One of the things I learned as a psychologist is that many people, healthy and otherwise, report unusual experiences such as seeing and hearing things that are not there. On some well standardized tests asking many yes/no questions many adults and even more adolescents answered such questions ‘yes’, they had seen things others could not see. These were not patients but the normative sample of presumably healthy people. I find this interesting on several counts. As I have stated before, Susanne Langer posited two types of biological action, impactive that results when energies and objects from outside the organism impinge on it, and autogenic that results from the organism’s own autonomous vital processes. Hallucinations would seem to derive from the latter; they are of our own making. (Then again, even though our perceptual world is impactive in origin, we do construct it as well).
One of the glaring errors behaviorism made (Oh, was there more than one? Oh yes), was to ignore, even deny, autogenic activity in their assertion that, if mind did exist (doubtful to many of these lost souls), it was due to conditioning as we interacted with the environment, as sort of extreme tabula rasa ala John Locke. Our brains show a lot of spontaneous activity. A neuron, even a sensory or perceptual one, is firing even as it ‘waits’ for an outside stimulus to arrive. Neurons in other parts are even more active as they maintain muscle tone, process memories, formulate intents, dream, imagine beauty, etc. and hallucinate. Neuronal responses to stimulation are overlays on their ongoing activity. The connectome is complicated, self-generated and self-maintaining, as it manifests our mental experience.
Sure, dreams and hallucinations often reflect our experiences but some definitely do not. And anyway we combine the elements according to our own impulses, More importantly, our finding beauty and constructing beautiful things must come from within us, i.e., we generate it autogenically; beauty is not really out there but in here. In my current reading in Joseph’s Neuroscience text I am finding out that most dreams and hallucinations, at least the more complex ones, depend upon temporal lobe functioning. Indeed, Joseph says that much of what we call conscious experience and our memories thereof depend upon temporal lobe functions (of course in conjunction with other lobes and remember the claustrum from an earlier post). So many things happen in the temporal lobe that are important to our humanity, even perhaps, as Julian Jaynes postulated, the voices of our gods.
In looking at Joseph’s citations I noticed an article by John Lilly, a name often in the news long ago but not so much now. He was famous back in the day for consorting with dolphins & beat poets and for doing research with the sensory deprivation tank, a tank with warm salt water in a diffusely lighted and mostly soundless room in which you could sit or float with a minimum of sensory stimulation. He first experimented on himself, believing that was the ethical thing to do, and then had other subjects. The relevant point here is that with such extremely reduced stimulation, people hallucinate. Our minds have to do something even if there is nothing sensorily to do.
Expert meditation practitioners can block perception, sort of a sensory deprivation controlled from the inside (by the MEMBRAIN) rather than from control of the outside. To do this they focus on an image or on their breathing and let the mind’s flow go unimpeded or through other methods. Daniel Goleman in his book, Destructive Emotions, reports early research by Richard Davidson into meditation and EEGs. He (Davidson) found that good meditators quickly show typical EEGs which are slower and without the bumps and jumps instigated by ongoing objective experience. At the highest level of meditation practice, the person in deep meditation did not respond to a simulated gunshot from just behind him or her. Most people’s EEGs spiked with the startle reflex but the experts’ hardly bumped up at all. When asked they said that the gunshot was like a bird flying across their field of vision.
In a way, then, meditation is the analogue opposite to hallucinations, both autogenic actions withdrawn from impactive stimulation but one is relaxed and open in its interiority and the other void filling activity. More later and until then, maintain your own meditation and dream of beauty.