Wednesday, September 29, 2004


I discovered my brain considering the proposition, early this morning as I lay abed, awake with the old alpha waves purring away, “How can a human being, trained in science, go back to myth for his answers to the puzzle of life in the universe while I, a man trained in literature, find my way to the scientific answer?”

Then I recall that Einstein and most of our greatest scientific thinkers were and are very imaginative thinkers. Einstein often pictured concrete situations from which he reasoned to mathematical formulae. Take his “elevator in the sky” image and the image of an “approaching and receding train”. So he gave the human consciousness images of a universe which has neither up nor down in it, but mostly “around”. He gave us an entirely different way of “imaging” or “imagining” our space environment through which we human animals travel. As you probably well know, “literalism” is the opposite in meaning to “imaginative”. So that’s part of my answer. Literalists have no imagination, thus, no faith and so must cling to materialistic support.

My other hypothesis is that a brain which has not been stimulated in the imaginative faculty might find itself vulnerable to mythological explanations of reality whereas a man trained in literature would be “hip” to all the mythologies of the world and be inclined not to take any one of them more seriously than another. Since much of my reading these days is currently in the “evolution of consciousness”, I will keep my brain open to what answers I find there as scientists research the imaginative areas of the right hemisphere.

As for me, braggart that I am, who has written thousands of poems and several unpublished novels, thousands of LTEs and more than a few essays, I know about creating myths about reality which is what a man of literature does. He strikes lines of meaning across experience (so says Frost) to make sense of reality. It’s obvious to me that humankind makes up the factual universe fresh every day, so I can accept quite well how the Christian interpretation of the universe came about and the Native American one and the African ones, the Greek and Norse sagas, etcetera. If it had not been for the power of the Roman Empire, spreading its state religion around the world, Christianity wouldn’t be quite so ingrained as it now is in the western world.

How did I get to science, you might ask. Or you might not. But I went to a Catholic University, the University of Dayton, for my early education and got a solid general education there in the arts and sciences. I recall an A and a B in my physics courses, and I recall vividly (I hope “vividly” since memory is a tricky coyote) that I was buffaloed by how mechanical experiments were turned into mathematical formulae. I recall our instructor rolling a ball down an incline and then generating data by which he discussed inertia, motion, acceleration, etcetera, for us, Newtonian stuff I now realize. Despite my courses in Logic there, I was not a very logical thinker. It was incomprehensible magic to me how he turned matter (i.e. the rolling ball) into thoughts or, if you will, into mathematical principles.

Also while there at the University, I recall one day walking down a hallway, thinking about how our senses receive waves from the environment and how we don’t actually see the environment but only our brain’s interpretation of the environment. (The idea which most reveals that to me now, about our perceptions, is the idea that the brain actually receives images of the world upside down, yet the brain yields a conscious of a right side up world.) Though that’s not what concerned me at the time; then, since I wore glasses and had worn glasses since age 9 or 10, I remember I was worried about going blind and also that my vision of the world was forever different from others. I literally didn’t “see” or “experience” the world as others did. So you can see that what truly struck me was the “relativity” of perception though I didn’t work that out till later. I recall stopping in the hallway and leaning against a wall while my brain told me that I was trapped in my cranium, that my senses might fail me, and that I was or could be literally cut off from my fellow man. Whew, quite a lot for a young fellow, fresh out of the Navy! No wonder I became an existentialist, eh? Now, of course, as we learn more about the evolution of consciousness and I read books like The Moral Animal, Going Inside: a tour around a moment of consciousness, The Language Instinct, How The Mind Works, Freedom Evolves and The Synaptic Self, more is being revealed about this inescapable relativity of our perceptions.

Several facts, coming from the study of consciousness, now support this concept of the relativity of meaning in the universe. You may have heard about experiments done with people who have had their corpus callosum severed? Some unfortunate people have seizures so severe and recurrent that no medicine or treatment has been discovered to help them, except for the complete severing of the right hemisphere from the left which gives them relief. Funny things happen in these cases.

Either hemisphere can run the body more or less efficiently. Two persons now seem to inhabit one body. They work in tandem but can function separately as well. And an odd thing happens when they are run through experimental paces for observation. If the right side of the brain is given a command to get up and walk while the left side of the brain is not allowed to see or hear the order, the person will arise and walk quite well. Later, the left side of the brain is asked why it got up and walked, and it says things like, “To get a Coke.” Note, it doesn’t say, “I have been a part of these experiments for a long time now and I often find myself doing things I don’t understand” or simply “I don’t know.” No, the left side of the brain is, as Steven Pinker says, “a spinmeister”.

The left hemisphere constantly makes up reasons and justifications for actions in the world as it goes along. It’s in a reality all its own. In fact, to my way of interpretation (my left brain tells me), each human animal is exactly in that condition and has evolved explanations for reality, based on its explorations of all the various environments consciousness has evolved within. There is, factually, no one right way of belief, though there are ways of doing things which will more or less lead to survival and procreation. There’s just all these various sensibilities exploring around the environments they find themselves in, like any good animal (like a mouse in a maze) will explore, and arriving at certain agreements with other consciousnesses about how to do things because we are also social animals in need of being part of a group.

One of the strongest impulses for religion, according to surveys of Christians, is to find a fellowship of “like-minded beings” from which to draw comfort and support and (I might add, after watching young Christian bucks display their religiosity to attract the female of his species) within which to find mates, etcetera. Being a man in his 27th year of alcohol recovery, I can well accept the need for fellowship, and to be honest, I also discovered my current spouse after an AA meeting. She’s a practicing Buddhist and a member of Alanon. My AA home group meets every Sunday morning, which is another reason I’d have to decline your kind invitation. Besides, as I think about it more, I realize I’d just be a disruptive force in your classroom just as I was an argumentative force in the classrooms of the poor brothers who had to teach me Thomistic philosophy. I gave them hell. When I give people hell nowadays, it costs me peace of mind. Should I come to your group, my only comment, which I’d repeat over and over until you dealt with it, is your claim that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I’d say, “Can you demonstrate for me how that was done through a scientific experiment (like rolling a ball down an incline and developing data)?” Until we get past this first claim in the “scientific” literature of the Bible, I could go no further because what is begun with a falsehood can’t yield much truth.

I’m going to stop here because I realize that I enjoy thinking by writing my way through complex and nuanced issues (unlike Bush) and I can overwhelm someone with sheer numbers of written words. I think I may have done that to Dave who’s got to write for a living while I just write and think and explore for the pure joy of it, of the process of thinking asilence (not “aloud”) on paper. I made the mistake of going to college for an education rather than for a job. It’s spoiled me forever for living in the civilized world.

Waiting your replies,


"Eunuch: A man who has had his works cut out for him." —Robert Byrne

No comments: