Divorce Your Ego
REJECTING YOURSELF, AND OTHER FINE MEANS OF DISCONNECTING YOUR EGO FROM REALITY
What drives us to become (or not become) who we are as individuals? Why do our egos exist and does it truly lie behind the “mind’s eye”, serving as both a conscience, a memory bank, an experience vault and our innate definition of free will? As human beings, our desire to find the purpose of our existence has been shrouded by the cowardice most of us possess when faced with a reckoning of who or what is really behind the wheel, controlling our actions. It’s truths could be remarkable, enlightening and frightening, all at the same time. A handful of some of the most respected Thinkers of this genre all had much to offer by way of introducing this relatively new (yet tested and proven repeatedly) method of higher understanding.
“Consciousness Explained” by Daniel Dennett – “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins – “The Meme Machine” by Susan Blackmore – “The Moral Animal” by Robert Wright…
All four of these texts genuinely put into perspective a few things that had been troubling me as an undereducated, internet surfing, armchair-philosopher. I can hardly wait to sink my mind-teeth into Keith Stanovich’s “The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin”. Amazon just cannot ship it fast enough.
Dennett had a viable argument against the illusion of “self”. It is very tempting and romantic to divorce the idea in your head that “you” are the master commandeer of your thoughts and subsequent actions. Dawkins, in all his wit and candor, explained the blind process of natural selection and the gene’s role as a replicating complex operating through evolution. Blackmore illustrated the powerful (and seemingly not-so-blind) purpose of the all-powerful meme, which has, in theory itself, shed new light on many levels of evolutionary psychology and a human being’s tendency to “copy” others by means of imitation. While Robert Wright described the combination of the three aforementioned subjects in a much clearer light, the theory of humankind existing as moral animals is what struck me as so profound, especially in the context of this Meme/Gene Special Olympic discussion that has recently sprouted amid scientists, philosophers and miscellaneous internet message boards.
It logically seems as though the memes could not survive without the genes (no brains to replicate in!), but the genes have been around since the dawn of life, oblivious to the inevitable formation of these “meme machines” our brains evolved into. It’s quirky side-effect would be that it accidently equipped our species with language. Suddenly, memes, much like genes, pushed on and survived by way of replication, mutation, and differential survival. The big difference is it seems as though the memes possess a certain fecundity of the mind, an abundant productivity that far surpasses the strict processes and limitations of gene replication. Nevermind that it takes longer (years! generations! centuries!) for genes to mutate to the point of producing brand new species. The memes seemingly take on a life of their own outside of their vehicles, our brains, and can withstand even our deaths. Language is what keeps ’em going. The written word, love for all that is nostalgic and our yearn to record and archive, write and rewrite, take from and add-to – is a pretty sound gaurantee that our vast memeplexes are going to survive us for infinity, provided there is someone (or something, if you subscribe to the human/robot analogy) to comprehend it, mutate it, pass it on, and keep it alive.
(Stephen Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” is an excellent source of reading that goes into much greater detail about the effects of language and it’s psychological bearing on our means of communcating feeling towards one another.)
These views of consciousness (as I understood) states that most human animals are “programmed” with a strong sense of altruism, whether it be for purposes of a working society, an edge to survival on our next meal/shelter quest, or just as a trick to charm our suitors into believing we are worthy mates. Feeding, Fighting, Foraging and Fucking – that is us, in a nutshell. In an evolutionary sense, we truly haven’t come that far. What Wright did point out was how this altruistic “programming” is what us conscious human beings recognize today in this age of psychological clarity as love, affection and all those sub-feelings such as jealousy, insecurity and aggression. All emotions in general seem to be just a quirky, random side-effect of a long string of random chemical reactions. Can they be construed as real, since no other human being alive could possibly understand, let alone really comprehend another human being’s perceptions of reality?
This is almost a new form of Dualism, in a way. Life could be described as a blind sort of one-team-only hopsack race, it’s participants being our biological, physical selves and our unattached, uncooperative, unpredictable psychological selves. The latter participant isn’t really made of matter, so it has little boundaries and restrictions, allowing it to cheat in a fair but underhanded method of becoming concretely more Important than it’s teammate. What is interesting is that a hopsack race like this requires both members to work in unison, else all will fail. It almost seems a given that with computer technology and virtual reality machines, our biological selves are already on the path to extinction where memes are concerned. In short, they seem to be leading this one-team race towards…. Nothingness? The cruel trick of this metaphorical fable is something that Aesop himself would have smirked at: There really is no Finish Line. Although that idea seems formidable to the human mind, a robotic “mind” wouldn’t even bat the proverbial eyelash. It would just keep on keeping on.
If what Keith Stanovich describes truly is a “robot revolution”, a new tool to discovering our purpose in life, I certainly hope it takes form in some sort of grassroots movement that will eventually replace or dominate current religion. Allow people to free themselves from the anvil weighing them down and prohibiting personal growth. As moral animals, we have come so far as to evolve beyond the most rudimentary survival quests for food, shelter and procreation with our mates into creating art, music, technology and infinite learning capabilities through science. Why couldn’t we also manipulate our own evolutionary path into forming a more rational thought process that would put us each into more intimate relationships with the only solid entity we can truly count on: Ourselves.