BRAIN, MIND AND THOUGHT
This essay is not written as a contribution to the massive professional literature on the subject, but from an somewhat different viewpoint. At this time of rapid change, there it little purpose in trying to review the psychological and neuro-biological studies which have been accruing for decades, a body of information so large, that the sorting the area would become a complex study in itself. That is an entirely different academic project.
On the other hand, as a worker in the Humanities I am much concerned with certain aspects of Mind, more specifically in what I am pursuing in music composition. I am going to follow a largely intuitive track of thinking in working out my perception of a special quality if Mind which I see emerging in many kinds of human activities. Working from the inside of the thinking process by the unrolling of my observations, rather than from the "outside" as a critic in the traditional academic style, I hope to make to make some matters clearer, at least to me for my own thinking and development.
Aristotle made our first mis-apprehension when he stated that the heart was the seat of the emotions and the core of human cerebration, an error probably derived from awareness of the complex of nerves and muscles centering around the upper middle body. This is odd because the Egyptians much earlier had understood brain-function as controlling various body movement by palpating the brain after major traumatic injury and observing muscular responses But the Greeks started their anatomical studies anew with no aid from Egyptian research (unlike the case of Egyptian mathematics which were in large part transmitted). We still speak of the heart in popular parlance as seat of emotional, mental activity, although by now it is clear that it is not the central organ of cerebration.
On the other hand the brain does not function as an independent organ, it is intimately connected with the vascular system, its neural connections both going in and out to relate it to every part of the body, while the hormonal triggers which it operates also connect back with it reflexively. Autonomous functions such as signals for heart-beat, temperature regulation, growth and repair of cells and structures are brain-regulated, so the brain cannot be properly considered the organ responsible for Mind as its sole function.
The question arises whether Mind as we understand it is a proprietary and "in house" function of Brain, as has been commonly assumed in the past, or a separate whole-system "function" which works using the electro-chemical pathways of the brains as an operational network, a storage-system and control-center for independently operating processes. This second assumption is one which I would like to follow here, since it provides greater flexibility as a system-operation, in that it is not organ-associated but process-based. This puts a very different aspect on the possible functions and operations of Mind as such. If we posit as hypothesis the consideration of Mind as a "system of functions", we can then consider how well it matches the abundant "facts" of human thinking which we have at hand.
The brain certainly defines the range of our neural possibilities, not only what we can do but also what we cannot even imagine doing. From its enormous size in comparison with other animals, which have developed over a long period brains which are presumably suited to the functions required for survival, the human brain has more potential than we can possibly utilize, but there are also built-in features in its organization which are responsible for our human configuration. Most obvious are the areas which provide for speech and speech decoding which high higher simians lack, as well as the frontal regions with their loosely associated "human" characteristics.
Through this mass of brain material, low-voltage electrical currents range. Some may have been random connections already in the fetus and at birth, others are developed signals to and from other parts of the body. At rest, that is in a state in which no other activities are engaged other than the autonomous support signals, there are still continuous streams of electrical messages which an electro-encephalograph can detect and record. The brain is continually being nourished, repaired, and utilized for routine operations unconsciously, while it is working to connect distant parts of the organism at the same time, for activation, information and repair. But none of this needs to be inexorably connected with the process we call "thinking", which can be carried on as a continuous process simultaneous with the brain's other operations as it performs its support and repair functions.
MIND OR "NOUS" AS AN INTEPENDENT PROCESS
For the Greeks there was no problem defining "nous" or 'Mind" as the thought-coefficient of the real world, which was for them centered on m=Mankind in general and the Hellenes in particular. Mind might be thought of as "reason" or "intelligent thinking" only figuratively attached to the heart as seat of feelings, while the brain was, at least in unfortunate Aristotelian terms, considered something like the set of cooling coils atop the old Frigidaires. But the result was that for the Greeks Mind was detached from the organs and seen as an informational- ideatic construct which operated on everything that could be thought of, since it was in effect the same things as "thought".
