Friday, 30 June 2017

The Origin of Mind

We saw that all manifestation is essentially metaphysical patterns and movements of patterns aka processes. One of the interesting pattern is that of a mind. The mind is a collection of metaphysical patterns and processes that has properties like memories, knowledge, thought and perception. A mind is a system that is not only affected by other patterns, it also affects them back in a meaningful way. This capability is the capability of action. Usually actions are meaningful in the sense of self-preservation, growth and perpetuation of the mind itself.

What is mind?

As usual we start with a what question. A mind is a collection of patterns and processes, all metaphysical. Or in other words, it is just information, a content in consciousness.

How do I know its just patterns?

Via direct observation. The mind appears as a collection of movements of patterns of various kinds - memories, desires, impulses, emotions, imaginations and perceptions. All of these forms or patterns do not have any substance, they are not made up of anything. These are witnessed by the consciousness (Self) as nothing but consciousness of patterns. So the consciousness is witnessing nothing but itself in the form of ever changing patterns.

But there are infinite other patterns of all kinds, so what distinguishes this pattern from others?

Its memory. Ability to form impressions using other patterns is the single most important distinction between a mind and other patterns. So a mind is essentially memory - a pattern that takes on impressions from other patterns, and also provides them back to other patterns.

What is memory?

Just another pattern, however, it changes in response to other patterns in such a way that those patterns create a unique signature on it. For example if you press your hand on wet sand, the sand takes on an impression of your hand, which resembles the actual hand more or less.

What is memory made up of?

You will be tempted to say that memories are made up of perceptions, visions, sounds, your feelings or actions, your likes or dislikes etc. But those are just kinds of patterns, not substance of memory.

If we say it is made up of patterns, it is not entirely wrong. But, as defined here, it doesn't exist to start with, it must be created from another pattern, so what is it that turns into a memory? In other words - how is a memory formed and what substance is used to form it? As we know, there is no substance to any pattern, except consciousness itself, which is seen as nothingness or emptiness. So we can as well say that a memory arises out of nothingness, just like any other pattern. But in case of memory, there is an organizing process that shapes the nothingness into a pattern that resembles the source pattern. This is the memory formation process. It reads information from the source and creates more information that corresponds to the source meaningfully.

It all sounds too far fetched. So lets go to our own experience of memory. Recall what you ate in breakfast today, see that it just appears out of nothing. Memorize a word, and notice that it disappears into nothing when you are not trying to recall it. It again appears from nothingness as soon as there is an intention to recall it. Its like magic. See that whatever is written above applies to your memory too. That's a good subject for introspection.

What is the function of a memory?

To store experiences. Experiences are happenings, changes, they are fleeting, momentary. A memory takes on the impression from an experience and preserves it for later. So it records experiences.

Obviously, without a memory all experiences are just fleeting changes, nothing gets known, nothing actually happens. That gives us a clue about what consciousness "achieves" via a mind, it witnesses itself in its full glory via the agency of the mind and memory. Without a mind, the experience/witnessing is not really there, even though the change can still be there. Memory is the device which points towards change, because now the present experience can be compared to the last memorized one, and we immediately see the change. Without this comparison, the change is abstract, not a reality.

Notice that the recall of a memory is also an experience. You can memorize yourself recalling a memory. I don't know how useful that would be, but I just noticed that it is funny. So a recall is a play back of original experience.

Now its a common knowledge that the recall is never so vivid and lively or high resolution as the original experience. That sounds like a flaw in the whole system of the memory, but it is not. Note that there is also forgetting, which again sounds like a flaw, but it is not.

Why is the recall such a bad copy of the original?

In my experience, one can actually make the recall as vivid, lively and lifelike as one wishes. Its a matter of being in a right state of mind. Recall that some of your memories are very faint, hard to perceive, but some are vivid, and when you recall them, it is as good as its happening right now.

The best examples can be songs (at least for me). When you recall them, they play back in the voice of the artist with all instruments, sometimes you can hear them as if its being played here and now. The distinction of the memory and perception disappears. Sadly, it happens only for some memories not for all.

