the self as a pattern

I had been intending for some time to write this here, but I wound up posting it as a comment on Takuin’s blog.

Here it is, so it can be here too.

People spend an awful lot of time worrying about their selves. People go out into the world to find themselves, they turn inward to find themselves within themselves. They worry and fret about whether their selves are happy, content, or fulfilled. Often they seek themselves for years and years without really finding anything. Some never do.

This is because what they seek isn’t there.

Self, as a thinker and a doer distinct from the thinking and doing, is an illusion, a fantasy of causality that we implicitly agree to superimpose upon the doing that is what we call our lives. The self exists when we think about it – or, rather, we create the illusion of the self by thinking about it.

It is not hard to think of things that do not exist, like a talking dog. It’s not even hard to think of things that CAN not exist. Santa Claus, for example. The tooth fairy. The Easter bunny. A huge, fiery cave in which ex-humans live in eternal torture. A barber who shaves only men who do not shave themselves.

When we are not thinking about the self, but rather simply doing or thinking about other things, where is the self? Is it a self that is doing and thinking? No. Doing and thinking are patterns of matter. What I call my body is simply matter arranged into a pattern that “does” and “thinks”. The matter itself comes and goes from my body; my life is simply the pattern into which the matter is arranged over time.

What we call thinking is merely doing that occurs inside our brains. Do we control our thoughts? No. We ARE the thoughts. We are the sum of the doing that we do.

When we choose to try to control our thoughts, the choosing is a doing within the brain. Is there a self that chooses to choose? Do you choose to think? Of course not. You might think “I am not going to think”, but that very thought is a contradiction. You have already violated your choice. If you think “I am going to quit thinking NOW”, do you actually stop thinking? No.

It is possible to do things that have an effect on the functioning of the mind – meditation, medication, or biofeedback.. In order to do these things, we must choose to do them. But the choice itself is a doing over which we have no control.

You might even say that the fact that material actions can affect – even destroy – the mind could be evidence that the mind, the “self”, is only a pattern of matter.

So you can imagine that there is a self that exists apart from the body, that plans for the future, or seeks peace, surrender, or freedom. That doesn’t mean that such a self has to exist; in fact we have no real evidence that it does. We have evidence only of the physical manifestations of doing and thinking.

Choose to plan, or don’t. Seek peace or surrender, or don’t. You will still be what you are – an organizing principle by which matter is manipulated.

Is there ultimately a doer doing all this doing? Who knows? Why does it matter?


bike ride, tuesday 9/18

22 mi. The last half was uphill almost the whole way.

bike ride, monday 9/17

about 11 miles.

today’s ride

about 11 miles.
I wasn’t too sore this morning, so I decided to go for another ride. This route has a lot more hills than the one I took yesterday. Bill Black Road has a nice section that winds a little bit through tree cover and crosses a creek bed.

I hated it when I lived there, and I still hate it.

It’s the flip side of loving it, actually.

I always hear about a show I’d like to see, when it’s JUST TOO LATE to go.

Gordon Lightfoot apparently played the Tennessee Performing Arts Center tonight.

oh well, Bob Dylan doesn’t play the Ryman until next week. Bet it’s sold out, though.

oh man

about half an hour ago I turned on the Acid Jazz channel on Slacker.

This is some fine, fine stuff.

easy listening

I took the iPod along on the bike ride today (see below). I listened to a podcast about Louis Armstrong’s singing, and an episode of Pod of Funk.

The first thing I did when I got my iPod was rip my entire CD collection. That took up maybe 10 of my 55.79 GB. Then I put some video clips on it, and from time to time I put photographs on it so I can show them to people I visit.

I almost never use those things, though; what I really use my iPod for is listening to podcasts. (I should put the podcasts on the blogroll.) Probably about half of them are talk programs from various places around the world, and the other half are music.

I have some really great music from my CDs on the iPod; it’s nice to have all of them at the touch of a finger. I wind up not listening to them very much, though, because there’s so much great music out there on the net yet to be discovered.

When I was a kid, I had trouble sleeping at night if I didn’t have a radio going next to me. I loved listening to shortwave radio when I was a teenager, at the height of Communist propaganda broadcasting. I listened to the news from Moscow; I listened to the BBC World Service; I tried to learn Dutch from Radio Nederland.

There’s not much to listen to on broadcast radio any more. Right-wing morons like Rush Limbaugh and Gordon Liddy, religious fanatics, endless raving about sports. When I drive to Nashville every few weeks, I enjoy listening to WPLN-AM, but down here in Aluhbamuh, even the public radio is mostly limited to classical music and post-modern soul, neither of which really turn me on. (Remind me sometime to tell you the one about the college roommate who used to stand across the room from a cassette recorder and conduct Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.)

But there’s lots to listen to on the Web. Right now I am listening to Groove Salad from SomaFM. AOLRadio has quite a few of the XM satellite channels, in addition to many of their own (they seem to have gobbled up Spinner, my favorite music radio from my old Windows-using days).

I like Pandora and last.fm, but they’ve been one-upped recently by Deezer. They’ve actually worked things out with the rights organizations so that the artists get paid royalties, so you can listen to the song you want to listen to, on demand, legally.

There are three other amazing music radio sites I’ve discovered in the last week that I have to mention: from the government of Denmark, there’s DR NetRadio; from San Diego, there’s Slacker; and most amazing of all, there’s Musicovery.

There’s still lots of good stuff on Live365, notably Radio DavidByrne.com. There are all the great jazz streams on public radio, especially KPLU, and then, of course, there’s the incomparable WWOZ, the voice of everything that is quintessentially New Orleans.

There’s other stuff worth mentioning, but I’ve got things to do right now. Bye.