On Beyond Being Born
I make fun of birthdays (my “birthday” is today – this calendar date – when I’m writing this), calling them “Unborn Days”. To distill the logic to its essence (what philosophers like to do, though I wouldn’t pretend to be one, and certainly not a professional one) it’s like this:
The theory, or the assumption was, that I went from non-existing to existing. What would be present to know that one did not exist, and then did? How is it possible to not exist? It isn’t. It is a fallacy.
The presumption is that there was a process in time. There appears to have been a body that was born and grew up and changed, according to “my” memory as well as external memories such as photographs, and other bodies as witnesses.
There is also what we call a “mind” that seemed to have experiences, accumulate memories, meet various other characters, went through various experiences, learned and evolved in it’s knowledge, skills, outlook, as well as experienced various emotions, feelings, and events in life.
But what about “I”? What’s at stake is the status of this entity “I” as a first-person experiencer, or as an experiencer period (leaving off “person” for the moment, since thats what we are examining the nature of). Most would say it’s a mind that experienced all this. So what is a mind? It is absolutely necessary that we look at the mind as actually experienced, and not according to theory and concepts, preconceptions and secondhand speculation, all of which are *in* the mind and therefore content, and not it’s actual fundamental substance. If we look to the mind for answers in this, we are only going around in a circle, chasing our own tail. That is, if we ask the mind to answer “what is the mind?”, it will either say “I don’t know”, or spit out what it has in memory, what’s it’s heard from others or assumed in the past, or concluded, possibly erroneously. So one must ask, right now, what is this “mind”?
However, I’ve already made at least one assumption: that a mind has memories and concepts. I think this is a fair assumption, since what we are talking about here is a word, a learned concept, which can only get off the ground from a social meaning, and in some cases may *only* have a meaning with respect to what we agree it to mean; memories and concepts are certainly something we can agree that the mind has, or at least appears to have. Without memories and concepts we can’t really get off the ground at all, for what would a human mind be (and we are talking about humans, because that’s what I appear to be, at least to the mind), if it had no memories or thoughts? And aren’t memories thoughts? Memories are thoughts about the past, or rather images that “come to mind”, or sounds, in the form of words, or ideas that “pop into our heads”. So since memories are thoughts, let’s just bundle them together and call them “thoughts”.
So without thoughts, what do we have? It would just be some present-moment perceptions, such as visual perceptions, sounds, tastes, and smells. That is all I can seem to find right now as I write this. Let’s call these “sense perceptions”.
There are also perceptions such as sensations on the skin, or inside the body, such as muscle tensions, or pains, or itches, or the feel of the skin against the clothes and the chair, and the temperature of the skin and general perception of warmth or coldness, and the sense of position of limbs and the overall orientation in space of the head and body and limbs. Some of these I am aware of only if I place my attention on them. There may be others that I missed for the moment, but in any case, let’s put all these in the category of “bodily sensations”.
“MIND” = THOUGHTS + SENSORY PERCEPTIONS + BODILY SENSATIONS
OK so let’s take an inventory. The mind seems to consist of thoughts, sensory perceptions, and bodily sensations. That’s the whole ball of wax right there.
Now returning to the body again, using what we’ve discovered, or uncovered here, where are we? Looking to what I know about this body experience, I cannot find anything that doesn’t come via what we are calling the “mind”. Sensations of the stomach area and chest, just to pick something at random, are bodily sensations and not perceptions or thoughts. As bodily sensations, they do not require vision (I can close the eyes and still experience them) nor do they require thought. As raw sensations they seem to have a location roughly, but they vary with time. The key thing to experience though is that they do not occur outside of what we are calling them mind: “I” would not experience them if they were happening is some other mind. Proceeding to sense perceptions, I can hear the sound of some music I have playing, and of the sprinklers outside. If I close my eyes I still hear the, I also hear the sound of my thoughts. They are all happening in this “space” or channel we are calling this mind. In other words I am not hearing what some other mind hears, and it’s there regardless of what I see or feel in the body.
