What I’m On About

“Nature: the alpha and omega; the all-being whose infinite scope escapes description; which is in us, through us, and all around us; and which guides all life into being and lays it again to rest. As we ourselves are Nature, it is plain that a bounteous life is one in accord with Nature.”

~Archibald Felix

 

Here’s a short article that will hopefully clarify a seemingly “John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson drop acid in a David Attenborough documentary”-esque metaphor I laden my writings with.

My single favorite metaphor is that of the human mind as an ecological landscape. This appeals to me for both its subject and its theme.

The subject, the human mind: an unfathomably complex neuro-chemical reaction; a prodigy of adaptation; constantly oscillating between different states; forever forming and reforming; wherein all human experience lies; and which is the pinnacle focus of this entire blog.

And the theme pertaining to Nature: an infinitely intricate assemblage of organized, vivified matter; the architect and overseer of adaptation; pervaded by flux at every scale; consisting in an unceasing state of evolution; with an all encompassing scope; and that satisfies my every qualm and inquiry.

So here’s what I’m on about.

I’m not only spinning poetic yarns with these comparisons. There are substantive analogies that can be drawn between aspects of the mind and those of Nature. The most pertinent among them; axons and myelin sheaths, and the process by which the human mind grows through repeated practice.

Axons are the slender projections of a nerve cell. Information in the form of electrical impulses is transmitted along axons as it passes to the rest of the body. Overtime, with repeated firings, axons synchronize to form the tiny stems of fledgling neural pathways.

Myelin is a protective sheath that insulates axon pathways for more efficient energy transmission. The more an action is performed, the thicker the myelin sheath grows, and the faster and more efficient the neural response. Eventually the myelin sheath becomes strong enough, and the neural response efficient enough, that the action feels like muscle memory. It occurs as a reflex. This is what it is to master an action.

With repeated practice, repeated stimulation, consistent nourishment, these myelin sheaths grow like the trunk of a tree. Myelin sheaths prevent the loss of electro-chemical energy in much the same way bark-insulated trees prevent the loss of water due to evaporation. The parallel action is that of greater efficiency.

So when I wax poetic about growing the forests of my mind, I am drawing a healthy parallel. No one can perceive the literal development of neural pathways. They and their whole process exist as an abstraction in the imagination. So I use the metaphor of trees, and of flora in its entirety, to bring those abstractions into a form of tangibility.

Now what raises this metaphor from a handy, grade-school mnemonic device into a profound, overarching perspective is that the metaphor is not limited to a generic tree. Different plants resemble different ideas, grown in different atmospheres, with correspondingly different lifespans.

The breadth of the metaphor extends further still. Individual thoughts, the literal electro-chemical impulses that scurry along neural pathways, resemble the animals of an ecosystem that form a symbiosis with the flora of their habitats.

Then grey matter as a whole, the material in which neural pathways are carved, resembles large-scale ecosystems. Different ecosystems exhibit different characteristics analogizing different regions of the brain which processes different modes of thought. And the white matter of the brain, through which the grey matter receives its sense-data, resembles the atmosphere under which life flourishes or languishes.

This metaphor has developed vividly over the years. As I’ve contemplated Nature, I’ve always been able to find a corollary in the mind, and vice versa. The overarching effect on my life has been one of heightened fascination with the natural world.  Every organism appears to me an expression of a greater being.  This notion complements my deepest communion.

The Nature-as-Mind metaphor every time gives me a real, touched, tasted, heard, smelled, and/or seen object to attach any particular devotion onto. I cannot overstate its impact.

There is no small leverage of poetic license in the Nature-as-Mind metaphor. But there is also substantive analogy. There is also practical benefit. So I guess what I’m saying is you’ll be reading more about it.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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