One of the hardest problems is trying to understand Mind while using Mind as a tool. This requires us to use a tool to define a tool, or a process to define a process. A car traveling on a highway utilizes the highway as part of its function, it defines its "transit" in terms of the road, and the car is intimately associated with the roadway as part of a process called "travel". If the car can be compared to a voltage making a connection in time/space, and the road likened to the conductive substructure on which that process relies, then the process which we call "transit" may be likened to the non-physical operation which we call Mind. Taking away the car and also removing the highway, we are left with a somewhat abstract and even transcendental factor called "transit", which is a recorded passage of something from some place in space/time to somewhere else. It has no physical body or mass, but it has a very clear identity as something done, recorded and rememberable. It can be used as history or as data, and can even be used in constructing new data.
All these functions can also be posited for what we call Mind. My analogy suggests that it is possible to extract non-substantial data from processes involving substantial entities, and then record, link and archive them as information. I suggest that Mind be considered as data-phenomenon residing in just such a substrative matrix. It is the result of electro-chemical processes which have passed through areas of the physical brain-material, and are now archived in that same brain-material as records of those processes. It would thus seem that the brain has multiple sets of functions, in that it carries and transmits signal voltages among its many differentiated sectors, and at the same time it memorizes the history of those events and records those with some degree of permanency, under the general heading of Memory.
The Brain may have fast-moving internal electro-chemical activity, but it is essentially a physical body, and as such it is fixed and in a sense static. Its internal pathways of communication are constantly remapping themselves, but this is always done within the confines of the physical organ and its neural sub-centers. On the other hand Mind can be seen as completely dynamic; it has no physical identity beyond the tracery of its history as recorded in the brain's memory department. When we speak of mind, we have to establish a very different set of descriptive terms from those which we use for the Brain, since we are dealing with the stored memory patternings of thought as a data-record, which is not the same as the original set of function-connections.
MIND AS A SET OF DISPARATE FUNCTIONS
Let me speak briefly about some of the attributes of Mind that I am able to grasp at this moment, if fleetingly:
1) There are many highly directed functions which we employ in our daily life, without these we do not function properly as human animals. Those persons whose "directedness" becomes impaired are, in the human sense of the term, humanly dysfunctional. For most of us directed-thinking is the major part of Mind which we are aware of. In this class are the functions of talking, using motor control to operate a car or a piano, checking out series of numbers as an accountant, devising a series of concatenated processes like those in a computer program, or considering the solution of a "problem" by considering a sequence for its logical parts. In this mode most of our daily thinking is done. We think by segments strung out in series, often with only a hazy sense of the architectonic structure of the entire process. It is the communicated Meaning as the tip of the cerebral iceberg which we are aware of, while the functions upon which speech is based, from Sound to Phoneme to organs of sound production and detection, let alone the physical of sound carried by air molecules in waves ---- these things are done so far in the background that we hardly consider them as operating functions for Speech itself.
Aristotle already had his eye on a the architectonic structure of thought in the first passage of the Nichomachean Ethics, where he maintains that each human thought, investigation, effort or endeavor falls under the compass of a more generalized classification, and this yet under another, until we arrive at the highest level which is the master level of pure thought, which he states is always to be preferred as "better" in some dimension. One notices, in computer and machinery instruction manuals, the infinite detail afforded to the lowest and most particular levels of operation, while small attention is paid to the overview, the architectonic sense and purpose of the device. A horse is more than something to ride, a computer more than a word-processing or number crunching machine, but most people would find it hard to make a detailed description of either of these, especially starting from the structural base and going upwards. There is somehow a faith among us that if we build up enough blocks we will make a building, if we analyze the parts carefully the sense of the whole will automatically fall into place. But it simply doesn't work that way!
