Have you ever thought about the first why? Who thought it, and when did it first happen? How did this happen? And well, why do we have it in the first place? Well I’ve had to think on it for eight years, and I’m certain the beginning of why is one of the least studied yet most significant steps in human cognitive development and one of the main arteries to study if anyone is genuinely interested in what makes contemporary man and woman. And to better understand where we all find ourselves, I think it’s important to delve into our origins with why and give it an earnest introspection. So when did we first ask why? When did we first turn away from the present realities of our immediate situation, like most of our animal cousins, and shift into memory, projection, awareness, association and the internalization of outside cognition, actors, space, data and time to question the intent and purpose of it all? This is what I seek to answer.
“He or she is plumb out of their minds.” Have you ever heard this phrase? As in they’re straight out of their minds. Well, due to a life-threatening brain injury and many years of recovery, I’ve had to trek this darkened and mysterious territory of the mind and plumbed its depths for answers. Getting straight into it. And just as vital as an intrepid spirit was a patient and loving spiritual counterpoint that provided a level base, a control and an existential balance for me to return to after experimenting with the mind. But the brain damage, no matter what I did or how fucking hard I tried, became an inescapable and everyday challenge for me. So I had to get to know it, whether I wanted to or not. And eventually that somewhat horrifically dramatic experience melted into an intimate and wonderful adventure that took hold of my scientific instinct and shifted the entire experience into a completely new one where my own body and brain became its very own laboratory to fill with scientific and spiritual intrigue. I had nothing to lose, because you see I had already lost it all, and so I found myself in an oddly insecure but beneficial place. And through a series of study, reflection, reconstitute, erase and repeat patterns, I think I found clues to illuminate new thought regarding the brain, our origins with why and the challenge of human consciousness.
While going through eight and half years of an existential brain injury, crisis and the subsequent search for what bridges us and the mind, I’ve discovered a number of things. Yet the most significant thing I’ve found is that we are not our brains. That they are a part of us, but that they are certainly not all of us. If observed in isolation, the brain, as crafty and anatomically beautiful an organ as it is, is really just here to protect, empower and symbiotically give to us their earthly hosts and our dynamic experience. And in reflection, I’ve also found that this evolutionary pattern of thought creation, substantiation and resolution may have established an unfortunate biochemical dependency in us for our brain’s ability to control, replace, produce, inhibit and allocate hormones through the raw power of will, thought and self-realization. An incredibly high form of mental alchemy and individual prescriptive behavior brought on by the naturally wild world around us, but an aspect of ourselves that many, for whatever reason, may not ever learn how to question.
To take the thousand-foot view of our relationship with why, one must be lifted up and out of the current situation entirely. That being my one time predicament with the brain. And from this vantage point, while stuck, one really gets to see how why has established such a significant place in our lives. When we first ask why, I think it’s like stepping into our shadow. Meaning we inevitably have to shift into the past and/or future as our instinctively creative mind begins to connect lines & lines of previously collected information/data related to memory, experience, emotion, patterned biochemical behavior, subjectivity and primal instinct to answer and find resolution for the many mysteries and challenges one confronts in a life. Obvious right, but to get down to the depths of why’s origins, we have to go straight to the root, rather than busying one’s self with the leaves. And without deviation, the most fundamental catalyst that drives us is our hormones. They are our roots.
Our origins with why may begin simply with the uncomfortable feeling we receive when we don’t know or when introduced with an inexplicable mystery that causes the brain to stress and receive a barrage of bad feeling hormones. And in a natural response to maintain a certain kind of homeostatic balance and to alleviate that sense of cognitive disorder, we learn to search for solution and answer. Explanation leading to response. That response leading to resolution. Resolution leading to concretization of thought and order. And thus, once solidified, a person can receive the illusion of setting a mystery or enigma down. And whatever lights up may be very near to the truth, that being why certain thoughts attune to positively associated feelings and conclusions, but it cannot be the base, real thing because what you experience on the ground is profoundly different from what’s a derivative of the creative mind. And the reception of good feeling, comfort providing hormones, primarily that of dopamine and serotonin, brought on by the self-provided solutions we create, results in a self drawn image of the world that self-addicts the person to the hormonally-based filtration devices of the mind that efficiently digest and respond to the complicated sets of information confronting us daily. Offering a somewhat personally-skewed world view, but quelling any internal pain if confronted with the unknown, mystery and/or fear. So deeply engrained is this genetic code that most humans don’t ever see it. Yet we still have brains despite the illusory images they create, and they’ve been around for millions of years, so they certainly serve a purpose, but to what end do they ultimately serve? Oddly enough, I think the sea sponge holds the answer.
