Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brain as Composter X

I don't know why, but my blogpost series always seem to end up as a series of 10 to 12. It seems to take that many for me to get complete thoughts expressed. Maybe it's the price I have to pay for having an old but still pretty busy undermind.

Anyway, this will be the wrap-up post to the Brain as Composter series. I promised I would tie in Burton's excellent book, and I will. First though, I want to summarize thoughts that occurred to me over the course of writing this series.

1. I'm not as thrilled with Dan Hemenway's article on permaculture as I was once upon a time. I think he feng shui-ed it a bit to make it pretty, and I fell for the prettiness as well as the content. I still like the content, but can see the prettiness of the packaging as a separate "meme" which I don't like as much. One has to learn to spot when one's mind is being manipulated by meme-packaging.

2. I also examined my own responses to Guy Claxton's Hare Brain Tortoise Mind book. I can see how in the decade since that book was written, my own ideas have changed - I categorize things differently than a decade ago. I feel like the book's content may even be supportive of an anti-scientific stance in the way it equates science with non-thinking - a stance known as PoMo. While I can nod at some of it, love to see ballooned pomposity pricked as much as anyone, love and use the word "deconstruct" all the time about almost everything, I do not agree with the PoMo attitude that "science" is just another "mindset" to be deconstructed. To further the farming metaphor, the pomo attitude toward science is equivalent to saying that topsoil is just another kind of dirt, no different, no better, no worse. I completely, vehemently disagree.

The products of science are one thing, and yes, they may become conceptual shorthand enabling successive generations of science-seekers and builders to move along more quickly.. however (and this is a big however) the process of scientific thinking is anything but D-mode. It takes ages (relatively speaking) to get something conceptualized, a test formulated, an experiment completed, a study written, and after that, wait for peer-review and eventual publication. Once published, this still doesn't mean that something can be called "science" - instead it might just be what Harriet Hall calls "tooth fairy science" - data have been generated about whether it's better to put the tooth in a facial tissue or in a baggie - with no question or discussion about whether or not tooth fairies exist in the first place.

So... I think, at this stage of the game I'm starting to know the difference. I hope.

Anyway, I still like the metaphor of the unconscious mind as the compost bin, and I do still like the idea of our brains being a natural system - without them there would be no consciousness to worry about. Without compost there is no topsoil. Without fertile topsoil nothing can grow, at least not for long. The process of composting takes care of breaking ideas back down into components, which when recombined, will support active growth once again, in a cyclical manner. Science is the end product, the sweet smelling wheat in the bin of human accomplishment. Science not only provides the seeds, it is the seeds that can be plowed back into future generations of underminds to grow future ideas.

At the very least, science can offer up things that we can feel reasonably certain ABOUT.. which I think Burton would agree is different from what he is talking about when he refers to the "feeling of knowing" being an emotion and the pleasurable sensation of "certainty" not being a reliable indicator of truth. Yes, it "feels" preferable to the "feeling" of cognitive dissonance, however, it behooves all of us to learn to tolerate feelings of uncertainty as we do other feelings of discomfort. Perhaps the more we learn to search into our niggles of various sorts, not only will we become more tolerant of them (and of other peoples' too, by extension), but the more "mindful" we will end up in the end. By mindful, I mean, capable of holding paradox and puzzle in our mind and letting them have sufficient time to compost themselves into resolution.

Here is a list of posts that have comprised this series:
1. Is certainty a dopameme? (May 6/08)
2. BrainScience Podcast #42: "On Being Certain" (July 25, 2008)
3. "On Being Certain": Ginger Campbell interviews the author, Robert Burton MD (Aug 13/08)
4. Brain as Composter (Aug 14/08)
5. Brain as Composter II (Aug 16/08)
6. Brain as Composter III (Aug 17/08)
7. Brain as Composter IV (Aug 18/08)
8. Brain as Composter V (Aug 22/08)
9. Brain as Composter VI (Aug 23/08)
10. Brain as Composter VII (Aug 24/08)
11. Brain as Composter VIII (Aug 26/08)
12. Brain as Composter IX (Aug 28/08)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brain as Composter IX

In Brain as Composter VIII I outlined the various ways Claxton thinks about the fast extroverted thinking he calls D-mode thinking. I disagree that scientific thinking lines up with D-mode thinking as much as he tries to assert, which is my only criticism. I do not think D-mode and undermind types of thinking have to live as separated as Claxton suggests, or that they have to forever be antithetical. They can marry, enjoy a long and fruitful partnership through life, albeit with a few misunderstandings along the way probably.

Now, I want to bring out Claxton's treatment of what he calls the "undermind," (in his book Hare Brain Tortoise Mind) and what I'd like to rename, the "Composter."

1. from p. 7:
"Modern Western culture has so neglected the intelligent unconscious - the undermind, (...) that we no longer know that we have it, do not remember what it is for, and so cannot find it when we need it. We do not think of the unconscious as a valuable resource, but (if we think of it at all) as a wild and unruly 'thing' that threatens our reason and control, and lives in the dangerous Freudian dungeon of the mind. Instead, we give exclusive credence to conscious, deliberate purposeful thinking - d-mode."

Well, maybe not always. I think it might depend on how large one's association cortex is and how well it's myelinated..

2. from p. 37:
"The undermind is acquiring knowledge of which consciousness is unaware, and by which it is unchanged, and using it to influence the way people behave. Consequently a schism develops between what people think they know (about themselves), and the information that is consciously driving their perceptions and reactions. The views that they espouse about themselves, we might say,become at odds with the ones that their behavior in fact embodies."
I would like to say, I think it probably operates this way whether or not we are conscious of it, but we CAN develop a relationship with and have conscious input into it if we understand why it's there and what it requires. Also, as Burton points out, one cannot trust the feelings that come out of it, like the feeling of being certain. One must test ideas outwardly and scientifically to ensure their objectivity, validity, reliability.. how they stack up against the rest of the natural world. Good fence-keeping.

3. p. 75:
"Sometimes ..resonating of data and experience - perception and cognition - happens quickly. (...) Very often though, when the predicament is more intricate, the undermind needs to be left to its own devices for awhile, and then the need for patience - the ability to tolerate uncertainty, to stay with the feeling of not-knowing for a while, to stand aside and let a mental process that can neither be observed nor directed take its course - becomes all important. Someone who cannot abide uncertainty is therefore unable to provide the womb that creative intuition needs...creativity is enhanced when people are forced to slow down.. the willingness to think slowly.. makes possible broader cognitions, more abstract thinking.. and consequently greater flexibility."

This section seems to find echo in Burton's new book very well.

