The Triumph of Linearity by Richard Goldberg

Monday, April 2, 2018

I originally wrote this piece for myself as a kind of journal entry to enable me to make sense of the current political landscape. Since it was drafted, any number of things have emerged that (in my truth) confirm the utility of seeing the world through the lens as explicated below. Two current events come to mind as exemplars of these patterns.

The first is the inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary of the term “post-truth.” The second event is the story of a crusader who, having read an online account of Hillary Clinton’s child abuse ring in a pizzeria in Washington DC, packed his weapon in his car and drove to Washington and discharged his weapon in that nightclub. 

The notion of discharge is central to the pattern below. The tensions generated (by these “news accounts”) resonated with his body and registered in the right hemisphere – anxiety, fear, rage, depression, shame – drove the gunman to interrupt his daily life, spend time, energy, and money in an irresistible urge to right what he believed to be a wrong. 

The action enabled him not only to discharge his weapon; the action enabled him to discharge his tensions.

So we find ourselves at the Mad Hatter’s tea party as we move farther and farther away from language as an analog of reality. I am reminded of a journey I took to Europe in 1970. One of the destinations my wife and I had included in our itinerary was Yugoslavia. At that stage of history, Yugoslavia was still a communist country. At the border, when we asked the soldiers at the border
crossing about the best accommodations, their response was “all the same.” When we arrived in Bled and inquired about restaurants we were told that they were “all the same.” Not only were they never all the same, the pricing of the accommodations and the food were very different from place to place, and the comfort of the accommodations and the execution of the meals were very different. In Yugoslavia, I was continually reminded that you can’t eat the menu.

As we enter the era of post-truth, I would offer that the only measure of reality is consequence

Abraham Lincoln was said to have offered the following:

“You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time”

Ronald Reagan proved that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.

There is a monstrous irony that emerges in the interface between human neurobiology and human interconnectedness. Neuroscience has taught us that the connection between the left and right hemispheres of the human brain is much richer in women than in men. This would be only a mild curiosity were it not for the fact that the male brain exists inside of the body of the hunter upon whom the group is dependent. There is a biological--indeed genetic--driver that causes all cultures to “look up to” the male (especially the alpha male) of the group. For those who subscribe to Darwinian principles, the selective advantage of this orientation to the alpha male is obvious: the alpha male provides for the well-being of the group in many ways.

Even for the naysayers with respect to Charles Darwin, a simple bit of research will yield mountains of anthropological data that describe the pattern as above. Such inquiry will also yield yet another universal pattern, to wit: the females of the group overwhelmingly are in charge of the “how” of the interactions within the group.

At the level of neurobiology, there is a trivial leap of reasoning that goes as follows: the connectedness between the hemispheres of women being much more elaborate than those connections in men leave women in charge of the systemic awareness of the group-the how of group operations. We understand that the right hemisphere is the Relational Hemisphere and as such understands gestalts with far greater elaboration than the left hemisphere of the human brain.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, a self-confessed acronym addict, offers the acronym that allows us to characterize left hemisphere functioning: Left, Linear, Linguistic, Literal, Logical, Likes Lists. This is not to trivialize left hemisphere functioning as research is yielding more and more elaborate findings about how the left hemisphere contributes to the individual. We must remember that this is an emergent process as neuroscientists discover more about the brain. We know that the left hemisphere drives us to engage (while the right hemisphere drives us to withdraw). 

We also know that the left hemisphere is responsible for creating hierarchies. Thus a Rolls-Royce is higher on the food chain of automobiles than Ford. 

The field of Inter
personal Neurobiology as developed by Dr. Daniel Siegel enjoins us to strive in the direction of greater and greater integration of the left and the right (as well as eight more domains of integration). Dr. Siegel goes so far as to say that what we once called mental illness is no more than incomplete neural integration. He advocates mindfulness meditation and many other activities that create integrative drivers that measurably change the brain-making it more elaborate in its interconnectedness.

