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Greatest ally, cause of your anguish

| Monday, October 3, 2022

Our brains are but wonderful machines. This term is no exaggeration by any extent of the imagination, for they have been fine-tuned through millions of years of evolution into the survival powerhouses we know and love so dearly. They are, through constant innovation, quite literally the line between life and death and as such have allowed us to become the (self-declared) rulers of this world. 

Nevertheless, it is for this very reason that our brains are also wonderfully perfect torture devices. Due to their nature — that is, to prioritize our survival — they have inadvertently brought upon humanity some of the greatest sources of our agony. 

For you see, a brain has been designed so as to spend its resources in that which does not exist in the here and the now. Our brains record information and carefully construct a gallery of memories with the purpose to learn from your experiences. They craft the past, a past that exists exclusively in that cranial bathtub, and with it theorize about the future. Is that not fantastic, the ability to think? This is the reason our ever-wise ancestors noticed that maybe washing your hands was important or that perhaps one should not eat raw babies. They acquired knowledge from their mistakes and bettered their lives, always planning ahead. It was required in order for you to be here. 

Yet, that is the crux of the issue, the there is not the here, the then is not the now. We have erected structures, bound our fellow men to law and established society. Gone are the days of being pursued by bloodthirsty animals and avoiding precipices covered by fog and snow. For many, their greatest daily plight is having to turn in our homework assignment mere minutes before midnight. 

Still, our brains may be ever incredible yet they are anything but fast. What took our brains millions of years to achieve through trial and error we have formulated in four millennia, and with the birth of exponentially more powerful technology there is no possibility for our cerebrum–cerebellum dream team to keep up with the pace. As such, the original mechanisms remain present. That is to say, though the stakes are lower than ever, they may not necessarily be perceived as such whatsoever. The brain did not change their strategy of assaulting their host’s body with panic–inducing hormones at the face of danger, but rather, adapted to the new challenges. Exams are certainly not matters of life and death, but we are capable of deceiving ourselves into feeling like they are. 

Our brains, then, are experts of both future and past, administering their judgment through unconformity. They riddle us with guilt when considering our prior mistakes and overwhelm us with anxiety as we contemplate our actions to-be. Though neither of which are tangible or malleable, the brain cares not as it relentlessly reminds. They drown us in the abstract, in the ifs, in anything and everything that it believes may hurt you in the hopes of supporting your survival, but in truth, brings nothing but misery. 

This is what I refer to as the Autopilot. The Autopilot is named as such for, when engaged, it can override all logical thought. It erases any semblance of control in one’s circumstance and, dragged by reactionary emotions, leads on to panic. Worst of all, the Autopilot is the easiest thing to do. How is one not to be crushed by the weight of past and future colliding and merging? It only makes sense to give in and shatter, no? After all, our brain incessantly specifies how ever–colossal and imminent they are, how frail one is to stop them. 

However, though our brains and their great Autopilot rule our past and future, there is one source of perception that can never be conquered by them. For, when considered, the past and future do not exist. Certainly the past existed at some point, and perhaps the future will, but in the here and now, in the present, they do not exist. They are not real and, though their influence remains, they have no reason to actively control the present. 

Although your brain may be infatuated by that which does not exist, your body can only perceive that which does. Your body is always grounded, always living in the present, always real. Your body is immune to the Autopilot. 

As such, the greatest weapon to fight your brain? Your greatest anti-survival tool, key to your happiness? Turning Autopilot off, if only just for a brief moment of bliss, and focusing on your body. 

It is to focus on what is real, on what is right in front of you, for you never know when you will get the opportunity to experience it again. Past mistakes and future worries cannot hurt you once anchored in the present. That does not equivocate to a lack of care, but rather, a conscious decision to live in the moment. For that is the only moment that is actually real. If we allow our brain to trick us into living in that which does not exist, time will not be merciful. It will march on with indifference and–while experiencing inexistent and inapplicable agony –we will miss out on our one shot. 

So, perhaps, try to stop thinking every once in a while, and give living a chance.

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy, you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at [email protected] (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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