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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Getting our minds back, by JD

Last week saw several news items in all of the papers and on TV and the items seemed to be related in some way:

  • Mental illness among young people.
  • An apparent increase in suicide and self harm among young people.
  • The need to police social media to exclude 'harmful' images and messages.
  • Teaching mindfulness in schools.

This looked like a co-ordinated campaign to draw attention to what are, in the first two items, very serious and worrying trends. The second two items are being promoted as a 'solution' to counter the first two, so what does it all mean?

I shall try to deal with them one at a time and perhaps draw some conclusions afterwards.

1. Mental Illness? A very vague catch-all phrase without any precise meaning. Are they referring to 'depression' or something really serious like schizophrenia. Forgive me for being cynical but depression is not an illness; it could be anything from being fed up with life to feeling sorry for yourself. More often than not it is about 'hurt feelings' or more accurately a bruised ego. 

"...the rise of depression is mainly due to changing lifestyles. Too much eating, not enough activity, no exposure to nature, no contact with the five elements, no emotional security – these are the main reasons why depression has become so widespread in the world today."
https://isha.sadhguru.org/global/en/wisdom/article/how-to-prevent-and-reverse-depression

2. Suicide? Well it is not just among young people, it is increasing among older people too. It is not necessarily among those who are at a low ebb in their lives, it can happen to those whose outward demeanour appears cheerful and the reasons for it may be obscure or deeply hidden within a person's psyche.

This is a tale from the late Iain Carstairs whose excellent blog has disappeared since his death from cancer three years ago. It is recovered here via the Wayback archive but for some reason the pictures are missing. It is very well worth reading:
https://web.archive.org/web/20161114211547/https://iaincarstairs.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/the-life-of-a-stranger/

3. Policing (censoring?) social media. Perhaps it is not so much the content but the relentless and repetitive frequency of it. Maybe it is not the fault of social media alone. TV is no longer about entertainment. A quick scan through the schedules reveals a very dark cloud over most of it; very little of it can be said to raise ones spirits, to entertain. There is rather too much murder and violence for my liking. Murder mysteries are said to be popular, but all the time? I don't know about cinema because it is more than thirty years since I last visited.

The aforementioned Iain Carstairs wrote a very good and well researched piece about the effect neurologically on our brains in the way the media presents things to us. It was his comment on his own blog in response to a comment from an atheist and this is part of it -

"These media presentations are not designed this way purely for information. The orientation time for the brain is 2 or 3 seconds for any new scene; the job of the editor is to switch scenes so rapidly that the brain becomes hooked before it is able to settle, and in its confusion and desire to know what happens next, unable to change channels. It is like trying to stand in a revolving tunnel. The brain is burning out its circuits trying to keep up, and why? Because someone wants us to listen to a terrible piece of music or watch a documentary that has almost no real information in it. In one of Mel C’s efforts, they switched scenes no less than 120 times in the first minute. I’ve seen some where they actually switch scenes three times in a second! It makes me want to puke from nausea. Can you imagine what the brain is going through, to generate that kind of discomfort? It is as if the brain is some kind of a toy to be poked and prodded and squashed into whatever shape we want."
https://web.archive.org/web/20161114211835/https://iaincarstairs.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/the-story-so-far/

It was in fact a very long comment and is reproduced in full in the notes below. Very detailed and comprehensive critique of our modern world. You must read it to help understand how things have changed over the past thirty or forty years.

4. Teaching 'mindfulness' in schools. I saw some footage on a news programme of a teacher with his class sitting in front of him but the voice over did not reveal very much about what exactly was being taught. I doubt that the teacher knew, to be honest.

A quick look through the various offerings in search engines revealed rather a lot of half baked nonsense. I think what is being promoted is the Zen proverb of "Sitting quietly, doing nothing. Spring comes and the grass grows by itself" I read that many years ago in a book called 'The Way of Zen' by Alan Watts. It is a variation on Quaker  meetings where they would sit in quiet contemplation, quite unlike the worship of other Christian denominations.