2) There are many important un-directed functions of Mind to which we pay little attention, since they are not clearly defined in terms of our social organization. Between the time of the Greeks, who maintained elaborate records and interpretations of the dream world, and Freud who began to take dreams seriously after their virtual exorcism in the period of Christian dominance, the dream-function of the mind was considered as either meaningless or evil. We may not yet be sure exactly what dreams are, but we know they are an important part of Mind, if only because when dreams are regularly aborted in disturbed sleep, the individual becomes clinically sick. It is curious that we use the word "day- dreaming" lightly, often meaning that we are thinking of nothing in particular, of things of no importance. But Imagination is recognized in our society as the talent of creating something which did not exist before, and we often find ourselves respecting it because it leads to the US Patent Office and royalties. But when it stays within the mind as a mere activity, it is often considered useless, a child's play or a way to relax. But without imagination there is no worthwhile art, no music, no hopeful leading from the present into a glorious future, no science or love and certainly no rainbows.
The increasing use of hallucinogenic drugs since the middle of the twentieth century has us all on warning that something in our world has gone radically wrong. We have to admit that many of the drugs used increase susceptibility to surprising, novel modes of thinking and imagination, in terms of colors, shapes and associations. The reasons for drug use may well be deeper than we have assumed, it may be a desperate reaction against the ubiquitous force-feeding of highly directed thought in our modern society. In a world where each part of a complex machine performs a single function iteratively, where most employees function, whether they realize it or not, in a thoughtless and repetitive fashion, the need for pure, un-directed mind- processing becomes a personal imperative for mental survival. And drugs do afford at least some un-directed functioning, along with dangerous reactions throughout the whole physical system. There must be some reasons for our society's sudden addiction to addiction, and I suspect it will be found in our misunderstanding of how a mind works and what Mind really involves.
Let me go back to two classes of mental operation, the Directed and the Un-directed, considering them now from a different point or view. The highly Directed thought processes which I mentioned before operate on discrete data chunks at a slow, often over-cautious rate of speed. Woodworkers always say "Measure twice, cut once" which is excellent advice for the carpenter or cabinetmaker but a pedestrian way of life for an painter or a pianist. Double checking each segment of your argument is a way of ensuring accuracy and the man who edits his essay eight times will probably not be criticized for wrong spelling or wording. But this careful rate of operation is out of synchronization with the operating speed of a human mind, just as the rate of my typing this sentence on my computer letter by letter, is out of phase with the 800 mhz mind-clock of my computer. The computer is forever waiting for me, which does no insult to it; nor can I really be expected to type much faster.
But I can think much faster, in fact I am thinking much faster than I am typing, since as I am forming this sentence I am already several dozen words ahead, and shaping up the next sentence, and reviewing what I have written, and thinking of Mr. Z. who may be reading this next week, while I am also trying to line up terms precise enough for the imprecise thoughts which are flashing across my mental screen and falling into place. And all this concurrently goes on as I type.
I am at this point considering two different kinds of mental action specifically in reference to speed. When I am working on a typical operation on a job or at my desk, I am working in SlowMode, which is partly a requirement of the job, for accuracy and attentive detailing. But when I sit back and take a long (mental) squint at what I am writing, and let my mind go where it will go (as the old Beatles' song said.....), I immediately feel relaxed; but at the same moment my mind goes into FastMode. Looking out the window into the cedar forest, over the lake to the blue skies, I have no time to stop before the solution to an old problem grabs my attention. The French mathematician Poincare' found the solution to a long unsolved problem while dreamily thinking of objects flowing down a river carried by the current.
UNIVERSAL MIND AND THE NOO-SPHERE
We often think of Mind as a specific human characteristic, the final evolutionary triumph of evolving aeons culminating in MAN. But anyone who has penetrated the world of termites and bees knows that there are levels of mind there more accurately developed in many ways and defined than ours. These are hard points to try to prove, so let me try to get a bit closer by citing some readily accessible samples and examples.
