Practical Time Travel for Everyday Mystics: A Serial Essay
To get to time travel, we have to first think about the differences between mental and physical things. Most of us in industrialized countries learn the idea, taught to us by parents, teachers, and the world at large, that what is “real” is what we can see, hear, feel, touch, smell. The material world “out there” is what is real, plus our bodies (because we can see, hear, feel, touch and smell them too). We get the sense early on that thoughts and feelings are just not as real as material things. They literally don’t “matter” in the same way that matter does.
On the flipside, only a few years after that we also learn that our thoughts and feelings are primary influencers of our learning abilities, our perspectives, and our experiences of life itself — they are so powerful, we know they must also be real. And yet we notice that thoughts and feelings aren’t like physical things. For instance, physical things have a definite location in space.1 Meanwhile, mental objects, which is a more technical term for our thoughts and feelings — anything we experience mentally — these don’t have a definite location in space. Sure, we are taught to say that mental objects exist in our heads, because mental objects are correlated with goings-on in our brains. And it’s true that these correlations describe some kind of relationship between neural circuitry and mental objects. But do your thoughts and feelings themselves exist within the circuitry? This is the hardest question to answer in neuroscience and consciousness research, because no one has ever been able to draw an absolute equivalence between neural activity and thoughts. Neural activity and mental events are definitely correlated, there is a correspondence, a relationship — but it seems they’re not the same. The wind blowing the tree corresponds to the branch movement, yet wind and branch movement are not the same.
We get the sense early on that thoughts and feelings are just not as real as material things. They literally don’t “matter” in the same way that matter does.
Because of this correspondence-but-not-equivalence, there’s no evidence that a thought itself has a location, be it in your brain or elsewhere. Mental objects are…