What's the reason? Well, perhaps there is some fault in the recall process. But I've noticed that when you memorize something with great interest and give it more importance, it can be recalled back as good as original. So the memory has no limits actually in terms of fidelity. It is possible that all impressions get recorded in high fidelity. The play back depends on a particular state of the mind for some reason.

What is forgetting? Why does it happen?

One might expect that the mind, as great a thing as it is, would have solved the problem of data storage by now. But we immediately see that the memories are very unreliable. That becomes so obvious during school exams. It also seems to dislike passwords for some odd reasons. Everyone has cursed their memory at least once in their life.

That is our familiar experience of forgetting. It may look like that forgetting means that the memory has been erased completely, like wiping out black board or clean formatting your hard disk, but in my experience, I couldn't find any evidence of that happening. Not only that, sometimes the forgotten memories come back vividly, as if they were magically restored. How is that even possible if forgetting is like erasing?

Surely, forgetting involves an inability to recall, it has less to do with total erasure of impressions. Now, that is mind blowing. It may mean that we store everything, every minute detail of our experience is being stored. So why is recall faulty? As I said, its not faulty, you just need a good state of mind, and every minute detail can be recalled.

Mind has a tendency to recall only very important stuff, the rest is not really useful, perhaps from the point of view of survival. That makes sense actually. Its just that, recalling everything in fine detail would put the system under immense load and moreover, the distinction between a recall and real time perception would disappear completely. Now such a situation is undesirable for obvious reasons. Thanks to low fidelity recalls, we are not in a madhouse.

But why am I splitting hair on the topic of memory?

Because memory is the single most important element in the structure we call mind. All other processes, abilities and actions of the mind are arranged around memory. When you understand memory, you understand mind. It is very important to note that. Mind is essentially memory with associated processes.

As we noted above, without memory all experience reduces to nothing.

As a mind, what we are essentially, is nothing but memory. You are a bundle of memories, impressions of events, experiences that happened in your life. Wipe out memories, and "you" disappear. Well ponder on that for a moment. Have you ever paid attention to memory? Had you ever imagined that it can be the single most important thing for the thing you call as "you"?

You can have new stuff, you can have a new house or clothes, you can even have a new body. You still remain you. Throw out your old memories and you are no more you. Interesting....

Where are the memories located?

Some people think that they are in the brain, perhaps coded in connections of neurons. My experience is a little different, memories, just like anything that is in mental domain, are non-local. That means they are not located anywhere. The whole mind structure is non-local.

Location, position or space are just concepts our mind uses to organize sense data. Such organization is very useful for survival. These concepts are useless for mental objects, so they are not localized by the mind. Where is imagination located? where is anger or fear? One may be tempted to answer that they are in the body. But where is the body located? Think about it.

Secondly, if you consider that all of our experience, every millisecond of it is being recorded in high fidelity, then it would be impossible to store them in physical form. There is simply not enough space in brain or in body.

Thirdly, in order to ascertain if something is located, we need to actually perceive it as located in space at some distance. So lets check. How many meters away is your memory or mind from you? I bet you cannot answer that.

What are these other processes I speak of that surround memory?

There are many processes and structures that exchange information to and from memory and also process them, that is - they convert or interpret the memorized patterns. For example, the process of perception starts at a sense organ, goes through sense data processing structures and ends up in memory. Recall of perceptions starts from the memory and ends up in sense data processing structures. So it is interesting that same sensory structure is used for both perception and recall. That explains why we can almost hear a song when we recall it vividly, or can almost "see" an event when its recall is vivid.

We have enumerated and discussed a lot of capabilities of the mind. Each of them can be one process, or even more. We can as well call them as programs. So for example, there is a program that is running which takes stored patterns of muscle movements and sends proper signals to legs, so they move in a particular cycle and that makes a body walk from one place to another. Surely there are many programs, but we can bundle them in some broad categories. We already discussed them under the title of extraordinary gifts of mind.

The following figure gives a rough idea of what a typical mind looks like:

Click to zoom

You may need to view the full size image to make sense of it. I've not shown all the connections and arrows or labeled them all because it would make the drawing a bit messy. But I'm sure you can connect everything simply by looking at the drawing and checking your own experience. You will find that the memory is always involved in anything the mind does. Processes may have their own custom memory or sub-processes. It can all get very-very complex, but essentially its memory with some activities around it.