Years ago a visiting dignitary came to a major University Research Center asking to speak with the famous Prof. X, who was not in his office. The Director asked everywhere, finally told the surprised and incredulous visitor: "Good, we just located him. He is in the country club pool........... so I know he is working on that problem!"
I was recently watching a TV program on the brown bear, when I suddenly focused on a Bach Prelude which I hadn't listened carefully to in years, and just at that moment I sensed the "Mind of the Bear" (a good example of excruciatingly keen perception of eye and ear and above all smell, all on guard all the time) and analogically the mind of the composer which was as omnivorously keen in terms of pitch, timbre, voice line, lyrics and orchestration. If we sometimes wonder why so few genius level composers like a Bach or Mozart are found, remember that we are newcomers while the bear has had sixty million years to sharpen his skills. Mind in any species takes time to develop, it is not a thing of a day. This thought culminated surprisingly in a short essay on mind and music.
There is a remarkable case in the account of the l7 c. thinker Tycho Brahe, who recorded that one day he was playing with a prism, then a popular device and an intriguing novelty capable of splitting undifferentiated light into color bands. He said that all of a sudden he looked down at the grass and for the first time "understood" each leaf of grass, its being and its function, and the whole world around him became clear and accessible. If you relate story this to a practiced Hindu yogi, he will smile and say that is exactly the way it is. There are moments of awakening, understanding and enlightenment which can come unexpectedly and unaccountably. If you mention this to someone in our Western world, he will probably assume a psychological disturbance, or perhaps an interaction between two incompatible medications.
It was a Greek concept that Mind was everywhere and at the core of creation. Heraclitus called it "the Logos" which rules everything, forms everything, but is invisible to us even though it is the organizing principle by whose grace we (and everything) are here. Millennia later Buckminster Fuller invented the term Noo-Sphere from Greek 'nous' or Mind, as the sum total of all the facts and thoughts and concepts which when tallied up are equal to the Universe. It was a few decades later until we became familiar with the DNA coding formulae for living beings, a "plan" encoded in billions of connections from a few chemical relationships, which could spell out an amoeba or an elephant with equal facility and accuracy. In all these formulae for thinking there lies resident a key element which is Mind of some sort, larger and more mysterious than ours, but somehow similar in structure and function.
THE SPEED OF THOUGHT IN TWO MODES
Let us now consider what I spoke of earlier as Fastmode.
Working in SlowMode is here to stay, it is our bread and butter of the mind. But there occasionally appears a person who cannot tie his shoelaces, yet crunches numbers in Fastmode beyond our belief. Eight digits multiplied by another eight digits.........tallied instantly and without error! This is indeed true Fastmode but it is not normal for us and seems to come at an generally incapacitating price. But Fastmode has a proper place in all of us. It gives us access to things we are often not aware of, those intuitive guesses, the forward-looking intimations of paintings not yet painted, books not written, computers not architectured, a world not yet formed. But it also gives the individual something else, a perception into the world inside himself, as well as the world outside as cognate to him, rather than alien and distant.
A few more considerations about Fastmode. We know the brain can process data at a rate of about 600 discrete impulses a second before synapse-jam. This is slow beside computer speed of 48Khz used to digitize the analog sound of music, but very fast beside the 28 frames a second which will fool our eye into thinking the flashing sequence of a cinema projection is standing still. What portion of such a speed we need or actually use in "thinking" is unclear, but the potential for Mind processing is clearly very fast, and since we have no way to calibrate speed of thought yet, we should assume that thought can operate in the mid-range of some such speed range. However we trim the figures, this still means that thinking will be by its nature, capable of very high speeds of operation.
Words are nothing more than abbreviated tags for things, for all kinds of things, physical and incorporeal as well. Since they are sound-based, they are basically slow in the world of physics, mainly because the generation of words takes time before they exit the mouth, transmission through the air is about a quarter of a mile a second (fast in our tortoise-crawling time sense), while reception, rerouting and decoding takes a mere jot of a second. Society often values the written word as more secure than spoken speech and graphemics often tends to expel phonetics. Many a hearer at a poetry reading will ask to see the text later, he says in order to understand it better.
