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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 11/21/2005
Vol. 2, #180

I've been away a long time, readjusting myself, you might say, combing through my life's experiences and how those experiences contributed to the way my memory works. Then, about to take up from where I left off, I find Robert Pincomb's comments on my Round Table, dealing with the way memory affects, among other things, aging.

Pincomb's comments tie right in with a study described in todays's New York Times about how scientists have discovered that hypnotic effects on the brain alter what the brain actually perceives.

"Brain scans show that the control mechanisms for deciding what to do in the face of conflict become uncoupled when people are hypnotized. Top-down processes override sensory, or bottom-up information, said Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn, a neuroscientist at Harvard. People think that sights, sounds and touch from the outside world constitute reality. But the brain constructs what it perceives based on past experience, Dr. Kosslyn said.

Most of the time bottom-up information matches top-down expectation, Dr. Spiegel said. But hypnosis is interesting because it creates a mismatch. "We imagine something different, so it is different," he said. (NY Times, Nov. 22)

I found the details on this research especially interesting because in this very column a few months back, I discussed how whole societies are, in effect, congeries of beliefs not drawn from reality but rather what people have been persuaded to believe about reality. Societies, in other words, are collocations of beliefs about reality, while reality itself--well--we don't seem to be able to find it without participating in the common brainwashing. As for reality itself--who knows? Some sages have said that reality is sometimes found in dreams. Others in religion. Others in the imagination. I can cite a while history of philosophical and scientific beliefs in which each position ardently holds out for its own unique reality. So where does this leave us?

I do not propose to solve this problem in this brief space, and not in all the spaces combined since i started this column. Besides, the answers I found are very personal. Some new elements especially have to do with the process of aging, and believe me, the body through which we access our varied notions of reality, in undergoing its own changes, produces some new and odd insights respecting the whole of life itself, its meaning, its purpose--but in a way not at all like its influence in earlier years when we ask ourselves how we're doing, where we're going, and what do we have to change to get there. In old age, yes--you already know that you really are going, but you're not quite sure what that means or even what it's for. What is it that makes all the years of accomplishment, successes, failures, heartbreaks, the joys and agonies of love, the admiration of others--what makes it all so significant and does that significance lead to some final meaning? We have, as I've shown previously, been hypnotized into a shared reality. What the leading paradigm of our society establishes for us--that's reality--the very reality that recent cognitive experiments have shown to have been created by suggestion. Pincombe ventures to break out of this box by turning to some new type of story. But we've always done this, throughout our history. We've had Gods, and angels and Heroes and Superbeings--and today we have superheroes that stretch the current beliefs about reality just about as far as the imagination can reach. Believe it--and--yes--you can fly. I know that, in fact, and have tried to write about it--but the "flying" is never what you think it is. Nothing that starts out as a dream, a desire is ever quite the same in fulfillment. Ot there wouldn't be any need to look further.

But now that I've had my long time out to get readjusted to my new state--the state of having done as much as possible--with maybe a few more shots in the barrel (I'm not giving up yet)--it's time to focus more on what it all means, why it should matter and why, as I've learned over and again that it very much does matter--and from my lofty post--perhaps offer some useful hints of what it's all about. And for today, let me offer the reminder that we have to learn to separate what we've been hypnotized into believing, get behind all that, and see what's really there. In the coming months, I shall be trying to offer just what I've discovered that lies behind the screen that shapes our reality--maybe even how its done and why.

--Alvin

<< 10/10/2005 | 11/21/2005 | 11/28/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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