There is also the thinking that all these sensations from the body, and the perception of this body –namely what is seen when I look at it, or in a mirror – are a bundle that in some total comprise the body. Without this conceptual thinking there would just be a in a roughly connected collection of perception and sensations. But they seem to be connected with a body thought and within the senses of time and space, though that varies also. For example, in sleep there is no perception of a body at all, and the perception re-assembles on waking. Sometimes there can be confusion about what limb or hand or foot is “mine”, if for example I’m in a tangle of bodies on a couch, or if many are seen in a mirror, it takes time to identify what is mind and then identify with that identification. In short, nothing is given, or pre-given. The mind has to assemble what we call a “body”, and it is not a stable assembly.
Also, if you think about it, there really is no boundary, even at a materialistically conceived level, with the constant exchange of gases, solids, liquids and body materials with the environment.
Also within perception we cannot tell, if we look very closely, where “inside” and “outside start or end. It’s an arbitrary conception. Look for yourself.
And where does the buck stop? If we look back at where it’s all perceived, where it all comes together, where it stops and is seen, smelled, felt, heard, etc., where is that? I’m not asking about a conception (such s “the brain”) but in actual, real live, experience now. Does it stop somewhere? Does it stop at the perceiver and get stamped by the perception robot “sight of a table”, or “sound of Mozart, note 312”. No, it’s in constant change, flux. But *where* is it flowing by? What is seeing it, perceiving, as it flows by? Can you find a central point? An “I”?
So is this experience of some kind of biological robot, with no central experiencer – where is the “I” located? Is ti behind the eyes, or in the head, in the chest, the stomach… ? If in the future everything were amputated and I was left as a brain in a vat, where would I be? What would my experience of my location be? If my visual perception were hooked up to cameras and were outside in a tree, would I be that tree? I wouldn’t feel like I was a brain in a vat certainly.
WHERE AM I?
All these thoughts, perceptions and sensations are appearing, but where?
A thought cannot have a thought: a thought must be had by a thinker. Who, or what is the thinker perceiving the thought? Where is the thought actually taking place in experience now? I cannot tell.
Where are the perceptions taking place? For example, if I close my eyes, where is the sound of this music taking place? If I am wearing headphones it seems to be inside my head, But if it’s playing on a stereo it seems to be out there. ut if I listen closely with my eyes closed, it’s still in the space of this perception “here” inside “me”, wherever that is. So I cannot tell for hearing either where “I” am ultimately.
If I look to vision, and close my eyes, I see images from what we call the imagination come forth, as well as whaever light come through the eyelids. This is all being perceived somewhere, and if I then open my eyes, it is also the same “space” where it is perceived. But again, I cannot locate a central point or time where it is. I can move the attention around at will to where I want to pay attention to in the visual field of the inner and outer spaces, but when I try to find where it is all being seen, where it is being perceived, it is the same mystery as with sound and the body sensations.
Where does it all come together? Can I perceive all the senses all at once, and all the bodily sensations, and all teh thoughts that are happening right now, all at once? The attention seems to jump around. In other words, at any one time, there is more conscious focus on a sound that popped up from the outside, or a feeling in a part of the body. If I try, I can pay attention to more than one sensation and perception at a time, such as the feel of the bottom of my feet tingling, ad the sound of the traffic outside. But it’s constantly shifting and changing, and it requires effort. Yet sounds continue to be perceived without effort. Sensations from different part of =the body continues to be perceived without effort, but they can be perceived as more or less background, or completely not in conscious attention at all until looked at. For example I wasn’t aware of the sensation of the tops of my legs until I saw them then consciously took some attention there.
