Now that the site is complete, even in the English version, I start this blog to be able to digress more freely and in a simpler and more colloquial way on the various topics covered in the sections of the site, and also to update my considerations on the evolutionary path of the conscious Ego in the light of new acquired experience and knowledge.
The questions and the answers
The questions that the Ego asks, from a few thousand years ago to the present, are always the same. Why do I experience pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering? (perhaps this question is more about pain and suffering than pleasure or happiness). Why do good and evil exist? Why so much inequality in the personal destinies? What is the meaning of my temporal existence? What will happen to me once my body is dead? These are questions that, in one form or another, almost all human beings sooner or later ask themselves in the course of their lives. To these questions another could be added, which not so many ask: is it not strange that a product of brain activity, such as the conscious Ego is considered by our current culture, should ask questions like these? If these questions are present, there must be a reason. However, it is even more interesting to understand where the possible answers to these questions come from, answers that the Ego can accept in whole or in part, but also reject.
In general, the answers come from the outside, from the socio-cultural environment in which everyone lives, and are transmitted as information and programs that, evidently, are installed in the brain and can influence the mind. But even these programs have had an origin, and moreover in all ages, and especially in our days, many people rely on their mental activity to find some satisfactory answers to those questions. So, in the end, the answers are always determined by the human psyche and, if they are successful and spread widely, become psychic truths. The aleatory and temporary character of these truths is evident: they can be very different from one culture to another, and even within the same culture what was considered true yesterday will no longer be tomorrow. If the conscious Ego is endowed with a rather evolved intelligence, it will take note of the illusory and unsatisfactory character of psychic responses, and will try to receive answers from a different source. But before trying to identify this source, let us better see what the functioning of the mind originated from.
The mood of falling in love
I will limit myself to examining a particular case of mental functioning, that related to falling in love, because I think it is one of the most widespread and intense from an emotional point of view – especially in our culture – and therefore it is of particular interest. What we will be able to understand of falling in love, will also be useful to explain various other psychic events. First of all, we find that sexual activities related to partner search and mating are widespread in the animal world, in which reproduction is one of the cardinal events in the life of every organism that has reached maturity. Moreover, even if no animal can tell us in words, it is evident from the observation of the behaviors of many species that sexual activity involves a number of emotional experiences that occur in the nervous system of the related organism: it can reasonably be assumed that there is an individual entity, even if we do not know to what extent it is endowed with consciousness.
What is important to understand is that in the animal world whatever happens in the brain of an organism is determined by an external event: in some species the males compete with each other for the privilege of mating and reproducing, and the females seem to passively wait for the winner of the struggle; in other species, especially among birds, males exhibit elaborate courtship rituals that females can approve or reject. These dynamics, so varied and so complex, are the result of evolutionary processes for which an interpretation in an exclusively mechanistic key is completely inadequate: one could say that they reflect the fantasy of nature (even in the plant world). Anyway, the observation of nature leads us to conclude that the interaction between an individual organism and its environment (to which other organisms also belong) is ruled by laws that are reflected in the functioning of the brain of each organism. If there was something similar to an ego, even partially conscious, this ego could only passively submit to the rules imprinted in the brain.
In the case of human beings, the effects of falling in love are very complex, also due to the cultural implications (which vary from era to era and from one culture to another) but in any case there is a strong link between the emotional reactions determined by the brain activity and the behavior of an external object: the person one is in love with, that is, an individual with another brain who in turn reacts to our behavior and to our verbal and expressive communications (the latter can be included in the behavior). It usually happens, therefore, that each of the two involved conscious Egos experiences a wide range of intense emotions – which can go from ecstatic happiness to annoyance or despair – determined by the functioning of its own brain, in turn conditioned by the functioning of the other's brain. We know that love disappointments sometimes end in tragedy, given that destructive or self-destructive mechanisms can be triggered. It is evident that the conscious Ego is dominated by a process that takes place in its brain: if the brain of the loved or desired person responds positively, that is, if it corresponds to the feeling, everything seems to be going on well, even if the state of happiness can not last long because other more conflicting mental dynamics take over, or one of the two brains finds a connection to another brain that seems to him/her more advantageous.
The correspondence between the external event (in this case the behavior of the beoved object) and the psychic reactions activated by the functioning of the brain of the person in love, is a legacy of our animal origin, and in our current culture it is taken for granted that the psychic dynamics must necessarily work in these terms. However, unlike animals that do not seem able to escape nature's rules, the conscious Ego of some human beings, endowed with sufficient intelligence, has addressed the issue from a different point of view: though stimulated by external events, all psychic reactions, from the most sublime and pleasing to the most painful, are determined by the functioning of my brain, which could be controlled and mastered by the conscious Ego, if it could free itself from the state of passive subordination in which it finds itself. Is it possible to succeed in this enterprise? Is it possible for the conscious Ego to be able to control, at least to some extent, the psychic tunings produced by brain activity? We can state with certainty is that some people have succeeded in doing so – and also very well – since the dawn of the human adventure.
In the climbing technique known as free solo the climber performs an ascension, which often presents a high level of difficulty, with only his hands, climbing shoes on his feet, and a bag of magnesite to help fingers' grip: no nails, no safety, no rope, no climbing partner. With this technique Alex Honnold (born in Sacramento in 1985) climbed the wall known as El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park, overcoming a vertical drop of 900 meters in just under four hours (a good documentary was also made on his performance, Free Solo, released in 2018). The nature of the risk run by the climber is well understood. But also other extreme sports practitioners, like the tightrope walkers without safety or the BASE jumpers, consciously risk their lives relying on both physical and mental training. Hardly a normally programmed person will engage in such activities, precisely because normal mass conditioning requires the subordination of the conscious Ego to certain collective mental programs. Once again we find in some people the presence of something alien that exerts a call on the conscious Ego, pushing it to overcome the barriers imposed by the normal brain functioning.
The process of liberation of the Ego is aimed at ensuring that it can enjoy a state of happiness of spirit, harmony with the universe and lucid perceptive (and, I might add, also intuitive) sensitivity, determined by a power that is exerted on mental states, and therefore on the brain functioning. This is certainly something different from the practice of extreme sports, howevere even for this process constant training and practice are required, as well as the intervention of an external element (which we can very well call spirit) capable of supporting the Ego during the process, also through that constant call that induces the Ego to persevere, and the ability of the Ego to perform by itself the required exercises, just as it happens in free solo training. The Ego's purpose, in fact, becomes that of controlling the mind, that is, the brain activity, so as to be able to tune the psychic experiences most consistent with its own evolutionary process. To do this, it is necessary to be able to free the mind from most of the automatisms that bind our psychic reactions to external events: a task anything but simple, and that must be accomplished in solitude. Why should the Ego engage in this feat? For the same reason that a climber decides to engage in free solo: a need of the spirit, an irresistible inner call, an intense desire to experience something that goes beyond the normal demands of human activity.
But there is also another analogy between the training of mind control by the conscious Ego and the practice of extreme sports such as free solo: in both cases death is always considered with interest, respect and attention, without having to be forgotten, eluded or deprived of value. It is true that the mind control practitioner does not at all run the immediate risk of dying, which instead so often accompanies the climber while practicing free solo, however a goal of mind control consists in finding the path that allows the Ego to consciously and happily cross the threshold that separates the human psychic dimension from the dimensions of the afterlife. The fear of death is replaced by a state of lucid concentration, which in the case of the climber translates into a precise and harmonious series of physical gestures, while in the mind control practitioner the Ego enters an ecstatic condition which, from a certain level on, can overcome the perception of time. Obviously, with regard to the social activities and the goals they pursue in relation to human life, neither free solo nor mind control have the slightest value: however, they still manage to stimulate the interest of many people.
