The human automaton
Analogies and differences
The advances of human technology of the last century allow us to compare the functioning of the most advanced human made computer systems with that of humans themselves, assessing their similarities and differences. However, we must keep in mind that, while specialized technicians know in every detail the ways of operation of the most complex technological artifacts, many aspects of human functioning remain obscure, and therefore some analogies are based on unproven hypotheses. First of all, the human body is born and grows according to a process that is completely different from that used to produce technological devices, the components of which are separately made and then assembled. As for the process of birth and growth of the organism, humans do not differ from other animals, while the human learning process is generally much longer and more complex than that of animals, although it varies from culture to culture. Computer systems too are programmed, usually in a relatively short time, and some programs are finalized so that the system acquires over time various information that is then processed independently by the system itself, influencing its functioning.
The ways of acquisition and processing of information and programs by humans are certainly more complex and require long times. As for the functioning of the organism, most of the programs are supplied with the system and are activated automatically. The simplest of these programs of physiological functioning were already operating in the components of primitive cells, and over time these simple programs have given rise to increasingly complex programs. A similar process has occurred, in a very short time (a few decades), in the evolution of computer programs which, starting from initial sub-routines that performed relatively simple operations, led to the subsequent elaboration of the current programming languages (programs of programs) that allow us to enjoy complex virtual realities.
The transmission of programs, which in the computers of some years ago was done through a physical medium (floppy disk or cd), is currently performed via the phone network or radio waves in the case of wireless connections. The system of acquisition and elaboration of programs, in the case of humans, consists of the brain and the nervous system as a whole. Although the human brain does not function as one of our computers, there are some similarities: most of the operating programs are acquired through imitation or conditioning, mainly employing repetitive mechanisms of actions or concatenations of ideas and thoughts. Even in the case of humans, programs are spread within a brain network, and the more they are shared, the more they spread. The variables that come into play are represented by the power of persuasion or coercion associated with a program and who transmits it, and the proximity of the group of influence that already shares the program. Obviously, the substantial difference between a human and a computerized automaton consists in the fact that the human is endowed with autonomous consciousness, intelligence and will, while the computer can only do what it was programmed for, generally under the control of one or more humans.
The functioning of the human automaton
If it is true that currently a computer has neither consciousness nor self-awareness, it cannot be excluded that in the future someone will be able to endow it with such faculties. In fact we humans have dealt for some time with the issue of the origin of our consciousness, but we have not been able to solve it (in this regard, see the pages of the site dedicated to consciousness). We know that being conscious depends on the correct functioning of some areas of our brain, but we do not know how this occurs: if it is a question of circuits (neural networks), in the future circuits that transfer consciousness into a robot could also be realized. Intelligence – a faculty of autonomous processing of information and data that makes us creative – is already present to a certain extent also in computers, if it is true that we refer to it as AI (Artificial Intelligence). Therefore, if a human has the founded and reasonable impression of being something more than an automaton realized by human intelligence, the suspicion remains – after all – that he/she too is a kind of automaton with superior resources, but without the ability to understand where these resources come from.
Moreover, only a minimal percentage of humans can deal with the problem of the causes which determine their own way of functioning: most work, in all respects, as real automata, and often they also feel satisfied and gratified by how they work. The more our societies – made up of several millions of people – are complex and ramified, the more the lives of individual humans become irrelevant and interchangeable, subject as they are to the group's conditioning and programs that hinder the research and liberation paths of the conscious Ego. The functioning of the human automaton is set on a low level of consciousness, sufficient to detect a rather limited range of psychic tunings that involve the Ego through simple and primitive emotional dynamics, based essentially on the fear of pain and suffering and on the desire of pleasure and happiness, even if ephemeral. Only with the advancing of old age, and the approaching of death, the conscious Ego begins to ask itself some questions about the meaning of this kind of life, but for many individuals even this does not happen: the mental patterns determined by social programs have the upper hand, and to them the Ego clings, having no more sufficient energy to react. Thus scrapped, the human automaton ends up in some cemetery.
