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Why do we find trees so rapturous?

Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2012 4:08 pm
by RyanLeClair
This is an excerpt from a Sam Harris article:
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/drug ... g-of-life/

"The mere existence of psychedelics would seem to establish the material basis of mental and spiritual life beyond any doubt—for the introduction of these substances into the brain is the obvious cause of any numinous apocalypse that follows. It is possible, however, if not actually plausible, to seize this datum from the other end and argue, and Aldous Huxley did in his classic essay, The Doors of Perception, that the primary function of the brain could be eliminative: its purpose could be to prevent some vast, transpersonal dimension of mind from flooding consciousness, thereby allowing apes like ourselves to make their way in the world without being dazzled at every step by visionary phenomena irrelevant to their survival. Huxley thought that if the brain were a kind of “reducing valve” for “Mind at Large,” this would explain the efficacy of psychedelics: They could simply be a material means of opening the tap."

I want to pose this question: why do tree-lovers like us find trees so stunning? Are our "taps" open even without the use of mind-enhancing drugs? (Although, I'm sure at least one of us here has "experimented" a bit ;) )

Re: Why do we find trees so rapturous?

Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:05 pm
by gnmcmartin
Ryan:

Thanks for this--I find it very profound. I think the cause of a love of trees can be connected to some very important things about the human mind and how it functions on various levels. I like Huxley's idea that if people, some maybe more than others, didn't have the ability to use a "reducing valve," or close some gates or paths into the mind, we might not be able to function for our survival.

I have often thought about how more primitive man, who had to work so hard at survival, might have looked at trees-- whether they may have, from time to time, stopped to glory in their beauty. Not everyone, in fact, I think very few people, really look at trees and see what some other people see. Trees are very, very complex visual things--their forms, their color, their textures, all requiring a special depth and subtlety of perception needed to see them in all their three-dimensional aspects. Then there is the "idea" of trees which can overlay our visual perception, including all that we know about their growth and how they live in their environment, interact with other trees, etc., etc. We, today, maybe have more opportunities to open up the "valve" to let more in. But not all of us do.

Sometimes when I am in the woods doing some TSI thinning, I am distracted and have to remind myself to get back to work. But, on the other hand, all the complex "perception" of trees I am involved in can, on another level, help with that work, or at least provide more motivation for it. I bet Joe understands what I mean here.

Anyway, maybe at least some people in more primitive times, even when under more survival pressure, or when they had breaks from that pressure, were able to really "see" trees. In some cultures they were objects of reverence and/or worship. I don't suppose we could ever get in touch with what a tree might have meant to primitive people--or some of them.

This topic reminds me of a time when I went back to visit some friends in CA. I had spent an overly long time getting my Ph. D. at UCLA, and had spent some of that time in a common form of "recreation." I told them about the timberland I had recently bought. It had a lot of tall, straight close-growing sugar maples about 100 feet tall. I described how beautiful the woodland was, and told them about how one time on a windy winter day with little clouds blowing fast across the sky, looking up into the trees I could get completely lost in a kind of visual "rolling" sensation caused by the shadows of the clouds, and the returning sun coming through the trees at something like a 45% angle. It was amazing and hard to describe. But my friends understood immediately and said things like, "wow! psychedelic!" The valves were open, and I was understood. But in a way what I saw was something that I think was a bit different from a psychedelic experience--somehow finer, more subtle. Or so I thought at the time.

Anyway, the mind is a fascinating and wonderful thing--and we keep learning more about it. I saw on the NIH health news site this morning an article about self-awareness in the mind. There had been a theory developed, and apparently somewhat widely accepted, about where that self-awareness resides in the mind. Well, recently some neurologists had a chance to study a person who had these parts of the brain either destroyed, or disconnected from the rest of the brain. But, what amazed the researchers was that the man had perfectly normal self-awareness. This follows other studies that have shown that the brain functions more as a whole, and/or is more flexible and resiliant that we have thought. It is less like a machine, and more like some more fully "organic" structure than imagined.

I am not sure I can explain exactly how this relates to the perception and enjoyment of trees, except to say that I think the whole brain is involved--that the process of perceiving, understanding, and appreciating--yes, "loving" trees, is fully distributed in our brain. The valves must be fully open, not just to let the full perception of a tree in, in all its visual complexity, but also the valves "in" the mind, opening one part into all the others and vice versa.

I think this is true also in the appreciation of music, dance, literature, etc. also.

Thanks Ryan,

--Gaines

Re: Why do we find trees so rapturous?

Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 2:48 pm
by Joe
I suggest that Huxley's concept of a "reducing valve" is more than that- it's an "interpretation valve"- if all it did was reduce input, that might not do much for us, but as we live, we keep building and modifying an interpretation valve- so that all the input is not just filtered but transformed into meaning, which is just as often wrong as right- so that it adds confusion and misunderstanding- so by reducing that valve, we can clear some of the fog out of our brains- the fog of religion, racism, nationalism, and propaganda of all sorts- along with our own false theories of reality. Of course some people can't bear facing "the ground of their being" as some philosophers say.

Regarding trees, seeing them for what they are, living creatures, can be an epiphany, or so those who've experimented often say.
Joe

Re: Why do we find trees so rapturous?

Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 6:38 pm
by RyanLeClair
I agree with both of you gentleman--our primitive ancestors probably admired the wilderness more than Huxley would care to admit. I don't know if you've heard this little tidbit, but the legend goes that if you peeled the bark off of an oak tree in pagan Germany, you were killed in a very bad way (which I won't go into on here. If you're curious, you can look it up ;) ). This definitely suggests that ancient man viewed Nature as sacred in a very, very, very profound way.

Some people have said that enhanced consciousness is a curse. This is probably the case for people who are miserable, but I find increased consciousness to be a blessing.