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Physiology of the Soul - or, if you like it better, - Neurons & Soul
Riccardo Fesce - all rights reserved (if you are an interested publisher or agent send a mail)
all the material herein is protected by copyright laws and cannot be reproduced without the explicit permission of the author

VIII

Emotions: “CROCE E DELIZIA, DELIZIA AL COR”

Now, enough with the brain. Let us talk a little about the heart.

Yes, about those feelings that arise down deep in the heart, propagate to the stomach, and if you try to retain them inside they may travel down to your belly, but if you cannot control them then they climb up and block your throat...

Try to understand them, to control them and guide them, if you wish, but generally you will have to resign yourself to let them bud and grow and wobble and shake your soul. You may look at them, perhaps, and taste them, to feel yourself alive. Or maybe shut them down there, and pretend you do not hear them calling and screaming, turn your head and look at something else, and keep playing with the things, the problems, the tasks, the projects of life.

Emotions. A physiologist like me should have no doubts: the heart is there solely to play its hydraulic role; it is just a pump, it is a matter of tubes. The place for emotions is the brain, in the middle of neurons.

However, this is an example of the arrogance of scientists, who from the top of someone elseís experiments, that they think they have correctly grasped, are ready to betray roots and centuries of history of the thought as if they were infantile myths. But history has its revenges. Around the Nineteen twenties, after the heart had been robbed of emotions, claimed to itself by the omnipotent and omniscient nervous system, some scientists a little fizzier than others, Lange for example, almost as in a rebound of “heartism”, suggested a novel and provoking reading of the processes underlying emotions: “we do not shiver because we are afraid, we do not cry because we are sad; rather, we are afraid because we shiver, we are sad because we cry”. The body is the one who suffers emotions. We, the brain, simply feel and realize it.

It is not merely a joke. There is a profound insight in this statement. Deep motions move in hidden parts of our body, in addition to the soul, and guide reactions that we do not decide or control, sometimes we do not even understand.

Fear, angst. Sometimes it is not easy to understand the reason. Oppressive sensations, almost physical. But nonetheless pervasive.

Sometimes you feel like laughing, unwillingly, sometimes one laughs and would like not to; sometimes one can hardly believe he is there laughing, while he would weep, or fight, or hate or get lost.

The question is that pain, fear, malaise and well-being, pleasure and stupor and joy evoke visceral and behavioral responses, deep and direct, well before one “realizes”, emotional responses that are not different from those of animals, unwanted, not decided, sometimes not even understood until, cognitively elaborated afterwards, we can look at them and tell them to ourselves.

It is the “unconscious” or “subconscious”, Freudís wild ES that doest not listen to any argument, and has certainly fascinated all of us. But it is curious how our ideas on this are similar to the words of Cushing when, in 1929, he talked of a well precise and defined nervous structure, the hypothalamus, that controls all the vegetative functions:

“ here in this well concealed spot, almost to be covered by a thumb nail, lies the very mainspring of primitive existence − vegetative, emotional, reproductive − on which, with more or less success, man has come to superimpose a cortex of inhibitions”

Actually, Cannon discovered how the hypothalamus, which is in charge of controlling and managing physiological, vegetative and visceral responses, and of evoking behaviors that are required for the vegetative life (eating, drinking, sleeping...), has the capacity of triggering oriented and coordinated responses, such as the predisposition of the whole organism to fight or escape (fight/flight reaction), or the angry reaction to irritant stimuli; he showed that in the absence of inhibitory control by the brain, by the cortex, these reactions become exaggerated and uncontrolled (“sham rage”).

The hypothalamus is the fundamental control center of all physiological parameters: temperature, glycemia, pH (acidity of the plasma), oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, electrolyte concentrations (sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphates), volume of the body water, hormonal levels, cardiac and respiratory activity, blood pressure, blood flux to the organs and systems, sexual responses and activity...

The control function of the hypothalamus is exerted through neuronal systems, and in particular through the vegetative (autonomous) nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic; it is the triggering center for adrenaline discharge by the adrenal glands, but that is not the only way: it also is the fundamental control center of hormonal production, partly directly, partly through the pituitary gland (hypophysis).

All this does not include all hypothalamic functions, because in a complex organism vegetative and hormonal responses are not enough to grant survival: it is necessary to fetch food, and water, and to swallow them, it is necessary to protect oneself from heat and cold... Complex behavior, programmed and voluntary, must be executed. The hypothalamus is capable of generating inputs to the cortex that ask for initiation of such behaviors. In animals, the strength of these hypothalamic requests is almost unopposed: it is difficult to retain a mouse from eating if it is hungry; and if you put it in a cage together with a female in estrus it will not waste too much time in evaluating whether it is worth to try an approach or what may be the best approach... The possibilities of mediating, of retaining vegetative impulses from the hypothalamus and opposing other behavioral choices, grow with the development of the cortex in higher animals. Obviously, the picture becomes substantially different in man, because much more numerous and varied motivational forces affect his behavior.

The responses directly generated by the hypothalamus give rise to modulation of cardiac activity, blood pressure, respiration, visceral activities, and therefore constitute the physical, visceral component of emotions.

The hypothalamus does not justify or tell emotions by itself. As a sensor of vegetative unbalances and needs, it is a powerful spring that drives corporeal reactions aimed at reestablishing equilibrium and satisfying needs. But opposing needs may exist; they, and the features of the external situation, dictate choices and modes. And neural circuits that are capable of plasticity and learning teach more appropriate and effective modes and mediations. In this, particularly important is the capability of recognizing dangerous situations by spotting signals and indicators; a region in the nervous system has precisely this function. It has been shown that by simply looking at photographs of a man who laughs, or thinks, or appears uncertain, worried, fearful or even frightened a deep region in the temporal lobe, the amygdale, discharges more and more intensely, and can trigger visceral, corporeal and mimic reactions that correspond to the intensity of the fear transmitted by the image. The amygdale learns, and becomes capable of eliciting visceral and corporeal reactions of anxiety, angst and fear when we merely encounter signals that we have learnt to associate to the danger of pain, frustrations or fear. Another deep region, itself capable of learning, discharges in response to the resolution of a state of need, or when a prize or gratification is obtained: it is the nucleus accumbens, in which another population of cells discharge when the possibility occurs of such a solution or prize; this system also learns, and these cells learn to recognize each signal that may suggest such a possibility.

A concerted and complex action of hypothalamus, “vegetative controller of survival”, amygdale, “alarm system”, and accumbens, “joy hunter”, agitates a compound and mutable mood in the activity of deep regions of the nervous system, which is translated into visceral responses − palpitation, breathlessness, gastrointestinal accelerations and blocks, pallor, cold sweating, muscular tremors, weeping, alterations of the voice, of facial mimics and posture − all of which prepares to react or suffer, and unambiguously communicate our emotions to those who see us, and communicate them so efficiently that the others not only perceive them, but often have a hard time not to get influenced by them.

Indeed, emotion wanders in parts of the nervous system over which we do not hold rational and conscious control, parts and circuits that we share with all animals that possess a sufficiently developed nervous system. These are systems capable of driving complex responses that on the one side prepare the organism to the appropriate reactions and on the other side communicate to other members of the species what happens inside us. Yes, because tremor, pallor, cold sweating, perception of a blocked stomach and intestine (digestion does block, indeed!), and palpitation and agitation, and all this up to the point of not being able any more to feel fatigue and fear and pain and limits, well, all this is not useless reactions of a baffled frightened soul who has lost its control on the body... No, these are all reactions that have a physiological meaning and value: the heart pumps more strongly, the blood is displaced from where it is useless (from the skin, that becomes pallid and cold, and from the intestine) to the muscles, to the liver that must donate its reserves of sugar; the skin sweats to disperse the heat that muscles produce, when they are activated to fight or run away; the regions of the brainstem that awaken the whole cortex, alerting it, are intensely activated, and the systems that might stop from action, by lamenting fatigue or pain, are silenced. It is almost discouraging, how simple all that is, how it is sufficient to inject adrenaline to identically elicit all these reactions, how easily the sensation of strength and invincibility, and immunity to fatigue, that are produced by cocaine and amphetamine, is explained by the mere potentiation of these neural circuits, that mainly employ noradrenaline and dopamine to transmit signals among their neurons.

