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Our Brains Think To Stop Thinking, and Our Brains Are All We Have To Stop It
Inspired by "The Net (31)"
Our brains are in the business of saving energy, surviving, and helping us feel comfortable. We might be interested in “The Absolute,” but our brains are a different story. Sure, our brains will go along with us, smile and pat us on the back as we read Heidegger, but ultimately it wants to get back to sugar and food. It has a job to do, after all, like keeping us alert and alive, so it wants to rest. We’re prone to end up in dangerous situations, after all, and dying is inconvenient.
In “The Net (31),” Alex Ebert noted how the point of language acquisition is to help us reach a place where we don’t to think about language. When we use the word “orange,” we don’t think about using the term: we just do. We just “know” the word is “fitting enough” for our situation, and thus in the blink of an eye we employ the term. If we had to think about it every time we used the term, we’d never function, so our brains do us a favor to become “thoughtless” about language. “Thoughtlessness” can be evidence that we are functioning—but it can also be “overfit” and cause us trouble.
Attention and consciousness naturally “activate” when something goes wrong, a point which suggests how we don’t notice a doorknob until it breaks (which I reference from Heidegger often), which means the default is for things to be unconsciousness and “invisible.” Though we might think its best when we are focusing on things, the brain works according to the opposite: it’s best when things are unconscious and more “in the background.” Perhaps there is an evolutionary advantage to having the conscious ability to see something here and there, but overall it seems optimal for things to be “out of mind.” “Invisibility” is evidence of functionality.
The Conflict of Mind discusses the problem of certainty, which is to say the brain thinks to achieve certainty, upon which achieving causes thinking to cease. We don’t need to think when we are certain (though certainty is mostly impossible), and likewise we don’t need to think about what is “invisible.” Thus, the brain naturally seeks to reduce its energy use and so seeks “a sense of certainty” and “invisibility.” But this poises a big problem: it means the brain naturally creates and seeks “thoughtlessness,” which is to say it naturally creates and seeks “givens,” which causes profound sociological trouble, either in making us vulnerable to Arendt’s “banality of evil,” or in making us existentially unstable when we find ourselves unable to establish “givens” due to the sociological condition of the day (“givens” are gone). And this problem is embedded into the very structure of our brains.
Belonging Again by O.G. Rose warns about the dangers of “thoughtlessness,” but there’s also a danger of not being “thoughtless”—we end up “existentially overwhelmed,” leading to immense social trouble. This would suggest that many of the problems explored in Belonging Again are at least partly a result from the brain itself (in how it functions, makes us functional, and the like). If this is the case, there is no social conditioning, social structure, etc. which can save us from the tensions and “trade-offs” which Belonging Again explores. “The tragedy is us.”
It's one thing to discuss painting the living room a different color, but something entirely different to discuss adjusting the foundation of the house. Likewise, it’s one thing to discuss “evolving consciousness” or “enlightening personality,” but something entirely different to discuss changing how the brain works. “Mind” and “brain” are not reducible to one another, but the brain influences the mind as the mind influences the brain, and it does not seem possible that the mind could ever entirely ignore the brain’s structure and natural functioning. Yes, the mind can integrate with that structure and resulting “tragedy,” but overcoming the brain is another matter. This brings to the mind the difference between “integrating with lack and pathos,” as discussed regarding Hegel, and “overcoming lack and pathos,” the later of which seems impossible. If we try to “overcome lack” versus “integrate with lack,” which the structure of the brain itself will oppose, the effort could cause individual and social effacement.
We must know what we are dealing with to know what to do, and so deciding if our tendency toward “thoughtlessness” is structural or changeable is a critical debate. In my view, no matter how personality or consciousness “evolves,” we will be stuck with the same brain, which houses the same consciousness and structurally seeks to make what we think about that which we don’t have to think about (conscious seeks to become unconsciousness), and that means we will be in the business of creating “givenness.” Without those “givens,” we will easily undergo radical anxiety and prove existentially overwhelmed. Yes, there is something to be said about “the subject which can handle this reality of the brain” and the subject which cannot (and there is a sense in which the first subject is “more advanced” than the second), but critically the structure of the brain itself cannot be transcended. What if we installed the brain with robotic technologies which shifted its operation? Ah, indeed, what if technology proves to be the messiah—how nice to think (according to the brain).