New Millennium/New Mind: Life After the Death of Free Will
As we rocket into the 21st century, splicing genes, cloning half the barnyard, and talking to each other via digitized light, we drag with us ideas about who we are that are at least several hundred years out of date. In spite of all we have learned about our physical environment, our bodies, and our brains, we still think we are in control of our thoughts and behavior. Michael Gazzaniga puts it this way: "We human beings have a centric view of the world. We think our personal selves are directing the show most of the time. I argue that recent research shows this is not true but simply appears to be true because of a special device in our left brain called the interpreter. This one device creates the illusion that we are in charge of our actions." (1998, p. xiii)
Gazzaniga does a great job of elucidating the workings of the brain, and makes it clear that our conscious selves, the "we" in the above statement, are a subset of mental activity and definitely not in control. One might expect that a scientist exposing an illusion would propose an alternative view more in keeping with the facts, but instead, at the end of his book he glorifies the very illusion he has exposed, calling it "...the wonderful sensation that our self is in charge of our destiny." (1998, p. 175) Gazzaniga seems to think that, although we are not really in charge, the feeling that we are in charge is an illusion we should hold on to.
Models of the Mental Realm
The question of whether or not we are in charge of our actions is not new, and the classic way of phrasing it is, do we or do we not have freedom of will. One of the primary difficulties in resolving this issue was described by Marvin Minsky more than a decade ago: "No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will: that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We're virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it's false..." (1988, p. 307)
Perhaps it is because of this dependence on an antiquated psychology that even scientists in the forefront of research on the brain, like Gazzaniga, have difficulty adjusting their habits of thought to the facts as they appear. They are unable to imagine a model of the mental realm that dispenses with the illusion of the controlling self, and apparently see no advantage in developing a non-illusory point of view.
Other models of the mental realm have been available for more than two millennia, but they have been internalized by relatively few people. Esoteric elements of all major religions long ago discovered, through introspection, the absence of any controlling entity in the brain, but their discovery has never been incorporated into mainstream culture. The idea of self control is such an integral part of the way societies are organized, and so intuitively real to most of humanity, that there has never been much incentive to look for an alternative way of thinking about ourselves.
The impetus to think of ourselves differently is rising, due to our improved understanding of how the brain works. The more we learn about the brain, the less tenable the idea of a controlling self becomes, and the greater the need to find a view of ourselves that is congruent with scientific reality.
Learning to think of ourselves as we really are is more important than simply achieving conformity to scientific truth, however. Refinements in our understanding of reality have fueled the changes that continue to transform our world. In physics, chemistry, and biology, our ability to solve problems improves with increased understanding of the nature of things. When people thought illnesses were caused by devils, they fought them by trying to control devils, but when the discovery was made that at least some illnesses were caused by germs, they fought them by trying to control germs. Our experience so far is that fighting germs is more effective than fighting devils.
Our difficulty in solving social problems--war, crime, drugs, and other confusions--is in large part due to ignorance of who we are, and it seems likely that increased understanding of the real nature of our selves will have profound repercussions on our lives, but there is great resistance. This resistance arises because the idea of ourselves as self-controlled entities has been central to the development of our civilization; in the language of evolutionary biology, it has been a very successful meme. Our justice system, our educational system, the social and economic framework of our world, all are built on the notion of individual responsibility: we are rewarded for good decisions and punished for bad ones. If we give up the idea of free will, our pride in accomplishment and shame in defeat will take on entirely different meanings, and all our social institutions will require radical reorchestration. Those who find themselves in the upper echelons of these institutions, from academicians to politicians, see the loss of free will as a threat to their positions and identities. They are understandably alarmed, and rise in defense of this outdated concept, predicting outbreaks of rampant crime, depression, and ennui if the idea of free will is discredited.
If we look at those who have proclaimed the alternative view, that the idea of the controlling self is a handicap and an illusion, we see that the consequences of giving up that idea are not so grim. The Buddha is perhaps the best known, and although the majority of people who have followed his path have not realized the full potential of his teachings, both they and those who have been successful have been a happy and industrious lot. There have been less widely influential proponents of a self-less view of humanity among Christians, Jews, and Moslems, among others, and while some were regarded as heretics, none have been criminal or feckless.
