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Larry Barnett
Public Citizen
Larry Barnett


Sense of "self" is just one among a constellation of mental states, and the experience of "I" varies considerably. "I" is described by some neurologists as a stable form of hallucination, which is to say, a subjective experience of being "in here" that seems to feel separate from things and people "out there." The hallucination is enhanced by cultural artifacts -- language, ideas and concepts -- that reinforce belief in an external, objectified world, combined with a powerful inclination to make distinctions and divide the world into dichotomies. Dichotomies of "I"/"other," "good"/"bad," "true"/"false," and so forth all contribute to how we imagine the nature of external reality. Moreover, such mental concepts are linguistic; language itself forms the matrix out of which we construct conceptions of ourselves. This self-definition is confined within the limits of the language from which it arises. Neurologically, our brains contain tens of billions of cells, and the connections between them are in the range of 1022, or more connections than there are known stars in the universe. How consciousness develops remains a mystery; consciousness may be built into the fabric of the universe itself, and considering entanglement observed in quantum mechanics, could even be a non-local phenomenon. What we imagine as "I" could be Einstein's "spooky action at a distance": the universe examining itself. We classify the maintenance of "I" as normal, or what we call sanity, and designate other mental states as abnormal, or insane. These other states are commonly manifestations of hyper- and hypo-arousal: ecstasy at the pole of hyper-arousal and equanimity at the opposite pole of hypo-arousal. We actively seek out these "abnormal" states; artistic creation, religious ritual and the use of psychoactive substances all indicate the strong attraction such mental states have for us, from the extremes of religious ecstasy and psychedelics to meditation and the calm of sedatives. The maintenance of "I" can be viewed as a stable position of psychic  "freedom" located midpoint within the broad spectrum of hyper- and hypo-arousal. The "freedom" of the experience of "I" is so-called due to its seeming isolation from the intrusion of the underlying substrata of brain activity, what we call the unconscious. While experiencing "I" we are generally freer from awareness of the cascading flood of feelings, associations, thoughts and imaginings continuously emanating from our unconscious; this freedom is akin to a form of amnesia, similar to that we experience after awakening from dreams then forgotten. Stimulants, sedatives and peak experiences alter brain chemistry enough to tip us from the stable "freedom-of-I" into the turbulent, streaming tide of the unconscious. It feels exciting, even dangerous, to loosen our attachment to "I," yet it is precisely the experience through which we often dissolve the hallucination of separation and make contact with the primordial unity that spiritual teachers, great artists, physicists and cosmologists report. Recent discoveries in neurology indicate that while awake, our brains function in a state of "criticality," balanced between chaos and order. Criticality is observed in other physical structures, where reaching a "tipping point" produces new structures of order out of chaos, just as a single snowflake triggers the chaos of an avalanche that ultimately results in a newly stable arrangement. Accordingly, the "I" we imagine manifests as a stable position of order amid the actively chaotic avalanche of the unconscious. So, knock-knock. And, who's there?
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What We're Following
Stories of interest from around the Web
Creepy stalker arrested for harassing woman in County park
> Sonoma County Sheriff - June 25th, 2019
Live view from the new Fire Alert Camera on Sonoma Mountain
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What the moon smells like, and other revelations from the Apollo 11 mission
> Smithsonian - June 22nd, 2019
Checking in with the Glen Ellen Forum
> Kenwood Press - June 22nd, 2019
Amazon develops ‘robotic consumer’ to order robot-delivered items
> Journal of Unintended Consequences - June 21st, 2019
Calistoga winery says its events aren’t actually non-permitted ‘events’
> Napa Valley Register - June 14th, 2019
Sonoma Stompers player gets call up to Kansas City Royals organization
> Sonoma Stompers - June 11th, 2019
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> The Conversation - June 7th, 2019
One less thing to worry about when PG&E turns the power off
> - June 5th, 2019
The invention that won World War ll
> Smithsonian - June 5th, 2019
Big news from Apple: Steve Jobs hologram will take over as CEO
> Journal of Unintended Consequences - June 4th, 2019
98 Animal Rights activists arrested in mass protest at Petaluma duck farm
> Sonoma Sheriff's Office - June 3rd, 2019
Visitors spoil Sonoma Stompers opening night at Arnold Field
> Sonoma Stompers - June 3rd, 2019
What breaking news about a new phone looked like 60 years ago
> Spectrum - May 31st, 2019
Tariff on imported Fake News would raise billions, experts say
> Journal of Unintended Consequences - May 31st, 2019
Bennett Valley homeowners who removed an oak tree must pay $600k fine
> Washington Post - May 30th, 2019
Mom furious after teacher writes ‘WTF?’ on son’s homework
> New York Post - May 30th, 2019
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> North Bay Voyager - May 28th, 2019
The L.A. gig that made an unknown Elton John a rock star
> L.A. Times - May 23rd, 2019
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