(This document in in the process of evolving. Last Edit: 03.27.09)
Day and Night
During our waking hours, human cognition is a thing of dichotomies: subjects and contexts, and the implied or perceived relationships between them. The gap is the home of these relationships, the womb in which they are generated and brought forth to consciousness. This gap is far more than ‘nothing’ — it is a fertile and undifferentiated source of energies and potentials. The objects and beings that inhabit our waking life are known by their names and the denotations which follow in their wake. If any of those names are changed, it is no matter of great consequence (as long as we agree to use the new token to refer to the old definition); but change one definition and you will find all the others modulating in the wake of their relation with the one you changed. Definitions (de-infinitizations) it seems, comprise a relationally interlinked web.
Yet at nightfall, this begins to change, and during our sleeping life an alien consciousness is liberated. This consciousness cares little for names, and less for definitions, playing with them like an incomparable composer plays with the rhythms and voices of music. It is creative beyond the wildest hopes of our waking mind, and during our dreaming experience identity is a liquid which flows and changes without regard to our expectations of ‘rationality’. Our dreaming mind represents a highly generalizing intelligence which is adept at converting the specific into something which is at once personal and universal. This intelligence appears ‘nonsensical’ to our waking mind, and yet it holds forth to us the keys to a set of ancient mysteries, not the least of which concerns the sources of these two seemingly irreconcilable modes of awareness. It is fundamentally concerned with connotations, rather than denotations.
Consider the difference between the day and the night. By day, there is one source of light, color and life: The Sun. Generally speaking, we do not look at the Sun because its brightness is overwhelming — we see color and form and relation because of the Sun — and in a very real sense all that we see exists due to the unique character and activity of our local star. Similarly, by day, the mind is one: me. I, like the Sun, am unified and singular — I am of one mind. But at night, all of this changes. As the Sun sets, the tableau of the sky changes, and where before there was a single sovereign, we now see (given the proper conditions) many stars. And constellations arise from the shapes of the relations between them. These stars are not so close as to illuminate the environment. Colors are gone, replaced by silvers, black, and shadow. And, at night, we become many minds — much less of a single self — particularly when we dream.
But there is another luminary, which goes through phases, and often lights the night: the Moon. Unlike the Sun, the Moon is rarely bright enough to allow us to see colors, but we can see shadows and silvery light. Perhaps more interestingly, whereas in the daytime we see ‘because’ of the Sun, at night all eyes are drawn to the Moon. This orbital body is like a mirror that unifies the organs of sight on the night-side of Earth — all beings look up and see the Moon, when it is visible — and are thus connected by it. Unlike the Sun, the Moon has phases, and thus its brightness differs in a predictable way over of time. At night, identity is not such a solid and obvious thing; in the darkness, when we cannot see clearly, the music of voices becomes the primary touchstone of identity. In a very dark room, where we cannot see one another, our perceptions of the identities of those around us will often undergo a radical revision, and so too will our own abilities of expression, and perhaps even our persona.
There is something significant in this parable of day and night, identity and seeing. The daytime mind is very specific, and, due to its dependence on visual cues — superficially judgmental. The mind of night is more in tune with auditory clues, and is a much more general mode of the intelligence potentials we possess. Rather than merely parsing discrete objects and surfaces (which it is aware of), it is more adept at the recognition of patterns — information which comes across to us from the linkages between many distinct objects and relations.
And the Second Child Shall Contain the First
I ask that we explore a novel perspective regarding the relation between siblings in order to gain another perspective on the story of Cain and Abel, as well as the how and why of the murder. It is a way of modelling to how later-born siblings relate to the former-born siblings (and vice-versa), and why. This is something that was explained to me during a nonordinary contact event, and while I admit that in common ‘rational’ thought it may appear to be a stretch, my own experience and explorations have verified it to the degree that I am satisfied. The reader is invited to make their own explorations, but warned against dismissing it out of hand. In the previous paragraph, I introduced the conundrum of the second child being ‘older and wiser’ than the first — in this section I will attempt to offer an explanation of how this might be so. Primarily, we shall discover that this matter depends on some novel qualities of the function and character of the womb.
What happens in a human womb is not merely 9 months of biological genesis. It is a perfectly complete (yet also perfectly unique) recapitulation of Genesis itself. Additionally (as I have discussed elsewhere) Time has little to do with human models of it, and a lot more to do with size, speed and relation at multiple simultaneous scales — it is elementally recapitulative (or, to use an inaccurate yet functional modern technological term: holographic) in that it re-includes histories of circumstance and event in concentric cycles of infolding. The ontogenesis of the human fetus recapitulates not only the evolutionary history of Earth (an idea modernly ‘discredited’), but also the Genesis of the physical universe. This is not a matter of 9 months, or even 4.5 billion years. It is instead a recursive recapitulation of the entirety of the evolution of the Cosmos.
The ‘amount’ of time which passes during the gestation of a human being is ‘all of it’. And during this functionally ‘infinite’ quantity of time, the fetus ‘writes its character into the walls of its room’ much in the same way that a human being inhabits a physical structure — impressing on the ‘walls’ of that structure tangible and intangible aspects of its character and spirit. It is as if the embryo is ‘painting itself into the walls of the womb’. The ‘second child’ thus contains the first, because it has evolved within in its elder sibling’s ‘womb room’ and has been impregnated with elemental aspects of its older sibling’s character . So the second child absorbs crucial aspects of character and persona from the first — but to the first child, the second is ‘totally other’. The first child does not (and cannot) contain the second. At most, the first prefigures the (radical expansions) of the second.
