Physiology of the Soul - or, if you like it better, - Neurons & SoulRiccardo Fesce - all rights reserved (if you are an interested publisher or agent send a mail)
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HARMONY − The soul
During the last decades we have conquered an incredible amount of information on the functioning and organization of the nervous cells, the nervous system and the brain, which demands that we turn to a new scientific outlook, higher and more ambitious. Many are the aspects of our life − perception, idea of self, feelings, ethical and ideal motivations, the need to overcome the limits of the body and of time, the need of harmony, beauty, infinity − that make us think of the soul. For each of these instances we today recognize mechanisms, circuitries, processes and modes, in the brain, that are capable of generating and outlining them.
But to understand these new perspectives it is necessary to exercise in looking at each aspect of reality and each knowledge process from inside and from outside, by appreciating the limits of each approach and each logic, though one needs not repudiate it in looking further, beyond the limits.
Thus a few key words appear evident:
The innumerable modes, paths and hierarchies in the neuronal circuits host a thousand visions and reading levels, prefigure the “meta”. And if multiplicity is the manner of the soul, the META has its flavor; it lets you think about beyond, about OTHER, it suggests the limit as a border to overcome.
The search for harmonic syntheses, for glimpses of wider horizons, guides the noblest cerebral regions, turns them toward beauty, and thus feeds the soul. Because the essence itself of the soul, of what makes us think of the soul, is but beauty, the harmony that suggests ever new equilibriums, aspirations and dreams, creativity, freedom.
These are the key words that bring to the soul: because suffering, as also an animal can do, is not enough, palpitations are not enough. It is not reasonable that the soul be only there, in viscera and spontaneous gestures, one must feel his own suffering, and his own being happy, one most know a thousand views, and enjoy the enchant of harmony, of synthesis, of going beyond, the flavor of infinity.
Still, once more one would say: ok, the brain up to where you wish, but the soul begins where the brain ends.
The problem is that we might well give up. After millennia of philosophy, preoccupied about what IS and what just seems to be, about what part of reality reaches the soul and what the soul already knows on its own, about how true is what is out there and how true is what moves and cries inside here, perhaps we might finally raise a white flag.
But I think that too many news have accumulated during the last century, and they are far from having been digested, not only by the common man, but not even by Culture with the capital C. Not even by Science, who discovered them.
Matter, energy, form. Knowableness. Mathematics and logics. Space, time. Infinity. Truth.
The XX century has destroyed everything. Most of all, it has demolished − and nobody seems to have noticed − limits and borders.
During this century science has written the most revolutionary pages. From Gödel, who demolished uniqueness, totality and coherence of mathematics, to Einstein, who unveiled the ontological inconsistency of space and time, the infiniteness of limited, to Popper, who denied any value of scientific truth to the undeniable, setting the base of science on disprovability. Revolutionary pages, because they definitely abolish the right for anybody to impose a view, a reading, as the only one, undeniable, indubitable.
All this demands that a new connection point between science and philosophy be appreciated: There is no more any fracture between what is directly knowable (object of science) and interpretation (object of philosophy). Relativistic physics impose a vision on time and space that does not assume for them ontological reality and fixity. The matter-energy antinomy itself has vanished in the idea that they are two aspects, convertible into each-other, of the same “thing”. Such a vision is, as of now, the only one which is compatible with experimental data and turns out − until proved otherwise − as the most advanced TRUTH. This underscores how interpretation, in this TRUTH, is intrinsically linked to the experimental data, because the latter, out of interpretation, do not say anything. They do not say anything because they do not concern our everyday experience, but something absolutely else: they concern the knowledge of the world and matter, which is not made of data but of interpretations.
By the same token, General Relativity demolishes the concept of infinite and unlimited universe, by clarifying how the gravitational field bends the space-time (clarifying?!) in such a way that space turns out to be under all aspects infinite though it might be limited. The curvature of the space-time does not tell anything to us, either, does not concern our life more than black-holes do, but does concern the knowledge of the world and its dynamics, a knowledge that is an interpretative picture and not an bunch of data.
More. Quantum physics reveals that there is a limit to the measurability of physical quantities, such as the velocity and position of elementary particles. But the fundamental point is that not only it is not possible to measure the position and velocity of a particle, because one cannot build a sufficiently rapid and precise instrument. No, this is certainly true, but the crucial point is not this one. The question is that IT CANNOT BE DONE, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE; not even with the ideal instrument, the most absolutely and ideally precise one, because a particle DOES NOT POSSESS precise velocity and position, but possesses a velocity which is the more definite, the less definite is its position, and vice-versa. Intrinsically. Physically. Ineluctably. Indeterminacy. A limit to knowledgeableness. Something similar to the mysteries of religion, of faith. Indeed, it is something even beyond that, because it is not something which is precluded to OUR capacity of understanding, to the limits of our human mind and our logic, no, the fact is that it is NOT POSSIBLE TO KNOW it, it does NOT EXIST as a measurement. Maybe, it simply means that we should dismantle, after our obsolete concepts of space and time, and infinity, also the concepts of position and velocity. Once more, the question does not regard us, the data do not concern us. But philosophy, the conception of the world, of reason, of knowableness of reality, should come out a little shaken, should not it?