Joy, and laughter, too, come from elsewhere, are not born in the regions where our conscious ego looks and judges, but in low regions of the nervous system, in the brainstem, where they produce fine modulations of the activity of face muscles that communicate our emotions to the others, who in turn perceive them with no need for consciously reading and interpreting them, the same way as animals understand arching of the spine, erected hair or lowered ears, or a cry or a sob. What a hard work, to try and reproduce a smile, a weeping, a sigh, to simulate and emotion! Oh, the face children do when you tell them to smile for the photograph... Still, a person with hemiplegia, who does not move half of the body and of the face, because of an ictus (a lesion of the cortex), smiles with almost perfect symmetry, because smile and weep are executed down there. It is hard, instead, for the actor. Because body language is born from emotion and not from will. Often, to understand how to produce a credible smile or a weep one has to try and live the emotion, rather than simulating it, and train and study oneself to learn to be credible. The face is harder to counterfeit than words; and if you are clever, you will trust faces more than words.

Again. Once more one realizes that in man something more is there.

There is the way we tell, and narrate to ourselves, these underground movements. If you inject small doses of adrenaline, emotional reactions get accentuated: a bit of adrenaline and subjects to whom you show impressive or moving images have more marked corporeal reactions (cardiac frequency, sweating...) and perceive much more intensely their emotional strength. If you tell them that adrenaline will amplify their visceral emotional responses, they will still display more marked corporeal reactions, but notwithstanding the palpitations they will no more attribute an excessive emotional value to the images. The body, the nervous system, reacts, out of control from conscience and will, but the emotional experience − what neurophysiologists call feelings, as opposed to emotions in their visceral-somatic expression − is generated by how we tell to ourselves those submerged movements.

In the second half of Nineteen-hundred a more dynamic, elastic and sustainable perspective has matured.

Cognitive elaboration, what we more or less consciously think of, may generate conditions of satisfaction, frustration, expectation, fear, that are not directly reactive (to some sort of stimuli); these can generate emotions, that do not necessarily require visceral-somatic responses. Analogously, fear, anxiety, angst and gratification may persist well after visceral-somatic responses have been turned off. Thus the higher centers do not simply look down to emotional turmoil in the viscera, and tell it, but they do contribute to generating, maintaining and elaborating emotions.

It is a two-way interaction, between corporeal signals and their interpretation, between emotional value of cognitive elaborations and cognitive relevance of the emotional experience. Neurologically, this cross-way corresponds to the so-called limbic system (almost a “limbo”, a threshold, in between corporeal experience and cognitive elaboration). It is a system comprised of sub-cortical centers (hypothalamus, amygdale, nucleus accumbens and other structures) and by the most antique portions of the cortex, the innermost ones. In animals these areas perform some complex computation − mainly related to situations of danger and comfort − and sustain emotional relevance for responses that are not merely visceral or associative, but linked to some cognitive (though limitedly so) evaluation. The identification of this interaction among alarm regions (amygdale), areas of expectation and recognition of gratification (accumbens), of vegetative control (hypothalamus), and specific portions of the brain (the most antique) has led to understand the function of this whole system, integrated and complex, in elaborating a true emotional logic, though an implicit and non-verbal one. In man, the cortical regions involved in this elaborations are much more developed and broad than in animals, and even more relevant are the nearby regions involved in integration with other elaboration modalities. So, this implicit emotional logic can be put in bi-directional and complex relation with conscious cognitive systems. This makes possible a coherent reading of emotional experience, that can be interpreted in an explicit and verbal way; conversely, this also permits to endow higher cerebral functions with emotional valence.