So there are "models of the mental realm" that differ from those which prevail in western civilization, and while we need not emulate any of them specifically, they do offer hope that a happy alternative is possible.
Consciousness and the Myth of Self Control
A first step toward an alternative view of ourselves is to understand our starting point. How is it possible that for most of recorded history, most of the world's population have been mistaken about how their minds work? What is it about the brain's operation that could permit such misconception?
The phenomenon of consciousness, whatever else it may be, is the brain's only window into itself. Each brain's concept of who it is evolves in response to its biology and its social environment based on the material that is available in consciousness, and that material is very limited. Most of the brain's activities are not part of its conscious landscape, and it has taken decades of research and major advances in technology to unravel its non-conscious workings. It turns out that our mental functions are parceled out to a number of specialized areas within the brain, somewhat analogous to the way our bodily functions are dispersed among different organs.
In observing our brain's activity from the inside, however, it seems all of a piece. We have no sensation to indicate that vision is being processed in one part of our brain, hearing in another, motor control in another, and language in another. Consciousness appears in whatever part of the brain is most active, and it feels the same no matter what part it is in-it always feels like "I" am conscious. All of each brain's thinking and processing are contained in the same head after all, and that apparent unity is all the brain has been capable of perceiving about its internal workings until the advent of modern science.
The brain can perceive very little of what it does. It is not conscious of how it manipulates the body's musculature, for example. The coordination of movement involved in typing, walking, riding a bicycle--the intricate flexing and relaxing of thousands of muscle fibers in precisely timed sequence--is something the brain does without consciousness or comprehension. Neither does it know anything about the workings of the endocrine system, although it automatically initiates and responds to elaborate cascades of hormonal interactions. It doesn't know how it puts a visual image of the world together, or how it selects words from its dictionary, or how it speaks them, or how it interprets them.
As science has uncovered and approached some understanding of all these non-conscious activities of the brain, brains have learned things about themselves that they were never able to perceive through introspection. But knowing about themselves in this abstract, intellectual way has not improved their inner vision--they are as blind to their own processes as they have always been.
So "we" don't know how we make decisions because our brains don't know how they make decisions, even though that is one of their main jobs. Our decisions appear in consciousness like rain falls from clouds--as the necessary conditions arise. Rather than making decisions, our conscious selves simply become aware of them as they emerge from the inscrutable interactions of billions of neurons.
The inherent limitations of consciousness make it impossible for the brain to know how it functions from the inside, and these same limitations make it possible for the brain to have delusions about itself--it is a mystery to itself, and mystery invites explanation, even if it's wrong.
Society has evolved a folk explanation for how the brain works: there is something inside the brain, called the self, which is in charge of the brain's decisions. When the self makes good decisions, the organism is rewarded, and when it makes bad decisions, the organism is punished. In the absence of any intuitive evidence to the contrary, our brains have accepted this explanation, and believe that such a controlling self exists. We feel, when thoughts arise, that "we" are thinking, even though we don't have a clue how we might be moving thoughts around. If we look at our actual experience, thinking is like reading words off a screen as they appear, like magic, out of mental territory that lies forever beyond our ken.
The brain's inherent limitations allow us to feel that we are in charge of our actions, but that feeling is an illusion. In fact there is no one in charge. Our brains are like the weather, complex and impossible to predict with precision, but totally governed by the interplay of natural forces without the participation of any controlling entity. Zeus does not cause thunder by throwing his hammer across the sky, and "we" do not cause our thoughts and decisions to appear in consciousness.
We may feel overwhelmed and powerless at our first realization of how much we have taken for granted about ourselves, and how little we actually know about what goes on in our heads. This understanding of our limitations--the limitations of consciousness--is actually quite useful, however. Even though we don't have the control of our thoughts that free will implies, that information in itself confers a new kind of freedom.
Freedom from Illusion
We are in bondage to our illusions. If we think the earth is flat, we are afraid of getting near the edge, but if we understand the truth of our planet's shape, we are freed from the fear of falling off.
Our concepts of reality constrain our imagination, and our concept of the controlling self is a form of mental bondage. In freeing ourselves from that concept, new worlds open up for exploration. It may seem paradoxical, but the illusion of free will obscures a broader freedom.
