CHAPTER TEN - OF ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
Welcome to PART TWO of "COMING TO YOUR SENSES - A Journey Through the MInd/Body Connection." The title: "Adrift in the New Psycho-Diaspora" contains a word I invented and a phrase I concocted to describe the state our species appears to be in since it left the moorings and relative Certainty (capital "C') once afforded us by such pre-postmodern cultural manifestations as those "ole-time religions"and the Physical Sciences according to Galileo and Isaac Newton. The 20th Century brought with it two new upstarts that appear to have put an end to the very concept of "Certainty" : Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Bohr's/ Heisenberg's Quantum Theory. More about that later, but for now, as an indicator of where things stand in mainstream Physics - I thought I might mention that way back in 1996, Physics Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogene had already written a book, the title of which was "THE END of CERTAINTY - Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature,"
Maybe it was just a coincidence but since the development of the so-called "New Physics" during the early 1900's, various cultural movements have done their best to fill the void left by the absence of Certainty. Two that come to mind are the post-World-War-II appearance of Existentialism - which was the darling of the intellectuals for a while and Ayn Rand's Objectivism - which has recently been resurrected in our own political sphere by the likes of Rand Paul and (God help us!) Glenn Beck. And in the realms of pop culture we have Brent Michael's rock group Poison's anthem (Give me) "Something To Believe In" and Green Day's multi-million-seller concept album turned Broadway Musical "American Idiot" -- which is all about that generation's lack of - yup! -something to believe in... More about all this later too... but I thought I'd establish my own moorings, by beginning PART TWO with the second installment of the video essay I started in the final Chapter of PART ONE. Like the ancient Greek symbol called "Ouroboros" you see above graphically suggests - the essay is this ancient Greek symbol called "Bill Angelos' " way of morphing PART ONE: "Two Years in a Brain/Body Mindset" into PART TWO.
The fundamental concept - the link - between PARTS ONE, TWO and the rest of this "Work In-Progress" is that same five-word statement of fact that re-established my relationship with my former high-school buddy-turned-famous-brain-scientist Paul Bach-y-Rita during our first phone conversation after more than half-a century of not seeing or hearing from each other: "Thought is a material process".
That phrase, when explored further (we'll do that later, too) reveals the error in the centuries-old belief that there's a real separation between the function of what was once believed to be a non-material Mind and the nothing-but-material Body. The illusory separation has been constructed by what was introduced in the first installment of the video essay - something psychiatrists call "the Censor" ; and what we can experience first-hand. Some say it's the only thing we can experience first hand. Other words for identifying where "The Censor" seems to exist include the "Me", the "Self" and the "I". And your personal versions of these identifiers can become the central characters in what follows - if "you" so choose. That part's up to "you" - which is another identifying word for what can ultimately be defined as "a process" - a material process consisting of your thoughts, feelings, hopes, desires, fears, etc. . And like all "processes" - the one "you" call "ME" is also in constant movement - which also means it's always changing. An important point to keep in mind, since It's because of this constant movement that - just when you think you've figured out who "you" are - "you" go and do something - well - "you" know how "you" are....
This essay is an attempt to trace the origins of my own "Journey" through my own Mind/Body Connection ... and in doing so to perhaps make clear how it eventually led to the writing of COMING TO YOUR SENSES. But to do so, I must ask the reader to mentally/physically multi-task. Sort of like the old challenge we used to throw at each other as kids: to chew gum while patting your stomach at the same time. Not really that hard to do, if one focuses. Fact is - trying to connect my previous life as a TV comedy writer to whatever it is I have morphed into at this point in my life, is a helluva lot harder. I'm hoping this video essay will at least help me figure out how it all happened.
So - a request: That you think of the video essay as the gum-chewing and the rest as the stomach-patting. Here's the next gum-chewing clip:
You'll find the next installment of the video essay at the very end of this entry - But for now, the stomach-patting continues:
In October of 1992, theoretical physicist David Bohm's last few moments of life consisted of putting the finishing touches on his epic re-interpretation of Quantum Theory which he called "The Undivided Universe", then getting into a cab as he always did at the end of a long day's work and going home to his wife, Sarah. Somewhere between Point A and point B of that continuum Professor Bohm left us. And the Universe - and we - have been the lesser without his presence. But, if given the opportunity, the affable Professor would probably be the first to remind me that the Universe - when observed in its totality - can't be defined in terms of "the less" - or "the more" ... Either one would deny the actuality of "WHAT IS". And, according to Bohm's final opus which he subtitled: "An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory", at the most fundamental level of WHAT IS - all forms of measurement - and for that matter - the thing being measured, the measuring instrument, and the one doing the measuring, all disappear:
"The notion of a permanently extant entity with a given identity, whether this be a particle or anything else, is therefore at best an approximation holding only in suitable cases." THE UNDIVIDED UNIVERSE-- Chapter 15 - Quantum Theory and The Implicate Order. pAGE 357
Nevertheless, Professor Bohm left behind a body of work whose content did indeed change the world. Moreover, he did it in a manner that is just beginning to be fully appreciated. The depth and breadth of its content touches almost every aspect of our culture -- from the manner in which our understanding of Nature has evolved in the last Century - via Physics and other scientific disciplines, to the way we perceive the world in our everyday lives. Some of these contributions have been quite subtle in their influence, while others continue to be overtly controversial. Bohm once told me of an incident that underscores how the very scope of his endeavors contributed to the controversy.
When famous Scientist and Historian Carl Von Weizacker asked him how it was that he had seemingly abandoned his unchallenged position as one of the pre-eminent living Theoretical Physicists, to delve into the nature of Consciousness – Bohm replied:
"To me, it was all one movement."
And rather than abandoning one for the other - as Von Weizacker wrongly surmised - Bohm further illustrated that singular movement in "Undivided Universe" which simultaneously offered a new explanation for Quantum Theory and showed how Consciousness cannot be separated from all other manifestations of Matter.
FULL STOP HERE - PLEASE!
That little statement - that Consciousness and Matter are inseparable - flies in the face of the pronoucements of another scientist whose work established the Body/Mind relationship I mentioned in the earliest pages of COMING TO YOUR SENSES - Rene Descartres.
You'll recall that Descartes concluded (as he illustrated in this drawing on the left) that there was no relationship between the Mind and the Body -- for the former was the seat of the "Soul" and everyone knew that the Soul was the exclusive domain of God. 400 hundred years later the high priests of Science - the ones Norman Doidge calls "neuroplasticians" decided that not only is the notion of a Soul absurd, but everyone knows that the Brain does it all. So they took all the attributes that once were the domain of the Divine Soul/ Body mindset and morphed them into the present Brain/Body Mindset.
And that's the Mindset that existed throughout most of mainstream Science, except for a few voices of descent - until 2003 when Messrs Bennett and Hacker published their landmark "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience".
This book, which has brought about an ongoing series of very visual debates sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) unequivocally states that Neuroscience has erroneously usurped certain qualities that can only be attributed to the organism as a whole, and assigned them to the Brain. And the Brain is by no means capable of doing anything "by itself"; as Dr. Norman Doidge's title "The Brain that Changes Itself" implies.
All of what I have just reiterated - in case you forgot, or never bothered to read it - pretty much also sums up what "PART ONE:Two Years in a Brain/Body Mindset" was all about. Except that the reason I was in that mindset was because it also happened to be the mindset of my former high school buddy/famous neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita when he and I joined forces in the same year that Bennett/Hacker book was published - 2003. And since Paul was the one who'd invited me to be a part of his research team that was delving into the mysteries of his amazing invention - which he had also erroneously named the BrainPort - I just adopted the prevailing mindset. But I would later figure out that what the BrainPort does has very little to do with the Brain. It merely responds as the rest of the organism does, when it is presented with the signal that the device is generating. What makes it all happen is this:
The signal alters the subject's perceptual capabilities.
I just blurted out the secret behind the so-called BrainPort folks! ... the one that my friend Paul and his associates had been searching for in the Brain when I showed up. The trouble was they were looking for a quality that isn't located in the Brain -- Or as they would later claim - that it occurs in the neurons or some other part of the Central Nervous System. Not that changes don't also take place within the CNS and the Brain - Of course they do! But in all cases something is being introduced into the Brain or element of the CNS we are observing that makes it change.
In the case of the so-called BrainPort it's an electronic signal that originates outside the subject and is introduced tactiley - that is, through the sense of touch and more specifically through the tongue - which is also part of the largest "sense organ" - the skin. AND! It is the Senses that initially adjust as a result of the signal.The CNS and the Brain just do what the Senses tell them to do! In fact Paul's original paper about the phenomenon had the term "Sensory Plasticity" in its title, not "Brain Plasticity" or "Neuroplasticity". You can look it up for yourselves. The publication date was 1972.
And yet those individuals who are presently sitting in the catbord seat of mainstream Science - the neuroscientists - keep looking for answers in the Brain and the CNS for the causes of Autism, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and similar dysfunctions. But in each of these, it's the information acquired by the sensory systems or more correctly the perceptual systems that is being somehow blocked or disrupted in its attempts to reach the Brain and CNS.
The resulting suggestion - therefore - is this: It is a fact that Perceptual Systems are attention-based functions of the entire organism - not just a single part of it. If all of the dysfunctions mentioned above indicate a deterioration in the relationship between perceptual functions and the ultimate bodily actions which are presently (and erroneously) believed to be a product of only the Brain and the CNS, then perhaps what must be addressed - and possibly even be "re-educated"- is the relationship between the perceptions and the actions that are involved in the proper functioning of human beings. That's precisely what the Brainport does. And it is that relationship which deserves further study in the dysfunctions mentioned above, rather than just delving deeper and deeper into the myriad individual parts that are involved in the amazing, infinitely complex process we call life!
The same is also true of how neuroscientists approach their observations of fMRI images of Brain activity. They believe they are looking at the Brain thinking. But Brains don't think - nor do they see - as my friend Paul had concluded - and as I had added to the confusion by using his patently false statement as the headline of the website I constructed for him : "We don't see with our eyes, we see with our brains". Nonsense!
Let me put it another way:
Question: What is it that walks ? - Legs or the person they belong to ?
Answer: Same thing with Seeing or Touching or Perceiving or Thinking. They are all powers that can only be attributed to the whole person - not some part or even parts of him/her. But that's precisely what so many different disciplines of mainstream scence continue to do - whether its physics or biology or psychology.
So what was it that woke me up to the obvious limitations of the Brain/Body mindset? It was a word - a single word that Paul and I discovered we had both previously encountered - even though 50 years of living since those shared high school days had taken each of us into decidedly different professions and experiences :
I can’t remember who mentioned the word first, but I would soon learn that the word appeared in a paper Paul had written while he was still in Medical School in Mexico, way back in 1960. The paper was written in Spanish, but its content was so insightful and unusual, beginning with the inclusion of that word in its title, that it attracted the attention of the head of the Brain Research Department at Harvard University - Dr. John F. Fulton. Fulton called Paul and asked if he would send him a translated copy of his paper.
Because Fulton's now deceased colleague and the man who had initially identified and actually coined the term “proprioception” half a century before, Nobel Laureate Sir Charles Sherrington, did so while studying the very activity that Paul’s paper was about – Proprioception’s relation to Extraocular muscle activity and eye movement. Here's a copy of the "thank-you note" Paul received for his endeavors from Fulton himself:
(NOTE: The above shot of Paul was taken in 2004 in front of the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. I've kept the scratches and cracks in as a reminder of the trials our 54-year relationship went through - first as friends and later as colleagues - until we were forbidden to even speak to each other by the attorneys who took over his once family-owned business when he was dying and in desperate need of financial assistance. COMING TO YOUR SENSES is dedicated to that relationship, which - in the end - was responsible for opening the door to our understanding of the importance the role Perception plays in every aspect of our existence - including how it affects what life itself means to each of us. And it is that ongoing deeper understanding of Perception that will continue to unfold in these pages you are now reading. )
While I was intrigued by Paul’s understanding of Proprioception in the classically accepted physical sense, what heightened both our interests, was when I told him that years before, I had been introduced to the word “proprioception” in an entirely different context by David Bohm.
Proprioception was the cornerstone of a series of annual Seminars Bohm held between 1986 and 1992 on the nature of Consciousness. It was during these Seminars that Bohm first introduced a proposal that suggested that it was possible to develop a kind of awareness of certain aspects of Consciousness - specifically our thought processes - that parallels our innate awareness of our physical bodies in space – what is generally known as proprioception. He called the kind of awareness he was proposing, “Proprioception of Thought”.
Why would anyone want to develop such a capacity?
One of the recurring themes of the Krishnamurti/Bohm Dialogues which were ongoing for almost 30 years, was an inquiry into the nature and limitations of the thinking process and the inherent flaw in a system that uses thought to solve problems caused by its limitations.
Example: If you click on the word "Excerpt" below, you'll hear a very brief one-minute clip from the beginning of one such dialogue. Bohm mentions a question psychiatrist David Shainberg has raised about "fragmentation", which is a necessary basic action of the entire cognitive process in our everyday lives. Fragmentation makes it possible for us to abstract "things" from the whole of what we perceive, which we then also name and interact with. The screen you are reading this on is part of a computer that's probably sitting on a desk or table. Fragmentation is what makes all that naming and subsequent interacting possible. It also makes possible the simple act of reading this sentence. But fragmentation also creates arbitrary psychological divisions which can cause major problems, including one that we've all been victims of in one way or another - and which is now running rampant on a global level among the leaders of certain nations and religions - self-deception. This is the concern that psychiatrist Shainberg raises in this excerpt.
The Krishnamurti/Bohm dialogues led to inquiries into the possibility of bringing into play a form of non-verbal insight that might be able to not only perceive the dangers of self-deception caused by fragmentation, but to develop a capacity for the avoidance of those dangers, much like one sees the edge of a cliff and knows not to go beyond it. Studies with infants have shown that such an awareness is indeed learned at quite an early stage of development, as the body learns how to move itself. What Bohm would later do was to look for a scientifically-based term that described such a possibility. He found it in the word "proprioception".
From the time we are born into this world, we begin developing an awareness of how to move our bodies. Watch a newborn as it attempts to control its movements and compare it to its capabilities to do so at 6 months and then when it begins to crawl and then walk. That is all learned behavior. But what is learned is not accumulated in the form of "data"; this kind of learning seems to be of an entirely different nature. Once the process - for example crawling - is understood, it doesn't have to be re-called by thinking - it becomes an innate aspect of the subject.This is what proprioception does on a physical level - that is, with the body. Many athletes approach this proprioceptive form of learning in an open-ended fashion - often with spectacular results. Bohm surmised that since thought's primary characteristic is also movement -i.e., try paying attention to a thought - it quickly becomes another thought and another etc... much like the process of crawling becomes walking - perhaps what Krishnamurti and he were talking about was the possibility of developing a similar non-judgmental, purely proprioceptive approach to watching thought. If this was possible, a similar kind of learning about the process of thought might also take place - with similarly open-ended results.
Here he is in the final session of the 1990 Seminar during which he begins to summarize the aspect of Proprioception and how it might be applied to Thought:
Fast forward to Madison WI -2003. When the term proprioception suddenly took center stage I was reminded that Bohm had made the point that it was a capacity that could be accessed by both mind and body. If that capacity was the basis for some kind of learning, perhaps this was a key to understanding how it was possible for Paul’s invention to produce the mysterious “residual effect” of balance that subject’s using it were experiencing even after physically disengaging from it. Maybe some kind of learning was taking place.
This all took a while to percolate in my mind, until one day I mentioned it to Paul and we were suddenly off on a mutual quest in an entirely new direction -- to discover a "core mechanism” of his invention that might be the source of some kind of learning. If this was true,that's what enabled the subject to maintain their balance even after disengaging from the device--some form of learning was taking place. We soon also observed that this learning in the form of a residual or therapeutic effect was lasting for increasingly longer periods of time... much like the crawler eventually becomes a stable walker and then even a runner. After a few months of observing (and videotaping ) subjects, before, during and after their sessions with the device, I began writing a book about our observations.
Prompted by psychologist James J. Gibson’s radical re-interpretation of Proprioception, which rejected Physiology's generally accepted view of it as a purely physically-based phenomenon, I titled the book “The Proprioceptive Self” . When I showed the title and the first few pages of what I was writing to Paul, he responded more than approvingly -- he graciously asked if he could write the book with me; certainly validating the notion that this was a track worth pursuing. But life got in the way of us continuing on that track as a team.
Here's the opening sentence of that first Chapter to which Paul responded so enthusiastically:
THE PROPRIOCEPTIVE SELF
Proprioception provides us with a physical and psychological foundation upon which we can extract self-meaning from all sensory input.
It would only be after both men had passed away that I learned that Bach-y-Rita and Bohm had something else in common, besides their mutual interest in the word proprioception.
Back in the early ‘60’s although each man’s scientific discipline was light years away from the other’s, their respective research paths were inspired and informed by the work of the same person, James J. Gibson and his revolutionary insights into Perception.
By then I too was inspired enough to spend the next few years refining my own understanding of Gibson’s work.
I have since put together the following video based on Gibson’s insights. It illustrates the central role proprioception plays in the everyday life activities of the human organism, and why it is fundamental to the understanding of how the BrainPort works.
And so, the curtain now falls on the the saga of two high-school buddies who reconnected again after 54 years, and for a brief two-year period in their lives almost touched the stars - together ....
Rest well, friend Paul... I may be leaving our mutual quest as it pertains to your "BrainPort" - which might have been more accurately named a "MindPort" since it really does most of its magic with a person's Perceptual Systems and not the Brain... But know that what was learned as a result of the time we spent together was merely Prologue to what follows.
Now back to more gum chewing: