A Human Menagerie · The Comfort Zone

The Unthinking Biochemist.

I was in conversation with a wannabe biochemist a few days ago. I say ‘wannabe’ because the gentleman in question is a retired electrical engineer. Well, you can imagine he knows a lot about electrons and a lot less about biochemistry.

That doesn’t stop him from believing in things – and the nature of belief is that it is unexplored and thus the belief is unfounded. In common parlance this is called an illusion.

The crucial element with any belief – illusion – is one of awareness. If a person is unaware of something, they aren’t going to question it because for them it simply doesn’t exist. It’s not normal for people to question their illusions because they aren’t aware of them.

And yes, this is the comfort zone we’re talking about.

The problem with the comfort zone is that it doesn’t ask questions: it’s almost its metaphor, that the only questions that are asked are those that can be answered easily.

So what’s all this about biochemistry? His point was that biochemistry directs the way we think, indeed he was quite certain that it directs what we think. He was adamant on this fact, and told me to ponder on this for a month. That’s how certain he was about how the biochemicals work in our body.

You can appreciate the conversation was diverse yet boring. Diverse because any time I asked him a direct question, he’d make an excuse for not answering it by speaking about something else. Once he’d run out of excuses, told me that he had better things to do. That was effectively the end of the conversation: I’d drained his comfort zone of everything he could counter me with.

Biochemicals In Our Body.

First I want to take a look at what biochemistry actually does for us. In simplistic terms, it is the material – that is to say, outward – expression of our metabolic system. Our organs by any other name. Some readers will know this, some not; no matter. The point being that we are not aware of what goes on in our tummies. That is to say, stomach, bowels, liver, kidneys and the rest of them.

Oh, you say, I feel them. And yes, you do: the most frequent time is when you need to go to the loo. There are times when we feel it and need to do something else, that is to say, eat. In short, when the system isn’t working as it should, we become aware of it.

This, by the way, is the key to any system. When it’s working properly, it hums like a well oiled sewing machine and nobody takes any notice of it because it’s not making a funny clunking noise that suggests the needle’s blunt. The obvious thing to do is change the needle and get back to work. We only become aware of a system when it’s not working properly.

Everything about our metabolic system is like this. If we’re ill or hungry, we notice it and we can’t get about our daily lives, and stay in bed instead.

All of this should be obvious to any grown adult, because it’s simple. Most of the secrets to our lives are incredibly simple, but they do tax the mind. At least this time it’s not too taxing – I keep those for my private blog and people who have the cognitive ability to work with the ideas and by extension, their own lives. Someone who is locked inside their comfort zone isn’t going to get far with new ideas, simple or otherwise. Hence anything new for them is usually complex because it’s based on one or other illusion.

Which in this case happens to be biochemistry – which is itself founded on the illusion that molecules exist. I’m not going to go into this now, suffice it to say that these are the scientists’ attempt to explain the inexplicable. None of us can see the way our tummies work – that’s how our metabolism works. It allows us to imagine any number of things to explain how it does work – yet since these are ‘comfort-zone’ scientists, they miss some very obvious truths. Now: their theories work in practice, but only to a degree. The problem with illusions is that they have no basis in fact, and in lacking this, leave open possibilities to get things wrong. If the scientists worked with the conceptual nature of the metabolism and the processes that occur within it, they’d not need to explain it in terms of biochemistry. They’d be dealing directly with the reality of the situation at hand. Instead of second hand. I briefly discussed this in my post where I spoke of how Einstein’s need to make things numerical castrated the forces he was trying to describe (1). His famous equation is the equivalent of a wilted lettuce plant struggling in dry soil when compared to a fine and healthy oak tree that stands right next to it. Don’t get me wrong: Einstein was extremely clever. His problem was that he didn’t have the key to unlocking his comfort zone. Hence his need to deal with reality second hand.


We are all conscious, and reading is a conscious act. If you’re not conscious – let’s say you had too many beers – you’re not going to want to read something. The boys might want to watch a movie, but the more beer they drink, the likelihood is that they’re going to go to sleep. In other words, they aren’t going to be conscious.

Back to my gentleman: he was conscious because he was writing. He wasn’t writing to me in his sleep because he didn’t. He’s in a different time zone to me, so his sleep patterns are somewhat in delay of my own. People don’t do things in their sleep – and if they do, it’s the sign of an illness. What’s more, they’re not going to remember anything about it.