Printed words are tags applied to sounded words, which are in turn tags for "objects" in the real world. Words have slowed our thinking down immeasurably, without our noticing it at all. Most of us, especially the well educated, live in a sea of words, we float on word-based notions, and consider everything reducible to a word or a group of words chosen from a data-base of some 20,000 to 50,000 items. Experiments years ago with "Basic English" maintained that everything in as complex a body of writings as Shakespeare's could be clearly "translated" for meaning quite accurately with a database of on 800 words. Artistically this is ridiculous, but in terms of the communication of basic notions is makes sense.
Concerting the whole of Reality together with tag sets of words is a very convenient notion; it has given us communication, society and civilization. But it has removed from our consciousness the state of Fastmode thinking in which we can work far more speedily and adroitly than in our normal, daily state. Fastmode often works best without words, which re filled in later.
SLOW-MODE AND FAST-MODE THOUGHT
There are certain conditions which are needed for true Fastmode operation. When the mind is in an un-attached state, free from pressing side-issues and forced attention demanded by work which is not central to the person's nature, thinking can proceed on a single track. In this un-disturbed state one's thoughts seem to emerge from a cloud of ancillary consideration, things become much clearer, simpler, and a great deal quicker in their sequence of operations. One person might say he feels exuberantly free, another senses that he is accelerating from one thought to another with a rapid and purposeful drive. But this state of heightened thought-processing can be fragile when the attention- span is broken. To remain in this fast functioning mode requires a certain amount of practice, a relaxed atmosphere and freedom from lateral pressures. Some drop into such a state of mind easily and naturally, others find it foreign to their nature. But there is nothing mysterious or transcendental about the heightened state of conscious thinking, any more than any of the more common states of drifting away in thought with a day-dream or an hour of imaginative speculation. For some it is a time of relaxation, for others it is an invitation to do creative work in a milieu of new ideas.
I can think of two examples which make this a little clearer:
I visit a painter in his studio, he has been painting since early morning and now at mid-morning he seems absorbed in something. He nods to me as I come in, but pays no attention to my presence, he is going back again and again to something in the background he is painting which absorbs him, although I cannot see much change in half an hour watching. There is something he is minding in that area; I sense something in the room which I cannot define; but I have to respect that aura and am silent. I sit on a chair unobserved. Later that day we are talking over a glass of beer, and I ask him what was going on in his mind that morning. He looks at me in puzzlement, asks what I was thinking of. I suggest there was something on his mind in the morning, some inner process he was involved with. The answer: "Oh no, I'm always that way when I am painting. You see, you don't paint...so you don't understand."
Another example: A friend is working at his computer desk, I ask him some question about what he is doing. He knows my question is serious and I am not completely illiterate, so he says a few words, but his fingers move on the KB faster than he can talk, and the screen windows keep changing and switching, so he gives up talking and forgets that I am there. I ask him if he can slow it up so I can get the process in my mind, he smiles and goes back to work at full tilt. This is no unusual experience for people who work around computer-folk, and there is a reason which is aligned with the nature of their work. They are working habitually in Fastmode, which has removed the need, the use and even the possibility of words. We have entered a new world in which the computer follows a time-clock of ultra fast speed, so the operator has moved into his own biological Fastmode, and I now can see how pedestrian our usual word-based SlowMode actually is. However we are going to live with SlowMode for most of our lives, because we are biologically evolved in tune with it, and it is comfortable for us in our accepted social usages. But it must not preclude us from dipping into Fastmode as another very different way of thinking, one which has different properties and one which extends the range of Mind far beyond our accustomed space.
