The Mooring Pin

Descartes experiment in doubt, 'Cogito, ergo sum', or, 'I think, therefore I am' appears as a rather materialistic view of the ego, his personal omphalos hopelessly leaving no way out of the material human being. Should we say 'I am thought (where thought is the verbal expression and not the noun) therefore I am', it would give a fuller insight into our existence. The ancient Greeks used 'omphalos' to refer to a sacred, rounded stone in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, that was supposed to mark the center of the earth: a concept which, symbolically interpreted, is indeed close to the 'two lands in the shrine' and it might, in truth, reflect the very same thing, the mooring pin; that mooring pin to which our boat is firmly anchored and which is depicted in the illustrations on the sides of this paragraph, namely, the human brain.

     
 

According to my farfetched, but altogether not entirely unreasonable interpretation, [1] the mooring pin, that to which the boat as a psycho-physical entity is anchored, symbolized the brain, and the two lands in the shrine (the cranium) its two cerebral hemispheres (roughly corresponding to the omphalos, the rounded stone in the Temple of the Ancient Greeks symbolized, aptly, by Apollo - god of light, of prophesy, of poetry, of music and healing - within the omphalos). The Egyptians' Lady in the Shrine being the mind [2] in its intangible aspect but connoting its temporal manifestations in the physical world.

In the picture on the left, [3] of which you can see an enlarged view by clicking it, we have a representation of the brain showing both its hemispheric structure and the human cerebral cortex, concerning which, R.W. Sperry demonstrated that the following capacities belong to the dominant, or left, hemisphere: verbal expression; ideation capacity; analytic capacity; sequential analysis capacity (serial); rapport with conscious state; and, seat of arithmetical (and computer type) elaborations . Therefore, an hemisphere which we may define as rational and thinking, to which all the processes which we attribute to the conscious state belong.

 

These results emerging from the surgical bisection of the corpus callosum (the broad transverse nerve tract connecting the two cerebral hemispheres), hence allowed, at the very moment when the dominance of the left hemisphere was removed, to define the capabilities of the non-dominant, or right, hemisphere as follows: it has no relation with consciousness; it regulates a non-verbal and, in particular, musical activity; it is concerned with artistic and structural perception of objects; it supervises synthetic activities (holistic), and, it integrates a spatial dimension. Hence an hemisphere which may be defined as non-verbal, non-logical, and not conscious which controls a series of integrations and formulations nearer to the imaginative - or fantastic - world. [4]

But first I will touch another subject: consciousness. Before venturing in discussing it, adding my little thoughts to those of those great minds of the past centuries and the present times who still did not find a valid, positive and sure answer to it, let me recount a recent personal experience that I named "reverse consciousness".[5] Last night, after a long day immersed in books, I decided to take a break, hence I sat down properly, turned off the light and plunged myself in my usual breathing exercise but, as I was just starting I realized that the world's orientation had shifted 180 degrees, or, in other words, my spatial perception - my brain's compass - had its polarity reversed. In the darkness the south became north and viceversa. It appeared - or better, it was - as if the door in front of myself was at my back and the pillow on my back was in front of myself. Obviously right's and left's perception were as well turned around so much so that also the open window on my right side appeared on my left side and my right side, normally turned towards the window now was turned towards the wall; touching with my left hand the shelf by the wall, now apparently at my right side, I found it to be at his right place on my left and by this the realization came that I had not acquired the siddhi (psychical power) to turn the world around. All this real, tangible and while completely awake in full awareness of consciousness of wrong consciousness. [6] "Cogito, ergo sum contrarius?" While this is not the first time that I have had such an experience (being abstemious no pink elephants are allowed in my perceptions), last night it happened in a favorable condition since I just sat there for a good twenty minutes trying to make something out of it and strenuously striving to bring my perception to normal but without any appreciable result whatsoever. The world remained turned around and, as anticipated, it revolved to its normal position - or normalized spatial perception - immediately as I turned on the light. Nor can the experience be re-created by an act of will so much so as succeeding to see the floor when, lying on your back, you stare at the ceiling. Since I described this experience as it happened, in full consciousness, how does it tally with the following statement: "The contents of conscious experience have no spatio-temporal dimensions; in this respect they resemble the non-things of quantum physics which also defy definition in terms of space, time and substance...can only be described 'by going outside space and time.' But the unsubstantial contents of consciousness are somehow linked with a substantial brain..." ? [7]