But we are talking of young people here and asking them to sit quietly conflicts with their natural exuberance. It could do more harm than good. If Dan Siegel's ideas are those being promoted in schools then I am right. -
https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-mindfulness/

This is not mindfulness, it is brainwashing. Much better to teach children 'mindlessness' by which I mean engage them in non-verbal activity i.e. creativity or sport. And the non verbal nature of their activity is crucial. Instead of wasting time in 'mindfulness' children should be encouraged to exercise their imaginations in creative activity, either collectively or individually. They should understand the spacial awareness which is essential for most sporting activities. It has long been known that physical activity will release endorphins within the body which then lead to a feeling of well being. Laughter also does the same thing. The use of imagination allied to the intense concentration required in creativity does the same, not just a sense of 'achievement' but a sense of wonder at what you have drawn out from within yourself.

These things are what we all did before the age of five, before we ever went anywhere near the education system. I have a book called 'Art and Fear' which tells of the trials and tribulations of  giving birth to works of art and the joy of seeing what was once imagined become reality. In the book is a tale of how the very young daughter of one of the authors asked him what he did when he went to work. "I teach people to draw" he said. His daughter thought about that for a moment and then said "You mean they forget!" 

Remember - "School is where you go to learn how to be stupid!
......................................................................................................
A few thoughts in conclusion. We have all heard the aphorism 'mens sana en corpore sano' This is usually attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal as being a satire on the Greeks' obsession with a 'healthy mind in a healthy body' but in fact it comes from the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus who pre-dates even Socrates. The idea is not wrong because the Greek ideas of philosophical discourse help to promote a healthy mind and the Greek origin of the Olympic games help to create a healthy body.
The modern mind since the 'Enlightenment' and the industrial revolution believes in the god of progress, ever onwards and upwards to a better future. But ancient wisdom tells us that progress is a false god which is destroying humanity because it is devoted to the material world and ignores the divine essence in mankind.

All of the great philosophers in history have offered variations on the theme of 'know thyself' which is an eternal truth and essential for well being.

"If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion."
~ Aldous Huxley

"Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave."
-- George Gurdjieff

===============================
Notes:

https://web.archive.org/web/20161114211835/https://iaincarstairs.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/the-story-so-far/
Iain's response to a comment by an atheist (a very sensible and polite atheist):

Stress, even very minor stress, has been shown (this month’s SciAm) to have a catastrophic effect on the neurons. The abandonment of altruism, which generates protective neurotransmitters, in favour of greed and self-indulgence, which has been shown to decrease mirror neuron activity, is only one part of the problem. The other is that the brain is being flung about like a child’s toy: work related stress, endless competition,rivalries, fears of wars, shocks from the media on the hour, and even mainstream media presentations such as the National Geographic documentaries are so full of stimulating twists, turns and visual shocks that it is no wonder the brain is being utterly destroyed long before the end of life.

These media presentations are not designed this way purely for information. The orientation time for the brain is 2 or 3 seconds for any new scene; the job of the editor is to switch scenes so rapidly that the brain becomes hooked before it is able to settle, and in its confusion and desire to know what happens next, unable to change channels. It is like trying to stand in a revolving tunnel. The brain is burning out its circuits trying to keep up, and why? Because someone wants us to listen to a terrible piece of music or watch a documentary that has almost no real information in it. In one of Mel C’s efforts, they switched scenes no less than 120 times in the first minute. I’ve seen some where they actually switch scenes three times in a second! It makes me want to puke from nausea. Can you imagine what the brain is going through, to generate that kind of discomfort? It is as if the brain is some kind of a toy to be poked and prodded and squashed into whatever shape we want.

Added to this you have the senile attempt to multi-task: the brain swaps rules out and back in about 3 seconds, for any specific task, like, say talking to your wife rather than talking to your client, or working on a spreadsheet. To swap back and forth requires 3 seconds to swap contextual rules. But people don’t have time for that. So the brain, ever trying to oblige, is forced to use the short-term memory to hold rules patterns – which it is not designed to do – and which speedily burns out the short term memory, permanently. Memory loss is a feature of executive progress. The brain is being torn to shreds, in order to keep up with the pressure placed on it, and is becoming stunted and deformed, as a child would be if you secured a heavy weight around its neck from the age of three.

In fact one doctor in the UK has warned of a “tsunami of dementia” coming our way. Why? Why should the brain of an intellectually superior race be degenerating so rapidly that the WHO say mental disorders are now the number one health problem in the world? The answer is that the whole lifestyle is now not in accordance with Nature. Man has become a rebel to his own nature, and has abandoned any idea of self-sacrifice, altruism, generosity, gratitude and self-development. He is interested only in bigger houses, faster cars, taller buildings, more income, longer holidays, more clothes, expensive technology, and so on.

