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.