Friday, December 9, 2011

A Prison Without Bars

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing.  When you think about it, the mind dictates everything about our lives.  The human brain sustains life, it keeps our hearts pumping and functions functioning, and it determines who we are.  I think a lot of people don't really consider just how much the brain impacts our very being.  It determines your personality, how you learn, who you are attracted to, and how you perceive the world.
As magnificent and awe inspiring the human brain can be, it can also be a major detriment. 

A damaged brain is a terrible thing.  A schizophrenic's brain is absolutely convinced that there are people and voices around the person.  Just stop and think how powerful that is.  Your brain can be so out of whack that you believe that you're seeing and hearing things that simply do not exist, and that's why the brain is a prison.

Many times we get caught up in our own lives, beliefs, and perception of reality.  We become so convinced that we're seeing life as it is, that we forget the fact that reality doesn't always match up with the mind.  When presented with an alternative point of view, a lot of times we just scoff at the person and assert that he or she just "doesn't get it," or that they're looney toons.  Of course, their perception is somehow tainted by some unrealistic perception of reality.

Through our own reason, we become so convinced of the veracity of our perception that we deem ourselves to be the grand arbiters of all that is true and false in this thing we call "existence."  I think we do this for one reason: because it's easier to be comfortable believing a potential lie than it is to suffer knowing the horrifying truth.

For many people--I'd even go out on a limb and say for most people--our beliefs are largely based on what makes us feel comfortable.  We don't like dealing with the concomitant unpleasantries of the horrifying truth.  And so, we imprison ourselves with ideology.  We erect imaginary barriers that stunt our growth, keep us from leaving the prison yard.  Imagine, if you will, a physical prison that has no walls, no bars, no guards, and the only thing keeping you in the prison is yourself.

Why would one stay in such a prison?  Well, the prison is safer.  Life is regimented, you always know exactly where you are when you wake up in the morning and where you will be when you go to bed at night.  Your meals come at the same time, you have your hour in the yard every afternoon in which you wonder what's on the other side of the wall.  What you don't realize is that the wall is false, and it's a construction of your own making.

The only thing holding you back is yourself, because knowing the truth is sometimes more painful than believing the lie.  That's why we go to great lengths to engage in persuasive debate with people of opposing view-points.  We want them to believe our reality, because their reality seems so foreign and so "wrong." 

For example, I believe in my heart of hearts that abortion is morally wrong and abhorrent in most cases.  However, I also believe that I don't have the right to tell a woman whether or not she can have one.  Every time I admit to myself or to others that I'm pro-choice, I think a little part of me dies inside, because I know that my feeling doesn't match my belief.  I wasn't always pro-choice, and in that case my imaginary walls happened to be my feelings on the nature of abortion.  It wasn't until I discovered that the walls were false that I was able to intellectually move forward on the subject.

No one can truly see reality until you learn to break free from the prison of his or her own perception.  Coming to the realization that you're in prison--becoming aware that there are no bars, walls, or guards except those which we place for the purpose of comfort--is the first step in breaking out.  Walk outside your mind, and you discover that the outside world is more beautiful than you could have ever imagined.

What does your prison look like?


Silverfiddle said...

For many people--I'd even go out on a limb and say for most people--our beliefs are largely based on what makes us feel comfortable.

Psychologists have identified this as an almost ubiquitous phenomenon.

My own personal opinion is that you really can't argue effectively against something if you don't understand it.

Too many people do not want to understand what they do not agree with. They mistake understanding something for agreeing with it.

Jack Camwell said...

A very good point, Silver. I came across a situation like that in my senior political science seminar in college.

We were talking about female circumcision in Africa. The professor was trying to explain how we can understand something without agreeing with it. Of course the idea sounds abhorrent to us, but when you take into consideration all of the cultural forces behind it (property rights and such) you can actually see why they do it.

It doesn't make the practice any less barbaric or horrifying, but you can understand why it's done. Me and a friend of mine were the only ones in the class who were able to get past our "feelings" about it, and understand the concept objectively.

