Saturday, March 07, 2009

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Watch Richard Restak on Neuroscience and Advertising
I have been reading Richard Restak’s 1995 book, BrainScapes, as part of our ongoing Spiritual Philosophy study, and I’m fascinated by what I’m connecting (literally) with what I read last year in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell discovered patterns of behavior in personalities who developed their interests into skills that put them ahead of the average person in their use of those applied skills and discoveries. He questions our assumptions about the inevitable result of innate or natural talent. (Bill Gates and Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems among other things, are familiar examples.) In his research Gladwell discovers a pattern of “immersion,” practice, development with a particular focus that is measurable in terms of hours and the numbers of hours in relationship to “success.” The number he comes up with is 10,000 hours of applied and persistent focus over time. His emphasis is that what he calls “outliers” (something out of the ordinary) reach their status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and “arbitrary advantage.” (Gladwell, 37)

In my interpretive reading, Restak, a brain scientist, explains how this pattern works in the brain, based on the research of the moment. Synapses occur because the chemical mechanisms cooperate in ways that prepare for the moment of transmission, create the chemical signal, and follow the transmission with one of two defined interactions - if all works according to the brain design. “Most neuroscientists now believe the organ remains malleable throughout life. Each thought and behavior is embedded within the circuitry of the neurons and, according to one hypothesis, neuronal activity accompanying or initiating an experience persists in the form of reverberating neuronal circuits, which become more strongly defined with repetition.” (38) Experiments involving neurosurgical patients show that a person cannot simply choose to be conscious of stimulation. A certain duration or “time on” of neuronal activity may be one factor separating conscious and unconscious brain functioning. Duration below a certain minimum does not change our level of thinking (conscious choice!). Restak gives examples, too, such as boxers and the patterning of their brains to instantaneously respond and thus their limbs “act” to support their highest potential of behavior in the given situation in the ring. More practice makes for better performance as the repetition occurs to expand these patterns of chemical interaction. If our patterning is “negative,” that is if we repeat our addictive behavior of drugs, alcohol, wife-beating, whatever degree of depression we are living, we are still reinforcing our brain patterning, but in a “descending” pattern, not an “ascending” pattern. Rather than civilizing our minds and therefore our lives, we are criminalizing them and abusing the internal intelligent design with which we are made.

This is even more fascinating to me because of what we are being taught in
Spiritual Philosophy as the “intelligent design” of us as energy and matter. As Restak writes, “At least in theory, all that we are and all that we have done could be read by an observer capable of deciphering the connections and circuits that have been established within our 50 billion nerve cells.” (38) Restak clearly explains the pattern of depolarization as it happens within the brain cells. Spiritual Philosophy teaches us to open our thinking mind, or to let our thinking mind open, to the energy of us as evolving consciousness – and thus begin to know ourselves as “eternal energy beings.” The “Now Is” reality of us as energy is defined, in physical terms, by how we live as individual human beings - by the activity within our brains, even as the research of today indicates. When we believe that we live more than one life as unique human beings, these patterns of brain activity, just as the patterns of our human interaction in all of our personal relationships, can be explained and understood – in their infinite potential.

The brain’s modules, sometimes widely separated groups of neuronal circuits, cooperatively create what none of them can do separately, Restak explains. I’m thinking about all of this in relationship to all I hear on the news about the “stimulus package,” views of what’s best for the collective, the necessary sacrifices and compromises, the action for the collective good in the “long run,” the ensuing debates and battles over outcomes and choices. As I think about how we live these levels within us, through our accumulated experience and memories, I recognize the patterns and how the proof of our learning is in how we are able to understand and live "consciousness” of the Ethical Values as our internal spiritual energy design. “Energy” and “spiritual” become redundant once we known ourselves. We are spiritual energy beings because of our design as energy experiencing matter through lifetime after lifetime. Without this knowledge, we habitually and repetitiously project images of ourselves and of the world as we perceive it, onto the screen of our “mind,” and we adapt our way of living to these images, sometimes forcing ourselves not to think any differently.

Spiritual Philosophy teaches us that philosophy is a way of life – thinking about ourselves as energy, and every application of our thinking mind, our energy fluxes, our joys, sorrows and spectrum of emotions, our infinite sensory expressions – are how we know who we are as we interact as energy expressions of the creative life force constantly in motion. We are not separate from the energy of events. We ARE the energy of the events of our lives. We create the energy of our interactions by the energy that we generate and live as energy beings!

I think about my father’s frustration and persistent attempt to “think through” and use his memory as he once did, and beyond. His advancing Parkinson’s disease, as we define the activity and symptoms today, showed disturbances and disruptions in the nerve communication of the basal ganglia in the brain, which affected every other energy function. Some days he had trouble orienting himself in the “past, present or future,” because the connections did not add up so his mind could make sense of his physical reality.

Constantly, today, we talk about memory. In the news are statistics about aging, memory loss, Alzheimers, about medications to improve memory function. With this, at the level of science, comes our perception of the chemical reactions that are deficient or in excess to create and affect memory function in our brains. Among people, we begin to talk about this as though it is “normal,” a normal aspect of our aging. We say things like, “you shouldn’t have that (memory loss) at your age!” Or, after all, you are 85.” What does all of this “thinking” tell us about our perceptions and beliefs about ourselves?

More and more, also, we are thinking, in our culture, about how to boost our brain power. We talk about “success” and how to use our brain more effectively. Every way we think is reflected in our physical lives. We are still trying to clearly understand form and function and the relationship of our energy as matter, yet to a large extent, many of us are not even aware of the question we are trying to answer. We relate the question to the level that we are living as a thinking mind. For example, if my doctor tells me my test showed my cholesterol is too high, how do I successfully change that?

These physical applications are just peripheral branches of the family tree which is what Aristotle called the eternal question: What is reality? This question isn’t “abstract." It simply means, in considering anything about life, what do we consider essential to it (or our relationship to it).

When I think about myself and my life, I think about the many details to attend to: food, water, sleep, bills to pay, schedules to keep, maintenance of all things physical. I am responsible for my life in all aspects. My mind has had to come to know and begin to understand that we are energy and matter, and the mind’s role in the creator of my quality of life as a functioning physical being before the haze of sensory fragmentation (depression) could clear. This is where Restak’s description of brain activity and the patterns of neural circuits supports the success of Spiritual Philosophy as our goal of a way of life as a civilized (ethical) being. The knowledge of the internal chemical energy design of us as Ethical Values raises or expands the consciousness of a thinking mind into a civilized cooperative response to creative life at higher and higher levels.

This is why it is fun to learn! The mind seeks answers. The duration of our stimulus in life determines the outcome of that stimulus,as that chemical interaction reflects our level of thinking (or knowledge). I feel depressed when I am not using my energy productively (creatively). I feel happy as I know myself better, and part of knowing myself better means I know “how I work!” As my Dad said, sadly, “It’s just pitiful!” – as he wanted to be able to DO what he wanted to do, and his energy and matter were not functioning at the level he remembered and had become accustomed to. This is how I understand the way memories work in our cells. My depression in my early life was the result of accumulation of energy buildup from my repetition of thinking and resulting behaviors over thousands of years as consciousness. My thinking mind wasn’t keeping up the pace that my consciousness is designed to live. That creates a shadow cast upon a life. The sun shines brightly when we have a Eureka moment. The warmth and heat of love brings us in from the cold of our thoughts of fear that are simply a physically patterned response, an awareness without true understanding, which satisfies the mind and motivates more, faster. This is why we cannot truly ever control another person. Our prisons and liberation are always first within our own mind.

Restak writes, “Later we will discuss why true knowledge may require reliance on a clever understanding of the brain’s process – the millisecond communi-cation within the networks of nerve cells widespread throughout the brain. “ (12) Socrates’ dictum that “virtue is knowledge,” supports this modern research of the brain, if we begin to think of ourselves as energy and matter expressing itself through this intelligent design of Ethical Values. No matter the “function” or role in life we choose, our virtue (the integrity of our function) depends upon our possession of the knowledge relating to that function. If we want to be a shoemaker, for example, the first thing necessary is to know what a shoe is and what it is meant for. It does no good spending time deciding on the best tools and material and methods without a clear plan in our mind of what it is we want to produce through our thinking and subsequent action based upon that knowledge. (Consumer reports are no help if we don’t know what we are looking for!) We ought to be able to describe the nature of the thing we want to produce and the use we will make of it. (Thus, if we cannot communicate clearly our intentions, what we do is not useful!) What is the function of man? Once we understand that we are energy first and matter second, our function as we choose it follows in an ethical manner, no matter our physical choice of activity.

In her first book, The Joy of Health, Kathy Oddenino writes, “Evolved humans will learn the balance of body, mind and spirit by starting first with the body.” (25) “Understanding the role of the mind in health is the first step to healing.” Good health is the secret to joy, and the ultimate in learning is the awareness of joy in being. Spiritual Philosophy teaches that we must start with learning to live the joy of health to feel joy in being, which is a lesson of the physical on Earth. Kathy explains how we do not know the negative effect we have upon our body when we do not live in our moment of power. We cannot truly and consistently live in our moment of power until we grow into knowing ourselves as energy beings creating matter as chemical interactions, and the joy that such chemical interactions can create.

The more knowledge we gain, the better we function, if we apply that knowledge. (And knowledge isn’t truly gained unless it is learned; otherwise it remains information, falsely unrelated to us, as the clouds are if we simply see them as "clouds.") The spectacular beauty, and common sense once my mind knows it, of spiritual philosophy and Socrates’ dictum that “virtue is knowledge,” is that this statement explains the integration of form and function, of energy and matter creating itself through our life experiences. Clichés define our perception about our level of thinking: she’s not playing with a full deck; the porch light is on, but nobody’s home; he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. We act like we know what we mean when we say these things. Yet, do we really? What level of understanding are we using? Why is that enough for us?

Thinking is fun! Now I’m listening to the raindrops converge outside, hitting the ground and every other surface as they fall. The heat just kicked on inside this building. I’m happy to be here, thinking, breathing. And now I’m getting hungry! My neural network is alive. (Energy is real!)


Raewyn said...

I loved reading this piece particularly how you wove Gladwell and Restak's work into Spiritual Philosophy...thank you!

I to have have not read Gladwell's book but have just read Brainscapes, and what struck me was how the brain is hardwired for unity. i believe he referred to this as a "holistic brain" ...this is what spiritual philosophy as taught by Kathy Oddenino is about....the unifying of our thinking mind and our loving emotions with our senses....Spirit consciousness ...our intelligent design as energy. So much falls into place.I continue on to civilize my mind.

Raewyn said...

ooops....delete "to" in second paragraph!