A complex aspect of this question is that reading of the emotional picture by the limbic system is coherent and interpretable but, similar to the output of the visual cortex as concerns visual information, it is not explicit and verbal per se, it does not follow the same logic as the regions that elaborate conscious thinking. Feature extraction, and detection of patterns, elements and relations can fall in error in the visual cortex − in optical illusions − and similarly in all other regions that elaborate other types of information below the threshold of conscience; among these, the limbic system itself. I all cases, the errors, rather than being intrinsic to the computation by dedicated cortical areas, most frequently arise from misreading and misinterpretation. This is not particularly strange, as the attentive and conscious processes in multimodal regions of the cortex follow rules and logical paths that are not the same that govern unimodal computation, and in particular emotional processing by the limbic system: thus, in our rational reading of emotions we often misread and misunderstand. It should not be overlooked that, given the strong predominance of verbal communication in man, over other forms of communication, even the most clear emotional messages can be effectively contradicted by words, and it is not strange that under such condition the rational (verbal) reading of emotional experience will be strongly influenced by verbal communication, to the point of being forced in coherent interpretations that actually violate emotional perception. In simple words, an implicit logic governs emotional perception − the intelligence of the heart − and its messages must be read by rationality, but they are often misinterpreted, they get lost in translation.

Maybe even more interesting is the other way of this bi-directional communication between limbic system and cognitive activity: the possibility of producing genuine emotions (bodily, visceral emotions) by means of purely cognitive activity.

On the one side, everybody knows well that the simple thought of something frightening, or very embarrassing, or exciting, can reproduce a genuine emotion, with the whole of its accompaniments of heartbeat, lack of breath, redness, shivering, sweating, tangled guts, knotted throat... On the other hand, if nothing similar occurs, it is difficult to say we feel an emotion − it happens sometimes in front of the t-v news, looking at the last exodus of refugees, at the victims of the last war or terrorist act or natural calamity, to feel sorry for them but realize with some surprise that we do not feel such a strong emotion − be it habitude, or the fact those things happen so far away, or that the television shows us so many terrible fake things − and to feel somehow guilty and even more sorry for that. But we do feel sorry, nobody could deny. How can we say the emotion is not so strong? simply because our body does not respond...

A way of looking at all this is to consider the process of identification. We have discussed the communicative value of the bodily reactions that accompany emotions; in order for this communication to work, the lower centers of the nervous system that elaborate these “messages” must be able to reproduce the same visceral-somatic reactions that are observed in another subject. This actually occurs, as we well know. In man, this also adds to sharing of emotions a more complex − and incredibly pleasant − further feeling, the conscience itself of emotional sharing, the feeling of sympathy. This process of identification, and reproduction of the emotional status of another subject, more or less identically works with respects to our own experiences in the past and anticipation of future experiences: in remembering a moving experience we reproduce the feeling we lived then, and a similar process may occur in anticipating a future experience.

Thus, emotional identification consists in reproducing bodily reactions. And when the heart tells an emotion, it is difficult to neglect it. The fact is that emotions may well be perceived and elaborated in the brain, but the vital importance of an event or experience is estimated by the limbic system on the basis of the presence of BODILY reactions typical of conditions of fear, happiness, angst, anticipation, commotion, hilarity.

You sit there at the theater and watch the play: the actors keep trying to produce emotions in you, and in no case you miss their request − here you are supposed to feel tense, there you are supposed to sympathize, here to feel sad, there to feel relieved. But sometimes you do feel like that, sometimes you do not. It is not an intellectual question, it is a visceral one. You feel the emotion when your body reacts the right way. But what is more interesting is that your intellectual elaboration of what happens on the stage is sufficient to generate such bodily reactions. If that occurs, then you conclude that the play is moving, and the actors are good.

