Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Problem

A dear friend, a philosopher of sorts, came to me this morning and said, “Do you know? I’ve discovered the problem of humanity.”

I let out a guffaw.

“I was stuck in traffic today,” he continued, smiling at my half-puzzled half-amused look, “for more than an hour and, while I sat in my car and listened to my music, I had this revelation. It explains everything. I know now. The humankind’s problem is the …brain.”

I laughed again but only in profound approval. Not only it made a lot of sense to me but also it was something that I often think about although I’ve never considered my friend’s vast, planetary scope.

For me it’s long been a personal observation and a source of mild astonishment especially at moments of deep physical fatigue when, rather than stop and allow my poor body to rest, my brain would command it to go forward. Go forward in doing things that I liked, things that I wanted, things that first and above all – even though I didn’t recognise them as such - stimulated the pleasure centres (I don’t know if they’re called like that, but you know what I mean) of my brain. And the reverse, if you want, the sedentariness, the chocolate, the taxing hours spent in front of a screen or of a piece of paper – same purpose, different damaging effects on the body.

So, I sometimes feel like a walking (or sitting) brain. A ruthless, merciless, selfish brain, an undeclared worshipper of god Epicurus. Epicurus was not a god but a Greek philosopher who lived around 300 B.C. and who held that the highest good is pleasure or freedom from pain.

I think we are most of the time endorphin seekers, that we try to do as much as possible the things that we like, those that give us pleasure. It doesn’t matter under which form, physical or intellectual, good or bad, selfish of selfless, legal or illegal, or even if we realise we’re doing them. Some will endanger their lives for the sake of thrills that will release the much-coveted adrenaline. I haven’t done jogging in many years but I remember the so-called “runner’s high” and I miss it. Right now, I (or should I say my brain?) treasure writing and reading above most other things. I get from them a “high” to which I return despite the obstacles and the disappointments, over and over again.

This is my interpretation. My friend, in his droll way, was thinking, among other aspects, of stupidity, to which he has a very low tolerance indeed, or any kind of madness. The solution? No brain.

Ha! Ha! Ha! I wonder…

Funny how powerful this “soft convoluted mass of nervous tissue within the skull of vertebrates that is the controlling and coordinating centre of the nervous system and the seat of thought, memory and emotion” (according to the Collins Concise English Dictionary) is. Funny, scary, and absolutely fascinating.


Sarah Hina said...

What a great post, Vesper! It stimulated all the right parts of my own "soft, convoluted mass" that remains an unending, perplexing mystery to me. :)

Yes, the brain wants what it wants. And will fixate on that something until it gets it. Those endorphins are some drug. It's a good thing you and I can access them through the relative safety of writing and reading, and not sky-diving.

No brain? Just ask the zombies... ;)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Brilliant post, Vesper! I have similar conversations on a regular basis with a friend, and we always end up saying, what a damnable thing the mind can be. I guess that's why the buddhists encourage one to practice mindfulness, to still the mind so that we can remember and focus on the moment - and not always go galloping off into the past, the future and everyone else's business!


BernardL said...

The brain also evokes a need in us to seek challenge in our lives and our work. In other words, it may at times be a pleasure center; but it functions best in the arena of ambition. Unfortunately, many of the ingredients people pour into themselves do nothing more than kill ambition. Good post.

Aine said...

Thanks for making me "think"-- ha!

I too am very fascinated by the brain. It never ceases to amaze me how much of our behavior is the result of chemical/physical processes. And we thought we were the masters of free will... ;)

PS-- Sorry I haven't been around for awhile. The kids are back to school now, so I can spend more time in cyberspace again-- yay!

Anonymous said...

See, and I thought the problem with humanity was the paucity of brain.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Well, we could dig a bit deeper and discuss the brain by side.... left or right, which of each has more of an effect this way? Both?

I don't know. I took up painting instead of brain surgery.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

(PS- LOVE the new look on the page!)

Ropi said...

Well I like my brain so it is not my problem.

Vesper said...

Thank you, Sarah. It is an unending mystery, like everything else, after all...

Thank you, Vanilla. How interesting about the buddhists, although I'm not surprised at all. I'll do some research into this - I thinnk I need it...:-)

Thanks, Bernard. I was thinking of the aspect you've mentioned while writing this post, but, to me, everything seemed to lead to the same result. Ambition is a strong desire for succes or distinction - in the end we seek the state of well-being associated with that. I'm sure this is very simplistic and that a philosopher would write a tome on this topic... :-)

Aine, yes, chemicals, don't start me on that. :-) In fact, I wrote a post on those not so long ago.
I know what you mean about having more time for cyberspace now that the kids have started school again. It's the same for me, although I always work a full-time job.
Welcome back! :-)

Ah, Jason, you never know... :-)

Scarlett, thank you!
Yes, we could discuss forever, and yet we'll never really know... Painting is much better! :-)

Ropi, you're happy! I hope you stay like that. :-)

SzélsőFa said...

Thanks for another dose of stimulation to my brain...
Great post, Vesper :)

Vesper said...

I'm glad you liked it, Szelsofa! :-) Thank you!