Thinking in Los Angeles
Thinking in Los Angeles
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Thinking in Los Angeles starts out as an exploration of the physiological basis of our thoughts and feelings. But before it ends, a new and unforseen foundation for Christian and Buddhist principles has come into view.

Part 1 begins by looking at the compartmental structure of our minds. Then examples of instinctive mental patterns such as infatuation and tribalism are reviewed. The ability to experience certain feelings is revealed to be limited by brain structure and therefore by heredity. Regional differences in inherited instinctive behavior are discussed together with implications for foreign policy.

Part 2 is a somewhat detailed but not very technical analysis of the human brain: how it is structured, where various mental functions are located, and how neurons work.

Part 3 launches a search for free will. It is a journey that carries the reader into the domains of philosophical definition, physical processes, mental illness, the criminal justice system, and the major religions of the West and of the East. Hinduism and Buddhism are discussed in some detail. The conclusion regarding free will is astounding- unlike anything the reader has ever heard or read before.

A new 2008 addendum examines the writings of Robert Kane, Daniel Dennett, and others, reinforcing the conclusion of Part 3.

Exploring the nature of self-esteem, compassion and free will, Thinking in Los Angeles will be especially valuable as a handbook for young people preparing for the 21st century, who can now learn what their elders did not know and could not tell them about these subjects.

Hindu literature teaches the basic premise of our spiritual condition, and suggests the methods that can be used in order to attain enlightenment. I think we can summarize this knowledge in two statements: (I) Everything in our consciousness is a projection; and (II) to attain wisdom one must first acknowledge (I), and then cease all striving. At this point I should say that I deliberately phrased (I) and (II) in such a way that these statements would also apply to Buddhism, and furthermore so that they would have a correspondence with modern scientific knowledge. In doing so I hope that the value of the wisdom in Eastern religions may be maximized for the reader. The relationships of (I) and (II) to Buddhism will be brought out later on. The following paragraphs discuss (I) and (II) from the point of view of the 20th century western mind. (If you will bear with me, we will eventually get back to the subject of free will.)

Consider (I), The Hindu and Buddhist conception that everything in our consciousness is a projection. I have no idea how this premise got started in Eastern religions, but, setting aside the question of who or what is doing the projecting, this happens to be a scientific fact. By 'projection' I mean that what we experience has underlying causes that are separate from the things and the events in our environment that we think we are experiencing. That's why two people in the same situation never have exactly the same reaction (excepting perhaps identical twins).

Our senses are projections to some extent. Brain structure does the projecting. What we hear and see has limitations. Animals hear frequencies and see colors differently from us. As I mentioned in Part I of this book, we can select what we want to hear, and we can create optical illusions.

Our ideas are projections to a larger extent. Projection of ideas involves both limiting processes and creating processes. There are limitations in the sense that we can only think the ideas and speak the words that our brain structure and our memory functions allow. On the other hand, all works of art and of literature, scientific theories, mathematical structures, superstitions, religious ideas, and opinions, as products of human imagination, are projections that involve creation, although still within the limitations established by brain structure.

Our instincts, being a combination of more or less universal emotional needs linked with culture-specific behaviors, are projections.

There are also other projections, which I will call "frames of reference," which force us to experience everything in terms of space and time, to entertain the illusion of free will, and to recognize "ego" in ourselves and in others.

Lastly, our feelings and emotions are entirely, totally projections, different for each person, detached from the physical world around us, transient, and often unexplainable. It is the limbic system in our brain that projects emotions and feelings into our consciousness.

At this point let's acknowledge that as westerners we may be inclined to doubt that Brahman is doing all of the projecting. (The Buddha doubted it too, as we shall see.) Instead we insert the knowledge that our brain is doing the projecting. But the wisdom inherent in both points of view (Hindu and western) is of surpassing value, particularly when we understand that we can assume responsibility for our feelings and emotions, treat them as phenomena, and, under certain circumstances, give them up.

If everything is a projection then we can cease assigning values. The projection process, not anything else, created all opposites of value, such as honor and degradation. Henceforth we regard honor and degradation alike. We avoid pride. We no longer need to seek merit. We do everything in moderation, and make no distinctions between good and evil in ourself or in anyone else. As to criminal behavior we judge the criminal act and create appropriate safeguards. It is not necessary to judge the person.

Next consider (II), the idea that enlightenment is attained by doing away with desire. Of course one sentence cannot convey all that is implied here. I wouldn't blame anyone for being a little suspicious of this proposition at first. But let's explore. There are a few notions that come to mind pretty easily. One idea is that if you really accept (I) then it begins to seem rather silly to continue reacting to situations emotionally and getting worked up about nothing.

Another idea is that getting rid of emotions becomes permissible. You no longer have to attach pride to emotions, to be emotional about emotions.

A third idea would be that if you have gotten rid of every negative feeling and are at peace every waking moment, this is good enough to be called 'enlightenment.' I wouldn't argue against this.

A fourth notion is that the effects of meditation, which would be a 'peace that passeth all understanding,' more or less, can supposedly last longer that the act of meditation itself. This, if true, would certainly be of great benefit. Is enlightenment permanent? Only the enlightened can tell you.

A fifth notion is, I think, hard to get people to think about, but not an impossible concept if you get into it a little. Here it is: the desire to reach a goal, the desperate, hand-wringing, teeth-gritting need to reach a goal can be absent- and you can still reach the goal, and have fun doing it. To put things into perspective, the goal was something that flitted by, unimportant, as you continued doing whatever it is that you do. Pleasurable, vigorou

Sergei Heurlin was born May 12, 1942 in Palo Alto, California. He began to explore the sciences at an early age and eventually graduated from San Jose State College (now University) with a B.A. in Physics. Following two years in the Peace Corps he performed high energy physics testing at a research firm in the San Francisco Bay area. This was followed by four years in the Army, after which he became an aerospace engineer, working first at Vandenberg Air Force Base and then, from 1983 until 2008, at an aerospace company in the Los Angeles area.  He is now retired.

Mr. Heurlin traveled through the Middle East and Europe following his Peace Corps tour, and later took a break from physics experiments with a six month vacation trip around the world, visiting fourteen countries in the Far East, Middle East and Europe. While in the Army he was stationed in Yemen for six months. In recent years he has completed ten trips to China.


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