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Get Out of Your Own Way – Chapter 4, Part 1.

Chapter 4 – Mind Over Golf

Our Western culture, (and therefore our golfing sub-culture) is grounded in the belief that reality is made up of two clearly defined constituents – matter and mind.

In a golfing context, this manifests as distinction between the physical game (swing, putting stroke, short game, fitness, technique, and golf equipment) and the mental or inner game (thinking, feeling, remembering, imagining, and decision-making).

In almost all aspects of life, matter – the stuff we can apparently measure, touch, feel, see, buy, and own – is considered the primary element.

It is widely believed that the physical world was here first and that it gives rise to our subjective experience – to our thoughts and feelings.

Consciousness emanates from your brain, which is comprised of matter. Stubbing your toe on a rock causes discomfort. Owning a house makes you feel secure. Money in your pocket gives you freedom. Playing under your handicap makes you confident. Hitting a straight, solid 2-iron onto a long par 4 brings satisfaction.

This belief influences the priorities of our golfing culture. The physical elements of the game are more significant and therefore given more attention than the mental. How many hours have you spent working on your swing compared to learning about the thoughts and feelings that arise when you play?

Yet, many elite-level players have reflected that it should be the other way round. That as you become more proficient at hitting the ball, the more important the mental game becomes.

Unfortunately, this important message doesn’t seem to be borne out in golfers’ behaviour at any level of the game.

Most of us spend far more time, money, and effort learning and developing their ‘outer game’ than we do gaining a better understanding of how our minds really work. Learning about the process by which our subjective experience of the game of golf is created comes very much as an afterthought, if indeed it is considered at all.

A Brief History Lesson

So, the way reality is perceived by most people is that everything is made from or derived from this physical substance referred to as ‘matter’. Philosophers sometimes call this worldview the ‘materialist paradigm’.

According to this model, matter was created around fourteen billion years ago when something went bang. The fundamental elements of it are often referred to as the building blocks of the universe. They are identified and described in the Standard Model of Particle Physics – electrons, protons, neutrons, etc.

The clubs and balls we play with and the golf courses we walk on are also created from matter. They seem to be made of something tangible and solid. Something real, concrete, and well defined. (To discover that according to this very same model of reality, this solidity, this tangibility is an illusion – might come as a surprise.)

In this paradigm, mind (or consciousness), as the aware element of our experience, is also a derivative of matter. It is assumed that somehow consciousness emanates from a particular arrangement of the subatomic particles from which the brains and other physiology of sentient beings such as humans and animals is comprised.

The causal process by which this occurs is regarded as a mystery that scientists are still no closer to solving. In his 1996 book, The Conscious Mind, philosopher David Chalmers frames this lack of a coherent explanation for how electro-chemical activity in the cells that make up the brain can give rise to the experience of the colour blue, or the taste of chocolate, or the pain of a toothache, as the ‘hard problem of consciousness’.

A plausible explanation for this confusion about the relationship between the brain and our subjective experience can be found if we take a brief look at the history of science.

In the late 16th century, the organised study of nature began to take a more prominent role in society. This was a positive development in many fields, allowing the invention of technologies that we are still benefitting from today.

Unfortunately, when it came to the investigation of the human mind and body there was a problem. The church, particularly the Catholic church was perhaps the most powerful organisation in the western world at the time, and it protected its interests and influence with zeal.

The human soul or ‘psyche’ was off limits as far as science was concerned. A scientist could be burned at the stake for questioning or contradicting established religious teachings regarding the origins and nature of human beings and their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

So, to carve out a safe space where science could be practiced without fear of answering a knock on the door to be faced by the Inquisition, a divide was created between the physical and the mental, between the material and the spiritual.

The body, as part of the physical world was available for study and research by science. Mind and spirit were the jealously guarded territory of the church.

This belief in the separation between body and mind is an artifact which unfortunately still prevails in many scientific and medical communities.

The reasons for it were justified at the time, but the unforeseen side effects have been disastrous, and we are suffering the consequences of that legacy to this day.

This then is the background from which the greatest intellects of the last 200 years have proposed various theories and concepts about the source of consciousness. But thus far (unsurprisingly, given the premise on which they are based) none have been proven.

Due to a historical wrong assumption early in the chain of reasoning, there is a particular dearth of evidence supporting the theory that consciousness, and therefore subjective experience, somehow springs forth from the matter comprising the human brain.

Yet this does not seem to deter most branches of science and the scientists who work in them from adhering to the materialist paradigm.

In most fields of scientific research, the absence of evidence for the basic premise on which a theory is founded would be enough for it to be ridiculed and swiftly abandoned.

When it comes to matter and consciousness, however, most scientists persist with the belief that a few more years and a few more billion dollars in funding will uncover the proof they have been searching for.

That consciousness somehow springs forth from physicality, from this substance called matter. A substance yet to be proved to exist. 

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