But all this begs the question, “to whom or to what does any or all of this appear?” Surely it’s not just a random spotlight on sensations, perceptions and thoughts moment to moment, with no central experiencer. There must be something holding it all together. Since we’ve discovered that the body is only known through the mind, in the present, as the experienced thoughts, sensations and perceptions, then it can’t be the body. And we’ve found that the “mind” is merely what we define it to be, as this collection of thoughts, perceptions and sensations. it’s just a label or concept. furthermore, the contents of the mind are in constant flux, never the same, nothing solid, fixed.
So where, or what, is the real me? Will the real me please stand up.
Is it this noise of talking, this dialogue, the ongoing monologue in the head, the narration, the story? In that case I’m just a thought, and a constantly changing one at that. Or memories of thoughts – and memories are in the present, as another kind of thought. Am I the sound of this talking? But what gives it meaning? Another thought? Where’s the “I”? Who can I ask? Whoever I ask will only see a body, or hear a sound of a voice, that came from thoughts and perceptions, and from their own thinking and perceiving, which are derivative of their location “out there”. They are part of my perception as well. So I have to look back to the source.
What is the source? It doesn’t seem to be coming from anywhere – the thoughts. They just arrive. And likewise, the sounds could come from anywhere or nowhere: there is no single source across all time. We could say they all arise inteh mind, but clearly there are sounds that come from the world. other people perceive the same sounds, or different sounds. It would be insane to say that my mind is the source of the sounds in their minds or perception.
So we can’t identify a source as the mind, or the world, but perhaps it is both. and we could say the same for vision: t could be the mind or the world. The sense of taste could come from the tongue or from food in the mouth, or be imagined, such as in a dream or when a thought of a food is brought to mind. The same for smells.
And we can feel something inside the body or seemingly on the outside on the skin, that has it’s source in the world, such as a warm object, or pointy object.
But this still does not answer the question where is all this perceived? Who is the “I”, in actual present experience, experience sounds of thoughts, sounds of typing, sounds from outside the house? Where are they? Where am I?
What’s controlling where the attention goes in this panoply of sensations and perceptions, or what to think, or what thought to hold onto? How long can you hold onto a thought, and what’s holding it? If there is a decider, who is deciding what to focus on, what is deciding what the decision is, or which are the good ones? And if you think so, where Where did those thoughts decisions about decisions come from – did you decide those thoughts, will them into existence, back before they came to the fore? When did you do that? What time do you think? What time do you decide? Can you experience a thought that isn’t now?
Can you experience anything that isn’t now? You can experience a thought, such as memory or thought *about* the future based on memory, but that also is now. A memory of something you saw is now. A memory of something you heard is now. A thought of the future is now.
So we have found that all that we are investigating is happening now. We have the time. But is it a time among other times – is it a point along a line for example? Or does it have a duration. Without some preconceived thought about it, what is the actual experience of time? In other words, what does it actually look like now? Without thinking about it, it doesn’t actually seem to exist. In other words it only exists *as* as thought, as far as it’s actual substance. as far as it’s use, it is useful to coordinate activities with others or of objects.
While I have failed to find an actual graspable, fixable moment where this experience of self is, nor a moving point along a line, nevertheless there is an experience here.
While I have failed to find a definite central point of location for experience of self, nevertheless there is an experience here.
Where is “here”? I don’t know. But I do exist. And there is never a time when I do not exist. Therefore how can I truthfully say there was a time when I did not exist, as that would be a thought only, and who would be aware of the thought, other than this “I” which exists? And if I did not come into existence from non-existence, since that is incoherent as an experience – and what we are concerned with is this experience of life, not some abstract conception – since what we are is this experience – then how can I truthfully say that or think that at sometime I will not exist? how can something which never did not exist, had no beginning in time, does not exist in time, cease to exist in time? That makes no logical sense whatsoever.
So, here on my supposed birthday, I can say without a doubt that I was not born. It is my Unborn Day. And even better, furthermore I can also say truthfully, that I will not die, I am eternal. That’s a nice birthday present if I ever saw one. And maybe I never really did …