We also know that sub-optimal family experience becomes stored in the right hemisphere which has no speech. Patterns that are stored in the right hemisphere emerge in our daily lives seamlessly and without effort. This notion of effortless versus effortful thought (first brought to my attention by Dr. Justin Frank, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University) dovetails beautifully with the concepts under consideration here. Effortful thought would be defined as something like “I want to do this because I’m uncomfortable,” yet I stop and weigh--as fully as possible—what the systemic implications of my actions are.  I suspect that Daniel Siegel would frame effortful thought as integrative thought. Dr. Frank argues that one of the hallmarks of adult functioning is the ability to tolerate ambiguity (when the right hemisphere butts in saying something like “yes, but…..”). Tolerance of ambiguity is effortful. 

Seen through the lens of effortful versus effortless thought, the person who buys a lottery ticket is seeking an external solution (effortless unedited pattern and of the left mode) for the pain of an internal pattern complex (effortful and of complex implications--right hemisphere) that will persist even after the lottery player actually wins the lottery. We know that a substantial percentage (70% or more) of lottery winners are in debt five years after having won the lottery. 

Planning for life as a wealthy person is effortful and requires the working through of unforeseen ambiguities on an almost constant basis. If my pattern is to accumulate objects and to share my largesse with anyone who comes to me with a sad story, then my pattern will persist even though I temporarily possess enormous wealth. As this story unfolds, the “law of unintended consequences” takes over because of my sub-optimal connection with my awareness of pattern inside of my own self.

These patterns seem to be as old as our recorded memories of our species. The philosopher Diogenes is misquoted as “looking for one honest man.” It could be argued that Diogenes major contribution to philosophy is his maxim to “first be skeptical of thyself.” This skepticism (under our major rubric) can be seen as a quest for awareness of patterns in the right hemisphere. The fact that Diogenes enormous contribution has been perverted into a left-mode-centered maxim is once again emblematic of how linearity becomes the central focus of human endeavor, leaving behind the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, yoga, and other spiritual practices.

These practices demonstrably increase the connections within the brain; these practices give us access to the elaborate, and some would argue wiser, parts of ourselves. Unless these wiser parts of ourselves are organized into functional committees (as in the construct of Internal Family Systems by Richard Schwartz), they will drive us back into the left hemisphere for linear solutions like “retail therapy.” 

I would offer here that the best mathematics describes pattern (patterns that are analogues of things as they are) and the vast majority of us report our eyes glazing over as we attempt to make sense of these symbolic representations.  When our eyes glaze over, we seek comfort food, alcohol, television, escapist novels, etc. In other words, there is safety and comfort in the left mode and the seeking of external 

The claim made is that the integration of action and systemic consequences is effortful. By contrast, even the most tone
deaf among us will be aware instantly of the accent of a Bostonian. When the Bostonian speaks, she does so with automaticity that is emblematic of effortless thought.

This accent is acquired in early development via the interpersonal neuronal system-sometimes called mirror neurons. When the mirror neuron system of a developing child is exposed to hatred of a particular group, this pattern will become encoded in the right hemisphere and will be inaccessible until it is triggered by exposure to the hated group. The neurologic process of the acquisition of hate is essentially the same process as the acquisition of the Boston accent. Though the right hemisphere does not carry language, it does carry the emotional modifiers of language. These modifiers include voice tone, timing and intensity of words, body posture, and facial expression. The Boston accent is such a modifier (to the words themselves) and one can imagine the nonverbal expression of rage, dismissiveness, and superiority of the speech of the White Supremacist.

Perhaps it would seem that the exception to this pattern would be a formally organized hate group like the White Supremacists. It could be argued that the membership gets its relational needs (right mode) met in belonging and the linear action is triggered in the presence of the hated object. Again, Dr. Siegel, in his simple, elegant, and brilliant construct of the "Plane of Possibility" would argue that the membership in such a group creates a perceptual filter that forms a "Plateau of Probability" above the plane. When the hatred object (most in our field would argue "feared object") is detected, the peak becomes higher still and we ACT (think "road rage"). Dr. Siegel calls this “Peaks of Activation.” This pattern takes us above the "Plane of Possibility" on which anything can happen. (Daniel J Siegel, The Mindful Therapist, copyright 2010, page 10)

Probably the most misquoted aphorism among our species comes from an engineer named Murphy. He is quoted to have 
said "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." What Murphy really said was, "Anything that can happen will happen." This seemingly minor misquote goes to the core of our species’ predisposition to linear thought. This misquote unpacks an unconscious awareness that linear thinking results in "unintended consequences." These consequences are unintended only if the systemically aware right hemisphere is minimally engaged.

