Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Physical Pain and Depression

I'm sitting here in a neck brace, wondering how this accident affects my life beyond physical impairments. As I said before, nothing was "broken," thank God, but sometimes things are less painful when they break rather than being stretched to the limit. As I type my chest hurts, my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt, my knee hurts, and I suffer from numbness in my left fourth and fifth fingers. This numbness is a persistent symptom from compression of cervical vertebrae 7 and 8, what's called "a stinger" in football circles. If I cough or strain, a band of metallic fire shoots down my arm into my left elbow and fingers; it takes my breath away. When this occurs my right little finger goes numb as well, confirming that the injury is spinal rather than more local, as in a stretched axillary or cervical or brachial plexus on one side. Bilateral symptoms in the same dermatome mean that a central lesion is at fault.

Both knees have third degree abrasions, now beginning to leak from under the scabs. The right hurts worse because the accident included a brief dislocation of my right kneecap.

My left shoulder was dislocated as well, but popped back in like the kneecap. Above the shoulder I display the clinical deformity of "tenting," where the collar bone, now separated from the shoulder blade (3rd degree acromioclavicular separation), rises up and pushes against the skin.

I also have pain from thoracic compression at T5 as a band around my pectorals, and pain shooting into my shoulder blades bilaterally from a cervical compression at C3-C4.

In addition to all these is the constant ache and burning of soft tissue injuries to muscle, ligaments, fascia and tendons, especially in the left shoulder and at the base of the occipit where the strained splenius capitus muscles insert.

Emotionally my knowledge of medicine and my own body relieve me of any fear, knowing that my long-term prognosis is fairly sanguine. I may need surgery on my left shoulder but delaying it will make the operation easier, as the body goes on repairing what it can and clearing the surgical field of inflammation and debris. The opposite can also hold true if too much scarring complicates the field.

I have never been afraid throughout this ordeal, unless it be the immediate fear of pain should I cough or move--knowing that in the next instant I will feel like a fish speared by its own nerves.

Pain renders the mind blank and speechless, unless it be the occasionally needful swear word.

I feel lucky in my mind but my body doesn't agree.

To be thrown at 25 mph from a motorcycle onto a winding two-lane highway in the fog with much traffic, and fare as well as I have, seems a miracle, as if the angels said, "So far and no further." Further could mean dead or at least quadriplegic; yet the fact that I was relatively spared feels more like a lucky statistic than a personal gift. When the pain lessens I may be able to rejoice more fully.

I am selling the bike, btw; it was dangerous for my bulk because it was underpowered, at 125 cc, at pushing my fat ass up hills. And I have no desire at present for a bigger, safer bike; I was doing OK with the bus system before this happened in any case.

After sitting here to write this, my neck and left shoulder continue to register the highest pain levels, while my left hand feels funny with its numb digits.

Pain is the greatest teacher but it is sometimes overrated as a tutor. One learns nothing from chronic pain except endurance, maybe a little increased caution.

I feel much the same way about depression; its main lesson is also endurance, hoping "this, too, will pass." I can't speak of any dark night of the soul or spiritual realization from depression or the accident. They are similar in requiring stamina, or the quality of indomitability that I have shown throughout my life. My name means "Rock," and my body's response to this accident was very much like a rock, with a few exceptions. So likewise I am a rock in depression. I continue to function despite the inexpressible feelings of anger, fear and sadness co-mingled into self-hatred that attend my waking hours in that condition.

Strangely, my strength does come from the darkness, from depression. If I can endure severe clinical depression I can endure nearly anything. And the prospect of depression puts my present thoughts of pain in perspective; I'd much rather endure physical injury than mental torment. Those who say otherwise have not known depression as I have, and I hope they never do.

Bloodied but Kiloneutral,


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Motorcycle Crash

Free Fall on Highway 1 (recorded the night of the accident, July 21, before the real pain set in).

I was following the fog line when my front tire lipped over the asphalt and climbed the shoulder into the bushes. I rolled off to my left and tumbled to the road until I lay on my back, groaning. I must have hit my left shoulder first, as I feel a partial dislocation and acromioclavicular separation there. It pops as I type. The right is equally sore, more a blunt injury, I think. I haven't looked in the mirror for external orthopedic markers as I fear I can't remove my shirt with shit for shoulders. Inside each scapula is an ache so deep it wraps around my chest like an iron band around a barrel. Rhomboid strain, slight radiculopathy at the fifth thoracic vertebra. My neck burns stiffly; I wrapped a towel around it for a chin rest. I'm creaky and sore but breathing. My left little finger is numb from disk compression in my neck at C7-C8. My helmet spared my skull. As I said, I was following the fog line when I got too close, lipped off the asphalt into the brush. I saw a tree; I don't think I hit it. I didn't get a good look at the bike but it didn't appear too mangled. I feel a generous raspberry on my right knee, I don't know if it bled through, but my kneecap pops in a new way from a partial dislocation. Strangely, before the accident, I was talking to a friend who had fallen from a height out of his truck and suffered a severe concussion that took him five years to recover from. He was misnaming things, calling a stove a refrigerator, calling his employees by the wrong name. I think my brain's OK, it's my neck and shoulders that sustain the agony--worse with movement, of course. I have now cheated death nine times. That doesn't mean I don't have damage, At 53 the human body doesn't bounce anymore, it slams without rebound. Were I six again, running with a football, I would recover quickly. I don't know which impairments will remain. I've doubtless added to my chronic pain.


p.s. I just noticed in a previous comment a challenge to a meme; what work among these media most impacted you in your adult life?

the book:

The Brothers Karamazov

the film / network series:

"Altered States" directed by Ken Russell, written by Paddy Chayevsky

the music / spoken word recording:

Bob Dylan "Highway 61" Columbia

(challenge by Sam Rasnake)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Theory of the Mind VII: Better a Dirty Teat than a Clean Bottle

I have a friend, call him Vince, who plays the flute well enough to jam but has a terrible alcohol habit and lives in his car. I don't judge him; I try to help him with logistics and in music participation when I can. I have told him outright that his main problem is being a drunk, but I don't judge that, even when I have to help him in the car (he doesn't drive) after a jam where he couldn't even play due to his alcohol level. He knows that I know that he knows that his desire for sobriety cannot compete with his desire for alcohol, though he claims short-term memory loss and possibly some liver damage from the habit. Yet he is more interested in stopping beer because of a feared "gluten" allergy than stopping drinking; lately he's felt better on vodka. And his doctor gets frequent blood tests. I find his attendance by doctors mildly entertaining, as they do nothing about the elephant in the room except to clip its toenails.

Why does Vince lack the desire to quit drinking? He would certainly feel better and his memory might improve if he did. Is his will merely enslaved to drink, or does every drunk entail another incremental yielding? Certainly he can't drink without picking up a bottle, so his desire and will are engaged. Does he ever stop, early in his consumption, to think he might not want to go any further? In my experience that would be a rarity; when an addict uses, there is no ceiling save illness, if only the usual hangover or post-coke morning burnout.

Interesting that marijuana does not seem to have addictive properties; many can choose to smoke it or not, and those who smoke if often prefer their lives that way, it seems, although the literature talks about the "apathetic syndrome" of heavy pot users. Cocaine, especially in smokable form like crack, is the most addictive substance we know, while chewing coca leaves in the Andes has been done for centuries without ill effect. Certainly concentrating a drug makes its addictive powers more apparent.

All of these addictions, however, as I've said before, are easier to quit than to have a successful diet, for the obvious reason that food is a necessity for survival, and we are hard-wired to enjoy a surplus if it comes our way, as it does every day in these United States.

To control, to moderate--this is the only choice with food. At present I'm at my heaviest ever, somewhere between 275 and 280, and it's a little uncomfortable. I very much want to be thinner but my desire has not engaged my will to the point where I'm willing to pass up the cashews last night, for example, that I didn't really need. Laurel Dodge suggested a food diary as the starting point for any logical diet, and I know that's good advice--first examine the problem. And to eat only when hungry, chew food slowly, etc., are all good measures. Yet the pleasure of food (I also like to cook) often overcomes my resolve to resist the extra calories. Since I've come out of my depression everything just tastes so damn good! So I've become fat and happy and put on at least fifteen lbs. since recovering.

Shall I make an experiment of myself? My desire to lose weight, I fear, is not strong enough to engage my will as yet. But I could post a food diary on my blog, starting today, in my ongoing exploration of the mind.

So far today I have eaten one double-chocolate muffin. I would estimate it at 400 calories. I drank one 12 oz. soda, about 100 calories. More later.

Meanwhile I will be attending a music camp from Aug. 1 to Aug. 9, where I will have the opportunity to quit smoking, drinking and overeating if I choose... but at present I'm enjoying all three, and for now the pleasure principle overcomes the import of immediate and future consequences. When I quit smoking for two years prior to my present relapse, I no longer enjoyed it and used to cough until I threw up some mornings. Apparently a two-year break for my lungs was enough to grant them a second wind. Now I'm in training again for smoke tolerance, though I note increased mucous of a color that makes me think that smoking is a co-factor for a chronic sinus infection and bronchitis; the tar weakens the system enough that white cells must become engaged. Ah, the slippery slope.

The Pauline answer to the slavery of habits can be found in Romans 7-8; it is not so much an answer as a transformation. By inhabitation of the Holy Spirit, Paul claims freedom from the enslavement of physical desires, and by a neat trick of psychological casuistry, blames any sin that recurs on the body, nothing to be too concerned about, since if left to itself, the body will exceed whatever limits we place upon it.

I think of those two chapters in the Bible as too all-or-nothing; I think of conversion or transformation as a slow process as the Spirit claims more and more of our hearts, which ultimateluy includes the body, but in practice, I find it much more important to love my neighbor than to quit smoking or diet successfully. There have been fat saints, smoking saints, and drinking saints (including Jesus); the saintliness is much more about how one treats one's fellows than how one governs his personal habits. I do not suggest thereby that there are sexually promiscuous saints, because that includes a violation of the body of another, quite a different matter.

The Gnostic argument of Indian gurus like the Maharishi (who so disappointed John Lennon with his screwing of all the groupies) is that the flesh does not concern the spirit. In the Christian view, it is precisely in the flesh where the war between the Spirit and unchecked desire live out their meaning. To say there is no connection between the spirit and the flesh is to deny the material nature of man. We have bodies and sometimes we are our bodies, as in the experience of extreme pain. We have body consciousness, thought consciousness, feeling consciousness, and consciousness towards external stimuli all at the same time. But the body consciousness feels like an aspect of the self: that's my hand typing, for instance, not some attachment to my self.

Christianity insists on a bodily resurrection for reasons like these.

To the Gnostics, nothing but a spiritual resurrection is possible, as Jesus came in the spirit, as for him to appear in the flesh would have been a violation of the Gnostic division, and if he had, what he did in the flesh was not so important as who he was in the spirit. The Manichees, whom Augustine disputed, had similar views, just as the Maharishi could argue that all his philandering was only "Maya," or illusion.

Self-consciousness begins with body consciousness in the womb, and the self is first built up of non-verbal encounters with people and things and especially one's own bodily functions, why control over bowels and bladder loom so large in the early psyche. What looms larger is, of course, the love and care of a primary caretaker to provide the emotional support for achieving such milestones.

Our projections of ourselves, as in the infant looking up at its mother, will always contain a human face, why we almost automatically re-envision so many patterns, even the grilles and lights of automobiles, to form faces. The imprint of the mother's face, and especially her experesions, touch, sound, and smell, can never be underestimated in the developing infant.

"Failure to Thrive" is the famous syndrome of developmental retardation in infants who receive inadequate emotional input. Better a dirty teat than a clean bottle. And better a loving neighbor than one with no bad habits.

All for now,


Friday, July 18, 2008

An Animated Poem; On Desire and Will

In Blue's Cruzio Cafe you can see an animated version of yours truly reciting his poem, "Where Are the Frogs?"

As for my ongoing monologue on a theory of the mind, I am letting my mind range broadly in its pursuit of the will, and have yet to touch upon the relationship of desire to the will. Desire must precede the will, and must be processed through a myriad of contingencies, including reward and consequence, ease vs. effort of attainment, pleasure and pain-o-meters, and the opinion of others as well as an internal moral compass--to name a few. Unless hung up on a conflict, all of this and more can be processed in a second.

What is the counter-propulsive force that resists desire and restrains will? Judgment, again composed of the above and more. Still, despite judgment, desire can overcome will by the sheer power of the urge or by reason ceding permission for the irrational to flower.

Here are two examples of desire and will just performed before and after writing the above. I was hungry for a snack, some crackers or something, but there were none to my liking, so I ate most of a bag of Classic Caesar croutons. I knew they were fattening, and caused heartburn, and so forth, but my desire for them overcame my better judgment, involving only a small twinge of guilt. And while writing the paragraphs above, I had an urge to micturate, but I resisted it until the end of the second paragraph, holding desire in check.

If I held it in check long enough my urine would have eventually been released, and to do so would be a strong act of will but also a display of poor judgment. And this is small potatoes. The human mind can delay gratification for decades if firmly settled upon a goal, which makes us masters of time in a way no other animal can know.

To frustrate desire for a higher desire speaks to a hierarchy of desires, or in Maslow's terms, of needs. Air, water, food, clothing, shelter, and above all, human attention, form a hierarchy of needs within the web of desires. We may prefer love over clothes and shelter, but at food we draw the line, excepting, of course, sacrificial situations where we have a choice to sacrifice our own survival for that of another. That this can be done is another example of the triumph of will over desire. To will what is good for another with the consequence of one's own extinction is a capacity not all possess, but indicative of what is best in the race.

Which brings into play ideals. Regard for the other as an ideal is the one of the core teachings of some religions, as in Christianity, where Christ tells us that "If a man asks you for your coat, give him your shirt as well."

Dedication to an ideal above and beyond our usual tit-for-tat morality is a feature of an integrated man, one who values his values above his desires.

There is something in us, some strength we depend upon, by which we can triumph over desire in the name of desiring the good. How many qualifications are placed upon the desire for good determines how easily the will may act on the desire for it. And often the immediate good, as in buying a junkie another fix, is trumped by a higher good, as in getting him into rehab. But he will not succeed at sobriety unless his desire for getting well exceeds his desire for getting high. As heroin takes most forms of human pain away, both emotional and physical, it must be a daunting path to abandon the land of the lotus eaters for the land of rocks and scrapes. What motivates a junkie to go straight? Here there are lots of sentimental testimonials, with any number or reasons, both personal and general, but we can say in a general way that it is some conception of a higher good that allows the will to ignore immediate gratification in the name of an imagined, perhaps half-remembered, life with no guarantee of a favorable pleasure to pain ratio. Which illustrates in passing that the pleasure-pain principle is not pre-eminent as a value by which the will is engaged, though it contributes much to decisions.

I'd rather watch TV than write right now, and in admitting this it is my will that keeps me writing, through a desire to write and at least close out my remarks properly. The desire for completion is very strong in me. I hate leaving things unfinished. Nevertheless as I dont know when this monologue will ever be finished it doesn't matter if I quit and watch TV now, a moment when my brain is better served by the passivity of television watching. as the work of writing is beginning to outweigh its pleasures.

All for tonight,


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Theory of the Mind Riffing VI

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will." --G. B. Shaw

Let us leave the feminine aspect of the psyche for a moment and review some common models of the human personality. Christianity has long divided the self into body, soul and spirit, though some factions confine their speculation to body and soul. The tripartite model is more common, based on the creation story where God breathes his spirit into the dust and man becomes a living "soul." Which makes man an amphibian, of spiritual origin but of bodily circumstance. In this schema the spirit corresponds to God-consciousness, the soul to self-consciousness, and the body to thing-consciousness, which we share with animals. What animals have yet to demonstrate is self-consciousness, which would require of them the infinite regressive capacity of the "I" voice, for which we have no evidence.

Self-consciousness of course includes the "I" and all the gifts that come with it, from reason to fantasy and above all, the will, which is closely tied to the spirit. In the Bible man's spirit is known to strive with God's spirit, but when attuned by the Holy spirit, man's restless spirit should know peace. Of course this is a lifelong struggle, and none attains it completely. Yet the idea that God's spirit can intervene in the highest functions of the self is a very supernatural idea, one best aligned with transpersonal psychology.

Freud posited the superego, the ego and the id--or the moral center, the center of self and choice, and the primitive urges, mainly bodily and sexual, which influence the "higher" functions. Freud's theory is useful in terms of psychological defenses, but it founders on the bar of sexuality, which is much overemphasized as an organizing principle. For simplicity's sake, we can equate the id with bodily desires and the unconscious.

Jung saw the persona as the superego, or public self; the choosing self as the ego, or 'I;' in the unconscious he located the true self, the anima and animus, the shadow, and the collective unconscious of mythical archetypes. Much less bodily-driven, his model has been useful in classifying personality types when combined with his ideas of extroversion, introversion, judgment, feeling, sensation, perception, and intuition.

The formerly popular Transactional Analysis divides the self into Parent, Adult, and Child, roughly corresponding to the Superego, Ego, and Id, the difference being in its conception of internal roles, roles assumed by exposure to others, that combine to make the self therapeutic simplicity. And indeed, when we accuse ourselves of failings, we do very much sound like a parent, and when we feel the world is patently unfair, we are in touch with our child, while the adult must adjudicate the proper path, living as an adult or choosing self in relation to other adults, avoiding the easily assumed roles of parent and child that we have so well learned by experience.

