As this preliminary note is added, close to the end of the year 2010 and well over twenty years since this chapter was written, we do realize - concerning the brain, since the brain is a topic of this chapter – that there have been enormous strides in neurological research and discoveries which have brought us a much wider knowledge of that which is encased within our skulls. We now know that, practically, we do have a second brain by that implying that the role of the white matter in the brain has been discovered and that this second brain appears to be far more important than a single “glue” (glia) keeping the neurons together. This does not diminish the importance of the “neuronal” brain and the gray matter (which in reality is pink) which thrives inside the bony case – but complements in a single incredibly complicated whole this incredible biological machinery of ours - as of yet with innumerable and, very likely, insurmountable mysteries to be still deciphered. We are now aware that we have two distinct brains, with specifically distinct and at the same time interdependent roles which justify the fact that we are “bi-dimensional beings”.
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"A Russian peasant came to Moscow for the first time and went to see the sights. He went to the zoo and saw the giraffes. You may find a moral in his reaction as plainly as in the fables of La Fontaine. "look, " he said, "at what the Bolsheviks have done to our horses". 1
While it is hoped that I have not been stretching the word mind to that extent with all the jumble-mumble I have been going through up to the present point, hereafter I will often use two different words, or better, neologisms, borrowed from the wonderful field of mathematics, to define differently the state of things insofar as mind is concerned. These words are not intended to replace the word mind but rather to complement it in such a way so as to leave no room for side-meanings or interpretations as "a name is a word taken at pleasure to serve for a mark which may raise in our mind a thought like to some thought we had before, and which being pronounced to others, may be to them a sign of what thought the speaker had, or had not, before in his mind." 2
The mind, hence, can be thought of as a function of a master superset with no overset above it and to which all sets and subsets owe their origin. In other words the mind is a function of a domain which can be thought of as the light-source beyond the three-dimensional object which we could not grasp in our shadow-like life, that is to say, in mathematical jargon, the mind is the image of the domain. Here then we have a hierarchic increase, the mind both as domain and as image of the domain and this will bring forth a distinction which will equate the domain to MIND (capital letters) and the image to mind (small letters).
Obviously this image is strongly related to the three-dimensional object in space which is giving such a hard time to our shadow-life.
Supposing that as shadow-beings, with an extreme effort or by some sort of miracle we are able to leap onto the three-dimensional object; we rest a while and then we decide to explore this mysterious thing which, as we are lacking a degree in dimension we cannot understand even if now being onto it we have a different sensation, we feel strange, awed and the feeling of a different, greater world is pervading the whole of our shadow-being. The exploration is hard and perilous, after all our bi-dimensional shadow-being does not experience a real good time moving on that object which is not perfectly flat - but that is the very thing which makes us feel strange and awed: for the first time, the bending of our shadow due to the pits and hills making up the three-dimensional object makes us perceive the possibility of an extra dimension even if there is nothing that we can do with it, we just cannot understand it no matter how we shadow-bend and twist but then something wonderful happens, we suddenly reach the top of the object and there our shadow-being is annihilated by the light source and no one is left to tell the tale, we are simply gone, gone within that light which was the primary cause of our shadow-life, gone because we dared climb around an object with an extra dimension than the mere two forming our shadow-being.
a time when there was no time 3
Before going on I will allow myself some afterthoughts: it just occurred to me that some things fit in like in a mosaic: I am not religious, at least not in the common sense of the word - by this I am implying that I am not wholly ungodly and, in all frankness, I am not sure in any case whether I am "a man intelligent without religion or a man religious without an intellect" 20 - but something caught my attention: it is said that man is created in the ‘image’ of God ("Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" - Genesis 1:26). Mystic experiences speak of annihilation; true knowledge is gained through enlightenment. When the shadow-being - the image - reaches the top of the three-dimensional object it is annihilated by being exposed to the light source (enlightenment).
These words were used without any particular purpose but just to describe a situation and afterward, thinking (what a wonderful process! - "one does one’s thinking before one knows what one is to think about" 4 - as it seems that a thought can manifest itself consciously only after its mental blue-print has been approved! or, to quote Murphy’s "Law of the Perversity of Nature", "You cannot successfully determine beforehand which side of the bread to butter." 5) about it the relation among these words, the shadow-life situation and some commonly accepted things related to these words came to my mind.