In cases of this kind, which concern billions of human beings, the destiny of the conscious Ego and the (scarce) resources it possesses are not sufficient even to enable it to glimpse a path of liberation. However, even in these conditions, in the course of life the conscious Ego will have experienced – even if passively – joys and sorrows, feelings, thoughts, worries, and every other state of mind in which it will have been involved by psychic tunings. What is the destiny of all these consciously experienced mental states – most of which leave no trace even in the memory of the subject concerned – we do not know, and everyone is free to imagine in this regard what they prefer: it may be that everything is recorded and stored in a kind of cosmic memory. And also as regards the possible survival of the conscious Ego to the dissolution of the body and its brain, and the (yet possible) subsequent experiences which it will then face, everything should occur within a transcendent system, managed by entities endowed with higher knowledge and powers than humans. This is the mental scheme adopted by many religions and their followers: the right human functioning – in terms of behavior, and also of feeling, in accordance with the directives of a project determined by superior and transcendent authorities – would then be rewarded by those same authorities, once the test of human life is over.
On the other hand, science, concentrating its attention and its investigative activities – almost exclusively – on the brain functioning, merely certifies the role of automaton of the human being, who operates, feels and behaves in a certain way because his/her brain, reacting to certain environmental conditions, makes him work in that particular way. The only factors that are taken into account are brains and environmental conditions, while the conscious Ego is relegated to the role of simple (and impotent) epiphenomenon of brain activity. It is evident, however, that brains do not all work the same way, especially in terms of intelligence, will, quality of consciousness, processing capacity and creativity, and – by its own way of functioning – the brain could also have the requirements of a tuner instrument, as well as a processor, likewise a computer that, in addition to running the programs it is equipped with, can also tune in to the Internet with a Wi-Fi connection.
Brains and cultures
When we talk about human beings, we refer to those around seven and a half billion people who currently populate our planet, and we take for granted that, except for certain pathologies or traumatic injuries, their brains function similarly. But it is enough to observe, even superficially, the substantial differences that we can find between one and the other culture, with regard to the social organization and the role of the individual in the same, as well as to the meaning and value of human life, with particular regard to inner life, to understand how this supposed standard model of cerebral (and mental) functioning lacks any reliability, unless we want to consider the brain as a tuning tool, able to receive and record indifferently the most diverse psychic tunings. This identification of humans with an alleged standard model (which is often referred to, politically and ideally, through the improper use of the term equality) is one of the myths of our age, and in particular one of the goals of our culture, continually opposed by facts. Even within a culture, there are substantial differences in the functioning of some individuals with respect to programmatic standards, not necessarily due to particular environmental conditions or the use of narcotics.
But where do cultures come from? From particular psychic tunings, initially recorded by a single brain, which then spread, more or less rapidly, within a human group, ending up prevailing as psychic truths. Since history shows and teaches us how these psychic truths lose much of their power over time, to be replaced by other truths of the same nature, we can understand their relative and more or less ephemeral character. However all of us, more or less, are attracted by one or the other of these relative truths – which, precisely for this reason, are not true – because they offer our Ego a sense of security and belonging to a group. It is then enough to consider how, within a culture, we can look with suspicion and mistrust – but in some cases also with interest – at the dominant psychic truths in another culture, to understand how at the origin of this illusory mirror game there are different aspects of the human psyche that, received by the brain and transferred within the sphere of consciousness, involve, enchant and ensnare the Ego, making the complex system of human automata function, in one way or another.
The functioning of the brain big cloud – as I have defined the system of interactions between human brains – can offer nothing but this: life, in a pure state, dynamic and partly chaotic, only a little more evolved than the state of nature from which it originated. The turnover of generations, guaranteed by a birth rate the more exuberant the more the cultural system is close to nature and its instincts, ensures the renewal of the brain park and their involvement in the process, while – from the point of view of individual consciousness – the experience gained by living fades over time, because of the deterioration of memory and other mental faculties due to brain aging. In the end there are only centenarian bodies, neither alive nor dead, often in a state of senile dementia, whose management has a social cost that cannot be avoided, so that the myth of life can be safeguarded. Under these conditions, what perspectives remain to the conscious Ego once we arrive, say, on the threshold of ninety years? (If he/she died before, the worry has evidently already gone away).