Freedom from illusion comes from understanding how the illusion works. We now understand that neither we nor the brains that house us can observe our own decision-making processes, and therefore we can't control those decisions. The brain makes them, but it doesn't know how. If we can come to understand how our brain's current set of decision-making criteria evolved, however, then that understanding will, in itself, alter the way our brain makes future decisions.
All of us grew up in social as well as physical environments, and the brain's job is to see that the organism's requirements for survival are met within those environments. We have to be able to find our way around, both physically and socially, and the brain has to decide how it fits into each situation it encounters. It has to know who it is.
None of us have chosen the major factors influencing who we are. Our sex was determined long before we were conscious, and that one attribute is responsible, not only for our physiology, but for the way the rest of humanity responds to us. Our race, ethnic group, nationality, and kinship were likewise determined for us; and who we love and hate, who we nurture or commit violence against, are played out within these boundaries.
Within these larger parameters, each of us responds to and is shaped by our local environment based on inherited capabilities. No two people experience exactly the same reality, and with a nudge from a parent, a push from a teacher, a book here and a cartoon there, we change, grow, and accumulate our identifying coloration.
It has taken a vast range of influences to make us who we are, but the idea that each of us is a self-controlled entity has severely limited our ability to see the breadth of that range and to further broaden it. We have been encouraged to believe that we are responsible for all our decisions, that those decisions have made us who we are, and that we are, therefore, the creators of our own identity. In fact, our identities accumulate as we encounter new circumstances, and each new accretion effects the way we react to the next situation we encounter.
When we realize that our identity has grown out of the fabric of our entire lives--that each step led inevitably to the next--that realization itself becomes a part of the fabric of our lives. Reading these very words enters into the matrix of information that effects how your brain interprets future words, and in that way, all that I have been exposed to interacts with all you have been exposed to, and the fabric of our lives is sewn together. Realizing this may prompt your brain to be more careful about the kind of information it exposes itself to in the future. It may realize that its exposure to the world could be less random, more attuned to reinforce the best of what it has become, less likely to nurture the worst.
Its decision to monitor future exposure--or not--may become conscious, but the process of coming to that decision is as removed from conscious control as any other it has ever made. Nevertheless, if it does decide to orchestrate its exposure to the world, that orchestration means that its future decisions will become different than they would have been otherwise, and who it presently is will have exercised some control over who it is to become.
That degree of control is unlikely as long as we maintain the belief that we are self-made, independent of the conditions we find ourselves in. We will barge ahead into life, expecting to control our behavior through force of character and will, never realizing how random experiences are being woven into who we are.
This insight into the development of who we are is accompanied by one that is somewhat more aesthetic in nature. Our belief that we are in control of our decisions and our identity deprives us of an appreciation for the real intricacy and interconnectedness of our lives, hiding the beauty of our complexity in the simplifying myth of the controlling self. Like the ancients who saw all the splendor of the universe reduced to the interplay of earth, air, fire, and water, we have underestimated the scope of Nature's creativity. We have been deprived of the sense of wonder that the process in which we evolved deserves.
There are techniques for enhancing our appreciation and enjoyment of the broadened sense of self that this insight brings, but first there are a couple of other hurdles we need to clear in the journey toward self-understanding.
Consciousness and Situational Identity
When we realize that our decisions arise in response to changing circumstances like a shower on a summer day, we may begin to notice that our identity, like the weather, changes with the circumstances we find ourselves in.
The phenomenon of consciousness is part of how the brain does its job of keeping itself oriented to changing environments. In one situation, one set of behaviors is relevant, while another situation calls for a different set. Since consciousness exists only in the part of the brain that is most active at any given moment, the brain is primarily aware of its current situation and the responses it has learned to associate with that situation. On the one hand, this is advantageous in that we don't often confuse behaviors that are appropriate to the bathroom with those that are appropriate to the kitchen, but there are other kinds of confusion that are built into the brain's "limited-consciousness" method of coping.
When we are standing on the bathroom scale, the thoughts that come to mind usually relate to diet, wardrobe, health, and our exercise program--or lack of one. When we sit down to dinner, those bathroom-scale thoughts are replaced by thoughts about how much we enjoy this dish or that, and moderation in eating is deferred till a future time. When dinner is safely over we lament our lack of discretion, and may even talk of being annoyed with ourselves.
