I was sitting with friends at a restaurant and we were talking about travel arrangements and I said, “These days, I avoid dealing with a human whenever possible.” It’s not just rudeness or incompetence, it’s mainly inattention. Like the woman at Carl’s Junior who asked me what I wanted, I told her no cheese twice, and when I checked (because this is the rule not the exception) there was cheese melted all over my burger. Now clearly if I had ordered the burger on the Internet and checked off “no cheese” that’s what I would have gotten – unless of course the cook was as inattentive as the woman who took my order. But if the cook was also a computer and a robot, no problem. No cheese. Many would say that the woman who took the order was lost in her (habitual) thoughts –or not present. But how often are we present –and are we the slaves of our habitual thoughts, or to some extent able to either overcome them or even, dare I say, influence them? The reality for our world is unpleasant to contemplate –machines are more present than most people, so much so that people are becoming obsolete quickly—wherever a machine can replace them, they are out of work. Can we exercise presence – as a skill –and once again become more “relevant?” And who would be the “I” that ultimately decides or causes the very thought that may lead to presence? Or is it a thought – or something deeper and perhaps immensely more intelligent. Michael Jeffreys suggests that you meditate on where thoughts arise. I had this “meditation” this morning when I noticed my tablet by the sink before my shower and began to move it away. I stopped and wondered where the thought came from because it was habitual -I see the tablet there every morning and almost always move it before my shower. So if it’s a mechanical pattern that “I” just interrupted, who interrupted it? Because clearly in this instance as in most, there was no “I” that generated this thought; being habitual it “arrived” when I saw the tablet in potential danger from moisture.
The seeing of the tablet likely prompted the thought but I was not present to it. On the other hand, if I hadn’t moved it, and the tablet had been damaged, I would probably have cursed “myself” for carelessness? But as Eckhart Tolle says, most thought is habitual and useless. It seem I become “really present” only in the interruption and noticing. But are machines, that don’t make “mistakes” based on inattention, conscious – or present? Can they ever be? On the other hand, being “conscious” or “present” can work in other ways. Driving to San Jose I almost died. I was merging onto a highway from a connecting road when I was about to accelerate into traffic and saw a semi big rig barreling toward me.
The thought came – I can hit the gas, and use my turbo and make it. But another thought intercepted it – wait, it said, it’s not worth the risk... As I stopped and the semi barreled past I considered how close I had been to following the first thought – and likely dying or lying in a hospital. Why? Because I wanted to badly get to my hotel so there was an inclination to hit the gas. Something stopped me. My habitual impulse had been interrupted. In systems programming, an interrupt is a signal to the processor emitted by hardware or software indicating an event that needs immediate attention. So in objective, machine-based systems there is a “gap” that can be triggered through attention to a particular circumstance. Seemingly, we have the same software operational –it’s called survival or perhaps fight or flight or “instinct”? But ultimately the key is attention.
The computer programmer creates an “interrupt” to stop an automatic (habitual) process based on a condition (if/then). We don’t always realize it but we have the same power –it’s called attention or noticing the habitual stream of thoughts (I can beat the semi) and interrupting them with a gap (space) that provides potentially additional information (it’s not worth it) and then life proceeds. Could my experience have been different? Did I exercise “free will”? I don’t know. What I do know is that within the examination and depth of these issues there is profound meaning, and whoever I am, I love it. .
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