Friday, March 26, 2010
The Brothers Karamazowsky: Two Dimensional Model
(Link for the previous Section of The Brothers Karamazowsky.)
I slept well. I dreamt of Alex sitting at the piano playing music that had never existed before; never heard and felt by another human before. I woke to a similar rhythm, chords of rain on the windows. I jumped out of bed, anxious to get through my morning rituals so I could learn even more from Alex.
I walked over to the desk, but my eyes were on the largest piece of artwork in the room. The entire wall looked like an impressionist painting of the valley. However, the more I stared, the more I became aware of the movement. The drops of rain gave the illusion the world was slowly melting away and running down some hidden drain.
I looked at the drawing under glass. There was something very familiar, like I had seen it somewhere else. I felt led to look at the signatures. Something was missing. I could feel it.
It wasn't until after my shower, when I made a swipe at the mirror to remove the steam, it hit me: there were no signatures from the other members of Halley's Comet. None of the members of Alex's old band had been in this guest room. In fact, I hadn't seen any proof of Alex's time in Halley's Comet.
Alex was sitting at the kitchen table. I smiled and he nodded in acknowledgment. I poured myself a cup of coffee and headed towards the stairs.
"Where are you going?", Alex asked.
"I'm ready for the two dimensional talk. I guess I'm kind of anxious to see the next visual aid", I responded.
"Actually, we need to talk about some more background before we go to the den. Have a seat", he said as he pushed a chair away from the table with his foot.
I sat down, putting my copy of "The Romantic Manifesto" on the kitchen table and looked eagerly at Alex.
He began to slowly lean forward, however, it wasn't for dramatic effect. This was not a performance. His movement was a precarious shifting of his self, his thoughts, to a balance over his own center of gravity. When he finished moving, he spoke, his voice serene...
"We need to go over how the conscious brain works. If we take a big step back, we see there are two feedback loops making up the activities in the conscious brain. The first feedback loop results in a 'full thought'. All the information in the conscious brain is arranged in the dendrites. The word 'dendrites' comes from the greek word..."
"Trees", I interrupted.
"Yes...and under a microscope, the dendrites in your conscious brain look like trees. They have a trunk and many branches. The more intelligent a person is, the more branches stemming from the trunk will be connected to other trees. The first feedback loop begins with a stimulus. For example, it could be this cup of coffee. The smell triggers the conscious brain to search for a tree containing information similar to this stimulus. The conscious brain then selects a branch. That branch has a connecting thought and an associated emotion. For instance, the aroma of this coffee could trigger my brain to choose yesterday's cup of coffee as the connecting fact and the associated emotion could be happiness because I was interacting with the girls from the airport at the time. The first feedback loop has been completed."
I wanted to summarize, "The stimulus led to a connecting fact and an associated emotion. Smelling the coffee reminded you of the happy feelings you felt yesterday when you were drinking coffee. Is that a 'full thought'?"
"Yes. You can choose to repeat this first feedback loop with the full thought as the stimulus...and the resulting full thought would become more complex. Or you could move on to the second feedback loop", he responded staring into the cup as if he hoped to see something more than just coffee swirling around in it.
This seemed pretty straightforward to me and I wanted to get through this background as soon as possible.
"I'm ready to cover the second feedback loop", I pleaded more than stated.
"So far, everything we have discussed is electrical. Next, the full thought gets converted into a chemical and sent to the amygdala. The amygdala is a fascinating part of the brain. It is almond shaped and tied to the unaware brain. It is a library with a record of every emotional perspective you have ever experienced...tracing all the way back to your time in the womb!", he stated with a smile.
I didn't know if I believed this and he seemed to know what I was thinking.
He stood next to the fresh pot of coffee and continued, "The amygdala is both electrical and chemical. It has more connections to the trees in your conscious brain than the conscious brain has to the amygdala."
Alex was beaming brightly now. He took a quick sip of coffee, put the cup on the counter and then explained the following using both of his hands.
"The amygdala can overload the conscious brain with electrical information...much more than the trees can handle", he said has he motioned to his right with his right hand. He continued, "and the amygdala can fog the conscious brain with chemicals. The amygdala can actually bring the conscious brain to a halt!", he said as his hand cut swiftly through the air and stopped abruptly, illustrating excitedly the movements of the brain.
"What happens to the person?", I blurted out.
"The amygdala and the conscious brain are supposed to work together to determine the actions of the person. However, if the person's amygdala takes over, his actions will happen...and he won't remember it! Have you ever seen someone go into a blind rage? The person's amygdala takes over the actions of the person and the conscious brain is not involved at all...to the point the person is not even conscious of what they have done!", Alex stated.
"Is that the end of the second feedback loop?", I asked.
As Alex sat down, he said, "No. After the person takes an action, all the information is converted to a physical chemical and sent to the person's short-term memory to await the last step. The completion of the second feedback loop occurs when the person chooses to file away this chemical information in the trees of their brain as electrical information."
Alex sat down and continued, "Notice what information is represented by this chemical..."
Alex held up both hands in the form of two fists, "The stimulus, which is a fact." He put up the first finger on his right hand.
"The connecting fact and the associated emotion", he said as he put up the second finger on his right hand and the first finger on his left hand, respectively.
"How the person's amygdala felt about the full thought, which is an emotion", he said as he put up the second finger on his left hand.
"Finally, the person's action, which is a fact, and how he felt about his action, which is an emotion", he said as he put up the third finger on each hand.
He continued, "The information on this chemical consists of three facts and three emotions. The information put back into the conscious brain is half fact and half emotion." Then he leaned towards me and said, somewhat louder than a whisper, "The person has just remade their conscious brain with information that is half fact and half emotion."
Alex leaned back as if to give me more room to sort through the treasure he had unearthed.
"Okay, let's see how much of this I understand. First, the completion of the second feedback loop results in the conscious brain getting half fact and half emotion...which is why the trees of the brain give both a connecting fact and associate emotion with each stimulus.."
"Was that a question?", Alex asked.
I wanted an answer, so I said, "Yes".
"Yes, that is why the conscious brain has an associated emotion with every fact."
"You said remake...we remake our brain. What do you mean?", I asked.
Alex said, "Every day, you end up with a better or worse brain than you had the day before. You are able to choose every day whether your brain becomes better or worse."
"Choose? How could we have a worse brain when we remake it?", I asked.
"We can choose not to remake it", he said.
"You said...", I started.
"I said if the person chooses to do the last step of the second feedback loop. The chemical is in the short-term memory. If the person does not choose to put the information into their trees within forty-eight to seventy-two hours, the body burns the chemical away as heat energy...and it is lost to the conscious brain", he responded as he glanced out the kitchen window.
"What happens to the conscious brain? How do you choose to put the information away?", I was growing anxious and I didn't know why.
"You choose to put the information away by processing it. Talking with someone. Writing it down. Journaling about your day. Even simply sitting and remembering the events or conversations that occurred. Any intentional act involving the event that is done after the event occurs. As for what happens to the conscious brain, the individual actually has a record of the event in his amygdala and in at least one other cell in his body. However, the resulting stress occurring due to the difference between the information in the body and the lack of the same information in the conscious brain causes the body to produce toxic chemicals. These chemicals can cause physical illness."
I watched as Alex drank the last of his coffee and set the cup on the counter. He moved towards the stairs and continued, "More and more, medicine is finding the cause of our physical illness is our thought process. Choosing not to consciously think is actually choosing to damage your brain and body. Are you ready?", he said as he gestured towards the stairs.
"Sure! By the way, how is Benjamin doing?", asking as I set my empty cup on the counter next to his.
Alex had turned to go down the stairs, however, my question about the guitarist in Halley's Comet caused him to freeze. Alex paused, then began walking down the stairs as I caught up to him.
"He's fine...great...doing very well. He's got his own band now", he said.
"So you have a different guitarist? How are the rest of the guys doing?", I asked.
As Alex unlocked the door, he said, "We've all gone our separate ways. They are not in Alexander Sky."
When the door opened, I was anxious to look for the next drawing. As I took a step through the door, I tried to look past Alex to the wall of art, however, my view was immediately blocked. Alex put his left hand on the bottom of the ship with balloon sails and caressed the length of its hull as he walked past it.
