Turning Within: The Value of Quietly Tuning Inward

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Turning Within: The Value of Quietly Tuning Inward

By Norman Hirst

Where is reality? Is it out there in the world or inside me? Wherever it is all I can know is what is inside me! That is my experience, my truth and source of joy or misery. That is the basis for my acts.

In this machine age of science gone wrong many accept the computer model. In this model we are input-output machines as computers are. Input-output machines are driven by input through the senses. The senses pick up signals as data. The data goes to the ever-calculating brain in which all sorts of algorithms will make sense of it. “He didn’t speak to me. He must not like me. What should I do?” Then the brain calculates an act. It might be crumple in rejection or go impress him. You may believe reality is out there, but it isn’t. Not only do people believe reality is out there, they can’t believe it could be otherwise. “I saw it. I heard it. It is true”.

Current leading edge research into how living organisms function proves the computer model false. I go further. It is absurd nonsense. If it were true we would be no more intelligent that computers. Hype to the contrary not withstanding my nearly 50 years of experience programming computers convinces me there is nothing in computers that could be considered intelligent. Lets consider what intelligence is and appreciate what it means to be alive.

All living organisms are born into what is often called an ecological niche. That is, some environment. There is no way to know, in an ever changing and evolving world, what that environment will be like. There is no program that could be written to help them survive. Yet they discover how!

I am reminded of an experiment done years ago involving the game of chess. Chessboards were set up with an arrangement of chess pieces. Test subjects were allowed to see the arrangement for several seconds. Than the arrangement was destroyed and the subjects had to recreate it. No one could. Not even experienced chess players unless the arrangement had occurred in some actual game whether or not the player had played that game. At some point in their chess playing their knowledge of the game jumped to a new level. Its no longer the rules they learned to play by but something else. There is a tendency to call it patterns, but I believe that doesn’t cut it either. What the players learn are principles generating legal chess patterns. Those principles are not in terms describing chess as consciously perceived but in terms of systems of acts relevant to playing chess.

Which brings us to the subject of how living organisms function. In learning, they are quite active in inquiry. Notice a baby in its crib waving its hands around and touching things. That is inquiry. In a process now called enaction a living organism acts. Having acted it inquires of the senses what changed? Acts are initiated with an intention. If the intention is realized, the act is effective. Otherwise the organism must inquire by further acts. It is the job of the nervous system to propose new acts to try, i.e. new hypotheses. This process is called abduction. Unlike deduction the grounds for abduction are not really known. What might they be?

It has been said, ad nauseum, that living entities are holistic. The brain is not an isolated calculator. It is at one with the entire being. Descartes to the contrary not withstanding, mind and matter are one. Mind is not just the brain. Every cell in a living organism maintains coherence with every other cell. For you and me, that is 70 + trillion cells. It is a unified whole. Yet there seems to be a flaw. If a cell in my big toe is to be in step with a cell in my opposite thumb and it takes a second or more for nerve messages to travel between them, are they not then separate entities? The flaw is resolved by the discovery that living tissue is liquid crystalline. That means that living tissue has extraordinary electrical properties. Communication throughout the body is instantaneous. There is body awareness before there is nervous system awareness.

We might ask awareness of what? I remember a powerful experience I had in graduate school at the University of Texas during the sixties. I had a morning class. As I was getting ready I was overcome by a feeling that I must not go. There I was thinking go and feeling "no." I have learned to pay attention to such feelings. That was the morning of the sniper in the tower. Had I gone, I would have been walking across his target area just as he started shooting. At the time when I first got the sense not to go, I learned later, the sniper was not there yet. However, his intention was somewhere so that it came to my awareness.

I was taught early on by my grandfather to pay attention to unexplainable awareness. It was 10 AM and I was sitting in my 9th grade algebra class. I sensed my grandfather’s presence though there was nothing to see. He made me aware that he had just died and didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to me, that he loved me and wished me well. I had no doubt that the experience was real. Later at home it was confirmed that my grandfather had died that morning at 10 AM. Years later, as an adult in Texas, his lesson saved my life. Thanks Tom.

These experiences have prevented my acceptance of the dominant scientific worldview. I am pleased to see that increasing numbers of scientists are coming to the awareness that the foundations of science are badly flawed. Reductionism and the Cartesian divide between mind and matter has created a worldview that cannot properly support life.

While repairs are being made we can all choose to live in the fullness of our beings. That means sometimes quietly and sometimes not so quietly. Take time to tune in to what is inside. That is where one might find meaning and happiness. Neither is out there in all the escapist frantic activity.