Humans belong to groups (more the way dogs do, than cats); the paradox of distributed consciousness and mandatory competition

Okay, one of the moral imperatives I get bombarded with is to join a cause larger than myself.

And, I can’t claim to be part of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation (but neither can many young adults in the not so wild West today).

In fact, as an “unbalanced personality” in the world of the Paul Rosenfels Community (or the Ninth Street Center of the 1970s through 1991) it’s very important to me to follow goals that I choose and develop myself.

That’s one reason why I don’t sign up to brand myself with “other people’s causes” or to enter contests, say selling pies for Food and Friends (instead I buy more than one and use the extras for potlucks).

And I could say I wish I had accomplished more in my life in individual sport – chess, which deteriorated for me somewhat once I became a self-published author and blogger.  (I do admire Magnus Carlsen, but so does Donald Trump, from what I hear.)   In chess, only your own mistakes can beat you.  Giving away the opposition in an endgame isn’t the same thing as hanging a slider as a MLB pitcher.

But, we always belong to something (as Martin Fowler maintained in his 2014 book (“You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging”).  Some of these we don’t have a lot of choice about.  For example the family you are born into, or religion, or nationality, or tribe.

As we become adults we hopefully make progress in choosing our own connections, but we often find that once we do, we need to respect to “social hierarchy” of our new allegiances, however benevolent their intentions at the outset. That’s often hard for me to accept.

But “groups” serve a purpose.  They give individuals support and backup, so they don’t remain accidents waiting to happen. (Marriage does that, of course, which is one reason, as Jonathan Rauch argued in the 1990s, gay marriage became important to LGBTQ people.)  And they give us purposes larger than ourselves.  But, these purposes come at the partial cost of loss of some independence in fine tuning our own beliefs or over-analyzing the logical inconsistences in positions taken by groups to benefit their members.  An expectation that singleton individuals with some privilege (like me) will report to some sort of structured community engagement might be viewed as a major “eusocial” tool against inequality.

In practice, individuals share some of the moral responsibility and consequences, sometimes very personally, of the actions of the groups to which they belong, whether by complete free will or not.

Yet, individuals seem to find some relief in the prospect of a little “distributed consciousness”.  We know this happens in other animals (even dolphins), although the modern idea of IIT or “integrated information theory” may make this hard to see.

Before (like on June 6), I’ve noted that, in the larger space-time sense of modern physics and string theory, after passing of an individual’s life, the information set produced by that life still exists indefinitely.  Is that the basis for a “soul”?  But if there is some sort of distributed consciousness at the group level (even family lineage), does it have access to this information set?

Music may provide a clue to “cosmic consciousness”, more so than visual art (even images of danganonpa dolls) because it requires the brain to span time.  Music seems to provide an alternative outlet for the “emotional body” when it engages the brain in its own logical progressions, from Back to Beethoven to the romantics and moderns.  The controversy over how to end Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony (which of two competing concepts did Bruckner intend for his coda for all his composition?) seems to engage the heart as well as mind.  What, then, to make of the group experience in music like, say, hip-hop on the disco floor, or songs of praise in church, particularly singing the same verse in unison over and over again to get some sort of religious experience.  There are other ways to caste the experience of sound and music, like hemi-sync at the Monroe Institute, which I have not really experienced yet.

There’s one other ancillary point here:  the Paradox of Involuntary Competition. That is, once you join a group, you compete with others in the group for status, even if your purpose was “functionably” communal (Nov. 6)    That could lead the powers-that-be in a group to want to keep it small and exclusive (like those “closed talk groups” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, an interview for which led to a major personal confrontation in October 1974, so shortly soon after I had moved into the Village).  But it’s just as often that the leadership wants the group to be so valuable that everyone else must try to get in and play – the whole “no spectators” problem like in the movie “Rebirth”).  That ultimately can compare to the model particularly for left-wing authoritarianism. There’s a curious analogy to the problems I had in the dorms at William and Mary that fall of 1961. I would have thought at other boys – most of all my roommate – would be relieved that I wouldn’t provide any romantic competition for girl friends .  That general expectation may have been diluted by the fact that at the time the male student body was about twice the female. But the real point was that the less secure boys (about their own “maleness” which does not always equate to masculinity, even in the eyes of Milo Yiannopoulos) wanted me to provide the reassurance that there really is someone (female, of the opposite sex) for everyone, that everyone can have a family linage and live forever however vicariously.

(Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

Is the pineal gland the key to the afterlife?

I’ve been put under general anesthesia only twice in my life.  One time was in Minneapolis in January 1998 after I had fallen in a convenience store and cracked my acetabulum (hip). That led to a six-hour operation two days later at the University of Minnesota, and I did have first rate insurance and short term disability from my employer, ReliaStar (now ING/Voya), an insurance company itself.  I recovered quickly and completely.  The other time was in January 2010, back in Arlington, for a double hernia repair, where I was under for 67 minutes.

