Information Processing Scenarios In Human Brain

When we usually think about changing our life’s direction, or coming up with new ways of thinking about situations, we often look beyond ourselves. We look to the Far East and the ancient Greeks for inspiration, or we look back into history to find familiar patterns that have come before and can also help point us in the direction we’re going. Now, however, we have the additional capability of looking somewhere completely different for clues about how we work, how we are put together, and what actions lead to what effects. Deep within our systems, at the cellular level, there are dynamic processes very similar the information processing scenarios we confront on a daily basis in our modern interconnected world. I believe understanding them can help shed light on our human condition, as well as point us to new solutions for age old problems.

In fact, I would hazard to say that at this point in history, our neurology can offer us more relevant clues and insights than ever before, precisely because we are presently inundated with information on a scale far beyond any our predecessors confronted. I think it’s fair to say that the ways they apprehended the human experience were products of their world – the conditions of which we haven’t seen for generations. Our forebears never had to handle this volume of information, so looking to them for how to figure all this out will have limited success, in my opinion. On the other hand, our neurology is typically bombarded with a mind-boggling quantity of data points, inputs, bits and bytes, zero-and-one signals, coming from all 15+ of our senses. If we can figure out how our systems unconsciously handle all that data so well, maybe we can figure out how to do something similar more consciously, more intentionally.

Just as the poets of old looked to a mountain in the distance or sunset on the horizon, contemplate the crashing of ocean waves and birds in the sky, and came up with insights that applied to our human existence, so can we now look deeply into the microscopic landscapes of our hidden internal world and do the same.

Even if you’re just a “pedestrian”, not a formally trained scientist with an advanced degree, it’s absolutely possibly understand what’s going on in our neurology. Research is increasingly public, the internet is filled with educational videos and really good courses from really good schools. The average person has greater access to this information than ever before, and thanks to the world wide web, we have access to a lot of people who are happy to explain it all and help us make sense of it. In any case, you don’t need to grasp esoteric minutiae to turn it into metaphor. Few of us understand the nuclear reactions taking place inside the sun, but we can still appreciate the beauty of a sunset and what it means to us after a long and demanding day. We don’t understand the exact mechanisms of the weather, but we still think of our lives in weather-like terms. It may take a lot of science to unlock the mysteries of our neurobiology, but fundamentally it seems to me that once we understand the underlying principles, they’re every bit as pertinent and meaningful as the sight of a herd of bison thundering across the Great Plains, or the silence of a turtle sunning itself on a rock in a pond.

What Each Of Us Does With The Information We’ve Discussed Here, Is Up To Us

What each of us does with the information we’ve discussed here, is up to us. It can definitely change us… if we allow it. For myself, change has been unavoidable. Realizing that I’m simultaneously separated and connected in complementary ways has really changed how I think about the world and interact with others. It’s set me apart, but it’s also invested me more intimately in parts of my daily life that I used to take for granted. The persistent visual memory of the synaptic cleft has changed how I think about success and failure, and how I approach challenges at work and at home. It’s even changed how I talk to other people. Whether it’s mowing the lawn, dialing into a conference call at work, or scheduling my busy day, I’m constantly reminded of the fact that my system isn’t going to transfer all the available data to me, some things are going to get lost along the way, and I’ll need to figure things out, as I go along – hopefully with a little help from my friends.

You may or may not choose to join me. You may or may not think anything I’ve said is worth considering – or remembering. But if you’ve gotten this far, I suspect that you have a genuine investment in looking beneath the surface, digging deeper into what most people don’t think much about, and getting creative about some new ideas for how we can bring our world from the state of perpetual involuntary fragmentation to a process of intentional, continuous connection.

This much clear: We have within us an amazing ability to connect across distances, bridge gaps and find meaningful experiences in the midst of that flurry of electrical and chemical signals. That’s some pretty powerful stuff. Not everybody has the pressing need to take this information and run with it, but if you’re one of the few who chooses to, I thank you.