Even more. The mathematics of nonlinear systems, chaos, with its recognized and stated impossibility of foreseeing the development of a chaotic system, even if nothing is subjected to hazard, even if the rules of each change in the system are precise and perfectly known. Causal systems, deterministic, precise, systems that can be described in every detail, and that one should therefore be capable to “understand”. Still, their development is determined in such a subtle and delicate way by imperceptible differences in any one of the parameters, that no prevision is reliable, whatever be the care and precision with which we measure each single parameter: and it is fascinating how the indeterminacy principle hammers us, precisely at this point, in warranting us that such precision can never be absolute. This should cheer up stock exchangers and meteorologists. Here, there is even some kind of vague relevance to our everyday life, but once more the crucial point regards the conception of the world, the applicability of the principle of causality, the idea of knowableness...
Perhaps the most upsetting one is the demonstration by Gödel that a mathematical or logical system, simultaneously complete and coherent, CANNOT EXIST. Either it has a limited field of applicability, and it can be coherent, or it must accept contradictions and incoherence within itself, which is not particularly nice for a system that aims at being defined “mathematical” (almost a synonym of “perfect”). And philosophy has to face all this as well, as concerns both knowableness and coherence...
In the face of all these upheavals − philosophical even more than scientific − Popper has traced the new definition of SCIENCE and (though he did not say it) the new measure of TRUTH. Scientific truth does not exist. It is a process of approaching by approximation. A statement has scientific value if there is a way of verifying it (and therefore of showing it is false) through an experimental approach. Furthermore, its value of truth is in any case provisional, until an experimental evidence turns out to be in contradiction and requires it to be reexamined, in the frame of a novel interpretation that be able to reconcile and account for the new datum as well. A provisional and never resting truth. Nothing is GIVEN a priori, no axioms, no a priori concept; each peace of knowledge − TRUTH − actually is interpretation, and what separates scientific knowledge − TRUTH − from nonscientific knowledge is that the first one is amenable to some kind of experimental verification (and confutation).
In front of this revolution, some rules must be defined for the game. Some new rules.
Under many aspects, all this brings us back to a science that is more ancient and elevated, as a process of gathering information and verifying in the framework of a strictly philosophical elaboration (knowing and understanding). This should be seriously considered by those who have tried and managed to empty scientific culture of its value and meaning, by opposing a (humanistic-philosophical) Culture on one side, aimed at the study of reality and man in order TO KNOW, and a science on the other side meant as the study of reality in order to control and modify it. A science more ad more strictly confined to technology, with no breath, no passion, no poetry.
Science has a lot to say. Actually, the border between science and philosophy has moved much beyond the classical border between physics and metaphysics. It has moved to elevated concepts such as space, time and infinity, knowableness, structure of the matter and the relation between matter and energy, and on the mechanisms of affectivity, of human behavior, of ideality itself. In addition, a habit to different rules persists: philosophy is permitted to rely on indemonstrable − and un-disprovable − axioms, measuring their TRUTH on the basis of their logical necessity, of how much they are perceived as INNEGABLE in the depth of the soul (like space, and time, and matter, perhaps?); to science, conversely, axioms are precluded, as are those fields of philosophy where no contribution can come from those things that can be studied. For all the rest, certainly a number of taboo questions remain, on which a scientific approach does not enable us to say anything, but many questions can be asked, and many answers can be looked for.
This way, however, the relationship between science and philosophy is redrawn in a curiously paradoxical way: the most solid, coherent and reliable criterion of TRUTH is a property of science − provisional truth, until the contrary is proved true (which is always possible), and continually evolving − as opposed to an axiomatic truth sustained by axioms which, by the way, are pulverizing one after the other.
Then, let us dispense with limits and axioms, and try and proceed further, change our outlook, multiply our gazes, and reconcile many different perspectives.
