Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Saskatoon adventure

This whole past weekend I was in Saskatoon staying with a friend and her family in their home; I volunteered to be rapid-tested a couple times in the process to make sure no covid bugs were present in the posterior wall of my nasopharynx. 
I did my own swabbing, which although it did not hurt in the slightest, was exceedingly tickly. 
I do not think I could have tolerated anyone else doing that to me - so ticklish. 
It brought tears to my eyes as it was. 
I expect that one's sensory nervous system would easily adapt to repeated testing, however. 

The snot-drenched swab is put into the little test tube and five drops of reagent is added, left for a short period of time, then dabbed on the tester. The strip at the bottom turns pink, which disappears, and a line is left. Or if you are positive for coronavirus infection, two lines are left. 

The kit set up

                                           My negative test result.                  Two lines would indicate a positive test. 


So, why was I in Saskatoon, invited into somebody else's personal covid-free bubble? 
This particular friend had proposed a reshoot of my entire online dermoneuromodulating class at Embodia with a professional film company. She found a space, handled all the logistics, food, everything, including looking after me, most spectacularly and efficiently. She made sure that all who attended the presentation/overview were double-vaxed and masked, including the camera people. 
There was a brief moment of concern when one of the attendees notified her that his girlfriend had tested positive (which is why I took a second test) but as it turned out he tested negative, so we carried on and completed the entire shoot over the 3-day period. 
The camera guys were great, and their lighting and camera equipment impressive. The mic was clip-on, very tiny, and the battery box so small that it and the cord fit easily inside the front of my bra, totally invisible. They used to work for a TV station. It was evident that they were pro, the way they moved around completely silently and signaled to each other with just hand signals.   
On occasion, a train would go by out back, and they would stop me until it had passed out of earshot. But remarkably (and thankfully) that did not happen very often. 


I have come to realize (with slowly growing horror) the extent to which my own profession (physio) is in the process of being taken over by the chakra belief system. A glimpse was gained when an individual I was chatting with used a chakra framework to discuss her neck issues.
A physio. A yoga physio. 
I don't care what people do with themselves or their own brains on their own time, or what they "believe," but I really do not think their belief systems should be imposed on my profession. I want my profession to be science-based. Maybe it never will be.  
I guess I must have been unaware until just this past weekend how deep chakra talk has permeated into the way (probably all yoga-physios) think and speak. Such a slippery slope from there into operator notions of "energy" and "healing." Exact same BS as the massage profession is up against. I have intense disturbing visions of physio becoming awash in crystals and all the other crap that goes with chakra BS.
I don't know how to deal with it.
I mean, I guess it's less (overtly) harmful than the way my profession was taken over by the bone-cracker mentality 40 years ago.
But it may be ultimately MORE harmful in that it uses the same mental shortcut pathways (exceedingly UNcritical thinking) PLUS, it comes all draped in gauzy "spiritual" flowing robes of metaphor, more insidious, less easily dismantled/disconfirmed by scientific investigation.
Sigh. ๐Ÿ˜ž
Yet more weeds. ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ
I may need a new and better cognitive weed-whacker. ๐Ÿคจ๐Ÿง 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Thoughts on authoritarianism

Every so often on Facebook you see frames pop up that can be added to one's profile picture. I saw one I liked and added it - programed to go bye-bye in a month. 

It made me think a lot about authoritarianism when somebody pressed me on science being authoritarian. I pushed back because I haven't seen evidence of science, or actual scientists, being authoritarian. Rather I've seen authoritarians trying to justify their authoritarianism by using science to try to justify themselves. 

If any group of humans understands that life is a verb, not a noun, it's actual scientists. 
They get that things, like viruses, like life itself, evolve. They try to keep up, they don't impose. They know they'll never be completely right about anything but they always strive to be less wrong about everything. 

The ones who impose, the ones who are authoritative, are those we elect to lead us. Hello? WE elect them to lead us! 
And from whom do they seek information on how best to lead during a pandemic? From effects of climate change? 
From science, we hope! 
That way we can all stay together and move as a large group in hopefully the right direction at the right times, stay nimble against threats to our human collective existence. It's a pretty good system, democracy is - it allows authority/authoritarianism to spread out and be dilute as possible among as large a group of individuals as possible while protecting the body politic from as much die-off as possible. Because you see, authoritarianism is always in there as a default brain thing - but how we organize ourselves in groups will either ameliorate or exacerbate it. 


Speaking of authoritarianism, I also made this little picture: 

The pic at the back is of soldiers from the famous Star Wars movie, and the one at the front was taken just yesterday or the day before, of the new regime in Afghanistan. To me, there is a striking resemblance.  

Both were/are authoritarian. 

There is nothing on this earth more authoritarian than a collective of males banding together to save themselves from the verbs of life by trying to turn everything into nouns to be defended or vanquished. 
By them. 
They keep for themselves alone the right to be verbs and everything else becomes a noun to be manipulated.
Meanwhile they are "salvationed" from having to think for themselves because they take orders instead from whoever feeds them and gives them uniforms to wear. They can go back to being dependent babies in some ways. 
They crave certainty. 
Insecure people don't see existence as a human as being an active agent who has learned to surf on a moving body of water. Instead, they want solid ground. They want to turn everything into rocks that they can pick up and throw. They are vulnerable to wanting authoritarianism to dictate to them what to do with themselves. They want religion to tell them the answers to life's conundrums. They want to blame the world and everyone else in it for their own personal existential angst. Especially they blame females, because perhaps they just can't reconcile with the fact that they came out of one of those "others" and find the very thought rather horrifying.

So many examples of this tendency in the human primate brain - well, for sure the male human primate brain, because males are very homosocial and they love to dress up all the same so that as a group they look more foreboding/less human.
Women perhaps not as much. We prefer to remain individuals I suspect. 

A third thing I saw today that reminded me of authoritarianism was a post from Adam (Manual therapy sux!) Meakins, who I've spoken of before here and here


I enjoy this guy and his take on the world, even though it's so opposite my own, and even though he is so "authoritarian" with his stance or maybe adamant is a better word. 
(Right, adamant is a way better word! It contains his first name even!)

There is nobody on the planet probably, as wedded to the idea that tissues are the cause of back pain than Stu McGill. There is nobody on the planet probably, as prepared to openly confront and contradict him on this than Adam! ๐Ÿ˜„ 

So, who's the authoritarian here? 
What is the background to all this? 
In my mind, I put Stu McGill and all of chiropractic and all of orthopaedic manual therapy and most of orthopaedic surgery all in the same boat: those who subscribe to it want nouns they can manipulate, not messy changey verbs that are like water that they cannot grasp.
They are transfixed by skeletons. They love bones. They sit there and puddle around with individual vertebrae in front of them on the desk, fitting them together, pondering for hours on how they move, what stops them moving, trying to design systems of thinking, algorithms for manipulating them, and assuming (this is the important bit) that somehow those bones not moving on each other is what pains people, not that pain might be something (in the nervous system!! Hello??) that stops them from moving. 
And from that, they built themselves quite the authoritarian world to inhabit. 
One that I examined for a time, quite casually, then, in the end, rejected as pseudo. 

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am anti-authoritarian in most aspects of life. But not in a meaningless way. 
I got the shots and I wear a mask when out and about. 
I enjoy freedom but not free-dumb. 


Sunday, August 08, 2021

The battle continueth, part 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the fun tennis match between Adam Meakins (manual therapy sux!) and Chad Cook (manual therapy is unfairly demonized even though I have taken great scientific pains to point out its shortcomings).
See part 1 here

Edzard Ernst has given the Cook paper a good looksee: Here is his take

Here is my favourite excerpt: 

"Cook’s defence of manual therapy is clumsy, inaccurate, ill-conceived, misleading and often borders on the ridiculous. In the age of evidence-based medicine, therapies are not ‘demonized’ but evaluated on the basis of their effectiveness and safety. Manual therapies are too diverse to do this wholesale. They range from various massage techniques, some of which have a positive risk/benefit balance, to high-velocity, low-amplitude thrusts, for which the risks do not demonstrably outweigh the benefits." 

My bold. 
I like to think that the kind of manual therapy that I spent the last 35 years of life practicing and the past 20 developing into a nervous system and pain-science-based approach to treating patients, and also decluttering minds, falls at the positive tip of the spectrum of effective and safe, as far as possible away from the orthopaedic manual therapy uncomfortable pop-em end. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Monday, July 26, 2021

The battle continueth

I watch this battle with interest and enthusiasm not because I personally have anything to gain or lose anymore, but because I just enjoy it. I get why people flock to tennis games and things like that. 

Recently a paper by Chad Cook came to my attention on twitter: The Demonization of Manual Therapy,  
in response to a years-long blog siege by Adam Meakins, a physio in England, who argues that manual therapy deserves to be taken down by a few or by many pegs in our world. 

Some disclosure on my personal perspective. 
I am (rather was) a licensed physio in Canada for 50 years. I am no longer licensed but I still consider myself a physio, recently retired. 
I saw a lot in 50 years. I felt the Big Wave of orthopaedic manual therapy hit in the 1980's. I wanted to be a manual therapist but found I was allergic to the frank discomfort of the clunky procedural learning, plus I found the biomedical, biomechanical premise, "pain comes from joints,"  kinda stupid, really. So I plowed on with what was called at the time "soft tissue" techniques. 
A great deal of snobbishness went on - those who became "certified" as orthopaedic manual therapists within the profession looked down their noses at those of us who dropped out. We were considered non-scientific and less qualified. Our bottom-up "soft tissue" propositions were pooh-poohed and scorned, even though theirs were equally suspect. 
The gestalt of it all, the momentum of it was understandable - they wanted to create something, they wanted to scientifically examine manual therapy, which was good, I guess... Cook's paper exemplifies that attitude I think. The flip side of that, though, is that the dubious snobby attitudes of OMT, buttressed by a bit of added 'silk purse from a sow's ear' type of academic prestige, held strong even as good research came along to disconfirm said propositions! We can't afford to lose any ground in our social climb! A fortress has been built and must therefore be defended, dammit! 

For me, the entire purpose of manual therapy was to help people with pain problems they were having, more importantly, that they were worried about, anywhere along a scale of being annoyed by but not really disabled much by their ache or pain, all the way to being terribly anxious and physically impaired by it. 
The central organizing principle around which I revolved for most of my career was pain relief. Period. 
I was happy to embrace:
1. pain science and the growing wave of research dedicated to its relief or at least self-management 
2. research that supported a biopsychosocial attitude toward MSK pain to replace the clunky biomedical biomechanical one we had been saddled with since Descartes 400 years prior

The war rages on. People get upset at Meakins, who is seen to have started the fight. He doesn't care. He's quite ready to be a martyr. His perspective is that it's a righteous fight and that he is a warrior doing Something Good for the profession. He wants to wake people up. He cheerfully lobs his catapults at the fortress, which he knows like the back of his hand. He gets captured, brought to "court," then released because he is as good a science-based arguer as he is at getting under people's skin!  
Waking up is uncomfortable.
I get it. 

