Three friends of mine whose seminal lifework coincided when I reconnected with Paul Bach-y-Rita. Upper corner J. Krishnamurti-- Lower Left, Prof. David Bohm -- Lower Right, Paul Bach-y-Rita, MD. The quote is from the man who was responsible for coalescing them all into one singular vision in my mind -- Psychologist James J. Gibson.
CHAPTER FOUR (2)
THE MAN BEHIND PAUL BACH-Y-RITA'S BRAINPORT
The kind of courage that Paul Bach-y-Rita showed the world, in spite of the devastating news of his impending death, inspired all who witnessed it. And the BrainPort work continued as if nothing had happened. But something had happened, and six months later I saw Paul for the last time. Not because he had died - he'd cheat death for another two years. However, a few months after the news, two individuals showed up - almost on the same day - both of whom had an interest in investing in Paul's company, but with the same proviso - they each wanted to also be its CEO. By then, the first CEO had departed and an amazing gentleman who'd been recommended to Paul had taken over the role. Although he was still employed elsewhere, his reputation as an organizer of people and ideas convinced Paul - and the rest of us - to hire him.
NOTE: This was now an all-for-one-and-one-for-all operation and Paul had even promised us all participation in the company profits, once there were profits in which to participate. I have a video of that poignant moment - perhaps I'll upload it later.
Once each month, the newly hired CEO flew from his home (and other position) in Tennessee to Madison, and spent the weekend strategizing with us, regarding the various directions the company might take. And a strategy was indeed needed for a fledgling company that considered itself in the R&D stage of developing its products. That's plural, "products" - For by then, our brilliant physiologist-associate Yuri Danilov, Ph.D, had taken a simple diagram I had originally constructed for myself so that I could understand what they were saying to me about how the device was a "platform technology" that had applications in dozens of different fields - military, industrial, medical, etc., and expanded it into what was now referred to as "The Star Chart". It soon included contributions from all of us. As you see (below), there's even an "Entertainment" projection which I was developing and was already in touch with friends I had at the Disney Theme Park operation in Los Angeles who were intrigued with Paul's concept of what we called "feelies" .
Both of these gentlemen claimed that they had access to many other investors, which the present CEO did not have. And one of them had already served as the Chief Financial Officer of Paul's neighbor's company which had started just as Paul's company did - with an invention the neighbor had come up with; and the company was eventually sold to GE for many millions of dollars. I had met Paul's neighbor at a dinner party at Paul's, and now here was the neighbor's former CFO knocking on Paul's company door. Money was certainly something that was on Paul's mind. He'd also told me he was concerned about leaving his family - which included two college-age daughters - with an unpaid mortgage. So, even though he called me the night before the present excellent CEO would be arriving for another monthly strategy session and asked me if he should dismiss the man, and hire the former CFO - and I said "Of course not!" - he had apparently already made up his mind.** Paul met with the man the next day, told him he was being replaced, and the man got back on a plane and flew back to Tennessee. Many months later, the man would show me a contract signed by both Paul and himself that prohibited what Paul had done. When I asked him why he had not reminded Paul of the contract at the time of his dismissal, the man said he was concerned that the new "hardball players" might attempt to jeopardize his position with his other company and he didn't want to endanger his 29-year tenure, when he was only a year away from retirement. So he just chalked it up to the vicissitudes of life, and moved on.
(**I have since been told by others that what sealed the deal with the former CFO, was Paul's acceptance of a relatively large sum of money. True or not, upon hearing of the transaction four years later, I recall not feeling any anger towards Paul about this having been done surreptitiously. I knew he had to come up with a way to somehow pay off that mortgage before he died, and not leave his family in dire straits. And if this is the way he chose to do it... who, among us, can say what they would have done if they were in Paul's place and they knew they would soon be dead. )
The next day, the former CFO took control of Paul's Company and six months later, I was fired. Since then, the Star Chart has been scrapped, the brilliant Mr. Danilov has also been fired, Paul has died and I recently heard that the Company has abandoned the Balance device and is now focused on producing a Vision device, like the one you saw Erik Weihenmayer testing in one of the CHAPTER THREE videos.
Of course there's lots more to the story besides the new CEO and I not seeing eye-to-eye about the Company's future direction. The difference? Business-naive me couldn't understand how it was possible to begin thinking of the company as sales-oriented rather than continue its R&D profile, when no one could explain what made its most exciting feature - the "residual" or "therapeutic" effect possible. And to this day, no one ever has ... except by suggesting that there is some sort of "re-wiring" going on in the brain when the device is used, or Norman Doidge claiming that the brain is changing itself - whatever that means. Decades prior to all this, Paul had himself almost single-handedly championed the concept of "brain plasticity" which has since morphed into "neuroplasticity" -- A term that is now all the rage. I have many videos of him explaining that "the brain is not hard-wired as was once believed, it's plastic" . But even if this is true, no one has ever bothered to really explain what it is that exclusively requires "plasticity" in either the brain or neurons, when the entire body is "plastic". How else could it grow from infancy to adulthood - something which it never really stops doing in one way or another - until everything stops. And even then fingernails grow and ... ...
