|William Blake's picture of God |
"I sought pleasure and found pain unutterable"
Or the Inconsequential Product of a Brain Disease?
The Altered State Delusions of a Mental Illness?
And does the current "treatment oriented" science of brain pathology find what it expects to see? While ignoring any other scientific inquiry which does not embrace its own particular, "material" worldview? Is our current pathology oriented science of mental experience based on a desire to understand human experience, or is it based on a non-conscious, primary process, avoidance impulse?
Curiously, when reading: The Recognition and Management of Early Psychosis, one finds not one single reference to developmental science literature. And despite psychiatric hypothesis of affective and non-affective psychosis, one finds no comment or reference to developmental science books like: Affect Regulation & the Origins of the Self. With its many references to the autonomic nervous system, suggesting the body is as intimately involved in the experience of psychosis, as the brain. And is that because, we all, simply "rationalize" our own self-preservation needs?
While our Western cultural history, seems to be in active denial about our inner reality. Perhaps because, in our Western religious tradition, the Body is a House of Sin? Yet consider this Guardian newspaper article from which Blake's picture of God is taken: The muscular old man with compasses often taken to be Blake's God is actually meant to be everything God is not. Writes Mark Vernon
"Blake is treated as impenetrable, his imagery obscure, his calling idiosyncratic. He's rendered slightly mad, and so safe. We can look and admire, but like a modern gothic cartoon strip – that his art no doubt influences – he can be enjoyed, but not taken too seriously.
That's a shame. For not only can Blake be read. What he says carries at least as much force today as it did two hundred years ago.
Consider one of the figures who's in the new works: Urizen. He's well known as he's the same figure who appears as Blake's famous "Ancient of Days" – an old man, with Michelangelo muscles, a full head of long white hair, and a wizard-like beard. Urizen is a key figure in Blake's mythology.
He is not God. (Blake thought it laughable to imagine the divine as a father-figure, as God is found within and throughout life, he believed, hence referring to Jesus as "the Imagination.") Instead, Urizen is the demiurge, a "self-deluded and anxious" forger of pre-existent matter, as Kathleen Raine explains. His predominant concern with material things is signified by his heavy musculature. He is variously depicted as wielding great compasses, absorbed by diagrams, lurking in caves, and drowning in water – as in the new Tate image. It shows that his materialism has trapped him.
Blake loathed the deistic, natural religion associated with Newton and Bacon. He called it "soul-shuddering." Materialism he dismissed as "the philosophy in vogue." He thought the Enlightenment had created a false deity for itself, one imagined by Rousseau and Voltaire as projected human reason. The "dark Satanic mills" of Jerusalem are the mills that "grind out material reality", as Peter Ackroyd writes in his biography of Blake, continuing: "These are the mills that entrance the scientist and the empirical philosopher who, on looking through the microscope or telescope, see fixed mechanism everywhere."
Urizen is theirs. The demiurge presides over a world that suffers under the tyranny of the laws of nature, and Urizen is as imprisoned by the constraints of space and time as are the individuals who follow him. "He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only," Blake mused. The materialist's view of the world is a prison because it's a world created by limited perceptions." -Mark Veron.
The Dark Satanic Mills Within & The God Conflict in America's, DSM Bible?
I must admit, my heart bleeds for the limited perceptions in the DSM bible and its crisis management perceptions. The brain disease philosophy of a primary process, avoidance approach to understanding psychotic experience. I've been accused so many times of losing my grip on reality, my sense of objectivity, by psychiatrists with, in my experience, a limited self-awareness about their own internal structure and primary processes of perception. With my apparent loss of insight into our normal sense of reality, now feeling like a cruel joke, or mother nature's yoke, in the context of what William Blake suggests of our normal sense of objectivity, as "a world created by limited perceptions." Or as Allen Frances, the editor in chief of DSM-IV admits: Psychiatric diagnosis is seeing something that exists, but with a pattern shaped by what we expect to see. And is that expectation shaped by a history of denial about our evolved nature, The King James bible and America's conflicted concern about the nature of God? Consider a recent book on a variety of cultural beliefs about mental illness experience. Particularly the view that psychosis may be viewed as God's burden. A challenge to understand the meaning of our perceptions of reality and our "immersion" in the Cosmic reality of being?
|A Cross Cultural Look at Mental Illness|
"mental illness reveals what we value & fear"
We are engaged in the grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of the human mind. This might seem like an impossible claim to back up, as such a change would be happening inside the conscious and unconscious thoughts of more than six billion people. But there are telltale signs that have recently become unmistakable . Particularly telling are the changing manifestations of mental illnesses around the world. In the past two decades, for instance, eating disorders have risen in Hong Kong and are now spreading to inland China. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become the common diagnosis, the lingua franca of human suffering, following wars and natural disasters.