Perception and interpretation of reality, in the brain. Regions that crystallize concrete and abstract “concepts” into neuronal activity schemes, and regions that, by elaborating sounds and sophisticated phonetic behaviors, associate words to the concepts and build the symbolic system of language; all this in the brain. And cerebral areas that elaborate space, and time, and numbers and hierarchies and complex relationships, and contribute an impressive power to the capacity of symbolic manipulation of information. More, the intrinsic capacity of many cerebral areas of examining, simultaneously AND sequentially, multiple and different pieces of information, and navigating among them to build complex and continuously evolving interpretations. In the brain, also, the regions of most elevated elaboration, that translate this same working modality (“wandering” around, “navigating” information) into an “attention” that examines reality and one-self, by reading and narrating them, thereby generating a CONSCIENCE of oneself and the world, that can be translated into an explicit tale, an interior language that guides thought. In the brain, an implicit elaboration of emotions and feelings and, by means of conscious narration, the capacity of reading and interpreting them, and telling them. In the brain, finally, a capacity of choice that is not calculus, but a continuous evaluation and re-evaluation, looking for more and more complex, more and more elevated harmonies. And a force that pushes to look for such harmony, the pleasure of beauty, that generates esthetics and ethics.
What is missing here?
Passion, commitment, fantasy, love, happiness? Blue and need of infinity? Something worth more than life itself? What else?
Life is the organization criterion of living organisms, the way they persist, by keeping constant − or slowly evolving − certain features of theirs, in a continuous interaction with the external environment. It is a dynamic and unstable equilibrium, that is re-created at every moment, thanks to interactions that destabilize it, it is a static appearance of a system in which nothing is stable. It is a continual assertion by self-denying. A way of self-protecting and persisting by re-affirming oneself as something different from what one used to be just one moment before.
Memory, our history, our ME, can be described in the exact same way: the continuous product of how we have been living all that has happened to us, a product that asserts itself in the way it lives each new experience, and in the meantime imperceptibly changes because of the marks that each new experience leaves. An outlook on life (a ME) that does not exist without a life to live (it is impressive how much this annihilates a “soul” conceived as something abstractly separated from the ME that is living), an outlook on life that asserts itself in living and continuously changes in this asserting itself.
Life, thus, ASSERTS and SUSTAINS itself by and in changing: we are made of a “part” that tries to SURVIVE by defending itself, and another “part” that tries to LIVE, change, grow, looking outwards, because without interaction and change it is not even possible to survive. Physically. Psychologically. Affectively. Still, to survive one defends himself, and builds walls and barriers, and defines, limits himself.
What pushes us to defend the unstable equilibrium that we have been able to put together at each moment? and what forces us to put it at risk, sometimes to consciously, intentionally demolish it, to proceed further on, to explore life?
Well, in order to live, one has to survive, has not he? and to resist.
But surviving is not enough. Something else is needed...
The central nervous system endows the animal with the capacity not only to react to stimuli, but also to build a complex representation of the organism itself, of reality, of their interactions; and the capacity to orient its behavior based on sophisticated evaluations not only of vegetative needs but also of somehow less easily describable motivational drives.
In front of this, BIOLOGY is not enough. A meta-biology is born this way, that PHYSICS cannot describe, that has its own rules, forces and dynamics, that invades the field of immaterial, of knowledge, of cybernetics that are not automatic, but capable of anticipation, of finalized action.
The impressive development of cerebral cortex in man transcends the trivial task of producing responses, even the most refined, to stimuli: in the cortex innumerable interpretations of reality pullulate, each one arises and evolves by re-elaborating the information that reaches it, according to its own specific modalities, angles and contexts. Each interpretation is reread and integrated with the others, but each one is complex in itself and in many regards autonomous, each one is like a dynamic image of a particular aspect of oneself or of the world, and each one is born and grows and develops like a meta-organism, endowed with its own life, though confined in the immateriality of formal, abstract representation.
The encounter of a thousand readings moulds the concepts, builds a multiple, complex, varied view of reality (and of oneself), made of metaphors, capable of abstract manipulation and − the new, extraordinary jump! − of symbolic activity: a language made of sounds and acts that do not imitate, mimic, represent reality − as it is the case for animal languages − but get combined in an abstract SYMBOLIC system, within which they assume arbitrarily attributed meanings (that are different in the different languages), to yield an instrument of amazing power, not only to describe, but to investigate in depth and understand. Here conscience blossoms, an outlook conscious of oneself and of the world: synthesis and unification of reality.
This way the regulation of behavior becomes careful and delicate, in the varied interaction among vegetative, hedonic, social-cultural and ideal motivational drives; a clear and real possibility of choice materializes, finalized behavior − strictly speaking − appears.
Once more the domain changes, and the language: biology is no more sufficient, neither is cybernetics, the fields are invaded of epistemology, ethics, freedom; we are evading towards the soul.
