THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #10.

THE DUALITY OF CONSCIOUS AND

SUBCONSCIOUS MIND. PART TWO.

In the first part of this blog on the duality of conscious and subconscious mind, I had discussed the evolutionary perspective of the evolution of our conscious and subconscious mind. I had indicated that the biological explanation of the origins of subconscious mind is not available. The only possible inference from the evolutionary evidence is that the subconscious mind must have evolved out of the spare cognitive capacity and not due to natural selection depending on the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the psychological perspective to find out how the subconscious mind could have arisen. Therefore, in this second part of the blog, I would discuss the psychological perspective of the subconscious mind.

To begin with, the term subconscious mind is rather loosely defined. In fact, the contemporary psychology doesn’t even use such a term. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, I would use this term to refer to all such thinking that remains beyond our awareness. Now, let us see what psychology has to offer on this two different compartments of our mind. According to psychology, the reason why one needs a subconscious mind is that there are thoughts and thought processes which would cause immense pain if one is aware of them. Therefore, as a matter of mental well being, Nature has chosen to keep these thoughts and thought processes out of our awareness. As result, these subconscious thought processes can operate and add to our cognitive capacity without causing any pain. The reason why biology can not explain the emergence of subconscious mind is that we don’t know how our cognitive processes operate. In fact, even today, there is a marked gap between our understanding of neurology and psychology. Therefore, all we can say is that it is the possible experience of pain that causes our mind to push all such pain causing thoughts and thought processes beyond our awareness. Thus, it is more of a survival strategy rather than a well thought out plan, that our mind is divided into two compartments.

The question that is central to this duality of our mind is what are the consequences of this separation of the conscious and subconscious mind ? After all, we didn’t decide how our mind should have evolved, but nonetheless, we have to face the consequences of this duality of mind. Therefore, let us see what are the consequences. There are two important consequences of this duality. Firstly, these two compartments influence one another even though they operate on different principles. Secondly, there is no way to disentangle the outputs of these two compartments.

Let us begin with how the subconscious mind and see how it influences our conscious mind. The most visible influence is that the subconscious mind withholds some important but unpleasant information from the conscious mind for its processing. Therefore, very often, our conscious thoughts are lopsided or distorted. This results in a biased perspective that we mistakenly believe to be fact. Most of our disputes, with people who are close to us, arise due to the incomplete analysis of our lives. The real tragedy is that we are blind to our own inbuilt biases and therefore can never resolve differences with people close to us.

Similarly, there is a reverse influence of our conscious mind on our subconscious mind. However, this influence is important only in our formative years when our subconscious mind is gathering details of our surroundings. Admittedly, our subconscious mind comes preformed, but it is developed further by the signals and information about the surroundings that we consciously observe. Therefore, in tune with our popular psychology, our childhood determines our adult life attitudes towards the world. What is strange, and perhaps poignant, is that emotional states in our childhood are subject to random changes. Therefore, it is these random changes in our emotional states that decide what is recorded in our subconscious mind. As a result, similar conscious experiences may be recorded differently in our subconscious mind simply because the underlying emotional states were different during those similar experiences. This is evident from the studies on twins. They grow up in similar surroundings and yet, they tend to develop different types mental biases. The real tragedy, once again, is that we are so attached to our childhood impressions (of course, subconsciously ) that we are unable to perceive our own biases and live our entire lives imprisoned by our subconscious biases.

Now, let us look at the second important consequence of this duality. As mentioned above, this cross influence of conscious and subconscious mind on one another is so all pervading that it is very difficult ( if not impossible ) to disentangle them. As mentioned earlier, our ego acts as a conduit between these two compartments. Therefore, it is possible, in principle, to reconstruct our conscious attitudes by resolving our subconscious biases. This possible because we are gifted with an ability to reflect on our own selves. Therefore, it is possible to reflect on our conscious thoughts and try to understand how could they have originated. It is this constant and continuous self examination that can help us to minimise the contradictions between our conscious behaviour and our subconscious motives. However, it is easier said than done.

In other words, our salvation or enlightenment is available to us throu all our lives, but we choose,instead, to not to avail that path. We are caged within our subconscious biases, but the key to open that cage is within our reach. Each one of us has a choice of either looking for that key or of looking at the cage and feel sorry for ourselves.