Intensity of consciousness, expansion of the mind
As the Ego proceeds along its evolutionary path, its consciousness becomes more lucid and more intense, also in relation to the management of psychic experiences determined by external events. In ordinary conditions, our consciousness is often like an instrument not well focused, and the psychic experiences can be perceived as fogged, confused, even obscure. A lucid and intense consciousness, on the other hand, makes the psychic states that enter within its range of action extremely clear, as in the light of a serene and bright day. But the most interesting effect of the control of mental activity by the evolved Ego (always under the guide – it should be remembered – of the spirit) is given by what can be defined as a real expansion of the mind. It is not easy to explain in words what this process consists of: it is like when someone gradually advances in a completely unexplored territory, where, while going on, new unexpected landscapes are discovered and the appeal of other fascinating distant mirages to explore catches him/her.
Of course, it is easy to observe – from the point of view of the normal psychic tunings prevailing in our cultural system – that in this way we enter a dimension very close to the realm of fantasy. It is true, it is a conscious exploration of mental states, but we must not forget that all human life is determined, in every case and in every condition, by mental states, by psychic experiences. Whoever claims that there is a reality separate from the one which we interpret with our mind, makes – in good or bad faith – a gross mistake of assessment. If there is this kind of reality out there, we know nothing about it. In any case, when the conscious Ego reaches a sufficient control of the mental activity, the result is a state of grace, a serene bliss that is opposed to the anxieties and concerns (and not infrequently to the suffering and pain) deriving from the activity of the mind subject to the control of the so-called reality. A description of reality could be this: the interaction between a body and its brain, and the external environment (which also includes other bodies, each with its brain) produces a psychic activity that is experienced by the conscious Ego as ineluctable (destiny). As I have already said, our culture teaches us that to change the psychic experience (possibly in a positive sense for the Ego) it is necessary to intervene on the environmental conditions (and therefore – in a social system – also on other people's brains).
Reality and the mind
The results of this condition, which still remains a programmatic scheme based on the standard functioning of the human psyche, have not, at least up to date, been particularly brilliant from the point of view of the complex of the conscious Egos (which, moreover, does not exist, given that every conscious Ego is always a singularity). It is for this reason that, in every age, some people have tried to intervene directly on the control of mental activity, often with success. It is true that this solution also involves a good deal of indifference towards environmental conditions, given that the activity of the body is inhibited precisely by the state of imperturbable bliss in which the conscious Ego finds itself: the environmental conditions would be determined mainly by natural processes, not human activities. On the other hand, in every historical period and in almost every culture, only a minority of people have been inclined to take this path. The most balanced and advantageous solution could be to dedicate oneself to the work activities envisaged by the social objectives in the first and second part of our life, and to the evolutionary path of mind control by the Ego in the final part, up to the transit into another dimension. But, in our current socio-cultural conditions, this solution is hardly practicable.
In fact the current culture is based almost exclusively on socialization and, for the purposes of economic production, on consumption. Any inner path that cannot be translated into social activity (possibly with economic return) is considered with suspicion. This is why most people reach the so-called third age, already well conditioned and programmed to carry out socializing activities – both of public utility, such as volunteering, and recreational purposes – and to live (health permitting) as if they were to remain in a state of perennial average age (not to say forever young) and death should never come. As for a possible survival in the afterlife, everything is entrusted – for those who believe in it – to the participation in the rites of socially organized religions, while scientific dissemination does little or nothing to deal with this topic, and many scientists are convinced that with death the existence of the conscious Ego will be forever nullified (which can also happen, but no one would be there to notice). This condition, paradoxical in some respects, derives from the fact that a dichotomy has been created between the mind and the world, thanks to which the mind has been downgraded and subordinated to a presumed absolute reality, which yet remains the product of the interconnected activity of the brains in the cloud.