My father at age somewhat over eighty was looking over a lake when he experienced a singular delight in shapes and shimmering hues, something many a poet since Wordsworth has seen without apology. My son was with me, we both thought Dad was having a marijuana-like vision without grass. Later I traced it to action of a sedative with another medication, so it was an induced state rather than a learned new use of Mind suddenly appearing in my practical and solid minded Dad. What interested me was the fact that a capacity for this kind of new-thought was there already, it was latent in his mind, only had to be released by a beautiful afternoon at the lake, accompanied by a few milligrams of something which altered his range of mental vision. But I and many others have seen such things regularly without any aid, and many of us have recollections in momentary, capsule form, of a snapshot suggestive of the wide range of "inner mind vision". Dad's vision was un-regulated Fastmode operating without a directive control.
The human eye points at detail with the innervation of the foveal patch, it becomes is a single point visual organ aided by background and memory-fill-in. But the ear works as a multi- range level operation, hence it takes a lot of Mind to encompass it, what an engineer might call "a lot of intellectual band-width". Just as the digital recorder is taking 44,000 readings of a musical sound each passing second, so we are going to have to take a lot of mental readings automatically in order toto hear the pitches, rhythmics, dynamics of each measure of musical sound, as well as the harmonics which identify the cello, the horn and the flute. Grasping all this, you are working hard and you are now in acoustic Fastmode, which your Mind is well suited for as one of the operating functions of the biological Brain.
Consider another example of the use of Fastmode thinking in the arts, where word-based thinking is not the norm. Take the case of Jackson Pollock' paintings, constructed by selectively dripping liquid paint over a large canvas laid flat on the floor, the artist adroitly distributing his pigments in a measured flow, running alongside the painting in a fast if not frantic trot. The process joins body-movement, hand/arm coordination connected to gallon-pails of paint, judgments as to where to flow paint, how to flow it and when to change color. Also there is an overall mental image of what has been laid down, what was being poured out at the moment, as well as what the final display should be like. When the finished work is on display, and an art critic tries to do an "analysis", it quickly becomes clear that it is impossible to comment analytically on the intricate and involved relationships of the colors, the traces of paint which overlay and cross-cross each other to create a vast network of planar but seemingly three- dimensional design. What is there IS simply there, it is very complex as a completed product, and it is that way because it was constructed by a very complex physical process under the control of a very complex set of conditions. Pollock did something very unusual, very personal, and the result says something non- verbally which traces back to a quality resident in the artist's mind. In a sense you can only look at a Pollock painting, just as you can only look at a Great Pyramid in wonder. You can see it, and seeing is believing. That is all!
The case of what has been wrongly called "abstract art" is unusual. Part of its value lies in the fact that it is stripped of most of the word-connected associations which furnish our intellectual vocabulary. It has a quietness and clean-ness which those of us who understand it have learned to relish. But consider for a moment the complexity of a more traditional art, for example a short but complex cadence in a Bach cantata. The section which the professor is going to analyze in a music theory class is only a dozen measures long, takes less than twenty seconds to play. Now the professor proceeds with his analysis, which is based on two and a half centuries of scholarly study of the theory which underlies classical music composition. Relationships between notes in sequence are examined for voice leading, but on top of this lies the web of harmonic assonance, with the whole embedded in a matrix of rhythmic pulse. The class hour is long past but the analysis hardly completed, the instrumentation has not yet been touched! So the question naturally arises: How can something, which is played as sound in the air in twenty seconds, possibly take sixty minutes to partially and imperfectly describe?
Music would be an area where Fastmode is indicated. You learn the play an instrument note by note off the score, finger by finger on the instrument, tempo slowed down to an infant's crawl, and only gradually after several years do you get enough "practice" to get a piece up to tempo and perhaps relax enough to let it flow out with feeling, or what the teacher cryptically calls "putting some expression into it". We have always learned music in a very slow mode in the West, and when most of us hear music played we pick out the Melody selectively while accepting the rest as accompaniment, and turn off the active fast-function of Mind, which is not needed for leisurely hearing. But when we try to hear four voices leading independently in Baroque polyphonic music, all we can often manage to hear is the top-line. It will take great effort to learn to hear the other voices too, all at the same time, all heard through the same auditory meatus but split somehow at the cochleal level into discrete ranges before being relayed back to the selective functioning of the brain.