In summary, we are destined to live with the dualities of life. However, the destiny (if it exists ) has also provided us with a choice of dissolving these dualities. It is for us to decide whether we want to rise above these dualities.

This brings us to an end to this series of blogs on the duality of life. After a gap of few weeks, I would resume blogging with the focus on writing my third, as yet unfinished, novel.

VAACHAKMITRA.

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THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #9.

THE DUALITY OF CONSCIOUS AND SUBCONSCIOUS MIND. PART ONE.

This blog brings to an end the series of blogs the dualities of life. When I began this series, I didn’t have a set plan for it. Each blog arose organically from the previous blog. However, when I look back, I think it befitting that it should end with the duality of conscious and subconscious mind because it is the primary duality underneath all the dualities discussed so far. Upon little reflection, I also realised that this sequence of dualities and its climax too were decided by my own subconscious mind. Thus, while my conscious mind composed each of these blogs, my subconscious mind was feeding it the necessary material. Therefore, when the time to end the series arose, my subconscious mind pushed itself into the forefront, jostling around to be noticed. It is as if, like a pampered but long neglected child, my subconscious mind has forcefully taken a centre stage in demanding an exclusive attention. Being a novelist who depends on the subconscious mind to weave the stories, I have decided to submit myself to its dictat .

Flippancy apart, I sincerely believe that the fact that we have two compartments of our mind defines the essence of human life. Had Nature made the human mind that was completely unified and integrated, we would have been reduced to to exceptional machines. However, Nature, in its wisdom, has made the human mind with partly unified but partly independent compartments. As a result, we, as a species, are governed by this dichotomy of conscious and subconscious ways of thinking. The key point is that these two compartments think differently and more importantly, divergently. It is this divergence that results in all types of dualities discussed earlier in this series of blogs. In this blog , I would discuss the science and the psychology of the conscious and subconscious mind.

As far as science is concerned, there is no explanation of why do these different compartments of our mind have evolved in our brains. In fact, the theory of evolution is silent on the relationship between mind and brain. Therefore, it has much less to say on the division of mind into conscious and subconscious modules. However, there is an indirect explanation for different functioning of our conscious and subconscious mind. During the course of evolution, particularly from monkeys to men, there is a direct evidence of increase in the size of brain vis a vis the size of body. In parallel to this, there are enough indications that animals in each lineage developed more and more cognitive functions. Thus, there is a simple correlation between the brain size and the cognitive capacity. However, this correlation stops when we compare monkeys with men. Human beings have far larger brain than the one required for our body size. Perhaps, it is this spare cognitive capacity that must made evolution of subconscious mind possible. There is an another hint why this is true. Most of the cognitive functions have evolved in the context of the environment. Therefore, these functions are in sync with the environment. However, this is not true for the cognitive functions present in the subconscious mind. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the subconscious didn’t evolve in response to the demands of the environment. In that case, it is more probable that our subconscious mind must have evolved because of the spare capacity of our larger brain. This makes sense because our subconscious mind doesn’t focus on the world outside but on the conscious mind itself. In fact, our subconscious mind sees the world only through our conscious mind. In terms of modern day jargon, it is tempting to think of our subconscious mind works as backup for our conscious mind.

However, this is not true because while every single details that our conscious mind registers, it’s subconscious counterpart is present, the context and interpretation of each of these details is different in both these locations. Thus, if you happen to like a particular song, it is registered in the conscious mind in the form of its tune, its lyrics etc. On the other hand, the same song is registered in the subconscious mind by its mood, the occasion when you last heard it etc. Thus, when you hear that song again, there are conflicting recollections in your mind, some from your conscious mind and some from your subconscious mind. The key point is that these recollections are not in harmony and you experience a melangĂ© of feelings. Therefore, the true understanding of the need for the existence of these two compartment must come from psychology and not from biology.

In the second part of this blog, I would discuss the psychological perspective of the need for the separation of conscious and subconscious mind.

VAACHAKMITRA.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #8.

THE DUALITY OF CONVICTION AND DOUBT.

I have been discussing various contradictory thoughts that govern our behaviour. The irony lies in the fact that these contradictory thoughts influence our thinking at the same time. More importantly, we are not even aware of their simultaneous existence in our own psyche and their influence. Therefore, we behave in a self contradictory manner without being aware of it. Since these types of dualities govern our entire lives, it is necessary to deconstruct and understand their origins. This series of blogs on the dualities of life revolves around this deconstruction of our internal inconsistencies. In this blog, I would discuss another such duality of conviction and doubt.

On the face of it, the notions of conviction and doubt appear to be mutually exclusive. One can either be convinced about something or be doubtful about it. Therefore, one can not be convinced as well as doubtful about any given belief. Therefore, it seems unlikely that conviction and doubt can both influence our belief. However, upon little reflection, it would be apparent that we are absolutely convinced about only few of our beliefs. Similarly, there only few beliefs which we absolutely reject. In fact, our minds take an ambivalent attitude towards most of the beliefs that we come across. It requires only few incidents in our lives for us to change our attitude from total conviction to total rejection or vice versa. In fact, it is intuitively clear that the state of total conviction and total rejection are only two hypothetical extreme positions. We rarely, if ever, take these positions. Normally, we have an ambivalent attitudes towards most of our beliefs. We tend to believe in whole lot of beliefs (even if they are self contradictory ), but only provisionally. We always entertain certain doubts about these beliefs. The only difference is that our doubts are normally hidden from our conscious minds.

Therefore, it would be correct to say that even when we assert our conviction about a certain belief, at a subconscious level, we do carry some doubts about it. It is as if we believe and disbelieve ideas at the same time. Therefore, others, people who are close enough to observe us, find our behaviour not just inconsistent, but also self contradictory. However, since we harbour both these attitudes of belief and doubt in our minds, we fail to see these inconsistencies and self contradictions. Therefore, it is necessary to understand why do we end up believing and disbelieving any idea at the same time. This is necessary because it would help us to reduce these inner contradictions.

The origin of this duality lies in the fact that our minds are trained to process any such belief only after assuming it to be true. In other words, our minds begin by asking that what if a given statement were to be true ? It temporarily assumes that the given statement is true. Having done that, our mind tries to work out various possible scenarios that would arise if the given statement were to be true. Then, our mind seeks empirical evidence for these scenarios. Depending on such empirical verification, our mind would manifest conviction or doubt. There is one important consequence of this mechanism. Our mind tends to believe in any statement, unless disproved otherwise. In other words, our minds assigns a positive truth value to every statement it comes across by default. It is only when the empirical verification suggests otherwise, that our mind starts disbelieving that statement.

Readers might object to such a picture of how our mind works. Obviously, what is written above runs against our day to day experience. The reason for this is very simple. What I have outlined above is how a young child would behave. However, as one grows up, we accumulate large number of such statements which are empirically verified. Therefore, as adults, we use this stored memory of these verified statements to compare with any new statement that we come across. Therefore, we, as grown ups are not as gullible as we were as children.

The key fact, the one that is often overlooked, is that our adult mind still works the same way as it does for children. Therefore, it still assigns a positive truth value to every new statement it comes across by default. Of course, in the case of grown ups like us, the verification (or falsification )comes quickly. However, it happens only when we consciously examine these statements. Till such time, in our subconscious mind, the statement is taken to be true because that is how our subconscious mind works. Therefore, we end up in believing and disbelieving at the same time. The fault lies in the fact that our conscious mind and our subconscious mind works at cross purpose with one another. Therefore, we always remain ambivalent about the whole lot of beliefs.

The real tragedy of this duality is that we, without being aware of it, try to accommodate these two mutually exclusive positions by finding out a halfway solution. Our conscious mind and our subconscious mind are connected somewhere in our ego. It is this agency of ego that tries create a compromise. Since the ego is governed by emotions and not by logic, the solutions brought about by ego are emotionally coloured and logically ambivalent. This is what creates angst. Therefore, we are condemned to live with the duality of conviction and doubt. It need not be taken as a pessimistic view of life. This is because, this duality has a redeeming feature. It allows each one of us to find a way of reconciling our own inner contradictions. The very ego that causes these contradictions is capable of rising above the duality of conviction and doubt by taking a view from a higher dimension. When this happens, we can resolve this duality. Thus, our ego is the cause as well as the solution of this duality. We have freedom to rise above to this duality and sadly, we also have freedom to be governed by this duality. I have found this freedom while writing novels. I can only hope that reading this blog would prompt you to seek that freedom.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of conscious and subconscious mind. That would bring to an end this series of blogs. After that, I would discuss my next, as yet unfinished novel.

