons cluster together to create hierarchies that end up determining the things we value most. In recent years, neuroscientists are even beginning to come up with mathematical formulas that describe the exact way in which these hierarchies are formed and how they process information. Different clusters of neurons talk to each other in a beautifully organized fashion to, among other things, figure out whether or not the reward system should be activated. A process that largely depends on our conditioning and differs for each person.

Learning what someone's reward system is primarily drawn to, often makes their behavior surprisingly easy to map and understand. We can much better comprehend the cold-heartedness of a career-fixated individual if success or social validation is what he or she craves more than anything. Or the sacrifice of someone who spends all resources to help siblings or parents if family is the core drive. The blindness of a person who primarily chases romantic adventures or the carelessness of a hedonistic thrill-seeker. We often create many additional rationales around our actions to obscure our fundamental motivation. The collection of these rationalizations is what constitutes our identity. Throughout our lives we may encounter milestones where our core value changes as a result of a paradigm shift or an identity crisis. Analyzing one's own actions over the years through deep reflection or the practice of writing down an overview of one's key choices in life can easily reveal what this core value is. This can be an experience that is both enlightening and sobering as it makes us see that our choices are rarely informed by the rationalizations we afterwards come up with, they are mostly the result of a childish attachment that lurks in our subconscious. And the more self-aware we become, the more we feel a dissatisfaction with our pursuit of hollow goals.

But this is not a deterministic trap that we cannot escape from. We live in a probabilistic universe where nothing is set in stone. Rather than vaguely philosophize about the nature of free will, we can deduce that the feedback loop of consciousness most definitely plays an active role in processing information and making decisions. It has a say in what our most deeply rooted core motivations are. Concepts and ideas only have power over us when we emotionally invest and hold on to them. This brings up the question: in light of all this knowledge, how do we correct our course? How do we truly find meaning in our lives and experience the kind of fulfilment that most of us seem to only catch glimpses of from time to time? It turns out that science has more answers in these regards than is commonly assumed.

It's widely understood that logic is our most powerful ally in understanding and approaching reality. More than a cold and blunt instrument for calculation, it is the closest thing to a force that holds our universe together. Our advances in physics continue to reveal a mathematical framework underpinning anything and everything in our reality. Without these consistent patterns, nothing would exist. Without its exquisite dance of aeons of genetic iterations, we would not be able to think or feel. We often see logic as the opposite of emotion, but instead it is the engine of our emotions and it provides reliable answers when we are frustrated or confused. Logic is what creates rhythm or structure, it is fundamental in the melody of music and the colors and symmetry of flowers. It creates biological machinery so intricate and rich that they become self-aware, capable of love and selflessness and able to observe the majestic logical patterns that created them. We can trace our origins and the molecules in our body back to the stars in which they were created and see that we are all connected. Over billions of years, these molecules configured themselves into complex units that we call human beings. These units are like cells in the body of humanity, wired to evolve and move it forward. This is why we have a deep desire to find meaning, to find an existential equilibrium: evolution has fundamentally programmed us so that we want our beliefs to align with reality. Logic is, in a sense, the prime directive of our consciousness. We must value it as such if we want to break free from the clutches of hollow reward mechanisms.

Evolution has put the feedback loop of experience in control of our brain. We make the calls. And while we intuitively navigate reality with the compass of our reward system, we can change how this system operates. This is what happens in paradigm shifts or identity crises. In religious transformations or in the minds of many first-time parents. The reward system shifts its dominant focus. It's easy to think in absurd stereotypes when we imagine a person primarily driven by logic. (visuals show robots, Spock) But for human beings, it would only be illogical to suppress emotions or disregard human needs. Instead, what is logical for humans is to act in ways that are most efficient for the benefit of ourselves and of humanity. Part of the reason why meditation and mindfulness practices have scientifically measureable health and psychological benefits is precisely because they somewhat disconnect us from attachments that constantly take up mental energy and generate dissonance. They also shift the brain's activity from its Default Mode Network to the Task-Positive Network, allowing us to more easily be selfless, clear-headed and focused. The simple act of intently putting focus on our breathing throughout the day is enough to make this happen. It creates an awareness that is often described as 'being in the present' or being in a state of flow, wherein rather than identifying with our thoughts, we become an observer of them and are much more inclined to follow reason over impulse. We become more capable of adjusting our beliefs and making conscious choices that rewire our reward system.

We can observe clear improvements in how, over the centuries, common subconscious core values have shifted away from things like superstition. And we can also debate that not everything has improved. We once valued selflessness and contribution far more than our own identities.

Perhaps at some point in our future, our cultures will find common ground in simply valuing logic. As a society, we're currently still far too obsessed with our own little preferences and differences to make such a drastic leap. But as individuals, we're fortunate to live in a time where have the freedom to reject shallow ideals if we so choose. For those who want to override decades of confusing conditioning and become consistently mindful and present, committing to logic as a core value is a powerful way to achieve just that.