What can be more revelatory, obvious and ineffable than the evidentiary truths found in nature? All of us are impossibly in and of the natural universe, so who’s to say we’re any different or bound to any set of unique or exceptional rules? Take the sea sponge for example. Sea sponges, as young spores, travel around the ocean with the aide of their little brains and the movement of the currents. Happily living, eating, respiring and so on until they attach to a rock or permanent structure where the sea sponge becomes permanently sessile, and starts the process of consuming its own brain (apparently no longer needing it). And after consuming the entire brain, they then go on living successfully for many years thereafter, sometimes even for thousands of years. Filter feeding on the organic, microscopic plankton and detritus that wafts by passively along the ocean’s currents. Like them, there’s no way out for us humans from the unbending rules of the natural universe. So brains, if considering the sea sponge as well as other similarly behaving creatures like corals and mussels who consume their brains at specific life stages, may in fact simply be there to serve the inevitable experience of movement and dynamism, and those two purposes alone. Without these requirements, the brain, as an organ wouldn’t be theoretically necessary. This fact being reflected in our ancient ancestors, the sea sponge who indicate that the brain, as a stand-alone organ, isn’t entirely necessary for one to be alive or living.
So to say the mind or brain is the whole of life’s experience may not really be it or “the whole enchilada” (as we like to say in the West). There is a life beyond and underneath the brain, I mean look at the sea sponge. The most common misconception about the brain is that we are utilizing it, when in fact, it may be using us. Just like the apple, tulip, marijuana, potato and many other living organisms that have adapted and evolved to use humans as avenues of propagation, the brain may be doing the same as it’s adjusted to our unique human situation. The brain, which is in turn just another organ, has simply adapted to create its own universe and purpose within by consuming, organizing and responding to the increasingly more rapid rate of change and dynamism in our environments and simplifying it. And through that evolution, it has also quietly created a chemical dependency in us due to its ability to deflect and rearrange hormones. And in many ways, we now engineer our own ecosystems and environment, so the changes are so significant, so dramatic and so complex that we have no choice but to devise a way out of this confusing situation with why. And hence, the dynamic between our brains and us is a relationship borne out of necessity. It’s the fundamental predicament of being born in parallel with a self-autonomous and self-cognoscente organic instrument and a varying, dynamic world.
A great teacher once used to tell me, “everything is our own creation,” and it used to piss me off royally, especially since I was struggling so intensely through the mist of a brain quagmire. But now that I’ve gotten through it and made it to a new place, I know he was absolutely right. Everything is our own creation and we absolutely do devise our own universes. It’s what you mind that matters. And at another point in my journey I used to think to myself, “In order to find your mind, you must lose it.” But that phrase never really sat well with me. Something was amiss. And I eventually found it. My discomfort stemmed from the word loss. Loss alluding to something gone forever or never to be returned, but that’s not exactly how it works (or how anything works). And to better express that and to satisfy my hormonally derived malcontent, I replaced the word loss with remove and rephrased it, “In order to find your mind, you must [remove] it.” Ahhh, now that fits. But be warned, because this could be done in many ways that are up to you, life and well… the zootomist. So in finality I’ve found that the brain is not us entirely, that it’s just an adjunctive part of us and that our relationship with why simply arose from our inevitable & internal engagement with movement and dynamism on the outside world. Without either of those two things, no brain. It’s a natural process by which you can see how why was always bound to be, but only in so long as the human mind, conditional movement and the flowing world exist. A trinity of sorts, one that makes us who we are. The world, our instruments, and us.
~ Drew R. Abeyta