If evolution holds, we started as microorganisms. Well, perhaps you could say we started somewhere before that. Regardless, at some point in history, humans lacked a sense of awareness. Fast forward to current times, and there’s a lot of talk about being “conscious” and “awake.” Somewhere between microbes and now, the first human(s) realized what it meant to be. I’ve always wondered what that part of evolution was like.
So as we strive towards greater awareness, well some of us, I often wonder what this truly means. In much the same way an amoeba is not well equipped to grasp self-awareness, I figure we only have the capacity to be aware to a particular extent. Still, something seems to be happening – to be changing – right now. I can’t point you to a website or walk you though some form of logic to illustrate that we are in a time of rapid change. It’s just a personal conclusion drawn on my own learning, observations, and experiences. This blog post isn’t really about the current time of change. What I will talk about is “awareness” itself and where I suspect it may be going.
Lets first consider personal awareness. To various extents, we’re aware of what goes on inside our own minds. We move about our world, restricted to some degree by physics, in these big bone filled bags called bodies. It seems that many of us define ourselves as our bodies and everything inside of them – including our thoughts and, for those who believe as such, our souls.
We’ve learned that our bodies are not our own. They are, in fact, at least “host to” and perhaps “a collection of” other organisms. Lets also look inside out for a moment; we also know we leave linger trails our ourselves everywhere we go. We tend to view our bodies as “us” because that is the most defined barrier our senses pick up on. When we look in a mirror, we see one big body looking back. “That must be me!” When in reality, parts of “me” are scattered all around and “inside” me is filled with a bunch of other creatures. Ack!
So lets step away from the physical and take a look at our minds. Imagine someone who has had a lot of influence in your life. This could be one of your parents, a best friend, a lover, a spiritual leader, whatever. In your mind, ask this person a question and listen for an answer. How much of this person does your mind show you? Can you see their face? Can you hear their voice? Can you imagine an answer to a question you’ve never asked this person? Now, how many people can you do this with?
How often do you catch yourself repeating a phrase you heard from someone else? Maybe you picked up on a joke or tagline that you enjoy using. You might see where I am going with this. We store images of the people we know. We reference these images and integrate parts of them in our own personalities. In other words, much of who we are is a mashup of who we know. To what extent is this true?
Social interaction and personality is a small fraction of the information in your mind. Add to the pool everything you’ve ever learned from a recorded source. This included all of the education from school – math, science, language, history, and more. This also includes every story – fiction or non-fiction – that you’ve ever consumed – books, movies, whatever. Some of your knowledge will be from your own observations or tests. However, most individuals collect most of their knowledge from other individuals. In fact, humans spend a large amount of time finding the best ways to transfer that information from one individual to the next.
The lines that we take for granted as defining the boundaries of ourselves are blury at best. Even our active present states are largely dependent on those around us. How often do our moods change when we interact with others? In fact, we have a very trendy/herd-like mentality. It doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to see ourselves as single cells in a larger organism. Are we unaware that we’re part of a larger singular “thing” just like the bacteria in my stomach is unaware that it is part of me?
While it’s easy to consider these concepts and accept them as truth, it is much harder to accept these notions as part of our perception of existence. Our egos don’t like it. We believe ourselves to be unique individual creatures. Perhaps we are, somewhere deep inside, truly unique. Somewhere along the way, it struck me that this could be related to what we seek during meditation.
Look inside yourself. No, not with an x-ray, I mean inside your mind. Strip away all of the “learned” stuff I mentioned above. Without language, what are your thoughts? What is at the core? In my experience of trying to practice this exercise, the harder I look – the smaller I am. In fact, when I focus hard enough, the “me” inside seems to be an infinitely small point of nothingness that leads to somewhere I can never go… or perhaps, once I do go, I can never return.
Alright, I’ve gone far too hippy there. To lighten things up a bit, lets zoom out in space and look at humans as a whole. Dude, we look like ants from up here! Or a fungus.
This point, from space, is where I think the human mind is attempting to evolve. We cling on to our notions of individuality. However, as we shift from books to blogs to tweets to… whatever… the flow of information speeds up and the number of nodes involved in our social network increases. Suddenly, the worlds starts to look different as larger patterns emerge. It’s overwhelming and tiring, but somehow as a culture we can’t stop working in this direction.
I love to fantasize about where we might be going. I’ve met many who seem to think they know. I personally don’t believe any of them. Even if they are one more step evolved than any of us, they would simply be one of nature’s prototypes testing the effects of a particular evolutionary path. It’s not a true step in evolution until a critical mass takes the leap. Unfortunately, I may not be here for it. Then again, if I see “I” as “us”… then I will.
We’ve discovered life that’s well over 3 billion years old on our 4.5 billion year old planet. We think that humans have been around for about half a million years. We expect our star to be around for a good 10 billion. We have a lot of time left to evolve, providing we can avoid disaster. I believe it silly to think we’re anywhere near the end. In fact, I suspect we’re far closer to the beginning.