VAACHAKMITRA.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #7.

THE DUALITY OF FACT AND FICTION.

In this instalment of the series of blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of fact and fiction. The duality of fact and fiction is slightly different from the other dualities that I have discussed so far. The dualities discussed so far were products of our mind. Be it a duality of optimism and pessimism or be it a duality of destiny and free will, all of them could be deemed to be parts of our beliefs. However, this duality of fact and fiction is not in the same category. The notion of fact refers to the reality outside , whereas the notion of fiction refers to a product of our imagination. Therefore, in principle, this duality should not exist. After all, a fact points towards the world outside whereas a fiction points towards the world inside. However, as discussed below, this duality is as real as any other duality that affects our lives.

Let us see how this duality arises. The facts are normally stored in our memories just as they are. Whatever the facts we can gather by seeing, reading or listening, are normally preserved in our memories. Admittedly, this process is imperfect. We might miss out some details, or we might wrongly perceive some details. Therefore, it is easy to realise that the facts which we remember may be inaccurate and incomplete. However, within the reasonable limits, one can assert that facts are remembered just as they are. The question therefore arises is, in that case, how would facts be influenced by our thinking ? The answer lies in the mechanisms by which our memories are created. Unlike computers, which store data in a physical form of a byte, our human mind stores these facts in a non physical form called virtual memory. In other words, our memories of individual facts can not be located in any particular part of our brains. ( There is no neuron which has a record of how our grandmothers looked like. ) . While this mechanisms is very useful in storing humongous amount of facts (which would otherwise require large computer ) in our brains, this mechanisms has its own difficulties. These arise from the nature of this mechanisms of creating virtual memory. It is this mechanisms of creating virtual memory that is responsible for the duality of fact and fiction. Let us see how.

A human mind creates memories not by recording facts but by interpreting them before creating a mental record. When the human brain interprets a fact, the process of interpretation helps it to reduce the size of the information content. For instance, if we were to remember the names all our friends, it would be difficult to do it in a alphabetical order. However, what a human mind does is to understand the nature of friendship that you have with each name on the list. Having done that, it simply bunches all our school friends together. Similarly, it creates grouping of our college friends, building friends etc. By understanding our friend’s context in our lives, our brains simplify the recording of the memories. While this looks trivially obvious, this is a very effective strategy. However, at the heart of this method is something that we have yet to figure out. A human mind knows a meaning of the word friend, but we don’t know how it does. The key point is that it is this unknown method of understanding of human notions that links the memories of these facts with our ability to create fiction. Let us see how.

I would like to qualify the term fiction. Normally, the term fiction is used to describe the outputs of novelists and story writers. However, the term fiction, in my opinion, must also include all the lies that we tell to others (and to ourselves ! ) . When a novelist writes a fiction, she /he begins with some understanding of the way the world functions or the way a human mind functions. In other words, a novelist begins with some understanding and then, in order to create a narrative, she /he inserts facts into the story. This insertion of facts is necessary because it makes fiction readable and convincing. When we tell lies, we do a similar thing. First, we create some plausible excuse and then to make that excuse convincing, we insert facts into that excuse.

It must be clear that both these processes, of remembering facts and of creating a fiction, employ the same mechanism. Therefore, it is this common mechanism that gives rise to the duality of fact and fiction. Ideally, things would have been simple. We would remember the facts and similarly, we would write or read fiction (or even tell lies !) without any major problems. The problem however is that somewhere along the line, a human mind loses track. It often fails to separate a fact from a fiction. It starts believing that even the fiction is real and the lies are the facts. It is a common experience. When we tell lies, we are keen to remember those lies. Of course, initially, we want remember the lies we have told because we want to ensure that our future behaviour is in accordance with these lies. However, without our knowledge and consent, our minds start treating those lies as if they were facts. This is because a human mind uses the same mechanism for botb these activities. Thus, this creates a situation wherein a part the brain insists that this is a fiction even though another part of the brain insists that the this is a fact.. This fight between the two parts of the brain on whether what is in its memory is a fact or a fiction that gives rise to angst. More importantly, a human mind has no certain way of distinguishing between these two types of memories. Therefore, a human being is condemned to live in twilight of fact and fiction without knowing which is which. A true punishment for a liar is to live with that lie. A similar fate awaits novelists ! We are condemned to live with our novels.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of conviction and doubt.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #6.

