A Sin Story

The Sin Story

Words sometimes irrupt into my conscious mind.  I’m walking along and wham! bang! words begin crowding into my consciousness accompanied with “wow!”   I grab note cards and pen, and begin writing before the words are lost, for I know from long experience that the thought may be evanescent and the disappointment when a good idea is lost.  In the previous essay I framed these events in the sentence “my unconscious mind thinks.”

But the words are in my conscious mind.  In this essay I will explore the relationship in more detail, taking an event apart to see what happened.  The conversation at Sunday dinner began with J. telling a story.  M. and his wife dined at a vegetarian restaurant and he had eaten tofu BBQ baby back ribs.  M. asked his rabbi if he had sinned and the reply was “only if you desired pork.”  I chuckled about this and the conversation moved on to other topics.

While eating dinner and washing the dishes I was not thinking of the forthcoming essay.  As soon as I finished and began preparing to go for my walk I decided to “prime my pump,” that is, words to that effect arrived in my conscious mind.  To prime my mind to solve a problem I review it with the hope, but not the expectation, that my unconscious mind will work on the problem while I’m peripatating.  I reread my previous essays and ask myself “how good is this?” and, “what needs more explanation?”[1]  The goal is to facilitate the discovery of further insights, ideas, connections, correlations, analogies, congruencies, or parallelisms.

An hour later I was returning home and wham! words are in my mind, pen and file cards in my hand and I am writing but not on my forthcoming essay.  The first sentence is “The concept of sin is functional/motivational to force behavior.”  I had primed the unconscious to work on the essay, but instead it had worked on sin.

This was my second encounter with the word ‘sin’ in the week.  Earlier I was reading about the development of the atomic bomb during WWII.  After the first successful test of the atomic bomb Robert Oppenheimer said “physicists have known sin.”  That quote did not set off a consequent chain of thought, but M’s account of eating tofu “baby back ribs” and sin did.  Why?  Is there any way of knowing?

Yes, there is one link between the sin story, the note cards and behavior control.  I adumbrated that in One Thousand More Words:

“How was inequality generated and maintained?  It was done during the Agricultural Revolution at the beginning of civilization by force with words.…”

An enormous amount of behavior/social control had to be exerted to force the new values of civilization upon foragers accustomed to moving with the food and the seasons, to picking up and eating what they found or killed.[2]  So my unconscious mind worked on my ultimate rather than the proximate subject (this essay), linking the concept of sin to the necessity of social control.  ‘Sin’ is a social control device.[3]  J’s story had primed my pump also.

Linking the religious concept of sin to the sociological concept of social control is an excellent example of pattern matching.  On the one hand is the idea that a god has established laws governing thought and behavior, that humans transgress those laws in sin and transgression is punished by that god.  On the other hand is the sociological idea that behavior is controlled by various social forces one of which is the concept of sin.[4]  I moved sin from its religious frame of reference to a sociological reference frame.  This allows me to ask how and by whom the concept of sin is used in to control behavior in a given society or group.  Two different patterns, extracted from complexes of concepts, connected in a new way[5] in my unconscious mind, and reported to my conscious mind.

The Sin Story elicits several lessons: first, the conscious mind is entirely unaware of the processes of the unconscious mind.  The thought, the pattern match of sin to social control, that is, the idea that sin is a useful social control tool, appeared suddenly and without conscious preparation or notification.  Finding that pattern match took about 1 ½ hour.  One economical conclusion is that combining those two concepts may have taken most of that time but I have no way knowing how long it took and how it was done.

That difficulty does not stop me from making up a SWAG, a scientific wild… guess about part of that process.  A guess that also clearly demonstrates path dependence of the generation of pattern matches, insights, and ideas.  The concept of sin belongs to the Abrahamic religions, in one of which I was raised.  Sin was at one time a central concept in my mind and was situated within a complex of related concepts.  It was then easy for my mind to move into and within that complex – there would be paths of high conductance into the set and between concepts within it.

That was in my childhood, and when I became an adult, I put away childish things.  Sin has not been part of my working concept set since 1961 – it remains only in my recognition set.  The mental path to the concept of sin is now infrequently travelled and thus would now have lower conductance = higher resistance.

In that far away childhood, I would not have recognized the concept of social control.  It would have been utterly foreign, would not have resonated positively, and would not have had any meaning.  Today it is an operative concept which I use to understand[6] my social environment.  The mental path to it and within its related concept set is high conductance = low resistance.

The Sin Story matched a concept from long ago and presumably with a low conductance mental path with a currently active concept with a high conductance path.  This took some time.

How did these concepts find each other?  Of course, concepts are not active agents, or are they?  I assert that the conscious I is not the active agent.  That leaves me with the true self buried in the unconscious.  This observation makes sense of those times I which I queried myself with “now why the hell did I do or say that!”  I do not know, cannot know, myself except in action and in words that appear in my mind and speech.[7]

‘I’ did not generate the initial thoughts – they appeared in my mind from out of nowhere.  I am taking dictation from my unconscious mind.  How are nerve signals are generated in sense organs, and received in the brain, filtered, processed, and stored; then recalled, processed again to form insights, ideas or stories in the unconscious mind and then transferred into the conscious mind?  That is a question worth a lifetime of work.

How, when, where, and why is it done?  What or who is the active agent that brings these words together, that matches patterns, finds similarities, connections, or congruencies?[8]  Who? that’s little ‘ol me, myself and I of course, slipping in and out, twixt and ‘tween my unconscious and conscious.

[1] What is an explanation?  ‘Why?’ is a request for an explanation.  ‘Because’ is the response. How, when, where, and why is my brain satisfied with one explanation and not another?  A topic for another essay.

[2] This statement ignores the preparation or practice afforded by sedentism which preceded civilization in at least some cases.

[3] Sin – the topic for yet another essay.

[4] These “forces” are sufficiently complex to have several essays which will appear in due time.

[5] This is, of course, neither a particularly original nor profound insight.  I like it and find it useful as an explanation – cf footnote #2.

[6] Understanding, like explaining, is a wondrous process which may begin with curiosity or frustration and ending with mental satisfaction and restedness.  Are these processes possible only within the neural processes called language?

[7] And to adumbrate a future topic: what I find when looking for that true self, whatever that may be, I sometimes find cognitive dissonances.  My self is not unitary, may not be consistent, and at times different mental processes may be in conflict or compete for control of thought and behavior.

[8] I’ve used a similar string of synonyms in various places trying to convey the problem of understanding what my mind is doing and also trying to understand explanation.  To this string I need to add that the unconscious mind detects agency, finding a human-like mind and intention in the ordinary events of life.  Looks like another essay.