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think beyond your mind

Think Beyond Your Mind

Living, learning, relating to others…it all comes down to you and me and how we manage our conduct in light of our philosophies, our religious dogmas, our various economic and political systems, our hatred for each other, our love and compassion for each other, and the myriad emotions and physical needs that continually drive our thoughts and our actions. And we do not quite understand how it all works.

There are so many unanswered questions, so much to learn about ourselves and everything around us. And here we are, inquisitive and intelligent beings stuck in the middle between quarks and galaxies, trying to figure out how we got here and what lies ahead for us. It all can seem bewildering at times, yet we are excited about our unlimited possibilities, if we can keep ourselves alive.

When it comes to our origins, humanity is the result of perhaps the greatest game of chance in our solar system and probably for many light years beyond. To begin with, the early universe, some 13.8 billion years ago, had to contain just the right amounts of hydrogen and helium, and other basic elements and just the right amount of gravity to hold everything together to form the stars, the galaxies, and solar systems such as ours.

Then around 4.5 billion years ago a very accommodating ball of hydrogen, helium, and a number of other elements that we conveniently refer to as cosmic dust and gas formed a planet at just the right distance from the nearest star to heat up the newly formed rock and water sphere to a comfortable degree, not too hot that the water boiled off and not so cold that atoms and molecules could not move around and mingle.

Thus, because conditions were just right, we wound up with a Goldilocks planet that was just right for primitive life to emerge. The likelihood of all of this happening just the way it did from the big bang to the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms coming together on Earth to form amino acids and proteins astounds the finest minds that have looked into the matter. It took a long time and numerous haphazard chemical combinations for inorganic chemicals to create life.

Then it took several million years to go from one-celled organisms to the complex human body that carries our brain. Our bodies are chemical entities and science has learned the logic behind how we use food to make cells that keep our many organs functioning. But our physical bodies are only half of who we are.

It is the other half of ourselves, the mental part, that sometimes seems to defy logic. Scientists generally understand the chemical reactions that make the body function. For example, all human hearts work in the same way. If they get clogged up with cholesterol, physicians have ways to clean them out. If a bone breaks, it can be splinted back together. But how is it that eight billion human minds, although they are basically the same size and shape, can have such a wide spectrum of morals, values, biases, prejudices, attitudes, and outlooks on life?

Physically, all brains look the same and function in the same way. But no two minds are alike. Although researchers have a fairly detailed understanding of where in the brain neurol reactions of one kind or another take place, no one has yet to determine why we have the thoughts we have other than that we are possibly influenced by some inherited traits and our environment.   

We know, for example, that the hippocampus is that part of the brain where memories are stored. But why the hippocampus stores some memories but not others is still not fully understood.

The ability to react to stimuli goes back to the beginnings of animals with nerve cells. One of the earliest, for example, is an animal that is still around, the hydra, which has a number of neurons which control bodily functions such as hunger and digestion, but is has no central brain.

As evolution progressed and animals began behaviors such as responding to light or hunting for food rather than stumbling into it, the individual neurons in some animal’s ‘nerve net’ began to come together into a central brain.

For millions of years the animal brain evolved more intricate ways of finding food and developing defensive mechanisms to ward off predators. One of the most important animal tools developed by evolution was the eye. Many species of animals also developed claws and teeth, and the ability to run toward or away from other animals.

Learning to use these adaptations further strengthened and enlarged the brain. More functions required more neurons. By the time primates came along, the brain was overseeing millions of activities from keeping the heart beating, to finding a mate and raising offspring, to responding to threats from other animals, and even how to use rocks and sticks as rudimentary tools. The primate brain grew as they slowly learned the behavioral skills needed to keep themselves alive and to perpetuate the species.

Then starting roughly 6 million years ago, possibly due to climate change that turned millions of acres of African forest into savanna, a few tree-dwelling primates came down from the trees and learned to walk upright. Now standing tall on two legs instead leaning over on four, these animals could see farther, run faster, and hunt more efficiently than their older cousins. Again, a wider range of activities called for the growth of more neurons.  

