Brain and Consciousness
Musings and discussions on how the human brain works and how the brain processes are related to consciousness.
by Daniel M. Kolos
The reason I embarked on this 'philosophical quest' is because I am a writer who tends towards philosophical observations. When I pour my soul and my passions into my writing, what comes out depends entirely on the genre or structure of what I am writings. For the constraints and format of a story, words are logically and linearly ordered. For a poem, contradiction and chaos often help. The mind and/or brain, however, is vast. Only a small portion of it, the intellect, is linear.
I question whether we, as a civilization, have become addicted to 'words'? There was always a time when words, in the form of storytelling and singing, were part and parcel of culture. Words formed only a part of culture, or a small part of one's life experience. Then word specialists developed, such as scribes, as far back as 5000 years ago. Their profession was highly prized even though most of them spent their entire lives making lists and keeping records of crops or taxes or offerings. In other words, the masters of words were not necessarily your most exciting cultural icons until two things happened: first, some words, in the form of information, became valuable to someone else, and, secondly, some words were able to sum up the wisdom of a culture. It was to be another thousand years before stories were written down. In his book, "ReMembering Osiris," Tom Hare tackles the phenomenon that linearly expressed words, or in the case of Egypt, hieroglyphs, are like fractals, units of a hologram that contain the entire multidimensional input that each of us is able to express.
Thesis: that Consciousness is the localized, here-and-now awareness at the moment of thinking, acting, speaking or writing; that awareness carries a complicated set of non-verbal attachments both in and through the actor/speaker/writer as well as within the passive listener/watcher.
What is Thinking?
A look at brain functions
I have been involved in an ongoing discussion about the difference between linear, logical thinking and polymodal or wholistic consciousness.
In a sense, there is an initial problem with semantics of 'thinking', because 'thinking' can take place on several levels:
1. When thinking takes place entirely in the left hemisphere of the neocortex, it is logical, and follows a linear pattern. Linear thinking can establish parallel paths of logic on this level but remains sequential. This type of thinking manifests as intellect.
2. A form of thinking takes place below the level of here-and-now consciousness. It can be defined as body-knowing. It is based entirely on the experience and survival-needs of the physical organism as a whole. This level of thinking surfaces in the brain as instinctual knowledge or instinctual physical response (flight or fight).
3. There is a level of thinking that goes on incessantly in what is generally called the subconscious mind. It is not the stream of consciousness people carry on inside their heads even when they don’t want to. It is, rather, a constant analysis in which the right brain engages. Because of this analysis, answers are also constantly generated. But the answers do not always reach the consciousness! Sometimes the answers rise into consciousness as intuitions, sometimes as dreams, sometimes as ready, logical answers when the original problem is discussed and it triggers the association with the ‘answer’. Answers can also be brought into consciousness through passive meditation. This practice accesses the subconscious and involves all four levels of the brain structure (sensory/motor, or old brain; emotional/cognitive or mid-brain, and the left and right hemispheres of the neocortex).
4. At some level, the brain seems to
have the capacity of combining all three of the above processes into a truly
polymodal system. When this polymodal process reaches the level of
consciousness, it manifests as intelligence.
Consciousness and Reality-awareness
I require two further distinctions for this commentary: first, between consciousness and reality awareness. Consciousness is very likely the product of this constant interaction or processing of both subtle and gross frequencies of sensory and electromagnetic impressions that continually buffet and penetrate the human system. The combined response of instinct, intuition, analysis and intellect form an all-pervading intelligence that governs consciousness itself. In contrast, reality awareness seems to be a person's single-minded focus at any given moment in waking time, a product more of the intellect in left-hemisphere dominant people, and of the intuition in right-hemisphere dominant people. Because of the limited input, reality-awareness tends to be illusionary. States of mind during sleep does not come into this commentary.