4. p. 13:
"The 'slow ways of knowing' are, in general, those that lack any or all of the characteristics of d-mode. They spend time on uncovering what may lie behind a particular question. They do not rush into conceptualization, but are content to explore more fully into the situation itself before deciding what to make of it. They like to stay close to the particular. They are tolerant of information that is faint, fleeting, ephemeral, marginal, or ambiguous; they like to dwell on details which do not 'fit' or immediately make sense. They are relaxed, leisurely and playful; willing to explore without knowing what they are looking for. They see ignorance and confusion as the ground from which understanding may spring. They use the rich, allusive media of imagination, myth and dream. They are receptive rather than proactive. They are happy to relinquish the sense of control over directions that the mind spontaneously takes. And they are prepared to take seriously ideas that come 'out of the blue', without any ready-made train of rational thought to justify them... The undermind is the key resource on which slow knowing draws, so we need new metaphors and images for the relationship between conscious and unconscious which escape the polarization to which both Descartes and Freud, from their different sides, subscribed. Only in the light of new models of the mind will we see the possibility and the point of more patient, receptive ways of knowing, and be able to cultivate - and tolerate - the conditions which they require."
I like how this ties back once again into the ideas of permaculture and working with nature instead of against it. Again, is this not the same way compost forms? I do not, however, see any difficulty with being "receptive" and "proactive" both at the same time. Surely they are NOT mutually exclusive. Surely as compost forms, the insects and microorganisms that are developing it, the thermodynamicism of a bin, are highly proactive... but the bin itself is receptive, isn't it?

5. p. 116:
"The undermind is a layer of activity within the human psyche that is richer and more subtle than consciousness. It can register and respond to events not become conscious. We have at our disposal a shimmering database full of pre-conceptual information, much of which is turned down by consciousness as being too contentious or unreliable. Conscious awareness decides what it will accept as valid - and thereby misses dissonant patterns and subtler nuances. While in d-mode, consciousness tends to present to us a world that is somewhat cautious and conventional. Sometimes this is appropriate, but if we get stuck there and lose the key to the twilight world that subserves it, we mothball valuable ways of knowing which can find sense and weave meaning out of a collection of the faintest threads and scraps... one way of expressing this disparity between conscious and unconscious is in terms of two thresholds, a lower one, above which the undermind becomes active, and a higher one, above which information enters consciousness. The closer together these two points are, the more 'in touch' with the unconscious we are, and the more complete is our conscious awareness of what is happening across all the mental realms. The further apart they are, the more our conscious perception is impoverished. This quantitative notion of thresholds is rather crude, but it enables us to formulate an important question; what it it that determines how near or how far apart the two thresholds are? More generally, is the relationship between conscious and unconscious forms of awareness a dynamic one, subject to change, and if so, what forces control it? (...) Perhaps it is specifically things that are threatening that cause the conscious threshold to shoot up."
Well.. don't be a key-loser then. (There follows pages of info on studies to do with 'perceptual defence', amnesiacs who can 'remember,' the effects of "self-consciousness", effects of hypnosis, measurable visual perception by anger, blindsight, that all generally point to the idea that pressure, stress, being threatened or over-eager, lead to coarsening of perception and to narrower less functional minds.)

7. p. 203:
" is all the more significant that cognitive science is currently drawing our attention to the curious fact that we have forgotten how our minds work. As we have seen, the modern mind has a distorted image of itself that leads it to neglect some of its own most valuable learning capacities. We now know that the brain is built to linger as well as to rush, and that slow knowing sometimes leads to better answers. We know that knowledge makes itself known through sensations, images, feelings, and inklings, as well as through clear conscious thoughts. Experiments tell us that just interacting with complex situations without trying to figure them out can deliver a quality of understanding that defies reason and articulation. Other studies have shown that confusion may be a vital precursor to the discovery of a good idea. To be able to meet the uncertain challenges of the contemporary world, we need to heed the message of this research and to expand our repertoire of ways of learning and knowing to reclaim the full gamut of cognitive possibilities. This will not be easy, for the grip of d-mode on late twentieth century culture is strong.."
It is not entirely D-mode's fault - lazy "farming methods" perhaps.

8. from the last chapter, undermind and wisdom:
"..slow ways of knowing will not deliver their delicate produce when the mind is in a hurry. In a state of continual urgency and harassment, the brain-mind's activity is condemned to follow its familiar channels. Only when it is meandering can it spread and puddle, gently finding out such uncharted fissures and runnels as may exist. Yet thinking slowly, paradoxically, does not have to take a long time. It is a knack that can be acquired and practiced. The mind needs to be given time; but its ingenuity also depends on the cultivation of a disposition to take one's time, as much as there is. One can learn to access and use these other ways of knowing more fluently. One might even suggest that managers - and their workforces - might try meditation; though, as a preliminary they would need to understand what that means and how it helps."

My italics. I love this passage and the imagery it evokes.

More to come, a tie-in with the Burton book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brain as Composter VIII

Re Brain as Composter VII:

What follows in this post will be a (long) series of points that summarize attributes of what Claxton calls "D-mode" intelligence:

1. D-mode is much more interested in finding answers and solutions than in examining the questions. (Is the 'primary instrument of technopoly', is primarily concerned with problem-solving, treats any unwanted or inconvenient condition in life as if it were a 'fault' in need of fixing.)

2. D-mode treats perception as unproblematic. (It assumes the way it sees the situation is the way it is.)

3. D-mode sees conscious articulate understanding as the essential basis for action, and thought as the essential problem-solving tool. (Tries to gain a mental grasp, figure it out with everything from impeccable rationality with equations and flow charts to just weighing up pros and cons, taking things through, making a list, jotting down thoughts, making a pitch, etc.)

4. D-mode values explanation over observation (Is more concerned about why than what. The need to have mental grasp, to be able to offer an acceptable account of things is integral. Assumption is that it is normal to be intentional and proper to offer explanations. "..when this purposeful, justificatory, 'always-show-your-reasoning' attitude becomes part of the dominant default mode of the mind, it then tends to suppress other ways of knowing, and makes one skeptical of any activity whose 'point' you cannot immediately consciously see." My italics.)

5. D-mode likes explanations and plans that are 'reasonable' and justifiable, rather than intuitive. (Doubt in the sense of lack of conscious comprehension, becomes stultifying, a trap rather than a springboard.)

6. D-mode seeks and prefers clarity, and neither likes nor values confusion. (Likes to move along 'a well-lit path' from problem to solution, preserving.. as much mental grasp as it can...while some learning may proceed in this point-by-point fashion, much does not.)

