Oftentimes, how much we like people is based less on how they are and more on how much we like ourselves when we’re with them.
When i was really little, maybe 6 or 7, i used to leave a room, then pivot and shuttle back in, trying to catch some sort of static flicker of its non-existence while i was gone. I eventually realized the circular impasse that if the room only reassembled itself when i looked at it, there was no way i could ever see it without seeing it. Much much later, i found out that this was sort of like a hypothesis of conscious experience called the Refrigerator Light Illusion. Doing this room-peek-a-boo thing is my first memory of the profound narcissistic delusion that the world pivoted around me–that i was a painter throwing color and form onto dark shapeless spaces. I created the world.
Practice is the exchange between two ages of the brain.
Let me elaborate.
The cerebellum sits at the base of your skull like a walnut the size of a giant walnut. It is the command center for motor function. It is a very old and primal part of the brain, shared by most, if not all, animal species. It is commonly referred to as the reptilian brain. It is thought that this is where muscle memory is stored (primarily, at least).
We don’t have a conscious relationship with this part of the brain. We don’t have deliberate access to it the way we have a access to our thoughts or memories. We can’t communicate with it directly–in this sense, it seems to have a certain autonomy. When you walk, you don’t have to “think” about it. All you have to do is decide to walk, then your muscle memory comes online and requires very little chaperoning–intervention is only required for things like adjusting speeds so you don’t have to walk shoulder to shoulder with a stranger and say something because for a moment you are walking as if you were friends. Imagine trying to carry on that insincere conversation while you had to micromanage all of the hundreds of synchronous movements that it requires to take a step. Lift leg slightly, compensate for balance with other leg, swing shin forward, smile, start controlled fall forward with upper body, gauge distance to pavement, scan for obstruction, laugh too hard at something they say in order to seem agreeable, square ankle with pavement, prepare heel for impact, etc. This is describing what it is like for a toddler to learn how to walk. There is a very precarious calibration involved, which why they fall so damn much. It’s not just hard for them to use their muscles in a new way, it’s computationally hard to coordinate all of the muscles involved. It’s a lot of information.
The neocortex, which sits like a wrinkly hat on top of other brain structures including the cerebellum, is much more recently evolved than our reptilian brain. Neo=new. The neocortex is uniquely mammalian. This part of the part is thought to be responsible for higher cognition such as planning, language, abstract thinking, and conscious decision-making.
When you make a conscious decision to practice an action over and over, it is sort of like your neocortex programming your cerebellum. It is tediously hammering the instructions into it until they are deeply imprinted–so deeply that you can’t access it consciously anymore. The control of the action has trickled from the conscious neocortex to unconscious cerebellar muscle memory. This is what I meant by two ages of the brain. It is as if the newly evolved part of your brain is tediously teaching the formerly evolved part–tediously teaching it just like your dad teaching you to play Für Elise and audibly sighing with deep disappointment until you finally play without any mistakes, at which point, he leaves you and finally goes to make dinner.
I know my explanation of brain functions was crudely oversimplified and also probably wrong. If you can educate me or have a different opinion, please leave a comment. Let’s talk about it.
America’s doctrine is built on an entirely false premise. That all men are born free and that the best way to preserve that birth-given freedom is to submit the individual to the tyranny of the masses. It is a nation erected on the premise that there are no shackles and that man is free to do more or less as he pleases. Who could have ever guessed that man should feel lost and fearful without constraints and parameters to exist in? Instead of drifting in a boundless sea of choices and possibilities, who could have anticipated that man should impose constraints on himself–that he should layer his own laws on top of Nature’s (whose shackles apparently were not tight enough) just so he could feel the illusion of control in a cosmos where he is mute with insignificance. Who could ever expect that the slow self-organization of our systems by the forces of conformity and consensus would back our species into a corner of rigid conservatism–with the fangs of hate and intolerance only as fierce as the profound uncertainties and fear that our blink on this blue marble is meaningless.
In Freud’s tertiary structure of the mind, the lawless Id constructs the Ego to bridle the Id. We impose this internal model on the external world as we organize ourselves into societies with law and government and mores to bridle ourselves.
Freedom is vast and dizzying and cold. We would rather feel shackles against our skin and the resistance when we try to pull away, than wander aimlessly in open, empty freedom. Evolution sculpted our very forms through adaptation to environmental constraints and obstacles. We need them to live.
We are social creatures. Agreed? Agreed. We owe our success as a species to our hyper-sociability. Evolutionarily, we have secured this most precious sociability by the binding of our moods, motivations, aspirations, ruminations, and egos unseveringly to our kin. This has ensured a sort of “mutual enslavement of humanity”. Or in other words: we serve each other.
The self-serving tendencies of man are merely superficial by comparison to these social shackles. Our species is bound to itself for survival. This should be no surprise to anyone.
Personally, i easily trace the roots of my own actions and ambition to a profound obsession with validation, recognition, respect, reverence, affirmation, etc. All of my existential aches and anxieties stem from the imagined judgments of non-specific/non-existent people. One could take it a step further and suggest that this pursuit of widespread validation (for males, at least) is because the opposite sex finds those with pervasive validation attractive because it implies broader social prowess which implies access to more resources blah blah blah. That’s another discussion. I want to discuss validation.
Now the paradox.
We are driven to contribution and productivity because we care what other people think. If we didn’t care, we would be seven billion fragments spiraling aimlessly towards a premature death. (If we didn’t care, there positively wouldn’t be seven billion of us either). We would be nails and screws and planks and hammers wasted waiting to be assembled into a structure greater than the sum of its parts. So, why is there such a persistent correlation between irreverence and greatness? Why does it seems that those who make the greatest contributions to the world are the same individuals who don’t seem to care what the world thinks of them? Why is it that we must overcome our stifling devotion to humanity in order to be the most devoted of all?
I don’t think it’s ever too early to begin brainstorming possible memoir titles. Here are twelve.
12. How to Eat a Banana and Not Look Gay: Growing Up Straight But Sensitive
11. Mother, This Oatmeal Tastes Like a Whore’s Vomit: Rantings of an Ungrateful Boy
10. I Told You I Was Sick: Diagnosed When It’s Already Too Late
9. I Can’t Remember Not Having Diarrhea: A Small Town Boy Moves to the Big City
8. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Childhood Drawings
7. Why Men Pull Away: My Journey To the World Tug-of-War Championship
6. I’m Sorry For Being Sorry: Not Sorry Anymore
5. Red Rover Red Rover Send Someone to Chase Butterflies With Me Over: A Diary of Schoolyard Solitude
4. Take Off Those High Heels, Mommy Needs to Go to Work: Born a Thespian
3. Take Off Those High Heels Because Daddy Says So: Becoming a Thespian Against All Odds
2. Daddy’s Going to the Store For Cigarettes: My Father’s Abandonment of My Family, My Hopes, and My Dreams
1. Get the Nurse: An Exegesis of My Father’s Last Words