You and I are distinct individuals, divided by almost immeasurable distance of many kinds.

But because of that separation, we are never really alone.

It’s A Compelling Thought That Breaking Down Separations Of Church, State And Culture Will Produce A Peace We Crave

It’s a compelling thought that breaking down separations of church, state and culture will produce a peace we crave. But is it a well-founded hope? Does it actually make sense? Is rejecting separation and joining together with everyone “as one” actually the thing that will save us from our fragmented state?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. After all, as we’ve seen on the past 100+ pages, we are – on the most minute scale of our anatomical structure – separated from our world in millions, billions, even trillions of ways. The nerves that promise to connect us to the world beyond our skin are up to one meter long. And the synapses which process the signals once they cross the even wider distance from sensation to brain, are divided by clefts that cumulatively add up to hundreds of thousands of miles worth of distance. Even the most rudimentary mathematical calculations reveal the scope of the distance we must cross to construct the world of our sensing. And along the way, data gets dropped. Sensations don’t completely translate into perceptions. Our physical distances result in time lags and gaps in understanding that both help and hurt us. We’re walking, talking lessons in limitations, and we don’t even realize it.

The fact of our separation from the world we think we can directly connect, is not the easiest idea to embrace. We love our proximity, our connections, our direct experience with the world around us. The idea that the most intimate manifestation of our connection to the world around us – direct contact via our senses – cannot exist, makes people understandably nervous. When I floated the idea to my friends about a year ago, the very idea sparked discomfort, unease, even outrage. How dare I say that we cannot possibly be in direct contact with anything?

It’s a challenge, to be sure. But our discomfort doesn’t change the fact that, by our very construction, we’re riddled with gaps that keep us always at a distance from everything and everyone in our lives. We’re even separated from ourselves.

So, what do we do with that information? Do we simply dismiss it? Do we tell ourselves that it’s just an exaggeration that has nothing to do with us – really? Do we shrug our shoulders and say “Yeah, whatever…”? Or do we take a closer look and find out how on earth we manage to live our lives as fully as we do, in an essentially fragmented state?

I believe if we look closer into our innermost “micro” processes, we can relate what we learn to our larger “macro” lives. We can find plenty of correlations between the transmission of sensory data across neural networks and the ways we interact with our world. And what we learn about how our neurology negotiates microscopic distances, can shed light on how we might work more effectively with the separations that fill our larger “macro” lives. What better use for all this, than to take a lesson from our internal systems to better understand and engage with our external world – and each other.



Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

A police officer fatally shoots a mentally ill black man who is “acting erratically”.

Another police officer is shot dead, execution style, while sitting in his idling cruiser.

Twitter users gang up to troll people they consider their cultural opponents and try to drive them out of social media altogether. And they get plenty of help from a proliferation of programmed Twitter “bots” which mimic human speech and interaction so well that they elicit thanks and praise from the real people who thought they were their living, breathing allies.

Politicians announce that they’d like to deport certain types of people, control the movement of others, and build walls to keep others out, and a significant percentage of the populace sings their praises and lines up to vote for them. The opposition responds by clogging airports with demonstrations, filing lawsuits, and creating sanctuary cities where “illegals” can reside without fear of deportation.

Radicalized young men walk into nightclubs in Paris, France and Orlando, Florida and open fire, killing tens of people just enjoying a night out. Or they drive vehicles into crowds of pedestrians just trying to get from Point A to Point B.

At every turn, it seems our modern world is fracturing into a million disjointed pieces, with battling factions at each other’s throats. We’re divided by politics, race, religion, class, values, gender, and every other conceivable way we identify ourselves. As reassuring as our factions are, they don’t seem to be helping. If anything, they’re hurting.

Wouldn’t it be much better, if we overcame our separation, if we turned away from our schisms, our contrast-and-compare approach to life, and came together as one? John Lennon promised us it would happen, if we could just imagine… and put our divisions behind us. Not far from the ashes of the bombed out Bataclan nightclub, a French pianist set up a grand piano club and playing “Imagine”. He was surrounded by hundreds who joined him in his song of hope.