In addition, a particularly Americanized version of depression is on the rise in countries across the world. What is the pathogen that has led to these outbreaks and epidemics? On what currents do these illnesses travel? When viewed from a far shore, the cultural assumptions and certainties that shape our own beliefs about mental illness and the human mind often become breathtakingly clear. From this perspective, it is often our own assumptions about madness and the self that begin to appear truly strange.
History is full of ever-changing psychosomatic symptoms shaped in large part by the expectations and beliefs of the current medical establishment. As Edward Shorter writes, “As doctors’ own ideas about what constitutes ‘real’ disease change from time to time due to theory and practice, the symptoms that patients present will change as well. These medical changes give the story of psychosomatic illness its dynamic: the medical ‘shaping’ of symptoms.”
Does the naming of a disorder allow doctors to suddenly recognize and report what they had previously overlooked? Or is there an interplay between the codification of a new mental illness and the sudden appearance of those symptoms in the general population?
People at a given moment in history in need of expressing their psychological suffering have a limited number of symptoms to choose from— a “symptom pool ,” as he calls it. When someone unconsciously latches onto a behavior in the symptom pool, he or she is doing so for a very specific reason: the person is taking troubling emotions and internal conflicts that are often indistinct or frustratingly beyond expression and distilling them into a symptom or behavior that is a culturally recognized signal of suffering.
“Patients unconsciously endeavor to produce symptoms that will correspond to the medical diagnostics of the time,” Shorter told me when I called him in Montreal to speak with him about Lee’s work. “This sort of cultural molding of the unconscious happens imperceptibly and follows a large number of cultural cues that patients simply are not aware of.” Because the patient is unconsciously striving for recognition and legitimization of internal distress, his or her subconscious will be drawn toward those symptoms that will achieve those ends.
He Sees Me up to My Heart:
Kimwana told Juli McGruder (an American anthropologist) that the voices she heard in her head were usually male, and they spoke to her as if they could “see to my very soul.” These voices told her variations on the theme of what a bad person she was. Sometimes she heard two or more men gossiping that she was a disloyal and disrespectful daughter and sister. The chorus could be relentless: “She doesn’t love her mother,” one voice would say to the other. “She doesn’t love her brothers and sisters. She is not a person of God, just a useless person.” Sometimes they would curse her in riddles or make negative but oblique statements such as “Abhorrent badness even to the soul.” Although Kimwana understood that her thoughts were unstable and disorganized, she often insisted the voices were of real people and not delusional. And although she sometimes believed that the voices came from outside the window, her subjective experience was that the person speaking was seeing into her thoughts and feelings. “I don’t see him but he does [see me],” she told McGruder. “He really sees me a lot. Actually he sees me up to my heart, up to my mind.”
Amina (Kimwana's mother) told McGruder that she did not share her daughter’s belief, but there was no judgment or frustration attached to the delusions. To many questions Amina would only answer , “I am unable to know” or “I take it as one of God’s mercies, one of God’s wishes.”
Amina and other family members often repeated the belief that Allah would never put more burdens on a person than he or she could bear. “In our family we have this challenge but this is just life,” Amina would tell McGruder when talking about Kimwana and Hemed. “Other people have other problems. Maybe their house has burned down. Everyone knows their own burden best.” McGruder came to understand that these were not just bromides. In the family’s Muslim belief, managing hardships provided a way to pay the debt of sinfulness. Illness or bad turns of fortune were seen as neither arbitrary nor a punishment. Rather, they believed that God’s grace awaited those who not only endured suffering but were grateful for the opportunity to prove their ability to endure it.
