Friday, November 18, 2011

Not for sissies

It struck me today that being a human awareness inside a humanantigravitysuit or any sort of awareness inside any biological kind of antigravity suit is not for sissies. Which is why, I suppose, that defensive mechanisms evolved in the first place.

The nervous system is not monolithic.
I say this every day to patients, as I try to help them understand what the inside of themselves, the inside of their own operating system, is like.
I tell them a story about how it's like a farmhouse that might have started out as a simple cottage in the days before electricity, but that over the decades new bits were added, a second story, a garage here, a new wing there. Before long the original cottage was completely buried by additions. Had it been an actual farmhouse, the sensible thing would be tear it down and start completely over with new wiring and plumbing. However, as a nervous system, it didn't turn out that way: nature never got rid of anything neurological, it just added more layers over top.
So, now we have the original, probably the enteric system, autonomic system, and a bit of somatomotor, covered over by faster, bigger, more complex inhibition systems.

Skin is weird, because it comes from ectoderm, as do all the nerves. Neural crest cells make up all the nerves that go to and from skin, as well as - get this - they make teeth. Teeth. I read earlier today that teeth evolved from skin. Or at least, from neural crest cells in skin. Or, at least, outside the mouth, which makes good sense, if the whole point of life and its evolution is to transform energy from one form/state to another to reduce energy gradients. I mean, to transform other organisms into sources of energy, it's necessary to rip them into tiny bits to be digested.. teeth come in handy, whether inside or outside the "mouth"..

Exaptation accounts for a lot of the preservation one sees in nervous system function.

Seth Grant in Australia has built an entire career on studying synaptic proteins, some of which have been conserved from original yeast-like single-cell ancestors.

Take-home point: Nature does not toss out anything that has proven useful, especially when it has to do with the operating system, i.e., the nervous system.

So, we ended up keeping everything that was there from the beginning, and added on. Now we have brains five times bigger than they need to be to run a creature/humanantigravitysuit our size. They suck away 20% of all our metabolic energy. Even though they comprise only 2% of our physicality. A measly 2%. Sucks up 20% of the energy. Think about it. It's no wonder we get distracted.

So, I was thinking, to actually turn it around enough to pay inward attention to our bodies, themselves, the physical creatures we inhabit, with attention and awareness, is so different from normal life, so ... non-social, kind of, so... outside a culture that pays the body almost no mind except to dress it up, or have it relate socially. To go in there just to find out how it's feeling, just out of interest, is not really supported by this culture. This generic North American culture. This culture is anything but introspective. Anything but intero-spective.

So, I'm thinking it takes courage.
It takes courage to go in and check interoceptive systems.
No wonder, then, that cultural systems that appear to have successfully navigated these strange waters are adopted holus-bolus, for the most part - things like yoga, meditation, acupuncture - with no translation. They are interoceptive practices, and mostly non-verbal therefore, anyway, except for the packaging, which is usually spiritual veneer of one sort or another.

What happens when a nervous system is probed, even by the awareness it gave rise to? Well, it might be important to remember that in any given individual parts of the nervous system may not get along with each other perfectly. If you are an "I" illusion inhabiting a particular brain, and you decide one day that you want to probe your own interoception, and your culture has never supported such a notion or behaviour, you find yourself swimming against a tide. You either graft a system onto yourself or you go it alone. You may find yourself outfitting yourself in yoga pants and learning a lot of polysyllabic words in a foreign language, or learning mantras and about mandalas, or learning strange non-existent non-anatomical body systems. To go it alone is preferable in my opinion, but may still require some outside support from a patient observer/coach from time to time. Most people won't bother doing any of this stuff until such time as they are unfortunate enough to sustain a pain episode, at which time it will suddenly be the only way out of the cage.

No matter what, anxiety will be a feature. If you are exploring by yourself, you will learn that deep breathing will take care of a lot of the anxiety, and will smooth out the process. You have to make yourself keep going back, though, until the behaviour becomes pleasurable enough to motivate you by itself. You could think of it as getting to know your inner zoo, all the creatures your antigravitysuit evolved through on its way to becoming human. You have to be careful not to spook any of them. Or yourself.
If you use one of the cultural adaptations, you have to adapt yourself to them. Which is fine, I suppose, until/unless cognitive dissonance interferes. Which it may well do, sooner or later, Which is why I personally choose/recommend the go-it-alone method.

If pain has driven you into the corner of your own existence and has forced you to become interoceptive just to get through the day, I feel for you - I really do. Deep breathing will still help, plus it will be of use to find yourself a caring human primate social groomer who vows not to create more suffering for you to have to endure, but will stand by you as you find your way out of the gloomy forest of being lost inside your own physicality with a suddenly heavy humanantigravitysuit that doesn't work right, and a nervous system that no longer feels like "you", but instead feels like a bunch of alien creatures biting at you.

No comments: