Nothing is, but what is not (Macbeth I:III)

The witches’ prophecy of Macbeth’s promotion to Thane of Cawdor (Baron, or Earl), as reward for his fight saving King Duncan, has only just been fulfilled. Yet he can’t enjoy the moment, as his thoughts run away with what is yet to be – their other prediction that he’ll be King. This rumination troubles him, as he contemplates murder, and all else is as nothing. Plans and possibilities take over completely.

Two decades ago fMRI studies showed the brain’s resting-state connectivity to be just as active as when deeply focused. Raichle then showed neural energy consumed, in what he termed the ‘default network’, to be just 5% below levels in tasking (considering that this organ burns one fifth of our energy, and double that in adolescence, it is a very inefficient rest). The circuits which light up are very specific, unlike noisy & chaotic concentration networks, and match those when a subject is asked to imagine their future.

“The structural-functional connectome and the default mode network of the human brain”. NeuroImage, 2013.

Humans are perhaps uniquely prospective, running simulations on future possibility whenever possible. This can lead to unfortunate consequence in failing to be mindful of the present, or leading into dangerous speculation. We had been warned: Shakespeare wrote Banquo’s lines in the scene prior warning Macbeth of temptation that ‘instruments of Darkness win us to our harm‘ over four centuries ago; and the Buddha two millennia prior. Fearful futures are often suppressed through anxiolytics such as Valium or Lyrica, to name two of the most dangerous drugs. Such abuse is on the increase, by persons feeling isolated and suffering troubling thoughts.

Society grows ever less connected, and the social media that we’ve become reliant upon has increased our Darkness. Two hour documentary ‘The FaceBook Dilemma‘ reveals our networking to be manipulated for commercial and political gain. It’s horrifying to consider Putin’s strategy of seeding hyper-patriotic groups (each either virulently pro-Clinton or Trump) to have also been used by Duterte in the Philippines, and Myanmar’s inciting genocide against the Rohingya. We connect to  groups based on agenda and issue, oblivious to their construct of a polarised and fragmented society. A deceit, but all the while we’re supposedly exercising free will in chat with these unseen ‘Friends’. Einstein was of the same mind as Donne (No man is an island…) in writing: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

I’m following just a few on Twitter, instead. @Gergyl is a brilliant mind, and one whose climate science skills informs my winter planning too. Onetime BMJ editor Richard Smith also cleverly articulates our place in time through his blog drawing heavily on literature for inspiration. For we aren’t spatial islands, within some fixed time period. We’re inherently seeking connected-ness with others and, if the Buddhists are right, we’re spirits incarnate in endless cycles. I’m of the opinion that the past was lived (by others) so as to inform the present. Thus we evolve.

The Hon George W. Cole, cousin to my great great great grandfather.

Perhaps genealogy speaks to us. Wikipedia offers several motives for tracing ancestry, including placing one’s family in a historical picture. Unable to find a picture of my forebear Thomas Cornelius Cole, I’m nonetheless feeling kinship to G.W. Cole. Both cousins * came to Melbourne in 1840 – one a market gardener, t’other an ex-Naval Officer (from humble entry as a Midshipman).

They were bold pioneers, experiencing success and great wealth. Today’s structured society holds little respect for maverick entrepreneurs – despite business paradigms embracing ‘disruptive thought’ platitudes, I can assure you that playing the game pays out better in the end. I nonetheless take inspiration from their endeavours, and find solace for impossible morning hair as being in my genes. And this connection to past greatness helps me see into a future ripe with possibility.

 

* Presumed cousins. All from northern England, similar ages, area settled, passions eg horticulture, etc.

 

 

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