Furthermore, if indeed "re-wiring" was taking place or brains were "changing themselves", why did the therapeutic effect only last for a short period of time? Did the "re-wiring" somehow get "un-re-wired"? Did Norman Doidge's "changing brain", change itself back again? Which meant that brain/neuro plasticity was more like a rubber-band that stretched and then unstretched ? Whatever caused the temporary therapeutic effect, even Cheryl who was the BrainPort's premier "test pilot" could never get past a few hours of perfect balance after a session on the device, before the effect wore off, and poor Cheryl was back to her wobbly self again. Projecting that same thought in the other direction, why was it that Cheryl managed to increase the length of time that she was "wobble-free"? She started by achieving it for a few minutes, then a few hours, for all I know she's now an aerialist in a circus. (Haven't seen her for a while.) But still the time would come, when the "effect " wore off and another BrainPort "re-charge" was required.
None of these unanswered questions interfered with the new management morphing Paul's company into something that was focused on selling the marvelous device. And as "Candide" Angelos would soon learn, selling something that no one can explain, happens all the time in the commercial world. Business, after all, is about making money. Speaking of which, the new-guys-in-charge had also cut my already ridiculously-low monthly stipend in half. - A move that Paul sent them a note about (and copied me) calling the act "draconian" .
But hold on folks, there was more in store for "Candide". After firing me, (and changing the locks on the doors of the office so that I could no longer gain entry) they would also demand that I hand over all the videos you are now watching. The man that would be making the demands was a big-money attorney friend of the now new CEO who had also worked at Paul's neighbor's company. He was hired as "Vice-President and General Counsel"and since there was still no real investors, his big-money salary would at least be temporarily paid by using the portion of my stipend they had taken from me (and probably all of it after I was fired) as well as similar "contributions" from other staff members; and perhaps even some money from a million-dollar grant we had all been involved in getting for the company. (My videos were used in the grant proposal. In fact Paul also told me my videos were being used to attract other investors. But that's another story... )
About stories, there's a cute one that came out of all this madness. Because the new "Vice-President and General Counsel" continued his silly demands, before during and after my firing, and included one that I hand over the names of my Disney Theme Park friends so they could cash in on Paul's "feelies" concept, I called his (and the new CEO's) former boss who had since moved to California, told him about what his former attorney was doing and asked him what he thought I should do about it. The former boss said: "Get your own junk-yard dog." Which of course I couldn't afford and wouldn't have done even if I could afford one. But I did tell the "General Counsel" what his former boss thought of him.
Lesson: Pyrrhic victories can warm the heart - for a nanosecond.
While all this was happening, Paul tried his best to smooth things over. But there was an inevitability to the direction things were taking that was palpably obvious. One could feel the tension growing in the office air. Then one night Paul came to my apartment looking like a wet dishrag. Friend Paul proceeded to apologetically explain that he'd just come from an hours-long wrangling session with the new CEO during which the other guy finally had said to Paul that "only one man can run this company", and it was either him or Paul. And then a very sad Paul Bach-y-Rita said to a not-really-surprised Bill Angelos : "And frankly Bill, the Company now needs him more than it needs me... So starting tomorrow you'll be dealing with the attorneys." The "attorneys" part did surprise me. But I said nothing. We shook hands and Paul left.
I saw Paul one last time in late December, not long after I had been fired. It was at the home of the other contender for the CEO position. Although he wasn't chosen as CEO, he'd invited Paul and his wife and me to a brunch because he was attempting to woo me into going into business with him. Why? A few months earlier, I had mentioned that after telling Paul of a recent insight I'd had that pointed to the possible source of the BrainPort's therapeutic effect, Paul said that the originality of my insight might be worthy of its own BrainPort patent - hence the wooing process. Now the contender wanted to make sure, before Paul and his wife left for an extended vacation in Mexico, that Paul had not only said what I told him he had said, but that perhaps Paul would also be willing to help make my own patent a reality - which he also had told me. Paul assured him that he would, as long as I kept pursuing what was still in an embryonic stage of development in my mind. As for the new management team, while I was still with the company, they couldn't care less about what I supposedly might have discovered. What could a former comedy writer possibly have come up with when so many others had failed to figure out what was really behind the BrainPort's wondrous capabilities. Besides, they were too busy focusing on changing the company profile.
Then, one day, I believe it was in January of '05, fueled by nothing but his own arrogance that was building as we made plans to test my theory of what was behind the BrainPort's therapeutic effect in an Elderly Care facility in Milwaukee, the contender pulled one of the most mindlessly outrageous show-off stunts it has ever been my displeasure to witness - and one that raised all kinds of flags - thereby ruining all possibilities of a separate patent, because that's when the new management suddenly did take notice. Big time notice! And of course from that point on, Paul was blocked by the new honchos from helping me get the patent. They even told Paul, when he returned from Mexico, that his " 'friend' Bill " was behind the mindless stunt the contender had pulled - which I doubt that Paul believed. Nevertheless, the last time I saw Paul's signature, was on some papers I was sent that threatened to sue me if I didn't hand over the videos you have been watching. Furthermore, the new "Vice-President and General Counsel" of what was once a company that was wholly owned by Paul, his wife and his daughters, forbid Paul and all the other staff from having any contact with me, because a lawsuit was now pending. It continued to pend until long after Paul had died.
In retrospect, it must now be clear to all who were involved, that the only thing that the "pending lawsuit" managed to do, was to keep two friends who had re-connected more than half a century after graduating from the Bronx High School of Science together, and started a real company together - not one that was just on paper, as it had been when Paul Bach-y-Rita first invited his friend Bill Angelos to visit him - from ever seeing each other again.
PS: When the new management changed those locks on the company doors, that also meant that they were now in illegal possession of my $5000 dollar computer with five years of my work on it - which, of course, the good "Vice-President and General Counsel" promised to return to me. Yeah, sure.
So, what was this great insight I'd had that would even make another BrainPort patent possible ? Keep in mind, this wasn't my statement --I knew nothing about patents. It was Paul who suggested it. Just as it was Paul who asked if he could co-write the book I had started that was also based on the insight - once he'd read the first chapter of what I had already titled: "The Proprioceptive Self". I, of course, was honored by his request. The last email I ever got from Paul - which I have and will later post - was a response to my one-sentence new definition of the word "proprioception" - a word Paul himself had used in the first paper he'd written that had gained him national recognition while he still in Med School In Mexico. Paul's one-word response to my new definition: "Excellent!"
But I'm literally getting ahead of myself here....
What was the insight? It's easier to explain what led me to it than to explain the "what" of it. In fact, the complete picture would take about five more years of research on my part to explain it to myself. But I can show you what started it.
It began with something that happened not long after we had moved into the new offices - a move, you will recall, that was made possible by the $50,000 no-interest loan my videos on the website I had built for Paul, had managed to produce. And a move that marked the real beginning of the realization of a dream Paul had maintained for more than 40 years. He was finally off-campus, had a few company bucks in the bank, a real CEO who'd been a CEO with other companies prior to this one, a team of brilliant engineer-scientists and a Wisconsin farm-bred, bright, naturally multi-tasking Cheryl Schiltz - who was now our acting Jill-of-all-whatever-has-to be-done ... She answered phones, greeted people and most importantly had a chance to use the BrainPort every day, and report whatever new things were happening to her... which never really stopped happening, and I kept videotaping.
There is one other thing that Cheryl brought to the team that was never talked about, but which I always believed was her most valuable asset. She was the pioneer - the person who had gone - and continued to go - where no one else had gone before, with the BrainPort. Consequently, she had no expectations, and most importantly was saddled with no assumptions - which means she had a pristine mind and perspective when it came to exploring and reporting what she would be experiencing on each new encounter with this wonderfully weird new device my friend and his associates had come up with.
One day, Cheryl and I - went outside with my video camera - and this is what I watched happen:
THIS JUST IN! : I JUST LOCATED THE VIDEO YOU SEE IN AN EDITING ENVIRONMENT (BELOW) ... THE GENTLEMAN IN THE MIDDLE SEATED AT THE LAPTOP WITH EARPHONES ON IS NORMAN DOIDGE, MD . - WHAT HE WITNESSED THAT DAY (6 MARCH 2003) WOULD BECOME CHAPTER ONE OF HIS BEST SELLER - "THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF". SINCE FINDING THIS TAPE I HAVE DECIDED TO DEVOTE THE NEXT ENTRY TO SHOWING YOU EXACTLY WHAT DR.DOIDGE SAW THAT DAY, AND WHAT WAS TOLD TO HIM. -- I CAN PROMISE YOU THIS. NEITHER THE WOMAN ON THE LEFT (CHERYL SCHILTZ), NOR THE GENTLEMAN ON THE RIGHT, (YURI DANILOV, PhD) , NOR THE GENTLEMAN WHO IS NOT IN THIS SHOT BUT WAS ALSO IN THE ROOM THAT DAY,( PAUL BACH-Y-RITA, MD.) EVER MENTIONED ANYTHING REMOTELY RESEMBLING THE TITLE OF DR. DOIDGE'S BEST-SELLING BOOK.