Many people would reply that it is the infinite genius of the composer which furnishes such rich materials for detailed analysis. But it seems more reasonable to assume that composer and the music analyst are running on different tracks. The composer who had been contemplating his music-mind for decades as preparation, was able to proceed in Fastmode and write that passage in a few minutes, to be performed as music in a fraction of that time. The classroom analyst was not really in the wrong, his analysis was in fact correct, it was microscopically exact down to the last molecular detail. But it proceeded from a different cast of mind, that of an academician, a scholar, a scientist, perhaps even an accountant, and that meant traveling carefully, sure but slow. In the other hand an skilled and artistic hearer working at full tilt can get the spirit and even overall design out of a single hearing of a piece of music. When Mozart first heard a piece of Palestrina, he grasped it in toto, went home singing it and wrote the twenty pages of score down. He was able to do this because he was working mentally in pattern recognition at the same speed at which he was hearing the sound. You don't have to be a genius or a Mozart to do this, and few of us can do it as effectively as he did. But if you have no faith in high-speed comprehension you will never understand how to grasp music as it flies in time. In the same vein, if you have no faith in high-speed communication, you will never understand how the Internet is describing the disintegration and simultaneous re-integration our world. Heraclitus first saw that everything is in continuous change, while we strive for static snapshots of action as a way of dealing with time.
Scholars always wonder how Shakespeare wrote so many wonderful plays in such a short span of years and then disappeared without much of a trace of his personal history or his psychological state of activity in later life. But there is really no mystery. He lived out in words what his Mind was doing, and that provided the multifaceted materials for all his plays. The plays are a mirror in which he somehow devised a way of reflecting himself, his every turn of thinking. As this takes possession of a man, he cannot stop any more than my painter friend could put down his palette and ask if I wanted to go out for coffee. Obsessive, high-speed Mind travels miles where worms crawl, but when it loses it impetus, it is suddenly all gone. Is this a loss of aim, or of purpose, or is it a shift in the chemistry of the brain which loses contact with the former operating connections?
The problem is that we have been taught to crawl with our minds, when we might possibly have learned to fly. Crawling is great, but when the ostrich and penguin forgot how to fly, they had to be sure that they would be successful in developing new Fastmode abilities for swift running and to swimming like a fish.
FAST-MODE THINKING AS THE CREATIVE PROCESS
How do we regain possession of the Fastmode, and those highly imaginative, creative dreaming and imagining functions which the human brain has afforded us from the long eons of the evolutionary train?
It would seem that just as there are some of us who come into the world tone-deaf and there are others who lack a full range of color vision, so there are also some who have exacerbated faculties in several areas. I am thinking of people like William Blake who could function as an artist on multiple planes, yet not able to function as an independent human being. For those like Blake there are high costs, but for many of us there is no more block to higher use of Mind than suspicion, ignorance or a lack of incentive. Are there ways in which we can suspend the useful SlowMode thinking specified by our highly organized Western society, without taking complete leave of our society or of the useful normalcy of our daily behavior?
There are several formalized ways of approaching the problem of re- orienting ourselves. For years various forms of Meditation have provided a means for dismissing ambient thoughts and learning, first to empty the mind of all associative thinking, then concentrating on a single central "point" of no special consequence. Howsoever the process works in terms of brain operation, it works very well as a system for clarifying the mind, and it has unusual physical side-effects as well. This may seem a trivial example, but I recall a friend who helped me on a project putting a deep slice into his forefinger. Refusing a band aid, he went into a quiet room and meditated for half an hour. Two hours later he showed me the finger which was so well healed that I had to look carefully for the wound. The mind does not work without reference to the body, something we all know glibly under "psycho-somatic theory", but hardly think of when meditating. Was the Mind healing the finger? Of course it was, since Mind is not only Thinking but the total regulatory control which runs the body functions.