7. D-mode operates with a sense of urgency and impatience. (Yeah, that's got to be real relaxing for patients..)

8. D-mode is purposeful and effortful rather than playful. (Always a sense of being under time pressure, being intentional, purposeful, questing, needing to have an answer to a pre-existing question, misses the fruits of 'relaxed cognition'.

9. D-mode is precise.

10. D-mode relies on language that appears to be literal and explicit Claxton:
"..tends to be suspicious of what it sees as the slippery, evocative world of metaphor and imagery. If something can be understood, it can be understood clearly and unambiguously, says the intellect. An intimation of understanding that does not quite reveal itself, that remains shrouded or indistinct, is, to d-mode, only an impoverished kind of understanding; one that should either be forced to explain itself more fully, or treated with disdain. Poetry does not capture anything that cannot ultimately be better, more clearly rendered in prose, and rhetoric is a poor cousin of reasoned explanation."

11. D-mode works with concepts and generalizations (likes to apply rules and principles, favors abstraction over particularity, works with generics or prototypicals, even individuals are treated as generalizations.)

12. D-mode must operate at the rates at which language can be received, produced, and processed. (maintains a sense of thinking as being controlled and deliberate, not spontaneous or willful.)

13. D-mode works well when tackling problems which can be treated as an assemblage of nameable parts. Claxton:
"It is in the nature of language to segment and analyse. The world seen through language is one that is perforated, capable of being gently pulled apart into concepts that seem...self-evidently 'real' or 'natural', and which can be analysed in terms of the relationships between these concepts. Much of traditional science works so well precisely because the world of which it treats is this kind of world. But when the mind turns its attention to situations that are ecological or 'systemic', too intricate to be decomposed in this way without serious misrepresentation, the limitations of d-mode's linguistic, analytical approach are quickly reached. Any situation that is organic rather than mechanical is likely to be of this sort. The new 'sciences' of chaos and complexity are in part a response to the realisation that d-mode is in principle unequal to the task of explaining systems as complicated as the weather, or the behaviour of animals in the natural world. Along with the rise of these new sciences must come a re-evaluation of the slower ways of knowing; of intuition as an essential complement to reason.

I want to say that I think there are many excellent scientific minds out there these days who can conceptually synthesize as well as they can analyze, so I think this list and its attempt to compare scientific thinking with D-mode thinking sounds a bit dated. However, an awful lot of society and its institutions/structures still use this mode reflexively - I would agree with him there.

And I am a bit torn over point 4, because I do explaining all the time, but I like to think that in me, explanation does not overrule or suppress observation/contemplation/other ways of "knowing," that in me, they go hand in hand. This whole blog series is a case in point. However, I've no way to be "certain"... so I'm likely to be wrong on that at least half the time.

I've always chafed at my own profession, PT, which strives to be as classically D-mode as possible for a supposed hands-on helping profession to be... I'd have to say, though, chiropractic with its complexification and ornate verbal embroidering of what is actually a simple set of tricks, manipulation, and which does not require any sort of brilliance to learn or to apply, takes most of the cake for being D-mode, e.g., it fabricates elaborate explanation upon very little observation, and imagines itself to be precise. As Claxton points out in #13, any insistence on using D-mode for treating a natural system (like a live, conscious human being in pain) is misplaced, probably: "when the mind turns its attention to situations that are ecological or 'systemic', too intricate to be decomposed in this way without serious misrepresentation, the limitations of d-mode's linguistic, analytical approach are quickly reached."

Next up, what Claxton thinks is involved in wisdom.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Brain as Composter VII

Re: Brain as Composter VI:

Two more qualities of 'slow thinking' are poetic sensibility and mindfulness.

About poetic sensibility, Claxton says,
"poetic sensibility has the ability to reset or create our agenda; to uncover issues and reveal concerns, perhaps in unexpected quarters, or surprising ways. By allowing ourselves to become absorbed in some present experience without any sense of seeking or grasping at all, we can be reminded of aspects of life that may have been eclipsed by more urgent business, and of ways of knowing and seeing that are, perhaps, more intimate and less egocentric (...) There is a kind of knowing which is essentially indirect, sideways, allusive and symbolic; which hints and evokes, touches and moves, in ways that resist explication. And it is accessed not through earnest manipulation of abstraction, but through leisurely contemplation of the particular.(...) For a person whose apprehension is under the spell of this attitude, the immediate context commands his interest so completely that nothing else can exist beside and apart from it (...) One slips away from self-concern and preoccupation into the sheer presence of the thing, the scene, the sound itself."

He quotes Kafka:
"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

He quotes Rilke:
"If you hold to Nature, to the simplicity that is in her, to the small detail that scarcely one man sees, which can so unexpectedly grow into something great and boundless; if you have this love for insignificant things and seek, simply as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems to be poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory, not perhaps in the understanding, which lags wondering behind, but in your innermost conciousness, wakefulness and knowing."

It's hard to get through life without visiting this sensibility. It restores one to oneself, to one's own "nature." You can bask in it - you can roll around at your own feet if you want, interpreting it physically and sensorially and personally. From it you can write your own poems and paint your own pictures and sing your own songs and play your own music and create your own dramas. All these expressions will bring you closer to your own selfness. It's all good. But I would add, do not inhibit the development of your own capacity for critical thinking either.

Claxton's fourth quality is mindfulness:
"The fourth manner of paying attention which I want to describe in this chapter is a way of seeing through one's own perceptual assumptions. It is called mindfulness. The extent to which the world-as-perceived is a mirror of our preconceptions and our preoccupations (...) is easy to underestimate. It takes an effort to see what is happening, because our beliefs are dissolved in the very organs we use to sense."
He follows with an example of tasting saliva that is in your mouth, noting its pleasant quality, then spitting some into a glass and retasting it, noting how one's perception of it immediately changes into something less positive.
"The spit hasn't changed, only the interpretation."

He goes on to talk about aging and mindfulness:
"Being 'old' is not just a biological phenomenon; how one goes about 'being old' depends on one's (largely unconscious) image of what it is like, what it means, to be old, and this in turn reflects a whole raft of both cultural assumptions and individual experiences. Ellen Langer and colleagues at Harvard U. have examined the effect on elderly people of their own vicarious experiences, as children, of ways of being old. They reasoned that children may unconsciously pick up images of old age from their own grandparents - which they might then recapitulate as they themselves get older. Specifically, they surmised that the younger their grandparents were when children first got to know them, the more 'youthful' would be the image of old age that the children would unconsciously absorb, and the more positively they would therefore approach their own ageing. (...) it was found that those elderly people who had lived with a grandparent when they themselves were toddlers were rated as more alert, more active and more independent than those whose first experience of living with a grandparent had not occurred till they were teenagers (...) it looks as if the ways in which different people age depends quite directly on the assumptions and beliefs they have picked up in their own childhoods about what it is to be old."

He talks about pain and mindfulness:
"The unconscious assumptions that people stir into their experience are often hard to alter, but sometimes they can be changed just by a suggestion, especially if it comes from some kind of an authority figure. The experience of pain, for instance, can be dramatically altered, in normal conscious subjects, simply by telling them to think of it differently. When a group of people who had volunteered to suffer some mild electric shocks were told to think of the shocks as "new physiological sensations," they were less anxious, and had lower pulse rates, than those who were not so instructed. In another study, hospital patients who were about to undergo major surgery were encouraged to realise how much the experience of pain depends on the way people interpret it. They were reminded, for example, that a bruise sustained during a football match, or a finger cut while preparing dinner for a large group of friends, would not hurt as much as similar injuries in less intense situations. And they were shown analogous ways of reinterpreting the experience of being in hospital so that it was less threatening. Patients who were given this training took fewer pain relievers and sedatives after their operations, and tended to be discharge sooner, than an equivalent group that was untrained.
These experiments demonstrate how other people may be able to rescue us from what Langer refers to as 'premature cognitive committments' - help us become aware of the assumptions that we had dissolved in perception, and contemplate alternative ways of construing the situation."
My bolds.
"Mindfulness involves observing one's own experience carefully enough to be able to spot any misconceptions that may inadvertently have crept in. There are a number of ways in which this quality of mindfulness towards the activity of our own minds can be cultivated, though all involve slowing down the onrush of mental activity, and trying to focus conscious awareness on the world of sensations, rather than jumping on the first interpretation that comes along and hurtling off in the direction of decision and action. Mindfulness can be taught directly, as a form of secular meditation, for example. (...) "The essence of the state is to 'be' fully in the present moment, without judging or evaluating it, without reflecting backwards on past memories, without looking forward to anticipate the future, as in anxious worry, and without attempting to 'problem-solve' or otherwise avoid any unplesant aspects of the immediate situation. In this state one is highly aware and focused on the reality of the present moment, 'as it is', accepting and acknowledging it is its full 'reality' without immediately engaging in discursive thought about it, without trying to work out how to change it, and without drifting off into a state of diffuse thinking focused on somewhere else or some other time.. The mindful state is associated with a lack of elaborative processing involving thoughts that are essentially about the currently experienced, its implications, further meanings, or the need for related action. Rather mindfulness involves direct and immediate experience of the present situation."(Jon Kabat-Zinn)"


So, in summary, from Hemenway's article on permaculture we have the basic design principles combined into four pairs:

1. "Do only what is necessary. Conservation involves passive restraint from change or disruption of natural systems and active participation within them."
2. "Multiply purposes. Never do anything for only one reason. "Stack functions""

3. "Be redundant. There is always a variety of pathways by which an ecosystem can proceed about its business. A system's capacity for storage and resilience stems from its redundancy."
4. "Check your scale. Design and act within an appropriate size frame. The only cultural tools our society provides for evaluating scale are economic; these often lead to the selection of scales that are counterproductive, inefficient, and destructive."

5. "Work with edges. That is where the action is. Straight lines have far less edge than waves. You know this instinctively."
6. "Encourage diversity. Diversity here is intended to be diversity of relations between things, and not just a bunch of different structures assembled. Diversity of pathways is redundancy. Diversity allows both stacking and repeating of function."

7. "Look both ways before crossing. Everything works both ways."
8. "The gift must always move."

From Claxton's book we have the four slow ways of seeing:
1. Attentive Resonance
2. Focusing
3. Poetic Sensibility
4. Mindfulness

How they stacked up as being congruent with each other in my mind was as follows:

1. "Economy and Elegance" with poetic sensibility ("reset or create our agenda; to uncover issues and reveal concerns, perhaps in unexpected quarters, or surprising ways");

2. "Balance" with focusing ("awareness" (like that in "attentive resonance", see below).."is now directed inward, towards the subtle activities and promptings of one's own body" - this is a tough one to learn when everything in our culture has prompted/taught us to be externally directed);

3. "Resilience" with attentive resonance ("The habit of attending closely and patiently to the evidence, even - sometimes especially - to tiny, insignificant-looking shreds of evidence" - another hard one when all exhortations are to keep an eye on "the Big Picture.");

4. "Reciprocity" with mindfulness ("seeing through one's own perceptual assumptions", not fall prey to "premature cognitive commitments" - in our culture, no one seems to care about this at all, except those who prefer to consider all things from a scientific perspective before unleashing them outward, as Burton reminds us in On Being Certain).

Next I want to highlight more from Claxton, his comparison/contrast of what he calls "D-mode" thinking ("D" is for deliberate) with slow, "undermind" thinking, the kind that is ongoing and one can peer into using his 4 "qualities." (I would call them "mind gardening tools.")

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Brain as Composter VI

Building upon Brain as Composter V:

Time to turn our attention to Guy Claxton, who wrote a very elegant little book several years ago, called Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less (1997).

He's an educator, so I guess it's fair to say that he's worked with "nature" in the form of figuring out the best way to not just convey information into young minds, but to extract thinking from them. (It also does not surprise me to learn that he is apparently a practicing Buddhist.)

Chapter 11 is titled "Paying Attention"; in it he explores 4 different ways of 'slow seeing'.

1. Attentive Resonance:
"The habit of attending closely and patiently to the evidence, even - sometimes especially - to tiny, insignificant-looking shreds of evidence, is characteristic of skilled practitioners of a variety of arts, crafts and professions, prototypically the hunter. From a bent twig, a feather or a piece of excrement the expert hunter can recreate and animal, its age and state of health; and he does so in an apparently leisurely fashion in which these scraps of information are allowed to resonate, largely unconsciously, with his mental stock of lore and experience. You can't rush a tracker. Each detail, slowly attended to, is allowed to form a nucleus, an epicentre in the brain, around which associations and connotations gradually accrete and meld, if they will, into a rich, coherent picture of the animal and its passage. As Carlo Ginzburg, author of a fascinating essay on 'Clues', has surmised, the hunter squatting on the ground, studying the spoor of his quarry, may be engaged in the oldest act in the intellectual history of the human race. Many other feats of vernacular connoisseurship - telling an ailing horse by the condition of its hocks, an impending storm by a change in the wind, a run of salmon by a scarcely perceptible ripple on the river, a hostile intent by a subtle narrowing of the eyes - are of the same kind. Each is an act of high intelligence, bringing to bear on the present a complex body of past knowledge, and accomplished by the eye, with little if any assistance from deliberate thought."

