The Triumph of Linearity - Part 2 by Richard I. Goldberg : Guest Blogger for MyNDTALK

Friday, February 10, 2017

Michael Gazzaniga in his landmark book The Social Brain (1985) recruited a group of patients who had been treated with a Corpus Callosotomy, a surgical procedure intended to drastically reduce the effects of chronic epileptic seizures by splitting the brain of the patient at the corpus callosum. Gazzaniga observes that in a room full of people, half of whom had had the procedure, the casual observer could not differentiate the surgical patients from the non-surgical patients. As a neuroscientist, he was very interested in the effects of this procedure on the social functioning of patients. In keeping with this goal, he designed an apparatus that would expose images to one eye at a time. Because the optic chiasm had not been severed, the right eyes of the subjects could name the image to which they were exposed. So the visual signal from the right eye crossed over to the left hemisphere and entered Broca’s area where the visual perception could be converted into language. Thus, the subjects could name what they saw through the right eye only.

When Gazzaniga’s apparatus exposed the left eye of the subjects to a familiar image, the subjects could not name the visual perception. Gazzaniga did not stop there: he pushed the subjects to create a response to the visual perception. The responses of the subjects took on a pattern that will be familiar to any therapist who treats addictions. Some said they could see nothing, and some blamed the researcher for having bad equipment. So we have denial, rationalization, and externalization of responsibility (blaming the world.) The subjects simply could not name the visual perception and invented reasons why they could not.

These results suggest that a paucity of connection between the left and right hemisphere-of whatever origin-will lead the human brain down the path of denial, dissociation, rationalization and externalization. In 1992, a neuroscientist at Harvard, Martin Teicher, did scan studies on children who had been referred by Child Protective Services in Boston and compared them to the scans of normals. The children referred by protective services had a documented history of child abuse. In general, the scans of the abused children revealed brains that were smaller overall, and even more striking he found that all of the integrative parts of the brains of these abused children were severely compromised.

Years later, we understand that many of the effects of abuse have a home in the right temporal lobe of the brain. So the patterns out of which these children (and then adults) act, are relatively inaccessible, because of the tissue deficits in the integrative parts of the brain. The patterns are not expressed in language, they are expressed in the body. And the body is primed to detect threatening situations that are similar or identical to their treatment as children.

These people are hypervigilant or the opposite. In the words of Daniel Siegel, they suffer from rigidity, chaos, or both. They may flip back and forth, perhaps having no memory of the transition from one state to another or they may flip back and forth and feel shame and attempt to make amends with those in their social circle who were subjected to the flipping. In addition, they may rationalize their behavior by blaming the victims of their acting out. Long ago I interacted with an adolescent who pushed his mother down the stairs, and stepping over her broken body said to her “you shouldn’t have gotten in my way.” We have a diagnosis that we pin on individuals who behave in this manner. The diagnosis is sociopathy. Under the rubric as discussed above, we might say that this individual had minimal access to the part of his brain that understood the interconnectedness of all things and the meta- awareness of pattern. We can assert that this young man had minimal access to the area of the brain that is tasked with a felt sense of compassion. Stuck in rigidity, he blamed the world for any minor discomfort that he experienced.

I was an anthropology major as an undergraduate. I experienced what I would consider an excellent education that covered the full range of anthropological study. I even experienced an archaeological field school sponsored by Washington State University. In this 10-week field school on the coast of Washington State, I learned a tremendous amount about the ways in which anthropologists make inferences about culture given the artifacts discovered in sequential strata. Still, even given the deep and broad education that I experienced, I was not prepared for yet another view of culture as explicated in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers. I had insufficient appreciation for the power of culture as it shapes the day-to-day lives of the membership.

From my training with John Grinder, another anthropologist, I began to understand that culture creates a powerful altered state that shapes the world view of the members. I was still not prepared for what Malcolm Gladwell teaches (in his chapter entitled “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes”) that culture is so powerful that members lower on the power spectrum-even as close as a copilot is to a pilot-that the second in command cannot advise the first in command that the plane is flying into a mountain. Culture is so powerful that the members will go to their deaths rather than violate the norms of that culture. It could be argued of course that warfare is universal, though there are counterexamples to this claim.

 The culture in the world that exhibits the greatest power differential between the person at the top and even the second in command is Korea. One only need look at the totalitarian regime of North Korea to verify this assertion. The people starve and the person at the top uses precious resources to build intercontinental ballistic missiles and atom bombs. Even in the United States, we see a version of this patterning given the ratio of the defense budget to GDP as compared with the ratio of social programs to GDP. Now that the foxes are in charge of the henhouse, the linear thinkers will exploit their positions of power to enrich themselves and all of their cronies while blaming the victims of how we do business. Even Dwight David Eisenhower warned against the dangers of what he called “the military-industrial complex.” How ironic it is that today is the birthday of George Marshall, author and facilitator of the Marshall Plan. Marshall’s vision is responsible for the stabilization of the world via the stabilization of Europe. He was a true public servant who understood systemic wisdom.

So it can be assumed that culture recruits from the various modules of the brain that reinforce cultural norms. When the culture says “you’re not allowed to confront the pilot even though you’re going to die if you do not,” we can assume that the brain has been shaped from the earliest stages of development to amplify some modules while deemphasizing others. The short version of this is “you’re not allowed to know what you know.” Neuroplasticity is harnessed by practice of the cultural norms as teaching becomes patterning. Because I live inside of a culture, I have only minimal meta-views of that culture. There is an extremely humorous cartoon by Gary Larson picturing cows grazing in the field. One cow (presumably a more highly evolved cow) lifts up his head and says to his fellows “do you know this is grass? We are eating grass!”  This is the meta-view of the “cowture” that is the exception rather than the rule.

It is not a widely known fact that there is no gene for reading. Instead, the process of reading acquisition is a process that recruits multiple modules of the brain that is solidified through practice. The claim is made here that reading acquisition is an analog for cultural acquisition. Any student of multiple languages will report that using the language and patterning of another culture puts them inside of the culture in ways that cannot be imagined and must be experienced. In fact, after multiple crashes by KAL planes, the executives at the airline engaged the services of a consulting company with the goal of reducing or eliminating crashes caused by pilot error. Their strongest recommendation was that only English be spoken in the cockpit of the airplane. Evidently the modules of the brain recruited by English permit a more egalitarian relationship inside the control center of an airplane.

As we enter what I hope will be just a backwater of civilization, we need to celebrate - indeed bestow the highest honors on those among us who continue to ask the question “what is it that I do not know?”

© January 9, 2017 by Richard I Goldberg