This is one of the keys to understanding the story of Cain and Abel in a new light. When we realize that Cain (the Divider) does not ‘contain’ Abel (the Unifier) and thus experiences him as ‘other’ we can begin to understand both his reactions and his actions. Consider the human body: without division, no such creature is possible — in fact, it could be plausibly argued that the body and brain are ‘mostly gaps’ (or divisions). (Are there more letters on this page than there is space?) Yet this division takes place within an actively unifying context — the human person (and other scales of unifying context).
Here we see that the ‘Unifier contains the Divider’, but the opposite is not true. The ‘space’ on this page contains the letters — but the letters do not contain the space. Some of the letters circumscribe the context of the ‘page’, it is true, but not to the same degree as where the context unifies all possible divisions. The Divider appears (superficially) to exist without needing to be ‘contained’ at all. It can fallaciously believe its power to be sovereign and to require no ‘other half’, just as the waking mind can focus so emphatically upon subject as to entirely lose its connection to and awareness of the meaning and power of context. An interesting conundrum related to the waking mind was mentioned by a friend of mine (K. Jaeger) who noticed that it is nearly impossible for us to attend context — once we notice context — it becomes subject! Here is an excellent example of how Cain can perceive himself as ‘complete’ and ‘sovereign’: every time he notices that which ‘is in the kingdom of his brother’ it magically transforms into his possession! He thus ‘acquires’ all of the attributes and functions which naturally accrue to his brother — nothing is ‘not his’.
Cain is angry because he cannot understand the value of his brother. He can attack and kill him, because, from his perspective, his brother is ‘entirely other’. Abel, on the other hand, is unwilling to enter into combat with his brother, who he knows that he himself contains. It would be like attacking one hand with the other — not only difficult but senseless. Without the desire ‘to divide and conquer’ (to have mastery over) Abel is easy prey for Cain. And thus it is that he falls victim to his brother’s insensate and arguably ignorant wrath. Cain, meanwhile, rather than resolving the issue that initially dismayed him, has dramatically magnified it; however it is clear that he has at least garnered the negative attention of God.
The Map and the Antidote
There is another feature of Genesis which is rarely discussed; regardless of precisely who the human author(s) were, there are some things of which we can be relatively certain. Along with the authorial vocation of ‘a holy man, men or persons’, the author was also a Father, and most likely a healer. Consider that if you were recording a very important story about ‘a terrible accident’ for your future children you would not merely tell them about the great losses experienced and how they were incurred. Instead, you would want them to understand how to resolve these losses. If you were concerned about the possibility of this information being misused by enemies, you would hide it within the text in a way that only those who were properly educated would understand. I believe that the early portions of the text of Genesis comprise just such a story — they are not merely the reports of what happened, they contain clues to the antidote, clues embodied in a very subtle way which is rendered accessible only when the proper perspective is adopted.
Like the story of the Tree Incident, the story of Cain and Abel contains something sacred and powerful; it is not simply the story of the first two children of Adam and Eve, nor is it merely a parable prefiguring the future trials and tribulations of the Jewish peoples — it is a map that unveils an elemental problem with human cognition, and the struggle between the two modes of awareness and intelligence within us. The problem began at the Tree of Knowledge, and continued in the birth of the first two ‘children’. Without needing to admit or dismiss that Cain and Abel were the actual original children of Adam and Eve, we can easily reveal some of the function within the mythos. Like a dream, the story is speaking of at least four dimensions or perspectives at once: The Heavenly (or ‘spiritual’), The Universal (the dimension of material existence), The Filial, and The Cognitive. This mode of concentric re-inclusion is apparent in all of nature; it is what we refer to in mathematics as ‘recursion’, but in this case each iterative recursion embodies and expresses new transports and dimensions of meaning.
Without this map, we would have little hope of discovering or addressing these issues — the problem is so overwhelming that the chances of us ever noticing it are extremely slim. Even when we do manage to notice it, we notice with the aspect which has precedence — which we might call ‘Cain’s mind’, and to Cain ‘this is not a problem, it’s the solution’. The situation is thorny and fraught with pitfalls which have, over long periods of human cognitive evolution, taken every possible opportunity to cement themselves in place and hide the clues to their existence, goals and function. There are, however a variety of ways to resolve it, all of which begin with understanding the roots and histories involved.
The problem is simply stated. One aspect of mind, the aspect that speaks and reasons, has killed the other (banished it to the underworld) — the one who is skillful at assembling the most general (and true) meanings from ‘patterns’ (that which is shared by anything seen as separate). The ‘lost’ child’s ‘offering’ (which we can read as ‘way of expression’) was favored by the unityBeing. The result of the murder was Cain’s exile, which in turn resulted in many ways of ‘making things’ (Cain, the ‘smith’) — a practice involving division (the establishment of ‘parts’) and ‘assembly’ — the shadow of unification made manifest in ‘tools’ such as machines.
Abel must be recovered from the underworld, and the relationship between Cain and Abel must be healed and rectified such that Abel ‘rules’ with Cain as his ‘right hand’ — or trusted and honored advisor. In waking consciousness what we experience is nearly ‘pure Cain’. He doesn’t merely drive the car of our awareness and relationships with knowledge, he owns it. Abel is bound, gagged and hidden in the trunk. The most we hear of him is an occasional and strange ‘banging noise’ which vies for our attention momentarily during travel. The Abel aspect is subjugated, denied, devalued and discredited — and this is echoed in our cultures and our activities as nations. This problem is disastrously obvious when we carefully examine the effects of our activity and beliefs on the environment, and the cognitive and physical outcomes of the enaction of the supposed ‘intelligence’ we claim to possess.
The human species considers itself the most intelligent of the life-forms of Earth, and yet this supposed intelligence, when enacted, attacks nearly everything that moves. Its appearance belies its real function, and the arrogance implicit in both our understanding and activity is overwhelmingly disastrous, because it precludes our ability to transcend our modern myopia and establish within our persons and cultures the potential for us to acquire something which can more realistically fulfil the necessities of a reasonable definition of intelligence. What we possess and celebrate, I suggest, is not intelligence at all — but a superficially sophisticated mimic. A pretender. Any species who possesses and enacts ways of knowing which, by their common activity and nature destroy both that species and their environment cannot yet be said to be ‘intelligent’. Humans have not yet learned to carefully examine the costs of our thinking and activity in terms of harm to self and environment, and if these costs were made clear to us we would reel in shock that we had ever descended to such an omnicidal position.
To understand this problem we must explore a model of intelligence that supercedes those we currently possess, and we may begin by negation — by understanding what intelligence is not. Intelligence is not the ability to speak in a sophisticated way about things and relations, nor is it the ability to formulate complex (yet invariably incomplete) models of reality and its many classes of participants and mechanisms. It is not the ability to engineer or establish technologies or complex machines. It is not simply the ability to simulate, or predict outcomes of simulated scenarios. Neither is it simply the ability to understand representational concepts such as measurement or formal identity.
Terrestrial organisms do not wander around making models of intelligence, or declaring their intelligence — they enact it. They do not assemble machines because they do not require them for their fulfillment or ‘progress’, and are severely endangered by their common propagation. They care not a whit whether or not they possess the capacity for representational cognition or formal language, and in fact, given the choice, they would likely reject such options due to the terrible dangers emergent from them! The myriad life-forms of Earth are not merely ‘intelligent’; they are intelligence as action. Their nature, character and activity are the instancing of the intelligence they comprise rather than the declaration of a possession whose actual enaction defies all reasonable definitions of intelligence!
Intelligence could be more accurately defined as a collection of ways of relation which, when enacted, create the widest possible benefit (for all beings, not merely one species) while resulting in the least possible harm. It is fundamentally relational (and thus sensitive to matters of context) rather than abstractly rational. This is a moving target which I believe to be the actual goal of what humans refer to as ‘the evolutionary process’. By this standard, humans are not yet intelligent, and it can be reasonably argued that we are not even progressing in that general direction, but instead away from it at the highest possible speed.
Our certainty that we have been ‘raised above the animals’ has caused us to consistently descend to states that animals would never inhabit nor enact, but, like Cain — rather than observe and amend this, we justify ourselves with endless half-witted rationalizations, and continue our travels away from all that is within our potential. Each of us secretly knows this; we suspect it in the depths of our hearts that something is terrible wrong within and around us, but to admit it would call into question the entirety of what we have trained ourselves to credential, and who is courageous enough to make such an admission? To do so would be to face the ultimate unknown: what we can be, verses what we have become.
If there’s one thing that terrifies a human being, it is the unknown. We would rather apply a label to some being, object, or circumstance and be devoid of understanding (while believing that because we can name or define it, it is no longer unknown) than to divest ourselves of names and labels entirely, for the sake of a moving intimacy whose goal is not the frozen model, but communion. In modeling is ignorance, but in communion is true understanding — and a learning process unlike anything we have ever imagined.
I suggest that it is the largely unseen intelligence of Abel which is worthy of cognitive sovereignty, and that Cain’s rightful and most productive position is as his brother’s ‘right hand’. Speaking now of human cognition, I sense that in destroying Abel, Cain destroyed his own best hope for fulfillment. Rather than admit and amend this he concocted a variety of fallacious propositions which would justify his current and future position. These propositions have become the basis of our common waking consciousness, and have led us into an ever-more confusing set of confabulated terrains from which, at this late date, we would have have little hope of escape without exposure to some very new ways of knowing, by which I mean new ways of assembling meaning from circumstance (and within language). Perhaps the term ‘new’ is a misnomer, in that what I really mean is more akin to recollection — to remember ways of knowing we possessed as children, but which are largely absent from our experience as adults. I also suggest that the English term ‘enlightenment’ refers to the sudden inversion of the common paradigm of mind; Abel awakens from ‘the long sleep of death’ and ascends to the dominant position, to which Cain becomes (often quite happily) ancillary.
The story of Cain and Abel is played out anew with the birth of each human child, and I believe that each one of us undergoes a unique (yet complete) recapitulation of it during childhood. There are, however, reversals. From a cognitive perspective, it is Abel who is born first, and it is his insatiable hunger for learning (which we can see as an innate hunger for new ways of knowing and new modes of relation) which results in us ‘acquiring’ Cain. In an earlier portion of this essay I spoke briefly of a strange form of recursion in which new instances recapitulate their sources, yet during this re-instancing some elements sometimes switch precedence. This is a crucial matter for the reader to pursue, for the lack of this form of understanding is one of the primary problems with the modes of cognition we inherit from the human environment. The intelligence and learning ability we were accustomed to as children was multivalent and adept at following multiple simultaneous threads of meaning without the necessity of one thread’s character conflicting with another. What we eventually came to experience was something very different from this, where all threads must compete for dominance, and the victor is then seen as incontrovertible ‘fact’. Comparatively, this latter mode is tragically flat, and severely impoverished. It inclines us toward the defense of that which is known, rather than the discovery of that which can be learned — particularly new ways of learning.
All of us have memories, however vague, of the brilliant intelligence and creativity of Abel — when a simple toy could transport us into nearly ecstatic dimensions of wonder and imagination for hours. In the bathtub, great epics took place with nothing more than placeholder objects which acquired the roles of ships at sea, while the waves and splashings became ‘tidal waves’. Complex games with other children were almost dreamlike in their ability to grant us experiential access to nonordinary worlds of adventure and exploration. This profound power of imaginative transport, and the highly integrative aspect of Abel’s ability to transform the superficially mundane into the amazing are hallmarks of the character of the intelligence we lost contact with as we ‘grew up’.
The common definitions of ‘growing up’ correlate to the nearly total rejection and denigration of Abel’s intelligence within us. One justification for this ‘necessity” is that we consider this aspect of human intelligence to be insufficient and unworthy of attention due to its purportedly ‘childlike’ character; but here we have made an error: what we have as memories are of the ‘youth’ of this intelligence. We fail to notice that the intelligence of Cain, which we consider to be adept, rational, and worthy of sovereignty would also appear very childlike if viewed at this early stage of development, and of the two — Abel’s is far superior in its ability to form holistic and relationally adept perspectives which are entirely beyond Cain’s ken. It is Abel’s intelligence which appears first, and its profound general skill at learning is the very means by which we acquire the complex and divisive languaging skills which eventually result in Abel’s disappearance from our common experience and awareness.
Language is not a ‘gift’ to the human child as we popularly suppose, and the onset of complexly abstractive formal languaging is a crisis of epic proportions, where most of our native intelligence skills are assaulted by a culturally transmitted intruder. The aspect of our intelligence which is most adept at learning without regard to circumstance or form is aggressively and systematically beset by a specifist invader whose every activity is oriented toward first subjugating and eventually largely eliminating our native intelligence. This crisis continues throughout our lives, but for many of us the majority of our waking-life access to Abel is destroyed by around age 12. From then on, it is a simple matter for Cain to mop up or hide any remaining traces of his once ubiquitous brother. This circumstance is a recapitulation of the Tree Incident, as well as of Cain’s murder of Abel. The Tree Incident introduced a ‘cultural intruder’ (something we acquire through relation with our environment, rather than something we bring with us into human incarnation), and we might speculate that this resulted in a reversal where ‘the child of the intruder’ was ‘born first’, thus possessing the rights and privileges which otherwise might have accrued to Abel.
As we age, our initial state of graceful suspension of abstraction in favor of imaginally realized communion is aggressively replaced with a spurious ‘rationality’ (a way of dividing and comparing) that will deliver us into a malevolent forest wherein touching any tree results in us being dragged furiously into endless branchings. Abstract languaging is like a malevolent broom — touching the handle sucks us inexorably toward the brush; on arriving there, the first strand we touch becomes the handle of another such broom, ad infinitum. Not only are we sucked into this bizarre situation within our own hearts and minds, but we must somehow conserve and sustain all the tokens of our travel — and this activity robs us of the cognitive resources and momentum which we would otherwise naturally invest in a form of learning so amazing that were it to be even briefly manifest in our ‘adult’ awareness we would find ourselves experiencing of a form of ecstatic prodigy that would dwarf the wildest of human imaginings regarding the potentials of our innate intelligence.
Yet we must be careful here, for it is not Cain’s mind or languaging which is undesirable — the problems we have are a matter of precedence and form. Cain, in his proper position, is a necessary and highly functional adjunct to Abel. And language itself is not so much the problem here as our chosen relationship with it — and the overwhelming investment of this relationship with specificity, ‘literality’ and a spurious form of invention which presents itself as unquestionably verified by ‘reason’ (which is invariably incomplete). We would not want to banish Cain any more than we will profit from the loss of Abel; and another set of catastrophes would ensue should we make this mistake.
Instead, we must change their precedence — establishing Abel as the cognitive sovereign to whom Cain is the trusted and honored advisor. This results in an inversion of the common polarity of human consciousness where generality acquires precedence over specificity. Similarly, the problem with language is one of precedence: we believe that specificity has value and that generality is ‘vague’, yet in reality mastery of generality will vastly prevail over anything specificity can ever offer us. What I mean here is a bit difficult to explain clearly, but allow me to propose that what we might call in English a ‘poetic’ understanding — where multiple aspects of significance are simultaneously present without the necessity of conflict — is close to what I am saying has been lost. We do not see this because our languages and logics — the very tools whereby we assemble meaning from circumstance — are formulated according to a specifist paradigm. Though generalizing models exist, they are considered exotic and remain outside the reach of the common person who is immersed in an abstractive and specificity-laden society. An excellent and educational example of the discovery of these problems lies within the work of Alfred Korzybyski, the founder of General Semantics (or Null-A), who made it his lifelong goal to deliver to us an awareness of the problems of statics in language and the power of generalization in logic. But there is another problem with language, it rules over us when it should be serving us. It makes us in its image, instead of shifting to accommodate our needs and learning potentials — and this is a catastrophe that grows worse in leaps as it proceeds.
Cain’s skill as an artificer is the perfect compliment to the heartful wisdom and hyper-integrative comprehension of Abel; however, without Abel’s real intelligence ruling over him he cannot guide himself or his actions toward positive outcomes. His skill at dividing becomes his downfall, for he cannot re-unify what he has divided by himself. Thus it is that even in his tool-making he must (perhaps infuriatingly) refer constantly to his departed brother, whose skills are no longer locally accessible to him. There are a variety of serious problems with this situation that we must more deeply understand before we can avail ourselves of solutions. This is a difficult task, for the very transports I must use to attempt to communicate with you regarding these matters are owned by Cain. Language is under his dominion, and the reading and writing of it further empower his sovereignty. How then am I to speak of Abel? I cannot do this with Cain’s mouth.