He could be describing clinical thinking in this passage. In fact he does:
"It is interesting to observe.. the changing context to medical diagnosis over the course of the last two hundred years. The process of detection and identification of disease these days is often devoid of this leisurely resonance of attentive observation with the working knowledge of a person's lifetime's experience. The modern general practitioner makes a succession of snap decisions as to either the nature of the disorder with which she is confronted, or what further objective, 'scientific' tests to order. She is now so rushed, and so enchanted (as we all are) with technology, and technological ways of thinking, that she generally prefers to trust a read-out from a machine over a considered clinical judgement. An instrument gives us 'real knowledge' about the patient, whereas the poor doctor on her own can offer nothing more substantial than an 'opinion'. Reliance on informed intuition seems increasingly 'subjective', risky and old-fashioned.(...)

Yet through out the history of medicine, the doctor has functioned more like the tracker or the detective than a technician."

I (often, usually, nearly uninterruptedly) feel a bit sad that my profession has decided to let go of this. For the most part, to sit and look and think and evaluate and wait and touch/handle/noodle tissue around and wait some more, in silence, or else while quietly chatting with a patient about some observation or perception they have about what they are sensing.. two people quietly thinking together out loud, while observing "nature" in the form of a nervous system that is malfunctioning somehow... this precious time to build a therapeutic relationship upon which everything transformative may actually hinge, is considered useless, unproductive, a waste of taxpayer's money within a health care system struggling to survive. This is the art of PT that has become all but lost. It certainly is not explored or encouraged or passed on during clinical training, and all economic factors weigh in complete opposition to it.

The one (maybe the only) thing "nature" needs to do its job, is time. Good compost takes time. Natural processing takes time, and yes, it might seem like it would be a boring thing to pay attention to, but it also can be very relaxing and fascinating, depending on how you view it. And the act of observing closely, and in the process teaching one's patient how (especially for pain problems), can catalyze the process toward resolution somewhat, most of the time. This is, I think, somewhere in the vicinity of helping someone's conscious part of their nervous system improve a relationship they are having with the nonconscious parts of their nervous systems.

The next way of slow seeing Claxton describes is focusing.

2. Focusing:
"The second fruitful way of paying attention is similar, except awareness is now directed inward, towards the subtle activities and promptings of one's own body. The ability to "listen to the body" is very useful in gaining insight into a whole variety of personal puzzles and predicaments. This ability has been dubbed focusing by the American psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin. Back in the 1960's, Gendlin and colleagues at the University of Chicago were involved in large-scale research projects designed to discover why it was that some people undergoing psychotherapy made good progress while others did not, no matter who the therapist was or what she did. After analysing thousands of hours of tape-recorded sessions, Gendlin uncovered the magic ingredient, which could be picked up even in the first one or two sessions, and which could be used to predict whether the patient would make progress or not. It was not anything to do with the school or the technique of the therapist, nor, apparently, with the content of what was talked about. It was the client's spontaneous tendency to relate their experience in a certain way."

This is just like the situation we find ourselves in as manual therapists. We have people in pain, no really slick way to catalogue them or differentiate them; it barely matters what we do to them, what matters most is how they respond.

"The successful clients were those who spontaneously tended to stop talking from time to time; to cease deliberately thinking, analyzing, explaining and theorizing, and to sit quietly while, it seemed, they paid attention to an internal process that could not yet be clearly articulated. They were listening to something inside themselves that they did not yet have words for. They acted as if they were waiting for something rather nebulous to take form, and groping for exactly the right way to express it. Often this period of silent receptivity would last for around 30 seconds; sometimes much longer. And when they did speak, struggling to give voice to what it was they had dimly sensed, they spoke as though their dawning understanding was new, fresh, and tentative - quite different from the tired old recitation of grievance or guilt which frequently preceded it."

In my world, which is almost a perfect overlap but not quite (because I do not make any sort of regular practice out of exploring the emotional side of peoples' lives), the people who are able to change their pain output are those who learn to sense their bodies in new ways that are not painful; they manage to set aside their habitual responses to their stream of body angst/pain and look (deliberately, long, thoroughly, painstakingly) for something ELSE to sense instead.

"Gendlin called this hazy shadow which they were attending to and allowing slowly to come to fruition, a felt sense, and it was quite different both from a string of thoughts and from the experience of a particular emotion or feeling. It seemed to be the inner ground out of which thoughts, images and feelings would emerge if they were given time and unpremeditated attention. It appeared that many people lacked the ability, and perhaps the patience, to allow things to unfold in this way. Instead they would, in their haste for an answer, pre-empt this process of evolution, creating a depiction of the problem which told them nothing new, and which gave no sense of progress or relief."

What Claxton refers to as Gendlin's "hazy shadow", felt sense, inner ground etc., I've often sensed merely as a void, or maybe even "the" void. It requires a bit of courage to walk straight into at first, because to navigate it, one must give up completely to it, suspend every sense for a time, give up "certainty." It is like a dense cognitive fog; you can no longer see or sense the usual "ground." All ordinary cues vanish. New ones begin to appear shortly, however, for one who is determined and patient and trusts the process, which is to remove the brakes and let one's nervous system start over again while remaining completely conscious. (To link back to Burton's book, this is possibly the initial discomfort of uncertainty, a voluntary suspension of the "feeling of certainty" that one must learn to feel comfortable with if one is to become a true critical scientific thinker/checker/tester of ideas about what might or might not constitute "reality.")

Two of the finest tools there are for reducing physical pain are sensing and movement, (or moving and sensing, take your pick). Just be deliberate, fearless, kind, slow, adaptive and responsive to yourself. But determined. One must be consciously determined, no matter how long it seems to take. Yet, simultaneously, one must never convey determination or impatience to one's own non-conscious pain processing. It's quite the balancing act, but once learned it will pay off over a whole life-time. Everyone needs to learn to be able to access their tracker ability to get through physical existence with less rather than more of the attendant suffering that is inescapable from time to time, the price we pay for being embedded within physicality. It's in there for free - we evolved using it - we can dig it out again for use on occasion, maybe by meditating..

My profession should be one of the main ones out there, teaching this skill set to those we treat, but alas, in PT training most of us were never taught that it was important to begin with - like most things in life and learning however, it's never too late.

More to come from Claxton's book, and a tie-in with Burton's book, I promise, no matter how tangential this post may have become.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Brain as composter V

In reference to Brain as Composter IV:

The final pair of design principles that Hemenway set out in his article have to do with reciprocity:
7. Look both ways before crossing. Everything works both ways. If the bank gives you 30 years to pay for your home, you give the system (the bank) 30 years of your life in indentured servitude. If energy can come in through a window, it can fly out a window. If it takes a lot of heat and time to warm a mass, it can give off heat for a long time. Death of individual cells is necessary for the life of other cells. What goes up must come down. Got it?