F.A. Mesmer (1734-1815) apparently confused the area which we now call auto-hypnotism with a notion involving magnets and "animal magnetism", or the effect of actual magnets on living organisms. He did produce remarkable effects on "patients", or rather the patients produced remarkable effects on themselves under his guidance; but his work ended in a veil of mysticism and eventually charlatanism. We now understand hypnotism and auto-hypnotic states as reality-based phenomena, and many have felt that yogic Meditation has much in common with auto- hypnotic states, as a substrate on top of which reside cultural and philosophical layers which are not readily understood or evaluated. Meditation in the West would seem to operate at the root level only; but even without a cultural and religious overlay it seems to have become a worthwhile process for many Western people.
In the early Church the idea of 'kenosis" (from Gr. kenos "empty") became an important device for cleansing the mind in religious spirituality; is it even stated in formal Christian theology that Jesus' "humbling of himself by taking on the form of man " was an act of kenosis. In Zen practice the priest goes to the mountain to contemplate and at last conclude his life there. Or on a more conventional level the Japanese scrolls often show the fisherman lying peacefully in his boat as it floats on the surface of a lake in complete tranquillity. Odysseus' father Laertes spends his last days tending his garden, as does the Don of the Mafia in the cinematic "Godfather". One can meditate best close to earth and plants and symbolically nurture our garden flora in peace and quiet. In all these cases there are specially configured states of Mind.
For years until well into my thirties I had a deep fear of the dental chair. Even when loaded with Novocain and free from pain, I shook and sweated hot and cold, to the despair of my dentist who finally suggested I take a few shots of whisky before coming to his office and bring one along for him. One day that fear disappeared and never returned, replaced by what I tell my current dentist is a state of "mesmerism". In fact I now fall into a state much like sleep, yet I am able to follow conversation and music in the office. When the work is finished I find myself quieted, tranquil but not ready to drive my car until I have walked around the block a few times. I was clearly not asleep, but I was not in the normal state of wakefulness, so I classify my dental experience as one of those interstages of consciousness which we call "meditative" or auto-hypnotic. Was it done just as a device against unrealistic fear? Or did it happen by itself at a useful juncture in my life? Perhaps I should be asking myself why I relegated such a valuable and important experience to the hour under the dentist's drill, while others use just such a state to confer with the inner self, or communicate with Deity?
A well known Japanese physicist working in an American University Physics Department was once asked by a colleague why, with his traditional Japanese background, he didn't practice meditation. His answer: "Thinking about physics is my meditation....". There is a clarity about this response and its directness, which I want to emphasize.
An ancillary part of the meditative situation is one which we often forget. If our purpose was both establishing inner awareness and cleaning the cobwebs out the mind, we should be aware of the actual process we have used for enlightenment, as part of our personal responsibility. Do we have to go into quiet room every night alone before dinner, or sit on a rug cross-legged to get to that special psycho-spiritual place? Do we have to ring up the psychiatrist and make an appointment to re-affirm our state of connection between the inner and the outer man?
When we involve ourselves in a special intellectual stance or a program or a treatment, in order to develop a better way of communicating with our inner self, we have choices. First is the matter of establishing communication, like tuning our radio receiver to get the right wave-length for the messages we want to hear, the right access frequency for the contact we want to establish. When we are in communication, we can use the messages we hear in many ways, but getting to that responsive frequency is up to us on a decision-making and voluntative basis. After we have heard the voice on the radio (or Mind) telling us what we want to know, we want to know something more about how the radio or Mind work, what configurations have gone into the construction of that Black Box. And then we have one more thing to do.
We have to get rid of the radio. We have to relegate Mind and Brain to the cognitive background, so we can get on with the business of living and thinking. Mind is an autonomous function, we can use it best without the clutter of system considerations, neural pathways and informational hierarchies. Like every good tool, Mind is has to be in the background of the art of living and thinking.
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