Anything in your intellectual activity that really moves you − be it generated by an experience you undergo, or by a memory or a desire − will produce changes in your vegetative conditions (changes in heartbeat, sweating, some kind of languor in your stomach, an increase or sudden release of muscular tension...). Curiously enough, similar sensations can be produced by purely abstract experiences: the illumination when you understanding something, the lightness and freedom when music embraces you, the relief and well-being that accompanies the right choice and the ethical act... All these cognitive experiences are able to evoke the same bodily reactions that elementary and reactive emotions elicit, and one feels the associated pain, joy, sadness, and enthusiasm, angst or ecstasy as a result of the interpretation of such bodily reactions by the limbic system.

The brain is the one who interprets, the brain can generate its own emotions and read them back. Everything is in the brain. But if it does not manage to have your heart jump around, to strangle your throat and tangle your guts, you do not even realize you are moved, you desire, you love.

Sadly, the reverse is also true. If you are able to produce, by electrical stimulation of the appropriate neurons or with the appropriate drug, the bodily reaction that accompanies fear, terror or pleasure, one feels exactly that emotion, and depending on how you produce it he will feel it with slight or with tremendous intensity.

It is terribly easy to confound the ORIGINAL with a COPY.

It is terribly easy to confound the genuine pleasure of success, sympathy, love, enchantment, ethical pride, with the fake pleasure produced by a drug that reproduces bodily and cerebral activities associated with pleasure.

Perhaps, between original and copy the central question is once more multiplicity: not only what you can find in the copy as well, but the story of the original, the emotion that has accompanied its gestation and birth, that much of the author which has remained permanently linked to it. The question is possibly very similar for emotions, and the possibility of reproducing them with an electrical stimulation or a drug: how many other cognitive aspects, intuitions, memories, desires and fantasies accompany genuine emotion! how many different aspects of interior life (and how many regions of the brain) are involved and vibrate in concert, or violently fight...

When you read or listen or study and try to understand, and finally you discover, understand; the moment you perceive, and a new perspective opens in front of you... It is a deep pleasure, that invades the whole of you. But in certain moments of well being, in fantasizing a little detached from reality, it happens you prove something similar, and you get deceived... Sometimes it happens while you sleep: there is a problem you cannot solve and in your dreams you feel the wonderful relief of HAVING SOLVED it. Then you wake up and realize that everything was so confuse in the dream, the problem was not exactly specified, the solution you found not cannot be recalled, and possibly did not even exist: it was not an answer, just the impression, the emotion, that YOU GOT IT... It is a physical feeling. Sometimes you have the visceral impression of knowing, understanding, seeing, recalling... (“recalling things that other people have desired”). As if inside you the rational activity lost control on thought, and this in turn abandoned itself to a stream of emotions that does not care of reality, of space, time, logics.

Well, nothing pathological, at all. But it helps to understand where the weak point of the soul is, in which point a wedge of pain and disease can penetrate to disjoint and dissociate the spirit: a split soul (schizo-phrenia), and therefore fool. Fool, yes, because of disease or of love, because of fanaticism or dismay, disoriented in space, in time, incapable of facing reality, disturbed in thought because that link has been lost that obliges THOUGHT to face visceral, affective experience; that link that keeps them interlaced, and does not let them depart more and more from one another, tearing apart the soul.

Because quite a lot of our life moves out of our control.

And then, once more, who am I ? Am I the one who acts down there or the one who watches and tries to understand?

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Words and Music

In talking of memory we happened to compare it to language, in which every word takes on evocative, visual, musical, emotional, affective, personal values for each of us, and they are increasingly varied and rich as times goes by and experiences accumulate.

Each of us a language, then. But a personal, individual language. Each word has a different sound, emotion and color for each of us.

Maybe, it is nicer and more appropriate to see each of us as two worlds, a music and a language that meet together.

We are a flashing of fluctuating chords, a succession of possible words.

And each harmony, each sentence is a moment of our life. Of ourselves.

But not in the sense that each moment, each chord, leaves something written somewhere in us, so that it can be re-evoked. No. Each moment of our life remains in us, as a part of us, because that chord, that harmony has changed now, has been connected with new words and enriched with new meaning. And those words are now different, enriched with emotion, linked to new harmonies.

All this may repeat over and over, and perhaps we shall no more be able to live again any single moment of our life, that harmony and those words, by simply recalling them, because we do not possess them any more as they used to be; we shall “live again” something even richer, but different, because that harmony will now recall other words that it did not know, each word will suggest harmonies that it had not heard before at that time.

We are a language and a music

language which is not made of pronounced sentences, but of possible sentences

not a written music, but possible chords, sequences, harmonies (like jazz?)

a language and a music that change in talking and playing.

Music lives of its tonalities, of its rhythms, of its emotions, and follows the words but cannot tell them.

And words cannot tell music.

We can grasp, understand, say, recall only an infinitesimal fraction of the combinations of words and music that run after each other and entwine in our life. Because only a part of the activity scheme of the whole brain, which grinds needs, gratifications, emotions, fears, dreams, desires, intuitions, relations, associations, interpretations, ideas, projects, actions, is heard in the regions that generate conscience and record aware memories.

Only this small part is perceived, is fixed and understood, and this is what you think you are, what you feel you are.

But what does not surface is also recorded. And vague memories, and fleeting, reappear, that are not memories but vaguely familiar emotions. Much of the music, that is your emotions and your life, plays muffled and only appears in the cadence of words you remember as moments of yourself. You only realize this in a confuse way, as when the blues grabs you, and demands that you be sad because you just feel like weeping, not that you cry because you are sad...

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Men and women.

There is a difference between music and words, between the emotion with which we live and the glance wit which we look at life.

Music keeps going, ever new. It cannot stop. It permeates, interprets, expresses reality, it does not describe.

Curiously, in most languages there are two very different ways to express the meaning “to understand”: to grasp and to comprehend.

To clutch with clamps and fix with pins and examine, dissect, violate.

To comprehend, identify with, take inside you (nothing terrible if it becomes allusive), let in, let yourself be pervaded, host, recreate inside you, tune with.

Words, and music, once again.

Words to grasp reality, to explain it, to violate it.

Music to comprehend reality, to live it, to care about.

Well, it may be a misconception, but everybody would agree that grasping is the specialty of men, comprehending is that of women.

Words and music. Toward things, people, and towards other communities, different cultures, alien worlds. And not only in exploring.

Whether the question is of accepting reality, or actively intervening to modify it, in both cases one can adopt two different approaches: comprehensive-empathic or prevaricating.

It is Cassandra or the Greeks (sorry for those who do not know Christa Wolf). It is peace or war. It is love or control. It is war against terrorism, gulf wars, against the lost occasion of half of the Islamic world that condemns 9.11, while the western world has not the courage, or the strength, to open a dialog, or consciously refuses and closes it. It is the concept itself of “just war”, something that perhaps all of us can conceive from the side of the weaker one, but only some of us can conceive from the side of the stronger one: those of us, and it is not few of them, absolutely, who think that it is right to try and understand the youth, and talk, and love them, and counsel them... but sometimes a good slap resolves more than a thousand words. It is easy: ask one if in his/her opinion there are situations in which using violence, or merely raising the voice, resolves something that love cannot resolve, and if he/she says yes then you know that he/she has no problems in conceiving the “just war”, and the flag of peace puts him/her uncomfortable.

May it be accidental that women generally are on the side of peace?

We all hear the music.

We all try and understand it and explain it.

But music, even YOUR music... you cannot govern it, you may be able to push it and guide it a little, perhaps, but then you must set it free, and let it carry you.

You cannot direct it with words.

Music is played by sentiments, affects, emotions, perfumes, sensations, dreams, desires, pain, pleasure. Like a sax that enters with its solo, you can try to divert, to suggest a different rhythm, a new tone... If it is the right one, and the moment is right, maybe the other musicians get along, follow you, and the music changes. But often, ...