Each new dimension asks for new glances.
Each new jump asks for a new formal description, because the rules that used to guide simpler systems, though they keep working down there, are no more the relevant ones here. In order to describe and understand the overall dynamics new specific necessities dominate now, and new interactions, higher ones, that in simpler systems could not even be thought of.
From this impressive development of cognitive, cybernetic and behavioral power of the brain something arises, almost as a collateral effect: an unexpected and fascinating mixture of interpretative power, emotions and motivations, memory and desire, joy and pain, and conscience of one’s own understanding and feeling, blues and happiness, love, passion and will, curiosity and fear, wonder and disdain, enthusiasm and commitment. A mixture that constitutes a new LEVEL of life, interior and superior, but not secluded and excluded; rather, capable of impinging on reality and the world, in a new and different way, pursuing designs and aims, desires and ideals.
From this mixture of outlooks aspirations and fantasies an unexpected new dimension of life blossoms, and the need for OTHER, for infinity, in time and space, the need of overcoming one’s own limits, of knowing and finding oneself in eternity and infinity...
A curious collateral effect, for which it is difficult to find a name that be nicer and more appropriate than SOUL.
Closed languages, empty music
Why so many of us do not understand mathematics? because it is a language that talks to itself. You can apply it to anything you wish, but it is MATHEMATICS only in the moment you recognize that it is not WHAT you have applied it to, but something ELSE, something abstract, ethereal, impalpable, closed in itself.
The society of welfare, consumes and care of your body and health, of everydayness, teaches you to close your horizon on yourself. Try and sign up into an internet chat, you must choose the topics you are interested in, and you generally find a dozen or so of them, movies, arts, sport... A topic that is always there is “body care”, an interest, an encounter moment!...
It is progress.
No disciplines − it is not a problem of mathematics alone − proceeds beyond a certain point without creating a language of its own, auto-referential.
The discipline of well-being is almost there, it is building people that are languages and music that fold back on themselves, like certain obscure musical currents that transform music into an abstract and auto-referential reasoning, like grammars that rigorously mull over relations among empty words.
Take care of yourself!
Was not it “know yourself”? Old times... Now, it is of no use anymore.
Except that it turns out that depression is nothing but screwing into one’s own problem (problems), excluding emotions other than pain for one’s own emotions, and thoughts other than sad re-examinations of one’s own thoughts...
Perhaps it is not so strange that men who are so careful in caring about themselves, forgetting the world, the pain of the others, the wish of building, the need of expressing oneself in action and commitment, so often end up falling into it, into depression.
In this view behavior is no more driven by knowledge, utility, rationality alone. It is pervaded by something else, by infinity, affects, ideals and dreams, by the soul.
The best choice, absolutely speaking, cannot be made at the table, by attributing specific scores to each motivational drive, according to a system of precise and fixed criteria, as you would program a commercial or managerial strategy. Precisely because there is no single criterion, or fixed number of criteria, that can guide in this evaluation. The best choice, absolutely speaking, is the one that manages in reconciling in the best way the maximum number of criteria, that appears to remain valid when you change your perspective, in the face of mutability, with time, of the forces that push toward one or the other hypothesis... The best choice, absolutely speaking, is not there. It is different for each of us, and changes with our needs, our affects, our sensitivity to somebody else’s needs... and it changes with time, with our history.
This is not an hymn to relativism: the best choice we are talking about is the best one in utilitarian terms, for the sake of pursuit of pleasure and escape from pain. The ETHICALLY best choice is an other story. Still, if in pleasure we include social and ethical drives, and in pain we include other people’s suffering, the “best” choice becomes much more similar to an ethical choice, much less variable and less sensitive to momentary changes in mood, capricious desires, illusions...
And to reach such a “best” choice the most appropriate criterion cannot be but the search for harmony, for a principle that helps to find unifying aspects, balances − though uncertain and mutable − and conciliations, to follow a thread that gives a sense to the whole of it, and thus justifies the renounces and valorizes the conquests. A principle which it is difficult to define with a more appropriate word than “beauty”.
BEAUTY, yes. Beauty as the possibility of a unifying view, that without renouncing to the multiplicity of perspectives can give a sense, a reading criterion. Be it a conciliatory reading, or an exasperated one, be it calm or passionate, linear or contradictory, holy or painful... whatever, one or the other, as long as one does not pretend that the contrasts are not there, but rather they are considered and composed, and the “sense” is not lost in other possible readings...