Erwin Schrödinger and the mind
In 1958 a small volume was published that reported the Tarner lectures held by Erwin Schrödinger at Trinity College in Cambridge in October 1956 on the topic of Mind and Matter (The physical basis of consciousness): the text can be downloaded in the Library page. Schrödinger (1887–1961) was an Austrian physicist who gave a fundamental contribution to quantum mechanics, in particular with the elaboration of the equation that bears his name, for which he won the Nobel prize for physics in 1933. In his youth he had a strong interest in philosophy (in particular for Schopenhauer and Spinoza) and during his life he deepened the study of the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, while professing himself an atheist in relation to belonging to an organized religious system. In Mind and Matter Schrödinger immediately poses the problem of reality in these terms: «The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. It is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence. Its becoming manifest is conditional on very special goings-on in very special parts of this very world, namely on certain events that happen in a brain». These words evoke Schopenhauer's conception of the world as representation.
Immediately afterwards, Schrödinger faces the problem of consciousness: «What particular properties distinguish these brain processes and enable them to produce the manifestation?... What kind of material process is directly associated with consciousness?». As, up to date, the problem of consciousness has not yet been given a satisfactorily solution, Schrödinger could not answer those questions in 1956, and therefore he went on in a generic way: «From our own experience, and as regards the higher animals from analogy, consciousness is linked up with certain kinds of events in organized, living matter, namely, with certain nervous functions. How far back or "down" in the animal kingdom there is still some sort of consciousness and what it may be in its early stages, are gratuitous speculations...». Furthermore, the physicist posed the classic question about the possibility of an existence (of the world) devoid of a form of consciousness able to attest its existence, and then he quoted Spinoza, according to whom every particular thing or being is a modification of the infinite substance, that is, of God.
Obviously Schrödinger was well aware of all the brain activities that remain unconscious, although determining forms of behavior, starting from those of young babies, before the conscious Ego makes its appearance, and wondered what could be the purpose of consciousness in the context of the evolutionary process. Then he examined the contrast between the will of the Ego (which affirms itself through the «I want») and the social ethical demands that oppose it with a «thou shalt», reflecting on the strangeness of the fact that so different psychic instances could have the same origin: natural evolution. Schrödinger, who came to affirm that Kant's ethic imperative was avowedly irrational, was however unable to distinguish between the conscious Ego and the psychic experience in which it is involved, so his reflections concern the individual aspects of the psyche, not the conscious Ego in itself. The physicist thought that the need to make psychic conflicts conscious was inherent in the evolutionary process: «But it is not absurd to suggest that this process of evolution should directly and significantly fall into consciousness?... Does it not just run along unnoticed? No. In the light of our previous considerations this is not so. They culminated in regarding consciousness as associated with such physiological goings-on are still being transformed by mutual interaction with a changing environment». Thus, according to Schrödinger, the fact of being conscious necessarily implies an inner conflict: he ascribes it to the Ego, while in my opinion it should be more correctly attributed to the human psyche.
The natural evolution of the organic world
Schrödinger's idea that consciousness would represent an inescapable development of the natural evolutionary process is an example of the excessive and naive simplification sometimes made by men of science in an attempt to explain something that remains enigmatic. In fact, in nature we find an evolution of plant organisms parallel to that of animals, but we believe – rightly or wrongly – that plants, even the most evolved, having no nervous system cannot have any consciousness. Yet it is not that the plant world has evolved before the animal world, and therefore should be considered at a lower evolutionary level: plants are complex organisms, capable of performing extraordinary functions, such as the transformation of solar energy into organic matter, which then it is at the base of the food chains of many animal species. Although even among plants there is no lack of competition for resources, especially for light, the plant world as a whole appears more harmonious and less conflictual than the animal world. As for the adaptive evolution ability and fantasy of the plants, it is enough to observe the multiform expedients adopted by various plant species to be pollinated by some animal species, and then to achieve that the seeds are spread in a wide territory. All this, in the absence of any form of conscious will, at least apparently (as far as we humans can know).
