The cloud of brains
Sometimes, when masses of hot and cold air meet, it is possible to observe the formation of imposing cumulonimbus which, starting from a relatively low altitude, rise up progressively higher until they reach the troposphere limit. In their dynamic development, continuous transformations can be observed, with some parts that progressively fade away and others that take shape in a relatively short time, while within them we can sense, and sometimes see, even violent energy processes that give rise to lightning storms and rainstorms.
Lo, humanity as a whole seems to me like a big cloud formed by billions of brains that interact dynamically: while some dissolve and disappear, others form and develop, in a changing and turbulent process that continually transforms the cloud, making it seem almost animated. Obviously this process did not come quickly out of nowhere, but represents the current stage of the natural evolution of this planet, which lasted over a billion years from the appearance of the first proto-organisms to complex unicellular life forms, and several hundred million years from the first multicellular colonies up to higher animals. In this context, the appearance of the cloud of human brains is a very recent fact, and its sudden imposing development is a phenomenon started just a moment ago.
This process (the big cloud) exists, is a reality in itself, or at least has a decidedly longer duration in time than that of every single brain that is part of it. Up to date its existence has been linked to our planet. In a more or less remote future it could also split and connect with other worlds, or vanish at all. Time is intrinsically connected with this universe: in any case, it is an inescapable and fundamental feature of our mental perception. While the past is determined once and for all, the future appears cryptic and open to different options, even if it is destined to turn into past. But, as we will see shortly, it is the very existence of the big cloud that shows surprising implications.
Inside the cloud the brains seem to be similar to each other, but they can interfere in very different ways, both as single and in groups, and we can see that each one has a certain effect on the others: they are tireless computers, which through their continuous activity modify the structure of the cloud, changing its colors and energy fields, making it possible to expand it and develop new potentialities, while entire areas are destroyed and millions of brains terminate their activity, while others, brand new, begin to work. Yes, but who, or what, is observing the big cloud?
The origin and the development of the conscious Ego
Each of the brains of the cloud, if it does not show remarkable anomalies, gives rise to a particular and surprising structure that over time organizes, strengthens and evolves itself around a perceptive, sensitive and operative core that can be defined with various terms: the one which I prefer is «conscious Ego». It is clear that in this case we are using a language, that is a system of representation, eleaboration and communication developed over time within vast areas of the brain cloud. Through language we invent an interpretative description of the conscious Ego, just as – again in terms of programs based on a language – the latter receives as heritage a representation of the world. In any case we start from the internal fact of being conscious and self-conscious, and we can also recognize that our individual consciousness and self-consciousness is determined by the activity of the brain, almost as if there were a self-representation of a part of the brain itself.
Every conscious Ego perceives, feels, remembers, thinks, desires, decides, dreams, fantasizes, exercises a certain control over the actions of the body: in a word, it lives. All these activities are not the result of the sudden creation of a functional system: just as the body grows and develops, the conscious Ego is also gradually formed and consolidated over time, following a path determined by the functioning of the brain and the environmental and cultural conditions that transmit the operational programs it should follow. All this determines, for each Ego, a personal history, that is, a destiny that unrolls over the course of life, and it is banal to underline how these destinies can be very different from one individual to another. Even if the existence of the conscious Ego were determined exclusively by the brain activity, all that we perceive, feel, interpret, know, all the questions we ask ourselves about the world and the meaning of our life, and the very sense of the mystery of which we are a part, all this is made possible by the existence of the conscious Ego, or rather, by the consciousness of the billions of Egos present in the cloud. The phenomenon of the existence of a universe, and of the evolution of life on this planet, self-represents through the evolution of a fragmented and manifold consciousness, generated by the phenomenon itself.
Consciousness and mind
So everything we perceive, know and intuit about the universe, the Earth, life and our very existence is made possible by the development of the conscious Ego. But could there be other forms of consciousness other than the human? At this point, it is appropriate to establish a distinction between consciousness, that is, the essential fact of being conscious of something, and the mental events that, in a given period of time, enter the beam of consciousness. It is a common habit to identify these events with consciousness itself, so we often speak of consciousness to point out what we are conscious of. However I prefer to consider consciousness as a function, associated with the Ego, which – in the form of self-awareness – gives the Ego a sense of identity and temporal existence. Everything that the Ego experiences through consciousness can be considered as the result of mental activity, even if it would be necessary to make some clarity in the terms we use: in what sense the mental activity can be something different from the brain activity? The term mind is normally used to indicate the complex of brain activities whose effects reach consciousness, and in particular those higher functions that can be, at least in part, controlled by the Ego (such as thought, for instance). We could therefore say that the mind is that part of the brain activity that is perceived by the conscious Ego: it is, ultimately, the inner conscious experience.
Is there any difference between the mind and the psyche? If we include in the mental activity all the experiences that involve the conscious Ego, that is thought (and in particular reasoning), creative intuition, intent, memory, imagination – functions considered superiors, some of them typically human – but also dreams, sensations, feelings, emotions (in the whole wide range that includes positive and negative ones, including those associated with physical pain) the psyche corresponds to the mind. Some believe instead that the term mind should be reserved for the higher functions, over which the conscious Ego exercises a certain degree of control, while the events – above all those of an emotional, affective and sentimental nature – which break into the consciousness, involving the Ego also well beyond its control skills, should be attributed to the psyche. We simply have to reach an agreement. I will use the terms mind and psyche as synonyms. The fact remains that the elaboration of each of the mental states that become conscious is determined by the activity of the brain, which in turn produces many effects that remain unconscious. This has led psychologists to refer to an unconscious psyche, attributing to the latter the ability to influence – while remaining hidden to consciousness – some psychic events involving the conscious Ego. I prefer to reserve the term psyche for the sole mental states that are – or have been – objects of conscious experience, while I attribute the ability to influence the psyche to some unconscious mental activities.