Unexpectedly, by murdering Abel, Cain has become his keeper. He must take great care to see that no memory or awareness of Abel should rise to the surface of our awareness, for if it did he would immediately be devalued and again ‘cast out’ from his position of sovereignty in disgrace. Cain is an expert at hiding Abel’s offerings, but he is even more talented at co-opting them, and then presenting the distorted ‘product’ as his own.
But Abel, who was indeed ‘murdered’ in our childhood is still with us ‘in spirit’, and rather than being entirely eliminated he has instead been ‘imprisoned in the underworld’, which we may partially understand by four names: ‘the night’, ‘the non-dominant hemisphere’, ‘the brain in the belly’, and ‘the dreaming mind’.
Of 2(+) minds: The Hemispheres of the Brain
The story of Cain and Abel represents a map of the genesis of a disastrous problem with human cognition; particularly with the evaluatory and relational aspects of our consciousness, language use, and awareness. These problems are endemic to the human relationship with knowledge, and it is no accident that the Tree in Eden is called ‘The Tree of Knowledge’. Adopting the perspective that there is a serious problem with our relationship with knowledge enables us to begin to directly explore the primary sources of human ignorance and the driving forces behind our consistent instigation of atrocity — both historically and in the modern moment.
Although it may be something of an over-simplification, it is useful to examine this story as though it is speaking about the cognitive differences between the two hemispheres of the human brain. By way of preparation I must admit that the complexity of the brain and the spectrum of opinions and research regarding this organ preclude a comprehensive and accurate coverage of the issues at play, and I must encourage the reader to make their own explorations of this matter. I am not a scientist, and I do not pretend to have a significant overview of neuroscience. The bending or re-interpretation of science in journalistic literature is a common problem, and can be somewhat difficult to avoid. While I hope to avoid this, at the same time I realize that I am inclined to present material in such a way as to support my thesis, and that I may be subtly or overtly misrepresenting some of the material or drawing conclusions which many researchers in the field would consider either reckless or unjustified.
While it is possible to speak of the hemispheres as relatively discrete ‘sides’ of the brain, they are connected by the corpus callosum, and are (in most circumstances) in constant communication with each other. Additionally, there are modules within each hemisphere which are relatively distinct by function, and these modules can form functionally integrated symmetries within the brain. Research has revealed that men tend to have slightly more ‘storage’ tissue, and women slightly more connective tissue. This results in women having somewhat better connectivity between their hemispheres. Women also have slightly more tissue in the anterior comissure, which is thought to connect aspects of the hemispheres related to unconscious processing.
Some of the popular myths surrounding hemispheric specialization (the lateralization of various brain functions) are based on hearsay, yet there are provable differences in hemispheric function which can be explored through inventive experimental techniques (such as showing an image to half of an eye) and also through examination and testing of patients who have suffered various kinds of stroke. Additionally, the study of patients who have undergone commisurotomy — the separation of the hemispheres accomplished by severing the corpus callosum — grants us a unique opportunity to gain insight into the unique functionality and character of each side of the brain. We might here pause to recall that while each human brain will tend to compare with expected norms admirably, each brain is also unique, and will exhibit some degree (however small) of unique lateralization and functionality. The brain is not a machine, and its functions and localization of resources can be dramatically affected by experience. It is analogous to a living mirror — the design is relatively standard but what is reflected in it can actually modify the function of the mirror, and its design.
The left hemisphere can be generally regarded as controlling the right side of the body, and vice versa, so that, for example, the right eye connects primarily to the left hemisphere. This is not an absolute; it can be demonstrated that ‘part of an eye’ connects to a given hemisphere, rather than the whole eye belonging solely to one of them. The hemispheric specializations commonly discussed can be largely reversed in some people, and handedness appears to be indicative of the state of a given brain, as it often depends upon which hemisphere contains the primary languaging lateralizations. The dominant hemisphere generally corresponds to the languaging hemisphere, and the opposing hand to the dominant hand.
In the model I am proposing, the left hemisphere (in right-handed people) commonly correlates with the home of Cain, and the right the home of Abel. However, we should bear in mind that ‘hemisphere’ is an oversimplification — for example, much of what I will discuss actually relates to the right and left temporal lobes rather than ‘the whole hemisphere’. Nonetheless, let us briefly explore some of the differences between these ‘two minds’ as I understand them — as they might exist in a right-handed person’s hemispheric lateralization:
The left hemisphere is abstractive; it specializes in analytical tasks, such as formulating and decoding language, symbolic analysis and other highly structured tasks. Its intelligence is divisive-abstractive, and very literal. Compared to the orientations of the right hemisphere the left is relatively rigid. My understanding is that it is more concerned with storing and comparison than it is with the assembly of meaning. It tends toward the application of specificity, and sees primarily the superficial aspects of meaning. It is also largely concerned with foreground and detail. It is not adept at spacial perception tasks.
The right hemisphere is imaginative and integrative; it is adept at processing shapes in space (particularly changing shapes), and is aware of the background and context aspects of perception and meaning. It is an assembler of meaning, and its intelligence is highly poetic or metaphoric. It is also learning-oriented, aware of humor, and has a more comprehensive and multivalent mode of comprehension which often includes an aspect of playfulness. It excels at open-ended tasks, and is extremely adept at assembling meaning from what may superficially appear to be extremely vague or even nonsensical input.
Admittedly, this model is a vast simplification, and again, we can find a great degree of variance and unique instancing of these qualities amongst different individuals; nonetheless, it is a useful beginning point for exploring both the conflicts and cooperative qualities of the hemispheres. It is my experience that the dominant hemisphere largely disregards the powers and capacities of the other, and I would go so far as to say that, given the opportunity, it would silence it. To a large degree, this is exactly what happens as we acquire formal representational cognition during childhood and adolescence. On the other hand (pun intended) the subdominant hemisphere recognizes the necessity of ‘its brother’ and is only rarely, if ever, willing to engage in conflict. The dominant side is aggressive, and divisive, and doesn’t comprehend the necessity of the subdominant, which is more or less passive, and must wait patiently for the its dominant brother to subside (or go to sleep) before making any significant appearance in consciousness. Of course, these anthropomorphisms are metaphoric, rather than literal. In most people the two hemispheres cooperate all the time, and switch dominance in a pattern that is more like partners dancing than it is like a war for precedence.
As an aside, I find it interesting that, as a right-handed person, when I wish to divide food (with a knife), I transfer my fork to the left hand, and use my right to control the knife (that which divides). As a guitarist, I ‘select’ (pick or pluck) which strings to play with my right hand, while the activity of my left hand (with which I fret the strings) assembles the integral melody resultant from those soundings. In this activity the two hemispheres must work together to achieve their result — which is music — a form of language that is transpoetic and has nearly nothing to do with literality. For the sake of honesty I must confess that during fretting my left hand is engaged in the activity of dividing the string along it’s length. But here, again, we may be witnessing one of the reversals I have spoken of previously.
The evidence of conflict between these ‘two minds’ is extremely significant. The literalist hemisphere is prone to confabulations of justification; the presentation of ‘reasons’ why it is the rightful heir to the cognitive throne, and why its activities ‘make sense’. One example of this, from Rita Carter’s book Mapping the Mind (pp. 41) is illustrative of this problem:
“The idea that our actions may be irrational is particularly unacceptable to the left hemisphere. A series of famous experiments showed that people hardly ever admit to making arbitrary decisions. In one of the experiments, for example, a selection of nylon stockings were laid out and a group of women were invited to choose a pair. When they were asked why they had made their particular choice all the women were able to give detailed and sensible reasons, citing slight differences in colour, texture, or quality. In fact, all the stockings were identical — the women’s ‘reasons’ for choosing them were actually rationalizations constructed to explain an essentially inexplicable piece of behaviour.”
Here we see that the dominant hemisphere (at least as portrayed in this quotation, itself drawn from a book by Michael Gazzaniga) has a significant interest in justifying itself, even when it is unnecessary or useless. I suggest that the languaging hemisphere is, fundamentally, a liar — and that it is ceaselessly formulating false premises and justifications for its activity, sovereignty and decisions The term ‘decision’ is itself interesting, and implies an incision resulting in sides. These sides may then be compared and evaluated ‘against each other’ which is precisely the sort of task Cain excels at. He is, after all ‘A tiller of Earth’ — or, metaphorically ‘a divider of matter(s)’.
Although we can surmise that the rationalization behavior of the women in this experiment is at least partially the product of socialization, we should also be aware that languaging behavior and ‘rationality’ as we experience them are cultural constructs; without socialization they do not arise, and are not innate possessions of the human animal. These characteristics are conserved and communicated only through social interaction with others who already possess them, and as such can be compared — particularly in the modern case — to a disease, rather than ‘a gift’. Similarly, whatever Adam and Eve acquired during the Tree Incident was ‘cultural’; it ‘came from outside them’ and become a part of them from then on.
Some neuroscientists are beginning to agree that the languaging hemisphere is confabulatory and perhaps even inhibitory of its ‘other half’. Roger Sperry was one of the pioneering researchers in this field (he won the Nobel Prize for some of his work on split-brain experiments). Sperry went on to extol the obscured genius of the right hemisphere, which sparked a significant controversy. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran has expanded on this work in a variety of ways, including the theory that the right hemisphere contains an ‘anomaly detector’ which normally interferes in the confabulatory narratives of the left brain, but which is damaged in cases of anosognosia (which I will discuss briefly in this section). William Herstein, a colleague of Ramachandran’s explores the fictions produced by the mind in depth in his book Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation. Some scientists have gone so far as to imply that our lack of understanding of the right hemisphere’s intelligence and abilities (and its corresponding reflection in our societies and cultures) is a catastrophic misunderstanding that is denying us access to most of what it means to be human. My own sense is that this is a gross understatement; the gifts and powers implicit in ‘the hemisphere that cannot speak’ represent the very basis of human prodigy — both representational and spiritual.
Because the subdominant hemisphere is relatively non-aggressive, the victor in cognitive forms of competition is generally predecided. Cain (once established into dominance by our cultural, linguistic and ‘thinking’ habits) has little trouble effectively erasing Abel from our common experience, memory and access. The primary effect of language domination is the ongoing silencing of the imaginal resources we possess, which are not superfluous or ‘nonsensical’, but instead may represent ‘a lost grail’ of unbelievable sophistication as they relate to ways of acquiring and relationally enacting useful knowledge. It is ineffective and dangerous to wait for science to elucidate these mysteries and potentials; we, in our common human activities and relations must directly explore this terrain with and for each other. This task requires that humans establish metacultures in small groups which can at once protect the group from the socio-cultural domination of Cain-like paradigms, while capitilizing on (and supporting) the ‘Abel-ities’ inherent in the unique diversity of each member.
Remember when God asked Cain where his brother was, and Cain concocted an obviously fiction followed immediately by a confabulatory justification? Curiously, people with stroke damage to the right temporal lobe often experience a disorder known as anosognosia; a term which roughly translated means ‘not knowing’. People with this condition will declare that there is nothing at all wrong with them, regardless of what evidence to the contrary is presented. For example, a person who is paralyzed on their left side will insist that they are fine and without handicap. A man with this disorder, when asked ‘You've shaved the right side of your face — why don’t you shave the left side?’, responded “That’s not my body! Someone else is supposed to take care of that!’. His answer clearly recalls Cain’s insistance that he is ‘not his brother’s keeper’.
People with anosognosia also present seemingly bizarre justifications for their statements:
Neuroscientist Eduardo Bisiach at the University of Milan in Italy reported one 74-year-old stroke patient who repeatedly claimed that his left hand belonged to the doctor examining him. The doctor finally grasped the paralyzed hand between his own two and held it up to the patient’s face.
“Whose hands are these?” he asked.
“Your hands,” the patient replied.
“How many of them?”
“Ever seen a man with three hands?” the doctor asked.
“A hand is the extremity of an arm,” said the patient. “Since you have three arms, it follows that you must have three hands.” (!!!)
Here the confabulatory prowess of the ‘mind of Cain’ is explicitly revealed. All prior understanding and experience is completely discarded in favor of a mode of ‘reasoning’ that gives the appearance of rationality to the absurd (and impossible) insistances of the the anosognosiac.
There is a therapy whereby this confusion can be (at least briefly) resolved. Eduardo Bisiach discovered that squirting cold water into the left ear of such patients would result in a startling ‘reconnection’ event, where the patient would become aware of and able to speak cogently about their condition. What happens first is a form of rapid-eye-movement known as nystagmus, which is vaguely similar to the REM state of dreamers. After this subsides, the patient can be questioned about their condition and can answer accurately and without confabulations.
The implication here is that some aspect of the mind is actually aware that the problem exists, but it is being dominated by another aspect which will not allow this awareness to surface. Rigorous tests have shown that, without the cold water treatment, these patients are actually unable to admit their disability, and are not merely compensating or inventing stories consciously. Generally, anosognosia is a short-term condition, and often resolves itself within a few weeks of the causal incident. Similar damage to the left temporal lobe does not result in this condition.
V. Ramachandran, in his studies of this phenomenon, theorizes that anosongnosia is the result of damage to or intereference with an ‘anomaly detector’ function in the right temporal lobe, which is normally triggered when its parsing of left hemisphere ‘storying’ reveals elements which it determines to be unlikely or without sufficient correlation to memory and experience.
An interesting link to an article on the Evolution of Hemispheric Specialization.
Evidence of the link between lateralization and ecstatic awareness: Superhighway to bliss (note that this link may perish).
The Third Mind
While science offers new and important perspectives about our bodies and their mechanical functioning, scientific approaches have a variety of deleterious consequences. Science is a very Cain-like way of knowing, and is largely concerned with dividing the body into discrete elements, and presenting a very narrow model of function. It’s also vastly over-credentialed in terms of popular belief. Scientific perspectives often demand that we discard what we do not yet understand how to adequately frame in terms of definition or testing — and in many cases this may be ‘most of what is’. Purpose and meaning exist outside the common purview of many researchers.
Yet, for thousands of years of human history, many cultures have conserved models of organismal purpose, meaning and function that science cannot yet acknowledge or adequately explore — particularly relating to the organs of the body. Eastern thought presents a startling dichotomy to Western models with its teachings regarding ‘chi’ or spiritual energy and the relationship between chi and organs. Many ancient cultures perceived the organs in a way entirely outside our modern experience — as unique containers into which qualities could be put, mixed or removed by ‘the Gods’. Whether or not we accept science, Eastern models, or ancient models, one thing we can be certain of is that our current understandings are at best incomplete, and at worst badly misinformed. The ‘organs’ in our bodies have functions and purposes which our ways of knowing have not yet been capable of clarifying, particularly the organs associated with eating and digestion.
Most of us have had the experience of sensations in the gut during events which evoke emotional responses. The feeling of ‘being in love’ is often reported as being felt ‘deep in the stomach’, however what people probably mean here is the mid to lower abdomen. Other emotions such as fear, malaise, disgust, and humor have significant gut-based components as well. Additionally, in English, we have conserved seemingly bizarre colloquialisms such as ‘go with your gut’, ‘...don’t have the stomach for it’, ‘I hate your guts’, ‘gut instinct’, and ‘fly by the seat of your pants’. All of these are extremely suspicious in that they indicate an extraordinary metaphoric relationship with the organs in our abdomen, generally referred to as ‘our guts’. Yet I suggest that there is an obvious foundation behind these popularly conserved constructs.
By modern estimates there has been Life on Earth for approximately 4.2 billion years. According to what we currently know of evolution, brains arose a scant 600 million years ago. 6/7ths of the history of evolution on Earth did not involve brains as we know them, at all. And prior to brains, I suggest, the primary ‘organ of knowing’ was the stomach, or — more generally — the gut — by which I mean the symmetry of organs used in the digestion of food and elimination of waste. What this means is that the majority of organismal history on Earth occurred without brains. Additionally, the conserved evolutionary momentum existing in modern animals probably preserves these histories in ways and forms we are not yet capable of perceiving or understanding clearly.
Relatively recently, some scientists have become fascinated with what they have labeled ‘the enteric nervous system’, and one of them, Michael Gershon, has some interesting comments on this topic:
“The ENS is remarkably brainlike, both structurally and functionally. Its neuronal elements are not supported by collagen and Schwann cells, like those in the rest of the peripheral nervous system, but by glia that resemble the astrocytes of the CNS. These glia do not wrap individual axons in single membranous invaginations; rather, entire bundles of axons are fitted into the invaginations of enteric glia. The axons thus abut one another in much the same manner as those of the olfactory nerve. The ENS is also vulnerable to what are generally thought of as brain lesions: both the Lewy bodies associated with Parkinson’s disease and the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles identified with Alzheimer’s disease have been found in the bowels of patients with these conditions.”
