Be Indomitable

Created February 16, 2024

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

The day my mother died, Jewish customs would have been for the whole family to do nothing else but “sit shivvah” for several days. They were shocked therefore when my father, MC and orchestra leader in a big NYC nightclub, went to work that night. His eyes briefly met mine and without his having to say it out loud, his eyes told me what they had both always taught me about moments like these. The show must go on.

In moment-to-moment living, we each have our ups and downs. It occurs to some of us that we are being dominated by the inputs we receive from moment to moment, without having the ability to resist the invisible strings on our puppet selves being pulled by outside forces, and this stiffens our resolve to not be jerked around by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We then go inside to find or to build the control systems that will make us each master of our own self, impervious to outside control by anyone and anything.

This discovery of one’s inner abilities to overcome one’s own negative emotions and not to be excessively carried away by one’s own positive emotions goes back long before spoken or written language, long before humans were able to clarify the processes involved enough to pass along how-to instructions. One of the earliest schools of philosophy on record is stoicism. This philosophy was all about understanding and inculcating these control abilities in human beings. Epictetus, in my estimation the greatest stoic philosopher of them all, was born as a slave. Enslavement gave him a fertile ground of unhappiness to deal with, and instead of caving into a life of misery, he faced squarely up to his situation and found out how he could modify his reactions to that situation. His book The Enchiridion, when I first discovered it as a teenager, blew my mind because stuff I had been working on within myself had actually existed before.

The need to become more fatalistic and resilient may not be greater than ever before in human hisandherstory but it is certainly much greater now than ever before in my lifetime. I need not list the litany of threat vectors currently present on our dance card. Possibly the one that is most disheartening is the attitude of young people who feel they have been gypped, and those who feel that way do so, not without good reason. The world needs a lot of fixing and we are just the species that can do that fixing in the highest and most heroic manner. Soon there will be a realization of a need to shift into that mindset, rising to the challenge. As we did, as a species, in WWII. That same right stuff still resides within us. It’s time to call upon it, to draw it out, to become the indomitable selves that we are and have always been. It’s what we are here to learn how to do, and to demonstrate that we have learned it. Then perhaps we can graduate to the next classroom.

I find it very interesting to learn from latest neuroscience the underlying computational functions of the brain. My special interest comes from a lifetime of introspection with concentration in which I have always attempted to understand how I make decisions and to improve upon the methods I observe myself using. Now in the light of current neuroscience I can link up my experiential evidence with the revelations of fMRI and EEG. For example, Richy Davidson, one of my many neuroscientist mentors, back in the 1980s when we had a company together, discovered that emotional valence could be measured based upon asymmetrical energy use in the left and right lobes of the frontal cortex, a method that is still prominent today. In the brain, this valence is understood to be based on the concept of approach versus avoidance. Positive emotion comes along with approach, whereas negative emotion is part of avoidance.

Being indomitable is consciously favoring the approach mode.
Stepping forward to engage with the challenges.
Fixing rather than worrying.

One cannot simply decide to do this, and then it is done. The effort involved is primarily one of self-discipline. This is hardest in the beginning and then becomes easier and easier with practice.

Whatever we choose to focus on internally becomes a stronger force in our lives.

When one is thrown into the pool as a babe, one swims, and instinctively swims with the current if there is one. Given little time to think the modern child is rushed into play with other children, sports and then studies, with daily doses of media, creating masses of questions and thoughts from all these impressions. Processing time to contemplate all of this is not built into the daily regime of our culture yet. In a subtle and generally unnoticed way, the child proceeding into adulthood adopts a somewhat defensive coping lens as the main way of thinking. What could go wrong, fear, plans to deal with feared situations, doing this planning in snatches between externally assigned priorities which must be coped with moment to moment.

The most dangerous aspect of this condition is that if a person spends most of their time focused on what could go wrong, they are actually mentally rehearsing for those things to go wrong. To repeat, whatever we choose to focus on internally becomes a stronger force in our lives. If we are focusing on the downside scenarios we are increasing the probabilities of those scenarios occurring.

