Mary Strachan Scriver

Nov 26, 2020

4 min read


Though I dissed Dr. Siegel, author of “Mind”, for neglecting Evil, I do understand that a teacher and workshop leader needs to use acronyms and metaphors about round coffee tables in order to be understood. But for me the real redemption of this thinker after his steps to including emotion, then to embodiment and communication — always widening the circle — is the chapters late in his book in which he explores the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans with science and finds it undiminished yet not quite as ungraspable as it has been.

It’s helpful that his sub-chapters indicate the years when that particular approach was being explored by him. The first in this piece, called Meaning and Mind, Science and Spirituality, was thought out between 2000–2005. If the project of “self-organizing” is done mostly unconsciously lifelong, how does one work between the Scylla and Charybdis of such things: on the one hand the rigidity of the prescribed authorities of the past and on the other hand the fuzzy woo-woo of spirituality?

Siegel organized a think-group of experts and concluded that the key was “integration.” He had an acronymic for that: nine domains of integration. I skipped that part. He also has a word, “mindsight.” It doesn’t touch me. Then he says, “The common denominator that links our inner bodily experiences with our inter-relational experiences is energy and information flow. . . When we see that this flow happens as a fundamental part of a system bounded neither by skull nor skin, we’ve come to embrace the notion of an embodied and relational mind. When this system of mind can be viewed as having the three qualities of being open, chaos-capable, and non-linear, the mind can be seen as a part of a complex system.”

I wish he had recognized the system bounded by the community consensus, which also imposes order at the expense of growth and relationship. But he is part of a class of people, sometimes called “liberal” or “academic” or even “entitled.” He doesn’t see the imposed limits of that community, which is the water in which he swims.

So the next chapter is “When in Mind?” with a sub-chapter drawn from 2005 to 2010. He’s not stuck, he’s in California. Now he’s focusing on energy and information flow — quantum physics and the computer math that makes it possible to propose self-organizing. And he’s into meditation and wisdom traditions. Natch. Then he says, “The when of mind is this emergent property of now.”

To speak of streams, like observing, witnessing and narrating (OWN), is to speak of being as a process, on-going, while happening in the now. “Now” he wants to go to sensation, observing, conceptualizing, and knowing (SOCK). Maintain these streams and then link them to the point of harmony and you will have the felt meaning of life. With the proper instruments it’s possible to physically see the addition of new connections and circuits in the brain, particularly the hippocampus, corpus callosum and insula. Of course the pre-frontal cortex as well. If someone like JFK’s sister has a lobotomy, this possibility is literally cut off. It is a more serious wound than separating the two sides of the brain.

Taking all this into consideration, Siegel is ready to define spirituality, that quality that people claim is more important than an institutional religion. “1) being part of something larger; and 2) having a deeper meaning than the details of everyday life, something beyond survival alone.”

The most intriguing theory comes next and he admit it is incomplete. The idea is that “Energy is the movement of a potential between openness to certainty as the position on an energy probability curve moved.

In terms of the universe, the “Big Bang” moment is all energy condensed into one Now and place, then expanding out according to the Newtonian second law of thermodynamics, always radiating out a bit of energy until it’s all gone. That’s the end of Time. The same thing works in smaller curves as the process of life, each individual beginning as a Now conception and then moving energy into the concentration of energy we call “being” until it is dissipated and gone. I may not be getting it quite right, but this is the general thought. Humans are what happens as Time sweeps the galaxy along.

Siegel speaks of the block of the Now in the same way that Stan Rowe, a professor at the U of Saskatchewan now retired and passed on, used to speak of a “slab of space-time.” Siegel points out that it is not the concept of Time that is a stream but rather it is a way of keeping track of the succession of slabs of space-time as we pass through them. We are as lives each examples of energy passing through time on it’s way to final expenditure.

This is why the advice is to keep moving. It is the continuing work of sensation, observing, conceptualizing, and knowing (SOCK) that comes from process that forms the mind. SOCK is also what defines life, even for a one-celled microbe which must find food and escape danger, even though it has never evolved a brain.

I have a couple of chapters to read yet and Siegel himself is working on the next book, because all this is a process and never finished. I’m thankful that I have his book and time to read it, a place to write about it. I’m thankful that I was able to get an education that prepared me to steer between rigidity and chaos. I’m thankful that at so many points in this stream of life I smacked up against boulders, both predicted and hidden, but then was able to slide off and swim again. I’m not sure whether I’m thankful for all you guys out there reading this. It’s your business anyway.

My curve has not been a rainbow and now my energy is low, but there’s still a lot more to do. The sun is shining at the moment and the cats are out in the backyard chasing each other until the next nap time.