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The Word Machine

Sep 06, 1994 08:07 PM
by Frank


Thanks Frank.  Let's go into the process of mentation as it
applies to speaking, as speech seems quite magical to me.  Rarely
do I have any sense of which word is going to come out, though I
may have an overall sense of the topic or direction.  This seems
to concur with the idea that much is happening outside of active
awareness.  If I am tired, words come out backwards, mixed-up,
etc., so some part of this awareness/ thinking/speaking system
must be involved with the physical sense of well being.  I'm
unfamiliar with the WITNESS in Vedantic literature (what comes to
mind is the novel DUNE) but I'm curious to know more -- do you
relate it to the observing ego/higher manas?

What kind of practice do you have that you have patients?<<

Dan Goleman, science writer for the New York Times, made exactly
the point you do re language.  He too views this process as a
magical one in which the speaker has only a rough notion of what
direction the talk is taking and somehow it comes out making
sense with good grammar, accurate vocabulary, etc.  (most times)
Also read Annie Besant's comments on the same topic (I think in
her London Lectures).  The actual processing takes place in brain
areas that are not directly connected to our conscious awareness.
In other words, we are not actively, in full awareness,
participating in the task of selecting words and arranging them.
We *are* to some extent, but not anywhere near the extent that we
think we are.  In fact the premises on which our verbalizations
are based may have little to do with what we think are the
premises behind them.  For example, in the experiments I
mentioned with patients with the connective tissue between brain
hemispheres severed, subjecs were given an experimental task in
which information was fed to only one brain hemisphere (I won't
bore list members with the details; just trust me that this can
be accomplished when the wiring is clipped).  Subjects were then
asked to indicate *nonverbally* which was the correct choice from
a series of objects exposed to the *nonverbal* brain hemisphere.
They were able to point to the correct one; but when they were
then asked to explain their choice, the poor verbal hemisphere
was presented with a dilemma, as it had no idea why the hand
controlled by the nonverbal hemisphere pointed to the target
object.  So what did the verbal hemisphere do to explain the
choice? It *made up* a reason that was completely unrelated to
the actual basis for the choice.  This effect was consistently
demonstrated across subjects.

IOW, the little verbal/conscious part of the brain has access to
only a fraction of the brain's activity and, even in normals,
often does not have a clue as to what the real state of affairs
is.  It responds to this dilemma by simply making up something
that has logical consistency and sounds good.  And it thinks that
it is actively, consciously, purposely, and logically
constructing these explanations.  We do this all the time every
day of our lives.  This is the purpose of our little "word
machine" (Robert Ornstein's term), to insure consistency.  Not
accuracy or validity---merely consistency so that we think our
minds are working in a nice logical linear fashion.

I do not relate the Witness to the observing ego, which is an
aspect of the personal psyche.  My understanding of the Witness
is that it is Atman.

I am a psychologist and the patient I mentioned was in
psychotherapy with me.  He came to me after he had embezzeled the
money, gotten caught, and done some jail time.


My point in discussing this particular patient was that he was
overreaching, i.e., trying to live at a level of development that
he had not achieved.  The danger for him was that he atacked
himself for not living up to this unrealistically strict
spiritual ideal and just crashed.  It is the same type of
illogiocal thinking that causes alcoholics to resume heavy
drinking after having a minor relapse.  They then think that they
absolutely cannot regulate their drinking, that it's all
hopeless, etc.  and just give up and go back to exactly where
they were before.  You cannot progress if you get perfectionistic
with yourself and then beat yourself up for "failing" what was
from the start an impossible task.


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