Although the term nature is, of course, a human convention to designate a series of processes and phenomena whose origins and aims go beyond our capacity for understanding, the fact remains that natural processes are something different from mental and cultural processes, marked by the activity of the human psyche. It is true that the psyche has many aspects related to the animal, and therefore natural, origin of our body, but there are others that come into sharp conflict with natural processes, so much so that in our days the themes linked to the defense of the environment are more actual than ever. Schrödinger also dealt with this issue in a chapter of his booklet entitled «Dangers to intellectual evolution», in which he observed how intelligence allows humans to (partly) determine their destiny, prevailing over natural selection processes, but at the same time there is the risk that the consequent human expansion exceeds the (limited) resources that can guarantee a bearable future to our progeny. Schrödinger's conclusions in this regard were not very optimistic: «Now I believe that the increasing mechanization and "stupidization" of most manufacturing processes involve the serious danger of a general degeneration of our organ of intelligence... Indeed the unintelligent man, who naturally finds it easier to submit to the boring toil, will be favoured... The result may easily amount even to a negative selection as regards talents and gifts». From the time Schrödinger wrote these words humanity has numerically tripled, and consequently the number of people gifted with brilliant intelligence has also increased, but, overall, the general dullness of the masses forseen by the physicist seems unavoidable.
The problem of the human psyche cannot be tackled from an exclusively naturalistic point of view. As has always happened in human history, what today is taken for granted by the prevailing culture, tomorrow will be considered «medieval», archaic, incredibly naive. The psyche is crucial in making one or the other cultural trend prevail and, as we have seen, the capacity of the conscious Ego to escape the psychic fascination is a prerogative of a few people. To get an idea of the importance that psychic experiences related to love, the divine, wisdom and liberation have had in all ages and in different cultures, I recommend reading a book by Aldous Huxley published in 1946, The Perennial Philosophy, which can be found in the Library.
Life, the psyche and the conscious Ego
Human life, as a whole, is a phenomenon too vast and complex for an individual's conscious Ego to understand it. And yet, with what resources? Intelligence? Thought? As soon as we face an aspect of life, and focus our attention on it, we realize that we have forgotten or neglected another aspect, and what previously seemed clear now leaves us in doubt. All that the conscious Ego is able to do, even with a good training and to the best of its ability, is to identify psychic paths that allow it to leave the labyrinth of the human psyche itself, provided there are some exits. Alternatively, the Ego only has to perform in this world, with patience and dedication, the role assigned to it by destiny, for its lifetime, while thinking that it is useless to ask ourselves superfluous questions, for which adequate answers cannot be found. Truly a strange condition, that of the conscious Ego: bizarre, and even comic, if it is allowed to avoid the painful aspects of life.
If we want to follow an itinerary within the psyche, we can use as reference maps the experiences of which our companions in this life or those who lived before us have left traces: the reports of these experiences work as an atlas, useful for orientation, to understand the difficulties to face and to prepare us. The difficulties and unforeseen circumstances of the journey will still have to be faced in person. Unfortunately we do not have the maps of the future at our disposal! We must also keep in mind that, since we are dealing with psychic experiences, we cannot automatically convert their subjective reality into an objective reality, as is the case for explorations of terrestrial regions, where it is expected that, if an island or a mountain has been marked on a map, every traveler can then find that island and that mountain. A psychic journey still remains a solitary journey in our mind and in the psychic tunings that are proper to it. Nevertheless, when there is a sufficient concordance of testimonies regarding certain experiences, we can assume that we have a good chance of meeting them ourselves following the traced route. However, the starting conditions, especially with regard to cultural programs and conditionings received, can be very different from those of other eras and cultures. Today, for example, in what consideration is the spirit kept in our culture? It simply does not exist! The only thing that is considered real is the brain, to whose activity every form of consciousness is referred.