Galen's ideas of temperament ruled the western world for over fifteen hundred years, through medieval times, and four temperaments or humors were postulated: the upbeat and extroverted sanguine, passionate and laughing, or blood; the brooding and pessimistic black bile of melancholy; the driving, energetic and and quick to anger, aggressive yellow bile of the choleric, and the watery bile or phlegm of the phlegmatic, also called sluggish or dull, but better conceived as unflappable. All of these temperaments can be interpreted in positive and negative ways. The melancholic is sensitive; the sanguine is passionate; the choleric is aggressive, and the phlegmatic filled with equanimity, when taken positively. Unfortunately this clinical quadrumvirate led to blood-letting to restore the balance of humors, a practice that only produces anemia and dehydration except in the rare case of heart failure, where it might actually do some good by lowering the blood volume. What is fascinating about the temperaments or humors is that they ruled western medicine for over 1500 years. One biographer of George Washington is convinced that the bloodletting applied to his pneumonia led directly to his death. But I digress.

Once we start assigning any of the above models to my model of the tree, the first split is the conscious vs. the unconscious, and where then to put the superego? Because the superego includes taboos, it must exist consciously and unconsciously, whereas Jung's more elegant persona is the socialized self, the self that seeks to follow society's requirements, though in the unconscious "shadow" we can find things like incest, a great superego taboo. Let us then put these models aside, as I seek to wrap my writing around a model that has more clarity and clinical utility.

So far I have not written anything with any great clinical application, save perhaps my modeling of forgiveness and the importance of the feminine, but clinical applications can wait while I go on.

In my schema, when the unconscious becomes conscious it joins the tree; otherwise, it stays in the roots below ground. Thus with Jung's persona we care how our tree appears to others, but feel secure that they cannot see our hidden roots of unconscious--although this is not strictly true, since we reveal our unconscious in our actions quite frequently, though they have been polished through defenses to become part of the persona.

And what are Freud's defenses? Anna Freud is the best on this with "The Ego and Its Defenses," in which many categories and examples are clearly stated, as in projection, denial, even humor (a healthy defense). A defense is a psychological response to a threat to the ego. Thus if I am unwilling to face my greed in asking my boss for an untimely raise, I instead accuse him of miserliness to prevent the collision of my true self with the ego's more complimentary projection of itself.

In all of this I am working towards being "present," being aware of root and branch, of the unconscious and the conscious, of the repressed, suppressed and expressed, in an effort to unify the self.

I cannot conceptualize the self without two indispensable features: will and language. Although I do not know what I shall next write, I am willing myself to write, and as I do language is supplied to my developing notions, which are essentially non-verbal syntheses waiting to be born. Before I write about a thing one might say it doesn't exist; and in writing about it, it has a very limited existence, circumscribed by denotation, connotation, interpretation and misinterpretation. To describe the self most clearly we must resort to models because otherwise we are left with a psychic soup. Perhaps consciousness is a soup, but our will possesses the ladle by which we scoop up certain ideas that stand out. These ideas then become a basis for a psychology, though a true psychology can only be established, finally, by an understanding of brain function. The soul or self is in the brain, easily proven by stroke victims, but in my experience most spectacularly affirmed in an eight-month old named "Gloria."

Gloria was deserted at the teaching hospital at which I trained by her parents early on. The reason? She was not human. She lacked anything above the midbrain, essentially no neocortex for synthesis, a condition called holoprosenchephaly. All she did was lie on her back, blink and have seizures. She didn't track faces, her eyes were like dolls' eyes, she had no tactile responses, just automatic reflexes. There was truly no there there, and you could see the absence on a cat scan. Nothing in medicine so unnerved me as seeing this non-human infant in a human body, kept alive by a feeding tube, her seizures only poorly controlled by anticonvulsants. She could not feel or think or respond to human touch or sounds. She was a machine, quite simply, with less personality than a dog or cat.

It is clear that the human soul is in the physical brain, which brings up a host of problems. I like to think that the necessary complexity of the 16 billion neurons of the brain and their connections, combined with exposure to environmental stimuli and bodily experience, amount to what we call human. On the other end of the lifespan we see Alzheimer's patients who appear to have lost their souls; they must be fed and diapered, and when the disease takes over completely, where a person was is only a human-shaped shell. Yet loved ones take, as in the Terry Schiavo case, undue liberties with their projections on the soulless person, convincing themselves that some response or capacity remains when it is only a grunting coincidence.

Of those things unconscious, we must admit that many are just below the surface, as in easily accessed portions of intellectual and emotional memory, which can be recalled from the near surface roots without difficulty, just as I recall the music played at the concert I attended tonight. To relegate mere memory to the unconscious is to place a much stricter requirement on what is conscious; easy recall of non-conflicted experiences is not conscious, in my view, for it has to be remembered to become conscious. We must think of the unconscious as roots at different depths, some easily communicating with the tree, some that must nearly be dug up to liberate the trauma they secret.

Freud's idea of the unconscious was that which was repressed, which we did not wish to remember, but it is clear that much is forgotten as well and only re-surfaces with proper stimulation, as when baseball's All-Star game causes me to remember my own All-Star games in Little League, a not unpleasant memory, but not necessarily a conscious memory, rather a memory I must retrieve and rarely do. Freud's idea is that the really important stuff, the traumatic experience of maturation from an infant, is buried for the ego to survive. Else how could an executive hold forth at a board meeting while thinking about his liberation from diapers at age two or three? Naturally we cannot have this sort of information leaking into our brains at any time it pleases, or we would be unable to function. To function we must filter all of the past, most of the present and some of the future. And without a mental outline, much of our conversation is basically associative: "You saw what movie? I saw the one just before it. How was the sequel?" Or, "My mom used to wear a hat like that." Or, "When you mentioned your abuse as a child I thought of mine."

Freud's priesthood felt that "free" association would naturally lead to ur-traumas, but much of it can lead in circles with no therapeutic effect except an increase in self-preoccupation, and a wish to please the therapist by digging up some really impressive childhood stuff. This is one of the basic traps of therapy; the patient will try to please the therapist, no matter what school he hails from. So those in Jungian therapy are happy to recall archetypes, those in Freudian therapy, sexually repressed material, especially the early struggle with parents, and cognitive-behavioral patients are quite simply encouraged to report on their progress toward goals agreed on with the therapist. In all cases the therapist warps the response through his prejudice toward psychological systems. Yet worse is a therapist without a system, with no way to chart the patent's growth. But that would not bother someone like Carl Rogers or Paul Tournier, who emphasize the interpersonal in therapy, where simply "positive regard" for the patient yields results. And it does.

What is the chief factor in whether a therapist is helpful? Whether the patient likes him or not. And if the patient likes the therapist, he will try to please him as well, trying to gain his approval; it is inevitable. Thus all therapists are behaviorists and cognitive therapists, because they reward the brain for certain processes more than others.

Back to the brain. If the majority of personality, say 75% (as I believe) is congenital, how much overall effect can a therapist have, anyway? Actually a great effect, if therapy is directed toward exploring the desires of one's true self and putting aside the expectations of others, even the therapist. When I have practiced therapy I know the patient is on the way when they disagree with me and treat me as an equal. In so doing they demonstrate the affirmation of their true selves, or better, learn to accept the brain they were born with it and all its idiosyncrasies and prejudices.

I have been typing for some time without regard to organization, so let me take a moment to review. I envision the human personality as a tree, the unconscious below ground, the conscious above, and their junction, or trunk, the seat of the will. From both conscious and unconscious sources we are influenced, and the greatest act of intentional consciousness is a verbally premeditated action. Many if not most of our actions are automatic, which properly belong to the monitoring system of the brain and body; how we tie our shoes and brush our teeth need no updated verbal instruction. Even a new-fangled toothbrush is more used than discussed in the mind; the hands and mouth adjust without a lecture. But to make a list on which "toothbrush" appears is a very conscious act. Should automatic behaviors be considered conscious or unconscious? I say conscious because we are aware of them, however peripherally, but not so peripherally that we can't identify a missed eyelet in a shoe or a sore gum while brushing.

I should add, as an ongoing personal experience of the self on which these musings are based, that I decided to stop after the above paragraph. Gathering myself on the porch with a night view I thought about playing the guitar to experiment in arpeggios and other techniques of the Jango Reinhardt-style guitar I heard tonight, whereupon I projected a voice internally that cautioned me, "You don't have the energy to do that right now. Just edit this piece once and then go to bed." So my superego, my parent, my adult, perhaps even my spirit, spoke to me--realistically, I might add--but only because I willed that cautionary voice into existence.

To be continued...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Theory of the Mind V: The Miracle of the Knife, Forgiveness and the Feminine.

"Your recent entries exceed the ambitions of a blog. As blog entries, I feel they are too demanding a read. Do you plan to systematize them in a more formal sense?"

So spake my most reliable literary correspondent. Right now I am just riffing as I go, but my scattershot approach has already borne fruit.

Today at the Mendocino Headlands, picnicking with my daughter, was an orange leather couch some youths had hauled down to the cliffs, nearly identical to a couch my first wife and I purchased when we first moved to San Clemente, one of the happier times in our marriage. More miraculously, a man at the headlands sold me the exact model of a Buck Knife he'd bought at a Rainbow gathering that my second wife purchased in Alaska but kept as a secret for two months until my birthday. I had pointed it out at a knife shop in Juneau from the display window after hours, and though she was terrible at keeping secrets, she kept the surprise from me, which I took as a sign of love. Further, my third wife, the love of my life, broke that same knife in Mexico trying to jimmy a lock that separated her from her ransomed service dog, whom I afterwards recovered through legal means, though we each spent a night in jail over him due to our misguided attempts at physical intervention. After breaking it, she threw the knife away without consulting me, and the genuine replica fell into my hands today for half the price of a new one. Here is a picture of it:

Buck Vanguard

I chose it because it was a strong, practical knife good for many uses, from skinning to cleaning to slicing rawhide or carving wood. Its main disadvantage is also its strength, a fixed handle with a thick blade, whose steel needs a lot of attention to maintain a fine edge. But it is intended for field dressing, just as this new turn in my blog is intended for stripping down my consciousness to its various processes.

I take these little synchronicities as signs that I am making progress in the area of forgiveness toward past wives, though my second marriage carries none of the weight of my first. The second divorce was also worlds easier, especially because children were not an issue. My second wife and I parted at exactly the right time for me to meet Kathleen, whom I consider my true wife--in Jung's anima terms, my "Mary," though this is unfair to my former ones, as my capacity for partnership increased as I matured, though my finding Kathleen is a love story for the ages.

My first marriage was instigated by infatuation and impulsiveness, the second by friendship, the third by true love, composed of eros, agape and phileo. My relationships to women thus improved as I progressed as a person.

From the viewpoint of my second wife, my great shortcoming was that I was not necessarily "in love" with her, but I loved her as best I could and we had a better partnership than I did with my first wife.

Pain can shut us up emotionally, compartmentalizing great griefs into untouchable boxes of denial. But the unconscious teaches us that where our pain is greatest is where we most need to go in order to heal the root. If we ignore the quarantine imposed on one root or branch for its painfulness, we can limit the tree, even poison it with enforced repression. When the need for light exceeds the need for repression, the psychic economy can open up new territory to health.

If we are only partly healed, it is because all griefs lead to one great grief, that of emotional isolation or blunting. This is evidence of non-self, where the self has been stymied by expending its energy on emotional quarantine of certain distressful periods. We all fear being swallowed up by the void, and much of what we seal off is not a void but rather dark matter needing exposure.

When I think of the universe I think of the expanding stars as masculine and the vacuum of space as feminine, but all selves partake of both masculine and feminine qualities, as Jung points out in his theory of anima and animus. Woman envelops, man invades. Woman comforts, man protects. Women help build civilizations, men tear them down. Women symbolize the receptive, man the initiative. Women often go around while men go through, women more often make peace while men confront. Men want the truth, they want to be right, and women prefer the truth of social compromise. All of these are traditional traits of the idealized masculine and feminine, but I also know, as a man, what it is to envelop a baby in my arms and rock her to sleep, what it is to absorb the negative verbal energies of a teenager without counter-attacking, how to go with the flow and make social peace at the price of a few intellectual objections, because in me I find the feminine as well. In marrying three times and fathering three daughters, surely my exposure to the feminine has been a strong influence in my development, though it took a while for me to embrace it consciously.

How does this polar concept of gender traits fit in with the self and its functions? There are both conscious and unconscious identifications with the male and female principle in all of us. Those more integrated will have their "opposite" gender traits more conscious than those who have yet to make peace with their idealized opposites. Once conscious, the feminine or masculine becomes a strength for the opposite gdnder, and can be accessed by intention, not just by the imprinting of childhood from parental imagos.

"Old men should be explorers." --T. S. Eliot

And young men should have the freedom to make fools of themselves, to follow their hearts into adventure, and women should have the same opportunity, though differences in brain structure an acculturation incline men to fill this role more naturally. Even as female astronauts succeed I conjecture that there are many more qualified male applicants.)

We need the comforter and the prophet, the enveloper and the initiator.

In biological terms, men and women of previous centuries lived these traits out as their destiny, especially in the act of conception. Now technology has complicated such roles, as in the recent birth of a baby to a woman surgically altered to appear a man, utilizing her still present ovaries and uterus.

The differences in idealized gender archetypes form a conscious and unconscious repository of feminine and masculine approaches to life. Men usually want to "fix" things, to stop a woman from crying, to solve her problems, while women are more likely to accept another's complaints without the need to find a solution, learning to be with the sufferer rather than to try to mitigate the suffering through action. Men get uncomfortable when women complain, often thinking it's because of some shortcoming of theirs, and masculine anxiety makes them want to answer the problem rather than envelop the problem with emotional solidarity.

Though necessarily oversimplified, such traits allow the human will, the center of our construct so far, different approaches to the demands of persons. Something perceived as a problem to a man may as easily be perceived as a wound by a woman, needing tending rather than surgery. Women are by nature more socially aware and political, and work better in groups than men, or at the very least, differently. They are much better at reaching a consensus that satisfies all than men are, who make stands for concessions rather stubbornly. In a word, men like to be right and women like to be loved.

All this affords the self that has integrated the unconscious feminine and masculine a greater palette of responses from which to choose. I, for one, have learned by long practice to listen to a feminine complaint without feeling the need to solve it. It is often enough just to sit with the person as they vent, and in that action is much wisdom, as Job's worthless comforters proved when they first opened their mouths in judgment.

The feminine has more patience as well, and more investment in the process than the result. Impatience is my cardinal sin, and I have learned much from the feminine to reduce it. Not that my impatience is cured, for it is not only a sin of pride but also a manifestation of an intervention-oriented self when it comes to problem-solving.

If a man has claimed his masculine side but neglects his feminine, he may end up a grotesque exaggeration of manhood as in the celluloid image of John Wayne, whose character is often confused by the power of women. Men he can handle; women are a mystery. In addition he embodies the exaggerated concept of the lone wolf, the maverick, the self-made man. There is no such thing. There are degrees of independence, but all of us are subject to interdependence except for hermits who grow their own food. If no man is an island, some pretend to be, and for the most part, such persons are not happy, for they have sorely neglected their feminine side. All of us must learn the feminine in life, and one of its chief virtues is the ability to ask for help, as in the previous example of the surgeon. To the myth of the self-made man, I say: "Grow up! You have stood on the shoulders of giants." And by giants I mean not only explorers that have gone before, but the very early influences of primary caregivers, traditionally the parents. Nothing looms so large in the imprinting of the self, as object theorists have shown. The only factor larger is the innate personality as determined by the roll of the DNA, for this determines how such influences are perceived and employed.

There is no self-made self. The self is a living embodiment of all the selves it has rubbed against, for better or worse, along with its native intelligence and tendencies. In affirming our uniqueness we at the same time must affirm the diversity of influences, not only that were chosen for us, but that we chose. Freedom is only limited by our conception of it.

To be continued...

Theory of Mind IV: An Anecdote of Forgiveness

Last night I realized that I intended to give short shrift to the unconscious as I continued writing, as it has been overblown, I think, by personality theorists, especially Freud, despite the fact that I used it in my analogy as the roots of the tree of consciousness. After touching upon forgiveness, I later prayed to be able to forgive my first wife wholly for all the damage she'd done me.

When I finally left her I was depressed, but that was not the reason for leaving. Our marriage had been over for years. My leaving was only a punctuation mark, but to do so I had to stuff a wealth of feelings down; I couldn't deal with them, I felt as if I had failed God and myself and my children not to stick it out. But it was a matter of survival; I feared that if I stayed with her any longer I would be in danger of suicide, truly.

We went to marriage counseling three times, and the last two times were a joke, as it was clear that she either had no desire to change or was incapable of it. Our therapist agreed with me (in a private session) that she was "blind," not necessarily malign, simply incapable of the kind of insight required for change.

Why do I bring this up? Because in my desire to forgive I underestimated the unconscious, for this very morning I had a dream about living with my first wife. It was my first day of psychiatric residency and there were lectures and orientation. I had my eye on Lara Flynn Boyle, playing a fellow psychiatric resident in my dream, and felt that she returned my feelings. The two of us decided to go get a cup of coffee and skip an hour of class, but in the dream I had to return home first. I felt hollow and ambivalent about starting my residency; it seemed as if there were no foundation beneath me, I had severe doubts about my choice that first day of residency--in my dream only, of course.