8.The gift must always move. This is the universal law of gifts. To survive and be well and joyous, we must transform and give away all gifts which come to us. This is how species of an ecosystem coexist. I accept the gift of oxygen from the trees and other plants and return it as carbon dioxide. We violate this principle when we accept food from the earth and do not return our urine and feces, but instead use it to contaminate water. To return a gift without transforming it to your nature is to reject it - it is an affront to the love of the universe.

I don't have any direct comparisons (at least none that I can think of just now) with the nervous system for these two features, other than perhaps the relationship the CNS has with the PNS (usually) or the relationship neurons and glia have with one another, or the relationships various parts of the accretion we call the human brain has with all the creature parts it evolved through in its evolutionary history.. and still has intact and functional..

Some might think, what about the body? Doesn't the nervous system have a reciprocal relationship with the body? Well, yes it does: if you had a hypothetical human "body" that you could stand before you, and you could remove all but one tissue system with the click of a mouse, (as you can sort of do at ), and you clicked away everything but the bones and meat, yeah.. you'd still have a "body"... but it wouldn't work without a nervous system to run it - it would quickly fall over, die and rot.

If you clicked away everything but the nervous system, you'd still be able to recognize the person, the person would still have height and breadth and shape, but that two percent that was left would seem pretty insubstantial and wouldn't work very well without an energy source or its mesodermal "overcoat" to help it preserve its temperature. With no living struts or bungee cords to hold it up, its "mayday" output would go nowhere and do nothing; it would collapse to the floor, all its 72 km of nerves in a heap of tangled threads and cords, under the weight of a brain that would fall down plop onto the top of the pile as the spinal cord collapsed with no spinal column to tether itself inside of or maintain in an upright position. With no oxygen or energy coming into it from lungs and metabolism, it would quickly go unconscious and die, turn into a puddle of goo.

So yes, there is a basic survival relationship here. However, I think the relationship the nervous system has with the (mesodermal) body is only one of the large number of relationships it maintains within itself and its various levels of function, and I want to stay on track here - the post series is intended to be about the relationship or "reciprocity" between the unconscious brain and the conscious brain.

In the next post I'll start bringing material here based on Guy Claxton's book, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, and continue the composter metaphor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brain as composter IV

Here I am on post four already, still building the case for looking at the unconscious/non-conscious as metaphoric garden-building composter/compost. So, in reference to Brain as Composter III:

Hemenway says resilience is the main feature of the next pair of design features of permaculture. Here is his point 5:
"Work with edges. That is where the action is. Straight lines have far less edge than waves. You know this instinctively. People gravitate to the edges, like a beach, the forest edge, the side of the path, or the living room wall (where we put our furniture).
Nature amplifies edges, as in your lungs or kidneys, when it wants to amplify energy transfer; it reduces surface edges, as in a dewdrop or a turtle shell, when it wants to limit transactions. There appears to be no limit to the extent that knowledge and awareness of edge effects can improve on a design. Study of edges in nature willimprove our understanding and ability to use this principle."

Hemenway again:
"Encourage diversity. Diversity here is intended to be diversity of relations between things, and not just a bunch of different structures assembled. A garden with an assortment of different plants randomly arranged will not be nearly as productive as one in which the plants are arranged as co-productive companions.
Designed diversity is a concept I find difficult to discuss separately from its intimate relationship to redundancy and edge effects. Diversity of pathways is redundancy. Diversity allows both stacking and repeating of function."

This is Angevine:
"The human nervous system is a hierarchy, culminating in the brain, of 100 billion or more neurons of 10,000 types, 1-10 trillion neuroglial cells, 100 trillion chemical synapses, 160,000 kn of neuronal processes, thousands of neuronal clusters and fibers tracts, hundreds of functional regions, dozens of functional subsystems, 7 central regions, and 3 main divisions. All of these parts form a coherent, bodily pervasive, diversified, complex epithelium with interdependent connectivity of neurons, mostly neither sensory nor motor but anatomically and functionally intermediate."

So, here we have a single epithelium (or "edge") that has permeated throughout an entire organism (which it built with a earlier kind of cell offspring), and has diversified into 10,000 types of neuronal cells. From Six Crucial Properties of Nervous Tissue, we see this:
"The nervous system is an epithelium, with cells close by and little space between. Far more complex than other epithelia, with flattened cuboidal or columnar cells in single or stratified sheets covering surfaces or lining spaces, the nervous system is a supereptithelium: a huge three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with billions of pieces of varying size (1 to over 150 um) length (1 um to 1 meter) and, in some cases, an extraordinarily complex and beautiful configuration. Electron micrographs show that its pieces fit together, precisely and intimately, with little space left over, an evident benefit for cell communication."

Nature took this 'edge' and folded it into a roundish hemispheres.

More to come.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Brain as Composter III

In reference to Brain as Composter II:

In this post the comparison between design principles in permaculture and how nature built a nervous system continue.

The next pair of design principles for good permaculture as laid out by Hemenway are to do with balance.
"3. Be redundant. "Repeat function," Bill would say. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" is how my grandmother put it. Look at any nutrient cycle or watershed. There is always a variety of pathways by which an ecosystem can proceed about its business. In nature, this is done so that each organism occupies a unique niche in an ecosystem; yet if any one species is removed, everything it does for the whole will be accomplished by other organisms. A system's capacity for storage and resilience stems from its redundancy. It is the understanding of this principle, for example, that reveals that growing our food in monocultures, where everything hinges on the success of one species, is stupid and self-destructive."

Here is Angevine:
5. The Purposefulness of Neural Components

Every part of the nervous system has at least one function, often many more. Small parts of the CNS may play crucial roles, as in the extensive distribution and profound influence of axons from inconspicuous brain centers. The locus ceruleus ("blue spot") on each side of the fourth ventricle contains about 12,000 large melanin-pigmented neurons. These synthesize norepinephrine and release it in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and almost every other part of the CNS. Electrically, they are almost silent in sleep, hypoactive in wakefulness, and hyperactive in watchful or startling situations. They serve vigilance and attention to novel stimuli. They contribute, indirectly but no less crucially, to perceptual and cognitive functions. By contrast, immense structures make large but expensive contributions, as in the cognitive and motor abilities afforded us by the billions of neurons in our cerebral and cerebellar cortices.