The "self" that is annoyed is the "self" that wants to lose weight, while the "self" that ate dinner was the "self" that values enjoyment of food above all else. Our identity is filled with such contradictions and multiplicities, united only by their habitation of the same organism. We have the feeling that we go to bed at night as the same person who woke up in the morning, and that we have been the same person all day, despite the shifts in orientation that have occurred. The inconsistencies and incompatibilities among these different orientations are glossed over by an unconsidered feeling of unity. This unconsidered sense of unity obscures the real complexity of our identity, and disguises a broader sense of unity that might otherwise be available to us.
Our identity properly includes all our experience, but the phenomenon of consciousness, while it serves well in keeping us focused on the business at hand, fragments our experience as it shifts from situation to situation. The brain, in trying to figure out who it is based on what appears in consciousness, is in the same position as the blind men arguing about what an elephant is, based on the part that each can touch: one says it's like a wall, one says it's like a tree, one says it's like a vine, etc. The brain is only aware of a tiny fraction of its activity at any one moment--it is on the scale of a flea's-eye view of an elephant--and despite the wonders of memory, the brain's tendency is to consider that whatever is happening right now is who it truly is.
This is especially true when what is happening right now is emotional, even though our emotions--like every other fragment of our experience--are minute parts of the elephant that is our brain. When we are in the midst of sadness, we see the whole elephant as sad; when we are in the midst of joy, we see the whole elephant as joyful. What we truly are is a combination of sadness, joy, and every other shade of passion and indifference, no matter what is currently foremost. We need to comprehend ourselves in our entirety if we are to avoid being imprisoned in the confines of each passing situation.
The Illusions of Language
So far we have noted two interrelated misconceptions we have about ourselves. One is that we are in control of our thoughts, when the truth is that our thoughts arise as the brain's response to its environment. The second is that our sense of being a unified self disguises how our frame of reference changes from one situation to another. The perpetuation of both of these misconceptions depends, in part, on the vagueness of language.
Language, like consciousness, has both advantages and limitations. One of its advantages is that it allows us to refer to various parts of reality without having them present. We don't have to go to the pizza parlor and point to the ingredients we want on our pizza. We can say "pepperoni" into the telephone and the person at the other end understands.
Another benefit of language is that it allows us to unite groups of things with one term rather than having to refer to them by naming all their constituent parts. This benefit has a shortcoming in that it simulates a kind of unity that may not do justice to the true complexity of that to which it refers. It leads to our thinking that words refer to objects when no true object exists. The classic example of this objectification, this blurring of complexity, is the case of the visitor being given a tour of a "university" who complained that he had only seen a bunch of buildings. In fact, you cannot see a university, which might properly be considered to include not only the campus, but the instructors and staff, the students, the curriculum, and the history.
In the same way, we cannot see our selves. We cannot comprehend the accumulated complexity of our experiences, the intricate ways in which they combine and recombine along the billions of pathways through the brain, the ways they group and regroup from situation to situation. And yet, those three little words, "I," "me," and "mine," give us the feeling that what they refer to is a stable, unified entity.
Freedom Beyond Free Will
So there are three culprits in the conspiracy to keep us confused about who we are: 1) There is the idea of free will, which is integral with society as it has evolved, which tells us we are self-determined; 2) There is the narrow window of consciousness, which prevents our seeing how our brains really operate; and 3) There is language, which masks the true complexity of reality. Knowing the truth about these conspirators, like knowing that the earth is round, opens worlds of new possibilities for relating to our lives and to each other.
When we see that who we are grew out of the circumstances of our lives, and that everyone else grew in the same way, we see that the differences that separate us are not of our own doing. No one is inherently evil, bigoted, narrow-minded, or inconsiderate. Different circumstances would have made them different people, and changes in their circumstances may lead them away from who they are. The same is true of each of us, and as we consider the circumstances of our own lives, we may wonder how we might have been different.
There is an ancient technique that can aid us in becoming aware of and acting on the facts of our identity. It may even lead us to freedom from the kind of blindness inherent in the rough approximations of language. This technique for learning the truth about ourselves has emerged in a number of isolated traditions in the past few millennia. It consists of developing an observational stance toward our thoughts as they become conscious. Learning to observe our thoughts is like acquiring any other skill: it simply involves educating a new set of neurons to keep tabs on what the old neurons are doing.
