Friday, January 30, 2015

Interpersonal Neurotheology

Whether you call it grandiose or humble, I could swear that sometimes my otherwise random reading selections are guided by the Holy Spirit.

Then again, maybe the perception is just an artifact of our holistic 20/∞ mindsight, which sees connections others don't. However, even Toots Mondello was prone to seeing connections that didn't exist. But that was mostly after the alcoholic dementia set in.

Yesterday we were talking about the Glass Bead Game, which involves "a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy," and more generally, an integration of "the intellectual and the participatory life." The latter -- participatory -- is key, because embodiment -- incarnation -- distinguishes us from the sleepy herd of infertile eggheads grazing in the politico-academic complex.

So yesterday I began reading this Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB for short). I've only read a few chapters, but the material so far is like a commentary on yesterday's post.

Being that this sort of nonlocal bibliocontinuity happens all the time, it leads me to believe -- okay, insist -- that we are attracted to ideas that simultaneously attract us. There is a mutual attraction going on, which may sound implausible until you realize that behind the idea is a person who wants to be understood.

From yesterday's post: "[F]olks who play the [Glass Bead] game realize that all truth is related, and that it is indeed One Cosmos after all." The rules of the game are simple: "take two subjects or disciplines that appear to have nothing to do with each other, and show how they are related." I should have said two or more, but you get the idea.

The Pocket Guide to IPNB draws upon "a wide range of traditionally independent fields of research -- such as neurobiology, genetics, memory, attachment, complex systems, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology," in the effort to find a "unity of knowledge, or consilience" of "numerous domains of study into a common language and conceptual framework" (emphasis mine).

I've been doing the same thing since my latent cʘʘnvision was awakened on March 4, 1985. Everything I've written since then is a variant of the GB Game.

What especially motivated me was an unwavering conviction that subjectivity is not reducible to objectivity, but rather, that the former is an irreducible category of being. In reality, the two are complementary, not contrary, so any metaphysic that tries to deluminate the subject or reduce it to something else is a non-starter.

Siegel too writes of how he was motivated to create "a common ground in which to bring science and subjectivity into" a fruitful dialogue. The dialogue revolves around "finding the universal principles across many academic fields," and "discovering the consilience that emerges when usually independent research endeavors are explored together" (emphasis mine).

As we will see, I have some slight and/or significant differences with Siegel, one of which would be the idea that the consilience only "emerges" as opposed to being an antecedent condition for the unity. Perhaps he means to say that, but those from the science side of the dialogue would tend to strongly dispute this fundamental Raccoon principle.

Siegel might as well be describing me in graduate school, when "I longed to find a way to connect the power of objective science with the centrality of our subjective mental lives."

Siegel wondered, for example, whether "the molecules I had been studying in the lab that allowed salmon to transition safely from fresh to saltwater" could "be in some way connected to the equally important reality that the way we communicate with another person in crisis can mean life or death" (at the time, he worked on a suicide prevention help line).

There is the Glass Bead Game, and there is Extreme Glass Bead Gaming, and seeking a connection between suicide and salmon molecules would be an example of the latter. Brother Toots, of course, saw the connection, but everybody thought he was crazy.

Eventually Siegel formed a group of forty scientists from a diversity of disciplines, including "anthropology, molecular biology, cognitive science, education, genetics, linguistics, neuroscience, neurosurgery, physics, psychology, psychiatry, mathematics, computer science, and sociology."

Is there any fundamental, underlying principle such a diverse group could agree upon? Frankly, the Raccoon doesn't have time to find out. Rather, he prefers to cut out the middlemen and duit himsoph.

Most scientists won't even try to define the mind, but instead, simply use the word "as a kind of placeholder for the unknown." This is actually not a bad strategery, but only if taken to extremes, which is what I did in the book, giving this empty placeholder the symbol (•). I don't really know how the mind, utilizing its own resources, could define itself, any more than the eye can see itself or the crotch can grab itself -- unless we are able to view the mind from a higher, outside perspective, which science naturally excludes.

One quick point that very much goes to the personal and cultural evolution we recently discussed in the context of Inventing the Individual. Recall how we spoke of the many "disentanglements" that occurred, especially after 1075. Siegel writes of how, "when we differentiate concepts from each other and then link them, we integrate knowledge."

Not only that, but we integrate the person who has differentiated and then re-integrated the concepts. I would say that this is actually a two-way process: that it takes an integrated person to synthesize the diversity, while synthesizing the diversity makes us more integrated. Which is the point of life, for it really goes to what we call "mental health," which runs in the direction fusion --> disentanglement --> integration.