When I stopped by my house it became clear that my first wife was not with me on my journey. It was unspoken that she rather objected to my not being a "real doctor," and wished I'd become a surgeon or something more generally admired. This is likely my own projection on her. Yet I felt the acute absence of her support; she was only tagging along with my career because she hoped to receive the benefits of being "a doctor's wife," not because she was invested in my growth as a partner. I realized this with a sense of emptiness and despair. She subsequently became suspicious of my date for coffee and recalled instances when I had paid the other resident too much attention; we got in a verbal fight and I stormed off to secure the car keys to our two vehicles, thinking I would not let her take the Mercedes, when I finally gave up and decided to simply let her have it; I would keep the old convertible, a nice symbol of freedom in the dream. Meanwhile I was irritated by missing the coffee date with Lara Flynn, while my first wife was filled with wrath about my affections, unconsummated, toward this other resident.

In the dream, or rather nightmare, I knew that the marriage had blown up, but what really frightened me was the feeling of being lost in my residency, that I had made a bad choice--a poor fit for my gut, though I couldn't really know my gut in my emotional state. I woke up disturbed and sought out Kathleen, who was busy and leaving for work, though I got to tell her an abbreviated version of the nightmare.

Isn't it like the self to play a trick on us in this way? In consciously seeking an attitude of forgiveness toward my first wife, my dreams plunged me into a situation where the unconscious had to be re-enacted, where my buried feelings of hopelessness toward the situation had to be remembered if I was to truly forgive her. I will not list her sins against me; I know I broke her heart and disappointed her future expectations of being a doctor's wife, but we were never on the same page spiritually or intellectually, only sexually. And the unexpected child, and the planned child that soon followed in two years, bound us further in parenting, although she was little use as a parent after the children were out of diapers, unsure of how to train them, taking a laissez-faire attitude towards child rearing.

To return to history, before marriage I was infatuated with my first wife for six months. The infatuation died. I plunged into an extended depression and married her out of guilt. Why a woman would go through with a marriage to a man who could not express love due to his undiagnosed depression, I don't know. She was likely in love with the idea of marriage to a doctor more than with me. But I can't judge her on this, as I don't truly know her feelings for me. I was marrying her because in a manic high I thought God had spoken to me to marry her, long before I was diagnosed, so I willed myself while depressed to follow through with it because I feared to buck "God's will" but more feared, I suppose, facing my true self and real feelings, which were nevertheless not available to me at that stage of personal development.

Say that the marriage was doomed from the start, though it teetered on for thirteen years.

Although she came along with me to Los Angeles, Texas and Michigan in my educational journey, she did not do it as a true partner but because it was convenient to be supported, in addition to hoping for the future as a doctor's wife. When I did fall in love with a phlebotomist, also married, in my internship year, somehow it came out, though I never even kissed the woman except to say good-bye when I broke off the affaire de couer. After that my first wife never forgave me for a straying heart; it would have been no worse if my body had strayed. And of course, I got no strokes for avoiding physical entanglement; the disloyalty of the heart was unforgivable, even though we both should have seen it as a symptom of a failed marriage, which we did not.

In hindsight I liked to say that my first wife was not a "helpmate" but a "lead weight." I should have left her long before I did, but I couldn't bear to be separated from my daughters. If I had left earlier I would have spared myself a world of pain. When you don't want to come home from work because the house is a mess and all you can look forward to is an earful of complaints, something is definitely wrong with your marriage. (And did I mention she never worked after her first pregnancy?)

After I finally left her on December 4th, 1988, we had a discussion on the beach, where she said to me with frozen calculation: "You ARE my Social Security." She was determined to squeeze her golden goose as hard as she could, and squeeze she did, until ultimately, while I was living in Mexico, she took all my savings and left me penniless and homeless through legal finagling in my absence and showed not the least regret.

Such things are hard to forgive, especially when the party that injured you shows no repentance. In my previous post I talked about the psychic richness that forgiveness entails, as opposed to lucky avoidance of hurt. And now I am faced with the prospect of a very difficult forgiveness, one that goes deep to the root of my unconscious, one that is unresolved at its core twenty years later. I know it is unresolved because on occasion I will make an offhand remark to one of my daughters about their white trash bitch of a mother, full well knowing I shouldn't for their sake. Besides, who she is today I don't know; I only know her as she was to me. If I am ever to forgive her I must let go of the past and approach her with a clean slate, no matter how she treats me, to be free of this burden I now feel in the wake of my prayer for forgiveness and the dream that emotional memory spurred in me.

How is this to be done? It makes for a good example of synthesis. How can emotional memory be healed? How can you forgive someone who neither asks for forgiveness nor understands her part in your sorrow? How do you forgive the blind? It's not as if she's said to me, "I'm sorry for being a bitch and taking all your money under false legal pretenses, I'm sorry for being a poor housekeeper and mother, I'm sorry I didn't support your quest to be a Christian psychiatrist, I didn't do the best I could, please forgive me." No, it's more likely that whatever she got out of me after the separation and divorce she endorses with gleeful, petty triumph. This is the woman I have known, in any case.

As for the biblical standard, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother if he repents, 70? "If he repents," Jesus replied, "70 times seven." Yet for the benefit of psychic economy, for the health of its unconscious roots, it is best to forgive even those who do not repent, else they maintain a hold on us at a deep level. Thus unilateral forgiveness is part of a healthy mental toilette. Otherwise you cannot forget, as my dream proves.

In beginning this exploration of the mind, forgiving my ex-wife was not on my agenda at all. But in attempting a psychic change, namely true forgiveness, I find everything in play, and my will cannot simply will the fact of forgiveness without some working through of the psyche, the synthesizer of the self. So where do I begin?

In this regard there are two approaches, one I already alluded to, namely "working through." But working through requires a vivid re-hashing of the painful past until acceptance is reached, which forgiveness can use as a launching pad. The other approach (not that there are only two) is to commit an auto de fe: Commit oneself to forgiveness in the conscious mind without benefit of a feeling of forgiveness, and watch the suggestion flow from the branches down to the root, so that the root is no longer infected. So instead of coaxing the root to yield, so to speak, use a top-down "pesticide"--in this case a conscious commitment--to direct the unconscious to fill out the measure of forgiveness.

Nevertheless, before a commitment of the will can have a salutary effect, confession must take place. At some level I hate my former wife. I despise her. I have no respect for her on earth or in heaven. Although we had some good times early in our marriage, I soon realized she would never be a true partner but a dependent impediment. Everything to do with the externals of a life seemed to fall on me, from insurance policies and doctor's visits to the preference my daughters had for me shampooing their hair because I carefully avoided getting any soap in their eyes. She was happy to leave most responsibilities to me and avoid all that she could. Her excuse? "I'm just not good at that"--"that" being anything I could and would do for the sake of the family.

A metaphor I used for our failed relationship was of two people in a canoe in which only one rowed, and only on one side. Obviously the canoe would then go in circles.

Right now the memory of my first wife, the mother of my children, feels like a toothache. Forgive the pun, but do I really need a root canal to fix it? In my schema of the human mind the will is central, though the considerations that lead to an act of will are legion. Will listing my ex-wife's good qualities help prepare me for feelings of forgiveness? I can list them. When young I thought her beautiful and sexy. She was a good mother to children under three, after which the lack of discipline in her family of origin ill-prepared her to guide the children, for which she can hardly be blamed. She liked to laugh and party; she had a good singing voice; she loved our children despite her very limited capacity to instruct them. Other good qualities include her tolerance for deviance; she made a wide range of friends because she could engage others without any initial judgment. And my infatuation with her began because she was the first person in my young adulthood who was comfortable with emotion, and in confessing hers freely (she wore her soul on her sleeve), I was liberated to tell mine for the first time, including some things I had been loathe to share as a young Christian. In relations she was always willing and I should be thankful for that, especially considering I was married at the age of 19, the peak of sexual drive. And marriage was not of no advantage to me; I desperately wanted to move out of the house where my belligerent father held court in his cups while never attending to his bipolar disease. Why I didn't think about moving out alone, I don't know. I didn't need a woman at that point in my life. I absolutely blame myself for not having had the courage to be myself, but how could I know that my internal processes and major decisions, even the decision to become a doctor, were rooted in manic psychosis?

Ah, the twists of the mind. After entertaining the auto de fe of the will I find myself working through instead.

We were two young, idealistic Christians, both virgins, who believed in our union at an idealistic level, thinking faith would solve all, lacking sufficient knowledge of ourselves to walk away from what I wrongly believed God had ordained. If God exists and he is good, he would never have endorsed the marriage. But since we have free will, and I suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, we were helpless to avoid our plans for the future, while I was under the mistaken impression that she could change. And as for the untimely birth of our first child just before we moved to Texas for medical school, that was my fault. It's a long story, but briefly, on the weekend before she was to have a laparoscopy for endometriosis, I told her she didn't need the diaphragm since her uterus would be scraped clean on Monday in any case. But no one told Rachel that, and she must have hid out in a fallopian tube and found a scrap of endometrium in which to implant. She was truly our miracle baby, the same baby we lost last year at the age of 29.

