Background Programs

At “shut down” my PC sometimes advises that, “background programs are running.”  Beyond fumbling with Word, email, Credit Union, Facebook and a blog, I am painfully, maddeningly ignorant about what’s happening inside this infernal machine.  As long as what happens beneath the keyboard, behind the monitor and among the speed-of-light Gremlins scurrying chip-to-chip, circuit-to-circuit don’t act stupid, I don’t care.  So I “shut ‘er down” and trust she won’t start smokin’.

But “background programs” seduced me.  Sleuthing around Google I learned, when my HP laptop “boots-up” fifty secret agents leap into action: Cortana, Feedback Hub, Print 3-D, Snip, Sketch, Stick Notes, dozens more!  Who’d a guessed? 

I don’t know how or why, but somehow curiosity around background programs morphed from computer programs and circuits to human thoughts and behavior.  Bits from Google and Wikipedia lead me to the astonishing realization that for eight decades this body and mind have operated mostly on background programs

I am indebted to Wikipedia for some basics.  My “Autonomic Nervous System” (ANS) includes a mindboggling complex of mechanisms and processes eerily reminiscent of programs and circuits in my PC.  (Autonomic: “acting or occurring involuntarily,” Merriam Webster, my emphasis). 

The ANS includes a “sympathetic,” “quick response mobilizing  .  .  .  fight-or-flight” system and a “parasympathetic,” “more slowly activated  .  .  .   dampening  .  .  .  rest and digest, feed and breed” systems.  “Most (ANS) functions are involuntary”!  Just seeing the diagram would cross a Rabbi’s eyes.  These are the mechanisms on which survival and perpetuation of a species depend, unconscious processes, background programs!

As I see it, mind-numbing science has unearthed our Autonomic systems, leaving the roots of human thought and emotion buried.  In this regard, a father of science René Descartes hypothesized a “mind-body dualism”, mental and physical action on discreet paths.  Philosopher Gilbert Ryle scoffs at Descartes’s notion as “the ghost in the machine.”  From findings of Quantum Physics, Robert P. Cease and Charles C. Mann conclude Descartes and Ryles appear mistaken, “not because there is no ghost, because there is no machine.”

For the vast majority of us, ANS processes operate entirely outside voluntary control.  At the same time, thoughts and feelings rise like water from a spring.  While I may make a poor job of it, once operations amenable to consciousness, i.e. thoughts and feelings, surface I may dam or direct their flow. 

Over centuries scientists and artists have described or alluded to the impacts of conscious background programs in human thought, emotion, and behavior.  Sigmund Freud defined the objective of his Psychoanalysis as, “make unconscious process conscious.”  To the maximum degree possible, make background cognitive programs conscious!

Despite Analysis’s inevitable shortcomings, unconscious process, transference ,denial, projection and the rest reverberate through the halls of Psychiatry, Psychology, Sociology and Counseling today.  At the street level, Psychiatrist Abraham Low’s Recovery Inc affords practical aphorisms for managing background programs:  Don’t take your own dear self too seriously.  Symptoms rise and fall and run their course if we don’t attach danger.  That’s when I started to work myself up.

The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, eight pithy aphorisms, diagnose and specifiy antidotes for the roots of human suffering, i.e. background programs.   The following is cobbled from memory.  My apology for forgetting the sources.

1. Right View
The Radiant Buddha said this, view this fleeting world like this, like stars fading and vanishing at dawn, like bubbles on a fast-moving stream, like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass, like a candle flickering in the wind, echoes, mirages, phantoms and a dream.
2. Right Intention
The thought manifests as the word, the word manifests as the dream, the dream develops into habit and habit forms into character.  So, watch the thought and its ways with care.  Let it spring only from love born out of concern for all beings.  As the shadow follows the body, as we think so we become.  

Ethical Conduct
3. Right Speech
Better than a book of a thousand words is one word that leads to peace.
4. Right Conduct
The road to holiness leads through the world of action. (Dag Hammaraskjöld)
5. Right Livelihood
Don’t earn you living by means that could harm any living being.

Mental Discipline
6. Right Effort
The Radiant Buddha said, “Continue on the Path like an ox pulling a cart through deep mud.”
7. Right Mindfulness
Be mindful at all times.  Be continually aware of your internal environment.
8. Right Concentration
Meditate as if you were peeling layers from an onion or wiping soot from a lamp.

I am genes and experience, the end-product of copulations back to the dawn of human life.  I’m told, within this corporal form the Buddha called an “aggregate” of standalone senses: hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, Neanderthal genes hide.  For me the experiential piece began forty-eight years ago.  This complex of inheritance and background programs makes understanding even a tiny fraction of who I really am the Greatest Puzzle of all.