Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vanilla Essence’ing

“What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world-and defines himself afterward.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

There is no ‘essence’

When we first built our house, we came to our empty block of land and there was a pile of lumber, cladding, roofing iron and stumps sitting on the ground. Over the next couple of weeks this pile of material turned into a house. The same material was now sitting on the block, in the same location, but now it’s ‘essence’ had been transformed from a pile to a house. When we look at a pile of timber, it is the same timber molecules that exist in a tree, and it can be the same timber molecules in a house. The material is the same but the arrangement is different. And the affordance and experience of that material varies profoundly and markedly. A pile of timber on the ground won’t keep you dry, warm and protected on a winter’s night. A tree won’t do that particularly well either, especially on a wild and stormy night. But arrange that timber into a house and you are kept warm, dry and safe. The ‘essence’ of house is not imbued in the timber molecules. You could take the same piece of timber and turn it into a house, a rocking chair, a kitchen spatula or even, if you were skilled enough, into a rose.

Let’s take the example of a rose. What is a rose? It’s a flower of the Rosaceae family. But this includes strawberries, pears, almonds and cherries. So what is a rose? We now have genetically engineered roses that are black! There’s even a rose that is rainbow colored.

With a bit of genetic tinkering magic we could create a black rose that smells of lavender. Would it still be a rose? If I took a nano-fabricator, a device that builds objects one atom at a time, and I took the atoms from a piece of lumber… atoms of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen etc. and built a rose one atom at a time, so that before you was a manufactured rose. But it was identical atom by atom to a ‘real’ rose, it looked identical, smelled identical and felt identical. I’d argue that if you didn’t know I’d ‘manufactured’ it, that you’d think it was a ‘real’ rose. That it had the ‘essence’ of a rose. And isn’t this just what the rose bush does, it manufactures (so to speak) the rose, atom by atom, molecule by molecule in the growth process, so that it can seed and propagate itself. In essence, it is ‘rose-ing’.

Looking deeper – arrangements of energy

So let’s look a little deeper into this idea of ‘essence’. We spoke above of atoms and molecules. So let’s use those to explore this notion. Elements like carbon, oxygen, copper and zinc etc. are made of atoms. Atoms themselves are made of arrangements of protons, neutrons and electrons. These in turn are made of sub-particles, all the way down to what physicists suspect are tiny multi-dimensional wiggling string like energy quanta. Indeed, the field of quantum physics has shown that at the smallest levels, particles are really just probability distributions of energy. And this is backed up by Einstein’s discovery that energy and matter are one and the same,

E is energy and M is mass. You can convert matter to energy and vice versa. So atoms are arrangements of energy!

Now with this insight under your belt, let’s take a look at ‘essence’. If you took a piece of carbon, a black lump of soot or graphite for example. It is relatively hard (indeed, diamond, which is a form of carbon is one of the hardest elements known to man), it tastes like carbon, it is black etc. And it is made up of 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 6 electrons. These components arranged together create a substance that appears to have a particular ‘essence’. But if we add another proton, neutron and electron to this arrangement, we get a very different result. We now have Nitrogen, the clear, odourless, invisible gas that makes up 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere and consists of 7 protons, 7 neutrons and 7 electrons. And underlying all this it’s just energy. So with the same component processes, rearranged in different amounts, we end up with a completely different apparent ‘essence’. It’s as if I was building a house and I added some extra timber and ended up with a very different result. The material is the same, it’s just arranged in a very different way and produces a very different result. And this is what we mistakenly call ‘essence’.

So I hope I’m convincing you that there is no ‘essence’. There is just arrangings of energy and process. And these arrangings, lead to propensities for action, interaction and the production of phenomena and affordance. And this is an incredibly powerful and profound insight that opens up new possibilities that you don’t get if you think things have fixed ‘essences’.

Ancient Wisdom

Now these insights have been known about for thousands of years. This knowledge actually predates the erroneous Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Buddhism for example is closest to the scientific understanding of the nature of reality, in that it makes a strong and accurate assertion that all phenomena are empty of any essence,

“What is the reality of things just as it is? It is the absence of essence. Unskilled persons whose eye of intelligence is obscured by the darkness of delusion conceive of an essence of things and then generate attachment and hostility with regard to them.”
But along the way, we got derailed in the West by the assertions of what Edward de Bono calls the ‘gang of three’ (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). Plato in his Dialogues propounded that the universe is made up of fixed ‘Forms’ which are eternal, unchanging and complete and that real concrete bodies are the imperfect copies or instantiations of these underlying essence forms. Aristotle moved the Forms of Plato to the nucleus of the individual thing and said that they made up its essence. But as we have seen, at the quantum level and above, there is no fixed essence, no platonic ideal Forms. There is just arrangings of energy and process and the arrangings lead to the behaviours and propensities. And this we naively and mistakenly generalize as the form of the physical entities. But the Buddhists had it right. Science has unequivocally shown that there is no fixed essence or substance, it’s all inherently empty of essence.

There is no ‘essence’ of You!