THE DUALITY OF FREE WILL AND DESTINY.

In continuation with this series of blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of free will and destiny in this blog. I would like to clarify that this blog is not about whether there is really anything like destiny or whether there is really something like free will. The question whether destiny exists or not is not answerable at present. Whatever knowledge we have, whatever wisdom our culture passes on to us, is not sufficient to answer this question. Therefore, there is no point in debating the existence of destiny. Same can be said about free will. Therefore, I would sidestep this issue. Instead, I am, as a novelist, more concerned with how both these notions shape our thinking rather than verifying the notions of free will and destiny.

One of the peculiar thing about a human mind is that it doesn’t have any direct means to verify whether any given idea is true or not. A human mind can find out whether any idea is true or false, only by working out the consequences of that idea. If the consequences are verified, then that idea is true. Thus, a human mind cannot establish an objective truth it can only verify the consequences of any objective truth. Strangely, in order to verify the consequences of any idea, the mind must assume that that particular idea is true. As far as the working of mind is concerned, it can work out the consequences of any proposition only if it temporarily assumes that that idea is true. To a human mind, it doesn’t really matter whether the idea under investigation is true or not. All that matters to a human mind is how to work out the consequences of any idea it is investigating. However, in order to work out the possible consequences of any idea, the human mind must assume that that particular idea is true.

The real problem with such a way of processing any new idea is that a human mind often forgets that assumption of that idea being true is provisional. Due to its compulsion to find meaning of everything that it is processing, a human mind mistakenly thinks that the idea under investigation is true. Thus, we have a situation wherein our minds have two categories of truth, objective truth and subjective truth. The objective truths refer to factual details of this world and the subjective truth refers to the beliefs that our minds assume to be true.

It is one of the tragedies of life that our minds fails to distinguish between these two types of truth. Therefore, while trying to evaluate the validity of any idea, a human mind often wrongly assumes that a subjective truth is an objective truth. Therefore, as far as our minds are concerned, whether destiny really exists or not, is not important. The same is true for the notion of free will. As a result, our minds are influenced by these notions irrespective of their existence. It this that concerns me as a novelist. What bothers me more, is the fact that our minds don’t analyse these notions as if they are mutually exclusive.

Purely from the logical point of view, either there is something like destiny which decides how we would behave, or there is something like free will which suggests that we are free to act as we wish. In fact, it is intuitively clear that logically only one of these two notions can be true. Both can not be true at the same time. The tragedy of our minds is that it doesn’t follow this self evident situation. Instead, our minds operates by assuming that both these notions are true. Therefore, in order avoid any confusion, our minds work in a modular fashion. A human mind tries to verify the consequences of both these notions in separate parts of itself simultaneously. Therefore, we are governed by conflicting notions. The duality of free will and destiny influences our minds and we are torn between two different interpretations of meaning of life.

It is a natural corollary to this scenario that we experience conflicting emotions because of the influence of these two mutually exclusive notions. The real problem with this split processing is that our emotions do not factor into this split. Therefore, even when the different parts of our mind are processing the consequences of destiny and free will separately, our emotional response to these processings is common. As a result , we experience complex and sometimes antagonistic emotions. The technical term for trouble caused by this split processing is semantic ambiguities. Similarly, the technical term for this experience of conflicting emotions is cognitive dissonance. Thus, the angst of our existence arises because we swing back and forth between semantic ambiguities to cognitive dissonance. Therefore, it seems fair to conclude that the duality of free will and destiny would always be inflicting a heavy cost on our mental well being. More importantly, there is no escape from this duality. As a novelist, I have always tried to depict the semantic ambiguities and the cognitive dissonance in my novels, including my third novel which I am writing now.

I have realised that, as Indians, we are saddled with this duality to a greater extent. Our culture has nurtured and strengthened our subconscious belief in destiny. On the other hand, our modern education has inculcated the notion of free will in our conscious mind. Thus, there is a direct conflict between our simultaneous beliefs of destiny and free will. This conflict is all the more acute because it is carried out between our conscious and subconscious minds. Therefore, as a society, we, modern Indians, collectively experience this angst more acutely.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of fact and fiction.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #5.