In a case of natural selection responding to a need, as more neurons were required to keep up with increased activity, the brain cavity began to expand. Our nearest primate relative, the chimpanzee, has a cranial capacity of around 400 cubic centimeters. Homo erectus, a much closer human relative who shows up in the fossil record about 2 million years ago, had a cranial cavity of about 1000 cubic centimeters, enough neuron capacity to allow it to make and use a number of wood, stone and bone tools. Modern Homo sapiens have about 1350 cubic centimeters of cranial capacity…a small space that contains the must complex structure in the known universe.

But more profound than the size of the brain was the rise of human introspection. We began to think about ourselves. We came to realize that each of us was born, lived a number of years, then stopped living. This, then, led to the emergence of caring for others, having compassion for the ill and injured, and doing what we can to alleviate pain and suffering.

So, after hundreds of millions of years of animal sensory perception, learning to find food, avoiding predators, mating, and figuring out what it takes to perpetuate the species, human consciousness emerged.

Consciousness of ourselves enabled the leap from a brain that keeps the body functioning to a mind that creates thoughts. We became introspective and each one of us became able to consider ourselves as an individual different from everyone else.

Not long ago in our history, we began to wonder how our brains could take sensory information and turn it into thoughts, dreams, biases, motivations, attitudes, empathy, compassion, love, and hate. And we began to wonder how it is that every brain on Earth has a different combination of these mental characteristics.

Stir all of our minds together for millions of years and we have the world we live in today with its science, global economy, its philosophies, its religions, its crime, and its wars. Some of these attributes that our minds developed we needed for survival. We had to learn to fight, for example, or we would have been eaten by predatory animals. Fighting with whatever weapons are available to us is a skill we carried with us as we evolved into modern humans.

In fighting off animals, some of us developed a lust to kill. When we ran out of predatory animals to kill, the crudest of us turned that lust to kill on their fellow humans. For thousands if years our lust to kill has caused humanity a great deal of suffering and sadness. It is time we got over this old problem which has caused us so much grief and sorrow.

But the need to kill and fight in order to survive or achieve a political goal is embedded deep in our minds. We fight each other as individuals, and we fight in groups in wars. Our news casts are little more than who is fighting who today. It goes on and on. The countries change, the names of the leaders change, but the burning desire for power is the same as it always has been. The unfortunate part is the willingness of power seekers to kill their fellow humans to fulfill their selfish ambitions.

So far, the wisest among us have not been able to remove this deadly lust from our thinking. The only tools available to remove it are words. And words can be listened to and heeded or not. History constantly reminds us that the people who have the lust to kill have not listened to the reasons for not killing. Their lust for power and their lust to kill is often stronger than reason or rationality, ethics or morality.

It is the most serious mental problem we humans face. Before there were eight billion of us and before the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, our conflicts were deadly enough. But in today’s factious world, the lust for power and the willingness to kill each other is a greater existential threat than we have ever faced.

From diplomats, to journalists, and to everyone who wants to live in peace, we are trying to talk and write our way out of this frightening global conundrum. But if it sometimes seems as if everyone hates everyone else, how persuasive can our words be? The old saying that ‘actions speak louder than words’ is true. A bombing raid is much more effective than volumes of words. But bombing raids are what we are trying to prevent.

Some people are beginning to ask questions such as: is our whole world becoming an insane asylum? Are the mentally disturbed becoming more numerous than the caregivers? Is paranoia and the perceived need for individuals to carry a weapon or nations to build bigger and bigger bombs replacing reason and rationality?

Evolution of some species is not linear. Humans, for example, did not evolve smoothly from primates. If one primate in a group developed a skill such as how to use a sharpened stone for cutting meat, and passed the skill to its offspring, after a few generations the skilled primates would separate from their unskilled companions and form a new group more skilled and better able to process food.

Then as time went on, other individuals developed skills that allowed even better environmental adaptation. Sometimes the unskilled group died out. For example, there are no longer any Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, or Neanderthals living today, although probably all of us carry remnants of their pre-human genes.

The individuals responsible for making the gradual evolutionary adaptations that led to Homo sapiens and to us today were not just filling a biological need. These predecessors of humanity were thinking beyond the level of their companions or group mates in a way that moved the species to a higher level of productivity and self-awareness.

Weather it was individuals or groups making important discoveries, thinking beyond the ordinary day to day human routines seemed to be the way human progress is made. It has worked well for technological innovation from cell phones to rockets sent into space. The process continues and we have proven we are good at it.

Will this process of thinking beyond the ordinary also work to solve our human relations problems? Can we use this process to bring us together as one humanity with each individual dedicated to living a long and fruitful life and helping others to do the same and not allowing political, religious, economic, or ideological differences to spoil our progress.

What is needed now are thoughtful individuals or groups to think beyond our present state of mental evolution, that is, to think beyond their minds to realms of thought that most humans have not yet reached. The world needs people of all backgrounds and cultures who can think beyond the biases, animosities, fears, prejudices, greed, lust for power, negative attitudes and other limits we put on our ability to think clearly.

How is it possible for us to think beyond our minds? The easy answer is to throw off the shackles that bind it. But these shackles bind us tightly. All of us are subject to negative influences that put limits on our ability to think beyond our emotional responses to people we perceive as having attitudes and points of view that we do not agree with. Our minds are cluttered to the point of confusion.

If we can perceive ourselves deeply, if each one of us can take our thoughts to the farthest reaches of who we are as a human being interacting with others of our species in a way that lifts all of our minds out of the conflicts that stifle us and that we must constantly try to reconcile with our own point of view, then we can begin to clear out the clutter from our thought processes and begin to think beyond our mind.

Is this what it will take to bring us together as a species, as one humanity, and not bands of partisan factions each bound to a particular ideology and ambition? Are we as members of the various interest groups in our world — the many nations, the religious sects, the political parties, the numerous organizations with the goal of saving us from ourselves, and each of the eight billion of us each with our own particular set of biases and outlooks — able to put down our guns and ideologies long enough to come together and discuss the prospect of peace on Earth?

We seem to be so splintered, so factious, with so many groups intent on telling others that they are right and everyone else is wrong that the prospect of our minds coming together into one united global harmonious society seems remote. That is why we must think beyond our cluttered minds. We must get our minds beyond the crimes, the wars, the threats of nuclear annihilation, and especially the existential fear gnawing at the back of our brains that our human relations problems are insurmountable.

But keep in mind that we are an innovative species. We would not have gotten this far in our evolution if we had not adapted to numerous challenges in our long evolution. We must make up our minds to persevere in this quest as well. It is not just a hope. It is an achievable goal to work toward. And like any goal, it will take willingness, commitment, and effort.

The task might at first seem unwinnable, but this quote from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure should encourage us to assuage our fears and keep on working: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we might oft win, by fearing the attempt.” Although the destructive pattern of behavior that keeps our world in conflict is deep in us, we must have the courage and fortitude to bring ourselves together and make our Earth a safer place to live. We cannot give ourselves over to doubt in our abilities.

Even the most ambitious war mongers can understand that killing each other is not going to solve any problems. It never has. War and death merely set the stage for the next conflict. It has been that way for thousands of years and it will continue to be that way until we agree to allow ourselves to have a profound change in our thinking.

Can we teach ourselves to think deeply enough to actually change the course of the evolutionary trajectory we are currently on? Wars and conquests have been our bane since before we were human. It is a mindset that has caused so much suffering that most people do not believe we can ever rid ourselves of it. So, we continue to live it, as if we are incapable of thinking any other way.

