Friday, January 12, 2024

Here and Now Versus Intention: Survival Strategies

 I've always doubted the Buddhist philosophy of "living in the here and now." Though I have gotten great insite from the practice of meditation, and the awareness of attachment, I have worried that Buddhism is not a survival strategy. If I am not attached to anything, and I am living in the here and now, how to I protect myself from those that are intending me harm?

Buddhism is right, though, about the nature of the most of the universe. A rock lives in the here and now, has no attachment, and "doesn't do something, just sits there." And rocks survive, for long periods of time, just as atoms do. Does that mean we should imitate this form of survival?

Over the years, I've wondered about atoms. Why do they persist? Since high school chemistry, with one of my favorite teachers, Candace Simpson, I have had a good understanding of chemical reactions and stability versus instability, and the direction of entropy. And for quite some time, since my training in statistics, I have understood the difference between local decreases in entropy versus global increases. Life, as we know it, is an example of local decreases in entropy.

But it was only last week that I had an insight into the difference between "being here and now" and "being intentional." And it seems so obvious, and yet this insight remained hidden from my view by my own attachment to my experience of existence: I live in a different dimension than atoms, rocks, and most living organisms.

Whereas most of the universe, including all the atoms, sub-atomic particles, chemical compounds, and even most life forms exist, these forms do not have a conception of time. Moment to moment is lived as local conditions balance, trying to reach an equilibrium, each moment defined by the simultaneous result of millions, billions, perhaps uncountable forces interacting. These forms live in a world, for them, without time. For atoms, and rocks, and countless other forms, there is only "here and now," because past and future do not exist for these forms, only the present.

The great awareness available to humans is remembering the past. And most recently in our evolutionary history, the capacity to observe and classify the past in ways to help us recognize some cause and effect, which gives us the opportunity to make some predictions about the future, from which we may have intention and choice.

Human survival strategy has been successful because we live in this added dimension of time: past, present, and future. We have been survived, and thrived, as a life form, because we observe and exploit cause and effect. And in the universe, the vast majority of what we observe does not have this awareness.

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