Conspicuous Consumption

I just came back from a Walmart Super Store. Therein one can seemingly buy ANYTHING. The place is gigantic and stocked with food, clothing, hardware, kitchen ware, camping gear, drugs, electronics, home and office furniture, bath items, toys, automotive items, and on and on. It is the the Mount Everest of an economy built on constant demand for many essential and many stupid products. To me, the place is entirely depressing. Maybe it’s efficient to be able to buy anything you want in one place. But this is not what is disheartening about being there. It is seeing all the buyers trudge sadly through the aisles looking for what they think they need. They search for crap instead of feelings of friendship and love. The things that really matter. These feelings have been replaced by the need to acquire some of what they need and much of what they could do without.

I found it telling that when the virus quarantine was first lifted, people crowed into stores in order to buy new clothes! You know what makes up the largest percentage of land fills? Clothes. Things people throw away. Modern societies depend on constant demand for consumer goods, needed and inane. This requires constant production, ruthless competition for money, and status seeking. These in turn create alienation, class warfare, envy, denial of health needs, environmental degradation, racism, and the election of a schmuck like Trump. Consumer economies have worked to overshoot the carrying capacity of the planet and of human societies. I think this will all end soon and violently .

The Brain is in the Body, the Mind is in the Brain

This website is nominally about body and mind interactions. The body includes the brain. And the mind depends on the brain to function. Everything is connected. In the not too distant past, the mind was seen as totally ineffable. The words ‘spirit’ and ‘mind’ were often used interchangeably. That is, they were both considered beyond understanding. Today, with MRI devices, we are able to correlate the physical actions of a person’s brain with their subjective experiences of thoughts and feelings. In other words, we can relate body phenomena to psychological events.

Freud was a neurologist who built a psychological theory of the mind. He knew, of course, that the psychology depended on the biology. He thought that 100 years after he built the theory of psychoanalysis, we would be able to see connections between mental and physical events. It turns out he was exactly right! The field of Neuropsychoanalysis came into being in 1999, 100 years after Freud’s publication of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams” of 1900.

The biology of dreaming began to be be studied in the early 1950’s. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) was discovered then. Kleitman, Jouvet, and others found that the person had the most vivid dreams while their eyes darted back and forth during REM–a clear connection between biological and subjective experience. Animals from sharks to humans have REM sleep. So, certainly, REM sleep has been conserved over evolution as a key feature of maintaining brain functions, and it seems reasonable that lions, dogs, cats and apes have subjective experiences when in REM states.

Besides being able to measure brain and mind connections via MRI and EEG methods, a great deal is now know about how chemicals, especially psychiatric drugs, operate to affect feelings, thoughts and overt behavior. Antidepressants like prozac, stimulants such as ritalin, mood stabilizers like Lithium, and antipsychotics like Seroquel affect subjective experiences in more or less reliable ways. These drugs work at the level of neurons, the single cells which make up the brain and its connections to the rest of he the body.

So body-brain-mind connections are being increasingly illuminated. Today, there are more neuroscientists than any other kinds of scientists. Formerly genetics research drew the most biologists. Now it’s neuroscience. Computer technology is very related to brain-mind studies. Computers made it clear that concrete, physical things could do something like thinking. Such insights have transformed the world. This is very exciting and sometimes disagreeable. While these discoveries can enhance our lives, they also can be used by nefarious forces within governments, the military, and corporations. The world is now in a very unstable condition driven in large part by advances in computing which affect energy, agriculture, communication, manufacturing, education, medicine, government, the military, and frankly everything else.

I am not too optimistic about the short term effect of humankind’s scientific advances. Some lunatics deny the validity of science altogether. They want to think what they think regardless of scientific knowledge. This has been on stark display during the politicization of the Covid pandemic. But whenever one of these science deniers needs heart surgery, life saving medications, or even a root canal procedure, they run to the best scientific medical professional they can find. Go figure.

Seeking Something Old in Something New

When one has lost a cherished relationship they tend to seek a new one. But the new must have elements of the old. All Intimate relations involve satisfaction of needs for the warmth and comfort experienced in childhood. That is, satisfaction of basic, old needs are are a key aspect of all close relations. While the person who can satisfy those needs may be a new person, they still have to met the old, unchanging needs. All of our intimate relations serve the same function regardless of who the other person is.

A barrier to forming new bonds after old ones are severed is feeling of regret and perhaps guilt about the ending of the old connection. This means we may find it hard to be open to a new relationship. So, our basic unchanging needs will go unsatisfied for a long time. Depression, loneliness and despair will occur. How can one overcome this? Somehow we have to honor our needs. Realise that they are universal requirements for life. Denial of our needs is a denial of life. Knowing this can put one in touch with life outside the 3-D. One needs to connect to the ‘spiritual’ side of things. This is a basic need too.

Despair and Giving Up

Have you ever reached a point when nothing works to solve a problem? I have. I have been trying for over a week to achieve a very important life goal. I need not go into the specifics about this. It is enough to say that it is very important to me to do this and, at this point, it seems impossible. Just now I decided to give up. All my attempts have ended in failure. I have been frustrated and depressed about it all.

It is not my fault that I have failed. I have persisted and tried everything possible. At some point one must give up or experience constant anxiety and sadness. At what point should frustration and despair be relieved by giving up? Frankly, I can’t really give up the effort. But for now I will. Life will have to go on without my achieving a critically important goal. I tell myself, “Don’t do what does not work”. Turn your attention to something else. I am not one who gives up easily but constant futility seems worse than abandoning the effort . When the universe is against you, go in a different direction. Take it as a signal that your efforts are blocked by invisible forces. Now, for many this might seem to be a rationalization or excuse. For me that is not so. I am always persistent to a fault.

Decisions to give up on relationships or career goals are very difficult to make. But often giving up on something starts you on a different, more promising path. This happens to all of us, more or less, at various times in life. My experience is that forsaking goals has always led to new growth in different directions. Don’t try to push a rock up hill. Find paths of less resistance. The adage, “No gain without pain” is not always true. Pleasure is a greater motivator than pain. Changing life goals might be the way to become who you are meant to be. If relationships or careers are unattainable, move on to goals that are achievable.

Dying By the Sword

If we live by the sword, we die by the sword. Because we eventually get old.

In youth, aggressiveness and fast-twitch reflexes are enough. In middle age, it becomes a matter of fighting smarter, and then picking your battles. There will come a day when even that’s not enough.

That’s true in a more general sense with other forms of competition. With money competition, we tend to peak older, as being smart, and picking our battles, has a good return on investment. With sex, we tend to peak younger, because the physical and psychological equipment required to compete in the sexual arena wears out quickly. Yet the same principle applies. Money competition ends with the heart attack. Sexual competition kills the spirit before the body; but despair is not a formula for long life, and the body will follow soon enough.

“I will fight no more forever,” said Chief Joseph. Because he was an old man when he said it, it doesn’t matter if he said it in victory or defeat, as the outcome is the same.

For men who have gone to war have the benefit of a certain perspective. Many find they have had enough of killing before they are fully adults. Likewise, the unavoidable task before each of us is to resolve, at an age young or old, to step off the karmic merry-go-round. To rise above the cycle of betrayal and redemption. To find a little farm. To ride off on a motorcycle. To become a spouse. To mark out a corner of the world, perhaps with a picket fence, where we can live out what’s coming to us in peace.

It’s not that we have nothing to do, or that we seek to do nothing. If we are alive, we have important work to do. As to what that work might be, that’s a different conversation for a different day. The point is, there’s a “step one” involved. That’s true whether we live by the sword literally, or symbolically.