The enigma of the human psyche
When the conscious Ego exercises control over some higher mental functions – such as reasoning, creative intuition or manual and bodily activities aimed at achieving a certain goal – what happens in terms of brain activity? We are used to say: I think, I invent, I plan, I act, thus identifying the Ego with the totality of our psychophysical system. However the conscious Ego is something different because, at most, it can be considered as a function endowed with self-consciousness – generated by the activity of some brain areas – to which our sense of being is conferred. For anything else, the conscious Ego depends on the psychic events determined by the brain activity. The quantity, variety and complexity of these psychic events are surprising and bewildering (even this way of expressing myself corresponds to a psychic event), and we cannot, I do not say understand, but neither correctly frame the problem of the human psyche unless we proceed first to a change of perspective.
All that up to this point we have considered as intrinsically real – the world, our body, the brain, etc. – is such only because our mind, our psyche, represents it as such. This does not mean that there is nothing out there, but the direct essence of the structure of everything escapes us, because our mind can only perceive some aspects of the being and the becoming of reality. For example, we could describe the world as a huge amount of atoms in motion: this representation, substantially correct, would however only be an aspect of reality, which would not include all that living organisms can perceive and feel. The human psyche, in its entirety, is a phenomenon in continuous transformation that is elaborated and reworked over time inside the brain cloud, where each brain receives and retransmits fragments of psyche, interacting with others. So the psyche is not just something internal, determined by the functioning of the brain and by the effects that mental activity produces on the conscious Ego, but also an autonomous energy that shapes the brains and conditions their functioning, above all through power that groups of brains that share certain psychic tunings exercise on newly formed brains. With regard to this process the conscious Ego is, as a rule, completely defenseless: it does not even realize that it is only a pawn in a game of such dimensions.
It is enough to observe the most remarkable transformations of the psyche in the course of history, and the substantial differences between one culture and another – even in the same historical period – to understand how the psychic phenomenon has its own creative autonomy with respect to the physical world and the laws that rule it: it could even be reasonably argued that the human psyche transforms the physical world, and at the same time transforms itself. If all this is determined by the brain activity alone – albeit in the complex sphere of the big cloud – or also by something else, it deserves to be investigated. But for now let us limit ourselves to examining the effects that the psychic phenomenon produces on the conscious Ego.
The conscious Ego and the brain
Although the Ego, as a conscious subject, can be considered as something separate from the psychic events that anyhow involve it, it is not correct to refer to it as a standard model: the evolutionary path of the conscious Ego is very different from a person to the other, and the resources of which the Ego disposes, such as intelligence, volitional intent, and the very quality of conscience (about these topics you may see some of the pages of the section on human psyche) show remarkable differences not only among human beings, but also in the different phases of the life of a single individual. What we can affirm with sufficient certainty is that, although the conscious Ego can be considered as a product of brain activity (although in the future I intend to clarify this aspect better), at least in some human beings the Ego feels the need to deepen the knowledge of the functioning of the brain (and, consequently, of mental activities), also in order to exercise a more effective control over the psychic events that involve it.
The dynamics of human life, the functional capacities of a persons's brain and the interaction between the brains in the clous make so that the course of the life of each of us determines a personal history, a destiny, that is experienced by the conscious Ego – in its various temporal phases – not in a neutral and detached way (as long as the brain functions normally), but with a more or less intense emotional involvement characterized by positive or negative tones (a theme that has been dealt with in the page on the Ego and the psyche). We could wonder whether this particular sensitivity of the conscious Ego is an intrinsic quality – something which characterizes every Ego, differentiating it from others – or whether it too is determined by a series of psychic events. I am pro the latter hypothesis, given that the emotions and mood changes that involve (and sometimes overwhelm) the Ego are determined by the brain's functioning. However, at the same time I believe that it is an intrinsic quality of the conscious Ego – and therefore different from one Ego to another – the ability to deal with emotional psychic events and therefore, essentially, to acquire a certain degree of control over the brain's functioning.
The currently most shared theory regarding the formation of the brain structures whose activity determines our emotional states, up to the most extreme ones, refers to the natural evolution of organic life, in which each individual passes through some fundamental phases: birth, growth, autonomous feeding, reproduction and possible care of the offspring, and death. The intermediate phases between growth and death can be completely absent in the life of a large number of organisms, for which even the growth phase can have a very short duration. It is as if every organism received the commands that require it to adopt – in the various environmental circumstances in which it can find itself – behaviors suited to continue to function in the programmed way until its death. Despite this, inevitably, only a limited number of individuals can fulfill the complete program. While this process seems understandable to us, however bizarre, in terms of natural evolution (it seems bizarre to us because we know neither the aims of evolution nor the reasons why it should be carried out precisely in these terms), with the appearance of the conscious Ego – above all in its most evolved human form – things get complex, and not just a little!
There is not, I repeat, any standard model of the conscious Ego: in most people, even today, the conscious Ego completely identifies with the psychic events that involve it and with the programs and conditionings received from the social environment. But even at a not particularly evolved level, consciousness registers the psychic events of our personal history, to which the Ego reacts, experiencing their emotional tonality and asking itself questions to which it seeks to obtain answers: in short, we can say that the Ego presents itself as an entity (at least in part) autonomous with respect to the same process from which it appears to have originated. Not only does it ask questions, but through the higher functions of the mind it reflects, reasons, meditates, and can even make critical judgments. It is as if, through the Ego, the process sought to know and understand itself, or – and this could be more in tune with reality – through the Ego a certain dimension of reality attempted to establish a relationship with another dimension of the same reality. For these reasons, following and understanding the evolutionary path of the conscious Ego is particularly important.