Having assigned a complementary name to mind still does not solve the problem as to what mind is or is not hence it is better to define it more strictly and speak of the mind, the one to which the complementary name image was assigned - that which we normally accept to be what we believe it to be (I am quite convinced that hardly any two persons among the six billion minds thriving on the planet would explain the mind in exactly the same way ...) in a way which can be more widely accepted, we will define it as "the human mind", not "that part of the brain which controls memory or consciousness or reason", 6 - rather that principle which is manifest within life itself which gives the brain the above mentioned controlling abilities.
Hence by definition we have: image = mind = human mind; domain = MIND = the cosmic transcendent principle beyond the knowledge of anything dimensionally limited.
Of course, now this makes me almost ready for an asylum for the insane; there is nothing for us more difficult to understand and hardly anything greater than the mind and I downgraded it to something very little, so little that we have well over six frightening billions of them moving around on the globe - think of it, over six billions human minds threatening our wonderful planet with greenhouse effect, ozone holes, ecosystem disasters, thermonuclear warheads and ... three-dimensional global annihilation!
But what is making me really ready for the asylum for the insane is not so much the downgrading of the mind but the hierarchic increase: while so much is being done to leave behind Cartesian dualism in favor of neuro-monism, I am traveling at full speed toward "three-ism" - brain, image (mind) and domain (MIND) - a pseudo-scientific trinity on unstable ground - there is hardly any limit to that which an unsound human mind can do or undo! Besides, this splitting business has created an unusual meander into my mind: ideas fighting for precedence unwilling to wait for their proper setting and my brain feels stormed and uneasy with this unrest of the mind and the task which I have set forth in front of myself which is the final reconciliation of this splitting business because after all, no matter haw far this splitting can or will be carried on, it all is done within the human temple as a whole psychophysical entity and when this temple will be closed to its own cult, that is when our life functions will cease to be, mind, brain, senses and everything else will be gone. And if there is another side to life - that’s humanity’s more ancient quest, more easy to disprove than to prove as we absolutely know of no one who ever came back from "there" to tell a tale - that is something untouchable to be left to faith and religion. Incidentally faith and religion are what I like to define respectively as the "irrational rational" and as the "rational irrational", both of them curable down to good common sense.
The air around me right now is powerfully and movingly vibrating ... the mind behind the music is Giuseppe Verdi, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, I am the percipient.
In between there are a large orchestra, a transducer, 7 the scanning of a tiny laser beam on a compact disc’s pits and hills - that is to say an optomechanical memory support - and it all is fed to still another transducer: several pieces of electrically powered and interconnected metal, silicon, carbon and ceramic elements (the playback amplifier, an electronic transducer) are translating the data of the now modulated laser beam back into electronic low frequency vibrations acting on a speaker’s paper cone (one more electroacustic transducer) which causes the air around me to vibrate with different pitches which I can hear and appreciate because I am frequency selective. 8
Many human minds and brains and a lot of equipment are behind this all, but, beyond the boundaries of time and space, Verdi’s musical thoughts are manifest to me only because I am frequency-selective. Naturally, I am frequency selective because two pick-up instruments (the ears, biological transducers) and a biological CPU (Central Processing Unit - in this case the human brain) are built within my physical frame. This music sets me in a particular frame of mind ... I am sorry, I cannot say that this music puts me in a particular "frame of brain", it just does not sound that good although it might be correct. Is this a philological problem, linguistic poverty, or do I have to accept a duality so far as brain and mind are concerned?
Between Verdi’s mind and my perception of his musical thoughts there are several transducers: the music book (!), the musicians (!), the musical instruments, some microphones, a recording unit, a CD playback support, a modulated laser beam, an amplifier, perhaps an equalizer and a couple of good loudspeakers; all in all a vastly articulated bio-mechanical-optoelectronic brain which makes the perception possible notwithstanding temporal and spatial separation and now I get to the point and I dare say that: our brain too is a transducer (and a CPU as well) and as such it is extremely specialized, multitasking and selective although in the brain’s case selectivity is not physical selectivity but "translated selectivity" (into electrochemical patterns) due to psychosensory (apart from purely sensory) perceptions, by which I mean perceptions directly linked with the mind as image, or human mind - and perhaps extrasensory perceptions (ESP) which however won’t be taken into consideration in this writing as the available elements relating to the field of ESP are still too controversial and more often than not scientifically untenable - by which I am not saying that they are to be thrown in the trash can as utter nonsense as what we do know for sure is that we do not know the future and many apparently unsound scientific thoughts of yesterday are asserting their validity today.
