The Brain Begins to Decline at 40 (R6)


Current Tweetable Sound-bite: The Brain begins to decline at 40

Actually the brain begins to decline at birth: neurons start dying as soon as we are born but since there are around 15 million of them at the last count I made it doesn’t really matter for a very long time; unchecked and with the consumption of a lot of extra-strong lager the loss of neurons can certainly accelerate by 40 if you choose.

But that’s not the real issue: the key factor is the way we operate in order to forge connections permutating the neurons one with all the rest on and on. Right now, if you had a bit of paper for every connection that you could make, pre-supposing the desire, between the neurons of your brain and stacked them up the pile would reach from here to the moon and back ten thousand times. Quite a lot of connections. How do we increase them? Two or three more connections just by reading this paragraph! Even more when you read to the end of the article!

The Loss of Two or Three Neurons Hardly Matters…

‘The universe is just one’s thoughts’ (The Upanishads). Keep your thoughts active and the universe keeps on expanding. ‘Only connect the prose and the passion…’ says EMForster in Howard’s End. Ensure that you constantly connect Left (the prose) and Right brain (the passion)…

‘Only Connect’—the phrase has been dumbed-down in popular culture to the level of a Quiz Show title. It has been made into what Gurdjieff would have called an A Influence. Being steeped in A Influences is a really good way to destroy connections between neurons; A influences lead to Nowhere Land.

The study on which the current tweetable sound-bite (The Brain begins to decline at 40…) is based was done with Civil Servants who, of all people, are very unlikely to spend at least their working lives connecting left and right brains or connecting anything except bits of paper in files—I speak as an ex-civil servant. I stepped outside all that; I seem to have spent a lot of my life stepping outside things. Especially A Influences.

When I was about three years old, I played in my father’s garden and it was by the pond that I used to strain every muscle to step outside myself to see what I looked like from another point of view. I did not, then, of course, possess these words with which to describe the experience. But bust a gut I was on the way to doing.

The cherry tree grew taller and the evening light faded. But…

‘Stepping Outside’ Became a Life-pattern.

Of course, now I imagine I am a man, I readily accept that we are locked in the prison of the mind; we cannot ever step outside it but the curse of identification presents us with the impression that we can—we identify with our daily task, our enthusiasms, our hobbies, with the people in ‘the team’ we imagine we foster, the ‘connections’ we imagine we create through some networking site; the process of identification creates the illusion that we exist other than inside our bodies. Our task is to make friends with our mind & body that we may thereby make friends with the world outside, while being firmly convinced that it is a place totally separate from who & what we are…

The World Outside is Impervious

The mind is the only thing over which we can exercise a measure of control. We may imagine we control other things but we can only work the mind so that it becomes capable of arranging things on the off-chance—in the hope, and maybe expectation, that things will turn out for the best: that we will succeed in empathising so well that the person we’re talking to will warm to what we’re saying, for instance… Sometimes this happens in accordance with some mentally devised scheme of ideas that we choose to adopt for the moment—a coaching model or some idea-crunching system—which can turn out to be more or less effective depending on how we keep our thinking selves out of it and learn to trust the flow of events.

The bigger we make our repertoire of possibilities the more chances we create for ourselves to arrange things other than on the off-chance. Keep making connections…

Otherwise, in spite of all our pretensions to order & method, we just blunder along and things contrive to hit us when we least expect them. Observe coolly what happens when something suddenly presses some pet emotional button!

Mind, offshoot of brain, is a sort of container. We imagine that we preserve it intact: keep the lock well-oiled, iron out the dents, ensure that it’s rust-proof; this is what we imagine we can work on. Eat the right food, take exercise. The metaphor is misleadingly concrete.

Consciousness is a Different Kettle of Fish

Consciousness is a constant whirling of what we call thought & sensation. No ‘thought’ has more than momentary existence. Check it now! How many ‘thoughts’ have come up for you in the last five minutes? There’s an endless stream of thinkings from cradle to grave. Incessant buzzing between the neurons.

We may imagine that we are revisiting an old thought that seems to have been there all the time, preserved in some continuous stream or linkage, but it always becomes a new thought under the scrutiny of a new ‘I’.

Thoughts just happen & pass on. How is it that thoughts seem to be preserved then? We can make a grab for a thought that seems promising. When an ‘I’ is successful in attaching itself to a particular thought, you have an ‘I-tag’ or ‘somatic marker’—these are just words that attempt to describe a certain something that persists by virtue of having been more or less accidentally ‘tagged’ as significant or ‘marked’ inside the body as memorable, somewhere in the neurons and beyond.

Take an experience with which you happen to be familiar—one that ‘rings bells’ for you—‘going to a football match’, ‘eating your favourite meal’, ‘watching your best film of all time’—and notice how some part of you suddenly comes alive now when you rest your mind on it. Connections!