Each time, my last memory was being on a stretcher and being wheeled to the OR.  There would be a sense of discontinuity (unlike sleep), and arousal, in the hospital room or recovery room, with a nurse’s voice.  But I had no memory of the actual surgery.  I was told I was given memory suppression drug, so the operations themselves are not part of my own life experience.

Twice, for putting in implants, in 2013, I had sedation dentistry, with light (3 pads) electrocardiographic monitoring, starting with valium.  In each session, time seemed to speed up.  When I was fully aware again, about five hours had passed and we were ready to finish up, after the multiple extractions, which seemed to go very quickly without effort.

Yet, when you read about near-death experiences, you learn about people in comas going somewhere and reporting what they saw beyond, as well as watching the details of medical procedures done on their bodies with a third eye.

There is a body of only slightly off-mainstream literature about the purpose of the pineal gland, a tiny check-pea-sized organ seated deep within the brain of most vertebrates, for example.  While its recognized purpose may be to secrete melatonin, it seems that it also secretes a controlled substance and hallucinogen, dimethyltryptamine (DMT).  Some literature suggests that the DMT enters the dying brain and sets off the “trips”.  The DMT also apparently has the ability to cause the perception of the passage of time to slow down.  There are a few very celebrated cases of visions from a brain that had no function of all, such as Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven”. The author, himself a physician, reported residing in a “Core” or complete darkness for a long while, before encountering his own vision of a kind of alternative space-time we call Heaven. No wonder the organ is called the “Third Eye”.

The reference I gave indicate that “without the pineal gland, you can’t go to heaven.”  The pineal does need a conventional blood supply to function, so it would have to flood the brain with DMT in the last moments after circulation stopped.  The brain might function with this kind of stimulation for a while longer, even though the brain as normally conscious stops working about 30 seconds after the heartbeat stops.  This scenario would not be possible in the case of abrupt extreme trauma (like thermonuclear weapon on even conflagration like on 9/11), but might survive ordinary trauma (even decapitation) for a while, long enough for this to “happen”.  It might allow the DE to proceed with execution by lethal injection.

One could imagine that the time dilates in a mathematically converging infinite series, so that the individual experiences the illusion of permanent “awareness”.  His or her life exists forever in the space-time sense, bounded by the time of death in the usual sense of the physical world.

One wonders what the person could see.  Maybe a “life review”, as I think the Monroe Institute has proposed.  (Call it “content evaluation.”)  It would be fascinating to review a 1% sample of the days of one’s life in detail and see how one lived and worked decades before, even what one’s body looked like before starting to age.  It would be possible to envision one’s life as a permanent micro-universe, embedded in the Universe of our Creator, where one had been a god of one’s own little world, with consciousness and choice, and the chance to oppose the entropy of the laws of physics with chosen actions.

It would seem that most people (outside of extreme trauma, which a terrorist or society could impose) would have a moment when the person knows that a life of activity is over, and that he/she cannot go back or take anything along, even if there is “read-only access” to one’s completed life for what may be perceived as indefinite time.  Sometimes the end may seem to be announced by a dream in a threatening, illogical situation (like power won’t come on in some rooms) that one cannot arouse oneself from.

Then, Heaven might have something to do with being connected (through “wormholes”) with all the other microuniverses of other people to whom you had been connected.  It is only through connections from future people (descendants) that one knows what is going on after one is gone.

The microuniverses could be viewed as eternal from the view of string theory, where time is just another dimension, once intervention and causality is no longer possible.

But how would the connections be selected?  Would they be based on blood ancestry?  (It’s like the LDS Church believing in eternal marriage.) Would they be based on other levels of group or emotional commitment?  Do groups (like nations) have their own level of consciousness?  If you look at other social animals (like social insects, siphonophores or modular colonies, or even higher social animals like orca schools) you can certainly wonder.  The idea that most societies find that they must demand self-sacrifice sometimes by individual members (like in military service in human societies) suggest that there could be some point to the idea of a higher collective soul facilitating these connections, but right now it’s just speculative. But Arthur C. Clarke may have been on to something with “Childhood’s End”.

But the whole idea of sentience and identity, and whether you can ever return (“reincarnation”) seems as mysterious as ever.  Some coma situations, such as when a person is awake but unaware, as after brain injury, complicate the picture.

It’s hard for me to believe in the idea of a hollow heaven where you have a condo in some other universe with your extended family for all time. But physics suggests that some sort of conscious remnant or “leftover” exists for all time.  And your loved one, at the very end of life, may be aware of your presence (or absence) even if she looks unconscious.  So, watch your karma.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)