Analytical and perceptive consciousness and/or split-consciousness: what, anyhow, is consciousness, that element tucked into everyone's individual existence and to which since man started to concoct a rationale for it a jungle of hypotheses and explanations have been attempted in trying to define it, [8] but all with their flaws and uncertainties? While you are reading this line you are all but conscious of each single word as you read it, you are not even conscious that you are reading the whole line nor of the process going on within your mind which is putting the morphemes together to assemble the words and create a meaning giving sense to the whole process, a meaning and sense which will be conscious awareness to you by introspecting into the intended meaning of the phrase and not of each single word. Nor, in writing, am I conscious of every consonant, vowel, syllable or word that I type, they just fall off my fingers coming spontaneously from some unconscious repository by themselves, unless I have to give thought for a moment to find the most suitable word to put down; and, furthermore, all this is most probably an automatic translation into the English language since my mother language is Italian. Stop reading for a moment ... and you will perhaps notice that just the word 'stop' was consciously perceived, an imperative which, as such, attracted you attention and awakened a conscious response. How do we explain this marvelous process, coming apparently from nowhere unless we analyze it within a thought-frame and then we dispose hurriedly of the same by muttering 'It is all in the mind', just to avoid a strenuous and difficult mental exercise? What about if you get a sudden portentous mystic experience which causes the total absence of self and environment? And why this question? Simply because coma is defined as "the total absence of awareness of self and environment". [9] The logical question following, then, is "what is not-consciousness like?" Is the great mystic in a transcendental experience - or state - a deep-sleeper or a comatose being? Or is the ecstatic great mystic a de-cerebrated animal (sic), since animals are supposed, by many authorities, [10] to be without consciousness? This in turn raises another question: the mind of the great ecstatic mystic, is it a mind at all since he is, albeit temporarily, seemingly de-cerebrated? Or, to say it differently, without "lady of the two lands in the shrine" if we equate this lady with what we call mind and the two lands in the shrine with the cerebral hemispheres.

Years ago while about to brush my teeth a current of remarkable intensity, yet not unpleasant, was felt in both my arms. Just like if for some mysterious reasons a physiological switch had automatically turned on - not unlikely in the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in the brain - and almost immediately consciousness was switched off. How much time elapsed I don't know, but the next thing was that when I opened my eyes I was crosswise in a waterless bath tub with my legs outside and a tremendous bump above my nape. The fact that the big bump's pain had already subsided even if it was to vanish completely in about two weeks suggests that I laid unconscious for a not too short period of time. [11] However, what did I experience in-between the current in my arms and the regaining of consciousness? I can narrate it as I can narrate the experiences that I have in deep sleep. This is all very mysterious and as well quite baffling: with all our science we still have no hint of what kind of life we live when we are apparently lifeless. But live we do! On the neurosurgeon's operating table he can tamper with electrodes on a living brain and get reflex responses which are not dictated by consciousness, and this helps him to map the brain's cortical areas and related responses to sense perception. On the anatomist's autopsy table he can get a lot of mindless brains and get a good many biological responses by using the appropriate chemicals thus deepening his anatomical knowledge of the machinery. Therefore by now we have a formidable collection of brains, more or less sliced and preserved in formalin, together with a considerable knowledge of the brain and how it works. On the other hand we cannot probe consciousness with electrodes, we cannot examine the no-processes of unconsciousness because the switch in the activating reticular activating system is off and, furthermore, we cannot observe the canvas of the brain - that is, the mind - from the outside so as to marvel at the images painted upon it, still less delimit it and analyze it in a test tube. All in all, we can, therefore, play with the substrate - dead or alive - and define its anatomy, observe a good many neurochemical processes and foresee or perceive tangible results. And we are still at loss concerning what consciousness is, what non-consciousness is in deep sleep or coma, and what mind (the canvas of the brain; is the psyche the painter?) is. We theorize, prove, strengthen the proof and then something or someone will destroy the castle and theorizing and proof will start over again: this is how we get a good increase in knowledge and this also explains why we cannot possibly get to the end of knowledge. We climb the rungs of a ladder which goes up into infinity so that we constantly increase our knowledge of our ignorance. Paradoxically, this is the human mind's evolution.

 
 

