The Architecture of Life: Forget the Planet - Four: Who Am I?

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Friday, October 19, 2007

Forget the Planet - Four: Who Am I?

(Fourth of seven related posts)

A more important question has been haunting me lately, a personal question.

After all, my world is all about me.

The question I have been asking myself is, “who am I.” Because when you really study it, you begin to realize that there is very little “you” in yourself.

A couple of psychologists named John A. Bargh and Tanya L. Chartrand were studying the brain almost a decade ago and determined that we are aware of only about five per cent of what our brains are doing each day. Most of our actions and decisions relative to the environment are unconsciously determined.

Don't believe me. Here a pdf of the study.

Five per cent. That’s less than the current prime rate.

That means the chance you "know what you’re doing" is pretty small. There is less risk to a lender in financing a three bedroom single family home in Phoenix than there is of you being fully aware of your decisions. Consider that for a moment.

What science is facing is the fact that previously clear divisions between what are called phenotypes - the bodies of different species - are not very distinct.

All higher life forms - like Paris Hilton and George W. Bush - are really just mobile neighborhoods for tiny gangs of homeboys who don’t like strangers on their turf.

So the distinction between the environment, and you and me, and Paris and George…has very fuzzy boundaries. Like one big happy family, my collie, my wife and I, the moths buzzing at the front porch light, the yellow jackets on the roof rafters, the mice in the basement and the chickadee at the bird feeder all exchange these microbiotic tourists constantly.

It’s sort of like time share.

It’s really very intimate when you think about it.

You and I have about the same amount of independence in the huge societal and cultural organisms in which we live as a white blood cell has in a five year old.

We play a role. We have some latitude, but we fill a function that is determined by our history and social position, just like the cells that constitute our liver…or a slime mold.

So you see, really what you think and say is just the environment talking to itself.

We are mutterings, not even the mutterer. And as such, we don’t really mutter all that much in the big picture.

Forget the Planet Five is here: