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The Yin And Yang Of The Mind

September 5, 2011

I’d like to continue the discussion of yesterday and elaborate on a topic which is really interesting to me:  the yin and yang of the mind.  As I was reflecting on this idea today, I mainly considered how the mind is a swirl of yin and yang, like a lollipop.

Let’s start with being thankful versus being discontented.  The same mental mechanisms are used for both, yet one is considered a virtue while the other a vice.  The human mind has the ability to transcend space and time using its imagination.  It can imagine and or remember things that don’t currently exist, and if you desire, it can compare that to what is currently in front of you.  We do it all the time.  It’s how we know that time is passing and that things are changing.  It’s what allows us to understand the world, make decisions, and have a degree of control over our lives.  It allows us to choose who we want to be.  But like anything with great power, it’s a very dangerous tool as well.

If you compare “down”, we consider it being thankful.  We think of all the nice things we have in our lives and how much worse off we could be.  Using the exact same mental system, we can also look at our world and think about how much better everything could be.  This is comparing “up”.  Although what’s considered “up” and “down” (better and worse) are often relative to a person, you get the idea.

We’re often told to have big dreams and that we can accomplish great things.  But what is a dream?  It’s a state of discontentment.  It’s an imagined reality which you want to bring into existence.  It can be a dream to find a lover, to build a great company, or in some way change the world for the better.  Either way, it’s a state of discontentment.  The same system that allows you to better yourself is also what allows you to be discontent with your life.  They work hand in hand, yin and yang.  You can’t separate the two without destroying who you are, your dreams, and everything that you value.

I remember watching videos of a famous inventor talking about the future of nanotechnology, and how future humans will be able to immerse themselves in virtual reality, have any experience they desire, and also control the world all the way down to individual atoms.  At the same time, I could tell the man wasn’t very happy with the world he lived in.  He saw how much better things could be and that left him severely discontented.  Why wasn’t he living in that wonderful world?  The thought had to occur to him every single day.  The man has ten PhDs and is one the most brilliant men on the planet.  His mind has grown so large he can see possibilities far beyond most people.  He sees where humankind is headed and it’s wonderful.  But the same intelligence leaves him very unhappy.

Intelligence is generally considered a virtue.  The more you perceive the laws of this universe, the more power you have to navigate between all the infinite possibilities to the one you desire.  Every new scientific and engineering discovery we’ve made has allowed us more and more possibilities.  Metaphorically speaking, it’s like we’re reuniting to God.  Our drive to learn about the universe ultimately stems from this separation from the divine.  We yearn to be better, to go farther, to be stronger.  We want to explore, to learn, and to grow.  As we grow and learn, we find and acquire new things to be thankful for, yet ultimately those things grew from a discontentment and a longing for a better world.   If we weren’t bored and eager to explore, we never would have learned about all the wonderful sights we have to cherish in this world.  We can’t be thankful for something we don’t know anything about.

The same applies to love and hate.  The second you choose to love something, you also choose to hate something else.  With every decision we make, we flee one thing and gravitate toward another.  If you’ll love anything, you stand for nothing.  If you’ll believe anything, you have no principles.

This intimate swirl between yin and yang is so embedded in our nature that I don’t see how this law could ever be removed without us losing our humanity.  We can never be complete and satisfied.  The mind is built to be discontent and continually desire bigger, better, and faster things.  This universe of ours, this game of life we’re currently immersed in, isn’t something that can be “won”.  We were constructed by a yin and yang dynamic.  Our existence is not a static state, but is a flow, a process, a movement.  And that movement is directed by the world’s feedback system – success and failure.  We had replication with random mutations along with non-random selection, winners being decided by who was best suited to survive in the environment.  That striving to be better, stronger, and endure is infused in us in every aspect of our being, consciously and unconsciously.

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