Secondly, the process of the entire human brain, in very simple terms, has a limbic and habituated extension. Whether the individual is left-hemisphere neocortex-dominant or right-hemisphere neocortex-dominant, what makes the neocortex work is associating its processes with the mid-brain, the seat of the emotional-cognitive link between the neocortex and the Old, sensory-motor brain. Considering that the Old-brain is the seat of habituation, only those processes will be habituated that produce a sufficient limbic response in the Mid-brain.
Intellect seems to be a control mechanism
by which we human beings organize and categorize the world we are conscious of
for our own benefit (and at everyone else's expense, most of the time).
Instinct seems to be strictly a survival mechanism that is seldom brought into full force in evolved cultures, but remains in the background nevertheless, often controlling social, economic and political ambitions. Someone who is 'street-smart' is said to have a keen sense of survival.
Intuition has been at war with intellect for several centuries now, as if fighting for its survival ever since Western culture has been placing greater and greater focus on intellect and rational thought as the modus operandi of its civilization.
(For a recent essay on the origin of intellectual domination, see http://www.bmts.com/~damilos/dominantlogic.htm ) (posted in November, 2005)
Intelligence, the biological urge to prevent harm to oneself and to one's environment, has been all but eradicated together with our survival instinct.
It is as if the Renaissance man has been
replaced by the specialist. Unmeasurable, unobserved human responses to
the environment such a polythought, has been repressed, denied and rationalized
away. Fortunately, none of these linear arguments (such as, "if it
cannot be measured, it cannot exist") can expunge a human trait that every
newborn child brings into the world without necessarily knowing about it.
Monothinking Dissociated from Consciousness
Claude Rifat correctly points out in his Karl Jasper Forum presentation that monothinking cannot be applied consistently . He says that "monothought can give rise to mutually incompatible geometrical patterns." I believe that is not enough though. Monothought has been put to a singular use over the millennia, and especially since the European "Age of Reason" that has taken it beyond a mere 'brain-function' to a cultural utilitarian status. I believe I can deal with this shift in focus and how it has blindsided an entire culture (and, with globalization, an entire world civilization) to the multifaceted human body-mind interaction that produces polythought.
Rifat adds, "Globalisation is, in my point of view, equivalent to what paleontologists call hyper-specialiszation. A culture can hyper-specialise like any physical form and what we know from both paleontology and history is that hyper-specialised structures react to instabilities by futher increasing their hyper-specialisation thus, in the end, bringing them to extinction in the same way as the Megaceros (a cervidae with huge horns) hyper-specialised in the size of its horns until it disappeared from the face of the earth. Hyper-specialisations are evolutionary dead-ends."
A Developmental View of the 'Thinking' Process
Both philosophical observation (Rudolf Steiner) and neurological research (Developmental Psychology) in the 20th century resulted in a consistent human brain development for at least the first fourteen years of our lives. In gross generalities, a newborn child will focus most of its first seven years of life on a series of concrete operational thinking while it becomes familiar with the physical world into which it has been born.
While familiarizing itself with the concrete world, it also forms an abstract link through representations (naming things, imagination and imitation, etc.) until the child's abstract logic is opened fully by age 7 (or earlier) and then the child's focus shifts to abstractions based on its concrete experiences. Interplay between these two left-brain functions, fully connected with imagination and intuition will results in a creative, well-balanced individual.
I am not going to dwell here on what goes
'wrong' when the biological developmental
process meets interference and resistance from parents and culture, when children are not allowed to get their
hands or clothes dirty, or when
their 'will' is broken by physical abuse. Rather, using the works
of Joseph Chilton Pearce and Carolyn Myss, I
am going to present a developmental
model that clearly shows the human potential and the manner in which it can
either be tapped or repressed.
The Tools of Polymodality
The human body has a number of endocrine glands from the bottom of the torso to the top of the head. These are, roughly, the adrenals/suprarenals, ovaries/gonads, pancreas, thymus, thyroid/parathyroid, pineal and pituitary. It is not by chance that these more or less correspond to the seven basic 'chakras' or power centers of the Hindu religions and Buddhist practices.