Those who do will be awake…

Again, we’re dealing with very simple truths here. The problem is to become aware of them. If you’ve not been taught them at school, or better still, given the keys to unlocking your comfort zone, then it’s likely that they’ll simply puzzle you. This usually ends up with the puzzled gentlemen telling me I’m stupid because THEY do not understand me.

Well, that’s life with the male sex.

In short, we don’t read in our sleep. Whatever consciousness is, and we need not debate that here, it does allow us to do things. Further to this is our unconscious being, our metabolic being that happily goes about its business in a way that doesn’t intrude on our lives to any great degree. It can even be enjoyable, wondering, as I am, what dish to order at my favourite Chinese restaurant this evening. I will be hungry by then. Actually the chocolate biscuits that accompany my morning coffee are pretty yummy too. We can choose these things, and are not just impelled to eat a certain diet because our instincts have formed us that way. Cats eat mice and eat them because they’re cats. No thinking needed. My cats – there are two now – are at my back door in the morning wanting breakfast. They want food, not a menu and an entrée.

We are aware of our metabolic shortcomings, and prepare for them in advance. Cats just die of hunger if there aren’t enough mice to eat. There’s nothing the cat can do about it because it isn’t conscious; it doesn’t need to be (2). It does what cats do and is alive because in times past the cat became a cat through the impulses that gave it four feet and some pretty menacing teeth. The paradox of its closeness and its antipathy to mice was also formed at this primordial time.

Conscious Illusions.

Humans on the other hand can choose. The problem here is that if they’re not aware that there is a choice to make, they won’t make it. It’s like the British thinking they live in a democracy. They’ve never experienced one, so know no better. They don’t want to know, because discovering what it’s like to live in a real democracy implies they will have to work with that part of themselves that accepts the lack of democracy in Britain. And believe me, that’s painful! I know, because I’m British and I did it.

It hurts like hell to begin to unveil illusions. That’s because illusions are always a better view of the world – and the truth they hide is always challenging. It’s why this gentleman never did: he’s a tender little child who doesn’t like being hurt. He’s happy to hurt others, but that’s what boys are all about. They pull the girls’ pigtails and the teacher tells them to grow up and get used to the fact that the boys don’t have to. This kind of innate sexism in our society means that girls are twenty times more likely to be self-aware than the boys.

The boys just group together and tell everybody they’re right and hold up a piece of paper to say that they couldn’t be more wrong. They are aware of the niceness of their illusions, they are not aware of the reality they hide.

Biochemical Thinking.

So, this gentleman lives under the illusion that all his thinking is determined by his biochemistry. Biochemistry in an animal means that when it senses something, its metabolism tells it to do something. This man’s thinking is effectively at this level. The problem here is that the biochemistry wouldn’t do anything unless there were inputs… the sensory nature of a cat is predisposed to its being a hunter of small animals. The two work hand in hand: the animal is ready to find mice, and having found one, eats it.

Saying that our thinking is driven by our biochemistry is a contradiction in terms. We can be swayed by our biochemistry – but this only happens when we’re hungry. When we’re not, the biochemistry, our metabolism goes back to sleep, as it were. I’ll add that the part of our brain that deals with our metabolism is extremely small. It doesn’t need to be bigger because there’s really not much that needs doing, save dull repetitive work like digesting food and telling the liver to do what it’s already happily doing anyway.

Pulling It All Apart.

I countered his though by speaking of two biochemists walking down the street. One sees a brunette with a double d cup – I’m trying to keep this scientific, okay? – and gets what Shakespeare called “an eruption in his tummy”. This is a metabolic response to a stimulus and there’s nothing the biochemist can do about it.

So, what of the other biochemist? He likes blondes, so he didn’t get an eruption.

What happened to his biochemistry??? Isn’t he pre-programmed to respond to the stimulus of a female on heat as any animal would be?

Not this animal, that’s for certain.

The problem for a biochemist is that he’s unaware of his own consciousness – and by extension, the things he’s unaware of. Nor does he question these things because he never thought about them in that way. He doesn’t have to: his brain, like that of the gentleman I spoke with, is driven by his biochemistry.