By the time I got to the chair, the two dimensional drawing was easy to spot, but I did not see the three dimensional drawing.
"Where's the three dimensional drawing?...or are there only two dimensions to this explanation?", I asked.
Alex smiled as he sat down behind his desk. "There is a third dimension to this model, but we won't be using a drawing to explain it."
I sat down in the chair. It was facing Alex. The two dimensional drawing was closer to Alex and didn't require him to come out from behind his desk to reference it.
Alex, opened his copy of "The Romantic Manifesto" and said, "Remember, we saw the sense of life happens for a cause. The unaware brain...the amygdala even...is the way it is because of a prior cause. Let's look at the cause. On page six, Ayn wrote: Psycho-epistemology is the study of man's cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious. She used the same model on the unaware brain and its interaction with the conscious brain as we saw her do yesterday for the conscious brain."
Alex continued reading on page 16: "A sense of life is formed by a process of emotional generalization which may be described as a subconscious counterpart of a process of abstraction, since it is a method of classifying and integrating. But it is a process of emotional abstraction: it consists of classifying things according to the emotions they invoke - i.e., of tying together, by association or connotation, all those things which have the power to make an individual experience the same (or a similar) emotion. For instance: a new neighborhood, a discovery, adventure, struggle, triumph..."
As I underlined this section, Alex explained, "This is an excellent explanation of the amygdala. The amygdala files everything we've experienced with the emotions it invokes. So, there are several events able to lead to the same emotional response from the individual. Notice, the fact there are several different causes resulting in the same emotion can make it appear the emotion doesn't have a cause...however, Rand is proving how and why every emotion actually has a cause whether the individual realizes it or not."
Alex continued to read from the same page, "Which particular emotions will be invoked by the things in these examples, as their respective common denominators, depends on which set of things fits an individual's view of himself."
Alex flipped pages and said, "Turn to page thirty-seven. Notice, Ayn wrote the cause of these emotions is in the control of the individual...the emotions are an effect of the individual's view of themselves."
I turned to page 37 and followed as Alex read, "The ultimate psycho-epistemological function is the same: a process that integrates man's forms of cognition, unifies his consciousness and clarifies his grasp of reality."
Alex put the book down and looked at me, "Ayn wrote the goal of all of this is to integrate reality into the conscious brain...to complete the second feedback loop! The unaware brain has a role in making the conscious brain better or worse."
Alex then gestured to the two dimensional drawing.
Alex explained as he pointed to the one dimensional drawing, "The reason I use the term dimensions is because we don't forget about the prior model, we are actually building on top of it. Just like a square doesn't abandon the line. The square is actually made up of the line and something more. The Two Dimensional Model builds from the One Dimensional Model. At the end of the One Dimensional Model, the individual exhibited a behavior resulting from the conscious brain and/or the unaware brain. We saw what they said and did was arrow number three."
Alex pointed to the two dimensional drawing, "This behavior now becomes something the individual's five senses can perceive. So, the Two Dimensional Model now uses the words and actions as a starting point which is arrow number three. This information makes it back to the individual which is the arrow with the word 'four' next to it. Then this information is sent to the brains which is the arrow with the word 'five' next to it. Remember, whether the individual chooses to acknowledge his own words and actions consciously or not is an act of volition. However, his unaware brain will always recognize his words and actions."
I looked at the drawing and realized something. I got up and pointed to the "vines" coming out of the aware brain and stated, "These are the trees of the conscious brain!"
Alex said, "Yes. The conscious brain perceives the behavior and has a choice, Ayn called it volition, to complete the second feedback loop by putting this information into the trees so the conscious brain is reconciled with the unaware brain. Rand said it this way..."
Alex picked up the book and read from page 15, "To the extent to which a man is mentally active, i.e., motivated by the desire to know, to understand, his mind works as the programmer of his emotional computer - and his sense of life develops into a bright counterpart of a rational philosophy. To the extent to which a man evades, his programming of his emotional computer is done by chance influences; by random impressions, associations, imitations, by undigested snatches of environmental bromides, by cultural osmosis. If evasion or lethargy is a man's predominant method of mental functioning, the result is a sense of life dominated by fear - a soul like a shapeless piece of clay stamped by footprints going in all directions. (In later years, such a man cries that he has lost his sense of identity; the fact is that he never acquired it.)"
