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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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A Pilgrimage to the End of Story Telling

Arshiya Bose

The human brain, they say, is bipartite, which means it consists of two distinct parts. The lower module or the "frog brain" is responsible for the unconscious in the body: metabolism, reflexes, contractions, dilations and excitations. The frog brain continuously receives stimuli from the body's outside environment and responds via numerous unconscious physiological signals. However, in order to respond intellectually or emotionally, the frog brain channels the stimulus to the neocortex or the upper module of the brain. The neocortex is responsible for all the internal experience i.e. the origin of the self-conscious processes. It is the story teller, the part of the brain that creates stories that are a manifestation of one's internal experience. The frog brain-neocortex model of the brain is pictorially represented as the following:




The existential gap is the disconnection that exists between the functioning of the frog brain and neocortex. The gap represents the disharmony, the lying and hypocrisy that occurs because the frog brain is not accurately representing the outside world. This existential gap prevents us from perceiving the outside world as algorithmic. This disconnection fools our neocortex or self-conscious from viewing the world as a purposeless, chaotic struggle of forces.


A Pilgrimage to the End of Storytelling

My neocortex is my story teller. It is that part of my brain that can clarify why I am scared of only Haplophillus subterraneous centipedes. Only my neocortex can explain why paprika reminds me of my paternal grandmother and how I have inherited more than just my father's genes. The stories that my neocortex spins are birthed from the inherent dichotomy that is present between its own ideas about the world and the frog brain's algorithmic understanding of the world. So, stories will continue to be created as long as I have an internal experience, as long as my neocortex is awake, as long as there is an existential gap. But where do stories die? What does the end of story telling look like?

If the birthplace of story telling is internal experience, then surely the end of story telling is the end of internal experience. Traditional Buddhist and Hindu philosophy identifies this state of no internal experience as enlightenment.

Siddhartha's ("he who has reached the goal") journey to enlightenment began with a search to find an escape the inevitability of pain and suffering in the lives of human beings. He looked for an answer by first studying with religious men and then following a life of asceticism but having failed to find resolution and finally pursued the Middle Path. One day, seated beneath a Peepul Tree, Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation. He reflected on his experience of life and became determined to penetrate its truth. He finally attained enlightenment and became the "awakened one", the Buddha.
For the next 45 years of his life, the Buddha taught many disciples who became the Arahants or the "noble ones" who attained enlightenment for themselves. At the core of his understand were the 4 Noble Truths: (i) all living beings suffer (ii) the origin of this suffering is ignorance the doctrine that "all duality is an illusion" and we suffer because we make distinctions between things that do not exist in reality. (iii) cessation from suffering can be attained (iv) there is a path that leads to release from suffering the Eight-Fold Path is intended as a guide to enlightenment: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration and right ecstasy. The Buddha promoted the concept of the anatman, the idea that a person has no actual self. He described enlightenment as the wisdom of emptiness, the wisdom that arises from the experience of all phenomena being empty of independent existence.

Recently, people have come to understand that Buddhist philosophy rests on creating an "enlightened" brain state wherein electrical activity is significantly altered from the normal. Scientists studying the mind in a state of enlightenment claim that a disconnection in the activity of the lobes of the brain is essential for the attainment of enlightenment. In the human brain, the neocortex or our self-conscious which is designed to give meaning to give a sense of meaning to perceptions registered as important, and continuously create stories is seen as being chronically overactive. However, neuroscience has shown that in deep meditation or prayer, this lobe of the brain is temporarily blocked from neurological input. Those who meditate seem to be able to induce a process of transformation in the lobes that permanently changes their function to a natural level, where physical boundaries and stimulus from the outside is perceived but unnatural over activity ceases. If what neuroscience tells us is true, then attaining enlightenment is the process of getting rid of the existential gap by slowing down or even shutting off the neocortex. In an enlightened state, the frog brain or the unconscious is the predominant part. One is hyperaware of the external environment and senses a oneness with the outside world. In other words, enlightenment is a state where one has stopped thinking and is only experiencing. So, essentially enlightenment means shutting off an internal experience. And a lack of internal experience is the closest that one can come to the end of story telling.

Emergence is the current way of making sense of the world as it exists today and has existed so far. It is an undirected, unintentional engaging of entities that become parts of larger entities which in turn become parts of even larger entities. Over time, the emergent process develops entities that create a stream of generative stories that are born from an effort to ask questions and wonder about the processes of the world and the process itself. In an emergent state, one is a active entity in a long-standing exploration of possibilities.

But, emergence creates a problem for the human mind and the nature of knowing. The effects of emergent production, namely stories are insecure and unreliable. Answers, deductions, inferences are always vulnerable stories. Each story is refutable and each story is revisable. The inherent insecurity of emergent state of the mind is what induces one to produce and reproduce stories. The indeterminacy and uncertainty is what causes one to engage in the ceaseless process of creating stories about how we got here, who we are and where we will go.

So if enlightenment is closing down the neocortex, emergence is keeping it alive. If enlightenment is reducing of the existential gap, emergence is maintaining it. If enlightenment is the process of getting it right, emergence is the exploration of getting it less wrong. And lastly, if enlightenment signals the end of stories, then emergence is the continuous state of recycling, recreating, and revising of stories.

Having been born into a Hindu family, the goal of enlightenment has never been too far removed. My religion as always instructed me that enlightenment is the state of highest consciousness. However, if what enlightenment is is ceasing the mind's activity, it is the state of least consciousness. I understand that the Buddha and those who have attained enlightenment are in a state where they are most connected to their mind and spirit. I also understand that enlightenment is a oneness of the world. I know that enlightenment can provide the utmost sense of peace and inner security. But I think that I would rather be emergent, in a state of endless, nonsensical story telling.


Bhikshu, K. The Message of the Buddha . Last accessed 4/18/05

Buddhism. Infoplease - Last accessed 4/18/05

Dalke, A (2004). Where do stories come from? Emergence, Surplus Meaning, and the Last Word. The TriCo Language Seminar Series Fall 2004. (from Serendip)

Grobstein, P (2004). Emerging Emergence, A Report on Progress: From the Active Inanimate to MModels to SStories to Agency. (from Serendip)

Opitz, C (2004). Enlightenment and the Brain . Living in Joy Last accessed 4/18/05

(The ideas expressed in this paper owe a heavy debt to the philosophy and story-telling styles of Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein, but they cannot, of course be help responsible for errors in my interpretations.)

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