Which in a way, it is. That is to say, he’s unaware of why he prefers blondes but is so dull witted that he never questioned the fact. Anybody who believes something without question is going to be dull witted; my post on the subconscious drew a few comments from the dull witted who complained that they had a right to remain dull witted (3). Actually, what they did say was that I shouldn’t interfere with their dull wittedness because it’s nice to be dull witted. In short, they didn’t want to be made aware of their illusions.

Illusions Is Nice.

Well make no mistake: it is. Illusions are wonderful things and make an otherwise depressingly mundane life the stuff of poetry.

Dull-wittedness is great – until, that is, he needs his wits to survive. What’s more he wouldn’t know a wit if it walked up and kissed him. That’s when his living nightmare begins, and since he’s dull witted, he lacks the keys to deal with it. Which means once it’s started, it’s not going to stop. Ever.

Nightmares, like oak trees, start as acorns. If you’re aware of the acorn, then you can deal with the nightmare before it becomes a nightmare. His problem is that he can’t. He has illusions that veil the growing saplings. I did try to warn him, he wanted to remain ignorant. Well, that’s modern anthroposophy for you. It’s characterized by ignorance in the way most modern people are ignorant.

Biochemical Thinking.

The gentleman I spoke with is using the term ‘biochemistry’ to tell me that he doesn’t question the things in his life that need questioning. When his biochemistry is working well, it’s not telling him anything at all – that is its purpose in life. To merrily get about its business in the background and not disturb anyone. The corollary to this is that we’re only aware of our biochemistry when it’s malfunctioning. That is to say, we’re ill.

Is this gentleman simply telling me that he’s ill, but is so dull witted that he doesn’t know he’s ill?


(1) I explored this in my post “Reverse Engineering 80/20

(2) I explored this in my post “What’s It Like To Be A Cat?

(3) It was a comment on my post “Coming Clean On The Subconscious.


11 thoughts on “The Unthinking Biochemist.

  1. “If you’re not conscious – let’s say you had too many beers – you’re not going to want to read something. ”


    This reminded me of a conversation I had with a slightly smarter than average guy (though not especially self-aware) I used to know twenty years ago who explained to me the obvious absurdity of human freedom, that every thought we ever have or can have is biologically determined like a train set in motion the moment we’re born. I always find conversations like that vexing because I lack the clarity and wit to see and point out their error in a way that will short circuit their thinking. In this case, I later heard the guy became an alcoholic and drug addict and his life was a terrible mess! I guess that was an inevitability from the moment he was born, eh? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sure you are well aware just how many things need to be in order if one is to progress. Our lives are directed, though, and there are always things we will do without proper fore-thought. It’s when we relax and let that lack of forethought take over is when our life becomes boring and… predictable.

      Those who think for themselves will break free of this and bring something truly new and fresh to the world.


    1. Just conscious deliberation. I don’t know many people who engage in it… most people want data, numbers and things that arise out of things they have no control over.

      Like their biochemistry.


  2. I have a woman friend who approaches her life with quite a lot of conscious deliberation. She’s baffled by my… drifterness?


    1. There is only one area of your unconscious life that needs tackling, and you’re in the right place to both discover what it is and by extension, deal with it.


      1. Our will is supposed to be non-conscious. The problem with our modern world are those things that are unconscious – but should be conscious.

        Remember you telling me off? The reason for your unwillingness to accept my point of view was that you weren’t ready to accept what I had to say… and something got in the way of that.

        You are, at least, in the right place to meet this again, and face to face which is much easier to learn from.


  3. I do remember but I also have not resigned myself to having been in the wrong. I noticed you recently responded to a FB comment by asking the speaker to please keep his comments on point, which ultimately was all I was asking of you. On substance I agree with most or even all of what you say – it was the context that frustrated me. But for some reason this doesn’t wash with you, and I’m not sure why.


    1. That Fb commenter was being deliberately obtuse and awkward. He’d already blocked me once… and I didn’t need his sort of wisdom.

      The comments you were unhappy about were on topic what’s more, they spoke of the truth that underlies the problems in your country. They are also problems that are insoluble when people are not prepared to tackle them – and that means tackling the problems as exist within their own way of life.

      You have to live with that, and telling people to stop talking about it will not make the problem go away.

      The situation is little different in Britain, and it is as good a reason not to live there as any I can think of.


      1. A year and a half later I must say yes, you were right about that. (It’s been that long since I looked at my WP dashboard and this was the top comment.)


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