“Ed (McGruder's husband) had once been a religious man, and he began to believe that his psychotic break might have been part of God’s plan. Perhaps, he suggested, God had caused the psychotic break because He wanted McGruder to better understand mental illness." -Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: the globalisation of the American psyche. (in brackets mine)
A Photograph of God: From a different Science Perspective:
My seven year journey to psychosis resolution and the fulfillment of my decade long desire to understand the experience of mental illness, from the inside-out. Has involved a self-education drive which integrated a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the human condition, with growing awareness of the limits of language, to explain the reality of our actual experience. And my reading education continues, in my need to articulate what I've learned, to others with a perfectly normal adjustment to consensus reality. Hence I include an excerpt from: Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, to give context to my seemingly grandiose and psychotically delusional statements about the God like nature of being human:
THE WALLS OF JERICHO: THE MYTH. THE MEANING & THE MAGIC:
Our adolescent psychological defences, will come tumbling down. In this 21st century AD. The keys to the door of the Kingdom of Heaven, are Coming! As science continues to unlock the secrets of the heart-brain connection, the garden of eden will be Resurrected. As we continue to uncover the mystery, the myth, the meaning and the essential purpose of Life. The Universe Evolved into a form which will save itself from entropy. That form is YOU! -David Bates
What do you think, dear reader? I'm I being Grandiose & Delusional, a product of my well documented bipolar affective disorder? My objectively diagnosed mental illness, which the academics of psychiatric theory label an affective psychosis. Or does my statement come from the trial of understanding psychosis from the inside-out, with a less fearful embrace of my human nature? Does my "beyond the spirit of this time" understanding come from years of reading and re-reading developmental science, philosophy, phenomenology and other perspectives, with a deep desire for an experiential integration of relevant scientific knowledge. Please consider another picture of God, to complement William Blake's visionary sense of how: The "dark Satanic mills" of Jerusalem are the mills that "grind out material reality", as Peter Ackroyd writes in his biography of Blake.
A Photograph of God:
“In earlier conversations, Robert (one of eight Tibetan meditators who participated in the neuro-imaging study) has struggled to describe for us how he feels as his meditation progresses toward this spiritual peak. First, he says, his conscious mind quiets, allowing a deeper, simpler part of himself to emerge. Robert believes that this inner self is the truest part of who he is, the part that never changes. For Robert, this inner self is not a metaphor or an attitude; it is literal, constant, and real. It is what remains when worries, fears, desires, and all other preoccupations of the conscious mind are stripped away. He considers this inner self the very essence of his being. If pressed, he might even call it his soul. Whatever Robert calls this deeper consciousness, he claims that when it emerges during those moments of meditation when he is most completely absorbed in looking inward, he suddenly understands that his inner self is not an isolated entity, but that he is inextricably connected to all of creation. Yet when he tries to put this intensely personal insight into words, he finds himself falling back on familiar clichés that have been employed for centuries to express the elusive nature of spiritual experience.
“There’s a sense of timelessness and infinity,” he might say. “It feels like I am part of everyone and everything in existence.” To the traditional scientific mind, of course, these terms are useless. Science concerns itself with that which can be weighed, counted, calculated, and measured—anything that can’t be verified by objective observation simply can’t be called scientific. Although individual scientists might be personally intrigued by Robert’s experience, as professionals they’d likely dismiss his comments as too personal and speculative to signify anything concrete in the physical world. Years of research, however, have led Gene and me to believe that experiences like Robert’s are real, and can be measured and verified by solid science.
In normal circumstances, the Orientation Association Area in the brain helps create such a distinct, accurate sense of our physical orientation to the world that we hardly need to give the matter any thought at all. To do its job so well, the orientation area depends on a constant stream of nerve impulses from each of the body’s senses. The OAA sorts and processes these impulses virtually instantaneously during every moment of our lives. It manages a staggering workload at capacities and speeds that would stress the circuits of a dozen super computers. So, not surprisingly, the baseline SPECT scans of Robert’s brain taken before his meditation, while he was in a normal state of mind, show many areas of Robert’s brain, including the orientation area, to be centers of furious neurological activity.
This activity appears on the scans in vibrant bursts of brilliant reds and yellows. The scans taken at the peak of Robert’s meditative state, however, show the orientation area to be bathed in dark blotches of cool greens and blues—colors that indicate a sharp reduction in activity levels. This finding intrigued us. We know that the orientation area never rests, so what could account for this unusual drop in activity levels in this small section of the brain? As we pondered the question, a fascinating possibility emerged: What if the orientation area was working as hard as ever, but the incoming flow of sensory information had somehow been blocked?
