Year 5, Piece Eight: 38. Purple Yellow

What does it mean to have a mind?

“Wherever we go, is there a way to get home?” D asked me while walking back from the playground.

“Oh wow,” I said. “That is a deep question.” I repeated it to myself out loud a couple times: “Wherever we go is there a way to get home…?”

I mean, the answer is a definite no. Right? As an example she might understand, I brought up Elsa’s ill-fated journey to a mystical glacier in the movie Frozen II. But as D pointed out (spoiler alert), Elsa does ultimately come back.

Wherever we go is there a way to get home? Who is we? What is home? Usually people don’t intend to get lost. But there are certainly trips that people embark on and never return from, like an accidental drive off of a cliff, or a poorly-timed flight in a small aircraft. Or just this week, going to work as an Asian woman at a massage parlor. Or going to the grocery store. 

Fuck.

Yes, you can get lost forever easily, all too stupidly easily. But maybe it isn’t the victims who are lost. Their lives were taken, not misplaced. It’s the murderers who lost their minds. Lost it how though? To what? To pain? To loneliness? To late-capitalist colonialist white supremacist patriarchy?

What does it really mean to lose your mind?

What does it mean to have a mind?

I guess that’s the question I was already wrestling with this week. I told Will Rogers (you might remember him from last week, Orange Black White) that this week was Purple Yellow, and that I was thinking about mind power. In response, he forwarded me our mutual friend Bradley Heinz’s thesis. Now, normally someone’s 70-page graduate school thesis written to satisfy degree requirements in medicine might not make for accessible reading, but when it comes to Rainbow Squared I take any of the universe’s bids for my attention seriously. And as it turns out, this was a great bid. 

On Medicine, Mind, and Metaphysics: The Placebo Effect and The Hard Problem of Consciousness talks about mind power indeed. In it Bradley argues for a post-materialist scientific paradigm. I didn’t know what that meant before I read it, but to sum it up (hopefully without botching it), modern science operates in a materialist framework, in which everything in the universe is made of matter. The scope of a materialist framework is limited to what can be measured, which limits what is considered “real” only to the physical. This poses a problem when it comes to entities like the human mind or consciousness.  As Bradley poses (emphasis mine):

If a computer were an apt metaphor for the mind-brain, a materialist study would aptly describe wires and logic boards and encasements, but would have no reference to an “internet” or “cloud,” core features of today’s technologies. As these various schools of thought within cognitive neuroscience have evolved and provided new theories of mind that try to explain how the brain produces consciousness, is it possible the field is making a clear logical fallacy? Is it possible we are mixing up or assuming a relationship of causation when all the evidence we have merely points to correlation? What if consciousness wasn’t produced by the brain at all, yet instead exists as an independent entity from the brain, and perhaps all of matter?

And it’s not that any of this can’t be studied. It can and it has. But rather than letting data speak when it comes to phenomenon that might point to an expanded understanding of consciousness—like near-death experiences, clairvoyance, or even accounts of past lives—modern science shuts down potential discussion before it starts, rendering it pseudoscience. See where that bias may be coming up for you even right now, before looking at the data. 

The potential implications here are huge and far reaching, in the medical field and beyond. Bradley again (emphasis also mine):

Operating under the belief that the only “real” thing in the world is matter, that life is nothing more than a complex arrangement of constituent tiny dead parts, the universe could appear as a cold, lifeless accident, devoid of purpose, intention, or direction. It is plausible to consider links between this hegemonic scientific worldview and the state of the world. If collectively we believed in and our institutions operated under a post-materialist framework, could we continue to objectify and desecrate our natural world for profit? Would we be able to continue funding aggressive wars and military occupations of foreign lands for imperialist gain? Would we continue to register record levels of disaffection, despair, and even suicide?

Could we (please) be on the precipice of a paradigm shift here? 

Oh there is so much more here to say about this, about everything, that I did say, that I deleted, that I had to delete. It’s just not in my scope this week or next or perhaps any time before my kids are in school ever again to write an essay about the spiritual ramifications of medical epistemology, let alone mass shootings. But the feelings are there, so many of them, trying so hard to come out as words.

I snuck away to my computer to write early the other morning. When I came back in the room, I was immediately stopped by little E pleading “Chair! Chair!” begging me to sit down with him so he could nurse. As I sat, I talked through the open door to Justin in the kitchen. I told him how no matter my initial intentions when writing, it never seems possible to just say something simple. 

“Thum-puh,” E tried to repeat after me, pulling off of my nipple suddenly to say so. He latched back on to nurse some more, and then pulled back off to try to repeat the word again. “Sum-puh.” Then latched again, pulled off again. This is not the most comfortable sensation. But he kept trying until he got it. “Sim-poo. Sim-ple!” E locked eyes with mine, brimming with pride and seeking recognition. I think. Or maybe he was trying to tell me something, trying to have me get it, that he gets it. Simple.

Simple. Simple. Tell me, child, is anything ever? I can’t know what your cognitive experience is, but I bet I romanticize it as more simple than it actually is. Right now your mind is filtering and sorting so much, learning to assign language to your environment, learning to tell your mouth to make sounds that make sense to other people. The things I will need to tell you with words will certainly get more complex over time, as it already is with your sister. How to explain the inexplicable? How to explain the inexcusable?

Purple is the mind, consciousness, awareness, wisdom. Yellow is power and saying yes. Mind power. More than we can ever hope to understand. Maybe even mystical power, higher power, or mystical yes, admitting that there are things going on that we don’t and won’t understand. That we can’t understand how reality works, let alone how the mind works, or how the two are linked. We don’t even understand what the mind is, so how could we ever understand why it does what it does?

But how could we ever stop trying?