How does this happen? There is a continuum of explanations, schools of thought. Physicalists (believers in materialistic accidentalism) may admit that this occurs but insist that it is because the individual is giving off micromomentary signals which telegraph their fears in a way that provokes others to manipulate them, all on an unconscious level. Two of our greatest physicists of all time, Wheeler and Hawking, posit what Wheeler named the Participatory Anthropic Principle, by which our consciousness helps cause reality. This theory rests on Wheeler’s theory that underlying what we dub as physical (“its”) are “bits” of information, and that both consciousness and matter/energy are therefore reducible to information, out of which everything is made. This is a short step away from my theory that a single self-aware consciousness is where all this information resides.

In both versions of reality, physicalism and cosmopsychism, there is adequate support for the true existence of the programming of reality by the thoughts and feelings of the individual. However one explains it, it is there, and ignoring it and giving in to wallowing in pessimism, what we might call brain avoidance rather than brain approach, is self-sabotaging.

So here we all are as a species wallowing in pessimism. Remaining this way cannot have a happy ending. The stoic response to this situation is to unlock concern about the probable bad landing ahead, to fatalistically accept it could easily happen, but to make oneself focus courageously on bringing about the happy landing anyway. Once understanding the way the feedback loop works, this is the only sane response, taking active conscious control of where the mind is allowed to go.

Realism requires that a small allocation of time is spent on making contingency plans for how to avoid the undesired outcome, and how to deal with it should it occur, so long as first and last the mind is mentally rehearsing and pre-experiencing the desired future of the individual. Meaning that contingency planning should be done seriously and carefully but not dwelt upon, instead gotten over with, so as to resume consciously telling the universe the way the movie happy ending is to be for oneself.

Chemicals and electrical trickery is used within the brain and body which makes it hard to get out of bad moods such as fear, anxiety, grief, resentment, and so on. It helps me to realize that the sodium pentothal and other psychometric drugs used to interrogate and brainwash are the same sorts of chemical agents my own brain whips up to give me these overwhelming feelings that dissolve my ability to focus on fixing. Knowing this enables me to see my brain as trying to force me into feeling certain ways I know to be against my best interests, and gives me the gumption to force back those feelings.

“Yes, that could happen, but why do I care so much?”

“Yes, that could happen, and I’ve prepared myself to deal with it if it does happen, including not showing it’s gotten to me, but meanwhile, I might as well enjoy every second to the max, and it may never happen and I may get away with it to the very end.”

“Or if it eventually does happen, I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I had fun without fear for such a long time, I got away with all of that, and so if it all ends badly at least I will know that I did what was right, what was good, and I can authentically admire myself for it.”

Self-admiration is a much healthier thing to experience than pride. Pride is not self-admiration because it goes too far and mixes it with vanity. This is caused by the needy defensive stance of the ego which is the sense of not having caught up with integrating all the clashing parts of myself (integrity).

There are other practical ways one can increase the ability to remain in the approach mode. Time alone especially in nature, paying attention internally, seeing the good, counting the blessings, seeing the beauty all around, remembering all the good in people, being grateful, opening the mind to all possibilities, recapturing the awe and wonder of existing as a consciousness in a vast universe, realizing the wellsprings of creativity inside which can be tapped to solve anything, remembering all of the love one has for this person and that thing, and understanding the scientific possibility that we are all one benevolent loving self, manifesting as many for the fun and learning. All of these are powerful inhibitors of the avoidance reaction.

You may still decide to avoid certain things that you conclude just bring you down, but you will do so indomitably rather than fearfully. You will find a smile on your face when you look in the mirror rather than a grim visage. Your sunny disposition will draw and uplift other people making it faster for this wave of indomitability to ripple out across the pond until herd immunity to fear and pessimism has been achieved.

Each of us shall then be a mensch.

Love to all,

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