That would explain the drop in brain activity in the region. More compellingly, it would also mean that the OAA had been temporarily “blinded,” deprived of the information it needed to do its job properly. What would happen if the OAA had no information upon which to work? we wondered. Would it continue to search for the limits of the self? With no information flowing in from the senses, the OAA wouldn’t be able to find any boundaries. What would the brain make of that?
Would the orientation area interpret its failure to find the borderline between the self and the outside world to mean that such a distinction doesn’t exist? In that case, the brain would have no choice but to perceive that the self is endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything the mind senses. And this perception would feel utterly and unquestionably real. This is exactly how Robert and generations of Eastern mystics before him have described their peak meditative, spiritual, and mystical moments.
Robert was one of eight Tibetan meditators who participated in our imaging study. Each was subjected to the same routine, and in virtually every case, the SPECT scans showed a similar slowing of activity in the orientation area, occurring during the peak moments of meditation. Later, we broadened the experiment and used the same techniques to study several Franciscan nuns at prayer. Again, the SPECT scans revealed similar changes that occurred during the sisters’ most intensely religious moments.
Unlike the Buddhists, however, the sisters tended to describe this moment as a tangible sense of the closeness of God and a mingling with Him. Their accounts echoed those of Christian mystries of the past, including that of thirteenth-century Franciscan sister Angela of Foligno: “How great is the mercy of the one who realized this union… I possessed God so fully that I was no longer in my previous customary state but was led to find a peace in which I was united with God and was content with everything.”
Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. By Andrew Newberg; Eugene D'Aquili and Vince Rause (in brackets mine
Beneath the Brain & the Muscular Nature of Blake's Sense of God Within
My journey towards understanding my mental illness, my many affective psychoses actually began with a fervent prayer to God, 34 years ago. That was in February 1980, the year the DSM-III ushered in our current faith in a bio-medical sense of self. Our instinctual urge to avoid suffering the vagaries of our human nature, by popping a pill. It comes, in my opinion, from sub-consciously stimulated basic assumptions about the nature of reality and our profound need of hope for the future. Like most of our discoveries, the chemical compound effect on people suffering madness or mental illness, was an historical accident. An accident with the hope of a similar historical path to the discovery of penicillin. A hope which I did my best to embrace for 27 years, despite the failure of medications to prevent spontaneous episodes of euphoric mania, and the sensation of God within. That oceanic sense of oneness which sister Angela of Foligno describes as having been "possessed God so fully that I was no longer in my previous customary state but was led to find a peace in which I was united with God and was content with everything.”
Sister Angela's description of the difference between an established "customary state," a normal state of being which neuroscience now describes as an affective state. Is similar to what happened to me in 1980, as I fell out of my customary state of fearful avoidance, in the form of an habituated muscular/vascular constriction within. A sudden experience of rebirth which I lacked the knowledge to understand back then, and subsequently ended up being diagnosed as schizophrenic, within 15 minutes of my first contact with a psychiatrist. Although I understand there was an urgent need for intervention by the time I saw that man, my lived experience since, suggests that such crisis management is not a real understanding of psychotic experience, or an understanding of the common "existential" context of psychotic ideation. While a similar limited understanding and crisis intervention in April 2007, set me on a path of self education research, to better understand my actual experience of psychosis, from the inside-out.
Hence, more than three decades after my first rebirth experience and sense of God within, I have began to address the academics of psychiatry with an articulation of my lived experience, and the developmental science references which enabled a three year, experience dependant resolution of psychotic experience. With my resolution journey raising serious questions about the paradoxical nature of our commonsense rhetoric about mental illness experience. Especially assumptions of chronic ill health and life time medication needs. Many people now acknowledge "the paradox of modernity," whereby an era of rising material wealth and life expectancy in our developed countries, is simultaneously creating rising levels of physical and mental, ill health. Its a paradox that seems to be suggesting: Physician, Know Thyself? Know Thyself was the challenge of my resolution journey, in learning how to know myself from the inside-out, and the existential nature of what happened to me in 1980. My need to understand the nature of my mind-body split in functional awareness and how to feel within, the reality of no separation. Of Universal Oneness, as the sensation of knowing God within.