For some people, the feeling of having fulfilled their duty (that is, the task for which they had been programmed) during their lifetime prevails, and therefore they may believe that in the afterlife they will receive a reward for their commitment by those I have defined as superior authorities. For the same reasons, someone else may fear being rejected and punished, or at least having to repeat the test. It must be said, however, that these feelings were much more widespread in the past than they are today, at least in our culture. Others yet await the end of life with a more or less serene resignation, continuing to carry out their activities at their best, convinced as they are that with the dissolution of their brain all sorts of individual consciousness, and therefore of personal existence, will be over. But a minority feels the need to challenge the solidity of the cultural framework that nurtures the psychic tunings on which our vision of the life and functioning of the human automaton is based, to search for an escape from this intricate labyrinth: this adventure is referred to as the liberation of the conscious Ego.
The Ego's liberation and death
We have always pointed out, in the pages of this site, how the conscious Ego freed from the domain of the psychic dynamics that usually control it, is something completely different from the Ego subjected to the psyche that characterizes the human automaton. However, to live human life, it is still necessary to deal with the psychic dynamics tuned by the brain – also as a reaction to the stimuli coming from the environment in which we live – unless one wants to withdraw prematurely from the world – as do, in some cultures, the ascetics who isolate themselves in some hermitage – to devote himself exclusively to the contemplation of his own mental state. But as long as we live in this world, and specially in a society like ours, it is necessary to act to some extent – if only to keep the body alive and to fulfill our social obligations – and therefore the Ego must take decisions, on the basis of more or less intelligent assessments, about what is offered to it by the psyche. This inevitable form of involvement may result in a partial loss of the autonomy won by the Ego, which must be maintained and defended by constant vigilance and reflective meditation exercises.
In these conditions, the Ego can rely on an evolution of the psychic dynamics that, instead of involving and dragging it between desires, coercions and conflicts, will present elements of judgment, forms of behavior and feelings more suited to the solution of the problems that must be faced. At the same time, the Ego's blind attachment, so to speak, to life fades. Human life continues to be lived with interest and – within certain limits – with passionate dedication, but the Ego begins to feel indifference to death, which is indeed perceived as the determining element of its own final liberation. This preparatory route, diligently followed, is able to ensure a person good physical and mental health even in old age. In fact, one cannot accept as inevitable the physical and above all mental deterioration that often precedes death at an age that – with the current progress of medicine – can reach and exceed the century. It is better that death occurs, possibly quickly, when the mind is still able to function in a sufficient reliable way: the exit from life is an important event. Therefore the Ego should also be able to decide when the time has come to leave this life, or at least to rely on its spirit, asking it to ensure that the separation may occur at the right time and in the right way.
In this respect, the liberation of the Ego must be considered not so much as the exit from a prison in which the Ego itself had been previously imprisoned, but rather as the breaking of the shell of the egg by the chick that is being born. The conscious Ego, in fact, formed and developed within that egg constituted by the individual psychophysical system, and was, so to speak, incubated by the events of life in a more or less effective way. But the moment comes when the egg must be broken, so that the newborn birdie can continue to live independently, coming into direct contact with the various aspects of a world completely different from what was perceived inside the shell. I am well aware that my view of the life is substantially different from that defended and propagated by our socio-cultural system, according to which human life should be prolonged as much as possible, but the question is whether all the eggs have been fertilized, so that a chick can be born, or if most of them are destined, simply, to make the omelette.
