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Saturday, November 21, 2009



Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Nov 4, 2009 8:25 AM PST

This essay is dedicated to Sigmund Freud, a neurologist and seeker of truth. He taught us the importance of careful observation when psychiatry was in its infancy and we had no neurological models to explain the workings of the brain. Many of his important contributions to the field of Psychology are inadequately appreciated by those who are too quick to judge him based on a superficial misunderstanding of what he believed.

It has been argued that his model of the mind was too culturally bound and that he too quickly retreated from the ugly truth of the rampant sexual abuse reported by his female patients. I believe that these criticisms are both valid, but I do not believe for a moment that they detract from the importance of understanding his work. Those who would dismiss him on such grounds are closing their eyes to a valuable model for conceptualizing the mind, which can only be inferred despite any advances in neuroscience that may eventually come to pass.

Even when we are able to measure the energy manifested in the mind, we will not be able to know its essence, or Form, except through direct experience. The only way that we can truly know the mind of another is through the cultivation of precise communication, based on common understanding of the terms that we use to discuss our experiences. Freud did pretty well at this, for a man.

The study of memory is a fascinating branch of current research in neuroscience. It is so important that it might best be described as the trunk in the tree of knowledge of both brain and mind, rather than a mere branch. 

Without memory, we would live one moment to the next with no awareness of the meaning of our lives, which would be only a series of fragmentary sensory experiences. We would be like puppets, subject to the passing emotions brought on by forces we could neither comprehend nor control. We would in essence be like our Senators, caught up in a Saint Vitus dance of the meat puppets, or a funeral march of Marionettes.

Memory of events of which we are conscious is termed declarative, as distinct from memory traces of things that either escaped conscious notice or are established through automatic backup systems in the neural circuitry during the normal workings of the mind. 

An example of the latter is when sequences of physical actions in a complex series of movements are stored in the motor cortex of the cerebellum. These are our implicit memories, and the two forms of memory interact to produce our dreams, both when we are awake and when we sleep. 

In the schizophrenic, there is a breakdown in the neural machinery that keeps most of us aware of the difference between our memories and our dreams. For some, this leads to a terrifying existence in a world of dark dreams. For others, the world is one of unimaginable beauty. For many, it is a mixture of the two. It is inspiring to think that by creating a real world of universal love and hope, we could make meaningful the lives of these unfortunate canaries in the coal mine of today’s world.

An important aspect of memory is the fact that declarative memory traces are stored most effectively when the experience is emotionally significant. Thus, the more we are aware of the significance of our daily experience are emotionally connected to the people we meet with whom we interact. 

This is why I find it a useful exercise to practice loving every person I see, wherever I go. I am very grateful that my daughter taught me this, a tip she picked up from a guest pastor in our church one week when I could not attend with her.  I am grateful to this unknown pastor as well as my daughter, who passed on this wisdom.

This is how important ideas spread and gradually change the collective consciousness as well as the collective unconscious, which mingle in our dreams as part of the process of consolidating intermediate term memory into long term memory. 

When dreaming, we undergo a process of the frontal lobe searching the holographic library of our brains for emotionally and otherwise related memories, with which the new ones become associated. This is why dreams really do have meaning. They represent the brain's automatic process of connecting the dots of all the experiences of our lives, since long term memories do not die, though retrieval becomes harder if we do not revisit our past often enough.

Most of us wander through our lives preoccupied by day to day concerns, heedless of the wonders that always surround us, foremost of which are those people with whom we share the planet. If you pay loving and respectful attention, the differences add the spice to the stew of our life together. 

We are all more alike than different, but the difference is the critical variable that makes each of us a unique soul. It is dictated more by genetics, but not only DNA. Gregory Bateson taught us that we are inextricably bound to our ancestors by the manner in which their experiences shaped the lives of successive generations.

As psychologist Baba Ram Das taught us, the trick is to be here now, conscious of our every act, thought and interaction with the amazing world around us. It is especially important to exercise our empathy for the weak, sick, despairing and confused, many of whom are the source of most of society’s ills. 

If we look for the better angels of our nature that dwell in each of us, we will find them there. When we consciously decide to cast aside negative judgments of ourselves and others, assume that each of us is trying to the best of our often inconsiderable ability, and forgive those who trespass against us. In my experience, people treated with love and respect tend to live up to the expectations we have of them.

As Vonnegut said, we become who we pretend to be. Let us all try to pretend that we are more like Jesus, the greatest rabbi who ever lived. When all understand and live their lives by the simple rule he laid down, to love your fellow travelers as your own brothers and sisters (and parents and children), we will find that Heaven and Earth have become one. 

Do not buy anyone else’s interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ life. The essential message he was passing on from the East was simple. You do not have to accept the decision of the Council of Nycea that Jesus was divine, unless you believe that the Buddha was right when he said that we are all part the eternal One that many of us consider to be God itself. In that sense, we are all divine simply because we carry the divine spark.

I find that when I apply this philosophy consistently in my life, the result is that I experience love flowing so abundantly between those in my life that my cup is never empty. Each of us has an important role in saving the planet from self-destruction. Life lived in this way is joyful, fun and always interesting. I swear to you that I will never feel the misery of depression again. My life has a meaning and a purpose of which I am aware every moment of every day, even when I sleep.

As for those who consistently act only in the interests of themselves or their self-identified tribes (granfaloons, in Vonnegut’s terminology), instant karma is coming and there will be Hell to pay. There is a serious price for living an uncompassionate life of selfishness, violence and reckless disregard for the effects of actions committed only for the love of money, power over others or  selfish sexual gratification. It is not for us to pass judgment on each other, but to condemn the evil acts resulting from selfishness of the unenlightened who have not learned the simple principle of enlightened self interest: What is good for the many benefits each of us the most.

We are all in this together, and no one will get out alive. If we forget that we all arose from the same seed in Africa and learn to care more about each other than personal gain, we essentially die alone. The world is not inherently a competition, as the high priestess of greed Ayn Rand taught her eager  acolytes, who have brought the world to the brink of self-destruction. 

Only the willfully ignorant and self-serving grasped at the fig leaf she offered to conceal their naked greed from themselves. Her sophistic excuses cannot hide the emptiness of their endangered souls. We know that the Empire and its minions have no clothes. Will we join together to tell them to their faces? 

In the words of Dion:

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
but it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
but it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
but it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day ...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
with Abraham, Martin and John.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

From the land of Lincoln: Chicago, Illinois.

1 comment:

  1. This essay provides a good illustration of why I call this book "a nonlinear look at how to end war." The relationships between the major themes are only lightly touched upon.

    The goal of this essay is as much to stimulate thoughts about other relationships implied between these ideas and others unmentioned as it is to explain them to the reader.

    The overarching theme is the need to continually re-examine our lives to remember and build upon the lessons of our personal past. It is also meant to suggest that we must look at the past history of human civilization to develop the dreams we must have to build a better world for ourselves and others. The martyrs to justice mentioned in the song all had such dreams and gave their lives trying to realize them.

    In order to dream of a better world for all, we need to attend to what is most important to understand in life. If that is not our fellow humans, I do not know what it is.


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