Friday, March 28, 2008

A neurologist finds nirvana 2

An interesting point raised in Dr Taylor's video concerns the right hemisphere's feeling of oneness with everyone, and indeed, everything versus the left's individuality and separateness. This was a dimension of the personality highlighted by Arthur Koestler as individuality against integration. It's all too easy to blame individuality for all the world's ills, yet when you think of the worst serial killers such as Dr Harold Shipman or Fred West, killing for their own perverse gratification, their crimes almost fade into insignificance when compared to those such as Hitler or Stalin, who, however misguided, believed their actions were for the greater good of humanity (or at least a part of it, the german people or the international proletariat, or whatever).

For all that, Koestler saw the problem as a lack of integration within the brain. However he saw the problem as being between the rational neocortex, the archaeocortex and the brain stem, evolutionarily new areas versus old ones, with the emotional limbic system in the domain of the old, divorced from the rationality of the new. It takes a sophisticated creature to be able to build a nuclear weapon but a primitive one to want to.
Dr Taylor's video suggests the integration problem may be lateral rather than vertical. Our individualistic left brain isn't even aware of the right brain's "mind".

Koestler's solution (as I've mentioned in a previous post) lay in hope that one day a pill might be invented that would fix the problem; I believe a non-chemical solution was found some 2500 years ago by Shakyamuni Buddha. His solution according to the Lotus Sutra was "hard to understand and hard to believe in", hardly surprising given the hemispherical split! Enlightenment, then, has a neurological aspect.

Anothe manifestation could be found in the current problem of nihilism and despair, and perhaps, depression. An article I read recently claimed depression to be an illness of the modern industrial age, predicated on the concurrent rise of individualism. I'm only partially convinced, the fact that it's never mentioned in mediaeval manuscripts is hardly proof it didn't exist. But it probably was less prevalent, minds absorbed in mother church, myth and legend, the sorts of things that are almost anathema to our rational minds. That there is a severe loss of this within our lives is without doubt, think of the popularity of science fiction, horror films, fantasy and especially Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, whose natural setting I'd guess at being early mediaeval, the time of Charlemagne, but a setting rich in myth.
This excessive reliance on individualism, in which, inevitably, many fail and many are even born into endemic failure has led to what might be considered as mass mental illness - addictions, tribalism, gang warfare and suchlike.

This is not to say our modern industrial society is not without benefits - prosperity, physical health, longevity, education and science immediately spring to mind. The challenge is not to abandon it but to re-integrate it with the rich, built-in complexity inherent within our lives.


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