Gorilla interacting with his own image in a mirror.

Is this gorilla self-realized? How about the other wild animals? How about the people that put up the mirror in the first place?

To me, “self realization” implies realizing the very core, or nature, of one’s self – to realize oneself as separate from matter, I suppose. The ghost in the machine which is us.

According to Wikipedia, self realization is defined as the “fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.” To me this appears convoluted – a definition that misses the mark.

Maybe if we could sit still, I mean really still – call it meditation or what have you – then we could see who we are. And maybe then we might be able to realize the truth of the self. Maybe we’d see, oh yes, I really am just a combination of the chemicals in my brain, or oh no, I’m something different.

Typically, scientists think our inner selves, our being, our self awareness, is ultimately just a connection of neuron and chemicals. It can be duplicated with artificial intelligence (AI).

We’re using AI all the time now days. My phone’s got it. Google’s got it. Amazon’s Echo has it. Siri has it. IBM’s Watson, the famous Jeopardy winner, has it too. Heck, some cars even park themselves, or drive down the road without you touching the steering wheel. They have it on all four wheels.

You own a smart-phone, right? A computer? A programmable coffee maker maybe? Does anyone really think these things know what they are? Does IBM’s Watson know? Your car? Your coffee maker? Your laptop? Yet we seem to be aware of ourselves.

I sat by myself a few days ago thinking about this. I think. I have feelings. I can communicate. I would be described by a visitor as intelligent life (or so I’d like to believe).

But animals can do it too. At least a little bit. Take gorillas for example. They can learn signing. They can communicate with you via signing, a common language shared by them and their trainers. They really do express emotions, like sadness or happiness. Even Brandi, my overly sized Canaan Dog, certainly expresses the emotion of happiness when I come home from work. She can listen, and obey (sometimes). She can talk too. She can say “I love yoouuuu” so clearly it’s disconcerting. My parrot Hamlet once asked me “Where are you going?” when my wife and I were getting ready to go to the movie theater. So are gorillas and dogs and parrots conscious?

Obviously the answer is yes, it seems so.

At least a little bit. And no, parrots don’t just repeat what they’ve heard. I know you repeat that because you heard it, but in reality those birds can learn meaning of words. We never taught Hamlet “where are you going?” and yet the bird put together a question all by itself. The bird put together a sentence better than some of the high-school graduates that work where I work.

But does the ability to learn, or the ability to listen, or speak, mean the ability to be self aware? To be, shall we say, self-realized? Is that gorilla or dog or bird conscious of itself?

You look in the mirror, see your reflection, and comb your hair or lack thereof. But can animals look in the mirror and see themselves? Can they understand themselves?

There was a time when people called me “self-realized.” I was an “enlightened person,” a guy who, presumably knew what a guy like me was all about. Well, obviously that didn’t pan out at the time. I was no more self-realized than the average Joe on the street. But if I could see myself – would I realize my true nature? Would I see that ultimately I’m not just heavily influenced by chemical reactions in my brain but I am myself the chemicals in my brain?

Or perhaps I might discover a different kind of world. A world that really doesn’t seem to behave by the laws of physics as we know them, somehow. Would we learn of some different dimension where we exist that we might called our spiritual self? Would we ultimately find that we are part of this mysterious consciousness that is an extension in someway of God himself, or would we see that we rose from ashes and we will return to ashes, but it’s a fun ride while we’re here? Perhaps we collectively evolve and change as a species, both physically and metaphysically, trial and error, learning by mistakes of the past, but in the end die as we were born – a biological entity undergoing chemical reactions and transforming to dirt in the end.
We’d like to think otherwise. We’d like to have eternal life. People go to church. They pray. They think that people who don’t do as they do will go to hell, an eternally bad place, and hopefully they will go to heaven, an eternally good place.

But will we really?

There have been subjective realizations, visions and so-forth, some well documented, of religious experiences throughout human history. When we look in our microscopes and our telescopes and our understanding of the laws of physics, it doesn’t seem probable that there’s a God out there somewhere, just beyond the Oort cloud, or the dark energy that pulls us all apart. But is there? Could there be something else that we’ve missed – something inside us that is at the same time separate from the body and the brain? Could we be, as the Hare Krishna’s say, different from our bodies? Could we be that something inside that thinks “I am,” perhaps?
If there is, I haven’t found it yet. I may never. I’m still looking inside – trying to get a handle on it. I know many wise and intelligent people before me have done much better at this than I will ever accomplish. But I’m soon to be 64 years old. Bill Paxton, the actor, a couple of years younger than me, just died. Do I have to wait and see what happens when I die? Is that what happens to all of us, or can we find out before hand?

I need a moment to think about it. A really quiet moment without distractions. I’ll let you know if I find whatever it is. I didn’t figure it out earlier in life. I’m sure not going to suddenly have the ultimate epiphany and tell you what it is here. Go figure it out yourself. This is just a blog.