Are shopping lists instruments of torture?

It’s uncanny how complicated things start making sense in the most unlikely places.

Like, I’ve been reading a book called War Of The World Views: Science v Spirituality.

It’s a bit over my head, but driving round town the other Saturday morning trying to tick things off a shopping list, it all started adding up.

In the book, celebrated physicist Leonard Mlodinow and mind-body guru Deepak Chopra debate the big questions of the universe.

You know: What is life? What is the nature of time? Where’s my wallet? Actually, they leave things as complex as where I left my wallet alone.

They tackle more esoteric concepts like: Does fundamental reality exist? Does the brain dictate behaviour? Is there a connection between mind and brain?

After my experiences Saturday morning, I’m convinced there is a connection between mind and brain. It’s called a mobile phone. But it only works if the person on the other end doesn’t hang up on you in the bread section of a supermarket.

We had a brunch planned, you see, and I was sent out to find crusty round dinner rolls. Not long dinner rolls, or hamburger rolls or any other rolls. Just crusty round ones, specifically. Intelligent design was at work.

As an after-thought, I was also told we needed blue-tipped needles for a sewing machine. Surely the most left-field and daunting thing a bloke could ever confront on a shopping list. They reckon the meaning of life is elusive. Try tracking down those suckers on a Saturday.

Anyhow, I tried, because in a universe of infinite potential, failure to get them heightened the probability of a second big bang. And as I did, I started getting perspective on my book.

Driving from shop to shop across town I found myself contemplating the big issues. What is life?

For Mlodinow, life is “a complex of energy hungry molecules temporarily organised in a form that resists the inevitable return to equilibrium”. Poetic, no? For Chopra, it’s the “essence of existence”, ‘‘that which we cannot take away and still have creation”. Om. For me life was more basic: buns and needles – my fundamental reality.

Stewing in Saturday traffic, I had the opportunity to ponder the nature of time? Mlodinow bangs on about biological clocks, Galileo’s pulse and synchrony. Chopra invokes the Buddha, the collapse into eternity and something about snatching a leaf from a snail.

For me, the true nature of time was that buns and needles had to be got before shops shut. Case closed, Einstein.

Suddenly I saw free will for what it was? A mirage.

The universe wasn’t thinking through me? The shopping list was. And it was saying: ‘‘Pull your finger out.’’

Did that mean the brain was dictating behaviour? Not my brain, obviously. But definitely the one that wrote the shopping list. And what sort of behaviour was being dictated? Confused behaviour. Particularly at bakehouses across town. There’s a lot of bun types to choose from.

Chopra argues widened choice equals freedom. But as I found, that just meant freedom to make wrong choices. After the third failed purchase, a familiar omnipresent figure started suggesting Darwin had got it wrong – the fittest had not been selected for this task. Least that’s what I concluded when the mobile phone mind-brain connection alluded to earlier hung up on me at the supermarket. God may be an illusion, but tension on that line was not.

Suddenly it was all clear: in a time-space continuum where everything is relative, one step forward two steps back is how I (bread) roll.

Topic: Are shopping lists instruments of torture?

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