Here the irony of our neurological organization emerges in its full flowering. In terms of the “how
” of pattern encoding, the Bostonian speaks as s/he speaks, and the learned hatred that is cherished by White Supremacists (stored in the right hemisphere) can take over the entire organism. The organism is aware only of the felt sense of hatred and thinks and acts congruently with that hatred. The organism believes in the rightness (righteousness) of its posture and belief system because that belief system was acquired from other organisms that had survived. 

Biologists call this “Darwinian Fitness.” Darwinian fitness is defined by biologists as the ability of an organism to live long enough to make copies of itself. If those who bore me survived long enough to produce me, it follows that EVERYTHING that comes from those who bore me must be part of my ability to survive. If hatred was part of the soup in which the organism developed, then hatred is part of what is necessary for survival. The above does nothing to obviate the possibility of personal evolution. The claim is only that a predisposition exists in the above context.

Elaborating still further on the irony, we find that the hunter (overwhelmingly the male) must make decisions very rapidly; decision-making is most rapidly and efficiently made in the left mode. There is literally no time in the bringing down of live animals to consider systemic consequences of this linear process. Modern evolutionary biology is teaching us that animal protein is the difference that has made a difference in the power of the human brain. 

All of the above would simply be another interesting curiosity were it not for the fact that the very brain under discussion is living longer and creating technology that increases the speed of potentially destructive activities. For example, the industrialist who is creating widgets is on 

an [hunting] expedition and therefore pays no attention to the toxic effluent created on this expedition and simply pumps it into a nearby stream. This hunter (because of a paucity of access to systemic awareness encoded in the right hemisphere) does not connect the industrial activity to the breast cancer contracted by his wife. Human beings-especially since the development of agriculture-have been rewarded for linear activity.

It may be simple coincidence or it may be gift of the universe.  An email was sent by a close friend this day that references the story of a papal bull issued by Pope Urban II. Urban, hearing stories of chaos driven by knights in all of Christendom, decided that three of his goals could be accomplished in one simple act. His three goals were to 1.) Focus the energies of these bored warriors; 2.) Consolidate the power of the Papacy, and 3.) Retake Jerusalem. His edict sent these warriors to the Middle East and he amplified their blood lust
with fabricated tales of Christian women being raped in Jerusalem and elsewhere. This was the First Crusade, and the world has been paying for his decision since the eleventh century. Urban died two weeks after he issued his bull.

Gregory Bateson, in a humorous retelling of the Judeo-Christian creation myth argues that “Adam and Eve became drunk on the possibilities” [of getting the apples high in the tree by a linear stacking of packing crates.] Bateson infers that the accumulation of these desired objects caused Adam and Eve to look askance at “weeds and pests “because these things interfered with the largesse of the harvest. Under this linear rubric, it is easy to forget that these weeds and pests were already present in the Garden of Eden.

This linear activity includes warfare. In times of warfare (existential threat) human beings look for comfort (fear lives in the right hemisphere) in alpha males. These alpha males have very little connection with systemic
understanding of the consequences of their actions, especially when technology can kill at a distance--so the left hemisphere senses the fear generated in the right hemisphere and it literally/logically/linearly sends a drone to neutralize the threat. Since the beginning of recorded history, demagogues have exploited existential fear of the relatively disconnected right hemispheres of the populace. The demagogue is rather like a small child who becomes bored in the bath and begins rocking and moving the water until the amplitude of the water movement becomes large enough to spill over the edges of the tub.

In the left mode, there is a belief that all is known. If we consider a movie projector in a darkened room and then ascribe consciousness to the movie projector, then the projector believes that what it projects is THE ONLY reality. This is a useful metaphor of
the left hemisphere acting alone. So this information flow can be seen in the following way:

The body sends a message to the brain (mainly to the right hemisphere) that it is under threat.

This existential message is transmitted to the left hemisphere to be acted upon in a linear/logical way so as to neutralize the threat.
The left hemisphere has no time, and often no inclination, to include an assessment of the systemic consequences of this linear action.
The claim here is that most human challenges can be conceptualized in the above manner. For example, drug addiction can be seen as a linear response to painful messages of sub-optimal experience (what is often called trauma) encoded in the right hemisphere. We now understand that these experiences are mainly stored in the right temporal lobe. Alcoholics Anonymous speaks to “persons
places and things” that are triggers for the urge to drink-- an example of this linear left mode response to distress. Triggers induce what has been called “mental time travel,” that is, our external reality resonates with (triggers) what scientists understand to be 
implicit-only memory. It must be emphasized here that this triggering process happens below the level of awareness and the organism simply “acts as if its life depended on that action.” 

