Previously, we talked about the importance of mindset for shaping reality, and signed off promising an example for next time. And so, let’s talk about the Black Iron Prison of the Brain.
The Brain as a Jail
A possible interpretation of neuroscience is that the electric pulses and neurotransmitters sloshing around your brain are enough to explain all you behavior, and your thoughts too. Some philosophers believe this so much that they have argued for something called post-intentionalism, the notion that our words and language are not about anything at all: that they are wholly devoid of content. The matter is hopelessly muddled though, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy cheerfully points out.
If this view is true, then we are deceived far more than Descartes ever dreamed of. Our thoughts, reason, and sensation of free will would just be the output of an absurd machine, never mind the reality we perceive through our senses!
But merely stating this view doesn’t drive home how truly awful it is, I think. We have to turn to the Warhammer 40,000 universe to really hammer home the worst story ever.
The Chaos Gods
The universe of Warhammer 40,000 is a truly grim place. It is, after all, the source of the grimdark meme. And in that universe, there are four malevolent gods, who also do not have any benevolent counterparts. They are Khorne, god of blood, war, and murder, Nurgle, god of disease, decay, despair, death, and destruction, Slaanesh, god of pleasure, excess, and decadence, and finally, Tzeentch, god of change, evolution, intrigue and sorcery. I bring them in because they map out rather neatly to the brutal evolutionary processes that we are told resulted in us. Certainly, it is clear that survival, or thriving, in this world requires paying each of these gods their due, in their own time.
Their interplay also wholly explains all your cognition.
Khorne is the ultimate source of what Plato called thumos, every spirited, energetic passion ultimately comes from him. Slaanesh is the source of morality, because every pleasure belongs to her, including the “higher” moral sentiments. Tzeentch is the source of reason and thinking, and therefore of science and philosophy, the sensation of something “making sense” being only the result of being hypnotized by his mad gibbering.
Nurgle is the ground of the other three, for to live is also to die.
It doesn’t make sense to reject this vision: according to the materialists, there is nothing above the material, and the universe is chaotic and arbitrary. You brain and body are not magic, they are fleshy things that are also the result of a bloody billion year old thresher. We cannot usually perceive the thresher only because Slaanesh has us thoroughly deceived, making us think snow is warm, that is, luring our attention away from Tzeentch when his endless rant conflicts with pleasure-seeking. Likewise Slaanesh tames Khorne most of the time and for the same reason. Not that Slaanesh is good: Slaanesh’s greatest foe is our conscience, which gets in the way of indulging in all the base pleasures he wants to, said conscience being a truce struck with Khorne (it’s clearly Khornite to talk of “base pleasures”). And in the backdrop to all this, Nurgle, principle of entropy and the physical, waits patiently for your body to fall apart, just like every other body. BOW DOWN TO THE WORMS:
It is through a combination of Nurgle and Slaanesh that reality, such as we call it, is perceived. Certainly, Slaanesh has a hand in it, in giving us rose colored glasses, otherwise there would be no humans, the species having long gong extinct due to being knurd.
This prison of four malevolent insane gods deceiving you all your life as a side-effect of the absurd games they play maps neatly to the view of consciousness as epiphenomenal we discussed initially. Certainly if those philosophers and scientists are right, we are wholly at the mercy of the inane belching of the brain and body. I made myself really believe in this vision, in spite of some of the absurdity of it, in the days before I attempted to will my death. But then I noticed a flaw: you can’t have a jail made of four walls. The prison is incomplete. And I tried hard to think of how to finish the jail, how to fully entrap myself (I was in a weird state of mind back then). And then it hit me: the jail cannot be perfected because there always has to be a way for the unseen observer, consciousness to come in, and therefore, to come out. It was I who willed the jail in the first place, and I can withdraw from it with ease. I can refuse to believe the insane, unverifiable (by laymen anyway) stories some scientists and philosophers come out with, and say with Heraclitus:
The sun is the width of a human foot.
To say this is to give rightful primacy to your own inexplicable sentience. And to be clear, it’s not that I dismiss all of science, I just take it seriously when it is useful to do so. I don’t give it the final word on the strange thing called “reality”, and neither should you.
Your consciousness is the Garden of Eden: don’t listen to every snake that crawls in.