Posts Tagged ‘Robert A. Burton’

The Irrational Defiance of Phobics

“The psychological root of terrorism is a fanatical resentment – a quasi-psychotic hatred originating in the depths of the archetypal psyche and therefore carried by religious (archetypal) energies. A classic literary example is Melville’s Moby Dick. Captain Ahab, with his fanatical hatred of the White Whale, is a paradigm of the modern terrorist.

Articulate terrorists generally express themselves in religious (archetypal) terminology. The enemy is seen as the Principle of Objective Evil (Devil) and the terrorist perceives himself as the “heroic” agent of divine or Objective Justice (God). This is an archetypal inflation of demonic proportions which temporarily grants the individual almost superhuman energy and effectiveness. To deal with terrorism effectively we must understand it.” ~ E. F. Edinger: On the psychology of terrorism

Captain Ahab sees more than evil in the whale he seeks to kill.  For it to exist as a force, implies some defined order, and therefore some meaning to his universe.  And if he cannot find and kill it, then he has no proof of the orderliness.  What he fears, perhaps more than anything else (including his own demise), is a disorderly universe that attaches no meaning to occurrences, including the fact that he’d lost a leg.

Most of his crew suspected Ahab to be somewhat imbalanced about his intense quest.  But that imbalance did not stop them from following him at the cost of everything including their lives.    Ahab was not just authority, but absolute authority.  You cannot have an absolute authority without beliefs.  The certainty of those beliefs, “the feeling of knowing” according to neurologist Robert A Burton, M.D., comes not from examining empirical evidence, or even from any analytical process we call “thinking”.

“Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.”   ~

So it is emotive based on what is presumed to be true.  The captain of the ship, certainly in the case of Ahab, is a dominator.  And those he dominates are fearful–not just of him, but of the idea of not being submissive to the authority.  Please note that the captain is not independently dominant, as he cannot manage the large ship without a crew.

His orders must be heard by those who are phobic enough to not dare disobey them.  When we see this behavior on playgrounds, it’s called “bullying”.  Sometimes the bullied fear not so much some physical punishment, but the withdrawal of favor: losing worthiness, or significance in some way.  And that is precisely why the crew of the Pequod, though many with deep personal reservations, do as they are told.

Through Captain Ahab’s commands, the crew could fight against evil, even death itself, because it had been given both form and a name–a great white whale–Moby Dick. This rendered it tangible, and therefore less awesome than an unnamed, illusive to clear understanding, death.

So as the captain commands absolute obedience, the crew follows him.  He has convinced them not just that the fight was very real, and very winnable, but that it was their unavoidable duty.  And in so doing, death itself becomes diminished.  Death, in the face of a necessary battle of righteousness, takes on a manageable definition when the foe is believed to be finite.  Compared to the unbridled fear of death, the “cause” with meaning and purpose becomes determinate.

It all hinges on beliefs overriding the insanity of the quest, and even though quite a few of them considered the skipper to be crazy.  It was safer to believe in the authority of the captain in spite of him being a bit nuts, than to allow the thought of the great unknown of chaos–that the personified evil, Moby Dick, might be a delusion–no, that would unhinge everything.

The study of mythologies identifies a common thread: explanations offer to give order to things otherwise phenomenal.  Chieftains, high priests, and witchdoctors have a long history of connecting subservience to the supernatural in a way that provides for a safety net beyond mortality.  And many of those who believe in the stories would rather die than have their beliefs undermined–even in the face of overwhelming evidence that what they believe is not remotely founded in facts at all.

The Beowulf epic, written by some anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet prior to the twelfth century, tells a tale of having to fend off, defeat, and destroy a nemesis monster character called Grendel.  From the point of view of Beowulf and his human comrades, Grendel is not one of them, but “the other”.