Sometimes music starts soft, languid, moving, sad, triggered by a hidden melody, by an unrecognized chord. And it grasps you, colors your soul in blue, and be it as sad as you wish, still it gets you, it hugs you and cuddles and soothes you: the quintessence of blues...

Sometimes instead it sounds joyful, fresh and inebriating. And everything is colored and flourishes. What is happiness? What is it?! It is difficult to say it because one feels it must be done with words, and then one must describe: what, how, why... Instead, it is not difficult, happiness is when music plays strong and inflaming within us. Trivial? But happiness is happiness and that is it! There is no rule with which to combine tones and chords so that harmony, melody abruptly grasps you and takes you away from reality, and steals your soul. There is no rule to create in yourself the right chord, the melody of happiness.

There is no rule and often, too often, music drags you along its lanes while words would bring you somewhere else.

Who are you then? are you the words or the music?

Each one follows its own logic; music asks for harmony, word for coherence. Music knows your needs, your rhythms, your secret dreams, and shows up in your gestures and your modes, has itself noticed by others and looks for harmonies and sends messages and requests; the words only see a portion of all that, and guide your conscious choices, chose your sentences − though often they cannot impose the tone − and mark the reality that is around you; they send other messages and different requests.

And if the most concise and momentous definition of schizophrenia says “dissociation between the affective and cognitive spheres” − it may not be exhaustive, but it gets the point − then we are all a little “schizo”, men and women.

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In a slightly different way , though, because women better perceive the music of the soul, they can give up explaining it − and getting it wrong − when it is better not to, and can follow it and live it and spread it around.

In saying this an old movie comes to my mind, “Baghdad cafť”, and that awkward, so sweet big woman, who emanates warmth, fantasy, commitment and ingenuity and manages in impregnating of all this the rancid and sleepy place she happens to come about... Or a lucky sentence in the movie “The hours”, that I once captured in pieces on the plane; mum: “letís make a cake for daddy to let him know that we love him...”, the little girl: “otherwise he wouldnít know?”... It reminds me of how Lella Costa often complains of how women can hurt themselves: “that thoughtless, ill-advised trusting masculine intuition...”.

Yes, women often know how to live the music of emotions and sentiments, their words − and their acts − how to interpret it, how not to violate it.

Maybe estrogens are needed to reach this accord. Maybe it is the two X chromosome that have been talking to each-other since childhood, and communicate, get to know and understand each other, while our single one, with that crippled Y companion, talks by himself and gets dull. However, no doubt man is schizoed, because he rarely perceives the music as a part of himself: most times he ignores it, or studies and analyzes it like a strange insect, or cuddles and venerates it and abandons himself to it and loses his mind.

But, honestly, at least a little, women also are schizoed.

Ask a woman, the wisest you can find, what is she looking for, how much warmth, strength, and sweetness or hardness, availability, confidence, surprise, and protection and spirit and aggressiveness, in a man... Then, look at whom she gets stuck with! Perhaps, it is because music just looks for something that cannot be found, that has not been there in the past because it could not be there, and looks for it precisely in people who resemble those who were not capable of giving us that something, who could not give it to us because they WERE NOT ABLE TO... Music looks for that something, anxiously and passionately, because it does not and cannot find it... Because in the end not even women are so clever in reading the music. They can live it, true, and translate it in behavior, often coherent and confident, but they understand little of it themselves, and then, how do you want them to try and explain it to us, men, what do you want us to understand?

One thing, however, is clear to women, in general: that it is no use to complain, looking back, spotting errors and faults. That to live you must follow the music. Be it joyous or sad, exhilarating of moving. Follow the music, without saving energies and calculating too much. This is really something they should teach us men, also − especially − in politics: transforming the perception of what is missing, of what is not good, into an effort to build, with joy and commitment. Not negating, analyzing, make use or take advantage of deficiencies, but perceiving them and recognizing them as a powerful motor to change.