The developmental model assumes that the
seven major endocrine glands correspond
to the basic seven chakras and that each chakra takes approximately seven years to 'mature' or 'turn
on'. Both Rudolf Steiner and Joseph Chilton Pearce have shown through
their observations and research, respectively, that this approximate seven-year
cycle applies for the first three developmental segments. Carolyn Myss
takes the development of the chakras through to all seven cycles.
Cycle 1: Years 1-7, focus is on adrenal/suprarenal or 'base chakra'. Child learns' both physical reality and cultural belief systems by taking it all in. Child has no discrimination.
Cycle 2: Years 8-14, focus is on ovaries/gonads or 'second chakra'. Child earns to interact with both physical world and human beings on the basis of value and power. This stage ends with the full potential of sexual interaction.
Cycle 3: Years 15-21, focus is on pancreas or 'third chakra'. Adolescent develops an identity within as well as a sense of self-consciousness and a public persona. There is a biologically motivated need for a spiritual expression with fantasies of greatness. Adolescent needs a role model or guide to realize this potential within; otherwise, s/he will seek it in the outside world.
Cycle 4: Years 22-28, focus is on the thymus or the 'heart chakra'. The young adult examines and questions the contents of the lower three chakras. Potential to reject one's acquired belief systems, modify competitive urges, adjust sense of identity. The 'Heart Connection' acts as a mediator between lower-chakra habituated responses and the developing upper chakra new realities.
Cycle 5: Years 29-35, focus is on the thyroid/parathyroid, or the fifth, throat chakra. The individual's potential to make choices and take responsibility for one's words and actions regardless of cultural pressures and public opinion comes into play.
Cycle 6: Years 36-42, focus is on the pineal, or the sixth chakra, also known as the 'third eye'. The individual has the potential to 'see' the world as an illusion, yet have the knowhow to navigate through it. Here lies the potential to discover that the so-called psychic phenomena have a full biological basis.
Cycle 7: Years 43-49, focus is on the pituitary, or seventh, crown chakra. The individual finds an identity as part of the Universe, as part of a greater whole. The body becomes a vehicle for the soul, both being full biological functions, and life itself becomes a potentially modulated internal power. Other individuals are full co-creators. Conflict and competition completely wane. Death is seen as a transition to an ongoing an electromagnetic signature.
Although these words and ideas may differ from those used by Carolyn Myss, she has a more complete treatment of each of these cycles in her book, "The Anatomy of Spirit."
See also the essay on the Chakras and the Limbic System
Cultural Repression of the Biological Development Cycles
Culture plays a major role is thwarting the development beyond the third cycle. Most people become bogged down by settling on and internalizing a public persona. Others pursue their fantasy of 'greatness' through outside activities like sexual or military conquests, academic or religious degrees, financial or economic success, sports or entertainment limelight or political office. Rebels against the cultural mainstream are ostracized, emasculated, marginalized and sent to the fringe. People whose third and seventh chakra self-identity differ have difficulty accepting themselves and must 'belong' to organizations and institutions that give these individuals an identity, even if it is such an innocuous status as a 'citizen' or 'resident' of an artificially created country or nation.
Not surprisingly, after the first three cycles, very few cultures have a name for the next three cycles. Nevertheless, the completion of the seventh cycle produces a Crone or a Wise Woman among females, and a Wizard or our language and our cultural concepts to see how unacceptable it is, to mainstream culture, for an individual to fully mature into the upper chakras! Crones and Sorcerers have been denigrated for centuries, belittled in daily language and made to look totally unacceptable. It is our loss.
The loss is mostly to our polymodally rich world. There is a direct proportional correlation between an individual's cycle at which personal development atrophied and that individual's ability to function polymodally.
I don't have a mathematical formula to represent this correlation, but with the availability of each developmental cycle, one's polymodal potential increases with the multiples of the sum total of the available known brain and body functions.
