Search for Gestalt. What a funny title. Funny being peculiar, or strange, or particularly amusing due to a sense that things line up just a little too well, or because I’ve found a particular angle to look at something that causes a twinge in my chest – like bewilderment, like a bemused, blank stare that’s trying not to gaze too deep but unable to comprehend what depth means. It means I’m looking for some unnameable whole made up of all the bits of pieces that make me feel this vague and fathomless confusion.
Perhaps I don’t mean anything by it at all. It was a pretty word I read in a book once, explained as a way of perceiving something as a whole that is greater than just the summation of its parts. Something that takes on a life of its own beyond its component pieces.
Consciousness is a collection of neurons firing and communicating with each other, signals and feedback loops and glitches and energy. A lot of science is about taking these grand, almost incomprehensible ideas – consciousness, repertoires of behavior, odd coincidences, repeating patterns – and parsing them down to their most base forms. An atom is the smallest unit of matter that cannot be broken down by chemical means. But what is an atom made of? A nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, orbited by electrons. But what is a proton? A proton is, by my understanding, a unit of positive electrical charge. An electron, a unit of negative electrical charge. A neutron, a unit with no electrical charge at all.
What the hell do I mean by unit? A bit of matter? A current of energy? What’s smaller than these little electrically-charged bits? Quarks? Little “strings” that somehow bind everything together? Units of energy vibrating so fast and so frequently that they attract and repel, attract and repel, until some form of physicality begins to just… happen?
What the hell do these details even mean? I am no chemist, no physicist. The closest I get to science is being aware that fats cut gluten strands and thus make for more delicate baked goods. But these little details catch a snag in my mind and I keep reeling them back in, long after I’ve decided to live a life where such matters are ultimately unimportant. What are neurons? Why do they buzz? Why do they transfer information on to other neurons? Why do billions and billions of these neurons and the connections they form within my brain cause me to be aware? Are the individual neurons aware? Am I simply the combined perception of every single one of them?
If there are enough people in the world, all communicating with each other and passing information back and forth and reinforcing each others’ perceptions and behaviors with feedback loops, do we create some kind of unified consciousness ourselves? If you really parse down the behavior of the neurons that create our consciousness, don’t you see something somewhat similar to how we ourselves behave?
Why do these questions seem so important to me? What does it matter when I have bills to pay and tests to pass and a job to find? What’s the practicality in such impractical questions?
Why are scientists studying the possibility of physiological components to spirituality? Why is there such a chasm between concepts of the physical and concepts of the mental, emotional, and/or spiritual self? Why is the idea that somebody could look inside of themselves with such rapt attention and focus that they can sense the flow of energy within their bodies and map it so absurd to a culture that believes it can map that same flow by monitoring it from the outside?
Why is that person capable of looking at a flower and then transferring that visual information into lines, shapes, space, and shades, but this person, looking at the same flower, can only see the word flower and map, perhaps, a basic three-petaled representation that means flower but bears little resemblance to the actual plant? Both have in their minds a gestalt idea – a whole idea of flower that is more than ‘rose’ or ‘dandelion’ or ‘stem’ or ‘petal’ or ‘thorn’ – but one of those ideas can reproduce a detailed, accurate drawing and the other idea is… abstract. It has nothing to do with what’s visual, with what’s sensed.
Why am I neurotic? Paranoid? Spacey? Selfish? Why am I all of these things, but also capable of selfless thoughts and loving actions? Why do I dissociate during harmless social situations but pay full attention to my surroundings when I’m on a long stretch of freeway, capable of thinking clearly and making plans and remembering minute details in the landscape as it flies by at 70 miles an hour? Why am I only at my clearest in thought-processes when I’m alone, away from all potential of sharing? (Even writing takes away some of that clarity. It doesn’t bring on as much fuzziness as interaction with other people, but it still brings some.)
Why do I still, after five years, believe that the answer to all of my doubts and fears and inquiries lies in one simple, yet astoundingly mind-boggling idea:
If you take the perspective of a beam of light, you are everywhere you are ever going to be. There is no time. There is no space. If light were in any way conscious, it would be omniscient… and it would not exist at all.
(The cat is simultaneously alive and dead. You are simultaneously full of meaning and absolutely meaningless. You are a good person and a bad person. You are worthy of love and you are not worthy of love. This is the right thing to do and this is the wrong thing to do.
I know you completely and I do not know you at all.)