In the seventies, for the first and last time in my life, I cuddled the illusion that people could get together and fight FOR something. This eventuality emerged with a certain clarity at the margins of collective feeling at that time, and that is probably what many people in Italy referred to when fancying about “hegemony of the working class”.

But we were not able to give this aspiration modes, instruments, objectives.

Thus, fighting FOR has become once more an exclusive patrimony of the healthy parts of the religious world, of nostalgic fringes of a different gauche, of youth associations, and of a few people committed in the world, in culture, in society.

And mostly of women, who with music, with life, still do not want to give up.

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So emotions are born down there, and move viscera to communicate to the brain that something relevant for survival is occurring, and move muscles to communicate to the others that something important is occurring inside us or outside.

This is not much different from what occurs in animals as well.

But in man, in addition, huge areas of the cortex are capable of generating similar emotions, and visceral and muscular upsets and tremors, simply by seeing, remembering, imagining, hearing or thinking of, past, future and possible emotions, ours or somebody elseís.

And in addition our cortex generates genuine and poignant emotions when we discover something new, or clarify a puzzling question, create something, get committed, act ethically or compassionately...

All this in addition, and much more.

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Neurologically, we are visual beings. A great fraction of our brain is organized to elaborate information like visual one: huge amounts of data that arrive simultaneously − not a perfume a taste a sound, but millions of colored dots. But data do not move well ordered as in a computer, all nicely written, one after the other, in a file: they do not even reach the brain as they are, and what gets there is pulverized at once, decomposed and recomposed again and again. No more colored dots but lines, curves and combinations thereof, and simple geometric figures, and more and more complex patterns, each of them recognized by specific neurons, until we get to neurons that are capable of recognizing very complex patterns, or any image where it is possible to detect a human face.

Each neuron focalized on one aspect. A million explorers, each of them in search of specific hints: it seems as if they were there to understand, rather than to see.

Each neuron an outlook, a thousand different readings and interpretations, simultaneous, available there to be examined, compared, integrated, re-elaborated, to be compared with what has already been.

Thus, reality dematerializes in the brain: no photographs but details, elements, relationships. And relationships that expand beyond the information there to be examined, and include emotional, operative, affective aspects. And links and analogies. And continuous and simultaneous re-interpretations in wider and wider domains.

We are visual beings in the sense that we can simultaneously analyze in a thousand different ways a simultaneous bunch of information: MULTIPLICITY, but each aspect per se and also with respect to all it can be related to. As a consequence, internal rules and logics must be considered and applied, but everything must also be examined from outside, and in relationship with any other possible logic. Reading by invading a wider domain, METAnalysis. Logic, and METAlogic. Further and beyond. META: inside but also outside and above.

As one examines the organization of the brain, he finds higher and higher systems, in continuous search of unified views and higher harmonies, even momentary ones. A kind of obsessive − and puzzling − search for harmony. But maybe not so puzzling, when one realizes that something more is there, more or less evident, in the brain, something neurobiology has not examined with sufficient attention: circuitries capable of producing the deepest pleasure − such as a smile can generate, or an act of love − when an intuition, a new and unexpected glance, a set of sensations creates the harmony of a synthesis of multiplicity (the BEAUTY...).

The pleasure of BEAUTY... This, also, in between emotions and cognition, deep there in neuronal circuits. There, to be studied with much more care!

So, if it is true that emotions arise form the heart, and viscera and flesh, the brain is capable of combining them and exsiccating them and extracting their flavor, it is capable of distilling out of them a harmony, a music that continually accompanies it and shows it the essence of life; and the brain is capable of translating this music itself, the music of beauty, into a novel and overwhelming emotion. Maybe then it becomes clear why emotions, and perfumes, suggest the souls: because few words make you think of the soul − and few fit to the soul − as “harmony” and “music” do.

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I keep my countenance, I remain self-possessed
Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired
Reiterates some worn-out common song
With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
Recalling things that other people have desired.

    T. S. Eliot, “Portrait of a Lady”

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