Research reported in Science News, That familiar feeling comes from deep in the brain, sheds light on a problem affecting those who want to remember their life-priorities. This quote sums it up, “The research suggests that novelty and familiarity are two sides of the same brain cells. Turn them down, and even the new is boring and old. Turn them up and the old is new again”. (Google [Bidirectional Modulation of Recognition Memory].)
It is especially useful to remember and continuously refresh whatever one regards as crucial to one’s life. Nevertheless, initially important knowledge easily fades into the familiar and becomes ‘old news’. Old news is not stimulating and thus easily forgotten, at least in working memory. This dilemma is my rationale for being frequently redundant in my writings.
Now for my redundant bit…
We quickly ignore even our most important knowledge as new novelties attract our attention. The trick is keeping old, yet crucial information interesting enough to retain in working memory. Otherwise, the novelties of the moment lead awareness off on yet another wild goose chase. Naturally, this is much easier said than done. Yet if we don’t bravely face this fact, the ‘done’ part never occurs.
Frankly, keeping old news in working memory is not innate, nor was it necessary to be so in our hunter-gatherer days. Indeed, seeking out novelties was essential for survival, i.e., hunting and gathering new sources of fresh food. The problem now lies in how this biology is less likely to guide us in healthy directions. Instead, it often distracts us from the way that facilitates stability and sanity.
Redundancy Supports the Lower Position
Many intractable problems of today trace back to the loss of simplicity inherent in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Although, I don’t suppose it is fair to call it a lifestyle. Lifestyles are civilization’s thing. The hunter-gatherer old way was our innate ancestral way of life. It was also the way shared by all other animals. Briefly, it goes like this: the gatherer animals were the prey; their predators were the hunter animals; the omnivorous animals, like us, served both roles depending on circumstances.
Admittedly, I’ve beaten around this bush a long while. It is only after my in depth study of hunter-gatherer ways, often reading between the lines of the ethnographic research, did I understand more fully. The observations made by the Marshall family(1) (google [Lorna Marshall]) and others in the last century where a once in human history opportunity to scientifically examine how our ancestors lived up until the Agricultural Revolution. Observations made in previous times by others without impartial rigor, saw primitive people through their own filters of cultural and religious superiority. Granted, science can succumb to bias too, and so seeing some positive bias in the Marshall family’s observations is natural. Nevertheless, they maintain sufficient impartiality… at least enough to allow me to grasp the human condition in a truly big picture context. Now I can put my concerns for humanity to rest and take another step closer to the lower position.
Profound Redundancy Accomplishes
Profound sameness (2) and the constant way are different words for the same thing. I’d say you could call this profound redundancy. I’ll highlight a few chapters that help bring home the point.
This reminds me of Shakespeare’s, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are contrived cognitive tools for splitting reality’s whole into manageable bits and pieces. The utilitarian benefit names provide us comes with a steep price. Accordingly, the more flexible your “relationship” to names, the easier it becomes to see the deep and subtle connections between matters that appear to be so grossly different on their named surface.
Not to value worthy people, enables people to avoid contending.
Not to value rare goods, enables people to avoid stealing.
Not to catch sight of what suits desire,
… enables people’s heart to avoid confusion.
This is because of how the wise person governs;
Empties their hearts, fills their bellies,
Weakens their aspirations, strengthens their bones,
Always enables the people to be unlearned and without desire,
And enables resourceful men to never dare to act also.
Doing without doing, following without exception rules — chapter 3
Feeling something exciting and rare typically grabs our attention. Conversely, feeling something boring and redundant quickly escapes our notice. ‘We think we know it’, and so our awareness soon drifts away in search of novelty. A pursuit of the new, like greener pastures, beckons us all.
Devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness.
Everything ‘out there’ rises up together, and I watch again.
Everything ‘out there’, one and all, return again to their root cause.
Returning to the root cause is called stillness;
… this means answering to one’s destiny.
Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant;
… knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself — chapter 16
Returning to the root cause entails pushing away from the table of novelty somewhat and consolidating the sense of where we’ve been. Innate ignorance and insecurity (fear) drives us to reach for everything ‘out there’, sample it and move on. Later on in life, as ‘out there’ gradually becomes ‘in here’, impartiality finds more of a foothold in our awareness.
Without going out the door, we can know all under heaven.
Without looking out the window, we can see nature’s way.
He goes out farther, he realizes less,
Accordingly, the wise person goes nowhere, yet knows.
Sees nothing, yet understands.
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes — chapter 47
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes occurs naturally as we begin embracing what is ‘naturally so’ rather than futilely forcing the ‘naturally so’ to conform to our expectations. Note: In regards to ‘naturally so’, consider the Chinese word for nature: zì rán (自然). Zì (自) = self; certainly. Rán (然) = correct; so. Accordingly, Nature = self-correct, self-so, certainly-so.
Without looking out the window, we can see nature’s way because nature’s way is profoundly redundant. Without going out the door, we can know all under heaven by simply knowing just a few aspects of nature deeply enough. Profound sameness is the key… akin to that old saying, “All roads lead to Rome”. Certainly, this makes less sense until you experience it, and only in experience does the proof rest. (See We only understand what we already know, p.254) Still, if you accept this in principle, you might be more inclined to open your mind’s door when profound sameness comes a-knocking.
All under heaven had a beginning; consider the origin of all under heaven.
Already having this origin, use this to know its offspring.
Already knowing its offspring, return to observe the origin.
Nearly rising beyond oneself.
Squeeze exchange, shut the gates; to the end, oneself diligent.
Open the exchange, help its affairs; to the end, oneself no relief.
Seeing the small is called clarity, abide yielding is called powerful.
Use the light, and again return to clarity, not offer oneself misfortune.
This serves as practicing of the constant. — chapter 52
Squeeze exchange, shut the gates counsels us to be wary of distractions that cause us to forget the essential. What is essential? Certainly, Open the exchange, help its affairs cannot answer that. Accordingly, Returning to the root cause is called stillness; this means answering to one’s destiny. Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant; as chapter 16 put it. Nevertheless, ‘leaving’ is essential to ‘returning’. Ironically, in returning we discover what we were trying to see as we careened forward through life. As D.C. Lau put it in chapter 36, If you would have a thing laid aside, You must first set it up; or more literally, In desiring to get, one must first give. To paraphrase that, In desiring to [return], one must first [leave].
Speaking of Redundant Writings…
Communicating my observations as clearly as possible is my goal, so obviously I must continually review, edit, and when necessary update this book until I take my last breath, I guess. The first time through, I was surprised by how redundant I’d been. Now, this isn’t that surprising given the observations above. After all, there are only a few principles in life that are truly important. I find it vital to trace all the tangential issues in life back down to this common core. Ferreting out this profound sameness is one way to refresh the old—yet essential—news.
My Who are You series on the hunter-gatherers finally answered some basic questions I have had about how and why humanity is currently the way it is. I’ve known for quite a while that thinking was the root cause of much of our difficulties. However, that still left much unanswered. Now, seeing fully what humanity had to give up to make civilization work effectively helps complete the rest of the story. Stillness at last… well, relatively anyway.
(1) Elizabeth Marshall’s two books are a good place to begin. She wrote the first, The Harmless People, in her early 20’s soon after returning from her time with the !Kung. In her 80’s, she wrote her other book, The old way: a story of the first people. Together they encompass her life of involvement with the !Kung. Her mother Lorna Marshall’s book, !Kung of Nyae Nyae, offers serious ethnographic detail to deepen further your gut sense of humanity’s ancestral way of life.
(2) Noticing profound sameness evolves over a lifetime. Wanting it doesn’t enable you to choose it or hurry it. Yet, I do feel that accepting it as a truth-in-principal may help, i.e., being on the lookout for it should help, while dwelling on differences should certainly delay it. You could call this nurturing it along.