There’s a common human tendency to proJECT, that is, to attribute what’s going-on inside our heads to the outside world. We can’t see inside our heads. Our nervous systems have evolved to be responsive to outside objects and events, in the interest of survival and procreation. As a result, if we have a dream about a relative speaking to us, we suspect that something significant is going on with that relative in real life. If we learn the next day that the relative has died, it’s hard to resist the idea that it was the dead relative’s spirit that was speaking to us from the afterlife. This feeling is so compelling that we feel we KNOW that he or she was speaking to us. It’s very personal; it’s very close to home; it’s nearly impossible for someone else to convince us that the experience was purely psychological and not spiritual.
How do we learn to suspect that the experience was psychological? We review the recent history: Were we just thinking about the relative the day before? Has the length of time since we last heard from or about them been very short or longer than we would like? How’s their health? Were you worried about them? Did a friend, neighbor, or relative mention them recently? Did some incident occur that made you think of them when you normally wouldn’t have?
The brain is a problem solver. Yes, it worries. That’s preliminary to coming up with a solution. You can’t solve a problem if you haven’t given it any thought.
Trust your brain, particularly your subconscious. You may not be aware that you were thinking about anyone or anything. That doesn’t mean that you WEREN’T thinking about anyone or anything.
Some people think that Freud attributed human behavior exclusively to the sex drive. In addition to developing insights into the role of the sex drive in our lives, however, he was keenly aware of how active the subconscious mind is. He’s also accused of having been a sexist. If you want to avoid feeling contaminated by what you may consider to be a “male chauvinist pig”, take a look at what ANNA Freud, his daughter, had to say about the subconscious defense mechanisms. She identified many. These include displacement, repression, regression, denial, projection, introjection, rationalization, reaction formation, intellectualizing, isolation, sublimation, and others. As you can tell from some of the names, these are techniques for moving a bad feeling somewhere else: Pushing it down, pushing it up, pushing it aside, pushing it in, pushing it out, just putting it somewhere else in the mind so it’s not so uncomfortable. These strategies work for a while but they can cause problems, especially if someone else “calls” us on them.
When we have an unsettling mental experience, like a dream that seems to be portentous, to carry some important meaning for us, we don”t want it to mean nothing or to be insignificant; we don’t want it to be random or meaningless. So if an event happens the next day, we leap to the possible connection, we want to feel that it was no accident, that the dream (was trying to tell us something). Some people believe that “there are no accidents”, meaning that two events don’t happen together for no reason. This kind of reasoning is a kind of defense mechanism: We don’t want to think that things happen for no reason; the dream has to have some SIGNIFICANCE. It helps us feel better about meaning in our lives if we can make such connections.
An hallucination can be seen as a kind of defense mechanism. It’s caused by a short circuit in the brain but it can be seen as a kind of projection of nervous-system activity onto the outside world. You’re dropping off to sleep and your brain sends a random signal that sounds like someone turning a doorknob. You’re sitting quietly and thinking when you hear a voice talking to you and it’s not your voice. It could be an angel, you think. Or it could be God. Could it be the Devil, putting that nasty thought into your head?
Whatever the thought and whatever your interpretation of it, it’s an intracranial event that you’re interpreting as something going on outside your head. In this respect, it’s a projection of that event. We don’t like to think we’re going crazy. Most of the time we’re not. But we don’t like to think that there’s something going on inside us that we’re not in control of. In reality, it’s quite common for the brain to disorganize as it shuts down for the night. There is period of time when you’re no longer awake but you’re not asleep either. You may accept your nighttime dreams, on the one hand, as being a normal occurence but not, on the other hand, your dropping-off-to-sleep images and experiences. They’re too close to wakefulness to be easily dismissed. And they can be frightening.
There are people who have “night terrors”. Some of these occur during that period when we’re only half awake and they’re all the more frightening because we can’t just “stay asleep” until the dream comes to an end or changes into something more acceptable. Children, in particular, are susceptible to the frightening experiences we can all have in the penumbra of consciousness. Children don’t have the life experience or mature-enough brains to tell the difference between a dream and reality.