The stomach and associated organs comprise something that must have been the precursor to the brain, and I often imagine these organs as (over evolutionary and embryonic time) having ‘sent up a strange flower’ which becomes what we call the brain. I have read that most of the communication between the stomach and the brain travels stomach-to-brain rather than the expected opposite. Perhaps as much as 85% of the traffic originates in the gut.
This is not merely a mechanical matter, any more than the human organism (contrary to the constant instance of science) can be realistically compared to a machine. The presence of the mechanical metaphor in human culture is a relatively new one, and it has vastly overstepped its rational bounds when we suggest that organisms are mechanical. This is similar to the suggestion that my shadow is ‘more like me’ than I am. Machines are, at best, extremely impoverished subsets of organismal functionality, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the beingness or purpose inherent in organisms. The suggestion that we are mechanical is a result of our egregious aggrandizement of our own technological prowess, and our lack or dismissal of other, more appropriate comparators. In terms of real sophistication, comparing an organism to a machine is like comparing the solar system to a charred matchstick.
We must recognize the importance of the fact that for the majority of evolutionary time, there ‘were no brains’, and that other organs of knowing were the evolutionary precedent for those we now possess. Very young children (and primates in the wild) can often be observed exploring the world around them via contact with the mouth (and thus, by proxy, the gut), and this observation leads me to the perspective that there is something extremely important going on here which is not merely ‘psychological’ — as might be suggested by the dismissive frame of mind that would label this behavior as an infantile ‘oral fixation’.
My experience is that the stomach and gut comprise an older form of brain. They are not directly involved in the comparatively new habits of formal languaging, and represent not merely a ‘primitive precursor’ to the brain, but in fact a highly evolved and extremely sophisticated ‘organ of knowing’ in their own right. While emotion is often triggered by thinking and comparison, it is not usually ‘felt’ in the head — instead, it is largely experienced in the gut. We have become so fascinated with the brain that we’ve all but forgotten that other organs are active in the process of awareness, sensation, feeling and knowing. The body is first a unity, and the unity we experience emerges from the relational activity of all of its elements, not from a single element or smaller subset. We would not want to make the same mistake of separating the brain from the rest of the organism here; we must realize that all of the organs of the body can be said to be unique ‘modes’ of ‘brain’ — all of them are deeply involved in ‘knowing’ even if their ways of knowing are not essentially representational.
The situation is similar with each of the organs. A brain is not a brain without a heart, lungs, stomach, etc. In our hurry to divide the body into organs we have failed to realize that each of the organs is a unique hypostasis of the unity . All of the cells in the body differentiate from stem cells. Removing any of them either kills us outright or changes what the remaining organs are and do. Similarly, in our fervent desire to categorize and distinguish different scales and forms in the hierarchy of living organisms we have made the same mistake: at the root they are one organism, and sentience is not so much a locally possessed quality as it is an emergent result of their myriad interactions with/in the planetAnimal.
Some scientists believe that the term ‘cognition’ relates only to the activity of neurons in a brain, but I say to you that all the activity of all organisms is fundamentally biocognitive: it is the relational activity of the organism/environment coupling. Here we see a clear an example of the dangers of dividing in the absence of unifying. A Cain-like intelligence is at play in this process, demanding that things and beings remain separate and be seen and treated as separate. Thus ‘cognition requires neurons’. But suppose that neurons are instances of a vastly more general phenomenon? I suggest that the cells we call neurons are actually specialized subinstances of that which they arise within: organisms. By extending the metaphor ‘neuron’ we can accomplish the unification missing from common human understandings about brains, stomachs, and organs in general: everything that lives is a ‘neuron’ of Earth, and, by extension, of the Universe. Note that it isn’t called the Biverse. We refer to it as a unity for a reason, regardless of the constant suggestions in our languages and logics that separation has sovereignty.
Perhaps at this point it may appear that I have wandered far afield from my topic, and to some degree this may be true, yet there is a method in my madness, and it is this: prior to the evolutionary onset of brains, there were other modes of translating sensory experience into meaning — and those modes were unbelievably efficacious. While some would argue that without language meaning cannot exist, I would respond to them with a question: ‘What faculty of mind did you use to acquire language, and how could you have done this if you did not possess the ability to formulate meaning without language?’ In our infancy we employed something of nearly impossible sophistication which allowed us, in turn, to acquire human language in an extremely brief period of time. What was this something? Why did it disappear? Where did it go?
Two things emerge from these questions: the footprints of Abel’s intelligence, and a clue as to what Adam and Eve lost during the Tree Incident. In embryonic and evolutionary time, Abel came first. And his intelligence is shape-based. Not in the sense of literal shapes, but in the sense of sensing the meaning of shape itself. His mind is impossibly ancient, magical, dreamlike, and profoundly adept at forms of learning and relation with memory which to us, in the modern day, have no equivalent. The closest term I can find to describe his intelligence is alien, when we use it in the way that means ‘incredibly advanced and not from this world’. Abel’s intelligence is nonhuman, and we have no real waking-world experience of it, because although we experienced it as children, the onset of languaging behavior erased it before it was able to gain a foothold.
There are, however, exceptions. Ecstatic spiritual experience, profound moments of play, and dreaming. We also have a commonly available experience that often mimics Abel’s intelligence without actually delivering it: the use of psychedelic drugs. We refer to it as intoxication.