A first step towards this would be to ensure one has a genuine appreciation for logic, something that much of the audience watching this video may already have. It can be profoundly inspiring to learn about how logic underpins everything in the vast and intricate complexity of our universe and it can also be empowering to realize, as you learn, that even when we don't know them, the logical answers to our questions exist. It also helps to be aware that science and logic are not about certainties but about how we can find out what is most likely. Our universe is a probabilistic phenomenon. Even a hypothetically perfect simulation could not predict with complete certainty how events would unfold. There is a profound sense of acceptance in acknowledging that nothing is ever truly certain, but with our ability to reason, we can come up with solid approximations of what the best course of action is at each point in our lives. This first step can be achieved simply by reflection or learning about logic and science from books and documentaries or even rewatching this video.

Step 2 is to identify your current core value. Find what emotionally drives you. In this step, you pinpoint what it is that throughout your life your reward system has turned into its primary focus. It can simply be comfort, success or social validation for example.

Making the conscious leap to adopt logic as core value is step 3. This resolution is not about just implementing new habits but rather about fundamentally committing to doing the right thing at any time, depending on your knowledge and the logical connections you make. And since logical reasoning is fundamentally wired into the human brain, this is not a commitment to a belief or a concept but rather to allow yourself to trust that you will do what is logically right.

Finding the courage and truly making this click can be a euphoric or liberating experience. There is a wealth of knowledge and insight available online on how this can be achieved for those who find it difficult. Although this difficulty is often an illusion that simply takes some bravery to overcome.

What has been observed thus far among people who go through this transformation is that those who ultimately make this leap with the intention of elevating their experience will eventually lose this newfound awareness and struggle with their commitment to it. This is not due to a lack of discipline, but rather due to a fundamental misunderstanding regarding consciousness that we are deeply conditioned with. It is a fallacy that most of us never verbalize or are even aware of and that sits at the heart of our misconceptions regarding our experience.

You believe there is a 'you' inside the brain. Even as you watch this video, you've most likely concluded at least subconsciously that there is still a 'you' in the ever-changing feedback loop of consciousness. That while we are an unfathomably complex and rich phenomenon of continuous information processing and near infinite iteration and transmutation, that somehow at every instant and in every loop, a defining part of us survives. We believe this even though most cells in our body die and are replaced over and over, the electrons that buzz through our neurons to generate our ongoing experience do not exist in any solid or intuitive sense of the word and scientists find no trace of a self inside our brain. Each second, the music, the consciousness that emerges from the grey matter mechanisms behind our eyes is different, sometimes unrecognizable so, from what it was a second before. The truth is that every moment we are a new entity that existed only for that one single moment and will never manifest itself again. No experience can truly be replicated, no identity can ever reflect an ever-changing synergy and there is no self or I that can persist in the endless stream of experience. Not even for an instant.

The only place where there resides some notion of the imagined self, is in the proteins that were synthesized to store a memory of a moment that once occurred. As if the feedback loop of consciousness at that moment wrote in the machinery of our neurons "I was here", so that the next iteration, the next loop that a new experience emerges from, might learn from it. But from fixating on faulty concepts of what we are, on stories of a phantom that we define as the self, we learn nothing of value. It is fascinating that sometimes science and ancient esoteric wisdoms seem to meet. The idea that there is no actual self is not a new one. But it is one that is logical and has gained more scientific support than other schools of thought. Life and death are concepts that do not seem to apply in the ways we think they do. Beyond outdated philosophical or religious notions, we have no reasons at all to believe the human organism is inhabited by a spirit, but rather by a near-infinity of consciousnesses over time.

And each manifestation of what we are is much more than a mere expression of our brain's neural activity. It is a culmination of all the interaction that led to its emergence. Consciousness does not emerge from the brain like a genie from a bottle. In fact, without any influence from society, in cases where children grow up in isolation, not raised by humans but among animals, the brain does not adapt to the use of language in its early phases and becomes forever incapable of speaking or even conceptually thinking in the ways we constantly do. So much of what we tend to label as intrinsic personality can not even exist on a basic level without sufficient interaction. Consciousness emerges from the vast interplay of stardust becoming aware, aeons of genetic mutation, thousands of generations laying the groundwork of language and culture necessary to form complex thoughts and finally, our current society's conditioning, education, social influences and parental guidance. All elements combine to generate electrochemical fireworks inside our neurons to eventually create these instances of experience. All of it is interconnected.

There are no limits or borders in what is a part of our existence. Nothing is external. Even from a basic neurological perspective, everything takes place within our consciousness. It comes as no surprise then that the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying programming that our brain is capable of running is fundamentally selfless. In the grande interplay of all things, it becomes clearest of all that our experience is a tool. The more we dismantle the hologram of our imaginary self, the more easily we accept our evolutionary drive to care for others and the more capable we are of understanding the sinister foundation of our individualist conditioning. Our history is full of examples where the mainstream narratives successfully hypnotize us into complacency and inaction as they attempt to blind or distract us from the damage we are doing. Some of the most iconic examples that come to mind, the holocaust and slavery, took place within the past few generations.

But our inner selfish monster that we create as a coping mechanism for our fears and uncertainties does not reflect what we really are. Even though its influence runs deep, since we begin the process of identifying and labeling ourselves very early on in life. As children, we don't know any better and we often end up blaming ourselves for things that were either beyond our control or actions that we did not yet know the consequences of. We gradually and subconsciously create flawed beliefs that inhibit us. But beneath all of this remains what analytical psychology calls the inner child. This is why many forms of therapy and meditation focus on seeing our thoughts and emotions, even our mind, as separate from us. These practices have been well documented to have profound effects on us. The more mindful we are, the more easily we see our own values and beliefs as an observer, which allows us to change the ones that hold us back.

But we are continuously flooded by subtle and less subtle indicators that signal our subconsciousness and strengthen our belief that experience is what matters most. We celebrate kindness and generosity strictly within specific cultural confines, where the narrative is usually as follows: human beings might be inherently selfish, but since doing good feels good, we're not so bad after all. Simply hearing or saying this can summon positive emotions. In fact, it's not uncommon to see this message applied in charity campaigns or for example during Christmas. It's been repeated to us in literal as well as subliminal ways to the point that it became an omnipresent and oddly comforting belief that unfortunately has gaping inconsistencies and horrific implications. It's an unspoken slogan of the individualist ideology that programs obedient consumers to only care when they stand to benefit themselves.

It is perhaps the worst form of indoctrination when society makes us believe that the reason we should primarily pursue selfish interests is because we are not really capable of anything else. As we grow up, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because by valuing experience above all, we legitimately turn into a population of selfish drones. And in the finest tradition of cultural obedience, many of us then defend ourselves when we hear of claims of selfless acts. These things do not really exist, many of us say. Ignoring even the most obvious and common scenarios of parents who truly care for their children and gladly diminish the quality of their own experience for them.

This is where we awkwardly catch glimpses of the uneasy and unspoken agreement that binds us. We know that our ideology is a facade. A collection of excuses that we let ourselves and each other get away with. The 1% may benefit the most, but the greatest conspiracy of modern civilization does not come from the top. It is a collaboration that we all subconsciously agreed to and are sometimes uncomfortably aware of.

In this ecosystem, the rare exceptions of those who at some point truly value something more than experience easily end up conflicted. For a while, they may feel driven to fight for a cause or sacrifice their luxuries for a noble objective. But as soon as they somewhat ponder their actions within a greater context, the compass of their experience (or intuition) fails to come up with convincing answers as to whether they are truly doing what is right, making their endeavor unsustainable.

We fall back on excuses that are so commonly accepted, we almost fully believe we should indeed trust and value our experience above all else, and this makes us deeply vulnerable to all kinds of manipulation. Governments and corporations can dictate our behavior even without advanced strategies or conspiracies. Politicians can scare us with insultingly inaccurate claims and we will happily consume poisonous substances if presented along with imagery of laughter and joy. Our indoctrination has made us pampered and passive.

With this broken compass, we find ourselves somewhat puzzled when we reflect upon historical horrors like the holocaust: why did so few of the guards who witnessed the atrocities of concentration camps do something? How come they blindly obeyed their orders and murdered millions, either by pulling the trigger or simply assisting, making them guilty of the atrocities that were committed.

Indoctrination can make us ignorant and the sleep of reason can produce monsters. But we are not children any more. As adults, we are perfectly aware, sometimes painfully so, that actions have consequences. Therefore, when we consider an individual who willingly keeps someone in a dungeon to die of starvation, we universally consider it wrong or evil. But when we become aware of the death and suffering that's been locked away in our own dungeon of ignorance, we ourselves become evil if we do not take action. In a world with a continuous stream of tragic events that we can easily influence, wherein we no longer need to risk our lives in order to make a difference, our inaction kills on a daily basis while we mentally recite to ourselves the mantras we've been taught: "There's not much we can do. We are not responsible. They are far away. Perhaps they deserved it." For all our progress, we sound a lot like horrific echoes of the past: "We didn't know. We were just following orders.".

Our culture has installed in our brains a colossal switchboard of excuses. And there are many options for every occasion. It begins when we, as children, begin to recognize the absurdity of many of the expectations placed upon us and innocently look for ways to dodge them. And it becomes less innocent as we become more aware later in life. Most of us grow older but don't grow up. Because it isn't in our society's best interest to truly guide us into maturity. There is no profit to be made from it.