I gave a low whistle and began to speak when Alex said, "It gets better...page seventeen." Alex read, "It is obvious what immense psychological consequences will follow, depending on whether a man's subconscious metaphysics is consonant with the facts of reality or contradicts them."
I responded, "Wow. I take it none of this was physiologically proven when Rand wrote this."
Alex's eyes were on fire, "None of it."
"Well, then, the implications of...", I started.
Alex leapt to his feet and stood in front of the wall of art. He said, "Now you are going to see why our culture is in the condition we are in today. Remember, Ayn wrote this book in the 1960's. What I'm about to read is from a person forty years ago warning us about what will happen in the future."
Alex, found page 18 and read the following as if he had written each word, "By the time he reaches adolescence, a man's knowledge is sufficient to deal with broad fundamentals; this is the period when he becomes aware of the need to translate his incoherent sense of life into conscious terms. This is the period when he gropes for such things as the meaning of life, for principles, ideals, values and, desperately, for self-assertion. And - since nothing is done, in our anti-rational culture, to assist a young mind in this crucial transition, and everything possible is done to hamper, cripple, stultify it - the result is the frantic, hysterical irrationality of most adolescents, particularly today. Theirs is the agony of the unborn - of minds going through a process of atrophy at the time set by nature for their growth."
Alex put the book down and looked up to the ceiling, "Forty years ago, Rand called our culture anti-rational! What do we have today?"
Alex sat down behind his desk and said, "Ayn is saying adolescents ought to be encouraged to think so they can process the causes of their sense of life. So they can synchronize their conscious brain and unaware brain." Alex gestured back to the two dimensional drawing. "What comes out arrow number six is everything! The individual's response to their own actions is the difference between sanity and madness...and it all depends on how the individual handles arrow number five, the individual's choice to acknowledge their words and actions."
I muttered, half to myself, "Adam failed because Brian McLaren encouraged him to ignore arrow number five..."
Alex nodded. "Adam was encouraged not to think...and the result was his brain was crippled and atrophied because he hadn't handled arrow five consciously. He did not choose to consciously think about his words and actions in response to teaching others not to think. However, his choice to not think became an arrow number three. It began a new cycle of words and actions...and his decision to handle the number five arrow resulting from choosing not to think caused him to become bitter and disappear."
As I pondered this and what ought to have happened, I remembered something I had learned about the Old Testament.
"Alex. Did you know every boy living in Israel during Old Testament times spent his life through adolescence memorizing the first five books of the Bible? We should be teaching every kid the Bible", I stated.
Alex quickly responded, "The last thing I would teach kids is the Bible..."
I tried to interrupt, but Alex held up his hand and kept talking even louder, "...because if you teach the kids the Bible incorrectly, you will damage them for life."
I blurted out, "I said the kids of the Old Testament memorized the Bible...they weren't taught it."
Alex looked me in the eyes and said with perfect enunciation, "I would agree with you, if you could assure me no one would teach these kids the Bible."
He held my stare long enough that I realized both of us hadn't blinked yet. Then I realized he had realized it...and the more I thought about it, the more I felt my eyes drying out...and I blinked.
Alex held his stare a second longer and very formally picked up his copy and said, "Remember, this choice to file away the information in the conscious brain literally recreates the brain every day. Ayn had another way of looking at it: What he does not know is that every day of his life is judgment day - the day of paying for the defaults, the lies, the contradictions, the blank-outs recorded by his subconscious on the scrolls of his sense of life. And on that kind of psychological record, the blank entries are the blackest sins. Rand called every day judgment day, because every day we get rewarded or punished for the choice we made to improve or damage our own brains. She even realized not finishing the second feedback loop was the worst thing a person could do. Something medicine is only now just confirming."
I underlined that passage on page 19. Alex continued, "Rand also understood the first feedback loop. Her focus was every fact put into the trees of the conscious brain was there in the form of words, so definitions are important."