Since few of us have been taught the skill of observing our selves, we are unaware of the near-constant chatter that goes on in our brains. It is like gravity: something we accommodate without really noticing. It is not until the brain takes on a boring task, like counting breaths, that it becomes aware of how much it talks to itself, rehashes old conversations, and imagines new ones. Considering that we evolved as social creatures, and that one of the brain's jobs is to keep it oriented to its environment, our preoccupation with conversation is entirely natural, although in time it may come to seem less necessary.
The monitoring of our thoughts is a form of meditation, and it can be pursued any time we are awake. Practice will lead us to further confirmation of the truth about ourselves: that we are the product of circumstances. We will see how the content of our thoughts is shaped by features of the situations we find ourselves in, and we will discover which of those features lead us down paths we would rather not follow. We will see how our emotions and thoughts are triggered by certain aspects of situations, and how they evolve.
The more we pursue this observation, the more we learn about how we came to be who we are, and how everyone else came to be. We become more aware of our moment-to-moment evolution, and of how enmeshed we are in all we have ever been exposed to. We may become less possessive of our identity, realizing it is not our own creation, and come to see the extent to which we are engaged in a process that reaches far beyond our individual lives. Our lives spread out in all directions, embracing the past and future lives of all humanity.
As our sense of identity expands, the narrowness of our former thinking becomes obvious, and our previous self-centeredness dissipates in a broader view. We come to see how people's reactions to us are a product of all their past experiences and the way those experiences have prepared them to perceive us, and that their reactions are beyond their control. Whether they love or hate us, it will seem less personal, less important to our own estimation of ourselves. We will be freed from our dependence on the approval of others.
It takes practice to develop the habit of observing ourselves, depending on how many years we have spent not observing, but eventually we can get to the point that those neurons that have learned to be the observers are active in all the situations we encounter. They provide an overview as each situational set emerges from our brain's repertoire, and in time we may learn to identify ourselves with the broader, constant view of the observer, rather than with the narrower, situational view. We gain perspective on the inconsistencies that have plagued us in the past, and our behavior becomes less erratic. Our emotions become less extreme, and we find ourselves able to enjoy without craving, to reject without aversion. Our apprehensions and anxieties decrease, while contentment and equanimity become our normal mode.
We may find that we have less to think about, fewer worries, and with the decline in the importance of linguistic thinking, we may find a moment in which the incessant word-processing in our brain comes to a halt, and the world appears briefly without the restrictions imposed by names.
If nothing else, these intervals of non-linguistic perception offer relief from the cacophony in our heads that social existence makes us heir to. It is as if we had been raised in a factory, and walked out into the peace and quiet of a country meadow for the first time. To find this refuge from our own thinking is reward enough in itself, and we will be drawn to repeat and extend it, but it offers other benefits as well.
The more our perceptions are freed from the tyranny of language, the more interesting they become. Something as ordinary as pouring a glass of water can become fascinating on several levels. We usually ignore such routine operations, locked into thinking about the next interesting and socially important thing we are going to do, but learning to pay attention to our thoughts and to the absence of thought prepares us for a new appreciation of the most mundane aspects of our existence. If we learn to give our full attention to sensory experience we will discover subtleties that escape us when attention is divided. We may also become more aware of how much of our daily activity is carried out by the brain without conscious supervision.
As our thought processes become less compulsive, less situationaly driven, consciousness will be freed to wander outside the ruts of past conditioning. Perhaps the deepest of those ruts is that which reinforces our identification with the self. Although, for most of our lives, almost all our thoughts and activities have been tied to identity with self, the fact is that those self-related mental circuits are a small and localized part of the brain. It may happen at some point that we will find ourselves having an experience without automatically connecting it to the self. We may find that there is seeing, without its being identified as "my" seeing, hearing that isn't co-opted by "me." Such experiences are transformational, and may lead, if pursued, to a more concrete realization that all our thought and experience arise freely without the intervention of the illusory agent of self.
Beyond the Self
There have been a few brave adventurers throughout history who have explored the far reaches of their brains, unencumbered by the concept of self and the categories of language, and they have returned to describe the territory to us. While there is an obvious paradox in trying to describe non-linguistic perception with language, language is the only tool we have for passing on what we know, and we must use whatever frame of reference we have in our attempt to point in the direction of that which, by definition, cannot be described.
