The other day I entered my classroom and saw the word ‘Anarchy’ written in large letters for all to see on the chalkboard. I silently crossed it out and wrote ‘Love, Peace, and Order’ underneath it. Some may crave anarchy, but I crave peace, continually striving for an inner silence which comes from deep within. That to me is freedom, not chaos. As someone sows, they will also reap and chaotic behavior soon reaps a whirlwind of negative repercussions; before long all one’s time and energy is spent trying to put out self-inflicted fires instead of moving in a worthwhile direction. This is especially true of one’s own mind. Chaotic thinking destroys one’s potential to accomplish anything of value. The world outside of us flows from what’s first within us, and our outer world is a mirror of our own thoughts, beliefs, and actions reflected back at us. As a person thinks, so they are, and the world around us is a collective product of how everyone thinks. A lot of the problems we experience in life are simply reflections of our own inner chaos being cast back at us; sadly, we lack self-awareness and don’t see this happening.
I want to talk a little bit about this mirror. It’s all similar to a Rorschach test, where a person is shown random inkblot splatters and are then asked by a psychologist what they see on the page. The images in and of themselves are nonsense, but if you give someone enough time, and keep flashing these inkblot images to them, their inner world will be projected onto those images, and then this inner dialog starts coming out of them. Their joys, their fears, things they hate, people they’re mad at, things they desire, the list goes on. This is exactly what we do each and every day with just about everything.
Life is like a giant Rorschach test. When you wake up tomorrow morning, just stand in front of the bathroom mirror and stare at yourself for a moment. Observe what happens within you. Step outside your home and look at the neighborhood. What happens inside of you? Go to your job and for a brief moment, take a look at your coworkers, your desk, and your office breakroom. What sort of thoughts happen within you? For most people, some inner dialog starts. What is it saying? What is what you’re hearing telling you about yourself? Even more importantly, where are these voices coming from? Do you identify with them? Do you have to identify with them? Should you identify with them? If a lot of what you’re hearing is negative and causing you to suffer, are the things these voices saying true? Based on what? Challenge them. Place your own thoughts and mind on a witness stand, like you’re in court. Prosecute them. Who are you? Where do you come from? You say these nasty things about me and others, but what proof do you have? Why should I believe you?
I’ll give you all an example. The other day I finished teaching and walked home from work. As I was leaving the physics building, a thought entered my mind, “I don’t want to walk home.” I then put it on the witness stand. Who is this “I” who doesn’t want to walk home? How do you know “I” do not want to walk home and would rather drive home? It was silent. Just as I thought. I’m self-aware enough to realize these stupid mind-games my own brain likes to put me through. I then proceeded to walk home, the weather was nice outside, I enjoyed the breeze as it was cool out, and within 15~20 minutes I was home. The walk was nice. I didn’t suffer at all throughout the entire experience. So who was this “I” who didn’t want to walk home? It wasn’t me because I actually enjoyed the walk. This thought had no idea what it was talking about, but I could’ve believed it and amplified its negativity in my mind, letting it brew the entire walk home, complaining within, and let it ruin my entire mood. But why? There was nothing waiting for me in the world that had suffering on its agenda, but crazy forces within me sure had plans to make me miserable. They didn’t win that day.
I can give all kinds of other examples. Oftentimes I’ll wake up in the morning and my mind will spew out, “I don’t want to go to work this morning.” I put it on the same witness stand. This thought sits defiantly in the booth, with its arms crossed, exclaiming, “I don’t want to go in today.” What continues to baffle me is that this thought has the audacity to claim that it is me and that I feel this way! Who’s it kidding? I tell it to take its place and have a seat. It doesn’t tell me who I am and who I am not, what I will and will not like, what to look forward to or what to dread. It’s been wrong too many times to give it that kind of confidence. The ONLY thing it has a right to do is propose certain ideas, and that’s it. Propose. Theorize. Speculate. And if I look into something it proposes and it’s flat wrong, I don’t pay those trains of thought any mind any longer. When they arise I disavow them, let them pass, and do not give them my attention. It can say “I” this, and “I” that all it wants, but it has nothing to do with me.