Beauty may be a vague and imprecise word, each of us may apply it differently to different objects, events, people, ideas. But if a criterion of “beauty” exist, in art as in life, it lies in the harmonic synthesis of multiplicities, be it smooth and round, or sharp and edgy. Curiously enough, the sensitivity to beauty may differ, and the judgment, but the mechanism that triggers our sense of beauty is the same: your seeing/feeling beauty, or not, in front of something, depends on your seeing/feeling multiplicity (the interplay of colors, sounds, shapes, impressions, emotions, ideas, dreams) and/or your perceiving a form or some kind of synthesis, of harmony.
I think this is something deeply related to the attitude of Hinduism towards truth: there are many ways to the truth and you should try and find your own, but though the ways are numerous and different, the truth is not. Each one of us has his sensitivity, is capable of noticing and capturing different details and connections, but the operating modes of our brains are consistent and when we manage in perceiving the underlying harmony we are bound to converge on the same deep essence and truth. I think we are pretty distant from “relativism”...
Following this line of though we once again encounter the META, its trickiness and charm. Because the question is resolving a varied and mutable conflict among motivational drives that cannot be merely summed up or subtracted, or let clash with one another to see who wins. Each of these forces is by itself capable of driving a behavior, if it is not adequately counteracted or inhibited. They are not requests that are presented to a higher decision-making center that takes note of whatever is happening down there, makes its computations and, precisely, DECIDES. The balances have to be moved and solved in obedience to higher criteria, but these must not remain out of and above the conflict: the criteria to solve the conflict (external and superior to it) must enter the conflict itself as forces that play the match with all the others. So, the NEED for a harmonic and mutable synthesis, and a critical and esthetic analysis, of the motivational conflict must become itself a motivational force, capable of strengthening or weakening, orienting and framing the choices in an overall strategy, and finally set out the behavioral responses.
The charm of evil. It would seem that if the beauty − harmony − characterizes the ethical gesture, then evil should be ugly, should not it?
Well, first of all, the contrary of BEAUTIFUL − sublime that captivates − certainly is not ugly, which can move and amaze quite a bit, but it rather is DULL.
And the contrary of an ethical gesture is not a wicked gesture, which may be equally difficult, intense and in some cases pleasant. Rather, it is the automatic gesture, routinely or insensate.
The scale is intensity. Beauty/ugliness is only a bifurcation. Sublimity, still, sits on the branch of beauty, a higher harmony in qualitative terms, and in terms of dimensions and infinities.
Similarly, the ethics of good is qualitatively higher because, given a similar intensity of gratification, and perception of power and absoluteness, it can invade with harmony sociality as well, and sharing, smiles and hugs and love: some more infinities.
So, down there in the deep regions of the brain there are neurons that are capable of translating external stimuli and internal needs into violent impulses that trigger incontrollable expectations and indispensable gratifications. These are the neuronal basis of what we call motivational drives, some of them physiologic, vegetative, other emotional and affective. But the massive projections that impinge on these regions from the cortex account for the observation that motivational drives, expectations and gratifications linked to social appreciation are equally strong in guiding our behavior. And indeed there is nothing strange in the fact that a similar mechanism may transform also the necessity of evaluating, judging, acting, understanding and appreciating, and looking for synthesis, harmony and love into fundamental needs, profoundly perceived as not less essential than food and water, warmth and love.
Here, specifically on this point, experimental data are still lacking.
No “neurons of beauty” have been described yet. There is no precise description of the pathways that, from the multimodal associative areas of the cortex, and from prefrontal regions that elaborate, simulate and compare behaviors, their difficulties and their consequences, descend to activate the “centers of pleasure”, down in the midbrain (VTA) and in the limbic basal ganglia (accumbens), and rise back towards the limbic cortex to generate the subsequent emotional experience. Neurons and pathways have not been identified, but it is difficult to deny that an affective pleasure does exist, and an esthetic pleasure (a languor for intensity, active equilibrium, infinity), an ethical pleasure (this may be the fundamental essence of Kant’s categorical imperative), and the pleasure of discovery, of wonder and understanding, of solving problems and conflicts. True, profound pleasures, “physical” pleasures, once again pleasures with no adjectives... forms of pleasure, and that is all.
So let us wait for neurons and nervous pathways to be identified − and try and survive for some more years or decades, but in the meanwhile accept that detection of harmony, conciliation of conflicts, the conquest of a unifying view and recognition of beauty, by the areas of multimodal integration and cognitive elaboration in the cortex, MUST travel and arrive as positive signals to the limbic systems that elaborate the emotional coloring of experience, and reach down to the deep areas that trigger gratification responses, and involve “anticipation” and “reward” neurons, and the whole deep HEDONIC circuitry, visceral and corporeal (Freud’s pulsional ES, possibly, as the source of subconscious drives).
