In kindergarten, they teach you that you have five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

But to solve the problem of mind-body dualism for you, existential philosophy would have it that your mind is subservient to the body and is a background projection of it. Your brain has a sense—your Self or consciousness. Your belief systems, your values and the person you call “I” are all instances of your brain sensing the world.

We aren’t automatons


robotsYour mind isn’t your brain, but rather, it’s an effect of it. We presume, in science and philosophy, that the mind is the result of evolution and exists in organic entities with significantly complex biology. Or, in the case of artificial intelligence (AI), consciousness would be the result of significantly complex programming, leading to the ability to create a sense of Self and to generate thought beyond this programming—creative consciousness.

This isn’t to discount spirit or soul, but it’s to say that, as far we know, these things are born of (and seemingly die with) the brain. The best example of this can be seen with brain injury. When a part of your brain dies or is removed, it ceases to regain functionality. We can extrapolate from this that if the entire organ dies, so too does its functionality. When your brain dies, so do ‘you’—whatever that ethereal, transient and ephemeral ‘you’ is.

Accepting this doesn’t in any way diminish our beauty, meaning or place in the universe. In fact, it makes conscious life more fragile, precious and unique. We aren’t automatons simply because neurotransmitters affect how we behave or how we perceive ourselves or others. Philosopher Alan Watts once said that we’re the apertures through which all of existence looks out, and this is a gorgeous truth.

The parallax gap


parallax imageA parallax is defined as “the apparent displacement of an object due to a change in the position of the observer.”

In the infinite and unfolding multiverse, we occupy what’s called the parallax gap. Imagine for a moment that the galaxy is a large envelope, and in the space between what’s created and what has yet to be created—in the ‘non-all’ order of being—we exist.

The phenomenological world is not the bringing to explicit expression of a pre-existing being, but the laying down of being. Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being.

– Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

We are the eyes of the universe. We see ourselves and others, and we’re always in the position of becoming or “bringing truth into being.”

We are the universe becoming aware of itself. All conscious creatures, or peaks of consciousness in the blanket of infinity, have what’s called a “narrative centre of self,” meaning that we’re natural-born storytellers.

As we navigate our lives, all of our experiences and the parallax gap, we change our perspectives and the story we tell ourselves and others. Our sense of Self literally changes, as with the “trauma narrative”—I experienced trauma and therefore I’m damaged goods, or the “survive to thrive narrative”—I experienced trauma, I survived and I aim to thrive. Same person, same story, different perspective.

Perspective is everything


stairwell from above

Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts, opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensation. If we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a Grand Cru, then we will taste a Grand Cru. … If the mind didn’t impose itself on the eye, then our vision would be full of voids … because there are no light-sensitive cones where the optic nerve connects to the retina, we each have a literal blind spot in the centre of the visual field. But we are blind to our own blind spot: our brain unfailingly registers a seamless world.

– Jonah Lehrer, Proust Was a Neuroscientist

The mind may be shrouded in the unknown, but it’s not a mystery.

The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid. … The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We’re seeking a morbid logician’s understanding of mind-body dualism, not the glorious blaze of victorious invisibility of the ghost in the machine. We want to know how it all works. What is the ether of the mind? How does matter become so inspired? How does the inanimate become animated?

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Eleanor is an experienced mental health advocate and Peer Support Worker. She facilitates a Narrative Therapy-based writing group every Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Heath Centre in Toronto, Canada. For more information, visit mood-mend.com.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 FreelandBuck Parallax Gap Renwick Washington DC 115743 by bobistraveling via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)