Quite surprisingly, at a recent talk given by Carolyn Myss, I heard something that makes imminent sense and fills in a gap in the Developmental puzzle. A member of audience asked CM "how to handle the childhood traumas such as rape, severe physical abuse, severe emotional deprivation, abandonment and the like." First, CM put these traumas into context by saying that, in a sense, they are a shortcul or a fast lane to Cosmic Consciousness! That was the surprise! Most of us were so brainwashed into the 'victim' mentality that we accepted our trauma as something that permanently handicaps us for the rest of our lives. We have mostly settled into the inevitable consequence of our trauma that one day we will have to face it is spite of spending our energy throughout our life on repressing it.
CM proposed a shortcut of
turning our backs upon such trauma, unplugging our energy from our childhood
and re-plugging it into something our inner self is urging us to do in the here
and now. In a sense, it is letting bygones be bygones. In another
sense it is a relief and opens up the channels to the unused or underutilized
upper chakras. Even I understood, back in 1977 when I spent a day in the
King's Chamber of Khufu's Pyramid, that by overcoming ten little fears, I would
actually be overcoming a hundred great ones as well. I wrote it down and
published it in a community newsletter and then conveniently forgot about
it. Thank you, Carolym Myss, for reminding me!
Evidence of Cultural Repression
The sad result is that we have fully grown men and women still competing like pre-teens, holding on to belief systems their parents stuffed them with during their first seven years of life, whose sense of 'fairness' and social justice is still that of an eight year old child. The lucky ones have developed their intellects and function as 14 year olds, their mono-thinking and their gonads and ovaries driving them from one liaison to the next. There is a word we have for this phenomenon of monothought: 'one-tracked mind'. Those who are more self-disciplined pursue their goal-oriented lives with 'single-minded' determination.
Polythought, from the point of view of a monothinking, rationally oriented culture, is either irrational, pathological or unacceptable. At best, it is tolerated. Mostly it is denied or ignored. At worst, it is punished by institutionalization. There are precious few fully polymodal individuals among us, and if there are, most of us wouldn't recognize them. If we did, we would call them weird.
And yet, being polymodal is a fully biological potential for every one of us.
* * * * *
Daniel Lapadatu, a Rumanian Physicist, has argued that every kind of linear or specialized thinking forms constitute a subset of polymodal thinking and that the two sets, mono-thinking and poly-thinking, cannot exist without each other. The question remains whether the myriads of sense impressions and electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) in all its extant frequencies that enter our being at the same time, are registered at once or sequentially. Naturally, we cannot answer that question because we lack the data on where and how all of these frequencies are registered in the first place!
It is possible that every cell in the human body has a built-in intelligence (that will prevent harm to itself and to its environment). Just as groups of cells specialize in observable and distinct functions, it is likely these separate groups of specialized cells also contain a sensory function that captures or focuses upon one or more frequencies in the EMR spectrum.
Rifat says: Under lower metabolisms polythought tends, asymptotically, to become monothought, to become *sequential*, linear, because the attenuator blocks consciousness radiation within MHV (2) and, thus, prevents your thought to jump, discontinuously, to other memorised 'time lines'.
"This process of attenuation is,
partially, controlled by a diffuse
serotoninergic system which ramifies extensively within the central nervous system in order to control metabolism of neurons ( 2 )."
What Lapadatu says:
"I can argue that any monomodal thinking can be described in polymodal terms. I argue that the two are fundamentaly on equal footing: none precedes the other, none is fundamentally better than the other.
As I see it, it is meaningless to try to
draw a line between polymodal
and mono-modal. They are interlaced. One generates the other and both sustain each other. Remove one, you remove both, you kill the process."
intuition is the result of millions of
years of evolution while
sequential symbolic monomodal language (s.s.m) is a recent acquisition.
Understanding 'polymodality', however, is not in the naming nor in its mathematical representation! Claude and Adrian, each in their unique way, have developed a system of using polymodality creatively.
A surprising side effect has surfaced from their focusing on the 'use' of polymodality: they have tapped into the creativity of the 'mind' to an extent where the ordinary human interaction and depth of thinking has been unmasked as a linear, inadequate, unifaceted use of a multifaceted tool.