We will now recall that in between the un-dimensional domain (the light source above the three-dimensional object - we can describe light with the help of physics but not ascribe a dimension to it) and the bi-dimensional shadow we had a three-dimensional object which was at the same time the cause of the origin as well as indirectly that of the annihilation of the shadow and this three-dimensional object has not yet been defined, but being a primary cause of the fate of the shadow we will link it with the primary cause of our fate and call it encephalon, or more simply brain - and, "your brain is who you are". 10
Roughly speaking one hundred billion (1011) neurons with an estimated one hundred trillion (1014) synapses surrounded by an impressive number of supporting cells, glial cells. All in all about three pounds of an intricately woven yellowish-gray tissue enclosed into a protective bony box with a few sensory inlets and unlike anything else we know of in the whole universe, that is the human brain. Of course this is a very crude description of that most sophisticated and complicated piece of machinery (if so we can call it) which fell under human experience and scrutiny. The search for its working mechanisms and relations is still far from complete and I do not think that "Neuro-physiology, experimental psychology and the biochemistry of the brain will someday elucidate the functioning of our mental and spiritual life" 11 but "A boundary is undoubtedly set to the human mind which it cannot pass" 12 since whether we like it or not we are subject to evolutionary development and henceforth we will always be lagging, so far as our comprehension is concerned, at least a little bit behind our own evolution and we will never be able to surpass our whole being as such either individually or collectively so as to know with certainty what refinement is coming next; that would be tantamount to surpass the scope of evolution itself and even if it could be that we are dictating our own evolution beforehand (this being a sort of idea which, to me, is quite attractive!) that is not a conscious process although we could and should consciously choose an evolutionary direction apart from thermonuclear warheads and ecosystem annihilation.
Speaking of evolution many things can be said about our brain but now I will allow myself a small detour: while Darwin is getting the credit for the evolutionary theory due to his masterworks, "Origin of Species" and "The Descent of Man" (independently the English naturalist A. R. Wallace elaborated a concept of evolution similar to Darwinism), no one seems to have noticed that:
as a mineral and became a plant,
These verses are reaching us from the thirteenth century and tell us that so far as evolution is concerned the intuitive mind preceded the rational scientific mind by six hundred years and with this I wish not to take away Darwin’s credit for the evolutionary theory but to make a point for what I said previously concerning the fact that we will always be lagging behind our own evolution and perhaps history is replete of similar instances if we only take the trouble to look for them.
That a blueprint for evolution (and apparently also for de-evolution, judging from man’s contemporary proclivities ... ) is within our frames can be seen also from rational irrationals (religious beliefs) by way of which through irrational rationals (faith in doctrines promising heaven or hell, angelhood or devilish states - reincarnation doctrines, a better being or a lower animal – not to quote the numerous religious degenerations and sects existing nowadays ) the lives of human beings have being permeated and molded throughout the ages.
Day by day, thanks to the energies spent in study and research by dedicated professionals in several related fields, anatomically and functionally the brain is giving out some of its secrets, the main difficulties to be solved being those of the functional relations among different compartments of the brain and this is because while many big brains are studying the mind, many big minds are studying the brain ... and if reconciliation of views is not so easy, although more than ever before researchers and scientists have the means for direct verification and proof, the intricacies of the brain are still more difficult and constantly developing, evolving to the point that now we stand where we are not simply because we have a brain but because we have three distinct brains within our bony shrine ... "they are interconnected and not always fully co-operative among themselves." 14
These three brains, very simply described, are: the reptilian brain, steaming out of the spinal cord and extending to the pons, hindbrain and cerebellum; the reptilian brain behaves just like if it had a neurotic tie with an ancestral superego wanting a nervous mechanism able to learn to face new situations. The limbic - or mammalian primitive - brain, corresponding to the midbrain, hypothalamus, caudate nucleus; it is important in the elaboration of fundamental emotions, self preservation and species preservation; and, finally, the late mammalian brain - or neocortex - phylogenetically the most recently developed part of the brain.
We will now look at these structures going back to our computer analogies and this will make clear that these brain structures are, like the electronic circuit boards of a computer, interconnected and mutually dependent on one another so that meaningful symbols may appear on the monitor of our mind.
The reptilian, purely instinctual brain, will be equated to the power supply of our computer, its main purpose confined to supplying the adequate voltages and currents to the surrounding circuits but with little if any control on itself or feedback; it just has to keep, within very strict tolerance limits, the system going or, more properly, surviving.
