Friday, May 24, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 6

Like the body, the mind is not as separate from the rest of the universe as we would like to believe for strikingly similar reasons – both are constructs of countless parts so small that they are inconsequential in isolation, yet viewed in a grand perspective they are what would otherwise be considered a singular whole. For one, the mind is dependant on the body. If the body dies, there is nowhere else as of yet for the mind to reside.[i] Here one could interject with the notion of the soul, which is akin to the concept of the mind, but the concept of the soul requires the leap of faith that the notion of consciousness extends beyond that of the body or mind in that what makes an individual an individual is locked away in a shadowy netherworld beyond the reach of observation.
Theological supposition aside, the mind needs more than just a physical place to reside in; it needs interaction, stimulation. Consider the effects of the loss of stimulation, such as in the true darkness of a cave or solitary confinement. Isolation from sensory input, being forced to stand as a complete individual is a stress the mind is not designed to handle. Otherwise, one could reason, solitary confinement would not be used as a form of punishment. The mind needs more than just itself to survive, so it follows that it is not as “individual” (or unique) as popular convention would have us believe.
In addition, the mind is handicapped by primarily experiencing through the sensory filters of the body; sight, hearing, taste, touch, etc. Not only does the mind need interaction with elements beyond itself, it stands to reason that it is as permeable as the membranes of the body. Such concepts as Jung’s collective unconscious[ii] or those of psychic abilities (e.g. telekinesis[iii]), although impossible to measure or prove given our limited understanding of the nature of the workings of existence such as that 85% of the universe we describe as “dark matter” that we cannot measure nor know what it is[iv], imply that the “individual-ness” of the mind is not as complete nor as sacred as we would be comfortable to believe.
Culture, being the way a particular society conducts itself is more than just methods of going about life, it is also the remainder from having the leisure time afforded by a complex and interdependent society, and is further evidence against the concept of the individual. The nature argument of what contributes to what makes and individual, explains away the true notion of individualism as it essentially states that we are just a randomized combination of two previously existing biotic codes.[v] Culture, on the other hand, is a re-consumed and influential remainder of humans sharing production responsibilities which both increases overall production through innovation, thus creating more time for the mean individual to participate in that culture, thus boosting culture itself.  Culture it seems, by its intrinsic nature, to somewhat equally share with nature what ultimately makes an individual human. The nature of culture is to be both a product of a mass of humanity interacting with itself and a pillar of what shapes an individual consciousness. When looked at in this way, these overall poles erode at the concept of an individual. It is true that a single individual can exert unequal influence on a culture at large, but that is a result of that person being able to communicate an idea of mass appeal in broadly understood terms, but that in no significant way seems to diminish culture’s overall input base nor its combined influence. Thus the sense of the mind being an individual is as much a misconception as that of the human body being somehow separate from its biotic environment.
Humans, as discrete syntheses of a mind and a body, are inherently social creatures; each person is dependent on the world beyond itself, but especially on other humans for a collective sharing of both physical and non-physical resources. The sharing of physical resources can be divided into two groups, the division of material goods and the division of labor. It is presumed that the division of labor leads to both increased specialization and therefore saving time and energy leading to increased time available for leisure. Interestingly, ­these two avenues reinforce each other. For one, an increase in time for leisure will naturally lead to an increase in a variety of leisure activities which in turn would create a demand for more and more specialized labor to orchestrate these activities.
When I speak of leisure activities, I am not confining that term to just such things as rafting guides or camp councilors or sports teams. Although the labor spin-offs from professional sports and performing arts are surely significant in both economic and cultural terms, leisure activities when regarded in the broadest scope can include such wide-ranging fields as the entire service industry, the legal professions and all of health care. If a single person had to provide everything for themselves (e.g. food, shelter, education) there would be little to no time for such frivolous expenditures as providing ones own legal representation and any form of advanced medical care. If one is to operate as a true individual the quality of that person’s life will be severely diminished in comparison to that of a person who operates in a complex interdependent society. In the lyrics of Alice DeeJay, “Do you think you’re better off alone?”[vi]
It could be said that problems arose because the individual desires and the needs of the society seem to have rarely co-existed in harmonious balance. One can visualize this balance as a struggle between the most educated and egalitarian democracy imaginable against the most reckless and unregulated gestation of consumerism. Which side of the line do you feel society as a whole is currently leaning towards?

[i] Ghost in the Shell, DVD, directed by Mamoru Oshii (1995, Los Angeles, CA: Manga Entertainment, 1999).
[ii]“Collective Unconscious,” Princeton University, (accessed April 17, 2013).
[iii] “Telekinesis,” (accessed April 15, 2013).
[iv] John Heilprin and Seth Borenstein, “ISS Dark Matter Detector Finds Hint of Elusive Particles From Cosmos, Scientists Say,” Huffington Post, (accessed April 13, 2013).
[v] Ghost in the Shell
[vi] Alice Deejay, “Better Off Alone.” (4/15/2013).

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