Accepting Our Separation, Our Other-Ness, Is Critical To The Survival Of Diversity Of Thought, Belief, And Experience

Accepting our separation, our Other-ness, is critical to the survival of diversity of thought, belief, and experience. It’s also a healthy way to check ourselves and not fall prey to our own arrogance. Yes, it feels good to be certain. It feel safe and comforting, to be sure. But it’s a false comfort. It’s a conceit. And it certainty hurts both us and everyone around us, when it takes over our thinking and tells us we don’t need to question our assumptions, our motives, our actions. Our systems are not built for 100% surety. We may crave Undivided Unity, the way we crave chocolate or a day at the beach, but we can never truly have it. We can only have the sensation of having it – and as we’ve learned, that sensation can’t be trusted. And knowing that is a first step towards actually preventing certainty from trashing our lives – and the lives of everyone around us.

When we let go of our arrogance, get humble, and simply decide to learn, we can actually make some genuine progress. We can get down to the work of honestly seeing our partial knowledge for what it is – not a cause for blame or shame, but a natural part of who we are as finite individuals in an ever-expanding universe, who rely on the input of innumerable others to keep us on track. And when we not only accept, but welcome our shortcomings as opportunities to grow, we give ourselves the chance to make the most of our humanity – as well as the humanity of everyone, like us or otherwise.

So, we need to be strong in our separations. We needn’t fall back into the standard-issue despair we so often feel, when we contemplate our divisions. Nor should we judge separation as being the sole source of our suffering. Separation is only one side of the proverbial coin of our lives, and it presents us with a vitalizing challenge – to rise, to respond to the world around us, much as our neurons and neurotransmitters do inside the “wiring” of our systems, in a perpetual, self-sustaining process of discovery.

Rather than rejecting distance, we can treat separation as an invitation, an opportunity. After all, our weaknesses are the places where we can get strong. We need to find the gaps where we come up short, and strive to cross them. We can use our separation as an impetus, a springboard, a prompt. Just as we need to be persistent in our connections, we need to be humble in our self-awareness. And we need to step up to challenges of separation – personal and cultural – as opportunities to learn and become what we have never before been. Forget the fear. Never mind the dread. Get on with the business of getting honest and getting real. Remember, the process of learning, a process of growing is never-ending within you, every moment of your life… and it can take you in whatever direction you choose.

So, don’t pull away and stay that way. Don’t disengage from distance. Don’t dismiss separation. Connection is an illusion, but it is anything but useless. Find the gaps, identify the separations, discover the distance… and then step up to find out how you can more actively cross those gaps, connect the dots, and create bridges from what-is to what-will-be. Separation is not our enemy. Fearing and rejecting separation and refusing to connect across it, is. Fortunately, our systems show us that we are already adept at bridging innumerable, every moment that we are alive. The challenge is, How to apply what we now know, to overcome bad habits of shortsighted insularity we cling to as though they were our saving grace? Separation isn’t tearing us apart. Our intolerance for separation is.

Can we fix this? Will we fix this? Who can say?

It’s up to you.

It’s up to all of us.

And anything is possible.

Othering Need Not Be Destructive

Likewise, recognizing the Others – those who are clearly separate and distinct from us – offers us a unique opportunity to expand our understand of the world, and ourselves. “Othering” need not be destructive. At least, not if we’re committed to completing the circle and connecting with those Others. It can be inclusive. Recognizing our differences, fully appreciating them, and then acknowledging the problems that the gaping chasms cause between us, is one of the best ways for us to find the motivation to cross that chasm, to reach out and make the kind of contact we all long for.

If we don’t recognize and value the inherent Other-ness of others, what motivation do we have for expanding our understanding of them and their perspectives? We don’t. We can’t. Because we think there’s no problem. After all, we’re not Othering them, so we’re not harming them. We’re experiencing them as just like us.

But that only works for the person who’s avoiding Othering. When we say “I don’t see race, I don’t see color, I don’t see differences”, it is a problem. It may feel like we’re being inclusive, but we’re actually excluding Others and the differences that make them unique and whole in themselves. We’re short-changing and oversimplifying the connection between us by refusing to see the parts of those others that don’t square with our own perceptions. We are conveniently overlooking the ways that their sensibilities and experiences run directly counter to our, and what those differences mean to them. We infantilize the relationship and deprive everyone of the chance to expand their understanding of the full range of human life.

We tend to think that we’re capable of objectively raising our consciousness and weaning ourselves off of destructive behaviors like Othering. But the fact of the matter is, many of those behaviors we consider destructive are only a problem if we don’t fully engage with them and explore their full meaning. The real problem is not that we have uncomfortable differences. It’s not that we have conflict and disagreement and discord. It’s that we often don’t know how to negotiate those differences, step into the gaps, and explore what else is possible, as a direct result of those conflicts.

Other people aren’t exactly like us. Not even close. And when we tell ourselves that imagining no divisions will bring us together, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to really understand the experiences and perspectives of people who are nothing like us, in no small part because their lives and their histories bear no resemblance to our own.

Personally, I believe the lure of Undivided Unity is a trap. It snares your mind in lazy habits, and it tells your soul that there’s no need to extend yourself beyond your own perspectives, your own context. It encourages you to stick with the company of people who think, believe, and live as you do. It also blinds you to the differences inherent in others (especially the differences they call out) and discourages you from interacting with people very different from yourself, because it “supports the illusion” of separation. The ideal of All-One may seem noble, but it fundamentally denies the inherently separate nature of our very beings, from the cellular level, on up.

Making Peace With The Pain

Making Peace with the Pain

Distance is not the enemy. On the contrary, rejection of distance is the problem. That bad habit denies our basic nature and runs counter to our innermost qualities. Separations are critical to us on every level. They help us define who we are – and are not. They help us figure out who others are (or are not) and how to interact with them. We cannot dismiss our differences or discount them, but we do need to learn to navigate them better. When we treat them as opportunities for links to bring us closer to others, rather than divides to set us apart (or at each others’ proverbial throats), it puts them in a whole new light.

When we refuse to admit that we are separate, we miss the opportunity to overcome it. You don’t work to change what’s fine, what’s fundamentally okay – you don’t build a bridge, if there’s no gap. So, if we never perceive the gaps – or we decide those gaps are something to be judged and avoided – we never give ourselves the chance to really extend ourselves across the distance between ourselves and others.

If we lose touch with our sense of separation, and we cannot see ourselves as distinct and distant from others, it makes it all the easier to jump to conclusions. We think we know what’s going on. We never stop to question ourselves and our biases. We may not even know our biases exist. After all, we’ve got it all figured out. Right? We freely make assumptions and impose rules upon others which may make sense for us, but don’t for people who are nothing like us – but we assume are. After all, we’re all brothers and sisters, right?

But when we recognize the pervasive nature of separation, the intrinsic Other-ness of our lives, we realize how vital – and how tricky – it is. Only then can we figure out how best to negotiate it. We need separation – even depend on it – to clearly define ourselves and our place in the world. And in understanding ourselves as Other, it also becomes pretty clear that we can’t just take things for granted, like community and connection and the veracity of the ideas we have rolling ’round in our heads.

We need to keenly feel the sting of separation, in order to more fully appreciate what connection we do find with others. We need a sense of distance from our world, to really value the ways we’re joined. A sense of deprivation can drive us to pursue truly meaningful goals, and a deep sense of lack can impel us to build something better in our lives. We need to realize just how much we do not – and cannot – know. And we need to suffer a bit from that. Unless we know how much we have to learn and how important it is that we learn it, we’re never going to ask the kinds of questions that actually produce answers.