Anyone who begins the arduous process of activating or re-activating their perceptive, thinking and creative capacities will 'discover' (all over again) the wonders or 'magic' of polymodality. Claude has done it through a Buddhist practice. In this light I propose that Daniel L. argues for the 'representation' of polymodality while you, Adrian, argue for the 'practice' of polymodality.
No matter how fast computers are, we program and expect them to perform linear functions. Of course I am not sure if this assumption is true for analog computers, but I am sure Daniel L. can tell us! To superimpose this same assumption on the activity of the human 'brain' might work if we assume also that this organ works on an electromagnetic/chemical basis. But, whereas with computers we 'know' their linearity, with the brain we don't, because, ultimately, the brain is
a) more complex than any computer, and
b) the brain might be merely a single organ in an even more complex intersections of many other organs (such as the endocrine glands) which may constitute what we call 'consciousness'.
If we actually 'knew' how each organ works in receiving, 'processing' and transmitting information AND organic material, we could still 'represent' the entire process in a linear mathematical fashion, no matter how complex.
In the actual working of these functions,
however, 'polymodality' is the closest
we can come to 'naming' the process.
The proof is in the 'usage' not in the
representation. Anyone who begins the
arduous process of activating or re-activating their perceptive, thinking and creative capacities will 'discover' (all
over again) the wonders or 'magic'
of polymodality. Claude has done it through a Buddhist practice. We had a fellow last week who tried to
superimpose on us his own methodology
and Adrian very politely thanked him and congratulated him for being on the
polymodal track even though has not let go of the unimodal focus (My way is the
And that takes me to
R. K. Ritner, "The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice" (University of Chicago, 1993)
This study, however, does not deal with magic and brain functions. Very simply put, I believe or speculate that those scribes, priests, noblemen and kings who mastered abstract logic became aware of how easy it was to reverse the meaning of something in a culture where logic was yet unknown. The moment people shifted their matrix from within, what Claude calls 'endoreality', based on their experience and inner intuition (and imagination) to the 'exoreality' of words, symbols and abstract ideas of others, they were, and have been ever since, on a very shaky ground, because logic can support just about anything regardless of experience. Logic has its own truth. And I believe that the Ancient Egyptians, up to Akhenaten's time, regarded logic as magic!
The same group of logical or rational manipulators presented the writings and the spoken word as magic, but in an exoreal way: whatever 'I' (the scribe, the ruler) say has magical power for 'you', the listener. That was the biggest reversal of all truths! The spoken word is magical also for the one who says it. In fact, I believe that the spoken word was magical exclusively for the one who speaks it, and I can illustrate it:
A man is ill. The 'healer' comes and establishes himself as a role-model: "I am healthy" or "I exist as a whole" (Atum's claim to fame is his expression that 'Before Nun, I am' where 'Nun is the primordial chaos or waters). The sick man now has a reference point for health. The healer's duty was to strengthen the sick man's belief in his own ability to become healthy again, to role model the creator-god. The healer originally would have instructed the sick man to repeat the words: "I am healthy" or "I exist as as whole."
A note for those of you who have followed William Theaux's writings: this kind of role-modeling occured before transference.
Then, at some unspecified historical point, the healer started to say: "I will cause you to be healthy." That is the beginning of dependence on exoreality and the beginning of transference and the start of 'magic'.
In this sense that I have illustrated
above, magic is the initial response to
the loss of individual sovereignty within a social body and the beginning
of the loss of self-confidence. The loss was
equal in both the healer and the
healed when the transaction was shifted from endoreality to exoreality. Magically,
the human mind split the ONE, the whole, into two, in a way that Adrian van der
Meijden lists below:
YOU and ME,
US aganst THEM,
FINITE-INFINITE and so on.
The moment they had two poles upon which to judge or define reality (Inner and Other), they lost their grasp on the ONE (within), the Whole, that contained ALL before. This was also the birth of mono or linear thinking. Anywhere where One can become Two, you have a case for magic, because the OTHER is usually unknown or unknowable. If you, Adrian, insist on being unknowable, something I believe is true, then to a monothinker you are either mad or magical. To other polythinkers, you are you - no big deal, just a bag of surprises guaranteed to surprise until your last breath. Logic has its own truth. And I believe that the Ancient Egyptians, up to Akhenaten's time, regarded logic as magic!