Someone will object: «But it is certainly so!», forgetting that this is a statement of psychic origin, deriving from the fact that we succeed in scientifically studying and investigating only the physical aspects of the world, but not the psychic aspects, nor those related to paranormal phenomena, which I, on this site, attributed to the weak objective reality (see the page on the two levels of reality). If we want to examine the testimonies on non-ordinary – that is, non-normalized – states of consciousness, we must not forget that these are journeys within the psyche, whose subjective nature prevents any form of objective verification, but not direct experimentation. To make it clear with an example, if I read Aldous Huxley's account of his experience with mescaline in the book The Doors of Perception, I cannot be absolutely certain that I too – taking the same dose of mescaline – will get a psychic experience identical or similar to his one, but I too will be able to leave an account of my subjective experience. The reports of these subjective journeys constitute the maps of that atlas that allows us to orient ourselves, to some extent, in the meanders, not without risks, of psychic reality. The explorer is the conscious Ego, which must however be accompanied by a guide, because its own destiny can depend on the outcome of the exploration, that is, on the preparation, commitment and constant training with which it faces the mission: even in this case, the example of free solo does not seem out of place.
The system and the escapes
Exploring the psyche means first of all exploring one's mind: when the conscious Ego decides to undertake this journey, the mind has already been shaped and programmed by the socio-cultural environment. In our culture this programming involves a close link between the environmental conditions in which we live and mental functioning, that is, the psychic experiences in which our Ego is involved. In this system the role assigned to the conscious Ego is purely subordinate: the will is activated, in response to psychic experiences, in an attempt to modify the external conditions, considered as objective and real, on which the reactions of our psychophysical system depend. Our mental dependence on the environment, on events, on other people, is total, while the capacity of the conscious Ego to exercise a direct control over the psychic tunings is limited only to the demands imposed by our environment. Certainly, within this system of mind orientation there are those who are more successful, given that the resources at their disposal allow their conscious Ego to obtain a sufficient level of happiness and satisfaction, so in the end the balance of their life can be considered positive. For all others, and they are the absolute majority, there can be the awareness of having diligently performed the task assigned to them in life, or the comfort of a religious faith, or the resignation in the face of the inevitability of one's own destiny. But in other people anger, despair, frustration – due to the sense of powerlessness and the certainty of the meaninglessness of life – prevail.
Although the cultural system, in programming our mind, wants to convince us that things cannot go any other way than this (and in a certain sense this is true in every age), it is clear that this cultural system is also going into crisis, because – beyond the undeniable technological achievements – it deprives the conscious Ego of the ability to orientate autonomously within its own mental states. Everything is evaluated, interpreted, planned and almost always not solved according to social, collective schemes, and the system's increasingly exasperated demand for mental resources deprives the conscious Ego of every possibility of autonomous processing of its own psychic experiences. Even those who have reached the age and benefits of retirement are conditioned to behave and function according to programmed social patterns, which are often reduced to futile, and even ridiculous, leisure activities. Of course, then, the more people are conditioned in mass in this way, the more they adapt to it, not without a certain dull satisfaction. Until death comes, and everything ends.
To assess the health status of a socio-cultural system, both entertainment and leisure programs for teenagers and young people can be examined, as well as the prevailing behavior and moods in these social classes. In both cases the picture is disheartening: the programs (films, TV series, videogames) are largely focused on competition, aggression, violence, struggle for survival, uncontrolled and dominant emotions (sex included); the behaviors often reflect anger, abuse, bullying, violence, feelings of helplessness, frustration and insecurity of the victims, and general distrust in the future. Of particular interest are drug escapes. The consumption of some type of drug sometimes starts by conscious choice, sometimes almost by chance (environmental stimuli, solicitations from friends, occasions of emotional highs), and in some cases unconsciously (criminal actions to bait future addicts). Apart from the latter case – which often is not even adequately prosecuted – drugs offer what are evaluated as emotional advantages, that is, psychic tunings more or less satisfactory to which the conscious Ego is not able to oppose. When brain functioning is compromised, it is often too late to intervene. But all the conditionings that the system promotes through entertainment media (financed by advertising, and full of advertising messages) induce the conscious Ego to surrender in front of the emotional states (almost always presented in their positive aspects). Thus, advertising has replaced life, conditioning people to behave like human automata. No surprise then that there are those looking for some shortcuts of intense emotional satisfaction in drugs, even among those who are fully integrated into the system (I work, I earn money, and with money I gratify myself: this is precisely the message that the system proposes again and again).
