Reminiscing and contemplating are the means by which consciousness ensures both the memory of events and their effect on one as all of life’s ‘happenings’ take their course. Yet, nowadays (close to my 94th birthday) I find it necessary not to let such past memories, and the feelings and thoughts they have generated, take over my attitude to life completely. They tend to do so the older one gets, thereby diminishing the significance and appeal of much that is still going on now. For there is a natural tendency with age to live too much in the past - reminiscing and contemplating. It is all too easy as one ages to mentally ‘wander off’ into a stream of memories, dreams, and reflections unrelated to the moment, yet which insist on dominating consciousness as they flit across the screen of the mind (the ‘Been There; Seen This; Done That…’ sort of attitude).
Yet one’s individuality has been formed over the years by living with a consciousness that functions at two levels: 1) responding sensorily and with felt-thoughts to the external factual happenings of life, and 2) reflectively to the internal awareness of their significance in adding meaning and purpose to one’s existence. The point I am trying to make here is that it is still very important, however old one is, to participate in the life of the outside world and continue to respond to it. For keeping these two functions of consciousness going is the only way to achieve a significant level of self-realization in terms of both oneself in the world of time and space, and oneself in the world of the mind. In other words, a mental duality which results in what some psychologists have called individuation, and which they see as the goal of each individual human life.
The famed English lexicographer and author Samuel Johnson is perhaps suggesting that such a dual process of human consciousness (outward-directed on the one hand, and inner-evaluative on the other) is not functioning too well when he writes, ‘No mind is much employed upon the present; recollection and anticipation fill up almost all our moments.’ Another English poet-philosopher of the same period, John Dryden, writes in much the same vein, ‘Happy the man, and happy he alone,/ He who can call today his own/ He who, secure within, can say,/ Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.’
Well, the contemporary human way of life must be wreaking some havoc in this balanced (outer and inner) view of the duality of consciousness I have just attempted to describe. For with the advent of computer technology, and technology in general, both the normally varied daily round of events and actual physical happenings in time and space are merely visual experiences on a screen.There is nothing hands on to vitalize and imprint the senses with meaning and significance. It’s a very abstract way to live, and one that may ultimately eliminate the goal of attaining a level of personal individuation, and of even bringing to mind the questions ‘who’ and ‘why’ am I in this journey of life.
Some years ago I wrote a book entitled What the Hell Are the Neurons Up To? Looking through it the other day I came across the following paragraph:
If the time should ever come, as the Electronic Age progresses and we become more and more its victims (automatons in our own right), pursuing a totally extroverted life, we may reach the stage when the word human will no longer qualify the word being. In which case Darwin’s statement that ‘the moral senses of wonder and conscience are the most important and noble of all human attributes, and that to be without them renders us more akin to the lower animals’ will assume the nature of a prophetic truth.