Implicit memory is experience that has been encoded below the level of our awareness and is present in real time. The “real time” portion of this definition is what is produced when triggers are active.

If these memories are recalled (through work in Alcoholics Anonymous or psychotherapy), then they cease to be implicit-only memories and become either implicit or integrated memories. It is said in neuroscience that “a memory recalled is a memory modified.” Integrated memories create a sense of openness, resilience, and power. Power in this context refers to the organism’s sense of choice.

A useful metaphor of the above process is as follows:

A human child of perhaps 48 to 60 months of age is taken to the curb of an intersection so that this child may be taught to cross a street safely.
The child is told to look to the Left because the first car will come from the Left.
The child is then instructed to look to the Right because the next car will come from the Right.
Then the child is told to look to the Left again before entering the crosswalk to be sure that no danger is coming from the Left.

This process becomes “automatic” because patterns live in the right hemisphere. The pattern becomes so automatic that adults can carry on conversations as they cross the street or carry on conversations and chew gum as they cross the street, etc.  It should be noted that such learning may be explicit on the part of the custodial adult 


The developing human may simply use its social circuitry to encode the pattern without any explicit instructions (as in the process of the acquisition of a Boston accent).

The encoding of this pattern works perfectly until the human organism goes to London where the first car will come from the right. The outcomes of this pattern change are so alarming to authorities in Great Britain that instructions to “Look Right” are stenciled onto the streets of the city.

It is only the right hemisphere that can be aware of the possibility of alternative systems of traffic movement. We have a colloquial expression for this process-it is called “out-of-the-box thinking.”

Prose discourse is linear. Poetry signals to the brain that the right hemisphere needs activation. It is of interest that, in the main, poetry becomes prominent in times of loss-- there are more losses in life than deaths, for instance: weddings and births are major changes in the lives of those individuals who are producing children (and adopting children) and whose lives are joined together in marriage of whatever form.


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all members of our species seek comfort. When we lived as hunter-gatherers, comfort was experienced as belonging, procuring food, assembling, preparing and sharing of food, the working together to build shelters and to create clothing to protect members from the elements and caring for the sick. The promise of future comforts was accomplished in the raising of children as the playgroup became the hunting group and the shaman reinforced connectedness of membership in spiritual practices that resonated perfectly with the context in which the group existed. The genes of Homo 
sapiens evolved in this dance of group and environment.

The technological advance that began the disconnect of our species from the context in which we evolved, the disconnect of the left mode from the right mode, and the disconnection of one member of the group from another was the development of agriculture (and to a lesser extent the domestication of animals). These two forces began the perversion of the notion of connectedness as they allowed the accumulation of food and the accumulation of things. What does it mean when a person says “the one who dies with the most toys wins? “Anthropologists teach us that hierarchies (left mode) before agriculture, existed ONLY as they benefited the group as a whole.

So we find ourselves being led around by demagogues who understand our quest for comfort. They speak language
to our left hemisphere that cleverly stimulates our right hemisphere’s rage, fear, and loneliness and in the same sentence offer us a comforting resolution to the straw man they’ve created. “Lock her up, lock her up.” This sentence 
of course fits the rubric as above. We now live in a reality show that has no connection with reality. The greatest agony of all is the alienation that has been fostered in ourselves and from one another.

Another gift of the universe this day was news on National Public Radio of the release of the latest album by Metallica.  It is entitled Hard-Wired to Self-Destruct.

Nearly fifty years ago, I wrote a song that I called "Sweet Child." (© 1969, Richard Ira Goldberg) The verse that leaps to mind today is the following:

heroes hoverin' round me
And strong men swagger 
They'll never know where life went
When the limelight has gone cold.
Don’t stop to ask the meaning
sons of freedom land
But don’t you cry to see life thrown away
With such a steady hand?”

© Richard I Goldberg, LCSW-C  2016 - 2018