But anyway, this thought seemed to be telling me, in supposed advance foreknowledge, that I will dislike my day at work and that I shouldn’t go in. A day at work is not worth experiencing. For the first few days when I went into work at the university, I told this thought, “We’ll see.” I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but then I actually observed my days at work without any emotional “coloring” from these inner random thoughts and the results were interesting. I let the day itself make impressions on my emotions naturally, without interference from these made-up inner mental projections and I found that I do not hate going to work. I do not mind teaching. Many times when I’m joking around with students and I see them learning, I actually find it rewarding. While at work, my own inner world goes from indifference, to bursts of a rewarding feeling, to a mild peaceful joy, and then oftentimes back to indifference, that is, if I’m not caught up in these inner mental projections. So who was it that didn’t want to go to work? Not me. When I look at the evidence, the real me is indifferent to work at times, and enjoys it at other times.
Do you see how life is just like a Rorschach test? Those inkblots do not contain any of the projections of the person looking into them. In the same way, your life probably doesn’t contain half of the things you’re projecting into it either.
Speaking of which, I find that 95% of what goes through my head is nonsense if I actually call it out and make it prove itself. I don’t hate going into work, I don’t mind walking home on certain days, and the list goes on. For example, after going through same process in other thought areas, I soon realized that I don’t need or even desire half of the things the mind goes, claiming they’re the only tickets to happiness and a good life. It goes on about career goals, relationship stuff, projections of what it thinks coworkers, students, faculty members, and others think of me, weird insecurities, things I should be angry about, things that would make me happy, things I desperately need to avoid, and so on, and at the end of the day, it’s just a giant onslaught of nonsense. Almost all of it is garbage that isn’t worth paying attention to and these days I don’t. I view it like a some sort of confused parrot hopping on my shoulder, saying things it doesn’t even grasp or understand, screaming it into my ear. I playfully return its gaze and think, “Oh, you again? You’ve been wrong 99 times out of 100. Oh, you don’t say? Another one of your wild conjectures. I wonder why it is I don’t believe you anymore?”
In the past, one of biggest forms of my own suffering was who I believed I was. I used to have worries that I was a little human, trapped in a giant universe that doesn’t care about me at all. I’m here today, gone tomorrow, and it’s all pointless as I’m just going to die and leave everything I work for behind. However, I don’t feel that way today. I kept looking into everything, and as I’m often told, if you seek, you will find. I wanted to know who and what I am, and I kept digging. What did I find? No matter where I looked, I saw a world beyond time, and I kept seeing glimpses of infinity, infinity, infinity, over and over and over. I studied Einstein’s general relativity and I saw universes springing into existence, big bang after big bang, like bubbles in a champagne bottle, bursting into existence from literally nothing, forever and ever (study eternal inflation). I’m just in awe, so I try to look into things more close to Earth. How about the dirt that I’m made out of? I look into the nature of the physical matter and I see infinity once again, some sort of infinite branching of possibilities (Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics), or these probability clouds of infinite possibilities somehow collapsing and unfolding according to some source beyond anything I can grasp (Bohr interpretation), or maybe according to Bohm there is some sort of unfolding within the infinite mind of God giving rise to me. Either way, infinity, infinity, infinity. What a complete mystery! I examine my brain and wonder about consciousness and why I experience what I do, and I have no answers. I don’t know what I’m made out of, I don’t know what I am, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where all of this is going. The more deeply I look into anything, I realize I know absolutely nothing, and if “I” should identify with anything, it’s this ignorance. Even still, I try understand. Maybe it’s futile.