Far more important in the evolutionary scale is the limbic brain, a structure which is a common denominator to all mammals, which we will equate to the ROM (Read Only Memory) of our computer. The limbic brain, the word limbic meaning the expanded portion of an organ or structure, is vital to all functions for the distribution of automatic tasks and, just like a ROM is in a modern computer - it being pre-programmed for a set of fixed tasks, so is the limbic brain which is in charge of the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system. To some extent autonomic nerves act independently of the brain, hence their name, but the activity of the system is modified and coordinated in the brain, mainly in and around the hypothalamus which itself has an enormous amount of diverse control functions; just like a ROM it is pre-programmed for input/output functions. Hence the limbic brain is an evolutionary addition to the reptilian brain, an additional board to our modular piece of biochemical electronics which starts to give sense to our otherwise utterly instinctive, rude part of the circuit which by itself can work merely by strictly controlled bio-electrical-discharges. But as at this level the circuit has acquired several control functions, or refinements, meaning must be given to it so that it would not get lost in the evolutionary ladder and hence we have the development of another circuit board - that which a computer’s technician would refer to as RAM (Random Access Memory), the freely (or apparently so insofar as – related to man – environmental and personal factors are not a free choice under most circumstances) programmable part of the computer - while a neuroanatomist would call it cerebrum or cerebral cortex or a neurologist would refer to it as neurocortex.
Yet all this presents an extreme difficulty which is not encountered in the case of the computer for, insofar as the computer is concerned the programmer is exterior to the computer, a separate and distinct entity on a different physical plane (the distinction here is between organic and inorganic, man and computer) while insofar as the brain - and in particular the neurocortex is concerned - it seems to every reasonable extent that the programmer lies hidden somewhere within the computer circuit boards. At this stage I rule out the evolutionary programmer, genetic codes, I include them within the innermost part of the system, as I am concerned with the programmer within - the one coping with our everyday life at all levels as a psychosomatic entity - apart from the evolutionary programmer.
But, unlike the computer, we are confronted also with some deeply ingrained psychological problems: the problem of giving meaning to our life, the problem of our real origin and the problem of our ultimate destiny, problems which from time immemorial find an outlet in assuming the existence of some sort of undefined but omnipotent being to which we ascribe the responsibility for our creation and as such to whom we owe love and obedience, a being which the most celebrated philosopher of the Islamic World, Avicenna (ibn Sina), called "the Necessary Existent". 15
And for most people the Necessary Existent can be equated to an external programmer, a supernatural or supranatural (contrary to dictionary definitions the subtle distinction between the prefixes super and supra appears to me to be very important in this context) ruler and arbiter of our ultimate destinies but this must be ruled out by men of science who need to have their specimens in a test tube or under a microscope - for which reason neuroscience is apparently traveling toward monistic brain doctrine: the mind can be studied and comprehended only if it is equated to the brain and as such tangible and available for study; it cannot even be, like other scientific topics, be described mathematically (apparently it can be mathematically described if you cling to Theosophical doctrines 16) - it must be sectioned, stained, analyzed under a microscope.
And as it cannot be mathematically described I need here add that a mathematical formula like Z2+c (Z and c are complex numbers which consist of an imaginary number, a multiple of the square root of -1, combined with a real number) at given co-ordinate points will say nothing to a neurosurgeon or neuropsychologist while tampering physically or emotionally with their patients, but someday in a not too far future it might say something to a neuroanatomist with mathematical inclinations.
I will make a small detour before going back to the Necessary Existent.
Perhaps there hardly is an eight years old boy with a small personal computer who has not heard something about fractal theory or the name Benoit B. Mandelbrot. What a theorist and mathematician like Mr. Mandelbrot has to do with the brain I do not know but just like an eight years old boy I enjoy watching the slowly evolving graphical display on my computer’s monitor resulting from the formula Z2+c and, once I zoomed on a little section of the graphical display to get a zone-enlargement of the resulting figure a pattern showed itself on the monitor, both in two and three dimensions, strikingly resembling the pattern of the micrograph of a brain cell, a neuron. 17
Of course I have no idea at all of what the relation, if any beyond causality, of the graphical display of the formula Z2+c which now at diverse co-ordinate points displays a net of interconnected "neurons" and I am still trying to visualize an eventual connection as fractal theory might be very important to elucidate some of nature’s works. Apart from Z2+c, mathematics are widely employed in studying models of the brain, like Marr’s model of the cerebellum (the associative content addressable memory - ACAM) and the Hopfield net. All in all I hope that we are not the three-dimensional display of a quintic formula containing one complex number and two irrational unknowns fed to a cosmic computer with a giga-gogol 18 megabytes RAM, but can we prove that we are not such a three-dimensional display? Can we prove that we are not a five gigabytes RAM (which we can tamper with - the small portion of our conscious brain), a micro-micro chip of an universal computer being used in a hyper-dimensional cosmos unknown to us? As we are standing on solid ground it is easier to prove the opposite but in the same wise we cannot prove that there is no Necessary Existent, on the contrary, there must be a Necessary Existent but quite certainly it is not a hoary long bearded super-being abiding far high in the blue sky.
Incidentally the most highly evolved religious systems, yogic philosophies and mystics say: "know thyself and thou will know God"; this obviously must have something to do with that mysterious Necessary Existent, the point is that that Necessary Existent must be existent because we exist and so far as we exist and hence it cannot be anything external to us nor anything to which we belong to, but it must rather be the whole psychophysical domain of our individual existence and this domain must be the light beyond the object which originated our shadow as well as the light which annihilated our shadow, the domain to which all sets and subsets belong to and with no superset above it, the ultimate domain, the domain of MIND, that mysterious thing so hard to define, comprehend, hold in our hands or cork into a bottle.
In my analogies I rely heavily on the computer and often , although I said that I am not religious, I dwell on religious doctrines for further analogies but the fact is that, as I said previously, there are within us some deeply ingrained psychological problems and the most relevant pertain to "origin and destination and the necessity for meaning", which problems must be at the root of religion and hence of all these unconscious hints which with the evolving of science and comprehension can be taken as explainable analogies; they are not casual analogies, they assume a meaning in the same contest of the mystic verses of Rumi and Darwin’s "Origin of Species", it is a matter of lagging behind, walking toward the top of the tower of our comprehension but as we walk toward the top the tower itself grows at a different, slightly faster rate so that the more we come to know the more we realize that there is still so much more to discover.
To summarize: our encephalon is divided into three quite distinct evolutionary structures which are interconnected and independent; the means of communication among these structures are not known but presumably it should be through encoded electrochemical exchanges - keeping to the computer analogies - at low level languages. Binary and machine codes are low level languages (and as such very fast) while translated languages (much slower) like Fortran and Basic are high level languages. For us high level languages are articulate thought and its expression and although electrochemical activity is behind thought and its expression the machine code behind them is still very mysterious. Electrochemical activity preceding - and giving way to - our discernible brain dictates, we must accept Murphy’s Law of the Perversity of Nature.
No doubt mind-less brains can be stored in three different jars in formaldehyde solutions after having been mercilessly dissected just like Einstein’s brain: 19 I don’t know if the neuroscientists who had a chance to analyze and study sections of it could find the real roots of the formula E=mc2 - or the code behind it - most probably they have been hidden in the ashes, fire, horror and misery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But when a mind-less human brain is not enclosed in jars and drowned in preserving chemical solutions but is still doing its own job inside its bony shrine it is a single but all-important triune part of the "three-ism", the image (shadow) in between the object (encephalon) and the domain (the causative light) and as such the mediator between the lowliest and the highest kingdoms, the sub-human and the supra-human kingdoms, the mediator between the beast and the divine.
But the fragile temple of our being is also a tangible physical reality with other organs and structures besides the brain and science, day by day, is getting hold of some of its secrets and feeding them to the passer-by; as such a most promising field - to name just one - is the medical field of immunology because of the far reaching implications that it has as the immune system appears to be a brain of its own, with direct neurological pathways with the brain besides being itself capable of producing chemicals that feed information to the brain much in the same wise that the brain neurotransmitters signal the immune system in a constant feedback exchange that is vital to us.
The implications of this usually friendly relations between the brain and the immune system are far reaching as it seems that each can, through chemical exchange, influence the other for good or for worse insofar our state of health is concerned, yet far more reaching is the fact which we always knew but which only now medical science - branching into new fields with big names like neuroimmunomodulation and psychoneuroimmunology - is starting to accept, and that is the power of mind over matter so far as the individual himself is concerned, in other words how the state of our mental health - or moods - can influence our physical health for good or for worse. This too is an important argument which we will shortly dwell upon later on.
Notes to chapter 2
Edward Kasner and James R. Newman. The Vocabulary of Mathematics - New
Names for Old - from The World of Mathematics - Vol. IV p. 1999. New
York. Simon and Schuster, 1956.