So where am I in this exploration of the unconscious, brought on by a desire to forgive while musing last night, followed by a nightmare from the roots of my unpropitiated unconscious? How far must I go to initiate forgiveness as a process?

I can accept the fear and loathing my ex eventually produced in me, feelings I buried even while married in order to survive. Near the end I could no longer compartmentalize; even being around my ex-wife was torture, because she was living proof of my failure to myself, my inability to recognize who I was and act accordingly. I had to leave her for my mental health, as I said. Now the true test that I have forgiven her is if I can act in a genuinely humane and friendly fashion toward her, never bad-mouthing her in front of my kids or others. I can do that, by force of will, but I can only do it genuinely if I have attended to my roots, which made such an impression in my nightmare. Thus it is a three-pronged approach: I must accept my painful emotional memories of living with her; I must consciously will myself to forgive; and I must trust my will to act accordingly, and grant permission to my buried feelings to do as they wish, knowing they cannot ultimately harm me, only contribute to my healing. As I and my ex have a mutual interest in gaining visitation rights to our grandson, Jacob, perhaps a telephone call about strategies for grandparents' rights would be just the thing to float as a trial balloon. And this is the final fruit of synthesis and forgiveness: action in the real world.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Theory of the Mind III

In my last post I began to use "syn" for synthesizer, but it is awkward and its sound reminds us of conventional morality. So I prefer the "self," to avoid jargon.

How can we conceptualize this complicated process of the self? Most intriguing, how does the will decide and act? And what precedes the will? The will is the final arbiter of human consciousness, except in cases of mental distress, as in the indecision of depression, or by injury or congenital deficiency of the brain. Even in such cases the will must usually be engaged, if the person can care for himself at all and is not entirely disabled in mind, which is rare and most complete in cases of holoprosenchephaly.

The unconscious, literally that part of the mind of which we are not currently conscious, extends in rootlets from the tap root of the will into the earth below, while the bole branches above ground into the conscious self. The will is influenced by both conscious and unconscious factors, but we can only see the branches, not the roots. The roots feed the tree water and necessary nutrients, just as the leaves produce sugar for fuel by photosynthesis, the former invisible, the latter, visible.

Much has been made of unconscious motivation, and it can affect the will for ill or good. A phobia of spiders has roots in primal terror but efficiently limits the extension of fear to one object, thereby obeying a principle of the psychological parsimony of containment. What the self labors for is not limited to the unconscious, however. The conscious mind may buy spider-killing spray to assuage its fears as a consequence of the ultimate influence of a deep root where the spider was associated with more fear than a spider merits. To contain the primal fear in one example prevents the self from becoming entirely dysfunctional. This is no less than the famous formulation of Freudian ego defenses, where the abject terror of free-floating anxiety saps the self of energy to a greater degree than a directed fear or phobia.

The information that flows through the will usually goes through unobstructed; if a practiced surgeon must make an adjustment in the midst of a procedure due to an anatomic anomaly, for instance, his brain doesn't freeze. He consults intellectual memory to plan a new approach to the surgical field, and by projecting known techniques and principles on a previously unknown happenstance, he smoothly solves the problem. A younger or more neurotic surgeon might pause for a moment of anxiety to gather himself, but will overcome his fears and quiet his soul to deduce the right move, else avail himself of a more experienced surgeon's advice, a step that requires not only contemplation of the difficulty but recognition of one's limitations, a mature function of the self's ability to distance itself from its center and analyze and identify a shortcoming in knowledge.

But the emotions attending the call to a colleague can also be fraught with fear, fear of appearing incompetent, a great fear with doctors; fear of disturbing the other surgeon; fear that other staff might lose faith in him if he must resort to help. A worse doctor would plow ahead without consultation, perhaps out of confidence or overconfidence--confidence in his past performance and problem-solving, from the benefit of intellectual and emotional memory, or overconfidence--a need to risk appearing competent for the sake of his inner sense of status or well-being.

When the junior surgeon picks up the phone and dials, he has come from emotional memory, intellectual memory, thought (visual, tactile and verbal), analysis, and emotion in a complicated risk vs. benefit ratio to risking his self-esteem. Emotional memory might serve him if he remembers a botched procedure where he didn't ask for help, so that it becomes a warning. As for the role of the unconscious in either asking or not asking for help, memories and associations can include the emotional palette of parent-child and master-pupil interactions of past relationships, as distant or more distant than the success or failure in trying to tie a new knot in the Cub Scouts.

There may also be intrusions before the call is made or not made, the image of a new sports car the surgeon would like to buy; the prospect of a drink when the operation is over, or a girlfriend waiting to welcome him at home. Or conversely, a desire not to go home may prevail and extend the operation needlessly because the doctor lives alone and has no social life, such that the operating room and the practice of medicine are his emotional sustenance which he naturally likes to extend for pleasure.

To return to my analogy, light on the leaves of the tree speak to the receptive faculties of the conscious. The more information we pursue, the better directions the will can incarnate. Above all, the quickest way to bring light to a subject is to ask the opinion of another human being, who can use their synthesizer to offer (one hopes) an objective opinion, free of the twists and turns of one's own particular tree.

We live for new information. It is part of the lifelong effort of mastery over the world, begun in the crib when reaching for mobiles, increased with walking and bowel control, and exponentially increased with the acquisition of language.

And here is another observation: easy decisions bypass consciousness and go straight through the will to the body, as in whether I should have another sip of my drink, which I don't usually think about unless I have drunk too much. In the latter case, before the decision is made and the will engaged, I may experience an internal debate inside the synthesizer prior to being able to engage my will, and even the act of drinking may be attended by negative emotion like guilt--which can paradoxically increase how fast I sip as it re-enacts parent-child struggle of limits internally: "Now Johnny, don't stay out too late." If Johnny does he will be tracked down by the parent and usually made to feel bad for his transgression; thus running, as in fight or flight, can become intoxicating, especially to escape punishment. Likewise, if someone threatens to take your power to drink away, you will easily overcompensate and drink more to assert your right, hence the failure of Prohibition. All of this goes by in a split second, of course. Simply by observing my own thought, I cannot anywhere near describe the entire chain of how the will is engaged and what permutations can transpire that cause the will to act erratically in view of reason, as in guiltily drinking faster because my internal mother is telling me I have drunk too much.

If I think I have had enough to drink, I should be able to stop with my reason, noting the physical memory of hangovers and the intellectual memory of fogginess. But pleasure is powerful, and desire often proves stronger than the influence of the conscious mind on the will.

Take dieting, for instance, which under the best clinical circumstances has no more than a 5% success rate, much worse than smoking cessation. The mind decides that the mass of the body has become uncomfortable, or looks unattractive, or should better conform to television norms. A diet is considered. If entertained long enough, a diet may be adopted. And after its adoption comes at first a feeling of satisfaction at one's self-control, quickly followed by a persistent feeling of deprivation, as in the ice cream in the freezer one can't taste.

Pleasure and pain have a great deal to do with decisions, in fact may be the primary motivators of human behavior beyond survival, though even survival might be subsumed under them because it is painful to die of starvation. The conflict in weight loss is complicated by a "good," namely food, being proscribed as bad. It goes against all our evolutionary development to think that an abundance of food should be limited for no other reason than our waistline; it should be instantly gobbled for that eventual rainy day of insufficient stores. Thus the pain of deprivation, accompanied by many rationalizations (insufficient but reasonably sounding excuses), plus the looming pleasure of forbidden fruit cause the self to give up its reason-imposed diet and give in to the pain and pleasure principle.

In our model, one rational part of the tree's branches, call it the limb of reason, feeds information to the synthesizer that it hopes will alter the self's behavior. But the self is ultimately overwhelmed by other factors that do not obey reason: bodily craving, belief that food is good, a feeling of unfairness due to deprivation. As the Apostle Paul said about trying to obey the Jewish law in Romans 7, "I do what I do not want to do." He blames the sin inside his mortal flesh for the inability to yield to rational self-control, but the situation is much more complicated, though his biblical treatment is truly advanced psychology, as he tries to trump the conflict of bodily desire with a higher pleasure, the experience of the Holy Spirit, one of whose "fruits" in the book of Galatians is "self-control."

In the example of a diet, you can see how the self is split, not into only competing ideas and desires, but into internal images of the good boy and the bad, the fat self and the lean, the satisfied self and the deprived, the future and the past. If past experience includes neglect in childhood where food became the primary comfort, or threatening experiences of hunger have been endured, the emotional memory is more likely to ensure failure at a diet. If emotional memory has fewer bonds with struggles over food and fear of not being fed, the self is more likely to adhere to a diet and accomplish its goal for the body. Still, the evolutionary drive to eat as much good-tasting stuff as possible is hard to control even in a person without emotional food issues, and here the prospect of group enforcement or a "higher power" has great advantages in managing the self by social and spiritual means.

Let us return to the will. When the will is engaged and action ensues, the center of the self is in control and all the preceding information and conjecture have been compressed into a choice. Once made, a choice can never be undone, though it can be revised and repaired. Once the angry word leaves your mouth and your friend breaks into tears, your words cannot be taken back. Forgiveness is never as reliable as the good will that comes from never having hurt another. Forgiveness must be generated from emotion, thought, and memory, both conscious and unconscious, to succeed. It does have a certain richness that the non-occurrence of a hurtful act does not; by forgiveness the mind engages in an act of love which produces maturation and perspective that avoidance of hurt cannot match in terms of personal education.

Here's another way of thinking about the self and the will. Imagine a quill pen with a thousand quills, like a feather duster, where each quill contributes to the flow of ink. The tip of the pen then becomes the will, what the influence of all the quills, both visible and invisible (unconscious), have amounted to. It is who we are. "By their fruits shall ye know them," Christ said. "Withhold judgment of a person until you see their actions," wise men advise us.

The Existentialists have known this for a long time, though they put too little value on what precedes the will, and indeed if life is random and morality only a device for herd survival, they would be right. But as Kant showed, morality is inescapable as part and parcel of the self, excepting, of course, the true sociopath whose brain lacks this function. (It has been shown that sons of convicts often receive 10% less frontal lobe matter, just as their fathers did, by PET scan measure, and this is precisely the area of the brain that most entertains morals.)

This brings up another question: Is there such a thing as a normal brain? Perhaps not; but even when I say "typical" brain I do not mean that of the true sociopath. In any case, true sociopaths can be taught to observe morality even if they don't quite get it internally, by the limits society naturally places on their desires, including prison, injury, loss of status, and death. Yet one must admit that the prospect of making a decision must be easier if it is not accompanied by a moral weighing. Perhaps this simplicity allows the sociopath to be clever, else by being fundamentally amoral, he can surprise the unwitting and thus appear smarter than he is.

In general, sociopaths tend to be of average or less-than-average intelligence, but such statistics are garnered from those who have been caught. For every two-bit burglar on the street there is probably an upper class equivalent like Kenneth Lay of Enron, as sociopathic tendencies can be suppressed at many levels in order to achieve a goal--say of corporate leadership--that might not have been obtained if the person had not learned how to behave in society. Perhaps sociopathy is spread across all intelligences equally, but we lack proof of it at this time.

In the retarded and children, decisions are also much easier. A two-year old who sees an ice cream cone may simply reach for it without concern, even if he's been told "no," since his language acquisition is by no means complete and oppositional behavior of the young child is a test by which the self individuates as opposed to non-self. The parent, in putting down limits, thinks the child ought to understand the reasons, but the child cannot. At that point of development it is the repeated response of the parent in limiting freedom that communicates to the child that the pleasure is not worth the deprivation or punishment that follows. To those who say, "Isn't that cute?", what is cute at two is not at ten, thus the need for education in limits early on, though preferably through denial of the opportunity rather than punishment, if the house can be child-proofed and the parents are attentive to the level of language development and social comprehension of the child.

We have seen how the synthesizer is an umbrella term to denote the self, from its unconscious roots to its conscious branches, and how the bole of the tree where it meets the roots can signify the will, or final arbiter of the synthesizing process. To accomplish a choice many damping filters must also be employed, and homeostasis can be hard to maintain.

To be continued...

A New Theory of Mind II

I was not going to write about this tonight, as it is past 2:30 AM, but by writing now I give that notion the lie.

Interesting how memory and future projection can actually collide in a human mind, and who is the arbiter? The synthesizer, also known by Freudian terms as the “ego” and in Jungian psychology as the “personality,” though Jung's personality is a much more elegant and complex construct than the ego.

Let us simply say, for operational purposes in this thought experiment, that whatever cannot be accounted for by memory, thought, or emotion, must be created in the synthesizer. This is a definition by exclusion.

Let us attend to some qualities left by default to the synthesizer: will, intention, dialogue, inner argument, data selection, data filtering, conception, imagination, foresight, aftersight, in a word, everything that has to do with judgment or sorting of other things to produce a new singularity.

I am rubbing my face now and reaching for a way to impart the idea of the synthesizer. Obviously this verbal narrative is the result of synthesizing, involving not only my will but the obedience of my fingers on the keyboard. It is an orchestrated effort. Certainly memory supplies the skill and the vocabulary, but what initiates the action? How do I decide how to proceed?

Honestly, most of the time we decide little about our actions, we simply find ourselves doing them with intention as if it were nature. For those of us lucky to be so integrated, our immediate ambitions (or desires) are never far from fulfillment through our initiating act of will. But do I think, “I will take the Triscuits out of the cupboard and munch now?” No, it's more like “My stomach feels a slight pang, I throw open the cupboard and start eating.” My hunger initiates an action, and it is non-verbal, the preceding statement only an approximation of how reality unfolds as you initiate.

In this case the synthesizer yields to the body naturally, although the body ultimately requires permission from whatever part of the synthesizer corresponds to the will, which may be the most inexplicable portion of the mind. But I digress.

The case of immediate hunger shows that the body-monitoring function of the synthesizer is essential. The body puts the mind in time and space where the mind can find expression through movement and activity. And often there is no division between the mind and body, but often it arises, as in holding in one's pee on a drive, that the mind must assert control over the body or yield.

Part of the intellectual memory is body memory, how we remember keyboards and cars and how to work them.

The synthesizer amalgamates all the psychic imprints into a changing whole, at times as if one voice were speaking, though that voice is composed of many impressions and decisions at a less conscious level. .

The capacity to talk with oneself in the mind is proof that the synthesizer uses dialogue to advance its direction. At the same time the self knows that the dialogue is artificial, contrived, and can easily shut off the conversation if wished. Sometimes the mind is lazy and merely observes the different voices of the synthesizer having a conversation. The synthesizer allows us a variety of contiguous selves, both participants and observers. This ability to see oneself from a psychic distance is essential to the synthesizer, or syn.

This conversation is not psychosis but a property of the infinite regression of selves of which humans are capable. The synthesizer is not so much the God of the mind's terrain as its prophet. The ultimate god is the will, the central hub of the syn. It is in willing that we are most actively the essence of syn, though the will is also subject to a monitoring and cautionary function that compares its direction with the imagined possible.

To be continued...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A New Theory of the Mind Part I

I was musing on the porch tonight when I thought of what it must be like to create a theory of the mind without modern discoveries, as Freud and Jung did. And my thoughts took this shape:

Thought. As soon as you say the word in your mind, thought has begun. But what generates thought? And how is thought integrated with emotion and memory, and how does it generate future projection or re-imagining past events?

First, in my most parsimonious construction, consider five parts of the mind: thought (verbal and non-verbal) , emotion (expressed or contained), emotional memory, intellectual memory, and the synthesizer.

You can make a mandala of this:




Where does thought come from? A variety of stimuli can spark thought, but when thought appears in its most easily translatable form, it appears in words. You look at a tree and think “tree.” After the image of the tree is recognized by memory, there follows a distinctly human urge to name it, to mark it with a word as if marking intellectual territory, the constant, silent narration of the mind's word generator.

One can have thought without words, but only when the mind comments in words does recordable thought really begin, unless we resort to gestures and pictures.

Here the role of emotion can be causative or reactive; a bad feeling can trigger a bad thought as easily as a bad thought can trigger a bad feeling. More often than we suspect, emotion precedes thought, especially in extreme emotional states where we “get angry with everyone and everything.” In consciousness, however, thought prefers to think that it dominates as the initiator, when often it is only the verbal midwife for emotion.

There is also a body quotient for emotion. How much physical expression will we yield to emotion and in what environment? Will we laugh at a bad joke to make our boss feel better? Will we make a disgusted face when someone farts although we really think it's funny? This is complex but belongs to the emotions, which are much more firmly welded to the body than thought.

Memory functions both intellectually and emotionally; emotions can ignite memories that recall those emotions, and intellectual memories—images and words and sounds and other storage methods—can recall emotions, which can provoke other memories, and so on. Clearly there is an interplay between intellectual and emotional memories, and clearly both can be incarnated into words, or conscious thought, by another part of the mind, its central hub, so to speak, the synthesizer, of which the “I” is only one voice.

Thought is, in fact, in so far at it is verbal or symbolic, as in mathematics, rather divorced from the body. But thought can also be automatic. Every day I wake up with a different song playing in my head. Today it was Peter, Paul, and Mary with “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.” Many other automatic thoughts occur, like birds flying through our heads.