Knowing that what is missing in our current myopic focus on the brain, is the reciprocal influences between body and brain, in the creation of our affective states of consciousness. Therefore, please consider this excerpt from one of three academic papers on the internal nature of my psychotic experiences, and the experiential process which leads to statements like: THE WALLS OF JERICHO: THE MYTH. THE MEANING & THE MAGIC Statements of existential belief, emanating from my self-exploration of Socrates immortal question, "is the unexamined life worth living?" While the contemplation of my statement in the existential context of a thousand years from now, may bring a sense of perspective to my questioning of our current consensus realty and its fearfully biased perceptions of human experience? Please contemplate this excerpt from: Psychosis: An experiential resolution & understanding of first episode psychosis:
Such is the knowledge which allowed me to understand my inherent threat vulnerability and nervous system dysregulation during life challenges, and the paradox of cognitive processes which can actively thwart autonomic nervous system activity, and an innate healing response to traumatic experience. While an experiential integration of the polyvagal theory allowed an experience dependent healing response to unfold, despite decades of treatment resistance and chronic mental illness experience. Thus by developing sensation awareness of normally non-conscious and socially denied autonomic processes, my lived-experience resonates with an eloquent articulation of how “the human animal is a unique being … endowed with an instinctual capacity to heal, as well as an intellectual spirit to harness this innate capacity.” (Levine, 1997) Hence, understanding, on a visceral level, the orienting activity of my nervous system was crucial to my trans-formative psychoses and a psycho-physiological understanding of “what happened” (Dillon, 2013) to me in 1980. Particularly how my original diagnosis of schizophrenia, reflects an understanding that: Schizophrenia is a chronic terror syndrome. (Karon, 2008) With an embodied understanding of how it was an attempted resolution of early life traumatic experience, subsequently “self-stimulated” (Panksepp, 1998) into delusional mania, through a lack of self-knowledge and embodied awareness. Particularly knowledge of my vagal system and my innate response to the experience of trauma, described by professor Stephen Porges:
Trauma is normally associated with unsuccessful attempts to get away. When we can’t get away, we can’t use fight/flight; we resort to our most primitive neural circuit, and that, functionally, is a shutdown circuit. That shutdown circuit is also vagal, but it’s the old vagus; it’s the vagus that we share with reptiles, like turtles. When this circuit goes, we just reduce our cardiac output and we reduce our mobilization. Again, one of the critical things that we find when we talk to clients who have experienced trauma is this immobilization feature. (Buczynski, Porges, 2013)With my improving awareness of “this immobilization feature” of my autonomic nervous system, explaining the existential paradox of my life-long quest to feel secure, and the relative “isolation” need that followed a negative experience of attachment, early in my life. The birth trauma of a protracted and brutal delivery, plus the subsequent life experience of being a unwanted child. Meant that life was dominated by relative existential isolation, resulting in a self-protective “cardiac orienting response” (Porges, 1995) to experiential challenge. An experience dependent habituation of heart-brain communication, mediated by three neural circuits that regulate reactivity, in response to a neuroception of "whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Because of our heritage as a species, neuroception takes place in primitive parts of the brain, without our conscious awareness." (Porges, 2004) The too defensive orientation to life, which was my premorbid, (McGorry et al, 2012) prepsychotic personality (Perry, 1998) prior to that spontaneous switch in the: Three Neural Circuits That Regulate Reactivity, (Porges, 2004) in 1980. A sudden switch which entrained a sustained experience of positive affect, in an implicit need of “an expansion of the “affect array.” (Schore, 2003) With my subsequent self-nurturing, “self-stimulation” (Panksepp, 1998) into euphoric mania, reflecting a lack of self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-differentiation:
I sat looking into the mirror, yearning for a new direction, something I could feed with a sense of dedication. I prayed sincerely, promising I'd do whatever was required if he’d just show me the way, give me a sign, help me please! Nothing happened for what felt like minutes as I sat there in hopeful expectation while looking at my own reflection, looking into my face. Then it began, a new sensation, a feeling at the top of my head which flowed down slowly, down through my face, into my shoulders and down through my chest, down into my pelvic area. I sat with a sense of "what is it” wonder, although more felt than in any thinking sense. A sense of wonder that was similar to the out of body experience when I was fourteen, except this slowly descending calm was the polar opposite of the sudden sharp elevation, when I'd seemly left my body. It felt like I'd been sitting in a