Monday, April 15, 2013

The Modern Fascination with the Brain: The Religion of Cranialism and Politics of Neurocracy


This new and thriving religion of "Cranialism," is the materialist's latest retreat into naturalist reductionism. I think part of the motive for millions of dollars to be sunk into brain research has to do with a bio-social engineering approach of politics and culture. My biggest fear re. govt. controlled health care is their access to defining mental health and how the "mentally dysfunctional" brain ought to be treated and repaired. I don't care if you are on the left or the right, as a Libertarian I don't want the govt. defining who is mentally "healthy". When I told someone I was probably going to vote for Romney, she seriously blurted out, "Are you insane?!" As Szasz points out, mental illness is the modern version of the Inquisition. Put the govt. in control of the DSM, and you have an updated version of the medieval Malleus Maleficarum. I felt like I had been called a witch. At that point the dialogue goes from a healthy soul-making discussion of ideas to that of who has the healthy mental ideology. Shades of Russian, Chinese, Cuban and North Korean re-educational camps. And not that far from a form of religious theocracy--perhaps Statist Neurocracy.

As for the brain/mind issue, in my classes I like to use this analogy for the hard core materialists: "Imagine that you could transport some primeval character, who had never seen a television or any such technology, into this room. Then you turn on the flat screen TV monitor hanging on the wall, and there appears an image of Jay Leno doing his monologue. Then you ask that person where that man is located. He would likely say, 'He is a little person, inside that box.' And that is a very reasonable answer. But you reply, 'No, he is 500 miles (25 sunrises) from here in a place called Los Angeles.' The fellow replies, 'How is he getting into the box?' You respond, 'Well, there are invisible signals (ghosts) in the air filling this room. In fact, there are hundreds of such signals (ghosts) all around us. We just need the right apparatus (box) to capture the signals (ghosts) and turn them into images that talk.'" Of course the brain is our "television monitor" replete with amazingly intricate hard wiring and processive technology that allows us to capture the myriad signals in the air (Sheldrake's morphic fields, Confortti's archetypal fields, Jung's little people dwelling in the Psychoid realm, Corbin's Mundus Imaginalis, Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven, etc.). Perhaps our personal Daimon controls the remote that chooses the particular configuration of channels we each receive for our personal soul-making experiences (akin to Keat's hornbook in the School of Soul-making). 

This analogy doesn't prove consciousness apart from the brain. But it does illustrate that immaterial, or at least invisible, signals do work in conjunction with the material monitor--transmitted by a kind of Hermes-like technology that translates and interprets from one realm to the other. Why then wouldn't it be at least possible to have an amazingly complex material brain-monitor replete with 100 billion interconnected cells, chemical synapses, an intra-somatic neural wiring system, etc., as well invisible signals we call consciousness in Mind, or Psyche?

When I share this, I always see someone gazing eerily and imaginally around the room as if to see the many imperceptible signals filling the air--as if for the first time they realize we live daily in the midst of audio and visual invisibles. This analogy fits in well with Barfield's/Steiner's anthroposophical "spiritual theories"--which they claim to have been "captured and translated" by a part of the mind--Newberg's and the neuro-theologian's "god-part" of the brain. We moderns are ignorant, or as Bergman said in "Scenes from a Marriage," we Westerner's are "emotionally illiterate".

I have found a book that masterfully takes on this materialist view of consciousness. A Mind So Rare, by Merlin Donald. One reviewer said, "Merlin Donald takes on the role toward the study of the human mind that Gould, Lewontin, and Rose take toward the study of human evolution. He tries valiantly to bring us back from what he sees as the brink of an awful and unwarranted reductionism." Donald actually utilizes literature (art) as neglected data for brain/consciousness studies. I think you'd find it valuable--especially the chapter title "The Governor of Mental Life," and page 78 "A Literary View". I could see someone like you extending that criterion into the visual arts and the way consciousness interacts with the mind (soul) of the artist, the art critic and general viewer.