THE DUALITY OF PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM.

In continuation with this series of dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of pessimism and optimism in this blog. Actually, this duality is also a continuum in the sense that there is no fixed point which separates pessimism from optimism. Both these frames of mind are defined by the context of one’s circumstances of life. However, it is important to deconstruct this duality because it has insidious consequences on one’s life. While the consequences of pessimism on one’s mental health are well known, the optimism, particularly an undue optimism, is also detrimental to one’s mental health. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the nature of this duality.

Let us think about what makes one a pessimist or an optimist. Apparently, our past experiences decide what to expect from life. Therefore, it is legitimate to think that circumstances of our lives shape our perception of what future holds for us. However, our perception of our future is based on far more complex processes. Our pessimism or optimism arises, not just from our past experiences, but also from our irrational mood swings. More importantly, these mood swings, which are caused by chemicals present in the brain, are sometimes fixated by the structural changes in the brain. Thus the mood swings, which are originally supposed to be temporary mechanisms that reflect the immediate circumstances, become long lasting, if not permanent, due to these structural changes in the brain. As a result, our perception of future is no longer realistic, but it is distorted by these uncalled for structural changes in the brain. Thus, the natural mechanisms that the Nature had evolved to cope with the dynamic life, becomes out of sync with the reality, thanks to our brain’s tendency to make all our memories permanent. These structural changes in our brains which were originally meant to create long term memories, also make permanent our mood swings which are supposed to be short lived.

It is this mismatch between the original objective of making permanent memories and the unintended consequences of making permanent the transient mood swings, that is at the heart of our undue pessimism and undue optimism. As in the case of most of our mental health problems, the problem doesn’t really lie in how we respond to the reality but it lies in the disproportionate and mistimed manner in which we respond to the reality. It is perfectly healthy to feel elated or saddened due to the circumstances of our lives. However, when our emotions are disproportionate or mistimed that needs to be labelled as pessimism and optimism. This is precisely what happens when our moods are made permanent by our memory making mechanisms. Thus, if our short lived sense of happiness is made permanent, we would look at the future with optimism. Similarly, when our short lived sadness is made permanent, we would look at the future with pessimism. Thus, our perceptions of what future holds for us is compromised by this unintended fixation of our moods by our brain’s tendency to make our memories permanent.

The real trouble with this duality of pessimism and optimism is that we have no way to find out when our perception of what future holds for us, is realistic, or unduly pessimistic or unduly optimistic. We take our mood at that moment to be genuine and act accordingly. Thus, our undue emotional response unfairly shapes our plans to face the future and thereby the future itself. Therefore, even though we are free to shape our future, our freedom to shape our future is compromised by our emotional distortions. More importantly, we are not even aware of this handicap.

The question that arises is what can be done to act without being a pessimist or optimist ? Is there any way to anticipate the future without being influenced by our moods ? The answer to these questions is partly yes and partly no. Yes it is possible to think of what future holds for us without being influenced by our emotions. In fact, this is precisely what modern management teaches us. However, the problem with such strategic thinking is that essentially it is amoral. Therefore, there is a risk in following such methods because it leads us to morally grey behaviour. This is where the answer no comes into picture. We cannot act in a totally rational manner unless we are willing to overlook the moral perspective of our plans. However, in order to think in moral terms, we need to invoke our emotions. It is not obvious at the first sight, but our emotions arise basically from our morality. Therefore, we can not act rationally and morally unless we involve our emotions. As a result, we are back to square one. If we involve our emotions while thinking about our future, we run the risk of compromising our ability to think what the future holds for us. On the other hand, if we want think rationally as well as morally, we have to involve our emotions.

Therefore, it seems that whether we like it or not, we condemned to live with the duality of pessimism and optimism. More importantly, there is no way to escape this predicament.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of free will and destiny.

THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #4.

THE DUALITY OF PAST AND FUTURE.

In continuation with my earlier blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of past and future in this blog. This duality is not obvious at the first sight, but it is a duality that shapes our lives, particularly our present. As mentioned earlier for the duality of good and bad, this duality is also a continuum. It is our awareness of present moment that gives rise to this duality of past and future. Strangely, present moment is a fleeting experience. In contrast, both, the past and future seem to exist permanently. Of course, we know a lot about past, but we are blind towards what future holds for us. This asymmetry between past and future is the foundation of the human angst. It is this angst that I would discuss in this blog.

All most of all of us are familiar with a strange feeling that we experience when we are conscious of the present moment and its transient and evanescent existence. This consciousness of a present moment happens when we experience acute emotions. What changes during that awareness is the type of emotions but not the acuity of emotions. In the moments of joy and happiness, we desperately want that present moment to last forever. Similarly, in the moments of agony and pain, we desperately wish to get over with that moment. However, what we fail to realise is that both these desires arise because our past and future dominate our present moments. The present moment, which philosophers call specious present, is without any emotional content. It is only because our past memories and future expectations colour this specious present differently that we react to it differently. This is the crux of the human predicament. We are torn between this duality of past and future and the duality of hope and fear.

The present moment, the specious present, has no emotional content of its own. It is we, or rather our subconscious mind, that impose the emotional content and meaning to this specious present. Therefore, our emotional experiences during the specious present are not absolute. They are manufactured by our subconscious mind. This possibility is so unnerving that instead, we choose to believe that these emotional experiences are absolute and struggle to make sense of our lives. Thus, the duality of past and future shape our lives without any one of us being aware of it.

There is one key difference between past and future that is not only stark but it plays heavily on our minds. The past, as we all know, is fixed and known to us. The future, on the other hand, is totally undetermined and unknown to us. Of course, those who believe in destiny, however insist that future, like past, is predetermined. Therefore, instead of discussing whether there is something like destiny, I would focus on the knowability of past and future. This is because I believe that our knowledge of our past and our ignorance of our future have a strong impact on our perception of the specious present.

The most common feature of our past is that it is unalterable. It seems to exist whether we like it or not. However, it is not same for our memory of our past. Our memories of our past are altered by the emotional state of our mind. Therefore, the way we recollect our past depends our emotional state during the specious present. As a result, not only our specious present is influenced by our past, but even our recollection of past is also influenced by the specious present. On a moment’s reflection, one would realise that this is a disturbing situation. One would never really know whether one’s conscious mind selects a memory of some past moment just to suit itself or our subconscious mind would throw up a memory of a past moment to fulfill its own desire. No matter which of these possibilities is true, it is clear that what we think to be certain is not that certain. Our past is not cast in stone, at least its recollection is not. Therefore when we decide what to do next, our specious present, together with the selective memories, influences our decision making without us being aware of it. This is insidious indeed. Our freedom to decide is really not a freedom in a true sense.

As if this is not enough, our ignorance about our future also contributes to our predicament. Since we don’t know what the future holds, we try to imagine what future could be. Rational part of our mind tries to work out various scenarios and then makes an assessment of what the most likely scenario would be. Accordingly, our mind acts during the specious present. This is a routine procedure that we follow without even being aware of it. However, since we don’t know what future would be, we depend on our past experiences and their memories to build these scenarios. Since the recollection of these memories, as mentioned above, is not in our control, we act according to the emotions that the selective recollection of memories have generated. As a result, when we act proactively to actualize the future that we wish for, our actions are already biased by our selective recollection of our past. Therefore, our actions in the specious present are biased by our emotions. Even when we feel that we are acting rationally, we are actually acting emotionally. This is because our emotions eliminate some of the rational choices that would otherwise be available to us. Thus, our so called rational behaviour is in reality, a partially rational behaviour which is restricted by our selective recollection of our past memories.

It seems reasonable to think that it would have been simpler if our future too could influence our specious present. In that case, at least we would have a better chance of success. However, Nature does not trust human nature, at least not totally. Therefore we have sometimes intuitions about what is going to happen in future. However, such intuitions are rare and we are left with an unfair consequences of our past interfering our specious present. It would be an ideal situation if we could live only in the present moment uninfluenced by our past and unafraid of our future. However, we would not be human any more. Our existence is characterised by our imperfections and our struggle to overcome them. Maybe God could stand outside the cycle of time and decide impartially. However, for us, we are destined to be governed by this asymmetry between knowable past and unknowable future. Thus, our lives are governed by this duality of past and future, notwithstanding our angst.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of pessimism and optimism.