We have two advantages over our predecessors in our current attempts at communication. One is that we have a broader exposure to different cultures and their histories than at any time previous, and therefore a clearer opportunity to see the biases that culture introduces. The other is that we have developed a universal language, science, and while it is prey to the inherent limitations of language in general, it has at least led to an increase in our precision in describing reality.
The fact of the brain's compartmentalization, unknown until recent decades, gives us a way to interpret our conscious experience that was unavailable to previous explorers of the mental realm. Their explanations of nameless, selfless mental awareness were based on their culture, and many described that experience as the discovery of "the true nature of mind," "the essence of mind," "the enlightened mind," and other such ultimate-sounding terms. They considered their everyday, fragmented conscious experience as a perversion or degradation of the ultimate, essential, enlightened mind.
A more contemporary description recognizes that there are many areas of the brain that lie beyond those that process our narrow, self-involved reality, and that by learning to downplay the constricted realm of the everyday, consciousness may be diverted to parts of the brain that lie outside its familiar haunts. The conscious experience of these areas may be exhilarating, expansive, or terrifying, depending on how comfortable we are with the unfamiliar, and how much we trust our brain's ability to return afterwards to the mundane details of survival in the ordinary world.
Whether consciousness is engaged in the mundane, or whether it wanders far afield, the modern view would hold that it does not engage the ultimate or the supernatural. As strange and marvelous as such wandering experiences may be, and however they broaden our perspective, they are no more the "true nature of mind" than are its ordinary attempts to cope with reality. They are simply evidence of the brain's vast and fluid potential.
Our ability to enjoy rather than fear a broader perspective can be enhanced by familiarity with the literature produced by those who have preceded us, despite our cultural differences. The fact that they explored the unknown and returned with tales of wonder can ease our fears and bolster our courage as we venture into the world beyond categories and names.
"To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things." (Mitchell, 1991, p. 96)
We cannot totally forget the self as long as we are engaged in social living. The logistics of getting the work of the world done require that each of us be identifiable as the "who" that is going to do "what." We can, however, lose the constriction of feeling and believing that our socially necessary identity is the all-encompassing definition of who we are. We can see and experience our relationship with "all things," and enjoy the intricacy and beauty of that relationship in every moment. This joy in relatedness is more than adequate compensation for giving up the pride, fear, and anxiety attached to the illusory self.
"Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo. You might say, 'The world outside is vast and intricate. There are wheat fields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom. At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.
"You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed. Listen to the answer.
"There is no 'other world.' I only know what I've experienced. You must be hallucinating." (Mitchell, 1992, p. 102)
"When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, 'This is certainly not the way we thought it was!'" (Mitchell, 1992, p. 106)
No one is more ecstatic about "how things really are" than Rumi, and it would be hard to find a more upbeat guide to the world beyond our ordinary and conventional perceptions. His cultural framework includes references to "God" that might be considered limiting, but Rumi's God includes everything, and could easily be equated with the entire universe. If Rumi sees a purposive movement in his universe that seems like anthropomorphic projection to some of us, at least that movement is supportive rather than repressive, and need not impair our sharing Rumi's joy.
From Meister Eckhart:
"The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love."( Mitchell, 1992, p. 114)
Eckhart's experience is unquestionably expansive, the result, as he describes it, of a total "poverty" of self. If an eye and its seeing are not the property of a self, if knowing is not dominated or claimed by a self, and if love is not for the benefit of a self, then these phenomena are the creation and province of the universe, or in Eckhart's world, God.
Does ultimate truth lie beyond the illusion of self? The reality that exists beyond names and categories does not answer when we ask. Is it God, enlightenment, or the Friend? It can only be given meaning from the evolving realm of human culture.
The consensus of those who have reached beyond the ordinary seems to be that, whatever the universe is, we are. We are born of it, shaped by it, and propagated through it. The illusion that we are self-controlled beings has arisen from it, and when new understanding arises from it and that illusion fades, our feeling of separation fades as well.
The course of human history trends toward diminishing illusion. May all of us benefit from that trend, discovering a model of the mental realm that leads to freedom, peace, and joy.
Gazzaniga, M. (1998) The Mind's Past, (Berkeley: University of California Press)
Minsky, M. (1988) The Society of Mind, (New York: Simon & Schuster)
Mitchell, S. (1991) The Enlightened Mind., HarperCollins)