bath of water that was over my head and someone had pulled the plug. I sat there as calm descended slowly from head to toe, as if a mind numbing tension were being drained out of me, like waste water flowing down and out through my toes. Next came a mindful realisation of the experience in a pleasant and very welcomed surprise. I felt unburdened somehow, refreshed and excited, happy and new. (Bates, 2012)Hence, the hierarchical switch in neural circuits that regulate the autonomic reactivity of my internal environment, was mediated by a non-conscious “neurorception” of safety, as I sat looking into a mirror at my own face, while simultaneously aware of a more complete “image” of the external environment. With the spontaneous dissolution/dysregulation action of the "three principal defense strategies—fight, flight, and freeze," (Porges, 2004) suddenly dissolving the muscular/vascular constriction of an internalized life threat, through a spontaneous rise in the activity of my “integrated social engagement system.” (Porges 2001) Bringing a middle path psychophysiological perspective to how: “heightened vulnerability to stress is not, as often wrongly assumed, necessarily genetically inherited, but can be acquired via adverse life events,” (Read et al, 2008) Which in my case was early life experience, whereby my pre-wired “social engagement system” was restricted by the loss of the vital “proximity” (Porges, 2011) of a:
Mother’s right cortex as a template for the imprinting, the hard wiring of circuits in his own right cortex that will come to mediate his expanding cognitive-affective capacities to adaptively attend to, appraise, and regulate variations in both external and internal information. It is important to note that these dyadically synchronized affectively charged transactions elicit high levels of metabolic energy for the tuning of developing right-brain circuits involved in processing socioemotional information. Psychobiologists emphasize the importance of “hidden” regulatory processes by which the caregiver’s more mature and differentiated nervous system regulates the infant’s “open” immature, internal homeostatic systems. (Schore, 2003)Hence my life-long dichotomy of fear and avoidance stemmed from an habituated internal constriction, which actively depressed my social engagement system. With my spontaneous episodes of affective psychoses understandable in a neural mechanism context of how: the system is capable of dampening activation of the sympathetic nervous system and HPA-axis activity. By calming the viscera and regulating facial muscles, this system enables and promotes positive social interactions in safe contexts. (Porges, 2011) While my articulation here seeks to contribute to a widely held view that: Any meaningful theory about how early abuse or trauma leads, years later, to psychotic symptoms must integrate biological and psychological paradigms. A number of theories have been developed. At the psychological level of analysis the focus has been on cognitive and attributional processes, dissociation and, to lesser extent, attachment theory. At the biological level the focus has been the recently discovered neurodevelopmental effects of trauma on children’s brains, particularly damage to the stress regulation mechanisms in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. (Read et al, 2005)
With my resolution experience bringing the evolved nature of the body and its constant feedback signals to the brain, into conflict with a treatment oriented focus on the brain alone, as a cultural, affect-regulating denial of the instinctive nature of the human body. A general cognitive denial which, in my opinion, prefers to categorise a continuum of human experience into labels like schizophrenia, probably because: What makes both professionals and the general public alike uncomfortable with schizophrenic people is not so much their difference from us, but their similarity. We do not want to know what they have to teach us about the human condition (Deikman, 1971). (Karon, 1992) While my experience dependant resolution took place over a three year period, reflecting the habituated nature of our everyday behavioural function. Described as a “practising period” (Schore, 2003) of behavioural development, through imitation of others, in the first three years of life. With my embodied awareness of the traumatic wound, which so constrained my own behavioural development and my self-regulation needs, is explained through a body-mind understanding of autonomic nervous system activity, and the hidden nature of a split in human cognition and feeling:
We need to recognise that self-regulation in the widest sense (including its autonomic/emotional aspects) is intrinsically bound up with complex neural and chemical motor-sensory feedforward and feedback loops. When we use our muscles, for example, there’s not just an instruction from the brain, but feedback from proprioceptors in the muscles and joints which monitor changes in tension, the speed of change, changes of pressure in the tissue, the position of joints in relation to each other etc. Although largely outside awareness the proprioceptors provide a dense, dynamic 3-d map of the body in space and in action. Similarly there are interoceptors in the organs, complex chemical connections between all parts of the body which relay a constantly updated picture of what’s happening in the body.
