I’ve been reading and thinking about Zen and the awakening it promises. Yesterday, I read an article—which I have misplaced—that argued our consciousness is not simply a product of our brain. The gray flesh inside our skulls is only part of the equation, it said. The body and its environment all contribute their part.
As I was driving toward work this morning, my perspective changed. For a moment, I experienced my mind and the world as one thing. I lack the words to describe the experience accurately, of course, but I can say what it wasn’t: it wasn’t transcendent love or something mushy like that. I just seemed to realize that I’ve been walking around, seeing the world through a small hole, bounded above by a dark strip and below by a silly, pointy pink smudge which I have assumed corresponds to the thing people call my nose. This experience had a direct, unmediated quality to it, and I realized that this silly way to experience the world is me.
I wonder if that was a small taste of satori. Anyone who has experienced the real deal care to offer an opinion?
I’m leaning toward the conclusion that Zen is bullshit.
Kate lived through what must be some people’s worst nightmare. She was diagnosed as suffering from persistent vegetative state but retained enough awareness to understand the people around her and to feel pain and distress because of how they were treating her. Neuroscientists scanned her brain activity and found normal activity levels, something they had not imagined they would find. She has since returned to a communicative state and says her story is about never giving up hope.
The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
(Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Or, Life in the Woods)
Maybe I’m an odd fellow, but I keep wondering what it’s like to be an earthworm. I mean, what does it feel like? Perhaps it feels like nothing.
One particular patient who can’t consciously see because his visual cortex has been destroyed navigated an obstacle course unaided. His subconscious mind guided him using information gathered his eyes even though he lacked a conscious visualization of his environment.
Maybe a sentient being can function in the world without having a conscious experience of it.