This question of the brain literally being destroyed in a few decades must be the biggest cause for alarm today. Its degeneration is so obvious that revolting massacres, obscene crimes, horrible anti-social behaviour, and rampant sociopathy are on the rise everywhere. There is no escape from it anywhere on the planet. And in all of this, man is still building bigger bombs, and the whole world is preparing for war, gearing up for it. Tell me, where is the peace of mind which should accompany intellectual superiority?

Man has simply abandoned the inner world. he is no longer interested in it. far more exciting is the new technolgoy, the latest phones, cars, computers and so on. And the result is that the brain is now falling victim to decline. Dementia even occurs now to people in their 30’s! This was absolutely unheard of two decades ago. So it cannot be age related. The destruction is even carried over from one generation to the next: do you know at the current rates of autistic births, within 22 years, 100% of children born will have some form of autistic spectum disorder? But still man is looking to new drugs or technology to fix it. The inner world lies vacant and unexplored. I even had one reader who insisted he could only find proof of God in a new book. You cannot reason with that kind of mind because it is totally fixated on the external world.

You are right in that logic itself does not dictate spirituality, any more than it should dictate love and romance, or art for that matter. In some cases, people find themselves unable to justify even living, and so they kill themselves. There is no arguing with them. We see that there is a fault in their thinking, but using logic, they cannot be persuaded. In fact, logically thinking, a person would never fall in love or decide to have children because the risks and responsibilities are so great, that considering each person has limited resources and should be averse to serious risk, love is the most foolish thing they would enter into.

Although there are many who feel that way, and I have known quite a few, most people naturally give in to those feelings and make a life which is based around it. Sometimes they do this despite themselves! But none of it is based on logic. We would even think it strange if it were. So much for logic! If you tell them their marriage is not logical, they’d look at you strangely, because for them it is very natural and gives them immense rewards. The same could be said for art. People devote their lives to it, suffering immense personal setbacks, and their love for creating sustains them. Where is the logic in that?

When we examine the biology behind meditation (also called prayer) and altruism, self-sacrifice, honesty, devotion to a higher cause, we see there are neurotransmitters at work. So it is not mere idle wish fulfillment driving people towards these ideas; we can even say man’s normal brain seems to be designed for it. Certainly that is the evidence from the laboratory. Yes, there are those who shun it, just as there are those who ridicule the idea of having children, or entering into relationships. This state is normal for them as well – perhaps it is a nature’s response to an overcrowded world. But either way, people act in persistent ways not because of logic or because of illogic, but because they are designed that way, usually right from the very start.

As far as the sense of other intelligences comprising the universe, some people have a sense of this dimension, and some people do not. To a brain already angled in that direction, the sense that there is an intelligence active all around in the Universe is unmistakable, because the brain itself has developed this capacity. It is a valid sense, just as the senses of sight and of sound and like those senses, cannot be replaced by logic and cannot be explained by logic to those without them. yet the impact they make on the mind is unmistakable and thoroughly convincing. But they cannot be explained by logic: by your argument, they should then be useless! But Nature is not in the habit of giving man redundant senses or redundant capabilities. The spiritual sense exists for a reason, and religion has simply reflected its pervasive impact over the course of history.

But for those approaching the world solely through logic, they shut themselves out permanently from this dimension, just as a person sitting permanently in a chair never exercises their legs, and search though they might through books, the internet, and endless discussions and debates and arguments and lectures, for evidence as to the benefit of having legs, they never will develop them or discover anything about them other than by the use of their own legs. They could watch athletes all day long, but it would never change their own state, just as they could imagine the pleasure of eating all day and still starve to death.

It is this stumbling block which causes the whole anti-religious mindset to one who is, from the start, intellectually averse to it. Using logic to defend one’s own spirituality is probably the most unconvincing argument of all, just as it would be to justify marriage. It is not based on logic, because it is a built in impulse. Anyway, that being said now many times over and over, I’m glad you enjoyed this blog!

1 comment:

Paddington said...

It might be that the suicide issue is one of more reporting. A global analysis which was reported today shows suicides down by 33% or so since 1990.