The Autonomic Nervous System and the Somatic Nervous System: – the muscular system – are regulated by sensory-motor loops. The sensory input to the ANS concerns the exact nature of visceral activity, blood composition etc; the motor output actively modifies the organs, muscles, blood vessels etc. The pioneering neurologist Antonio Damasio has emphasised that the brain is dependent on the body for self-knowledge. Rather than language being the necessary feature of self-knowledge, it is the critical multiple feedback loops which inform the brain about activity in the body, which constitutes the basis of all self-knowledge. He argues that the emergent properties of complex activity in the body are emotional states. Feeling feelings allows us to make sense of our environment and act appropriately. (Note: self-knowledge is distinct from self-consciousness [the capacity to reflect on oneself]. Self-knowledge supports appropriate actions in a survival context, and provides the basis for more sophisticated reflective activity.)
Putting together some of the implications from Schore’s and Damasio’s work, I would say that when the containing function of relationship fails, there is a correlative breakdown of the sensory-motor loop. The sensory component (including sensation and feeling) is split from the motor function which is necessary for acting. Both feeling and doing are life-saving functions – working together they constitute experience.
Interestingly, Bion defines ‘thinking’ in terms of the capacity to experience, to make links, and he attributes this to being able to integrate and assimilate sensory images (the alpha function). Intense feelings always have a correlative motor –i.e. muscular – impulse which includes all the primitive urges – to suck, to hit, to reach, to cry, to tear, to cling. Bion argues that restraint upon motor discharge is provided by means of the process of thinking. I would qualify this by saying that motor restraint needs to be accompanied by the sensory information of the act of restraint in conjunction with the image of what is being desired. The linking of the two constitutes thinking. By contrast, splitting the motor and sensory function reduces the intensity and dilutes the conflict to make the self in relation to object less overwhelming, less threatening. The splitting may subsequently be followed by more integrative reflective activity, or not, depending on the autonomic capacity to contain the charge.
The motor-sensory split will also be reflected in a sensory dysfunction – often marked by numbness or pain; and motor dysfunction – typically manifesting in rigidity/flaccidity of the muscle, or a compulsive motor discharge (hyperactivity). An individual’s body will be characterised by its own particular variations in muscle tone, body awareness, differentiation of muscle groups, tissue textures etc. The more ‘split’ the mental functioning, the more splits are observable to the trained body psychotherapist. The bringing together of sensory awareness and motility can increase healthy integration and differentiation of functions. (Carroll, 2001)
Discussion: My first person account hopes to stimulate a discussion about our common mind-body split and the psycho-physiological nature of human experience. With, in my opinion, a growing need for an integration of The Polyvagal Theory into clinical diagnostic observations, and the hidden nature of our self-protective perceptions, based on a common “neuroception” (Porges, 2011) of safety. Particularly within the universal existential context of how: The attempt to regulate affect - to minimize unpleasant feelings and to maximize pleasant ones - is the driving force in human motivation. (Schore, 2003)
So what do you think, dear reader? Have I provided some food for thought, concerning the language based delusions about our evolved, human nature? Particularly, those categories of mental illness still awaiting empirical, scientific validation? Specifically, in the context of an eminent psychiatrist's confession that: Psychiatric diagnosis is seeing something that exists, but with a pattern shaped by what we expect to see. (Frances, 2013) Have I managed to create some food for thought, about Mark Vernon's modern take on William Blake's muscular image of God? The paradox of all that is and is not? And does my belief in a pivotal 21st century rise in our understanding of "what" we are, make sense in the context of our continually emerging evolution? Particularly, as current day neuroscience explores the mysteries of the darkness within us, and the commonsense notion that "we are made of Star Dust."
Where all the academic references for my existential journey may be discovered.
Psychosis: Affective States of Consciousness & Nervous System Dysregulation
Psychosis: An experiential resolution & understanding of first episode psychosis
Psychosis: Experience, Diagnosis & Neural Circuits of Affective State Perception