Then, if wonder and understanding, beauty, harmony and conflict conciliation can neurologically produce PLEASURE, this closes the circle, solders and completes the interaction and cross dialogue between deep hedonic structures and cognitive activity, through the crossroad (the “limb”) of limbic cortex, that is capable of perceiving the hedonic and motivational valence of cognitive elaboration, on one side, and translating it into emotional and affective coloring, and on the other side can analyze hedonic drives and emotions according to a complex logic, by translating them into an “emotional experience” that can be cognitively elaborated, and consciously (rationally, for those who manage...), by other regions of the cerebral cortex.
And if evolution had a meaning, a dominant directive?
It goes blindly, any path is good to produce and multiply life, because this permits ever new methods and ways to exploit the available energy. It does not abandon alternative paths, simply it shuts them down when it turns out they cannot compete any more, but as far as possible and acceptable it keeps all tactics open: that is “biodiversity”, the thousands of different solutions for each problem. But in this search for ever new solutions Nature sometimes encounters “qualitative leaps”, new solutions that are essentially more complex, that permit greater malleability, and a multiplicity of strategies by one and the same organism.
Complexity adjoins multiplicity: Evolution does not abandon simple solutions, but in addition to multiplying them it shows it is also capable of combining to them more and more complex solutions; so complex that they begin to spill out of the problematic of mere survival and start to modify the world, and then to represent it, and then to interpret it, and understand it, until they overflow into looking at oneself, and understanding and developing a conscience.
Is this an intelligent design?
Who knows, but to explain it THE FORCE is enough.
The energy blocked in the chemical molecules, in the matter. Energy that thanks to living beings can be freed out into entropy. The energy of the sun, that the plants know how to include into precious molecules, such as glucose, to give life to all animals, energy that on its own would only warm up the Earth, little by little, without having the strength of breaking − as living organisms can do − molecules that maintain their balance like very complicated card towers, and do not free the chemical energy they enclose, like hydro-electrical basins that, were the dam to fissure, would happily pour billions of tons of water downhill, killing and sweeping out everything in a delirium of destruction, disorder, entropy.
The FORCE is enough. The force of entropy. The force of life.
Each new organism, that has developed a new capacity of freeing out the energy entrapped in some chemical compound, in coal, in petrol, in molecules, in the nucleus of uranium, has on its side, to help it survive, grow, multiply, the insatiable thirst of energy of Universe’s entropy.
This is enough to confirm, preserve and consolidate every step that Evolution manages in taking, in its blind wanderings among genetic mutations and recombinations, towards more complex systems, that be capable of finding new solutions for survival, new sources of energy, new ways of using it and dispersing it. At least as long as − let us put a bit of cosmic pessimism in it − there is some left.
If a brain manages in generating a “drive for beauty”, the way of transforming the perception of harmony, of synthesis of complexity, into a motivational drive, this certainly is a gift that Entropy cannot refuse, a gift from Evolution, the promise of ever new solutions, ever more numerous paths to provide more energy to Universal Disorder.
But if the universal force is Entropy, the thirst for disorder, the self-destructive ambition of blocked energy, and if complexity and multiplicity are the directions along which − spreading out as oil, not running straight as a train − evolution proceeds...
If this is the direction − complexity and multiplicity, solutions that depart from merely facing the problem, and explore implications and colors, and atmospheres and higher harmonies − well then it is clear that man is not the end-point. Evolution certainly has already taken another step: woman...
Historic analyses, explorations of myths and unconscious, neuroanatomical studies and psycho-aptitude tests have proposed all possible theories about the differences between man and woman, more or less fascinating and humiliating or exalting for one or the other gender.
The solid data that have a scientific appearance are essentially the following:
In the average (in the AVERAGE!) the woman has a greater capacity of relating her emotional experience and rational activity, a greater verbal ability, a greater attention to details, and to corporeal expressions of emotional feelings. Consequently, she analyzes and expresses her EMOTIONAL experience with greater ease and in general has a greater capacity in CONCILIATING different approaches, aspects, view-points and criteria into a multifaceted, multiple and intrinsically deeper and more malleable view of reality (of the world, of herself, of the other, o the relationships).
In the average (in the AVERAGE!!!) the man has a greater capacity of abstraction and generalization, proceeds more easily in a THEORETICAL way and through general principles, and even in practical activities tends to follow guiding criteria and more precise RULES. He theorizes emotional experience as well, his own and other people’s, rather than attentively perceiving it and communicating it; he faces each problem with the approach that he considers as the most specifically adequate (and which is not necessarily so) and in conclusion has a greater difficulty in reconciling a multiplicity of tasks and life domains.