Human life as a condition of ignorance
Everyone lives as he/she can and as best he/she can, considering the environmental conditions, the psychophysical resources and the other variables that determine her/his destiny. Not a few will think that what has been written in the pages of this site is a useless and sometimes boring mental elaboration, of a personal and subjective nature, on topics for which there is no answer: this is, precisely, the condition of the human egg, inside which one cannot know the reality that is out there. Given this state of ignorance, everyone will react in some way, by adhering to one or the other of the hypotheses or theories developed by the human psyche, depending on the way they feel the effect exercised by the psyche on the conscious Ego. There are those who adhere to a religious faith, or to a hypothesis evaluated as scientifically proven, those who simply avoid the problem by thinking it is useless to confront it, and those who try to evaluate all the psychic elements and the facts on which a research could be set. The enigma of the destiny of the conscious Ego, however, does not only concern a possible afterlife, but its very existence in this human life.
In fact, nothing is given to us to know about our future, about the future of humanity, about why we are aware of the experience of living in this world as individual entities. All we are given to know is the past, and it is a partial knowledge, which shows many shadows. Even the knowledge of our personal past is entrusted to a memory on which we can rely only to a certain extent: many things are forgotten, others reworked, others still seem to have been lived by someone very different from what we feel to be now. Under these conditions, it is clear that the engine that drives us to go on living, to consciously experience the psyche, to work, to engage in activities, to try to be happy and to endure suffering, is formed by those psychic dynamics that act on us from within, involving and conditioning the conscious Ego, without the latter having any knowledge about their origin. To remain indifferent and passive towards this condition of ignorance, to continue living without even realizing what the purpose of our life is, is to recognize and endorse our state of human automata.
Therefore, if it is true that the resources available to the Ego are initially limited, it is also true that they can be used and increased by exerting them. Like the embryo inside the egg, the conscious Ego develops slowly, as an autonomous entity. Even if, especially in the initial phases, the Ego does not find satisfactory answers to its questions, the fact of engaging in the search for such answers strengthens it, enhances it, stimulates it to grow. What used to be a passive tool in the hands of forces that dominated, controlled and subjected it, becomes an active, conscious entity, willing to collaborate with those forces but also to contrast them, and above all engaged in the search for the knowledge of the effects deriving from the use of the forces in the field. A condition that is practically the antipodes of that in which humans find themselves even today, especially in the social and political sphere, where everyone acts to passively support the psychic forces, in order to acquire their favors.
This state of ignorance is a further confirmation of the condition of automaton in which the majority of humans find themselves, despite the presence in each of us of a conscious Ego, which however is often not even able to recognize itself as such. The forces that – through the psyche and the brain – determine and direct both human behavior and the conscious perception of inner dynamics, have an enormous power over the Ego, which instinctively and without reflection adapts to what is imposed by the mental functioning, playing in this way its automaton role on the stage of the world. When one looks at the elements at stake from the standpoint of the human automaton, it is evident that the Ego cannot be considered but as a secondary effect, an epiphenomenon, of the psychophysical system that constitutes the automaton, as long as the latter is alive and properly working. In fact, the brain creates a psychic reality that involves and convinces the Ego, with a power that is stronger the more it is shared by a large number of humans: in this sense, objective reality is nothing but a consensus reality, a sort of mass spell to which large groups of humans are subjected. And where to look for the enchanter magician, if not in the psyche itself?
The search for our own truth
But if, by chance, the Ego is awakened from the spell, it realizes that it has the power to modify the functioning of that same organ, the brain, which before automatically tuned the psychic dynamics by which it was conditioned and dominated. At the beginning it is a matter of small changes, which however with time, and the refinement of the technique through exercise, become more and more substantial, up to overturn the condition of the Ego, which from a passive subject becomes active, able to exercise an effective control over its mental faculties and the psychic tunings deriving from them. Once embarked on this journey, the Ego begins to examine all the psychic instances registered by its consciousness, comparing them with what is initially sensed, and then perceived and felt with increasing clarity, as its own inner reality. It is a process that lasts a long time, through which the Ego discovers itself and knows better and better its essence, creating, so to speak, its own subjective reality. Analytically confronting itself with the dynamics of the psyche, the Ego first distinguishes what is congenial to it, by which it feels attracted, from what it feels as alien, dissonant with respect to its authentic essence.