For instance, I just happen to be listening to William Walton’s Viola Concerto right now; I can whistle its themes—they are very familiar to me because I have whistled them so often in the past; it’s a favourite piece of 20th Century English music that fills me with a joy I can only express by whistling and waving my arms about—this impedes the writing process…

The sensation & thought while the music lasts is of energy and insistence for which I have a deeply ingrained somatic marker—a certain something there is inside me that comes alive even when I just think of the words ‘William Walton’s Viola Concerto’. Listening-to-William-Walton’s-Viola-Concerto-I is an ‘I-tag’ that links me back to all the other times I’ve very willingly submitted myself to the experience—it labels it. But its manifestation in this new context makes a new ‘I’, one that has never existed before, that listens to the music now, one that is separated from all previous ‘I’s by the experiences this package of flesh & bone has had since it last listened to William Walton’s Viola Concerto.

The abstract idea has no life of its own; ‘I’s carry the burden of ideas; every ‘I’ is a new take on an abstract idea whether it be ‘football match’, ‘favourite meal’ or ‘best film’…

In this kind of way we make efforts to pin our experience to the wall. (‘…Pinned & wriggling on the wall…’ TSEliot)

Our experience of the world is nothing but our thought of it. Thoughts—abstractions—have no continuous existence; they vanish and are immediately replaced by others. There’s the constant illusion of smooth continuity. But nothing’s settled; all is a becoming.

Matter is a verbal invention which helps to create the illusion that it is something more than space; energy is an activity of mind. Everything in experience is a mental construct—not a copy of a material something-or-other. The whole panorama of events is mental experience—not a mental representation of separate material being. And we are zero-coordinates; nothings that have brief existence at the intersection of all that happens in the universe. Until we realise our total Nothingness, there is no possibility of making progress.

Nothing is at the Crossover Point of the Figure of Eight

That things appear in ordinary ‘consciousness’ demonstrates the existence of a something-or-other that acts as a receiver—receives on our behalf whatever it is that gives rise to appearance. Call it a mind-thing. Appearances imply observer who has a mind-thing; otherwise no appearances, no people, no hills & valleys, no lettuces or anthracite or toy lorries.

We can exercise a measure of control over the mind-thing. Something in me just made a decision to start a new paragraph. And again…

We are nothing. A small something that always must return to nothing in order for the something to be anything of any consequence.

It’s a systemic process: we choose to let the mind be programmed by outside events; it controls us; when we are aware of the way mind controls us we can begin to control what & how we think; when we become aware of the way we’ve been programmed by outside events then we are more likely to be able to shout STOP! which induces a measure of self-control to make the mind work for us. And then the systemic circuit takes us back into the mind as programmed by external events. In spite of the sound resolves made after the self-development course, we go back to normal unless we take this seriously: the ‘I’ that makes a resolution is not the same ‘I’ that determines to carry it out is not the same ‘I’ that takes action is not the same ‘I’ that tracks progress…

And so the Thought Passes…

Thoughts are fleeting but sitting down to pursue a thought employing some system or model to stay the course will keep bringing it and its variations back to the mind-thing. And it will increase the connections between the neurons.

There is a something-or-other that can hold thoughts together sufficiently to produce an approximation to a coherent argument. The more often we go the systemic circuit the more we build a habit that can shuffle off a lifetime of choosing to be programmed by what Gurdjieff calls A Influences.

What’s an A Influence? Everything that distracts from holding to our Magnetic Centre: mortgage, money-making, pop fashion, sport, politics, religion of the irreligious sort, war, cults of personality and so on.

What’s a Magnetic Centre?  A collection of Somatic Markers, perhaps. It’s all just words…

Out of the endless mix of fleeting events we choose to call thoughts something manifestly enters into this pen on to the page, through the I-system again, into the fingers on the end of ‘my’ arm, via the keyboard on to the monitor & into a WordPress file. Something there is that guides all this, makes decisions about what word comes next, what words need adjusting.

But nothing is settled; all is a becoming, an endless becoming. Keeping up with the flow requires the abandonment of old ideas. How many old ways of thinking can you chuck out today? How many A influences can you leave behind you squealing for attention at the bottom of the mountain?

What will remain? That part of you that can do the chucking. Then there’s another part that can learn to go with the flow of higher influences..

Our thought about the world is ours alone—each one of us. Nobody has anything like our experience; it’s rather a shame that an apparently common language cons us into thinking that others might have the same experience as we have. We are only conscious of our own ideas. Our perceptions are simply pictures in the mind. We project our own perceptions on to others and impose our own frameworks on what we make of other people; we impose our own autobiographies on others, as Stephen Covey might have said.

The World is Our Own Idea…

Mind is its own seer and seen…
We are both self and not-self…
We are both experiencer and thing experienced…
We are our own many selves…
We are all time…
We are the myriad connections between our neurons…

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