But what tools am I going to use to understand all of this? Thought? Logic? Where do “my” thoughts come from? When I think a thought was there this giant catalog of all thoughts to choose from, and “I” browsed through them before each moment, and from this infinity of possibilities sit down and chose the thoughts I’m having? No. “I” was never presented this catalog nor can I recall a sensation of choosing any of these thoughts. So do I even control what I think? Maybe, at least I feel I can believe in or reject thoughts, such as when I thought, “I do not want to go to work”, but that’s not the same thing. So who or what is the true “I” controlling all of this? It seems to happen, just like everything else. So who wrote this “script” of thought and action I’m experiencing? “I” am at a loss. I lack such self-awareness. Whatever causes it all to go also causes me to go, that’s all I’m comfortable saying.
If you think “you” are doing it all, please tell me how you lift your arm? Can you tell me what even a single atom in your arm is? Can you describe it in its fullness? I’m a physicist and I can tell you we have no idea what an atom is. How are you moving countless numbers of them when you move your arm around? Yet “you” can! But who is this “you” doing it? And how come? And stranger still, this illusory mind we all have likes to take the credit, saying “I” lifted “my” arm. It’s just another false mental projection. The mind really has no idea what’s going on. It sees some complicated happening, just like the ink blots, and it’s like, “Oh, ‘I’ know what’s going on!” Right, sure you do! “I” lifted my arm. Uh huh. I can barely describe electrical currents to my students and yet this thought in my brain likes to say that “I” created bazillions of neural firings in my brain and arm, and conducted this energy down my arm, and contracted the muscles, and all the rest of it. How? I don’t even fully understand how it all works, even on a conceptual level. I don’t know how the brain does what it does, I don’t understand how it’s all wired up, and I barely understand the biology of muscle tissue and how muscles even contract, much less how all the ion channels give rise to neural conduction and all the rest of it. Yeah, “I” did that. Give me a break. That’s impossible. What an incredible illusion believing that “I” am in control of anything.
So what is this “I”? The brain seems to generate thoughts, and most of what it is says is stupid nonsense. Most of what it has to say isn’t much better than radio static. Some of the stupidest thoughts we have are those which try to tell us who and what we are, and those which attempt to interpret what is happening in this infinite unfoldment we call reality. Not all the brain’s thoughts are nonsense, but be wary if you ask it anything deep or complicated. Maybe I’m too hard on the human brain?
Whatever the universe is, I’m the same thing, I think, but maybe not? Who knows. But if so, does this make me a machine and my identity unreal? That would be true IF this universe was a giant machine, just mechanically flowing deterministically one moment to the next, but is it? I used to believe that to be the case, and maybe you believe it is that way as well, but from all I’ve studied I see no evidence that that’s how things work. Quantum theory is our most fundamental description of the universe, and it doesn’t describe anything like that. Also, how come I feel this subjective feeling of being “me”? Oh, that’s the brain doing all that? Ok. Why would electricity flowing in the jelly of my brain give rise to that? And like I pointed out, we don’t know what matter is, so how can you tell me what this brain even is? I don’t know. Consciousness is a complete mystery to science. How come electrical currents in the brain give rise to me feeling sensations of hearing music, seeing colors on a television screen, or the sweetness of chocolate cake? I don’t know. I think I’m a lot more than “I” think I am. My true identity is beyond my frail human brain’s comprehension. But as I said earlier, I am more prone to identify with complete ignorance these days than to claim to know anything. My mind is finite and anything finite trying to wrap itself around something that’s infinite isn’t going to fare well.
Even all my worries about who and what I am, and my ultimate destiny, those fears were just Rorschach projections of a human mind, reflecting on the tiny handful of events that happened to its body. Strangely, I live far more mindlessly than ever before, thinking less and less, and I’ve never been happier. I just have reserved my thinking power for issues that are more interesting and worth investing time into. If I have some goal to work on, I apply my mind toward that, but as for all these worthless mental projections, nah. I’m done with all that.