It should be noted that this path can only be successfully undertaken once the Ego has freed itself from the domain of the psyche: otherwise the Ego can feel – for example – how satisfying is the fulfilling of a desire that involves it intensely, without this desire being in harmony with its authentic nature. And in fact, once the desire is fulfilled, the Ego will be tormented by a new analogous desire. Instead, as the Ego deepens this process of self-knowledge, it realizes that its deepest inner core is already complete and in harmony with itself, and therefore the only substantial work of life consists in transforming a potential state, largely unconscious, into a conscious active manifestation. Examining, through a technique of reflective meditation, every single psychic experience tuned by the brain, the Ego compares the progressive discovery of its own being with the illusory reality of this human life, and can eliminate, or transform into its own entity – through a process analogous to the nutrition of the body – those foreign elements that, like slag, prevented it from recognizing itself in its own adamantine purity. It is therefore a true process of spiritual evolution, by which the Ego frees itself from the gravitational attraction exerted by the body and its needs, to approach the spirit.
The same natural evolution of the psychophysical system in the course of human life should help this process: after the years of growth and learning, to which it also corresponds – usually – a complete immersion of the Ego in the experiences of life, however illusory they are, during the years of youth and the first phase of maturity, humans have the opportunity to translate their energies into action, gaining experience and, to some extent, power. But at some point, as time goes by, a phase of decline of the vital energies and of our capacity to act begins, at first slow and later more accentuated, which ends with death: although the body can be kept in good conditions of efficiency even in old age, at least the last part of life should be dedicated to the meditative elaboration of life experiences and to the progressive detachment of the conscious Ego from its involvement in the activities of the world, before the loss of mental and intellectual resources hinder the natural development of this process.
Currently, in our society, we live in a strange condition: on the one hand, social achievements – as long as they can be maintained – allow a person to retire when she/he still has to live a quarter or even a third of his/her life, on the other cultural conditionings tend to hinder the investment of this remaining time – anything but brief – in the search for one's own spiritual truth, favoring social activities that are often useless and out of season. It is certainly advisable to do physical activity to keep the body and mind in fitness, so as to burden as little as possible on the health system, but as for the rest it would certainly be more advantageous to dedicate oneself to the spirit. Everyone, however, remains free to decide about it as he/she likes, since fortunately no one is coercively obliged either in one sense or the other. But often, it becomes difficult to change certain ingrained habits.
In the search for its own inner truth, the conscious Ego follows a natural inclination which urges it, in a certain sense, to continue to exist. It is a call that may not even be perceived by many individuals, suffocated by the certainty that with the death of the brain all forms of consciousness and self-awareness fade away. Committing to continue to exist, or remain indifferent to the end of the Ego's existence, is a free personal choice and therefore intrinsically subjective. However it is difficult to maintain – by those who are convinced of the annihilation of the conscious Ego with death – that a certain form of individual existence is not present while we live, and it must always be remembered that the possible continuation of the existence of the conscious Ego after death refers to a different dimension than the physical one of this world. Therefore, it is more correct the position of those who say they do not know what will become of the conscious Ego after leaving this life.
Speaking of certainties, the so-called paranormal phenomena and those of mediumistic origin, to which ample space has been dedicated on this site, are there to witness the impossibility of reaching an absolute and objective certainty regarding their causes and the forces involved, while the same certainties offered by scientific knowledge are valid only in the context of objective physical phenomena, and show their limits when considering very small or very large dimensions. In engaging in the search for its own truth, the conscious Ego does not abandon itself to a sterile fantasy, but faces an enterprise which it feels it can not escape, driven by the knowledge and experience of its own existential condition, with which it must necessarily deal. The importance of the success or failure of this enterprise is relative, even if – obviously – it is legitimate to hope for success: by engaging in this research, the conscious Ego testifies its intention to continue to exist in the cosmic order.