Alex read from page 69, "Definitions are the guardians of rationality, the first line of defense against the chaos of mental disintegration."
Alex said, "The individual can only be intentional if he understands the internal process so he can do it intentionally. Ayn wrote on page forty-five, ...until a man is able to distinguish his inner processes from the facts which he perceives, he remains on the perceptual level of awareness. Intentionally choosing to not use the inner process is the same as encouraging brain damage."
As I was taking notes and underlining, I asked "Is there any way to change the unaware brain intentionally?"
Alex flipped through some pages and found what he was looking for on page 19. He read, "A sense of life, once acquired, is not a closed issue. It can be changed and corrected - easily, in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a longer, harder effort in later years."
"I think I'm getting this. It's the same for an athlete or a musician", I said. "Practice is conscious brain. Playing is unaware brain. What a person is able to do while they are unaware brain is dependent on what they chose to do when they are conscious brain. The person forms the habit with the conscious brain and the habits serves them when they are unaware brain."
Alex beamed, "Choosing not to intentionally think is choosing to be an animal. The person tries to avoid being guilty or wrong by believing they haven't made a choice, yet the resulting destructive behavior is an effect of some cause."
I added, "However, their unaware brain would know they are wrong. It would be trying to tell the person they are choosing to be destructive."
Alex nodded, flipped back to page 16 and said, "Remember, the unaware brain communicates with the conscious brain through feelings. Rand explained the cause of this with the following: Which particular emotions will be invoked by the things in these examples, as their respective common denominators, depends on which set of things fit an individual's view of himself. The Two Dimensional Model shows how the individual changes themselves by the conscious brain and unaware brain choosing whether to take in the individual's actions through the five senses."
Alex put the book down and said, "We can cover the Three Dimensional Model this afternoon if you'd like."
I asked, "How does all of this explain when God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Pharaoh didn't make any choices..."
Alex said, "When would you like to cover the Three Dimensional Model? You only have, what, a couple of chapters left?"
"Alex, what's Ayn's explanation for God hardening Pharaoh's heart?", I repeated.
Alex responded, "We aren't talking about the Bible..."
"What?!", I almost yelled, "Does Ayn have an explanation for what God did or not?"
Alex stood up and said, "We are not talking about the Bible. We are talking about the human brain."
"What's the problem? Have you not read the Bible?", I asked.
"I know too much about the Bible!", Alex spewed. "My dad was a pastor...", and he suddenly went silent.
"Your dad was a pastor? Where? Did he retire? Is he...", I caught myself before I said "dead".
Alex got up to motion me out the door.
"Are you going to answer any of my questions?", I asked.
Alex said nothing.
It suddenly occurred to me, "Alex, I don't know anything about you! I've shared everything about me and you haven't shared anything about yourself...nothing truly personal. Why do you think you are so different from Adam? I didn't know anything personal about him either! How much did your band know about you? Is that why they don't talk to you any more? Halley's Comet! Did you name it that because it is how often you open up to others?"
Alex stood erect, taking every sentence without wincing, without reacting at all. However, with the last comment, his eyes narrowed. His lips pursed. He responded as if he was being tortured, "Actually, the name came from the beginning of 'Atlas Shrugged'. In the first chapter, Dagny is asleep on the Transcontinental Line, which she nicknamed 'The Comet'. She is awaken by someone whistling one of Richard Halley's concertos. It was for her emotional and consciouse response to that piece of music I named my band."
Alex exhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and recited the following passage:
"It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance."
Alex's breathing was eratic as he bowed his head. Then with everything he had in him, he said, "We will finish your stay this afternoon. Now...please leave me alone."
I turned quickly, looking for the most direct route out of his den. Walking direcly towards the door I was taken aback by the large ship looming over my head. Instinctively I ducked to the right. As I passed underneath the suspended vessel, I saw it...
On the wall of art, in the lowest corner, inches from my nose, there was the stem of a flower lying across the covered keys of a piano. I could not decipher the bud at the end of the stem...if it was about to bloom or beginning to wither. In one motion, I was striding out the door and up the stairs while my brain continued to display the image in my head...