We can observe the failures of human civilization when, due to prejudice, misunderstanding, and ignorance, communication breaks down, and people become polarized in pockets of the “us”, and the “them”.  When all parties are so inclined to believe the differences to be irreconcilable, their phobic nature gives them few options outside of their fear.  And if they can growl loud enough, perhaps “the other” will fear them as well.

The very basis of the fear is often misinterpreted by the fearful themselves.  And without dialogue with a sincere purpose of moving closer to understanding, the objects of fear are often reduced to matters of cultural difference.  The differences, when carefully considered, may really be little more than acceptable costume, or the manner in which some child’s mother taught it to pray.

There are more than 6,000 languages spoken by human beings today, and most individuals know only one of them.  Some of these languages are only spoken by small groups of people.  In fact, almost a third of these languages are used by populations of only a thousand people, or less.  And while they may not be widely understood when speaking out, their needs, wants, and concerns are no less human than are those of the users of more common languages.  And even among the more frequently used languages, a clear translation of ideas often breaks down when the literal clashes with the colloquial, leaving intent to seem ambiguous at best, and at worst, hostile.

I think people could do better.  But they won’t as long as they remain afraid of what they don’t understand.  To clear up misunderstandings requires bravery and not cowardice; requires effort and not indolence.  It will require honest investigation of truthful information and not suspicious presuppositions.  It requires a commitment to wanting to do the right thing, and an openness to ideas that may be different from those we bring to the table.  While that may not be too much to ask, many seem to believe it’s too much to expect.

The Very Nature of Things

Neurologist Robert A. Burton has recognized through scientific discovery that brain stimulation/mapping of the temporal lobe has uncovered all kinds of new information about motor movement, emotions, and decision making.  Burton has determined that some of what we “think we know” comes from the “voices” within our own limbic system.

I’m sure you’ve spoken with people who truly believe the stories about space aliens abducting humans, and perhaps insist it has happened to them.  Even though they seem to be so certain in their beliefs, a little bit of knowledge about our real universe and some common sense tells you they are probably delusional.

“Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process.  Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.”

~ from the preface of:

“On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not”

 by Robert A. Burton, MD (Neurology)

We’ve all experienced opinions that, when placed in juxtaposition with a changing background, will take on textures and flavors not recognized earlier.  And for that reason, we need to continue to look.  The alternative is to accept some presupposition, and not even an original one, as if it were fact.  And that, of course, is not a wise thing to do. All of us know that, but people by-pass that logic every day, even when they know better.  Then, sometimes, they don’t know better, and listen for some explanation that satisfies them, and calms their anxieties about the unknown.

My father was born in a world that, for the most part, believed The Milky Way Galaxy was the entire Universe.  Science, through the process of moving ever closer to understanding, soon proved that conclusion to be wrong.  In fact, there are billions of galaxies, and The Milky Way is neither at the center of things, nor the biggest of them by any stretch of the imagination.

“Maggots from meat” was a misconception born of the erroneous theory of spontaneous generation, similar to the way it was thought that grapes became wine due to some magic trick performed by Bacchus or Dionysus.  The idea of spontaneous generation offered an explanation, but it was not scientific; it was not even presumed to be natural, and it was not true.  Prior to Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries of the world of microbiology, almost every theory or explanation about life was at best, born of ignorance.  And please don’t presume I mean stupid, for ignorance is something else entirely.

Disease and pain were presumed to be caused by demons and witches, and to this very day, some people still believe it.  Since they “feel” safe accepting what they’ve been taught, they investigate nothing on their own without prejudice, without knowledge, and without understanding.  Although that is a sad thing, it’s quite common.

The purpose of science is to move closer to understanding.  And that often challenges older explanations that were derived without understanding.  People believe all kinds of things, and they will kill you because of what they believe.  But for what people believe to be true to in fact be true, is not now, nor has it ever at any point in human history been required.

To argue in defense of what is accepted as true even though it isn’t, was the reason Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Spanish Inquisition for noticing Venus orbited the sun and not the earth.  As we all (hopefully) know now, the Inquisition was in error, but Galileo, even though he told the truth, was forced to deny it in public, or face execution.

To acknowledge discovery takes nothing away from lessons about ethical behavior.  It does, however, often challenge preconceived notions about the details of stories used to make the point.  We live in a most amazing universe, and the more we learn about it, the more we understand about nature.

Copernicus theorized the sun was the center of our planetary system back in the 15th century.  In the next century, Galileo proved the heliocentric idea was true, and went even further to note the sun itself rotated.  This was quite a leap from everything believed to be true before, and consequently, by insisting his findings to be factual got him into hot water with the College of Cardinals and the Pope.  While this information is considered common knowledge today, there are still those who find it to be heretical.  But don’t you think it would be silly to throw out the scientific findings, and declare it okay to just accept whatever belief a person chooses to have on the matter?  Of course you would.

If a thing appears phenomenal to me, and quite a few things do, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t natural.  It just means that I might not understand the nature of it.  But at no time does nature cease to be nature just because I misunderstand it.  All the evidence we have about “creation” exists in nature.  So, without any brilliant leap required, it would make sense that what we can discover and understand about “creation” would involve studying and and learning more about nature itself.

And for those who wish to connect with the mind of “God”, they might try looking at the nature of things “created”, and to understand what can be discovered about the process itself.  After all, that would have to be exactly the truest revelations, if there be any at all.  The alternative would be to be entirely dependent on explanations offered by people who knew very little about the nature of anything, but made up explanations about everything.

There are many wonderful lessons that can direct us towards ethical treatment of others found in books, many of them religious books.  To attempt to deny that would be silly.  There are also good lessons to be learned from parables and fables told for that purpose without the presupposition that the story itself depicts something that really happened.  For example, I can get several lessons on several intellectual levels from a story by Aesop, without even once believing there was a talking fox that liked grapes.

I can also learn from some of the lessons in the Old Testament (most of which was written down for the first time during the Babylonian Captivity) without presuming there is a way for a man to sell his daughter into slavery that would please the Deity.  Or, for that matter, slaughter innocent men, women, and children, enslave some of them, steal their land and property, authorize some sovereign or monarch to take for himself far more than he could possibly need while others around him suffer.  It’s rather interesting when you read old scriptures from most of our modern religions (and I have) that one of the saddest delusions man has ever conceived of is that oppression of other people is authorized and approved of by the Deity.

One conclusion, if there be one, is that Charles Darwin opened some windows that can help us understand the nature of things, and was brave enough to publish his findings.  So it seems to me, as we move closer to understanding, we should embrace discovery rather than to deny it just because it doesn’t fit well within the confines of preconceived notions that occurred in the minds of ancients who didn’t have the benefit of knowing.

Think if you will about all the all the ancient theories of how the sun provided seemingly perpetual light and heat without any understanding of nuclear physics.  Isn’t it possible that some of those old theories, regardless of how noble or moral the person who came up with them happened to be, were not quite…the truth?  Although most of us give lip-service to the idea of growth, development and learning, sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let go of an idea that makes us comfortable, even in light of empirical evidence that points out the error of its logic.

I embrace science as an ongoing process, not stagnated or trapped wherever it lands on any given day.  There is a peacefulness to be found by wanting to move closer to understanding rather an run away from it.  And when we do that, the benefits that can be had from being open to new ideas, thus willing to cooperate, can lead us to marvelous solutions to problems, where the prospects of hope are almost boundless, hampered only by the limits of our imagination.

The complexity of it, I suppose, may well be lodged somewhere inside wanting to know the importance of understanding what our imagination is made of.  Neurologists, such as Dr. Burton, are beginning to show us how to do that.  Yet with all the accomplishments made thus far, what we don’t know is still bigger than what we do.  So if we consider it even in the simplest of linear terms, I don’t reckon we’ve reached the end point, no, not yet, not yet at all.