Yet, with the weapons available today to power hungry leaders and other deranged child killers, the stakes are much higher than they have ever been in our history. Have we gotten to the point where we either change or perish? At the very least, if we start dropping bombs on each other, we will kill so many people and destroy so many homes and ruin so much of our infrastructure that many areas of our world will basically need to start over to rebuild human civilization. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. Yes, it certainly seems that we are our own worst enemy!

The fact is that we have become fearful of each other and that is a serious problem. We should not need to live this way. It is as if some paranoid leaders under the pretense of defending themselves and their country are setting themselves up to be destroyed. Could this deranged behavior be a form of suicide?

But slow we are to change our ancient ways of thinking. Take the sun, for example. Since the days of Copernicus nearly 500 years ago, we have known that the Earth is not the center of the universe or the solar system. Yet we continue to say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west instead of saying the Earth rotates east to west bringing the sun into view and then out of view at our particular location. 

It is the same with our aggressive mindset. Although we know that armed invasion is nothing but a form of murder, we cannot shake off the old destructive habits and behaviors that have plagued us throughout our history. The sun keeps rising and setting and we keep fighting each other. Our minds are locked in old thinking.

The lust for power still rules the minds of too many mean-spirited people from street thugs to tyrants who hold power in subservient nations. Many of these people do not seem to be concerned about how many people they murder or how many homes they destroy. The principle of selfish greed is the same in both the petty criminal and the nuclear armed dictator. The impact is just a matter of scale. Killing people is murder regardless of whether it is one person or a million.

But to rid ourselves of this murderous nemesis, we must change ourselves, and the change must come from within each one of us. There are no gods to pray to or magic words to utter that will stop our suicidal madness. It has to come from within our minds! We must push our minds to think beyond their comfort zones, to not be lazy and keep giving in to easy thinking or easy solutions. There are no easy solutions.

Easy thinking has got us to this point and could destroy us. We must push ourselves to the limits of our creativity. We must come up with new solutions to solve the problems we have lived with for a very long time that, unfortunately, have become an accepted part of our everyday thinking.

But we have always proven to be a resourceful species. We have solved problems and adapted to new circumstances since our earliest Australopithecus ancestors learned to walk upright. Since we did not have claws or fangs, we had to outsmart our predators. We developed brain power instead of animal strength and speed.

Now what we need to outsmart is the human drive to be aggressive and harmful to others of our own species. Ridding ourselves of the desire to control the lives of others is the best thing we could do for each other and for our descendants.

We must be optimistic and believe we can accomplish this monumental goal. Individuals reach goals frequently. Now we as a species have a goal to reach. It will take commitment, a lot of new thinking, and perseverance. But we are humans. We are special on our Earth, in our solar system, and for many millions of miles in the vastness of our galaxy.  We cannot let ourselves and our descendants down.

It is true that the array of tools we have available in bringing ourselves together in a global harmonious society is limited. Basically we just have our words, our good intensions, and the optimism that drives us on to seek a safer, happier world.

One is reminded of the passage in the poem In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson where he writes:

                              Behold, we know not anything;

                              I can but trust that good shall fall

                              At last – far off – at last, to all,

                              And every winter change to spring.

                              So runs my dream; but what am I?

                              An infant crying in the night;

                              An infant crying for the light,

                              And with no language but a cry.

In many ways we humans are still an infant species crying for the light of harmony and cooperation. It was only around 250,000 years ago that our species, Homo sapiens, evolved from the earlier hominin species. Many animal species on Earth today go back two or three million years. Evolutionarily speaking, we are young, still learning our way around our solar system and how to live sustainably on this fragile old planet. We have a lot to learn about our environment, and especially about ourselves.

Our minds continue to grow and learn new behaviors, new ways to look at the world. So, with enough effort we are certainly capable of prompting our minds to evolve beyond their present level of reason and rationality. Our evolution to this point has been mostly haphazard natural selection. But we know enough now to take control of the future development of ourselves.