Take a mythopoeic mind, such as that of a 4 - 7 years old child today, and tell him/her a story. Once the mind of that child becomes one with the story, through endless repetition, tell the child that the story is not true, or that there is a moral to the story. Both concepts, 'true' and a 'representational' meaning IN ADDITION to the story's emotional impact, are abstract concepts AND logical appendages (additives) to the story itself.
The child has no concept of true and false, has no concept of 'representational meaning' so the 'falseness' and the 'moral' of the story are not self-evident. A logical thinker comes by and explains to the child (or a priest comes by and explains to the peasant) that there is a 'moral' meaning hidden in the story he has heard all his life. The child will be surprised and will hold the logician in high esteem as if he were a magician. Of course, this stage does not last long: by the time a child's abstract logical functions develop fully, his memory will recall that most of the 'magic' his father and mother performed with their words (abstractions) were lies in the first place. This realization is usually one of the factors that drive adolescent children apart from their parents.
In my family, for example, where I was aware of this trap, I took another route: instead of twisting meanings and making empty promises to my children (or empty threats), I mostly changed the subject and led their attention back to current reality, the experiencable here and now. One of the visible results has been a lack of 'rebellion' from my teenager. He has nothing to rebel against at home, so he is rebelling against outside pressures: he cannot stand fashion fads, can't see any glory in smoking cigarettes, can't understand why people get drunk after he tried it once and found it so uncomfortable he decided not to repeat it!
Daniel Lapadatu Writes:
The brain has chosen, probably evolutionary, to use the space domain for the visual cortex and the frequency domain for the auditive cortex (each are the Fourier transformation of the other). It could've been the other way round.
Vesselin mentioned once a set of very
GENERAL OBJECTIONS against a 100% wave-like description of nature. These are
things that were dissected and
placed upside down and examined on all the faces for hundreds of years
and the conclusion is that WE CANNOT HAVE A
CONSISTENT DESCRIPTION OF NATURE JUST IN TERMS OF WAVES.
* * * * *
Those Egyptian symbols of protection, the winged goddesses, could be representations of 'spiritual' matters. There is a modern group, the EMIN or EMON, I have not met them since the 70s, who have a well-reasoned system of meaning for these representations as real, 3D or even 4D reality for us.
Because I have been contemplating their theories for so long, I have been able to connect these representations to our sensory input and deflection (or protection) system. That is to say, we have five physically obvious senses, seven endocrine glands (at least, but there are more) that double as sensory organs on a higher frequency, as well as the complex brain function that process these twelve or more sensory venues. All the processing is going on subconsciously (not unconsciously!!!) and the brain is constantly providing a unified 'vision' of what is going on both within and without an individual. This is the part of the 'self' that some mystics have called the inner Master, or Guide, or Guardian Angel. Every part of the brain expresses these unified 'visions' differently: the reptilian sensory-motor brain is usually upset when change or learning is part of the menu; the emotional/cognitive brain reflects the vision as various degrees of elation/depression; the right brain will provide a pictorial or verbal expression in imaginative terms, while the left brain will work out the logic of what is going on.
Since the processing is going on all the time, chances are that the entire brain system is in use. When we are accused of using only 5 to 10% of our brain capacity, what is really at stake is that we have not been listening to ourselves and, therefore, our sensory capacity has not made the appropriate neural connections over a lifetime.
This failure to utilize our own natural
functions has an amusing side: when someone makes the breakthrough, usually through meditation or through a
role model, and awakens once again to these constant sensory digests from the
subconscious mind that has been producing these digests (or visions) all along,
that newly 'awakened' individual will first become aware of his own brain's visions from years and years ago - sitting in
the brain unused like old
newspapers in the attic. A course in speed-reading these internally
produced digests is then required until the
individual catches up to current reality.