What is particularly impressive is the power of the synthesizer to take intellectual and emotional memories and imagine the future, as I did when I visualized approaching my desk to write this down while staring at the ocean। I don't know if I ever translated it into thought; I didn't say, “I will go write this down.” I actually visualized the future in a non-verbal way, imagining the visual path to my desk and computer.

We construct our futures piece by piece through the imagination of the synthesizer, the ability to take present data and push it forward in time to imagine an action. We take this foresight for granted, when indeed it is not reality but the synthesizer imagining it.

What or who is the synthesizer? Any attempt at explanation would be oversimplification. It contains the will, desire, prejudice, stock reactions, measured reactions, associative bird walks, everything except thought—the reification or output of the synthesizer in words or other defined symbols—though thought can include spatial images just as easily, as non-verbal thought is possible, yet inevitably the synthesizer will initiate verbal thought at some point--”Wow! That's an awesome equation you just thought up!” Or, “What a boat that would be! But could I afford it?”

So to confine thought to words is premature. Still, when words appear, they take on an entirely different quality, somehow outside the synthesizer. They take on an objective quality, why I equate thought in my system with verbal assignment, and with visualization and other forms of thought to a lesser degree, as visualization is more dependent on drawing from intellectual memory.

If this model is a useful, I should be able to use it to describe my actions। First I felt anxiety about risking this description; then a thrill about the attempt occurred. Now I am eager to go outside and smoke a cigarette and re-process my thoughts. In doing so I imagine the white wooden porch, the chair I will sit in, the porch light, the path through the living room, all without thinking. “Here I go,” I verbalized when I noticed the pain in my lumbosacral spine protest about rising from this chair. Then I wondered whether to go on writing about the ache in my back, the slightly uncomfortable rub of the desk against my forearms, the ache in my feet and other bodily sensations. These sensations sparked no emotions, however, they were simply flat inputs from the body, perhaps necessitating an intellectual body sense as well, a body monitoring. So the monitoring of the body is another intellectual function of the intellect.

In looking for an analogy in nature for the human mind, everything I can imagine falls short. If a computer had emotions, self-consciousness, body-consciousness and functional movement, along with the ability to relate to other computers so gifted, it might approach the human mind, save for the role of the will. Would enough memory and processing power ever be able to summon self-consciousness and initiative? At this point it is doubtful. But I digress.

To be continued...


Monday, July 07, 2008

Why Sleep?

Why do I resist sleep so intransigently?

For instance, last night I was tired at 1 AM, playing on the computer, but I didn't want to go to bed. You can't do anything when you're asleep. You might be missing out on the second coming, who knows? And my long practice as a doctor and father made the alone time late at night a tradition, a time for myself.

So what did I do from 2 AM to 4 AM? I lit a cigar and read Martin Rees's "Six Numbers." I came back to the computer and listened to a new album by Fleet Foxes. In bed by 4 AM, I read some of a John Lescroat crime novel. And finally I slept.

I could have slept earlier, I should have slept earlier, as I awoke feeling as if I'd started my sleep cycle too late so that quality sleep escaped me. I got up at noon, have my coffee and medications going now, but it was not pleasant to wake up. My body was lead, my head molasses. I wasn't hungover, just sleep-deprived. Why? Because I didn't listen to my body. My body wanted sleep at 1 AM. I forced it to stay up until 4 AM. Oh how I mistreat "Brother Ass!"

Sleep means the fun is over. Sleep means the end of consciousness. Sleep means immobility, vulnerability, insensibility. It is a form of death, though a living death. I do not look forward to bed the way my wife does, who enjoys her sleep, who prizes her sleep, who needs at least ten hours of sleep a day while I can get by on six. To her sleep is a welcome envelopment; to me it is a thief. A thief of time and action. A thief of activity, desire and thought.

Yes, I dream. And I remember quite a few. My latest dream was of deer prancing through my broccoli patch. Must get chicken wire on the ground of the border so their little cloved feet will avoid my new fall/winter vegetable garden. But you can't chase real deer in your sleep. And you can't guard your broccoli, kale, swiss chard, cabbage and brussel sprouts.

Sleep? Sleep is for pussies. Sleep must be resisted. Sleep steals our lives away.

Did you know biologists have never come up with a purely scientific reason for a need to sleep?

Yesterday the cats brought a shrew in to play. It managed to crawl inside the bathroom scale. For hours they watched the scale, waiting for it to come out. When it did I rescued it from their claws, and amazingly it wasn't hurt.

Have you ever held a shrew in your hand? It is the hummingbird of mammals, with the highest metabolic rate. Though tiny, you can feel its intense body heat. And the shrew was very tractable; it didn't squirm or try to escape. It struck me as a sluggish creature, a creature that might enjoy sleep--except that it has to eat two or three times its body weight each day just to keep the engine running.

That's what animals do all day, if you didn't know. Eat, eat, eat. Watch a deer or a cow sometime. Oh wait--many cats just sleep, sleep! And dogs, too. But they have been ruined by domestication. They ought to be out hunting until they're sleep deprived.

Tell me, are you one who welcomes sleep or resists it? Is it a comfort and relief or a threat to your existence? Do you resent sleep as I do or welcome it as Kathleen does? All I can say is that it strikes me as a colossal waste of time, but I guess it's unavoidable, so I should take a healthier attitude towards it and jump under the covers--no, lie down lazily--when my body signals it's time.

But what about one more drink? Half a muffin for dessert? That Simon and Garfunkel song you haven't heard in so long? The value "omega" in cosmology? Whether mini-black holes are part of dark matter, or is it just brown dwarves, or more likely something else? Maybe an old, mediocre poem to revise like a cat playing with a shrew? You see my point since I've made my point pointedly, though I hope it doesn't interfere with your sleep.

Will I ever make peace with sleep? For my health's sake I hope I do. But I feel so gypped by its existence! Thief, thief!



Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Flogging My Blogging (and Serena)

I'm flogging my blogging, my audience is halved, the vultures' red faces are circling my sentences, I'm whirling and swirling down into the dell, the dell of the unfashionability of being well.

When I was sick I blogged more, and the interest in aberrations always exceeds interest in normalstances, so I quit blogging so often and jackdawed into health, nay, brayed into being my being again, and now I'm busy with real life, such as it is, with volunteering, writing, gardening, playing music, dealing with lawyers, landlords, disability, making friends, capturing feral cats in traps, going for hikes, rarely watching TV, reading good books, from Shakespeare to Martin Rees on cosmology and Paul Tournier on personhood, planning a men's retreat, trying to find a way to visit my grandson in view of his recalcitrant and immature father, living in pain, hanging upside down in an anti-gravity machine to ease my pain, though I still take meds for it.

I'm taking meds for my bipolar illness as well, of course, four of them, and two for pain and one for blood pressure, though my doctor wants me to consider a cholesterol-lowering agent to which he just had a reaction that almost crippled him, causing muscle destruction, myonecrosis.

Lipitor, Superstar, do you really think you're who they say you are?

Like I need another medication with my liver already overloaded with seven not to mention what I might smoke or imbibe on occasion if occasion calls for it, though not fessing up to any recreational proclivities necessarily, only reserving the possibility on occasion should occasion warrant it, and I'll warrant that won't be a bench warrant from a warrant officer who lives in a warren and wars with other warrens.

Haven't seen a good butt shot of Serena Williams at Wimbledon yet, waiting for it still. That woman is such an Amazon, I want a whip and a leopardskin loin cloth. My dear wife actually sent me a picture of Serena once, knowing my preferences, and here it is:

In June nine magazines took my poetry, two for features. I'll post some links when they're up, so I always say, though I sometimes forget.

I got rejections, too.

Getting ready to rototill my lawn for next year's larger garden; may still be able to grow a cold crop or two, like broccoli, before this year is out. Cabbage works, maybe not to late for peas or brussel sprouts.

My flower garden is doing well, unfortunately no pictures. Need to borrow Kathleen's camera.

How I do blather on!

I sincerely apologize if I have said nothing of merit or interest in today's post. Right now I'm rehearsing in my mind a poem to encompass my visit to my friend's property, where we assessed wildfire risk and sat in the RV parked on the property. My friend offered me a five-year-old can of Olympia beer he found in the forest and had left in the fridge. Naturally I drank it. "It's the water."

How to put that in a poem with the wildfires and the shotgun and the coffee we forgot and the ancient tractor half restored and the beautiful Derringer he showed me with four shots, I dunno. Usually starts with a first line:

"Inside an old RV"

Gotta put some beer out in pans to drown the snails. Just saw my first one last night but their evidence is in the big bites in the leaves of my dahlia.

Gotta stop sitting and typing, my back hurts too much.

Kilobunnies to all,


Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!