The Value Of Separation Is That, Ironically, It Allows Us To Engage

The value of separation is that, ironically, it allows us to engage. It forces us to. Without our internal separations, we’d have no opportunity to experience the full range of human life. Without our external separations, we have no reason and need to bridge the gaps and fill in the blanks they give us the chance to expand and grow. It’s when we imagine that we are not separate that problems happen. We’ve lived in a neighborhood for however long, and we think that means we know all about who’s who and what’s what, we never really get to know the people who live down the street. We assume that the years we put in at our employer means they’ll never want to get rid of us, so we never explore other options for work…. and then get set back by our assumptions that umpteen years of experience in our chosen field entitles us to a place that’s familiar and reliable. By operating always within zones of familiarity, where we feel connected and a part of something familiar and predictable, we never get outside our comfort zone and expand, growing into something new and different.

In every living moment, there is a constant dynamic interplay unfolding both within us and outside of us. It’s a non-stop dance of separation – joining – distancing – connecting – that animates our spirits and our lives. We need that dance of connection, that conflict of opposites. We are connection. And we are separation, as well. As nervous as it makes us, distance is every bit as important to us as our connectedness as our own personal integrity.

Growth comes from the interplay of our separated state and our connecting process. All life comes from that, in fact. Like pistons of an engine, or opposing polarities on a magnet, we can use those opposing forces to either drive our progress, or collide in a fiery crash. Too often, we assume that a fiery crash is inevitable. But I believe that’s because we misunderstand the nature of our separations, and we underestimate the importance of them to our well-being. Perhaps the real answer to resolving the conflicts between connection and unity is less about stopping ourselves from being separate and more about not stopping ourselves from being separate.

The Focus On Our Dynamic Connecting Process (Rather Than Our Static Disconnected State) Can Also Completely Alter How We Interact With And Relate To Others

Putting the focus on our dynamic connecting process (rather than our static disconnected state) can also completely alter how we interact with and relate to others. Recognizing the importance of separation, and seeing the opportunity of our gaps, makes it easier to respect the differences that invariably exist between us. We can allow strangers to be “strange” – and not freak out over it. We can appreciate the things that set us apart – not as divisive, corrosive influences that threaten the fabric of society, but as valuable aspects of the wide variety of human manifestations. Our distinctly separate identities become crucially important, and just as we claim our right to be different, to stand apart, to be Other, we can see that everybody else has just as much right as we, to be who and what they are. And in the process of interacting in a way that respects and allows (even welcomes) inevitable distance, both sides can come away with a greater appreciation of who they are, compared to the Other.

A great example of this is a conversation I had with a former Hell’s Angel in September, 2016, while we were both waiting for our cars to be fixed at the dealership. We were hanging out in the waiting room, checking our smartphones and occasionally glancing at the flat-screen television on the far wall. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, that day, but the biker was. He had plenty to say about the upcoming election and the candidates, and it was quickly obvious that we each favored the candidate the other one distrusted (and wished would just go away). He seemed to assume I was squarely on the opposite side from him, although that wasn’t entirely true.

He also had plenty to say about his life and his experience, which was nothing like mine. He’d been a member of an internationally known biker gang. He’d gone to prison for killing a man in a bar fight. He had several children by a number of women, some of whom had been his wives. He was deeply religious in certain ways, but when I started talking about other sections of the Bible that strictly prohibited things he did (like cutting his hair and getting tattoos), he wasn’t familiar with those passages. He was dismissive and disrespectful of just about everything that mattered to me, and he longed for a return to the “good old days” of “family values”, which sounded great for him, but not so great for me.

We were clearly situated in completely different “quadrants” of life, with our values in sharp contrast to each other. And we actually ended up having a spirited, invigorating discussion. I didn’t fault him for what he was saying. Nor did I criticize him for what he believed. I just listened – and objectively countered some of his most vehement arguments with scriptural references that supported the opposite view. Eventually he backed off on his aggressive criticism and our initially heated conversation gradually got to the point where we’d both stated our cases, we’d both made it clear what we thought about the election, society, where we were going in the world, and what we believed the Bible had to say about it. We each agreed to disagree with 97.95% of what the other one thought – without calling each other names. Frankly, trying to win our little skirmish in the larger culture war would have been a total waste of time. Our life experiences had shaped us too differently, for that to ever happen.