What about the early prophets? They heard the word of God or they were visited by an angel. Were they insane? Probably not. But they were supported by a culture that allowed them to interpret their inner experiences in terms of messages from the spirit world. A man who’s done a lot of research into the history of such experiences is Julian Jaynes, a professor of psychology and the author of the book, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. Professor Jaynes has gathered an enormous amount of material to support his view of how we’ve interpreted the activities of the brain differently over the millenia. He posits that there was, in ancient times, more of a functional difference between the operation of the left hemisphere and that of the right hemisphere in the brains of humans, compared to what there is at present. As a result, messages received by the logical, linear, and linquistic left-hemisphere from the less logical right-hemisphere had to be interpreted as coming from outside, from the spirit world, from God, or from dead ancestors. Professor Jaynes goes so far as to interpret the difference between the thinking represented in The Iliad and that represented in The Oddyssey as being a function of how human brains changed over the period of time between the eras described in those two epics. During the period of The Iliad, actions triggered by the right hemisphere were less cogitated, more direct, and more “inspired”. The instructions were essentially “dictated”.
However valid or invalid Professor Jaynes’ theorizing is, there’s food for thought there. We HAVE changed, have we not, from the days when we humans were Neanderthals? If you had been a cave woman during the Stone Age, and you heard a voice from nowhere tell you something, what would you have thought?
We tend to proJECT. We find it hard to believe that voices are coming from inside our heads. That would mean we were crazy, right? Not necessarily.
When Cain, in the Hebraic and Christian Bible, heard the Lord say, “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door”, was Cain crazy?
When Abraham heard God say, “Take your only son … and offer him … as a burnt offering..”, was he crazy? Probably not. Piotr Michalowski, an authority on ancient Mesopotamia at the University of Michigan, says that Abraham may have worshiped Sin, the god of the moon and Ur’s chief deity. “Mesopotamians worshiped a pantheon of deities.” He goes on to say, “…but each person also had an additional, personal god.” That bears repeating: “Each person…had a…personal god.” Does that sound familiar? Does that resemble what Julian Jaynes has told us about the origin of consciousness?
When Noah heard a voice telling him, “I myself am bringing the flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life”, was Noah crazy? Probably not.
When Moses heard a voice saying, “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”, was Moses crazy? Probably not.
And when Muhammad, as reported in The Koran, heard the voice of Allah telling him what to say, was Muhammad crazy? Probably not.
Can you hear the strong thread of TRADITION running through all these voices?: The prophet, saying to himself, “If they listened to their consciences, can I do anything less? They knew what was right. I must do the same.”
There is a DRIVE toward meaning. We don’t want to lead meaningless lives. We want to think that our presence in this universe and our presence in this life have no meaning. So and so was a survivor of the East European death camps in the early 1940′s. Speaking on a college campus in the years after WWII, he said, “People ask me, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Life HAS no meaning!”, he said. “YOU must bring meaning into your life!”
This means that WE have the possibility and a responsibility to find meaning in our lives. Is that what you want? Yes, you probably want that. How will you go about this? There are a myriad of ways to find, uncover, build a/o develop meaning in your life: You can find meaning in being helpful. Bringing meaning to other people’s lives will make your own life more meaningful. You can learn as much as you can about human existence and the place for homosapiens in general in this universe and as time proceeds. What’s the history of humans? What will be their future? What role can you play in that future? Do you want to play a role? Why not? What can you offer, however small?
Meaning is based on context, the surrounding situation. Your life is being lived in the context of all the other lives that are being lived and that have been lived, human, animal, insect, plant. Why should you care? Why should you not?
The context of your life, on this plant, at this time: Think about it: Do you care? Why not?
Do you think that your existence is insignificant? Well then; there you go.
What can you do to have an impact, to make a difference, to count for something, to be active in a way that will be helpful? What would you like to see? How can human life be better? What kind of life would you want, DO you want, for your great-grandchildren? Plenty of neighbors? A surfeit of neighbors? Living cheek-by-jowl in the desert?
In China, we humans curtailed the population explosion by killing off female infants. Is that solution acceptable to you? If not, what remedy can you suggest to avoid overpopulation? We can’t turn this problem over to God, it’s our responsibility. Nature is ruthless in it’s consequences. It has no consciousness. WE must have the consciousness (and the conscience) to avert the catastrophy of overpopulation.
Read what you can find on the problem. Find a sensible solution. Mass extermination? Think about it. It’s been done. Do we feel good about the results? Do we feel good about the process? Does it make sense?
In your view, what’s the best thing that could happen for humanity? A stable global economy? A stable world population? Growth is a good thing but unregulated growth of the global economy or of the human population would be disastrous.
Even if the human population stabilizes, there will still be growth, growth in the quality of life, growth in knowledge, growth in technology and the sophistication of lifestyle. Growth in the significance of life in the universe.
Today is the first day of the future. There’s something you can do to be helpful. Look ahead and beyond. Find that thing that will make things better.
And do it.