I have always lived outside that manual therapy fortress, even though I know a lot of the tunnels into and out of it. My strategy to get through life was to argue for a new version of manual therapy because I decided based on pain science that none the old ways deserved any respect, based as they had been on faulty premises and narratives.  

Cook defends the fortress. Most of the defenders of any fortress are those who would feel very psychosocially uncomfortable living outside it. I think in the manual therapy world fortress defenders still entertain delusions of grandeur, the possibility that one day, manual therapy will gain the respect they feel deep inside themselves that it deserves. But he took the bait and fought back in the literature, instead of just grumbling and trying to take Meakins out politically. And for that, I applaud Cook. 

Meakins cheerfully rebutted Cook's paper in this most recent blog post. ๐Ÿ˜€

To know what these two are like in person, in real-time debate, watch this podcast hosted by Jared Powell. ๐Ÿ‘

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

More about insular cortex and pain: Musings, Part 2

A few months ago I had a dopamine spurt of some kind, and published a blog post to do with brain lateralization and insular cortex and implications about pain. Here is a link: A few new musings about pain and brain
Consider this a follow-up post to that one. 

Firstly, I want to include a link to the Tucker paper from 1984, the one I found buried in a book about brain and self/no self.
Tucker, D. M., & Williamson, P. A. (1984). Asymmetric neural control systems in human self-regulationPsychological Review, 91
(2), 185–215
(Obviously, I forgot to include this particular link at the time, even though I linked to all the other things that are connected and that mostly just swim in a school, like fish, in my mind somewhere. That's lock-down brain for you. It misses a few things.) 
Looks like I did link it in this old blogpost from 2012 though, about Iain McGilchrist's book on brain lateralization. Asymmetry of brain sides: size, structure, neurochemistry

Here is the abstract: 

Reviews the literature on the neurotransmitter substrates controlling motor readiness, showing that these substrates produce qualitative changes in the flow of information in the brain: Dopaminergic activation increases informational redundancy, whereas noradrenergic arousal facilitates orienting to novelty. Evidence that these neurotransmitter pathways are lateralized in the human brain is consistent with the left hemisphere's specialization for complex motor operations and the right hemisphere's integration of bilateral perceptual input. Principles of attentional control are suggested by the operational characteristics of neural control systems. The affective features of the activation and arousal systems are integral to their adaptive roles and may suggest how specific emotional processes dynamically regulate cognitive function. (4½ p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

This morning a member of the Dermoneuromodulating group posted an abstract to a paper about the insular cortex and pain from way back in 2010 which somehow escaped my attention at the time: 
Wiech K, Lin CS, Brodersen KH, Bingel U, Ploner M, Tracey I. Anterior insula integrates information about salience into perceptual decisions about painJ Neurosci. 2010;30(48):16324-16331. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2087-10.2010

Here is the abstract:

The decision as to whether a sensation is perceived as painful does not only depend on sensory input but also on the significance of the stimulus. Here, we show that the degree to which an impending stimulus is interpreted as threatening biases perceptual decisions about pain and that this bias toward pain manifests before stimulus encounter. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we investigated the neural mechanisms underlying the influence of an experimental manipulation of threat on the perception of laser stimuli as painful. In a near-threshold pain detection paradigm, physically identical stimuli were applied under the participants' assumption that the stimulation is entirely safe (low threat) or potentially harmful (high threat). As hypothesized, significantly more stimuli were rated as painful in the high threat condition. This context-dependent classification of a stimulus as painful was predicted by the prestimulus signal level in the anterior insula, suggesting that this structure integrates information about the significance of a stimulus into the decision about pain. The anticipation of pain increased the prestimulus functional connectivity between the anterior insula and the midcingulate cortex (MCC), a region that was significantly more active during stimulation the more a participant was biased to rate the stimulation as painful under high threat. These findings provide evidence that the anterior insula and MCC as a “salience network” integrate information about the significance of an impending stimulation into perceptual decision-making in the context of pain.

Now, it's true that this 2010 paper is specifically about nociceptive pain, and we must bear in mind that there are a few other kinds now formally acknowledged by IASP.  

Also it talks about "activation level of bilateral anterior insular cortex." So it would seem that these researchers weren't interested in sifting out any info about lateralization in their study. Oh well... c'est la vie. 

I was prompted to dig up a 2015 Scientific American Mind article by Lydia Denworth on the connection between touch and insular cortex, mostly for the amazing illustrations of representative maps for somato-sensory cortex and for insular cortex. (Note: the link does not contain these images but the original does.)

Note that the insular cortex map is "hypothetical" - I guess this means that the researchers didn't go directly into the brain with probes the way Wilder Penfield did for the somatosensory cortex. However, I am willing to accept that it represents C-tactile afferents, those lovely little pleasure sensors all over the skin that the somatosensory cortex doesn't map very well for. 
In fact, if you compare the two maps they are like opposites. Big mouth, small mouth. Big hand, small hand. Small body, large body. Small head, large head. 

Anyway, I'm all out of dopamine, so, time to stop. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Musings about a grumpy book review

I wrote a book a few years ago, and reviews are still coming in. One of the most recent ones made me laugh. 

And you still gave it 4 stars. So thank you. 

I can see that you are cognitively dissonant and feeling disturbed by that, but still interested. I appreciate that. 


I want to parse this out just a little bit. I presume this person is an osteopath, and if so, was steeped fully in anatomical relationships and tissue types and taught an operative mindset, taught that they would end up with magic hands and be able to change tissue with them. 

Even if they weren't an osteopath, even if they were from any other branch of the human primate social grooming tree, they would likely still think that way. 

I am from the physiotherapy branch and was fully indoctrinated in muscles and bones. I systematically pondered through all the different kinds of tissues there are in the body, practiced my moves, and still couldn't figure out WTF I was doing or why things I did worked. I felt I was conceptually stuck in a mental ghetto, yearning to be free. Going to countless cont. ed. classes only helped a tiny bit. 

Finally, I found one that helped me free myself from the mental ghetto. It was David Butler's class in Vancouver, in 2000. He taught nerve physiology. How pain might arise from nerves becoming trapped. How they might recover by targeted handling.
Like music to the ears. 

I graduated in 1971. How stupid I believed I was, to have gone that long - three decades!! - without ever considering that the nervous system might have something to do with something, or that less doing, less provisional acceptance of implausible explanations, and more actual thinking might be in order, and that one could trust the nervous system to do its own self-correcting and that the manual part of manual therapy might be just to help it remove its own obstacles from its own self.  I wrote that book to help other practitioners avoid all those pitfalls. 


John Vervaeke, a cognitive scientist and cognitive psychologist at U. Toronto, has many, many youtube video lectures out, explaining how the mind works and his favourite topic, relevance realization. His quest is to figure out how the brain chooses what to pay attention to and why. He wants to help the world awaken from "the meaning crisis." He wants to attain wisdom. He wants to lay out a path that is scientifically valid, grounded in reality, existentially non-threatening, and will eventually circle back to Plato, his favourite ancient philosopher, with touches of Socrates along the way. 

What I have done with these lectures is try to understand them by making PowerPoint notes of some of them. 


He has been interviewed countless times.  I recently watched him interviewed by Rebel Wisdom in 2018. He described, as usual, how early impressions about the divided brain left implications that were quite wrong, designating entire human beings as either right-brained or left-brained, when in fact all people use both sides of the brain together at all times.  

Things I took away were that actually the two sides inhibit each other, usually successfully, until agreement is reached and a mutually satisfactory solution to a problem is produced. He talked about the main functions - that both sides perceive and comprehend, but that the right side is dealing with whole landscapes, both inner and outer worlds, while the left side, the one that can speak and grasp, is fast and smart, but highly procedural, more like a functional appendage of the right side (the right side's emissary),  but likes to control, and gets angry when its power is constricted or if it feels its worldview has been contradicted. (There are many nuances I've left out here but are really worth the bother of watching the entire video.)


Anyway, here are a few thoughts for whatever they're worth. 

1. Manual therapy is taught as procedural knowing, for the most part. I presume that most people, like myself, are interested in having our procedural knowing backed up by accurate propositional knowing. The sad truth is, most of the propositional knowing that our procedural knowing came saddled with is easily refuted with relatively basic testing. Almost none of these propositions - OK, none that I know of - have held up under scrutiny. E.g., palpation (or any of the things people claim to be able to palpate correctly) has no interrater reliability. 

2. Perspectival knowing (putting oneself in another person's shoes vis a vis their lived life) or participatory knowing (being intensely interested in how they feel and being able to feel their feelings, however inexactly, but possible given such phenomena as mirror synesthesia) have been ignored. 

3. Personally I favour manual therapy as an avenue for growth in all four areas, but only when certain boundaries are established. 

a) prodedurally: do no harm, be that harm nociceptive or noceboic

b) propositionally: get into the right basic science. Science exists to disprove, not "prove." Accept that your favourite "method" may have been disproven long ago. What follows after that is accepting one's role as being that of interactor, not as operator. This may be the hardest thing of all: to take a backseat to someone else's nervous system. Manual therapy as a two-way street between two nervous systems, not just one doing some "procedure" to another, not being a "magic hands" person, not being "the great healer." You have to learn be receptive, and carefully be prepared for feedback through your hands even as you might be doing things with them. Long periods of quiet stillness will permit it to get through. 

c) perspectivally: do a lot of reading about life, about other people, other cultures; read a lot of literature, or if you wish, listen/watch a lot of podcast interviews (my favourite way of learning others' perspectives these days).  Stay out of the social media bubbles. They can trap you into wrong ways of thinking. 

d) participatory: anyone who possesses interpersonal sensitivity will likely have enough of this to get by on. Psychotherapy is as full of "methods" for counseling as manual therapy has "methods" of treating for this or that kind of pain felt in a body part. Even if you lack intrinsic capacity for sensory empathy or mirror synesthesia, where you can for a brief period of time feel someone else's "pain" in your own body, you can still learn compassion; compassion, like wisdom, can take a lifetime to develop. However, there are ways to learn the basics of almost anything from books or from other people, through communicating and reflecting. 

4. I think all the bits of propositional knowing that go with standard conventional manual therapy training, even though they are largely incomplete and/or completely wrong in the light of modern neuroscience, are still passed on because it's convenient for the schools to do so and because the left brains of all teachers and students get rattled and angry if they aren't. To be fair, it's true that we learn to do by doing. I mean, I learned that as a child in 4-H class in a farming community. However, nuances must be examined and contradictions pondered, in any walk of life, perhaps especially in a walk of life like manual therapy in which so much that is obsolete must be tossed.  

We might start out this way..... 

But we have to tweak it until it gets to be more like this. 


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A few new musings about pain and brain

Sometimes several stray disparate thoughts come together and have a party in my mind and won't leave until I try to make sense of how they may relate to each other by writing them down. 

Anything I've ever read about how the brain works, I come away with an image of how the brain never is still, how it waves like the ocean, has currents, states of activity that although they may vary, never actually cease. 

Until we die. 

And anything I've ever read about consciousness is how it fluctuates, dims and brightens and dims again, naturally, all by itself, about every 90 minutes or so. This pattern is also seen in sleep studies. 

So, bear in mind, this is where I am coming from in this post: I see my conscious awareness of myself as a self floating like a bit of flotsam in an ocean of brain activity. I do not regard my brain as belonging to me: instead, I see my"self" as belonging to it. 


I have a book open at all times, even if the only time I ever read a hard copy book is in the bathroom. I do not use a smartphone while in there. 

It has taken me ages to read through "No Self No Problem" by Chris Niebauer, but I got all the way through it and decided to read it again. It's a short small book, paperback, easy to pick up and lay face down again without closing it. Does not take up a lot of counter space. 

Good thing I decided to re-read it:
On page 50 he writes (in chapter 3 about pattern-seeking); "There is some evidence that neurotransmitters affect our pattern-perception capability. Because of this, it is important to note that the two sides of the brain differ in terms of their neurochemistry." He points to a reference, Tucker 1984. So I looked up the reference: Tucker, D. M., & Williamson, P. A. (1984). Asymmetric neural control systems in human self-regulation. Psychological Review, 91(2), 185–215. 

Whoa. This was news to me. Totally missed that first time through. 

To continue, page 50: "The left brain is dominant for dopamine, whereas the right brain is dominant for serotonin and norepinephrine. There are many functions associated with dopamine that range from the euphoria of falling in love to the movements of the body. Since the 1950s it has also been thought that schizophrenia is the result of too much dopamine. One of the hallmarks of schizophrenia is seeing patterns that are not there, that is to say, hallucinations." 

I immediately thought of Anil Seth's TedTalk about the predictive brain and the software he used to simulate hallucination. 

I put the Tucker and Williamson title into google scholar, papers since 2017, and found this nice gem: Large-scale neural networks and the lateralization of motivation and emotion.  There are many more, over 6000. 

All this echoes what I gleaned ages ago from reading A.D.Bud Craig's work on lateralization of interoception. I took detailed notes from a video in which he explained to a group of Swedish neuroscientists about laterality and brain function. Please read through my notes, or just watch the video. So informative! 

It also echoes a recent journal containing articles all about interoception and self. 



Pain is known to rob people of their sense of self. 

So, I wonder, what if pain is about some weird deficit of some neurotransmitter, maybe just on one side, which would normally just inhibit pain naturally, but if it's not there, it's like a window, the blinds of which block out blaring sun have been removed?  What if pain is not a "thing," but rather absence of some "thing"? Some veil that should be there so we do not have to experience too much of our own interior milieux? Our own interoceptive sensory input? 

I learned a long time ago that the brain was full of inhibition, that in fact what it mostly does is inhibit itself. One side inhibits the other side and vice versa. Both sides rostrally inhibit brain parts that are more caudal. A great big inhibition machine. [NOTE: Back in here today with an edit, something I forgot to mention yesterday - if this is true, then this might be why SRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) help with pain... and might have something to do with that idea about the right brain being dominant for serotonin.  Maybe SRIs help the right brain inhibit the left brain better. Just a thought, and very undigested at this point, but might have something to do with something.]

I remembered Robert Sapolsky discussing POMC, the precursor molecule that is terribly scarce, made by only a few cells somewhere in the hypothalamus or somewhere, so it's "expensive" from a neurotransmitter perspective, goes to make many other molecules including stress hormones and endogenous opioids, the possibility being that too much unrelenting stress could deplete supply and chronic pain problems could arise more easily. Here is a video of that discussion

Remember the idea that the brain is always busy, always moving, always waving like the ocean. 
There was recently a conversation on Facebook about sleep paralysis. It had started going into psychologically deep, potentially mystical explanations about the meaning of dreams and so forth. 

I recalled an episode of sleep paralysis I had had, where I dreamed I was fastened to the front of the cowcatcher on a train, heard the roar of the train, woke up terrified and unable to move anything, but finally managed to roll my eyes a little, a small volitional movement but enough to wake up the rest of me. I proposed that it was no big deal, that sleep paralysis was just one bit of brain waking up ahead of some other little bit of brain, sort of the opposite of sleepwalking where one part stays fast asleep while other (motor) parts awaken and fully act out whatever dream state is happening. Squeezing eyelids or moving eyeballs is how I figured out as a child that I could move out of a nightmare. 

The brain is not a monolith. It's an evolved organ with plenty of old parts, not just new parts. It's a kluge. It's like the sod shack on the prairies that was simply encapsulated by newer bits until from the outside you see what looks to be a multi-story mansion but if you enter, in the middle of the basement you'll find the old sod shack still in existence and still functional. Nature doesn't usually get rid of anything. If it can't repurpose it, it will just let it sit there like the appendix. (Except it did get rid of tails on us human apes. But I digress.) 

Locus coeruleus ("blue spot") in the brain stem, with only 10,000 cells on each side, is the bit supposedly responsible for arousal and attention focus. It also wakes us up in the morning. It squirts noradrenalin or norepinephrine all over the forebrain. It also squirts it down into the spinal cord which, lest we forget, is still central nervous system and is like the sod shack that was built first before all other improvements came along later. LC wakes up that circuitry as well, is very connected to the sympathetic nervous system which also inhibits ascending nociception at spinal cord levels, very handy if you are a creature all scratched up, fighting for its life inches from the jaws of another creature. 

Apparently, LC does not secrete synaptically but rather hormonally, by squirting into extracellular space. How cool is that?  It can activate way more neurons that way. 

From https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/

So many arguments on Facebook are about whether pain is sensation or perception. I would argue that if chronic pain is a sensation, it's likely going to be interoceptive. And if it's interoceptive, there will be a lot of neurotransmitter involvement and hemispheric cooperation/failure to co-operate, failure to inhibit, maybe opioid deficit somewhere. And if the "I" illusion in there can't feel itself as "normal" because of a very unpleasant sensation, that is going to be a very unpleasant perception of a very unpleasant experience. 

1. Tucker, D. M., & Williamson, P. A. (1984). Asymmetric neural control systems in human self-regulation. Psychological Review, 91(2), 185–215.

2. Tops, M., Quirin, M., Boksem, M. A. S., & Koole, S. L. (2017). Large-scale neural networks and the lateralization of motivation and emotion. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 119, 41–49.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

One year of Covid, down. A terrible dream.

This time last year I stopped working. I dithered for a while and retired from my practice for real in May. Have barely left the house for a year. 

But this post isn't really about that. It's also not about the possibility that may open for me to record my workshop with the help of Little Ox videographers right here in Sask. and the dopamine hit I got from that, and not about the correspondence that has ensued as a result; it's not about the half-mile walk I took yesterday home from the service garage where my car awaited a battery check and oil change; it's not about the notice I took of how rusty my legs felt walking after a year of not walking. 

Mostly it's about me, how easily the dopamine hit turned into anxiety, and how my suppressed anxiety came out in a crazy dream:

So, it's the end of summer. I'm revving back up again. Why, I do not know... anyway, I rent a venue here in Weyburn (a venue which does not exist in real life). It's big and cheap. On the first evening, it is well attended, a good thirty people. Too late, I realize that it's an L-shaped room, which means that people in one chunk of the room can't even see me let alone see any slides. Furthermore, there are no snacks or drinks or chairs or tables. I get through it and am so bummed out by my utter failure at logistics that I oversleep the next morning, until 10AM! Good grief. Nothing like adding insult to injury, arriving really late to my own event. I get to the venue and do my best, but there is chaos. No one pays any attention. Next door there is a music event happening, and as if there wasn't enough chaos, it turns out that there is no wall between the groups! So I lose a lot of people to the music venue. I don't even make it halfway through the second day when I realize I'll have to return everyone's fee. Then I realize that oops! I didn't even collect any fees to start with! What a complete disaster with only me organizing it. 

I don't know what to make of the dream.
It was quite sickening to get through. I was glad to wake up. 
I actually did sleep several hours longer than usual, about 10 and a half. Must have been all the unaccustomed exercise. 
I suspect one part of my brain was trying hard to communicate with another part and couldn't get through. 
Meaning? Maybe it means I should a) do more walking, and b) learn to rely on other people again. 

Monday, March 01, 2021

Still COVID times: More thoughts about "power"

My last post was on this same topic.
Today on Facebook I saw a post by a former cult member who freed herself a long time ago and now tries to free others, who posted a pice about gurus who exploit the underlings in their cults, and a critique by a commenter about how gurus like to be in the "moment," possibly so they never have to think about all the "moments" they have done rather unholy things to their followers. I was moved to comment on this myself. 

"If we don't take on the responsibility of integrating ourselves and being our own "leader" we will always be trapped in a conceptual hierarchy/patriarchy and be vulnerable to exploitation because of that.
I get it. I've dabbled but have never succumbed.
(--------) pointed out that we are mammals. I'd like to take that a step further - we are primate mammals. Primates don't survive without a troop. And troops are usually dominated by some alpha. This is awfully hardwired into our brains, so much so that it is almost a default.
Add to that the fact that our prefrontal cortices, the decision-making executive parts of our brains are not fully online until we are into our third decade! So we HAVE to rely on socio-cultural management until then. And by then we are in the habit of going along to get along, filled with yearnings to be "free." And we are sooooooo enculturated to put ourselves beneath others. That behaviour in and of itself perpetuates frickin' hierarchies.
So, thus is a hierarchical frame of mind created and perpetuated.
The good news is, once we learn to work our own brains we can reframe our perspectives and realize that we can live in a way that we almost never have to deal with hierarchy, by doing as (-------) suggested, adopting a scientific view on everything. What that means is, confronting and eliminating bias and other human foibles. We can do this because our brains are human (yay!) and we do NOT have to stay inside the mental cage we grew up in and were socialized to believe is reality. We really CAN "create our own reality" with just one member, our self, and one guru, our self. (Both of which are fictional categories by the way, but stick with me here for a second: that's what brains do - they like to make categories. At least the left hemisphere does.)
The task is to integrate your own brain, both hemispheres. Put yourself first, but not ahead, and not behind, any other self out there roaming around on the planet.
You have just as much right to breathe oxygen as any other living breathing mammal on the planet, as long as your life span lasts, until it's time for you to go back to being the way you were before you were born.
Anyway, once you do that, you are free to see yourself as an independent interactor/operator in the world, and you won't be tempted to project helplessness on some father figure (usually a father figure, sometimes a mother figure). You will be "free" of being possessed by archetypes (ideas of humans planted in you by the culture you grew up in), "free" to see yourself rather as a node of human intelligence moving through life, trying to do no harm, trying to be a helpful individual, trying to get through life honestly and ethically, no better and certainly no worse than any other node. We are all just nodes, highly intelligent nodes, interacting, inside ourselves and outside ourselves. On the same level. Sometimes through roles. Sometimes we place others into roles that are special, and have names, like "president." And bear in mind it's the *role* that is special, not the person who occupies the role for awhile. The hierarchy of governance is supposed to be fluid with the persons who occupy the roles being interchangeable. Until an exploiter comes along. But if you have made yourself cognitively nimble you will also be politically nimble enough to see that possibility and avoid the consequences by choosing who you vote for.
But I digress.
If you decide to be your own guru, voila! internalized hierarchy vaporizes and you're no longer vulnerable to exploitation by anyone, including yourself." 

I would add, this is our superpower, our secret weapon, our kryptonite against hierarchy - this power we all/each have to think for ourselves. 


The commenter talked about how gurus like to talk about being in the "moment."
"Same old patriarchal spiritual bypassing nonsense we have been hearing and reading for centuries. The gurus love to fixate on the "moment", so they can never be held accountable for the things they did in previous "moments." They love to preach forgiveness so they don't have to apologize for their actions. They love to disparage gossip, so no one can ever talk about the things they do behind the scenes. They love to vilify anger, so that no one gets righteously angry at them for their abuses of power. They love to obsess over silence, so no one speaks their truth. They love to elevate stillness, so that no one ever moves into action against them. They love to deny the significance of the human "story", so that humans don't tell the story of what they did to them. They love to deny the truth of pain, so no one talks about how the guru wounded them. They love to bash the ego, so no one is egoically strong enough to stand against them. The guru game. The "avoida" movement. Stop wasting your time godjectifying these hustlers. Masters of self-avoidance masquerading as enlightened masters." Jeff Brown.
This is sooooo much the current Republican party of Trump, worshiping their dear leader, taking pictures of the gold statue of him at their convention. This is sooooo much Trump exploiting the crowd. A crowd whose dopamine only flows when they listen to him, their guru. A crowd who gets off on a standing wave of dopamine bolstered in their midst by staring at him and calling back to him as though they were in a revival meeting. Call/response. I am concluding that "right and left" has no real meaning in political terms. Instead, it boils down to:
  1. Blinkered vs. unblinkered.
  2. Ethical vs. unethical.
  3. Obstructive vs. progressive.
  4. Hierarchical vs. non-hierarchical.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Still COVID times: Who has the "power"?

Since I last made an entry, there has been an attempted coup in the US by trumple's followers, pissed that he lost the election, and given to belief in conspiracy theories of all absurd kinds.

I've been thinking on this for quite awhile. Bearing in mind that we are
1. primates of the human persuasion, therefore capable of symbolic thought, but with
2. moral codes common amongst all primate cousins,
3. emotional reflexes common to all mammals, and
4. survival reflexes common to all vertebrates and perhaps even non-vertebrates;
... who still prefer to be in troops, the larger the better:
1. On the one hand, there is this concept of democracy, freedom to self-govern, non-hierarchical possibilities to rise as far as one's proclivities and capacities permit, the right to do so, unhindered as a human. Call it a striving to become adult. In this arrangement, those who have a talent or are at least willing to engage in a ton of careful congenial arguing and constant repetition of a "message" day after day after day and follow a set of rules for the sake of avoiding unpleasant interaction rise to become successful at politician-ing. That is kind of the opposite of being drunk on power. This process of "serving" can be subverted though, by sociopaths who have learned to fake it and can therefore make it a fair way along in the process.
2. On the other, there is a deep thread in us as humans that wants someone else to make all the hard decisions for us, and for our benefit. Call that a pull toward remaining child-like. But when we were children we had no life skills or power and were completely exploitable by parents/adults for better or worse. If we were and remain fucked up from this and never grew past it or figured out how to contain it safely and responsibly, we are vulnerable to whoever comes by and dangles some sort of "power" prize in front of our noses, in exchange for demands that include harnessing all the fear and anger that accompanies a feeling of powerlessness. At last, we imagine, someone who really knows how to take charge, someone who we can "trust" to move the fucked-up world in a better direction where we won't have to deal with all this raw emotion, where we can deploy it outward, unload it in some collective revenge move.
Pretty sure ALL religions have exploited this since we were ever remotely human. We think we need some sort of "parent" to stay organized, even one we invent who doesn't exist, but we think, hey, let's pretend they do even if only once a week or as many as 5 times a day. Such pretense forces us to make then reinforce links inside our own brains. Presumably, this helps us feel like we are connected to something larger, coheres the troop (remember we are still primates).
A political system that can balance the two is likely the most successful option. Note that I didn't say it was the "best" option.
As I've mentioned many times, Canada still has the queen on our money and a political system that plays both sides. When times are good it's all very democratic and when times are bad we can get substantial lunch money for being good quiet polite citizens. When a pandemic comes along it is mentioned in passing that there will be stern consequences from on high (somewhat murky authoritarian "powers" are available to be deployed if needs be) if we fail to follow the rules. OK, fine. I was grateful when CERB checks came rolling in. They definitely helped massage away the grief I felt about having to accommodate my existence to the new reality.
Recently, a rift in the illusion appeared when Julie Payette (the governor-general of Canada, the queen's rep., our commander in chief, the head of state) resigned, or maybe was forced to resign, because of acting too much like a bossy queen. Like the red queen in Alice in Wonderland. Abusing everybody who worked for her and didn't deserve the abuse. Toxic workplace, we are told. Some sort of governing crisis.
However, there is a backup plan - the Supreme Justice of Canada can temporarily hold the "scepter," or whatever, until the prime minister appoints a new GG. Yeah, the PM does the choosing, and it turns out he did not pick a winner in Julie Payette. So, it's on him, kind of. But hey, if he picks the GG and the queen merely "approves" does that mean he has more power than she does, in reality? Maybe not, if the Supreme Justice of Canada automatically takes the Scepter Of Power and takes a seat on the Iron Throne of Monarchy. I mean, he (in fact all lawyers and judges in Canada) still wear 17th /18th century wigs FFS. They look so odd in their red Santa Claus robes and white curled wigs).
Tradition I guess.
I don't know... the whole deal seems so "oopsie," much like someone's pants accidentally falling down while on stage: it's kind of hard to save face, recover aplomb except through goodwill on behalf of the audience, and its ability to stifle a collective laugh.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

In this year of COVID: Indi Samarajiva, Part 3

 This is the piece that really got to me. Went right through me. 

I lived through a stupid coup. America is having one now. 


The third in his series on the American situation: He touches on the absurdity of coup, tries to explain what it is, how vulnerable US democracy is to it, remarks on the chaos associated with it.


"Two years ago, I lived through a coup in Sri Lanka. It was stupid. The minority party threw chili powder at everyone in Parliament and took over by farce. Math, however, requires a majority and the courts kicked them out. They gave in. We’d been protesting for weeks and yay, we won. No. I didn’t know it at the time, but we had already lost. No one knew — but oh my God, what we lost. The legitimate government came back but it was divided and weak. We were divided and weak. We were vulnerable."

"Four months later, on Easter Sunday, some assholes attacked multiple churches and hotels, killing 269 of us.... Our nation was shattered. Mobs began attacking innocent Muslims. It was out of control. The coup broke our government, and four months later, that broke us." 

"The coup was a farce at the time but how soon it turned to tragedy. They called it a constitutional crisis, but how soon it became a real one. Right now, the same thing is happening to you. I’m trying to warn you America. It seems stupid now, but the consequences are not."

"Someone at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, next to a dildo shop. What a fucking stupid century. This is what our coups look like."

"I have lived through a coup. It felt like what you’re feeling now. Like watching something stupid and just waiting for it to go away. But it doesn’t go away. You can forget about it, but it doesn’t go away."


"What is a coup? It’s literally a blow, a strike. Someone hitting your normal processes of government, trying to knock them over. The blow doesn’t have to succeed. It still wounds. In our case it was occupying Parliament without a majority. In yours it’s denying the President-Elect after an election. Whether it fails or not, deep structural damage is done. At the time, however, it just feels dumb."

"The US system is weird, but people voted for a change of power. One person is refusing to accept the people’s will. He’s taking power that doesn’t belong to him. That’s a coup."

"American commentators say “we’re like the third world now” as if our very existence is a pejorative. Ha ha, you assholes, stop calling us that. You’re no better than us. The third world from the Sun is Earth. You live here too."

"You’ve already lost. This is what Americans need to understand"


"America, in fact, is worse than us. America’s democracy is a lightly modified enslavement system that black people only wrested universal franchise from in 1965. It’s frankly a terrible democracy, built on voter suppression of 94% of the population, full of racist booby traps and prone to absurd randomness. For example, your dumbass founders left enough time to get to Washington by horse. Four months where a loser could hold power, later reduced to two. This is a built-in coup."

"Think about it. Your system gives the loser all the power and guns for two whole months. Almost every modern democracy changes power the next day, to avoid the very situation you’re in."

"America is a shitty and immature democracy, saved only by the fact that they didn’t elect equally shitty and immature Presidents. Until now."

"This year America had fascism on the ballot and nonwhite people mercifully said no. The fascists, however, are now saying fuck ballots. And enough of the population is like fuck yeah!"

"This is a major problem, and it won’t just go away on a technicality. I’m telling you, as someone that’s been there, you’ve already lost. It doesn’t matter if you get Trump out. He and the Republican Party are destroying trust in elections in general. This is catastrophic. You have no idea."


"The tragic thing which you do not understand — which you cannot understand — is that you’ve already lost. You cannot know exactly what — that’s the nature of chaos — but know this. You will lose more than you can bear."

"Republicans have set forces into play they cannot possibly understand and certainly cannot control. And they don’t even want to. To them, chaos is a ladder."

"This is the point. You have taken an orderly system balancing a whole lot of chaos and fucked with it. I don’t know how it’s going to explode, but I can promise you this. It’s going to explode."

"This is precisely why we have elections, and why both sides accept the results. To keep the chaos at bay. The whole point is that you have a regular, ritual fight rather than fighting all the time. Once one side breaks ritual then you’re on the way to civil war. Once you break the rules then chaos ensues. What exactly happens? I don’t know. It’s chaos."

"My wife and children were at church that day. Our regular church (where they hadn’t gone) had bombs on either side. I couldn’t understand the news when I first got it and you cannot understand the fear until they were safely home. I do not want you to understand but I fear one day you must. You have fucked with chaos and soon chaos will fuck with you." ...............