So we band together in how we excuse our behavior and silently agree to conceal each other's hypocrisy. Confrontations that do take place are met with empty defenses: "What about you? What about the government? I have to think about my future. This offends me. This is my belief. This is my opinion." But whether arguing against global warming or vaccinations, for socialism or capitalism, for social justice or against political correctness, our opinions and beliefs never dictate reality. Our identities and our rhetoric are meaningless compared to the consequences of our inaction. And our innocent strategy of excuses that once allowed us to skip our homework is no longer innocent among adults who are confronted with reality. That mechanism has run its course. The only teacher who now has authority to assign our tasks and judge our excuses is our own inner voice of reason.

When we selflessly resolve to adopt logic as a core value, it sets us free from our fragile dependence of the judgment of others. Responsibility is simply a principle of acting in line with our ever-expanding knowledge and rationality. It does not depend on intersubjectivity. It is not dictated by our culture, our social circle or politicians. Nor is it dependent on our fabricated freedom of choice. And many of the most historical acts of bravery came from those who took a stand for what is right, even in the face of adversity and cultural disparity.

Such a profoundly selfless resolution can seem scary, as it threatens all the conditioned attachments that emerge in a culture where enjoyable feelings are considered the ultimate goal. But it leads to far more fulfilment than chasing our positive emotions like a carrot on a stick, as our ideology demands. In cases of drug addiction, usually only those who feel they have little else to live for become dependent on addictive substances. We've been led to believe the lie that the meaning of life is in chasing the carrot of good emotions. But even with only our intuition, we feel that this endless chase doesn't make much sense. The pay-off is never great enough. And those who choose to believe in a more selfless and logical objective ironically tend to experience much more fulfilment in their lives. It's a principle that has inspired ancient spiritual concepts such as karma or heaven and hell: those who care most about their own indulgences end up haunted or tormented by their own self-interest.

But in modern cognitive psychology, it is not just an esoteric idea. There is a huge range of academic research and literature on the subject, usually described in terms of the scarcity mindset and its opposite, the abundance mindset. The brain operates in a mode of scarcity when we feel that there are things we lack. This is perhaps one of our brain's most ancient survival mechanisms and it's been well established that, while this can sharpen our focus, it also tends to take up enormous amounts of what is called 'mental bandwidth'. It hijacks our brain. It literally makes us less intelligent, more self-centered and even drops our IQ. And every day, we are exposed to a near infinite array of societal impulses that are designed to lock us into this mental state. From a very young age onwards, we are deeply programmed with a set of requirements that must be fulfilled in order for us to experience abundance. Requirements that are often so elusive, that we become mostly entrapped in the scarcity mindset. But as soon as we see through this, which can be achieved in many ways, we are able to distinguish truth from indoctrination, to dispel our confusion and dissolve our apathy. This presents us with a choice on how we lead our lives.

If we make life about ourselves, we choose to see everything through a lens of what we can take rather than give back, an illusory lens of scarcity. We choose not to see the abundance that is everywhere and our selfishness then sustains itself by selectively finding support in the injustice around us. If this is our choice, then our core value remains selfish and every motive behind every one of our actions ends up being about our selves. But we intuitively sense that we're not doing what is right and feel unworthy of being truly loved. And we either attempt to make peace with this or we succumb to insecurity and prefer to obfuscate this truth.

But if love is defined as unconditional giving then love is all around us. It is in the structures left behind by our ancestors and the heritage of our grandparents. It is in the care our parents have given us and the cells that make up who we are. It is in the social structures and the safety net that is forged into laws to protect us. It's in the sun that shines and the infinite beauty that includes us. If we choose to be what we are and see our life for what it truly is, then we realize it is about much more than just us. It's about caring and doing what is right. It's about giving back and using our understanding to combat ignorance. It is about trusting in our ability to do so, trusting in our true selves. And letting ourselves be guided by our intuition, which knows right from wrong. No matter what challenges we face, when our heart guides us with reason on its side, our imagined problems fade away. Behind everything there is a logical reason that we can find when we choose to follow curiosity rather than fear. We don't have to feel regret or guilt when we know our intentions are pure and we did the best we could at the time with the knowledge we had. But it begins with a choice. A choice between pretense or honesty. Between apathy or caring. Between fabricated scarcity or the abundance of reality. A choice between making life about ourselves or seeing that it is not about you. A choice that is yours to make.

The world can seem like a cold and dark place when this knowledge leads us to recognize the selfish motives behind people's actions and how they cause idealistic movements to scatter and fall apart. But with these insights, those who choose to not make life about themselves can seek out and trust each other.
This documentary illustrates how everyone has this choice. But it will require a global movement where those who truly care take action, organize and unite to bring about real change.








◆ プロフィールは下記のHPに記載しています。
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ブログ①: 聞かせてよ、英語のお話・わらべ歌
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