headology

I’ve got a friend who has a PhD in brain science (in fact she’s an MD too so all those ‘Doctor, Doctor…’ jokes are perfect). Her work involves scanning people’s brains to help us understand how memory functions. She once told me that she and her colleagues spent an entertaining few weeks replacing the word ‘mind’ with ‘brain’ in their daily speech. ‘Brain the gap’  is therefore the message one hears on alighting from a London underground train. ‘I just can’t get it out of my brain’  for that irritating/catchy tune such as this, or this, or this. ‘Brain out!’  as an injunction to increase attention, or ‘brain over matter’ when discussing the paranormal.

Within esoteric and psychological sciences there is a group of similar practices. There is E-Prime, which removes the verb ‘to be’ to create a language that emphasizes process rather than (apparently) static states. Then there is Crowley’s injunction to remove the word ‘I’, which he recommends (along with a bit of emo style self-harm) to his students during his sojourn at The Abbey of Thelema. And of course a whole battery of techniques from NLP.

All these processes make us more vigilant and can have far reaching effects on our world-views.

So, with this in mind (or brain), I’d propose a little chaoist variation. Take one of your beliefs and find a way of modifying your language to suggest that your normal assumptions about it may not be the case. The example I’m particularly thinking of would be when we say that we’ve met such-and-such and entity in spirit work. Or when we’ve invoked a God or Goddess, or been travelling in spirit vision. In all these cases ‘in my brain’ may be added.

For instance:

“I met the jaguar spirit and it spoke to me – in my brain’.

‘The Goddess was invoked into the High Priestess and I could really see the energy – in my brain’.

‘The Loa are really powerful – in my brain’.

‘I’ve spent many years working with a series of awesome demons – in my brain’.

Of course one might argue that such statements are just the natural return and re-valuing of the spirit model into our culture. I’d agree with that and say that its certainly sometimes important to think in this way:

Jung had a very disturbed patient who claimed to have been on the moon. Not that she thought this to be a conscious reality, although it was a dream in which she traveled to the moon. Jung reported years later to analyst Marie Louis von Franz, that his patient had indeed been on the moon. In a well known interview with this remarkable first generation analyst, von Franz commented that when Jung told her that his patient had really been on the moon, she thought that Jung was crazy. She was very rational and thought that for Jung to say that the girl had “really” been on the moon was not reasonable. And indeed, normal rationality fails in these cases.  from here

In a world which one might argue is dominated by reductionist discourses the spirit model serves to re-empower our subjective imagination. But the point for me is that we don’t need to through the materialist baby out with the bathwater. Instead we should attempt to include the spirit world in our material world. Rather than replacing one language with another we should be seeking to broaden our vocabulary. We acknowledge the metaphorical truth of the world both internal (subjective experience) and external (our sense data, including that collected by scientific investigation).

So the miraculous fact that our minds can interact with spirit entities may be described in terms of invisible imaginative worlds and also as brain events. We know this to be true because we’ve got a range of chemicals and even magnetic helmets that can induce the experience of meeting entities. Hardly remarkable since our senses give us the impression of meeting conscious entities (people) every day. So saying the ‘astral’ (which in a proper Santo Daime style should be pronounced ‘ass-traal’ ) is in our brains is nothing more than a statement of fact. Everything is in our brains and, while in a metaphysical sense we could talk about the non-local nature of consciousness and all that, a brain would seem to be an important part of the equipment. People who think otherwise could perhaps demonstrate the strength of their conviction in non brain mediated consciousness by removing theirs (with one of those nose pickers the ancient Egyptians used on the dead perhaps?) and then attempting to go down the shops to buy ten fags.

The use of  ‘in my brain’ also serves to remind us of the uncertainty of our perceptions and the fact of their partiality. I may have seen something nasty in the triangle but I saw it from a specific perspective, at a specific time and so on. Maybe such a practice would put the breaks on all those folk who spend their time conjuring spirits from the vasty deep and then banging on about their visions. Of course were I being handsomely paid like Jung I’d be happy to listen to it all, but since I’m not I often feel these stories demonstrate that speaker has become locked into one ‘reality tunnel’ (as Leary would say).

Entering a relationship with a spirit can be a powerful magic. But to be a magician is to be able to see that relationship in many ways, including as brain event. Seeing things as neurological processes does not have to be dis-empowering. Seeing clinical depression as having a neuro-transmitter component is factually accurate. It can provide us with medicines to help people and is emphatically not identical with ignoring the environment in which the depressed person is living. Understanding the brain mechanics of mental illness isn’t about  forgetting social, cultural, dietary and other factors in its etiology.

If we are to re-enchant the world then we must include all our understanding of it and not take refuge in what is can be an ego-centric subjective imaginal world. We should open ourselves out to many languages and many perspectives. Sometimes we should speak of the spirit of the mushroom, at other times of it’s chemistry, of it’s cultural history and it’s mythic meaning. And whichever language we use could always aim to contain a destabilizing element within our descriptions. Something that serves to open us up to other interpretations and remind us of the limits of what we think we know – in our brains.

JV

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