It's not enough to say something is wrong just because you "feel" it's wrong. I think I touched breifly on that concept at the end of this article, but it was too much to really expound upon in just one article.

Anonymous said...

My prison has a big blizzard logo on it..
no seriously... its an escape from reality.... wich in and of itself is also a prison.


Jersey McJones said...

Well, it's a pretty heavy subject here, but in the end it's a revolving door, or I guess in this case, revolving prison bars.

"Truth," for the most part, is only what you believe. Rarely is truth very plain. Fundamental practical physics? Truths. Abortion rights? Tax levels? Wars? Education? Healthcare? A whole lotta subjectivity there.

When someone says to you, "It's raining," and sure enough it is in fact raining, that is a truth. When someone says, "Christian values are superior to Buddhist values," that is an argument. It could be a truth, but there are plenty of arguments against it. It's very hard to argue that it is not raining when it is. It's easy to compare and contrast arguments on a controversial subject. That's why they are controversial.

Yes, those arguments come from perception of reality - of truths - and so it's easy to ascribe disagreement as uninformed. But when you can parse multiple truths on the same subject (as opposed to standing there soaking wet and still insisting it's not raining) then you know right there the subject does not yet have a proven address.

For instance, one could show growth in the stock market and GDP over the past thirty years and say, "See? Conservatives were right." While another one could show stagnant wages and slowed upward mobility among the majority of Americans and say, "See? Conservatives were wrong."

You can't look at that and honestly say, "Conservatives were right (or wrong)." You have conflicting facts here, plenty of other conflicting facts, and lots of unknowns. There's no simple Occums Razor here. It's not one side is wrong or another... and that get's to the single greatest power over the human brain: Environment.

We are products of our environment in every sense of the expression - physiological, psychological, spiritual.

The prison of our minds is escaped, should you chose to do it, as unpleasant as it can be, when you remove the chains of your past and always look toward the now and the future.


Country Thinker said...

Two comments to a profound post.

1) There is a difference between ethics and morality.

2) What I call the "paramecium problem." Paramecium know light or dark and always move to the light. They're inevitably correct, but it isn't based on much information. We have more of that problem than most will acknowledge.

Anonymous said...

I never hear the word "escape"
Without a quicker blood --
A sudden agitation --
A flying attitude.

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug -- childish -- at my bars
Only to fail again.

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Shared by FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

Our lives are Swiss --
So still -- so cool
Till some odd afternoon
The Alps neglect their curtains --
And we see farther on.

Italy stands the other side!
Whil like a guard between --
The solemn Alps -- the Siren Alps --
Forever intervene!

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Anonymous said...

The Brain, within its Groove
Runs evenly—and true—
But let a Splinter swerve—
'Twere easier for You—

To put a Current back—
When Floods have slit the Hills—
And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves—
And trodden out the Mills—

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Shared by FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

" ... [W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

~ St. Paul writing to the Philippians, King James Version

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
That is all Ye can know --
And all Ye need to know."

~ Keats - Ode on a Graecian Urn

~ Shared by FT

Anonymous said...

"May God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

~ Anonymous

Shared by FreeThinke

D Charles QC said...

Hi, I have been away for a short while over in Kuala Lumpur for a bi-annual meeting I co-chair. As usual, the subjects coming up are thought provoking. This one for me, at a personal level.

Out of my four children - all adult now and yes I am a grandfather of three now - my second oldest suffers from schizophrenia and has done so since he was about 12 (not diagnosed until 15).

Though it is hard for me to discuss it, I feel that I should point out the hard facts of the impact upon not only his life but of those of us around him. His dillussions are every bit real to him and ever time he comprehends them to be in fact false, he then suffers yet again, first confusion, dissapointemnt, embarassemnt and self-anger if not self-loathing.

I have come to one conclussion that for years his doctor has been telling me: It is not what is real that is important, it is losing it and not having the comfort of grasping at another one.

Damian Charles QC

Jack Camwell said...

Wow, thank you for sharing that Damien. I can only imagine how difficult it must be.

I think it's difficult for people who are not in your situation to fully understand just how powerful the mind can be.