If one considers that these characteristics have detectable substrates in the anatomical and functional differences of the various cerebral areas in the two sexes, which are partly congenital and partly generated by the different hormonal picture, it is amusing to propose an interpretative (causal-evolutional) hypothesis.
In mammals, preservation of the species imposes distinct and different tasks to the male and the female:
in general the female is not always available for pairing, and in general she has no problem in finding a male to that purpose; procreation for the female is a relevant and demanding task
the male is always available for coupling, and in order to propagate his genes he must compete with other males; procreation is not a difficult or demanding task per se, coupling might rather be so!
the female propagates her genes with success if she conducts to proper term her pregnancy and is capable of taking care of and protecting her offspring until self-sufficiency: this requires attention to danger and safety signals, care to the adequacy of the environment and capacity of taking care of other subjects (the offspring) as of herself
the male propagates his genes with success if he can adapt to the game of partner selection by the female (he sings, runs, fights, dances with his horns better than the others do) and if he can defend the pregnant female and his offspring from other males: his task mainly is to fight and compete, using strength in the one case, ability in following the rules in the other.
How would you design the brain of a male?
How would you design the brain of a female?
Now, just add intelligence, and you end up with a man capable of theorizing on anything, and fighting and realizing great enterprises, but not of thinking of two things at a time.
And a woman who understands what goes on around her (and in the soul of her man) and complains that he does not understand her.
These differences may help to make more demanding, and pleasant, looking for the right pace, to dance together: you can duet with two guitars, or two trumpets, or drums, but perhaps with different instruments it is more amusing and its is possible to play better − music, and life. And perhaps it is not so strange that in this game the woman is more careful and talented, because she perceives better the music of the soul, she can do without explaining it − and misunderstanding it! − when it is not necessary, and can follow it and live it and spread it all around.
Perhaps, this tuning requires estrogens. Perhaps it is the two X chromosomes that have been talking to each other since childhood, and communicate and understand each other, whereas ours, alone with his cripple friend Y, talks to himself and gets stupid. Multiplicity, once more...
Then Gandhi comes about, and Einstein and Byron, or mrs. Tatcher and Condoleeza Rice, and other women in politics who like to shout and imitate the assertiveness of men, and only consider the last aspect that has been noticed...
and one cannot understand anymore.
We have talked of sensory elaboration, and underscored how such elaboration proceeds in parallel: each group of neurons in charge of detecting the presence of specific elements, relationships, links, or of navigating images, sounds, situations to spot sequences and time-courses to be treated as new significant elements and relationships.
The INTERPRETATION of sensory information follows the same modalities: higher elaboration centers simultaneously examine this bunch of data (they are no more external stimuli, but recognized elements, relationships, sequences) and navigate among them, moving the focus now on this and then on another set of data.
Further on, “multimodal” regions perform a similar analysis on the combination of these results of elaboration of images, sounds, odors, tastes, somatic and visceral sensations, emotions: once more the data are combined, to recognize objects and concepts, abstract relations, interpretative categories: unity-multiplicity, cause-effect, numerability, order, hierarchies... but paths as well, pausing now on one aspect and them on another, now on a possible relation and then on another one.
This activity of the multimodal cortical regions, that reflects in its functioning the mode of operation of simpler areas (synthetic analysis and navigation through the information), transforms the examination of internal and external sensations into a narration, a TALE, that assumes the features of CONSCIOUS knowledge of the world and of oneself. A knowledge that is neither a static picture nor an ordered sequential description: it is not a speech that proceed straight on, but a crossing over of several sequential logic paths with illuminations, intuitions, evocative interpretations, that produce deviations, flashbacks and re-examinations, changes of perspective and REREADINGS.
This is also, as we saw, the way of proceeding of thought, and of motivational conflicts.
This interior tale, in its wanderings, sometimes berths to ensemble visions that merge many readings, and draws a logic and emotional path that can be repeated without stumbling into acute contradictions. When this happens − whether one is looking for a solution to a problem, or evaluating an ethical dilemma, or simply fantasizing − one feels something like a lightening of a tension, an experience of well being and discovery, a feeling of pleasure, in a strict sense.
Thanks to the power and versatility of language, this is also the way verbal thought proceeds, and conscious formation and verbalization of behavioral choices and strategies.
This extraordinary power of language almost makes an autonomous entity out of it, capable of its own life. Sentences, even single words, said at the right moment in the right way, sometimes are able to grasp and communicate this same pleasure of multiple harmony, of conciliation and unifying fusion of many readings. This occurs when the meaning, the rhythm of words and the music, everything their sound evokes, and the images − the other words − that they recall through assonance or semantic vicinity, and the memories they awaken with the emotions associated to them... when all this fastens together and fits, then from the simple ordered positioning of characters, one next to the other, poetry is born, which no more merely talks to reason, but rather to soul. To that part of us that recognizes, or thinks it recognizes, or anyway looks for, the SENSE of things, not simply their meaning but what justifies them and gives them value, and transposes them into a dimension of infinity and absoluteness. That part of us that gets excited by BEAUTY, in whatever form it can be found.