As I wrote in the book, mental health can really be defined along two axes: integration and actualization, the former giving momentum to the latter. As Siegel writes, "when we move energy and information flow toward something called integration, we move toward health." This "makes a stronger, healthier, more flexible, and resilient mind."

So integration results in greater strength, flexibility, and resilience, which is of course the purpose of our daily verticalisthenics, and the anti-purpose of multiculturalism (which flows in the opposite direction, toward disintegration and therefore mental and cultural pathology).

Now, Siegel is at pains to emphasize that human beings are always embodied and embedded. What he means by this is that we have a brain which, via the nervous system (which is just the periphery of the brain), extends throughout the body. Where is the brain? Only partly in the head. It's really "in" the whole body (although it's probably more accurate to say that the body is in the mind, i.e., a representation of it).

But at the same time, "Our mental lives are profoundly relational," and really take place in the space between our neurology and other persons. Thus, "Embodied and embedded is the fundamental nature of mind."

Guess what this made me think of? Yes, the second person of the Trinity, who indeed becomes "embodied and embedded" with the restavus. We explicitly focus on the embodiment -- incarnation -- but it is for the purpose of embeddedness, i.e., the offer of relatedness. If Christ is God's icon of man (and man's icon of God), this should not surprise us. Rather, shock us.

To be continued...

10 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

...there is Extreme Glass Bead Gaming, and seeking a connection between suicide and salmon molecules would be an example of the latter. Brother Toots, of course, saw the connection ...

And probably Alan Watts some Saturday nights.

1/30/2015 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

What he means by this is that we have a brain which, via the nervous system (which is just the periphery of the brain), extends throughout the body. Where is the brain? Only partly in the head.

There is such a thing as, I guess, physical intelligence. It's apparent in great hitters. I remember, too, Kenny Stabler running a two-minute offense for the Raiders. I can't remember who they were playing. He was completing passes as he was tackled, getting the ball down, using every second. It was a work of art. There's no way he was "thinking" the way we'd normally use the word.

1/30/2015 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No doubt about it. This season especially I've noticed the preternatural intelligence an NFL quarterback must possess, especially someone like an Aaron Rodgers, who makes it look so easy.

1/30/2015 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I keep wanting to say something relevant to this one, and for some reason keep coming up short. This topic is very interesting, though; I hope you stick with it for a while.

1/30/2015 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Yeah, what Julie said. It's not that I can't say something, it's just that I'm afraid I wouldn't stop.

Go for it.

1/30/2015 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

As if he can stop.

1/30/2015 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

"Most scientists won't even try to define the mind, but instead, simply use the word "as a kind of placeholder for the unknown." This is actually not a bad strategery, but only if taken to extremes, which is what I did in the book, giving this empty placeholder the symbol (•). I don't really know how the mind, utilizing its own resources, could define itself, any more than the eye can see itself or the crotch can grab itself -- unless we are able to view the mind from a higher, outside perspective, which science naturally exclude."

Aye. Ass ain't gonna scratch itself.

1/30/2015 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Although I think I understand the concept, "extreme glass beading" is something I'm not gonna say to non-raccoons.
I blame this on the Beavis and Butthead effect.

1/30/2015 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"As I wrote in the book, mental health can really be defined along two axes: integration and actualization, the former giving momentum to the latter. As Siegel writes, "when we move energy and information flow toward something called integration, we move toward health." This "makes a stronger, healthier, more flexible, and resilient mind.""

Precisely. IMO a healthier mind is much more fun to work with.
I've worked with an unhealthy mind, or at least more unhealthy than it is now and I gotta say, it's extremely frustrating and depressing when it ain't firing on all cylinders.

It's amazing how many people aren't even aware of the status of their mental health.
Or are simply satisfied with being mental.

Then there are the heavy mentalheads, like Michael Moore and Howard Dean, who are truly psychopathic.

1/30/2015 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"...Recall how we spoke of the many "disentanglements" that occurred, especially after 1075. Siegel writes of how, "when we differentiate concepts from each other and then link them, we integrate knowledge."

Not only that, but we integrate the person who has differentiated and then re-integrated the concepts. I would say that this is actually a two-way process: that it takes an integrated person to synthesize the diversity, while synthesizing the diversity makes us more integrated. Which is the point of life, for it really goes to what we call "mental health," which runs in the direction fusion --> disentanglement --> integration."

Nothing to add, just wanted to see it again.

1/31/2015 08:48:00 AM  

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