Sunday, April 12, 2009

how to get rid of the hidden killer in ourselves

"Man is an enigma to himself"
- Carl Gustav Jung (1958), The Undiscovered Self.

In the astounding movie on top of this post, mentalist Darren Brown has an unsuspecting bar visitor participate in a first person zombie shooter arcade game. Brown then plays Wizard of Oz with the gamer in that he sends flashes of light out of the device that bring the gamer into a catatonic trance for a few minutes, just enough to bring him into another room that looks just like the virtual one he had just been in. The participant wakes up with an airgun in his hand in a room full of people dressed like zombies. What happens is shocking. In a pandemonial panic the protagonist starts screaming and running around shooting the zombies, and the realization that he is actually killing people seems to bring him into an even more extreme state of terror. He has just discovered the hidden murderer in himself, and before figuring out how to solve the situation, he blindly accepts this short-sighted role. To me, this is the story of humanity up to now.

People can be highly manipulated by their environments and lack a consistent internalized fundament to guide them in every situation. Because people's inner selves are largely undefined and people are insecure of them, they can easily forget about them and be absorbed by behavioral patterns that are biologically or socially ingrained into them. It often seems more like these patterns evolve through us as mostly blind individuals, instead of us completely mastering ourselves.

This also seems to be happening with the digital mediaspace we have created; it is running out of control but dramatically changing our lives mostly outside of our own awareness. Our digital technologies are mostly alien to us, but because they provide us shortcuts to pleasurable states of being, we accept them into our lives in the conviction that it is good. This is an illusion though, just another trick of the selfish brain, which becomes apparent in cases like the one mentioned above, where the boundary between projected and real fear blurs. Our technologies create temporary lifeworlds for us that often seem innocent and neutral, for they are often only the means to fulfill a purpose in the 'real' world. But they never were neutral; the way we act in digital realms influence the way we act in what we perceive as reality. A projected action can easily become a real one, since we have already adopted it mentally, activating the same neural patterns that would have been activated had we really performed the action.

Where virtual, computational environments seem distinct to us, we must realize that this is not so. The dichotomy between 'real' and 'virtual' is merely constructed by us, to make our lives manageable without having to expand our sense of self. We must realize that there is no such thing as virtual; all is just data we simultaneously perceive and act upon, and that we can derive happiness out of by creatively organizing that data so that we transform our lifeworlds into ones that we feel more at home in, and that we can more easily incorporate in our sense of self. There is no such thing as a simulated world, for it relates as much as the 'real' world does to the optimization of our experiential patterns towards ones in which we are happy.

Along the same line, it is not very useful to wonder if we are living in a real or a simulated universe. If we discover that we are in a simulation, and find a way to live outside of it, nothing really changes. Still, we will be conscious, creative patterns that act upon experiential data, but only this data will transgress its borders and we will need to learn to incorporate it into our sense of self in order to become one with it. Trying to figure out whether or not we already live in a simulated world then, is an act stemming from an inacceptance of the current experiential lifeworld, an act of seeking happiness in something outside of what we already have, in the silent hope that there is more. More than that, if there appears to be more, this is a mere creation of ourselves, not a discovery. It will be the result of the search, that we already created with the creation of the search itself. The universe is not outside of us; we have created our own universe by means of our own loops of action and reflection in which we continuously shape it.

Then if we realize that nothing is outside of us, we come to realize that we are already everything. We are not distinct from anything we perceive as outside of us unless we choose to perceive it as outside of us. The illusion our social brain imbues us with is that we are people inside a physical body, who identify with a certain group of people and objects but not with others. This alienness to others creates an unconscious aversion to them that, in critical moments where resources like time are scarce, will result in actions like that man in the experiment aforementioned, who attempts to murder what he perceives as zombies.

As long as we identify with our own bodies, we will maintain a fear of death, which in the end is the cause of all suffering and misery. When we see that also the body is a mere concept constructed by us, we can mentally let go of it, and it is only then that we can live fully, and have the energy that is already within us guide our actions instead of illusory concepts we at some point have pasted onto our existence, as a patch to make a seemingly inherently hard life more liveable and pleasurable. When we lose our fear of dying we transcend a life in between pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, good and bad, but we see that everything is the way it should be already, and we can be invulnerably happy at every moment, only acting from a love and compassion towards everything, without first making the comparison as to whether some perceived entity or concept is similar enough to us.

We then can even come to see that there is no difference between life and death, but that this also is a constructed dichotomy stemming from a narrow self-identification with the body concept. When somebody dies, be it you or somebody else, what really dies is the concept you have of that person. The body just remains part of life in that it will get transformed into other organisms. As long as we try to condense ourselves into a concept, yes, we will inexorably remain an enigma to ourselves. But if we throw away all concepts as necessities for a good life, and act based on the creativity that stems from pure being, we know everything that there is to know already and we will act out of compassion instead of confusion and anxiety.

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