The escape into drugs is however due to a state of subordination of the conscious Ego towards psychic dynamics: the very condition of ignorance in which the Ego is in relation to the functioning of the brain makes it possible to determine a state of drug addiction, with all the problems and dramas arising from it. However, the fact remains that the weakness of the conscious Ego is today pursued and stimulated by the socioeconomic system, through explicit or subliminal messages that lead to the search for immediate and temporal happiness (always subordinated to doing something, to acting in a certain way), because the weak Ego – the human automaton – is easier to manage and use. My criticism of the system does not mean that I believe that the system can be modified or improved (above all by sudden upheavals) to be replaced by something better, able to give more happiness to mankind. Every social system is linked to certain historical and environmental circumstances that make it, so to speak, unavoidable in human history. But at the same time, every system is destined to deteriorate over time, also due – in particular today – to its excessive complexity, to be replaced by a new system after a more or less long period of crisis. And the very large number of human beings – or human automata – whose life today depends on the stability of our system, is one of the reasons why the system itself will not be so easily undermined, and will probably face a long decadence. The alternative would be too traumatic for a large part of humanity. But let us not delude ourselves that we will have a paradise on Earth, despite the seductions of advertising (and political) messages.
As always happened, in every historical age and in every culture, the search for the liberation of the conscious Ego from its subjection to the psychic dynamics, and the consequent conquest of a good level of control over the mind, is an individual adventure and experience. The preliminary condition for this undertaking to be successful is that the Ego has achieved a satisfactory equilibrium with the system on which the survival of its body and its mental state depend. The second condition is that the Ego still has sufficient energy to face the difficulties and obstacles of the path of liberation. When we speak about facing difficulties and obstacles, we evoke something that causes anxiety, tension, insecurity, even fear, rather than instilling serenity and happiness: why should we undertake such a journey? After all, a human automaton can feel happy and at peace with itself, and for over a century the political and economic systems are making every effort to convince us that human happiness is at hand for anyone who wants to commit to achieving it according to the directives of the system: at least, we are programmed in this sense, and our body-mind system may respond well to it.
The answers to these objections are simple. First of all, not everyone is happy and satisfied, indeed: most people behave in accordance with social rules more for fear of the worst than for the happiness they get from it. Moreover, there are relatively few people who feel the need to embark on a path of authentic evolution of the conscious Ego, and they do it for an intense inner call. Finally, we must all die: the human automaton can be indifferent to what may possibly happen to his/her conscious Ego after death (and in the course of this life he/she will behave accordingly), or will have to subdue himself to the decision of some form of superior authority who will decide his/her destiny in the afterlife. Instead, an authentic human being will want to take responsibility for his/her own destiny, based on what she/he can conquer in terms of knowledge and on the coherence of his/her orientation, especially with regard to the psychic dynamics that involve her/him. But there is also something else: the difficulties and obstacles of the path can be faced in serenity and even with intense happiness, provided that each step forward is made with the necessary level of preliminary training and with the right mental concentration, under the direction of the conscious Ego, who however – especially in the early stages of its itinerary – needs a guide. Even in the free solo climbing, every step forward correctly made gives happiness and satisfaction, while anxiety and the fear of falling would only hinder the proper execution of the next step.
