Sunday, September 21, 2014

Good Morning Jacob

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 21 September

The Dream - Henri Rousseau

Good Morning Jacob…

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Why does anything do anything?  Why does a beetle suddenly change directions?  It suddenly decides to pursue a new direction after walking a fair piece.  Can it be a tiny mind such as it has makes decisions as we know it?  The beetle becomes impatient or bored with its current path.  Maybe it is curious about what is going on to its left.  That makes for one emotionally rich insect, doesn't it?  More likely the beetle simply responds to something detected in its current surroundings.  It rules that a change in course will, on balance, be more favorable to its existence.  Hogwash.  How can an animal with such puny problem solving capacity display clear, logical reasoning?  Yet, insects and even minuter, seemingly insignificant beings make choices in a manner that suggests a reasoned approach.  But reason requires some degree of consciousness.  What consciousness is there without a measure of self-awareness?

The alternative explanation for insect decision-making is a mental process that is comparable to computer programming where sensual inputs are weighted by their degree of importance to animal survival.  These priorities are determined by the process of natural selection.  Making choices in one’s behavior is hard-coded by the DNA that provides the individual’s nervous system.  It’s all quite mechanistic sounding but it is feasible so long as the animal isn’t confronted with a situation that isn’t accounted for in its genetic coding.  Such an encounter might provoke the animal into performing actions counter to its best interests.  It could ignore or be deceived by the potential threat.  It may display signs of hysteria – heightened excitement combined with confusion.  Imagine a fly banging repeatedly against a window pane. 

Consider the complexity of having an animal’s every response being dependent on its DNA coding.  First, all significant factors involved in its existence must be detectable and capable of being prioritized as to their relative importance to the animal.  An individual’s combined sensory organs may be sending many various inputs each moment for the nervous system to evaluate.  These inputs need to be graded individually and as groups in order for a determination to be made in real time as to its best course of action.  Add to these external forms of stimulus the information constantly sent to the brain regarding the animal’s internal environment or physiology.  Is it overheating or is it too cold?  What is its recourse here?  What nutrients is it most in need of replenishing?  How is its energy level?  If it is ingesting a vital food source but it is also becoming overheated by direct sunlight what should it do?  The risks are weighed and the response is made – all by its DNA coding.  If the solution is incorrect the animal dies and does not live to reproduce the offspring having its deficient genetics.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Its life is more complex and enriching than that of the beetle but the chicken’s decision remains fundamentally based on DNA coding.  We observe the bird’s action and possibly infer some degree of emotional motivation.  Was curiosity involved? 

What is the basis for our own emotions?  A beetle’s nervous system need only command the entity to do something and it responds without question.  However our own brain is incomparably more complex.  We aren't robots.  There are numerous areas of the mind that appear to compete with one another – even to work at cross purposes.  We have both reason and emotion.  Our heart tells us we are in love but our head says this path flirts with danger.  Now here is a case of mind-boggling DNA coding.  One point of view does not usually win out over the other.  Instead we choose to suspend the conflict unresolved.  Can we always juggle, never to drop the ball?  What tension this creates.  Where is the remedy?  Aha!  We find something that applies to our circumstance in a movie we see, a story we read.  Maybe some form found in an artist’s painting stimulates our imagining.  An undercurrent springs to life from within the unconscious.  A dolphin is in the tree.  This is just another cockeyed dream - of beetle signs and coils of life and endless romantic themes.


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