And looking around the world at all of the animosity we have generated among ourselves, we see that it is time to use our minds reign in our aggressiveness. Aggressiveness was very important to our survival up to perhaps fifteen thousand to twenty thousand years ago. But it is certainly not necessary to our survival today. Our aggressiveness is a serious enemy to us today and we must get it under control.

Let us now get busy putting our aggressive tendencies behind us. Although our world is splintered by numerous ideologies, there is one thing we could all agree on, and that is that we no longer need war mongers, or tyrants, or even street criminals. Without these people all of us can live and prosper and be safer. We do not want the fear these kinds of people cause in our lives.

Our problems with conflict have always stemmed from individuals instigating others to violent action. On the other hand, instigating others to peaceful action is what will solve our problems with conflict. If you are the kind of person who cares about reducing fear and conflict in your community and beyond, you can make an important contribution to the well-being of yourself and others. Your words and lifestyle can set a good example.

Try not to be influenced negatively by the current newscasts. They seem to imply that everyone on Earth hates everyone else. But actually, there are many decent and caring people in the world who will pull us out of this melee of hatred that the news casts would lead us to believe we are irretrievably stuck in at this time.

Rise above the hatred and fear. Be an instigator of peace, not conflict. Speak and write about promoting global harmony instead of global disunity. Our tools are our words and our actions. If you speak about peace, write about peace, and live a peaceful life, others will take notice and want to join with you.

Open your eyes. Open your mind. Think for yourself. Think beyond the mindset that has generated so much fear and animosity in today’s world. At his very moment, there are thousands of humans suffering and dying because of someone’s greedy lust for power. This should not be the way we humans live and interact with each other. We can certainly do better for ourselves. We can certainly treat ourselves better than this.

Be a person who thinks beyond the thoughts of those people who lust for power and those who do not mind being inhumanly cruel to other people to get their way. Do not follow them although their rhetoric could be enticing. We have not gone through millions of years of evolution just to be led to our destruction by bullies who seem to get some sort of demonic satisfaction out of inflicting pain on others.

Think beyond the limits of what your mind has been accustomed to believing about such things as political affiliations and religious dogmas. It is sad that past generations allowed such polarizing institutions to become established. Now we are paying the price.

The lesson here is for us to learn from our past mistakes and not pass these on to our children and future generations. They do not want to relive our mistakes any more then we are enjoying reliving the mistakes of past generations. Our descendants do not want the wars we are fighting nor the crime that makes our streets unsafe.

Try not to be drawn into conspiracy theories, extreme political factions, or other odious mental manipulations that engender division and animosity. Check the evidence, do good research before you profess a belief in anything. Don’t fall for false assumptions.

 In spite of all the bad news we get, be aware that there is much good in the world. Along with learning to fight, we humans also learned compassion and caring. We experience all of this now, the good and the bad.  Even though wars bring cruelty and destruction, the survivors so far have been able to rebuild and start over while mourning the dead.

But now the weapons are bigger and more deadly. Bigger missiles, bigger artillery, bigger tanks, and worst of all devastating nuclear bombs. It would be much harder to rebuild after a nuclear war. Would there even be enough survivors to try to rebuild?

Nuclear war should never take place. And those who threaten its use are enemies of humanity. That is why it is imperative that we change our thinking. War, especially nuclear war, should not be part of our mindset, and we must think beyond it.

Dream of a world where wars are considered passe’, a relic of our past that we do not want to repeat. Dream of a world in which criminal behavior is something read about in old books. If enough of us think that way, it will come about. If you desire to bring about harmony where we now have discord, think beyond the influences in your mind that lead you to believe that humanity is stuck in an aggressive behavior pattern it cannot get out of. We can get ourselves out of this. It is a mental disease and we can cure ourselves of it by thinking beyond it.

Ted McCormack

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