Is there really a central memory?

More accurately, a central memory is only a metaphor, it makes it easy to understand. But we never experience a central memory, all we experience is non-local and non-physical events and objects in the mind. There is no left-right or center there.

Another way to show that the mind is structured around a memory is to consider memory as the substrate on which processes run. Again, it should not be taken too literally. Check the diagram below:

Click to zoom

How did the minds start? How did it originate?

From the above, it is now obvious that as soon as you have a structure that can form impressions, you get a memory, and other processes then evolve around it and that creates a rudimentary mind.

So a simplest kind of mind would be just a memory and one more process which reads it and does one thing. It reminds me of a simple computer program. Actually computers are just another kind of minds, they are also a memory and processes. No wonder, they work in a similar way to our own mind.

How does a process originate and connect to a memory?

Since there are almost infinite possibilities. An uncountable number of processes keep appearing and disappearing, but only those processes become a part of the mind which assist in its survival, that is - those that keep the memory intact (or make it grow). Anything that does not keep the whole structure going simply gets destroyed. Everything is impermanent, and hence only things that are dynamically maintained can continue for a while. So just like in natural selection, processes evolve around the simple memory that organize it more, keep it going and generally are beneficial for it.

We can see the organizing processes, or more generally the Fundamental Process in action here. So such processes create a mind from metaphysical patterns. Now you can appreciate why I dedicated a big chunk of last article to processes and their kinds. It would be worthwhile to study that again.

So now you know how a mind comes into being. It never stops evolving, it gets more and more complex. In the case of a human mind, it is an extremely complex and sophisticated structure. Only when you study simpler minds, you will start knowing how it could have originated.

Why do minds have a tendency to get complex and big?

Anything that does not evolve, gets destroyed. This is the law of impermanence, to put it a bit poetically. Its not that the simple minds are wiped out entirely, actually they persist, but we tend to notice the complex ones, they have far greater ability to resist external changes and do not go extinct very easily.

So the biological evolution we see around us is actually evolution of the mind. The bodies are merely external appearances. What is changing, growing and evolving is mind. That surely flips the whole picture.

Why do minds need a body?

I don't think it exists because it is needed, it is an outcome of self organization. It happened that it worked well and hence there it is. A body is a structure, whose sole purpose is to host senses and to act. It is a mental structure, a collection of processes, however bodily structures can be perceived via senses and hence they appear physical.

The body, as an extension of the mind, takes impressions from environment and makes changes in the environment around it. All this is done only in order to perpetuate the mind. This is our familiar organs of perception and organs of action, aka the body.

There is a possibility that many different kinds of minds can exist without a physical body, and live as purely non-physical beings. Or they may evolve non-physical interfaces to get outside impressions, to filter them or to act in some manner. In fact, the minds that have a gross body are a tiny fraction of the almost infinite number of minds there can be.

Body is interesting, it can be perceived, it is an object and is located among other objects, it can make copies of itself, it can grow, and last but not the least - it disappears when it gets old and worn, and breaks down. We have studied the body in detail previously.

Would the mind disappear when the body is destroyed?

If you consider the above description of the mind, you will see that the body is a small part of the mind. Small in terms of significance. Its destruction, it follows, does not imply destruction of the mind. When the body is gone, aka death, the mind is disembodied. It still functions, but is without any senses or actions. It may grow back a body like an Amoeba grows a tentacle or can simply attach to some new body, if it matches and if the mind likes it.

Now the existence after death and reincarnation makes more sense.

It may happen that some processes that depend on a body or maintain a body get destroyed too along with the body, but the essence remains. The essence is a large bundle of memories, or impressions, with some necessary processes. Traditionally this has been named as Jiva or Causal body containing Samskaras or Karmic impressions.

It looks like the body is more like a part of the world, not of the mind. Which comes first - world or bodies?

As this article is getting too long, we will continue with this question and many more in the next article. Stay tuned.

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