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NOTES

[1] When it comes to symbolism, it is never easy to reconcile points of view, namely: exoteric, esoteric, or scientific, et al. In the context of the "Mooring pin" and the "Lady of the Two Lands in the Shrine" it would not be difficult - and also justifiable - if an anthropologist or a archaeologist would see a phallic symbolism or connotation in the context while a philologue would not miss the similiary of the words omphalos and phallus sand reach the same conlusions. Be as it may, personally, even if aware of the strong sexual influence both hidden and overt within the ancient Egyptians, their cults and rites, and all that which the ancient Greeks absorbed from their civilization I prefer to see it in a more positive and scientific orphic context. Where not appearing in its degenerated popular forms, i.e., within a circle of a specially selected Úlite, symbols were the keys to knowledge, power, and their continuance. Where symbols lost their pristine intrinsic meaning, knowledge, power, and empires fell to the dust. We dig, observe, surmise, infer and judge from a point in time several thousands years in the future insofar as it concerns ancient civilizations but we know little for certain, not to speak of all those marvels spread all over the globe which still haunt and puzzle our omniscience. Apart from visionaries, and by know admittedly recognized by many renown scientists all over the world, we are now aware of the immense astronomical, mathematical and scientific knowledge possessed by ancient populations which point to an era which goes as far back in time as 12,000 years and, as well, we know that most of the knowledge they bequeathed to posterity was lost in great geological catastrophes and, besides, in wilful destruction of immense libraries in Alexandria, Persia, India and China, not to mention the appalling contribute of the Christian Church wherever its blessings appeared. This is why the phrase 'I prefer to see it in a more positive and scientific orphic context' is used, by this meaning that we cannot disprove - even if the contrary holds as well - that a noesis of neurology, even if primitive and crude but not at odds with modern concepts, was not terra incognita to very ancient populations.
[2] While I used the word mind, to the ancient greeks this was the brain, as we can read from this passage attributed to Hippocrates: "Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant...". However, since this definition of the brain distinctly includes abstract concepts directly related to the mental processes, using the word mind may be justified. This note is to bring in context the omphalos, the rounded stone in the Temple of Apollo, with my interpretations above as referred to Apollo - god of light, of prophesy, of poetry, of music and healing - and to the Lady of the Two Lands in the Shrine.
[3] Adapted from Scientific American - Brain Function and Blood Flow - Niels A. Lassen, David H. Ingvar and Erik Skinhěj - October 1978 - page 52.
[4] Description adapted from Vittorino Andreoli's "La terza via della psichiatria"- Edizioni Scientifiche e Tecniche Mondadori - 1980.
[5] Quoting from James P. Cattell - Depersonalization Phenomena: "In depersonalization, reality sense is impaired, while reality testing is intact" - American Handbook of Psychiatry, Volume Three, edited by Silvano Areiti - Basic Books, Inc., New York - London - 1966.
[6] Since both the analytical consciousness and the perceptive consciousness - or should I say awareness? - were both of an extreme tangible reality, although the latter was a short episode within the life-long presumably analytical... which one stands the test for truth? Just because it is always a wise idea not to trash ideas, and for the benefit of those who love ESP (Extra Sensory Perception): did I experience one of the past geological eras when the Earth's poles were reversed? Or did I experience the time, which will come, when the Earth's poles will be once more reversed? Should I interpret it in this wise: "A young lady, entering the physical laboratory [Engineering College, Cooper's Hill] and seeing an inverted image of herself in a large concave mirror, na´vely remarked to her companion: "They have hung that looking-glass upside down."? [6-a]
[6-a] The World of Mathematics , Volume II, p. 1107- Janes R. Newman - Simon and Schuster - New York - 1956.
[7] Arthur Koestler - The Roots of Coincidence - Richard Klay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk - 1972.
[8] On the neurological side it appears that it easier to state what consciousness is not since it depends on that tangled mass of tiny internuncial neurons called the reticular activating system, anatomically the central core of the brainstem, which extends from the top of the spinal cord, or caudal medulla, through the brainstem all the way up to the thalamus and hypothalamus, viz., to the rostral midbrain, attracting collaterals from the sensory and motor nerves and, as well, lines of command to several major areas of the cortex and probably to all the nuclei of the brainstem, besides sending fibers to the spinal cord where it influences the peripheral motor and sensory nerves. Here it is where general anesthesia, by deactivating its neurons, produces coma, which is defined as the total absence of awareness of self and environment. Stimulating the reticular activating system through an implanted electrode in most of its regions wakes up a sleeping animal. As a reflection of its internal excitability and by the titer of its neurochemistry it is capable of grading the activity of most other parts of the brain. Patterns of self-aware consciousness and conscious behavior in man depend on the integrity of an aroused cerebral cortex and coma, particularly metabolic coma in its early stages, and deep sleep share many behavioral characteristics. But waking and sleeping reflect primitive vegetative functions while the sleep-like quality of coma reflects a state of temporary inhibition of arousal mechanisms, a form of reticular 'shock'. Behavioral appearance of physiologic sleep and pathologic clouding of consciousness overlap and often seem to blend together in the presence of cerebral dysfunction.
[9] Fred Plum & Jerome P. Posner - The Diagnosis of Stupor and Coma - F .A. Davis Company, Philadelphia - 1982.
[10] Behaviourist psychologists in particular, whose science keeps animals and humans seemingly unconscious on the same pedestal.
[11] At this point you must forgive me if I cite subjective experiences but not being a scholar, nor even one of these specialists whose knowledge is indeed very great concerning very little, [11-a] I have no case-study archives unless I dig within my available literature.
[11-a] To quote Professor H. J. Esyenk: "Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they have specialised, are as just ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous...." - Quoted by Arthur Koestler in "The Roots of Coincidence" - Pan Books Ltd - 1972.

 


Lady of the Two Lands in the Shrine is Thy Name
The Mooring Pin
Life and Brains
Brains and Life
No-Brain and No-Mind
Deus Ex Machina