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The Conceit of the Army General - Transience Divine
January 4th, 2010
03:24 pm

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The Conceit of the Army General
The consciousness is like an army general, strategizing in his tent. The tent may be full of reports, maps, and decorations, or it may be almost empty, depending on the temperament and training of the general. Surrounding the tent is an enormous army (this is the body), with hundreds of captains and divisions, spies, double-agents, suppliers, and mercenaries. An endless stream of advisors and generals enter and exit through the tent door, but the general must remain at his command post.

The advisors bring all manner of reports: the lay of the land, the approach of another army, diplomatic progress, internal insurrections. By surrounding himself with competent advisors, the general builds an understanding of the world and battles outside his tent. Unfortunately, the advisors have never seen any of the activities on which they're reporting. The job of the advisors is to abstract and collate reports given to them by their own advisors, and reframe the information in a way that the general can understand. That invariably requires excluding important information, based on the advisor's own understanding of a world they have never seen.

The Army General conceit conforms to scientific observations. Our bodies are composed of thousands of species, and yet our model of the body consists mostly of one. The brain systems that interpret hearing and sight consist of dozens of stages of interpretation (each with millions of cells), before reaching anything that could be called the conscious brain. The case of phantom limbs should make us wonder what exactly we're scratching.

Armies present themselves as clean hierarchies with clear boundaries, but like any huge system, it's very much a matter of perspective. The clear boundaries around your army (your body) are just part of your model. When I communicate to you, my message filters down to divisions of scouts. If you receive it, it probably means that at some point, some of my scouts was also yours. We can communicate because we share parts of our armies.

What happens when we die? I used to think that our subjective subject was reabsorbed into the great subjective subject of the universe, like waves residing into the ocean. Our "me" would disappear, but only because it was formed largely of boundaries keeping us separate. The army general conceit, however, suggests that our separation from the One is much more deeply rooted.

When you die, the walls of your tent don't fall down, because you're surrounding by tents extending in all directions. At death, your advisors inform you that the battle is over, the war lost. They stop bringing reports to your tent. But you still can't leave-- there's nowhere to go. You can wait forever, trying to re-envision your army, but it has acquired a new perspective and is no longer yours to command. Eventually, I think, you sit down and start writing reports. You pretend to be a scout, construct observations of long lost landscapes and pass the fabrications to anyone who will take them. And the moment they do, you new army has begun.

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