Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Decidedly Strange Story

Rules are related to decision. When one encounters a rule, the presumption is they will consider their pending action and decide to do it or not, depending on how it aligns with the rule.

Rules depend on decision.

If one could explain to a dog there is a rule about tail wagging it would be pointless. A dog wags its tail based on the circumstance it is exposed to, not because it decides to wag its tail.

In this sense, the precepts should not and cannot be rules because decision does not play a significant role in how a person actually behaves.

Decision, quite literally, is a thin layer over a largely automatic and independent brain core. 'Decision' is likely just another word for what in a mind acts as 'story'.

I think 'story' should really be the name of what humans have in the brain that is unique, and perhaps is slightly shared by other higher sentients. 'Story' was an evolutionary differentiator. It became a capability in early humans and because it allowed early humans to put 2 and 2 together and come up with a prediction of future outcome, it provided for better survival, and so got 'amplified'.

Story provided early humans with an effective logic such as 'When the sky is a certain color and the wind just so, rain will soon follow' and 'When I rub one stick into another it releases the fire inside', even more so.

The catch is that our stories feel real. They are constructed from the same brain processes that deal with real sensory perception, and so when the story strikes, when a brain starts running a story, it can seem as if the contents of the story are actually playing out. Recent studies have started to identify that the way the brain reacts when one is truly immersed in a good book, is the same, or very similar, to how it reacts when responding to 'real life.'

That, I think, is the curse that Buddha was attempting remedy. Suffering is the 'story' part of our brain reacting to the world around us. Objectively, suffering does not exist in any particular set of conditions, but the story our brain creates from those conditions, the predictions of the future in the story, actually does trouble us.


Similarly decisions feel very real, as if they do impact our behavior. I cannot claim they have no impact, but I do think the impact they feel like they have is more story than truth. Largely, decisions are a story we tell ourselves.

I think decision does play a role in changed behavior... in a sense. I think of it more as 'training' than 'decision'. "I will never again xyz' is decision that I think does not work, particularly if it is in light of "Every day in the past I have xyz-ed".

The more effective form of change through reflections is something like 'Whenever abc occurs I tend to xyz'. This logic accepts that my tendance to xyz is a behaviour, a reaction to stimuli, rather than a 'decision.'

When the story of ourselves is counter to what is really going on in ourselves, we start to loose any hope of real change, and are left with only seeming change. Overt or hidden hypocrisy. Because our story and our feelings do indeed originate from two different parts of the brain, we can indeed have two different influences running in our 'mind'. e.g., fact:'I am really angry at Joe' and story:'I am not the sort of person who becomes angry.'

When our story more nearly matches reality, we have a better chance of affecting who we are in total. e.g., fact:'I am really angry at Joe' and story:'Wow, I am really angry at Joe, and this is what I am going to do'. When we recognize our selves in this way we have a better chance of taking the bull by the ring in its nose and leading it.


Just like feelings, it must be true that the story which occurs is in some sense inherent programming. It is not something we invent each time in the moment. It too is set in the configuration of neurons, but it is plastic. Somehow we can train it, and yes in some ways that training occurs through decision... the story of our story


I think that is the real value of meditation. To rest our stories enough to see our feelings, our reactions, going by in real time. or perhaps it is development of a third sense which can see both story and feeling/reaction occuring. A meta-story perhaps?


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