4. Check your scale. Design and act within an appropriate size frame. Or, as Granny said,"Don't bite off more than you can chew." This is why permaculture starts at the backyard and works out.. to keep on a scale commensurate with our understanding. We are only responsible for the next step in whatever we are doing, and that step is always right before us, within our reach.
Issues of scale are tricky and require continuous attention to the consequences of a chosen scale. Small may be beautiful, but smallest is not always optimal. Some things can be done well only on a large scale (e.g., manufacture of photographic film), whereas others rapidly deteriorate with increasing scale (e.g., food preparation). The only cultural tools our society provides for evaluating scale are economic; these often lead to the selection of scales that are counterproductive, inefficient, and destructive.
(The reference to photographic film shows how long ago this article was published.)

1. Ubiquity

With 100,000 miles of nerve fibers the nervous system rivals the vascular system. Both pervade the body and function in harmony. By nerve impulses or circulating red and white cells, glucose, hormones and immune principles, they integrate body activity, protect the body, enhance its performance to met stress or demand, promote its growth and nutrition, and maintain its tone and vigor. The trunk and branches of both systems reflect body form. If either system and no other part of a person were visible, he or she would be recognizable. Density of innervation varies as the value of parts to sensory discrimination or motor control. In well-innervated areas (lips, fingertips) stimuli are sharply discriminated as to modality, intensity, and location, but in sparsely innervated areas (flanks, legs) these are less defined. Similarly, muscles vary in the ratio of motor neurons to muscle fibres. The higher the ratio, the more precise the control of the muscle and the movement it serves (a motor neuron may excite 2000 muscle fibers in a limb muscle or as few as 5 in extrinsic ocular muscles.

More to come.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Brain as Composter II

In reference to Brain as Composter:

Here are the four "pairs" of eight principles of design mentioned by Dan Hemenway in his article over two decades ago. They were likely noodled around somewhat in order to present well, and in alignment with 'ancient philosophy' on harmoniousness, and so they do.

On economy: "
1. Do only what is necessary. This involves humility in realizing that our understanding is limited. It means a respect for the natural way in which things happen.
This is what the radical farmer Fukuoka means when he says that his is a "do-nothing" philosophy and why he always questions the reason for every task. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Conservation is always the first resource of "doing nothing." In its simplest terms, it is putting on a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat. As a state of mind, that's a fair beginning. In the deeper application, conservation means honoring the naural cycles, not breaking them apart which results in "waste."
Conservation involves passive restraint from change or disruption of natural systems and active participation within them."

I remember the basic organizing principle as written by Angevine in Encyclopedia of the Human Brain (here's a link), centralization, third one in:

"3. Centralization

The key feature of the nervous system is centralization. It offers few circuits for local interactions of body parts. The CNS is almost always involved even if the distance, as from thumb to index finger, is slight. Intercession of the brain and spinal cord ensures integrated and coordinated activity.

Exceptions are instructive. The local cutaneous response to irritating stimuli (raking a blunt probe over the skin) has three components: local reddening (vasodilation from injury), wheal formation (transient edema from tissue fluid extrusion), and ensuing vasodilation (flare) with lowered thresholds and increased sensitivity to pain (pinprick). The flare and hyperalgesia represent an axon reflex. Nociceptive (pain) nerve endings are activated by substances released by injured tissue cells, and nerve impulses are conducted a short way centrally along nociceptive axons and then distally over branches of these axons to nearby arterioles, causing them to dilate. Advanced or primitive (it is sluggish, starting in about 20 sec. and developing fully in around 3 min), this reflex involves local nerve fibers only, not the CNS.

The "triple response" illustrates three concepts. Pain receptors sense chemical, as well as mechanical and thermal stimuli. Their sensitivity is increased by substances accumulating in the damaged area. Their response includes a neuroeffector component. They release substances (peptides) that initiate further events, providing further protection and favoring local tissue repair.

Studies in invertebrate neural systems show extensive local control of visceral function. Exceptions to central control are also found in the mammalian ANS. Near-normal interaction of bowel segments persists in the absence of CNS innervation. Sensory fibers from the gut exert feedback in intramural autonomic ganglia on visceral motor neurons regulating smooth muscle in the intestinal wall. The nervous system has pattern generators, both central and peripheral: systems with cellular, synaptic, and network properties (cyclic firing rhythms, reciprocal inhibition of cell pairs, leader and follower cells) that provide automated mechanisms for generating rhythmic movements (breathing, walking) or periodic activities (sleeping, waking). Regulated by neural (sensory feedback, volitional override) or neuroendocrine influences, pattern generators are pithy examples of neural endogenous activity." Do more with less would seem to be the message here."

Back to Hemenway, on elegance:
"2. Multiply purposes. Never do anything for only one reason. "Stack functions" is the way Bill Mollison expresses it.
In nature, all design is elegant. My hand is clearly designed for grasping. But it also serves as a heat radiator for my body, a weapon (fist), a signal device, a bodily support surface (as in pushups), a sensory organ, a carrier of affection (caresses), and an implement of communication (fingers in sand).
If we perceive several functions of an object of decision, then many more will be present. If we perceive only one function, then fear, greed, or our egos are in the way."

This property reminds me of Angevine's 8th principle, chemical message coding:
"8. Chemical Message Coding

The basic function of the nervous system, from which all others derive, is communication, performed (with unsung neuroglial support) by neurons. It depends on special electrical, structural,and chemical properties of these diversified cells with their long processes, on their exploitation and refinement of two basic protoplasmic properties, irritability and conductivity, on their external and internal neuronal morphology featuring multipolar shape and integrative design, almost infinite modes of dendritic and axonal branching, widespread, diversified connections, and specialized organelles, and on their use of chemical substances to encode, deliver and decipher messages of their own and other neurons.

Neural circuits are chemically coded. Neuroanatomy encompasses interneuronal connections and also chemical mediators and transmitters. Neuroactive substances comprise neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, and neurohormones. Their definition in contexts other than site of action, postsynaptic neuronal activity, and corelease of one or more additional neuroactive substances can be misleading. Neurotransmitters are small molecules acting swiftly, locally, and briefly on target cells. Neuromodulators are very small (peptides), regulating but not effecting transmission, and neurohormones are also small, with intrinsic activity mediated by neuronal and other cells, exerting slow, widespread, and enduring influence via the extracellular fluid or bloodstream.

Neurons releasing hormones are quasi-endocrine cells, liberating secretory products from axonal endings into the perivascular space to be conveyed to blood vessels and thence to target organs. The provincial concerns of neurophysiology and endocrinology have fused into neuroendocrinology, as psychoneuroimmunology has united psychobiology, molecular neurobiology, and immunology."

More to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brain as composter

In reference to "On Being Certain": Ginger Campbell interviews the author, Robert Burton MD:

Now I remember where I first had this brain/compost idea, which is a recurring one... here is a link to an old thread on SomaSimple, Permaculture/Natural Brain Systems: "Eight Principles for Designing Natural Systems."

