Erkenntnisgewinn

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One of my favorite quotes stems from renowned American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides and goes a little like this :

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

Ever noticed how almost everything you buy these days is preformatted in some way? Computers come with useless software bundles. Your phone comes with applications you’ll never use and can’t delete (hey Apple, thanks for making me delete precious photos and memories so that I can keep super-useful apps like ‘Game Center’ and ‘Compass’ installed) and your brand new microwave comes bundled with a dozen manuals you’ll never read in a plethora of languages you can’t even decipher. There’s no room for personal discovery anymore. There’s no room to wander anymore.

Except humans. Humans come into this world completely unformatted, devoid of any preconceived concept of how the world works.

How wonderful it is to know that every human will need to start seeing the world for himself, and himself alone. Every single person born is born with a blank slate, waiting to be scribbled upon. Every single baby is a blob of clay, waiting to be molded into something. No prejudices. No embedded ideas. Endless possibilities ahead.

How terrifying it is that every human can likewise be molded into something violent, a judging, vicious, intolerant instrument at the behest of others who mold them like that.

I am utterly fascinated by the mind’s ability to (unconsciously) store little details of things, ideas, fears, smells, emotions, feelings and such for years and years. Their subconscious nature will only reveal them when they’re called upon, be it a certain encounter with a specific someone, taking in a smell or even seeing a particular color. Any of which can trigger a sudden waterfall of emotions. Any of which can unroll a carpet of thoughts, ideas, details, notions that you had stored inadvertently. These triggers act as keys to open doors to the dungeons of our mind we didn’t know we have.  Knowing that these thoughts and details reside permanently in us, evolve, mature, beyond our conscious control until they are called upon by life, making their comeback into your conscious self, having evolved, helping shape the outline of an idea, become part of a personality. How wonderful it is, to know that the meandering musings of one’s mind never really leave us, but rather orbit us like satellites orbiting a planet.  The brain the sun, our mind the earth. Slowly. Surely. Steadily. Until they are called upon to serve their purpose later in life, retrieved from their cerebral orbit to be injected into conversation, art, work, love and life. And this at different points in our development, carefully handpicked and plucked out of their orbital trajectory after having ripened, matured, evolved like fine wine in the cavernous cerebral crevices of our slumbering subconscious.

I was recently asked if I ever wondered about how the brain gives rise to consciousness. Everyone has had these moments of sudden consciousness, moments when the missing piece of the puzzle appears, and all the other pieces align and suddenly become one and the gears start turning. The wheels start spinning. That euphoria, when you suddenly start understanding something fully. When you get ‘the big picture’. That sudden rise in consciousness, the metaphorical opening of the gates, allowing the water to pour in and flood the cellars of your mind.

It is almost impossible to describe the feeling of rising consciousness with words. The Germans have a long standing tradition of having come up with words to describe certain feelings that a lot of people don’t know how to describe (think of ‘sehnsucht : an intense yearning for something far-off and indefinable; ‘torschlusspanik ‘ : fear that time is running out to achieve life goals; ‘fernweh’ : a longing for far away places) and they didn’t fail the world in this aspect too. ‘Erkenntnisgewinn’ means the sudden gain of insight, a sudden clarity of understanding. A lifting of the metaphorical veil if you want. Not bad from a country who brought you two world wars if you ask me.

A lot of others have tried and were forgotten, but Proust and Pessoa also made what I consider to be some of the most meaningful attempts that deserves some recognition :

“Then from those profound slumbers we awake in a dawn, not knowing who we are, being nobody, newly born, ready for anything, the brain emptied of that past which was life until then. And perhaps it is more wonderful still when our landing at the waking-point is abrupt and the thoughts of our sleep, hidden by a cloak of oblivion, have no time to return to us gradually, before sleep ceases. Then, from the black storm through which we seem to have passed (but we do not even say we), we emerge prostrate, without a thought, a we that is void of content.”
― Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah

“My soul is a black maelstrom, a great madness spinning about a vacuum, the swirling of a vast ocean around a hole in the void, and in the waters, more like whirlwinds than waters, float images of all I ever saw or heard in the world: houses, faces, books, boxes, snatches of music and fragments of voices, all caught up in a sinister, bottomless whirlpool.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

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