Friday, 20 December 2013

Brain, mind you!

For once in a blue moon I looked for Elf instead of avoiding his presence.

The reason was easy enough, I was preparing a job about the interaction of brain and mind. I was trying to test my ideas with another being, and I felt reluctant to talk about this pseudo-scientific subject with other human beings since it was probable that they considered me as a freak.

When I told all this to Elf, his expected answer was, of course:

- Which you are!

I let the remark go unanswered, I was asking advice not trying to start a skirmish.

Seeing I was serious about the topic, he hide a smile and asked with perfect composure:

- What have you in your mind?

-Not in my mind, mind you, I said trying to show him I am as good a punster as he is, - but in my brain

And I started to explain to him the theory that "the mind" is a kind of effluence of the active processes which start in the brain and are determined by many variables, such as experience, health, feelings, et al.

Where I envisioned a difficult task, it was not so. Elf posed as a royal guy, listened to my explanations with a look of attentive stance on him.

I explained the modern theory of mind from brain, developing a good defence of the ideas sustained by important scientific men as Robert J. Sternberg,  Roger Penrose, Stuart Hameroff, and other eminent men in the study of this theme.

As I progressed in my lecture, and seeing the gnome was not interrupting me as is his whim, I grew in confidence and talked about the experiments that proved the way the ontological mind emerged from the brain (all with those spiky words as "ontological" which I was not too sure I understood its meaning, designed to impress the imp).

When I finished my serious speech, Elf turned on his heel, and without a word lost himself into the Archive.

I was stunned, I didn't know if he was showing his contempt for my work, or if he felt insulted, or what...!

I was just starting to walk out of my mind, and look for another audience when he came back from the Archive with a piece of paper in one hand, and a dark blue crayon in the other.

Still baffled, I asked him:

- Why a dark blue crayon? I was almost sure there was a dark reason to use that color

He looked at me with that expression of commiseration he uses for all my questions, and shaking his head answered slowly as if he were doubtful of my understanding capacity, he said:

- Because, as incredible as it may be, this was the ONLY crayon that I could find in the box!

Looking at me askance, he started to draw, after a while he looked his work putting the paper far from his head, added a point, or a line, here and there, and then show it to me asking:

-Do you know what is this? I looked at him first trying to find if he was ironic, but could not find any trace of irony in his voice.

Then I looked at the paper:

- Yes, I was laconic, not knowing where he was going.

The picture was of a human arm with a hammer in attitude of hitting an iron nail into a wooden block.

When he was satisfied I have seen the drawing fully, he asked:

- Where is, as per your understanding, the will to hit the nail? In the arm? or in the hammer? Just forget about the rest of the human body for a while.

Still confused, I tried to answer my best option:

- In the arm , it was a guess, of course, but the arm was at least human, while the hammer was not! So it stood to reason that he arm could handle a "will", and the hammer did not.

- Right, answered the sprite to my relief. And then added, destroying my relief, -Partially

- Now, which one is the brain, and which other is the mind? asked my Nemesis, adding bewilderment to trepidation.

- I... I... it seems as if the mind is the hammer, and the brain is the arm. I was so perplexed as an African camel in a fog! I tried to associate the arm to the brain since both are in the same body, so I was left with the discomfort to pair the mind to the hammer.

- Exactly wrong, Elf said this with a smile so it does not looked as an insult! But, I was not sure!

- Look, the idea came to the mind, the brain accepted it, and they both hit the nail... But, and mind this big, big BUT, if the brain is damaged, the mind will still want to hit the nail (you can see this in handicapped persons wanting to do something but prevented for the lack of instrumental body), so which one is the master and which one is the instrument?

- If... if you put it like that... I was so much flummoxed, I could not but speak hesitantly.

- There you are, now, where are those "brainy" ideas of so famous scientist about the mind being exuded by the brain? What they forget is René Descartes simple postulate: I think, then I exist.

This is a simple way to say I am the mind, then I can use my brain (the instrument, or the hammer in my drawing) to express my mind needs and desires in this reality.

Did you understand this little puzzle?

Before I could collect my scattered brain cell to express my mind ideas, he went again into the Archive, and I could hear him mumbling something about "this poor humans, always taking reality by the tail".

I promise I could not understand his whispers, but his voice was full of pity.

The music is a fragment of "Mindfulness" by Hans Enrik Bay.

© 2013 Od Liam.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Darkness surrounded the isolated house, high trees mixed their lower boughs with the low shrubs that covered most of the place. Silence was ominous, not even the doleful hooting of owls, so common on the isle, were heard.

My heart beating at an inconceivable rhythm seemed near to collapse, my mind working overtime was very clear, dread spreading over my soul gripping it in its talons and bringing it to the feeling of being high on a promontory and ready to jump to emptiness.

There was no promontory, only this desolate piece of land with a horrid cabin in the middle of a hideous forest.

Why I felt this strange sense of high rocks? It was so vivid I almost faint of fright!

The owls' hoots? Common on the island? How do I know there are owls, and that I am on an island?

Preposterous thoughts vied to gain access to my awareness, I seem to remember...