In this thread, which went on for several days (during a seasonal affective disorder episode in December 3 years ago, a good time to think about composting perhaps...) I compared an article I'd saved for a long time about permaculture called "Four Pairs: Eight Principles for Designing Natural Systems" by Dan Hemenway, and a book I was reading at the time called Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton.

The writing in both is so evocative I could easily see the parallels, or maybe I was just easily evoked in that state, but whatever, the two seemed to me to be a perfect fit. (Still do actually, even though it's summer.) Underlining all of this paralleling is the fact that what I work with, every day of my life, is the human being and human body; no matter how fancy he or she may have become, or separated from his or her physicality intellectually, a human being is and will always remain a bit of nature, comprised of 100 trillion or so cells.

What the heck. I'm going to bring the principles here, as a series of blog posts. No.. I'll do better, I'll bring the whole article here. Here is Dan Hemenway, from an article published in 1985 in a publication called Whole Earth Review, with excerpts from the introduction:
"I owe a special debt to my friend and teacher, Bill Mollison, whose coined word, "permaculture" I use to describe much of my own work. Bill's emphasis on human participation in the design process of nature fitted together for me the pieces I was gathering.

Working with these guidelines, I found that the patterns I observed fit within eight principles of design. None of these four pairs is likely to surprise anyone familiar with the wisdom within the various grounded religions and philosophies our species has articulated."

I think he's referring to yin and yang and all that.

"...we, especially those of us who are North Americans, rather routinely fail to observe them in our daily lives. I find their articulation helpful in evaluating my own lifestyle and seeking to correct my course.

While each of the principles is familiar in sense, if not practice, there is value in stating them together as part of a whole. That is perhaps the ninth principle: Everything is part of the whole."

I wouldn't disagree with that.

"Problems which occur together often have common solutions. Ecologies are efficient and durable when all parts support capture, transformation, and storage of energy by the whole... There is a sense, then, in which each principle is an aspect of the others. The appearance of the connections between them is a function of our vantage point, where we stand at the moment... conservation goes further, and restores broken cycles. That is our real work: to design many pathways for this renewal, based on a design that connects us in our diversity of resource and perspective."

He's discussing farming, of course..

I'll be bringing large chunks of the thread here probably, including the thoughts about Guy Claxton's book on his way of thinking about the unconscious and conscious. It will be a long blog series I'm afraid... A lot of it will no doubt seem kind of round-about, but the first thing to realize is that nothing is more roundabout than nature is. If we want to develop a good new metaphor for what is "human" about thinking, one that includes biology, we can't very well leave out nature.

Next up, the first pair of principles from Dan's article.

1. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison (who is mentioned by Dan Hemenway in the intro)
2. Dan Hemenway's webpage

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"On Being Certain": Ginger Campbell interviews the author, Robert Burton MD

I help out Ginger Campbell sometimes by transcribing some of her podcasts for her, just the ones I decide are so interesting I want to spend time with the podcast and might as well be doing something useful at the same time that might help out other listeners, i.e., typing. The typing helps me too - makes me listen more slowly, makes me repeat parts to make sure I heard them right.

Here is a link to my transcription of her BrainSciencePodcast interview #43, an interview with author Robert Burton MD, about his book, On Being Certain: Believing you're Right Even When You're Not. (I wrote a post based on this book, and the previous BrainSciencePodcast #42, here.)

In the interview, toward the end, Burton compares perception of mind to perception of pain:
"I don't know if I can articulate this because it's still sort of seeping around in there is that most of us feel that we are what our conscious mind tells us we are. That question you asked about the free will and about someone said what your unconscious is doing is not part of 'you' - I think that we sense only what we sense. We sense ourselves as starting an idea, having a thought, making plans, etc etc. and we really don't see that that facility arises out of the same cognitive stew that causes all these perceptual illusions in general. And somehow, if you were to take a look at sort of western thought, it really is all about the mind-body thing. All the major questions arise out of the conception that the mind is somehow a separate entity. I mean there's a book by John Searle the philosopher - he has a whole book called The Mind, and he covers all the various kinds of theories, but none of them make any sense if you think about it. Because way down deep the mind is simply a higher level function that we can't conceptualize, just the same way as you said it's more than the sum of its parts I think you said.. this whole idea of emergence is really impossible to visually see - in other words you realize that if you take a chocolate chip and you take a piece of flour and take water, there is no embedded cake in there.. there's nothing - there's just chocolate and flour but we know you can make a cake. Well the cake is material. You can still see it. But in this case the problem is, the problem is what the brain generates is immaterial, that we can't see, yet does exist. I mean exists in the same way that pain exists. Pain isn't anywhere. The brain doesn't experience pain in the neurons I'm suffering. When you stub your toe there's no neuron that goes ouch. It occurs at a higher level. The problem I haven't figured out yet which I think might be the next project is, there needs to be a metaphor for understanding higher level function when seen from a lower level that will allow people to get rid of this distinction and argument about the mind and free will and causation. I think these are all problems of language that arise out of misconceptions what the mind is. Which is sort of what I think might be the next project."

Ginger says:
"You pointed out in your book that we don't think pain is something mystical or magical just because it can't be localized - it's emergent - yet somehow it seems natural to look at our mind and feel that it has to be somehow different."

His next comment is:
"Right. And I haven't been able to think of it because maybe I'm too dense, but there must be some analogy or metaphoric analogy where you can say, well just as pain exists but is undetectable, the mind exists, but it exists arising out of stuff that we cannot control so even though it feels like it's separate and also feels like it's in control in some sense it also feels like it's you, and feels like a self - these are all phenomena that are undetectable but necessary - I don't want to use the word illusion because illusion implies it doesn't exist - but on the other hand it is an illusion if you mean by illusion you can't see or taste or smell or touch it. It's an illusion without being an illusion."

I'm working on an analogy/metaphor for him - it has to do with brain as compost bin, thoughts generated by the unconscious or fed into the unconscious as compost itself. What occurs in the bin is unconscious thinking; conscious thinking or ruminating on something would be analogous to deliberately turning the compost, aerating it, waiting until it is aged to perfection.

Developing a systematic thought process, for example a scientific approach to thinking, or a scientific process to test an idea to make sure everyone can feel "certain" about it, would be analogous to using the compost to grow something with. But the thoughts that end up as conscious tested thoughts, although they may have sprung forth with the help and support and nutrition provided by the compost, are no longer compost - they become living and growing ideas that belong out in the culture, seeding new thoughts.

OK, it needs work, but I think it's a start.