Where is the life we have lost in living? – T. S. Elliot
With outsourcing our cognitive capabilities to Robots, this eternal question has taken a new significance in the 21st century. When we ask Google to show us the directions or request Alexa to play our favorite songs, we use Robots to manage our needs externally. Internally, we are using a similar system, though inadvertently.
Every time we run on our routines, when we drive the vehicles through congested streets without thinking, or when our fingers know where the alphabet is on the keyboard when we type, our inner robotic system is in charge. This improves our life quality as we don't need to think or feel during mundane tasks. However, this inner Robot also can make even the creative tasks mundane and take away our capacity to think or feel. Colin Wilson, a prolific writer, jokingly said that he had caught Robot making love to his wife! Imagine coming back home from work after a tiring driving, giving a peck on the cheek to your children, and going to bed after changing the clothes.
Who is in charge in such situations? If the sight of children does not awake a moment of wonder and if the touch of new clothes does not connect with the freshness of the change, then most probably the Robot has taken over that work. The inner Robot (just like the outer) takes up the cognitively challenging tasks and performs them more efficiently. Taking up a new sport, engaging with an unknown artwork, or listening first time to a rhythm does provide a new challenge to the Robots who, after decoding the pattern, would try to replicate it again more efficiently. It is competent for complex multitasking works. Alfred N. Whitehead wrote, "Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them." So what's the problem then?
Life is not only about efficiency. A Robot is an excellent fellow to have; however, it tends to become our master if we are not careful. It will stay with us all the time in the forms of plans, to-do's, fears, risks, and getting out of it even might seem meaningless. In some cases, this mechanized connection might alienate the world and lead to depression and even suicide. Sometimes, we resort to alcohol or drugs to calm down the Robot and connect to the real self. External substance overuse might create a continuous craving for chemicals or experiences, leading to potential overuse or overdose. How can we calm this Robot whenever we want? By harnessing "Out of Robot" moments.
1. What are "Out of Robot" moments?
In the moments of soaking of the spring sun on the face, drenching in the rain in a tropical forest, or suddenly feeling the essence of air around us, we connect to the "Out of Robot" moments unexpectedly. At such moments a personal, intimate relationship is developed between us and the surroundings. It seems that life probably has a meaning even though we would be unaware of its significance. Such short profound (and probably joyful) moments take us out of our inner Robot, give us a transient glimpse of our feelings, and allows us new freedom of being.
The occurrence of such moments is natural. Abraham Maslow studied such experiences and called the more profound version of such moments "peak experiences" in his classics "Religion, Values, and Peak Experience." He described it using a situation, "a mother sitting quietly looking, by the hour, at her baby playing and marveling, wondering, philosophizing, not quite believing. She can experience this as a very pleasant, continuing, contemplative experience." Such experiences are mostly emotional (serene and calm) rather than spiritual or life-altering. It is the personal ability to allow and connect to such experiences that define their impact.
These pre-peak "out of Robot" moments in our daily lives regenerate our capacity to wonder and awe. When we come out of our standard set cognitive processes, such moments remind us of our humanness and connect to something at an intimate and experientially meaningful level. At their peak, they might provide, according to Maslow, "ultimate satisfaction of vague unsatisfied yearnings."
2. What causes such moments? Can they be induced?
In a classic 1818 painting, "Wanderer above the sea of fog," Casper Freidrich captured a man on the top of the mountain looking at the fog above the sea. This masterpiece became an emblem of the philosophical movement of "Romanticism" showcasing the values of emotions and experiences. The protagonist of the painting was probably having an "out of Robot" experience amidst the beauty of nature, and the beauty of painting allowed us to feel the same experience.
Nature, art, music, poetry, sex, love, or relations are but few triggers of emotional moments where we intimately connect to something more profound than our inner Robot. A spring walk in a forest, "the Starry Night" by Van Gogh, the symphony of Mozart, "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver, the ecstasy of sex, the longing of Rumi, or the touch of a mother, is where the inner Robot agrees to go down and create space for celebratory moments.