But by the end of our hour-long stay in that waiting room, we were sharing pictures on our smartphones and comparing notes on the weather. Here was a burly, tat-covered former Hell’s Angel, clad in leather and denim with a chain connecting his wallet to a belt loop, showing me – a lesbian high-tech program manager in business casual attire – pictures of cumulonimbus and marveling at how they looked like horses galloping across the sky. He showed me pictures of his bike, his son’s bike, and his grandkids. I showed him pictures of the deer in my back yard. And when the mechanic called me to get my car, there was a connection there. It wasn’t the deepest, most profound connection, but it was definitely enough to bridge the gap that existed between us at the start.

Others are different from us. They should be different. Just as we should be different from them. It’s neither healthy nor realistic to expect everyone to share everyone else’s outlooks, opinions, and values. Life takes too many different turns for so many of us, and the minute you expect people to fall in line with a standard position, regardless of their own life experience and perspectives, you ask them to sacrifice a part of themselves. We’re asked to erase our differences and blend in with the group lots of times, of course, especially in situations where conformity is valued and divergence is feared. But it’s unrealistic, and ultimately it’s unsustainable. Because frankly, we’re just not built to adhere 100% to The Right Way Of Doing/Thinking Things. Plus, more diverse communities are livelier communities, giving us the chance to both reinforce our own identities and find new and different ways to constructively connect with others.

Distance Is An Inevitable Part Of Life

Even so, I don’t think we should ever get too comfortable with separation. Distance is an inevitable part of life, yes, but it’s really most beneficial to us when it drives us to transcend it. Unwelcome awkwardness, even pain, gives us impetus to get outside of ourselves and make the effort to extend our understanding, actions, and capacity. A little anguish can be a lot motivating. It can also be humbling in some pretty useful ways. Think back to the story about you getting caught in the rain on a supposedly sunny day. Or how you lost your job when you thought you were secure for the long-term. The times we come up short push us to do better, the next time around… to pay closer attention… to take more precautions. Rather than denying the importance of distance or resigning ourselves to its inevitable discomfort, we should use it to create something better.

Because it can help us do just that – create something better where we used to think what we had was good enough. It can drive us to rise above an isolated, alienated state with our inherently connecting process. Check the weather more frequently. Keep current with the latest professional trends. Even move from familiar surroundings to a different area with new opportunities and a completely different circle of friends and neighbors. As long as we’re alive, our bodies are involved in an ongoing back-and-forth that’s constantly finding new information and adding it to our understanding, improving our system’s ability to interact with our world. There’s not a single second that goes by, that our systems aren’t in dynamic interaction with our environment. It’s how we’re built. It’s what we do. And once we realize just how innate, instinctive, and normal our inclination to connect truly is, we can extend that to our larger scale world. We don’t have to figure out how to launch that exploring and integrating process. We already know how do it naturally. If you’re reading this (even if you’re not), you’re doing it right now.

Focusing on the connecting process as a natural extension our separate state can transform our relationship with everything – and everyone. It can change how we perceive success and failure, shifting it from a series of binary good/bad outcomes to an ongoing quest for what’s next. It can change a life-changing crisis from an intimidating threat to an opportunity to find out how things turn out. Indeed, it can transform the whole way we live our lives – from fear of what is, to an ongoing flow of growth and movement towards what will be. And we may just find ourselves looking for additional gaps to cross and separations to bridge. Thinking you’re stuck with what just is, is like trying to scale a rock wall without any practice, for the first time ever in your life. But when you see it as a series of chances to find out what’s next, life turns from a daunting sheet of glass with no outcroppings to help you scale it, to a climbing wall dotted with plenty of handholds and footholds to move us along.