The guide that helps the conscious Ego to escape the domain of the conflicting psychic tunings in which it is involved, I call it spirit. I use this term in preference to others, because it seems to me sufficiently abstract – with respect to what is considered as real – that it can be referred to an alien entity with respect to the Ego (see the page on the alien spirit), and in the the same time it is widespread in common use, not only to indicate the entities identified with the departed (spirits) in the mediumistic séances, but also to define a particular creative quality of mental functioning (a person od spirit), or an evolved level of human experience, as in expressions: a noble spirit, a free spirit. The first training action by the spirit consists in helping the Ego to correctly evaluate the evolutionary quality of the psychic experiences that involve it, escaping from the charming effect exerted by some of them. In fact we have seen how the psyche contains practically anything, and the conscious Ego has almost no resource – if not the conditioning programs that the cultural system transmits to it – to correctly evaluate the functioning of its own mind. The most common case is given by the transformation over time of the effects of certain experiences: initially evaluated as positive, then they involve negative and even destructive effects. Drug addiction is an example, but even some forms of amorous or sexual fascination can have similar effects.
The experience, in itself, is always linked to time. Over the years the Ego manages to memorize a substantial number of psychic experiences, to link them together and to evaluate their effects, but often the consequences of these experiences leave wounds that do not heal, and in some cases they can even destroy the Ego. Furthermore, the life demands force the Ego to function, day after day, according to the collective schemes, reinforcing the conditioning programs and the relative psychic tunings, and subtracting from the Ego the energies needed to confront the psychic events that involve it. For these reasons, even when a person – at retirement age – would be in the optimal conditions to undertake the path of Ego's liberation, reducing social interactions to the indispensable minimum, it is unlikely that he/she will be able to carry out this process, having become stiffened in the mental patterns according to which she/he has always lived. Only the intervention of the spirit can stimulate and help the Ego, throughout life, to walk the path of liberation and bring it to a successful conclusion.
As a child I was educated in the Catholic religion, and some prayers were taught to me, to be recited in the morning or before I fell asleep. I found them all rather boring and uselessly blaming the Ego, except for one who said so: «Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen». Here, the conscious Ego could turn to its spirit-guide with a similar request: «Spirit of divine origin, you who are my friend, guide me, help me, enlighten me and stay beside me, until the time will come to die». If someone, at this point, came to tell me that there is no spirit to ask for help as a guide, I would have nothing to object: I would remind him only that here we are talking about an itinerary to be followed inside the psyche, characterized hence from subjective psychic tunings. Our psychic experiences certainly depend on many things, first of all on the brain functioning, but the subjection of the Ego by the psyche is a fact. If the Ego does not acquire a certain power over the psyche, how can it obtain its freedom? The evolutionary path of the Ego consists in moving towards the psychic experiences of the spirit, leaving behind the psychic dynamics inherited from our animal origin, or at least that part of them which – exercising an uncontrollable power – would be an obstacle for its liberation.
Conflicts related to the needs of the body
Among the various reasons that prevent the conscious Ego from undertaking this evolutionary path, there is above all the lack of a strong appeal from the spirit. Today's mass culture hinders in many ways the perception of this appeal, because – being focused on the enhancement of the body and its needs – it supports and promotes the emotional responses related to our animal origin. The reasons for making human life more pleasant and more comfortable are understandable and shareable, especially if compared with the conditions in which people lived in the past, mainly due to ignorance regarding the functioning of the body and the causes of its infirmities. But it is also true that through the body we are bound to the rules of nature, rules that come into conflict with other needs that are manifested in the context of our psychic experiences. As we have seen, it is not that our socio-cultural systems have made great progress in resolving these conflicts: the social tensions that once outbursted into wars or revolutions today are internalized and, at least apparently, kept under control, but often we have the feeling of living above a volcano that could explode at any moment.
The tension towards happiness, today, is linked to acting, doing, creating. In the social aspects connected with positive values, such as solidarity – which translates into volunteering, redistribution of resources towards the weak and the needy, free public health and welfare – is the action itself that represents the most evolved psychic dynamics also under the spiritual profile. But in the aspects connected with struggle for life, competition for resources and search for success, aggression, violence in all its forms, and injustice prevail, along with all kinds of uncontrolled and cheap emotions exhibited every day in mass entertainment media.
(to be continued)
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.