Friday, September 26, 2014

Listen to Doctor Spock but Follow Captain Kirk

The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self-improvement (Kindle Edition) - my review of this book on Amazon in June of this year.
This book is about many things and was, at first, difficult for me to find a single cohesive theme. My liberal arts background was primed for a beginning, middle and end, but in dealing with this material, there is no way to deliver information in a neatly wrapped package. Professor Chris Niebauer states at one point in the book, "Perhaps the lack of consistency is something you noticed while reading this. What is the book about? Psychology? Science? Spirituality?"

It was, in fact, about all of those, with quite a bit of "the new consciousness movement" mixed in.

Niebauer, a college professor of Neuropsychology, presents what ultimately turns out to be a stimulating examination dealing with left- brain, right brain responses. I learned that we are a product of an evolutionary left-brain "interpreter" which has (probably) saved us from extinction by providing a modicum of paranoia, caution and dare I say - good sense early in our evolution, so that instead of running towards our early predators, we ran from them, thus avoiding being eaten.

This isn't meant to be facetious, though it is, perhaps, a bit satirical, as the cover of the book boasts a Buddha with a sardonically lifted left eyebrow which turns out to be a feisty clue to the tone of the book.

A significant portion of the book discusses the work of Michael Gazzaniga, whose research. along with Roger Sperry, on the "split-brain" and free will is frequently cited. "Free will is an illusion," says Gazzaniga. This is augmented, according to Niebauer, by the teachings of Eckhardt Tolle and Alan Watts. I was not familiar with Watts, but I've read Tolle who is not a scientist, but a popular spokesman for the "new consciousness," professing that the "illusory sense of self" or the "egoic self" interferes with our desire to reach consciousness. This is also part of the Buddhist tradition, however, Buddhism, as I recall, attempts to go beyond the personal "self" in order to reach a "higher" self.

I enjoyed the author's lively style of writing including an abundance of references to his children and their innate right-brain tendencies to answer a question with a non-interpretive "verb" answer (also termed the "how") as opposed to our adult, more cautious approach to stimuli called the "noun" or the "what" response. (I interpreted this to be relevant because verbs are action-oriented; nouns are static). Children have not fully developed their "pattern perceivers" and therefore can speak "Zenfully;" ie, without placing things in categories (a left-brain trait).

It was the Zen-fullness that I missed most about the book - a more in depth discussion of the relationship of Eastern philosophies to the ever so subtle change in the scientific community discussed by the author, which allows for the possibility that who we are is not contained in the (physical) brain that dies, but in our consciousness (which might not die at all).

My question, then, is, what is consciousness? Is it that deep sense of awareness encountered by Edgar Mitchell as he rode back to earth from outer space having experienced the utter "connectedness" of the universe? Is consciousness a part of the brain? Or simply that quiet place we all seek through meditation? Is consciousness the "mind?" The "soul?" Is it a void waiting to be filled? According to Niebauer, matter makes up only 5% of .000000000000000000042% in the universe. Then, of what is the rest of the universe made?

Professor Neibauer was able to suggest to me, at least, a conclusion: what I gleaned from the book was that the right brain may ultimately lead us to a state of consciousness to which, I, as a Yoga practitioner and meditation enthusiast, am eager to find. The right-brain (person) is intrepid, a risk taker, a doer; he is action-oriented: he/she is Captain Kirk, while the left-brain may be Dr. Spock, a logical voice of caution; This is the perfect metaphor for me, as the most memorable and revealing moments in my life have been those unthinking explorations into the unknown--a voyage to an undisclosed destination, to "boldly go" where I have never gone before.