No, I do not remember how I reached here, I was in a blank state and then the fetid breath of the island soil reached me without warning.

There must be a rational explanation, always there is a rational explanation, but at the moment it eluded me. I could only experiment the abominable, the obnoxious, and awful felling of being pushed into the snout of evil.

I approached the cabin, my quivering hand reached by its own volition the rusted clasp that was used to lock it, the atmosphere was charged with small sparks apparently coming from my own body.

I do not want to enter there!

What pushes me into it?

What weird force urges all my being into an action so revolting I would die if let my body performs it?

How can I stop this... this terrible compulsion heaving my viscera, and making my heart hit my throat in desperation?

The door turned with a high shriek of rusty and decayed hinges, but the noise was attenuated by the thick silence of the woods.

To my harried senses appeared a point of light over the wooden table that was  miraculously held erect by a lonely leg.

The tiny light grew quickly, and scathingly into a high pitch howl that slowly changed from the Banshee Cry it was performing into the... clock alarm.

The music is a fragment of "It's Alive" from Oldboy movie Sdtrk.

© 2013 Od Liam.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Faith, that jolting experience (II)

When you find a person who believes the deity is a constant and real presence, you find a rare phenomenon in the soul of this person (yes, supposing the soul exists; if you feel awkward with this notion you can call it whatever you want since there is no doubt that an intangible “something” lives inside our heart, skull, or mind that we call “I”).

The first surprising fact you find when you look close to the beliefs “owned” by this religious person is that those beliefs are a certainty, the person “knows” God exists, “knows” He is in charge and “knows” that despite the unsecured sight we have of the world at large, there is a Plan, a Design to be followed up to a Happy End, childish as this seems.

This surprising fact is the basal stone which has maintained religious Faith alive through so many years since the first of us opened the eyes to the wonderful sense of being aware of the difference between the rest of the world and that sentience called “I”! This “knowing” fills up the vacuum in our soul so aplenty that life takes a new and wonderful meaning.

The mystics, who have experienced the sense of the divine, are so strongly attached to the anchor of belief that it is a certainty. And, wonder of wonder, those whose experience were not mystic develop a strange certainty almost as strong as that of the mystics.

What makes all this possible? How can a person “create” something so incredibly wonderful? Theologians’ explanation is that no person create it since it is too big a notion as to be thought by a human being, so what?, well, as incredible as it may seem, the explanation states that it was revealed by the owner of every space in the Universe, included souls, God Himself. Agnostics sustain it is a psychological reaction. Choose the one you like more.

The simple fact that every one of the creatures are so tightly bonded to the Creator can develop a strong and secure sense as to close the gates to insecurity and vulnerability.

Be this true or not, this Faith moves mountains and makes people better in their own ways since it removes the need to be defensive and guarded against the imponderable.

Compared to desacralized Faith this is Ambrosia, this is the Golden Fleece, this is the Shangri-la every one of us dreams about!

Unfortunately, these different “Faiths” have, as anything else in the universe, a dark side we know too well. Three mistakes named:

Fanaticism, fundamentalism, bigotry.

Deeply seated in those insecure feelings we develop in life facing uncertainties is the need to keep safe our beliefs; those beliefs that give us a harbour for our fears, when our Faith is not based on something as strong as a God, or if you prefer as good as a psychological reaction, we feel threatened and anything that menace those beliefs are a menace to us, personally.

We “must” fight all and everything departing our paths. This fight is a distortion of real Faith. This gives birth to those three mistakes mentioned above and through them a myriad of errors, cruel actions, and dreadful attitudes.

Starting from this narrow lane of thought humankind had divided into factions, each faction had created new concepts to keep its needs addressed and, of course, as those concepts are not the same since the veneer of knowledge, intelligence, and culture are different, even those factions near enough to share some beliefs are far enough to dissent on basic things and ways of thoughts.

This is true in both situations. Scientific and religious beliefs have its divisions, and each one of them its followers, developing, by the way, many different manners of defining the same thing and a rejection, sometimes brutal rejection, of any definition not agreeable to theirs.

This is the well known, not written, principle that states we must destroy everything we do not understand or see different to us and our ways.

Difference is not wrong, WE are different in the manner of puzzle pieces are, if we just take the place we are designed for, the image appears clear and beautiful. But that is not the case, we think the image MUST be as we imagine it is, following our principles and beliefs (aka, tainted Faith, since it is tainted by our own ideas, or those inherited), so if we find a different piece in our puzzle, we try to cut and warp it to conform our idea of the whole, destroying that “different” piece in the process and thinking we did it a good turn.

We prefer to kill, since it guaranty there would be no remonstrance from that quarter, instead of trying to understand each other and be very much alive, as it was meant since we are born.

There is a long way to walk yet for humankind to accept differences, and with it faith as a reality as concrete as to produce actual facts, my guess is we will reach that stage but it would take many, many individual casualties to make humankind shine in its own glow.

The music is a fragment of Beethoven "3rd Symphony" by Jansoms BRSO.

© 2013 Od Liam.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Faith, that jolting experience. (I)


This essay is the product of a feverish mind, so if you are not in the mood of delving into unnecessary pseudo-psychological thoughts, which would be the normal human state, my advice would be to skip it, make a good sandwich, get a nice glass or cup of your most liked beverage, and skip this with grace and easiness.

Faith as a scientific interaction

We live in an agnostic world in the best case, or in a nihilistic one in the worst.

This seems the current definition of our western society nowadays, but it is far from the truth.

We cannot deny there is a strong tendency to create a concrete world, based on science (whatever this means) and where everybody who do not toe the line to these beliefs is considered crazy, simpleton or moron and must be left behind with no one glance back, a kind of ostracism if you do not “equal” the herd model. This is effective with teenagers and some adults in need of a self-esteem booster.

This culture tries its best to keep humankind with the feet on solid earth, I am sure its followers are absolutely convinced they are right and performing a good deed. The question here is about what difference they make on reality.

When you make an exhaustive analysis of this phenomenon you find in a surprising way that, despite the efforts realized to keep everything accounted for, we are dealing with a huge slice of that thing most dreaded by unbelievers: Faith.

From long ago in the western religious fields Faith is one of the three theological virtues: Faith - Hope - Charity. The order was not aleatory. Faith opens the way to mystic environment where, based in Hope, will find the final Charity (Absolute Love). This seems to be an unacceptable way to achieve things and knowledge in this world without faith, but…

What is the path to achieve knowledge in the actual world?

Premise - Test - Evidence.

These are the three virtues of science; as a complement of this path, anyone can walk it and repeat exactly the same situations and conclusions.

Now, few of us can follow this path since we have not the training to do so. So what are we really doing? We believe the scientists are saying the truth, we have, hrrmm… sorry, faith in their work.

Here you go! The world is based on faith, or it will not work, it is impossible for us, all of us, to test and prove everything and anything.

If we do not develop an open mind we restrain ourselves to narrow paths and clearly set close boundaries to our learning.

Something cannot be proved by a set of concrete rules? Well, maybe it does not exist or maybe it does but cannot be proven by a set of concrete rules! This open-minded feeling should be the gist of agnosticism, not the “not believe until proven” which is the demanding action of these days.

We must remember that if this “open-minded” business is good in itself, it is subjective.

You have never seen a ghost… they do not exist for you.

Right! I agree.

You live in a haunted house… and ghosts go bumping in the night, they are very real to you.

Right! I agree.

Listening to many agnostics, one would imagine that this appeal to authority as a criterion is unscientific, though perhaps nowhere is authority appealed to so unscientifically as by modern scientists and modern critics.

Now, can you tell me why should I accept “scientific” faith and not “religious” faith?
I can hear your answer: “Because whatever a scientist said can be proved… (I add) by another scientist!”. What about me; I am no scientist, so I must believe whatever scientists say.

Cool! I agree.

Now again, whatever any mystic says can be proved… by another mystic! What about me; I am not mystic, so I must believe whatever mystics say!

Cool! I agree.

Despite my thought may seem “unscientific” I think we are attaching too much belief to science and too little to religion. And it is not just coincidence but causality. Since the famous (often misquoted) statement from Marx about the “opium of the people”, we are riding a crusade backward, doing the same thing crusaders did against those infidels but now against those faithful.

And we must not forget that for each agnostic abusing a faithful there is a faithful abusing an agnostic, fundamentalism does not help in any field!

From a psychiatric point of view, human beings are very much as a vacuum box, this vacuum is the outcome of the poor control we have over ourselves and our environment.

Notwithstanding all the efforts we have exerted since we become aware of being alive we cannot predict a small event in the next seconds of our time with absolute certitude. Oh yes, we can, with a grade of exactitude written in the unreliable laws of statistics, say what is going to happen but there always is a number, sometime a large one, of variables that must be left out of our equation since we cannot, even with a computer, manage them all.

And yes, maybe in the future we will be able to do so, but not now, which is the time I am interested in since I am not sure (there we go about predictions) if I will be alive the next five seconds.

We can see we cannot master our person or our environment so we feel: insecure.

We know we are in the maelstrom of events that can change our life in seconds; this is the essence of our feeling insecure, unsafe, and vulnerable. This condition is what creates the vacuum in our core; this vacuum is a strong need to find a safe harbour, a place where everything is accounted for and make us feel sure of ourselves and our environment.

This vacuum attracts anything that can promise, not even give the certainty, but only the promise of that certitude, of that safe feeling of being secure. Hence the need to believe in something, anything, so we start to take Nature (capital N), Science, People, Anything, Nothing as the fulcrum of our beliefs, and use the lever to assert our insecurities.

In recapitulation, we have two paths in our secular Faith: we believe what we want to believe, or we believe nothing at all!

So much for desacralized Faith!

Now, just for the sake of balance let’s review the opposite, sacralized Faith, this somewhat discredited path, but let's make a separate room for it.

(to be continued)

The music is a fragment of "4th Symphony" by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Jansons BRSO

© 2013 Od Liam.