So there is no inherent essence. There’s no vanilla essence of ‘you’ deep within you, hiding like a platonic ideal. You do not have an ‘essence’. What you do ‘have’, (and this is powerful), is a current arranging of a huge myriad of complex processing that leads to certain propensities for action and responding. ‘You’ are an emergence from the processes that currently constitute your ‘being’. You are a human becoming. There is no ‘essence’ for you to find or discover. And this is the point of my book mBraining and the associated ‘mBraining Evolve your World‘ personal evolution workshop! It’s not about doing a re-birth to find your ‘true’ self. There is no fixed platonic essence you need to connect with and discover. It’s ‘Evolve your World’. It’s about evolving. About changing and creating.

As we teach in mBraining and Evolve, you are inherently creative! You are the author of your self’ing. The self is not fixed but is an emergent phenomena that comes out of your multiple braining. The intelligencing of your body/mind, of your distributed neural intelligences and other underlying processes, gives rise to your ‘self’. And this self-ing and the very neurons that generate it are adaptive, plastic and able to evolve and change. You can do conscious evolution. You can direct your ongoing creation, your evolving and your becoming.

So it’s not about essence. There’s no vanilla essence of you. In reality, there’s just the arranging of you’ing. And the insight of mBraining Evolve is that you are able to evolve yourself wisely to create a more generative way of doing you’ing!

Nothing is fixed, all is flowing

As the great somatic therapist Moshe Feldenkrais pointed out many years ago, “There is nothing permanent or compulsive in your system except what you believe to be so”. So throw away any notions of fixed essences. There is no vanilla essence of the human soul. That road leads to a dead end. You as a human are amazingly adaptive, creative and flexible.

"Every brain evolves in its ability to operate as a processor, as a receiver, as a user of information."
Dr. Michael Merzenich

We have yet to find the limits to what humans can aspire to. We can evolve new neural structurings. We can evolve our minds and bodies. With greater scientific understandings we are learning about the power of epigenetics and how it is influenced by thought and belief. We are learning to tap into the intelligence that exists throughout our bodies. We are gaining a power to become the highest expressing of the human spirit. Evolving your world opens up totally new possibilities in your life and your world. This is its gift and its power.

life enhancing thoughts


  1. Grant, you make me glad I've never taken the time to study the 'gang of three'! I like that expression 'current arranging,' which brings to mind the many people I've known who have become totally different people through the making of different choices in life or, as you put it, 'authoring their self-ing' or 'directing their becoming.'

    1. Hey Jean, LOL, yup, that 'gang of three' can be pretty challenging to unpack. They said some great things, and they got lost a lot too! With today's scientific understandings about the nature of reality and about how the human mind and body works, there is much of what they said that has been shown to be in error. Which is why I like science to inform my behavioral modeling and my philosophy.

      And you make a truly great point. We've all known people who have become totally different through making different choices in life. They decided in 'essence' to rearrange the timber that makes up the houses of themself and their life, and over time they grew different brains and became different humans as a result. As Humberto Maturana likes to point out, we aren't human beings, we are human becomings!

      Thanks again for reading the blog and taking the time to share a comment and your thoughts. I truly appreciate it.

      smiles, Grant

  2. Hu Man are you becoming :-)

    Ok all jokes aside, FANTASTIC blog Grant as I am now even more truly deeply in awe of my creativity, adaptability and all that I can aspire to becoming!

    Smiles and a hug, Yvette

    1. Heya Yvette, LOL, love it :-) and glad you are loving both the blog and the insights about just how much choice, control and creativity'ing you have about your becoming!

      smiles and hugs back

  3. What a great blog. The analogy of building a house was a fantastic lead into me being able to flow through the article with clarity and understanding.
    Nice one
    Warm Regards

    1. Hey Annie, thanks for your lovely comment. Really appreciate your thoughts and feedback. So many people want to believe in some platonic 'Essence' and in doing so, don't realise just how much choice and control they give up. The analogy of building a house, along with the understanding of how at the very base quantum level upwards the appearance of essence is just due to the organising and arranging of structuring and process, will hopefully open some peoples minds to the understanding that there is no 'essence' to any 'thing' in the world, including humans. We are inherently creative, just like the universe (not surprisingly), and we are condemned to the freedom of creating ourselves in an ongoing flow through our lives. But with that freedom comes the responsibility (and response-ability) to do our creating of our selves and our world wisely!

      Thanks again for reading the blog and leaving a comment!

      smiles, Grant

  4. I teach essence work~and in our teachings essence is not fixed. It's a transformational process. Like you said, it's simply a reorganizing, rearranging and restructuring, but we need a healthy mind to respond to and actualize the potent expression of that movement, that's our responsibility, to give it legs! Unfortunately too many folks are in a pipe dream reality thinking essence is some-thing to be gotten; like vanilla! Essence in my world is that which continues without the body. It's a matter of the soul~ that place in-between mind and matter. Call it consciousness if you will. I am intrigued with your book~will take a look, thanks!

    1. Hey Kim, thanks for your wonderful comment. You are right, too many people think that essence(ing) is something to be gotten, and don't want to take responsibility or do the ongoing work of essence-ING. We are human becomings (not human beings) and the brains that think, change themselves, so we shift and reorganise our 'self' through our thoughts, feelings and actions. And in that way we are wonderfully condemned to freedom! :-)


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