This is a serialization from my book, Happiness: A Physician/Biologist Looks at Life. To see the Table of Contents and the dust jacket blurb, click here; to start from the beginning, click here; to read the previous post, click here.
Sight is one of our most treasured senses. Every moment of our lives, we entrust our personal safety, and the safety of the people we love, to vision. We hold vision as the very best information we have. “Seeing is believing,” the adage goes. Working without reliable knowledge is referred to as “working blind.” Sight is so important that our most important thinkers are regarded as “seers” and “visionaries.”
So how can we expect to see our way to happiness when we can’t even see our own fingertip?
We find that many of our assumptions about vision (and life) are simply untrue: the experience of colors; vision as an active process that “reaches out” to the world around us; the experience of vision as being in “front” of us; pain; blind spots; and tunnel vision. And when we are confronted with the unreliability of our experiences, we are prone to reject even the most reasoned argument, and the simplest, most direct proof.
Illusions as Helpful
Colors, pain, and our other sensations are very important. Our bodies manipulate us, but they do so in an attempt to help us. The colors we experience are helpful for locating food, and detecting predators. Pain helps us avoid injury and even death. The blind spot—who knows? It is hard to believe that the nerves leaving the eye could not have been otherwise arranged. The point is, that our bodies are not designed to produce Truth. They are designed to produce functional information to assist us in our struggle for survival. If an illusion improves our survival, it is completely unimportant that it is untrue.
Body Over Mind
We think that the mind, and our consciousness, controls the body: I “will” it, and my finger moves. Often our minds do control our bodies, but not always. I remember the point in my medical training when I became aware that, sometimes, the body is in control. I had a patient who was in advanced labor, and I was telling her not to “push” yet, because I was still getting everything ready.
It didn’t work.
In medical school they taught us that almost all of the muscles necessary for pushing out the baby are “voluntary” muscles (as opposed to involuntary muscles of the heart, the digestive tract, etc.) And most of the time, those muscles are voluntary.
But sometimes, the body just takes over what we thought was voluntary, and tells the mind what it is going to do, come hell or high water. It’s a very sobering experience. The mother says (screams, actually), “I gotta push!” Ready or not, you had better be there or the baby will end up on the floor.
So sometimes, our bodies control our minds. We experience this is a multitude of ways, but rarely think about it. We take it for granted that it is often impossible to stifle a sneeze or a cough, and never consider that perhaps it is just as difficult to stifle harmful, even self-destructive, ideas and behaviors.
To continue reading click here.
‘Sneeze’ courtesy of Mait Jüriado via Flickr.