Posts Tagged ‘growth’

To become the person you would like to be, you must begin by pretending to be that person.  If you are poor, but would like to be rich, you must first pretend to have those qualities and abilities that will lead you to riches.  If you are meek, but would like to be powerful, you must first pretend to have those qualities and abilities that will lead you to power.  If you would like to have particular new skills, you must first pretend to have those skills.

It is rather obvious where this line of thinking is leading.  For, as you repeatedly pretend and practise, pretend and rehearse, so you get better at what you’re doing.  By degrees, you become the person you would like to be.  And, as you progress, so you can raise your sights to higher levels of achievement.  And, as you gain confidence in the method, you can even change your aims.  In fact, you will almost certainly change your aims ; but this realization need not interfere with your initial purposes.

But you have to prepare yourself for disappointments, because there will be many.  And what better preparation than to pretend that you can handle setbacks almost effortlessly.  With practice, setbacks become simply parts of the process ; and they are necessary parts, for there is much uncertainty in the world.  Few indeed have the gift of foresight.

Perhaps the big question is, What kind of person would you like to be?  The answer will depend on your immediate needs, but also on your world-view ; and these two things must be reconciled.  For those of a particular (and deep-rooted) persuasion, perhaps the words of Evelyn Underhill have a resonance.  “For it is not what you are nor what you have been that God regards with his most merciful eyes, but what you would like to be.”

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Just one of the satisfying things about retirement is that one is out of the rat race ; in fact, one is out of all races.  And this is satisfying because the rat moves so fast, as fast as the hare ; and, like the hare, it overlooks many things that the tortoise knows well.  It isn’t a question of whether the tortoise leads a better life than the hare, but of whether it is better to sample both kinds of life.  We might say that the hare is a doer, while the tortoise is a thinker.  The hare enjoys life ; the tortoise contemplates it and meditates upon it.

While I was scribbling some notes about the double-life of the rose plant I was already thinking about its triple-life.  I posted the double-life a few minutes ago, so you can see it as it appears next to this one.

So, in its double-life, the rose lives as a physical thing in the flower pot ; and also within the brain of the beholder ; in these two places it grows day by day.  What is remarkable about the rose in the brain is that its entire life can be captured, as it were, by the observer ; and that life can be enjoyed again and again simply recalling it.

But I am getting ahead of myself here ; for to recall something is to bring it into conscious awareness.  But memories in the brain are not conscious ; they are merely the physical arrangements of brain cells.  It is those physical arrangements that we consult when we want to re-enjoy the colours, scents and other things that define the rose for us.

The hare is content simply to enjoy these things, but the tortoise likes to think a little deeper about that enjoyment.  The tortoise says, “Hold on now, you have told me that the rose has its life in the flower pot ; then that it has a second life in the neurones of the brain.  That is mysterious enough.  But now you are telling me that the rose has a third life – a life enjoyed as my conscious memories of it.”  To which, I can only reply in the affirmative.  The third life of the rose is a remarkable one, for it is potentially immortal.

It is fairly clear to us that the life of the rose in the pot follows the arrow of time.  It begins as a cutting ; it sprouts buds and roots ; it grows taller and spreads wider ; it flowers ; it reproduces ; and eventually, after a number of seasons, it perishes.

Not so in my conscious awareness.  For here, I may give the rose many new lives, simply by recalling what I have seen it do in its pot.  I can recall the rose at any episode in its life and hold that episode for as long as I like ; I can stop the arrow of time.  I can even recall the life of the rose and run it backwards, seeing the rose first in its old age and then at progressively earlier ages until it becomes a mere cutting again.    I can reverse the arrow of time.

The rose as I understand it in my mind has a sort of immortality.  It will live in my mind for as long as my mind exists – and potentially for much longer than the rose in the pot exists.

So far so interesting.  So far so mysterious.  But the tortoise will not let the matter rest there, for he is a thinker ; and all thoughts lead on to other thoughts.

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Things that grow generally fascinate us ; there is a mystery to life that we cannot quite get our heads round.  Is life itself a material thing?  or is it a non-material thing that happens to be associated with material things?  I read once that some ingenious experiments were carried out which involved weighing a dying animal at intervals before its actual death and continuing those weighings after death.  The aim was to see if there was a larger decrement in weight at the moment of death, which would signify that life itself had mass – i.e. that life was a material thing.  The concerns of people are so interesting, aren’t they?

But planting a young rose in a patio pot can be interesting, too.  Just looking at it is interesting.  At the beginning of its life, it might appear to be very much like a dead twig protruding from the soil.  As we gaze, we can become aware that we have formed a percept of a dead-looking twig.  And we remember it.

But what do we mean by a percept?  And what do we mean by remember?  Let us leave psychology to one side and think instead of neurology.  Neurologists tell us that we process the visual information of the rose by modifying our brain cells.  Thus the image of the dead-looking twig is stored in our brains as a modification of some cells.  The image causes some of our cells to grow in highly particular ways.  Thus the physical structure of the twig is re-presented to us as a physical structure in the brain – and it was the twig that caused it.

If we were to leave the rose unseen for a month or so, and then return to it, a similar remarkable event occurs.  As we gaze at it, we notice that the twig has formed  a small bud ; we form a percept of this changed form ; the brain cells modify themselves again by growing a little more, in proportion to the new growth on the twig.  And we remember this, too.

Now that we have more than one percept of the rose, we can say that we are forming, or growing, a concept of it.  We can say that we are forming the concept of its growth.  We can do this because we remember both percepts and the temporal order in which they were formed – and we compare them.

If we repeat this experiment over a number of months, we assemble many percepts of the rose as it changes its form – leaves appear ; flower buds appear ; the flowers open ; new colours appear ; the rose becomes taller and also spreads out.  Thus we form a more complete concept of the growing plant.

And we note that, as the rose grows, so does our brain.  The physical growth of the rose causes a corresponding physical growth in the brain.  It is as if the rose enjoyed two lives – one in the pot and the other in our head.

So the rose lives within us.  And its life within us is physical, for it is neurological.  A real growth of the plant produces a real corresponding growth in the brain.

What would a poet make of all this?

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According to current theories of neurology a beautiful thing, such as a rose plant, grows not only in the soil where it apparently belongs, but also in each brain of each person who beholds it.  The real physical growth of the plant is replicated, as it were, as a different kind of real physical growth in a different kind of soil.  That’s the neurology  ; but what about the psychology?

Here it is supposed that a particular neurological structure produces a particular image in the conscious awareness of the individual observer.  Thus, a particular configuration of nerve cells and all their appendages produces a particular ‘picture’ to the observer.  It also produces particular sounds, scents and so forth, directly related to the original sensory data.

Thus the growing rose plant extends its physical presence to every observer of it.  In a sense, the rose has become distributed in a much wider section of the world.  In a sense, the rose now grows in many places.  And, because we are talking here of the psychology (rather than the neurology) that new growth – in consciousness – is not material ; it is not detectable by the senses, but only by awareness.  If not material, then what?  It surely must be spiritual.

And when we think of that rose we may truly say that it lives within us.  It has existence within us.  Or, at least, its spirit does.  An aspect of Idealism?

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We do not seem to have a developed sense of time that reveals itself in consciousness.  True, we often become aware that time has passed ; but that awareness is much more vague than our sense of, say, the distance between two objects that we have in view ; or of the direction and intensity of a sound.

Perhaps that is why we have a tendency to be less conscious of history than we are, say, of territory ; and why we are less conscious of our ancestors than we are of the people around us.  We almost all think of ‘society’ as those people who happen to be walking about at this moment.  The dead and the yet-to-be-born are ignored.

I’m reminded of words by that great Liberal, Chesterton, “I m a true democrat.  I believe that the dead should have a vote.”  Yes, and why not?  Was it not they who worked and often suffered to make the world which we enjoy?  Were their labours in vain?

So, while welcoming the chance to make the world a better place, I also welcome the chance to preserve and adapt the fruits of past centuries.  Change for the sake of change, or even change for the sake of a ‘good idea’, is simply vandalism and no democracy should countenance it.  Likewise, any change that does reckonable damage to our concept of the past is deplorable.

Just as people are not mere machines, so neither is a society or a nation.  Living things grow and adapt organically, from within ; and not mechanically by forces from without.

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As members of that wonderful thing, the human race, we are full of ideas ; and ideas thrive, and even evolve, in the mind.   Ideas beget other ideas.  But ideas also strive to bear a fuller fruit, namely action.  In a healthy mind ideas strive to become deeds, as caterpillars strive to become butterflies, and as eggs strive to become birds. A bad idea in the right kind of mind can become both good and fruitful ; while good idea in the wrong mind can become an abomination.

The mind is the environment for our ideas, just as the world is the environment for our deeds.  How much time should we spend cultivating our minds?  An hour a day?  an hour a week?  Any suggestions?

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