Our brains have an amazing ability to do something: hide a world of truth from us. We’re able to tune out the blinking lights and honking horns, the stress of work, the underwater mortgage, and those inappropriate clothes and music our kids prefer. Meanwhile, people around the world survive war, abuse, hunger, chronic disease and floods. Our brains excel at rationalization and self-deception helping us handle the grit of living.
Billions of feelings, tactile senses, memories, sounds, smells and a barrage of voices are all around us. Most of the time our brain insulates and protects us from the rest of the abundant information in the universe that isn’t in our direct focus. But that thick padding comes with a cost. It means we really have no idea — most of the time — why and how we do what we do.
This concept might deeply challenge the idea of our lives happening because things are “meant to be”, or that we have a “higher calling” or we can “will things happen”. We certainly have brilliant insights, accurate intuitions and strokes of genius. It’s seems that our subconscious leads us to make decisions that feel like they come from someplace else, yet really happening inside us.
It’s tough because we’ve been working hard for a long time to understand why we do what we do. We have therapy, religion, hallucinagens and many other practices that we use to try to understand who we are. Yet new information about the brain need not rule out all the tools we’ve been using. Instead it could be a “power tool”. The way the brain processes (and hides) information is one of the great scientific insights of our era. And though seemingly heretical when looked at through more traditional lenses, it’s an amazing, mysterious and transcendent ecosystem of new ideas.
These ideas have led the cognitive scientist David Eagleman to coin the term “Possibillian” to describe the confident state of unknowningness. A Possibilian takes into account that we may have a deep connection both to the unknown, what some may call mysticism, as well as the great scientific discoveries of neuroscience and astrophysics. A Possibilian encourages us to stay open to all the far out possibilities unfolding with regard to our mind and the universe.
But, let’s back up. Way, way, way up.
Who are we?
We are people who live on a very small, apparently unique, blue planet. Our planet came about within the context of an unfathomably ancient universe in constant change filled mostly with invisible dark matter. Our planet is apparently surrounded by an infinitely shifting cosmos, gasses and suns in every direction, which we know something about, but really almost nothing. Our lives are a minuscule, temporary flash by comparison to the vastness of the universe. Yet we often feel invincible. We see ourselves as masters of the whole shooting match.
Our small planet is blue because of water. From a million-or even a billion-miles away, Earth appears blue.
Our ancestors came out of the water, evolved from swimming to crawling to walking. They developed remarkably complex brains, as well, necessary to move successfully through nature encountering constant unexpected challenges.
We started small on this blue planet-and we are descendants from, relatives of and subsidiary to the ocean.
This is not a biology or an astronomy lesson, rather it might be an amazing clue to how we can alter how we treat the planet. We literally have “blue minds”.
And we’re literally seated here now, virtually connected, pondering our evolutionary state with our future on the line.
Over the past year an open source community called BLUEMiND has taken up the task of exploring the human mind-ocean connection. Some of the finest thinkers in cognitive neuroscience, ocean exploration, media and art have gathered at the California Academy of Sciences, the Bioneers conference, and with leaders at the Environmental Defense Fund. Now the idea of exploring the intersection of conservation with how our brains process empathy, gratitude, fear and protection is starting to travel the world. It’s the beginning of a new field, and it all points to our brains’ critical need for the ocean: our planet’s largest, most-dominant system.
After a screening of his film “Transcendent Man”, famed futurist and author Ray Kurzweil was asked why he loves the ocean. The most poignant scene in the movie depicts Kurzweil quietly contemplating the sea and himself. He replied that: “It’s a metaphor for the way the brain is organized.”
The grand duchess of the environmental movement, Frances Moore Lappé (author of “Diet for a Small Planet” and the new book “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want”) stated,”The first step is getting people to realize that the current metaphors aren’t working … we have to think about these issues differently.” She continues, “There’s nothing inexorable” about the environmental problems at hand. “It’s a matter of how we perceive them …” (Santa Cruz Weekly, 9/11/11)
It’s said that those who control the frame, control the contest. We must reclaim the framework with which we see the world: we must engage with our minds to help us achieve this goal.
Here’s what we’ve learned about our blue minds:
- Our brains sit in saline and craves a connection to the planet’s ocean on a deeply primal level tied to our evolution.
- Doing “one small thing” for the planet does not mean you will stick to doing good -our brains heal and change with our complex relationships to people and nature experienced outdoors.
- The ocean isn’t just pretty, it stimulates our health-both psychologically and physically. We might be staring at a new approach to public health based on the ocean, one now being taken seriously by doctors and scientists.
So, this huge body of water, our one world ocean, impacts our remarkably powerful brains in ways we’ve always felt but are only beginning to know. Together, we occupy this planet, and together our minds and the sea have an interdependency beyond the fish, whales and sea turtles, ecosystems and biodiversity, or economic benefits. The water and our neurons need each other to live.
How can your blue mind help change the world?
To get healthy, get near, in, on or under the ocean more often. The ocean can literally suck the stress from you.
Demand that polluters don’t destroy the very thing our brains need to evolve.
Learn all you can about your brain, and teach it to the kids. Especially as it intersects with nature.
Or, as we like to say, LIVEBLUE and swim in the possibilities of your blue mind.
By Wallace J. Nichols and Sarah Kornfeld