The temporary, and therefore transitory, character of the existence of the body and the brain determines a progressive detachment of the Ego from these structures which have contributed to its formation and development: the definitive abandonment of its own psychophysical shell by the Ego – coinciding with death – therefore represents a fundamental event, which can be lived in full consciousness. The Ego progressively separates itself also from the psychic tunings in which it had been involved – and with which it did often identify – during human life. What it can carry along, at least for some time, is a heritage of memories and experiences related to its personal adventure. However the Ego feels, at least in some cases, that its objective is to explore new dimensions, to live new experiences: the search for one's own truth is also an acknowledgmentof the reality and value of the psychic experience.
In the course of human life the individual psychic reality is denied or hindered by an objective reality of a different nature, which forces the Ego to undertake some form of action in order to translate its psychic experience into reality. For example, if I wish to have the experience of being in a certain place in this world, I have to travel, that is, move my body to that place, leaving the place where I am now, and in any case I cannot stay at the same time in two or three places far from each other. The same experience of life in this world is subordinated to the actions necessary to provide us with food to survive. The effects of our actions are often conflicting, either because they generate conflicts within the psychic tunings that involve us, or because my actions cause negative psychic reactions in someone else (which can then result in actions against me) and vice versa. In this gym of life the disharmony of actions should turn into harmony, through appreciation and respect for others and mutual collaboration, but we get the impression that this process requires very long times, and in any case it does not have a progressive trend, being subject to ups and downs. Anyway, it is precisely thanks to this conflictual, problematic and sometimes painful experience, that the conscious Ego can discover and recognize its own authentic and autonomous essence.
Usually the Ego reflects itself, as in a mirror, in the psychic image that consciousness records: even better, it is rather a series of images that transform into one another, sometimes overlapping, without being able to stabilize in a single clear and well-outlined figure. Each of us can stand in front of a mirror and see the image of her/his body and face, or we can identify ourselves as a social person, interacting with other people and being recognized and identified by them through the body and behavior (the voice, the way of speaking, etc.). Although each of us may have no doubts about his/her existence as an Ego, trying to know the authentic essence of this Ego is like descending into the depths of a sea abyss. Initially, we can identify the Ego as the subject of an action (I go, I speak, I run...), as a conscious subject of a voluntary mental activity (I think, I remember, I study...), or as referent of a psychic experience (I feel, I am happy, I suffer, I love, I desire...). But in all these cases where the Ego is the subject of something that is expressed in a verbal form, if we eliminate the verb, what is that remains?
If we can focus our attention on the Ego by practicing reflective meditation, at first the brain will tune those psychic experiences and images that, once focused by consciousness, will try to offer the Ego a more or less convincing description of what it is. But precisely through this game of mirrors the Ego learns to know itself better, recognizing first of all what it is not. With exercise, the Ego can go deeper and deeper into the perception of its own essence, even if the call of life – with its needs, habits and the experiences that it can still offer – at some point push it back to the surface. At a certain level of depth, the Ego feels, in some way, that it can separate from the same consciousness, and that it is an entity that always existed. It is not appropriate, however, to speak of experiences so far from our normal existence in this life, except to highlight the differences that characterize our own self-perception when the journey of inner exploration of our own essence is undertaken.
However, we can affirm that, as we proceed along this path, our transformation takes place from human automata into authentic human beings, endowed with their own existence, a consciousness, and a will, not arbitrary and whimsical, but harmonized with the laws of the universe and with the search for a deeper knowledge of these laws and of the experiences resulting from them. The complexity of the use of our mind – both on the physical level, through the functioning of the brain, and on the level of the inner psychic experience, with all the enigmas that this entails – can be faced by the conscious Ego with a serene competence: instead of drifting, at the mercy of psychic storms, the ego can control sails and rudder of its mental vessel, skillfully orienting itself towards the final landing place, the port of death, where its journey into the sea of life will end and begin the exploration of an unknown territory.