Yes. The WORD is representation, but also description, interpretation, explanation, comprehension, it is communication, question, answer, it is compliance, self assertion, thought, and it is dream, gesture and act...
The word relates us to the world − it describes, interprets, deforms misjudges and imagines. It colors the world with pain and joy. And it relates us to ourselves − it unveils, recounts us and dreams of us, and lets us express ourselves, imagine, propose, negate ourselves, love, hate, lose ourselves...
The word is a toy to look at, to explore and discover, or to handle with no aim, no reason. It can combine like Lego bricks, to give shape to an idea, yes, but just for fun as well, with no plans, perhaps to find ourselves giving life to a dream that we had not even dreamt of.
The word is gemstone, noble metal or vulgar, wood, paper, nails, junk and garbage. It is matter for refined jewels, ingenious machines and perfect mechanisms; for useless and beautiful devices, improbable balances of shapes and colors, metaphors of objects, acts, sensations; and for useless and light jots that help our glance to fly off.
The word is fused brass that transforms the vacuum of abstract concepts, of immaterial simulacra, in the hard and heavy, compact and inarguable reality of stone.
The word is a profound caries that can subtly corrode, rot, empty, void and kill treasures and values, without touching the brilliant and fake enamel.
The word is fire that transforms objects, obstacles, shelters and certainties into evanescent spirals of colored smoke.
The word is fire that can neutralize, but also temper, the most sharpened blade.
The word is a lukewarm and soft cataplasm that covers fresh, burning sores and ancient ones that press, pulse and gnaw.
And it soothes.
It heals, perhaps.
The word is magic, that gives a meaning to what it touches, and substance, and weight, and reality.
But it can steal the meaning as well, and the value, and life.
The word is a forceps that can coagulate sneaking lumps from the depth of the soul and throw them live and bleeding onto the operating table,
so that we can see them, fight them, accept them.
The word is a sharpened blade to dissect.
The word is a speck of a dream to guess and narrate.
The word is an embroidered veil to transfigure and play. An embroidered and colored veil that lets you see what it wants, and hides or reveals, and interweaves clashing images and composes dissonances and solves conflicts − and anguishes and ghosts and fears − in a smile.
The word is a wonderful domain of life.
Superior, because it is free.
It allows playing and searching, passion and discovery, fantasy and action, project and joy.
But the word is a means as well. And there, we are no more alone.
It is three of us: itself, you talking and the listener.
But its splendid power of following and protecting and reassuring you, while in the meantime it shakes you and opens unexpected horizons, is easily lost if there is no communion of feelings, emotions, expectations, desires, attitudes. And of codes, and implications. Because without that, without empathy, it is difficult − impossible? − to tame the word, to force it to be a means but still retain all its charm and power.
It is sad that today the most beautiful feature of the language, of words − the possibility that the word flourishes, develops, weaves and enriches to soak up a soul and display it, shining of its brilliance and embracing us in the emotion which it has got hold of − this wonderful possibility is less and less used by poets, to guide our soul out of everyday concerns and troubles towards wider spaces and more intense horizons, worth discovering, and sweeter joys and more awful pains, worth experiencing.
It is less and less used by poets, and evermore by dream merchants. Those who know, with the help of the huge communication instruments, how to inject into the word (the logo) the though, the image of a life style, and to impose products as an implicit necessity, in order to be able to reach the dream they show us. And on the other side of the screen, a society of credulous targets, taught to believe in dreams, but most of all to believe that dreams can be BOUGHT, a bit at a time...
The problem is not that we do not want any more words, hell, no!
We want them, beautiful, rich, pulpy, aromatic and thick, heavy, profound, moving.
But we want some that help us to really find what they contain, and do not dry up in the sun, by evaporating like jellyfishes with their wonderful colors, reducing to a shapeless spit and leaving only the clot of the empty characters that compose them...
The word is a link, the strongest link.
For the things we care of, we want a word, we want a NAME − a proper name − because a NAME makes them ours and real and complete, in and out of ourselves.
Better not to give a NAME to what scares us, not to use it for what discomforts us, for what we can face better if a halo of uncertainty lets us withdraw,
back away and push it away in the rarefied space of ghosts, dreams, desires,
from which a NAME would call it back here, aside, inside us.
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