In previous blogs, we looked at change and dialogue. It is simpler perhaps to envision dialogue occurring between different people, parties, groups and nations. Change, on the other hand, can lead to the breakdown of dialogue between the above. Individual humans and groups of humans normally don't desire change. Many of us try to hold onto what we have and who we think we are. Yet, as we saw, change is natural and it is always occurring. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus proclaimed, "Everything flows." It is now necessary to go the fundamental aspects of change and dialogue at the individual human level. They foremost must apply to the individual person, each and every one of us.
Change and Sameness
As previously discussed, our bodies change all the time. Cells constituting our bodies undergo birth, survive for a while and then die. Just like us. Yet, the entire structure remains, somehow, the same. Otherwise the whole organism would collapse into utter chaos and we would quickly die. So the very cells constituting our physical structure change while our physical structure maintains itself.
But then of course that structure itself changes over time. Take a good look at those Facebook photos from a few years back. You will probably notice some difference in your body. It's still you in those pictures, and yet you have changed, even if it's only slightly. A strange complementarity is at the core of our own existence: Constant change is the hallmark of our bodies while we maintain the same identity. Something must be communicating our sameness in the midst of constant change. Change and communication are indispensable to who we are. Physically speaking, they are indispensable to keeping us whole, functioning and alive.
Along with the physical body, something else seems to hold us together: The mind. Let's for now avoid an exact definition of the nature of the mind with all its wide functions, and we will also avoid for now the debate of the so-called mind-body problem, which is sort of a chicken-and-the-egg problem. We avoid for now the thorny issue of where the mind resides, if anywhere. Maybe in the brain, maybe not, for now let's leave these questions aside.
We note that the mind changes as the thoughts attributed to it change. You are you now, just as you were you as a child. But doubtlessly your experiences and lessons learned in life have changed the way you think. Nonetheless, the mind remains constant. We seem to have similar types of thoughts, creating, for example, similar habits over extended periods of time. Maybe the mind communicates the same "sameness" to our body? This is a tough question to answer, but it may be the case. Maybe our basic structure is more mental than physical.
Body, Mind and Ego
Realizing the above questions are not easy to answer, even by science, we go on with our lives. Even if we manage for fun to contemplate these questions, we go on living, don't we? After all, who cares if we are mental beings rather than physical beings? Maybe we are neither, maybe we are just both. The point here is not to philosophize. It is to take the next step and look squarely at our own existence. Contemplating who we are and why we're here isn't just something to do around a campfire. Contemplating the true essence of our being can help us improve our outlook about ourselves. In fact, what some might dismiss as nonsensical new agey stuff might actually provide practical tools for living a better life. Here, the mind plays a primary role. Without it we could not contemplate anything.
Then the ego rears its ugly head. Without contemplating sameness in the midst of change, not caring what is primary, what ties our mind to our body, even if they are different or just two sides of the same "coin," the ego resists! It assumes it is the same, that it is unique and it identifies with the specific body we possess and the specific thoughts we think. And the ego does more than that, as it turns out. The ego identifies itself with everything that is truly constantly changing and thinks that is itself. When you pass in front of a mirror your ego says, "Hey, there I am!" The ego is motivated out of looking out for itself, even when it has selfless attributes.
Our habits, viewpoints, our belief systems, our appearance in the mirror, we lump them altogether and we call them "me," "myself," "mine." We assume they are collectively the same and we live our lives in an ego-encapsulated existence. Forget about the mind, the body, forget about who we might actually be. The ego wants us to be this limited, separate, unique little creation. That is how the ego shows its ugly side. Why do I use such harsh term for the ego? Bear with me for a little.
For starters, the ego doesn't really like dialogue and it definitely doesn't like change. Let's be honest about it, most people are pretty set in their ways. That's because the ego does not want you to change. But Nature clearly shows us that everything changes. In terms of the mind, many of us, maybe all of us, profess to being open-minded. Perhaps most of us think we are ready to embrace change and that we are basically good in our intentions. But are we really? More often than not, we do not willingly change our comfortable habits. We have our ways of living and our comfort zones. And these are the workings of the ego.
It is strange! The ego identifies with the body but the poor body and all its constituent cells change all the time. The ego identifies with the mind but the poor mind changes all the time. And one day for sure, with 100 percent certainty, the body will die. And, as far as we know, the specific mind may die too. Nevertheless, the ego feels unique and precious, it feels immortal even though its constituent base is ever-changing and always inching closer and closer to its own end. The ego is comfortable with itself, being just as it is, and at the same time it wants more and more.
Have you ever had a quiet moment where you felt there was more to life than just ego and certain death? And yet the ego tries to sweep such moments under the rug and bring the attention back to its selfish needs and desires.
Embrace Change and Dialogue In Spite of the Ego
If we understand that the ego cannot be the full picture, isn't it time to ask ourselves what is truly there? Is there something to us beyond our appearances, beyond our ever-changing bodies and our ever-restless minds? So the time is now: Let's stop for a second and ask ourselves, each one of us: Who am I?
That question and the next one, Why am I here? form the essence of enabling dialogue with ourselves. For a dialogue to take place, a topic must be brought up. In this case, the dialogue is between the individual and the same individual. What would happen if a religious fundamentalist peered past all of the ego-created dogma and all the noise of indignant righteousness to look at the true essence of self? What would happen to the scientist who could look past the arrogant trappings of a smug ego and dare to imagine something else?
We all need to have this dialogue because it is greater than our collective egos. Once we start to have a dialogue with ourselves, we are accepting change while it is happening. In the quietude of facing ourselves, we are in the "now" and then we begin to face our own life. This shift in thought is crucial. We need it to live better lives as individuals. And we need it if we are going to survive as a species.
Menas C. Kafatos, is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics, at Chapman University. He is a quantum physicist, cosmologist, and climate change researcher and works extensively on consciousness. His doctoral thesis advisor was the famous M.I.T. professor Philip Morrison who studied under J. Robert Oppenheimer. He has authored about 300 articles, is author or editor of 14 books, including "The Conscious Universe" (Springer) with Robert Nadeau, and is co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, "Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles" (Harmony). He acknowledges valuable input by Lefteris Kafatos.