Thursday, March 25, 2010
The Brothers Karamazowsky: One Dimensional Model
(Link for the previous Section of The Brothers Karamazowsky.)
Blinding light...like knives in my brain...I hurt. I pulled my arm over my eyes.
Soft fabric...like a cocoon...I was comfortable. I curled up on my side.
Pine smell...like a Christmas tree...I got excited. I inhaled deeply and smiled.
Where was I?
I opened my eyes and looked for a clock on the night stand. Instead, I saw a wall of knotty pine and a book on the floor. "The Romantic Manifesto".
How late had I stayed up and read? I was pretty sure I hadn't finished that book.
I got out of bed shielding my eyes and looking for the door to the bathroom. The aroma of cedar was intoxicating as I took a shower. I dressed, picked up the book and went into the living room.
Or was it the living room? My eyes were instantly pulled towards and through the windows to the view. The panoramic vista.
The living room now felt like a porch for the entire world. Like I actually belonged out there and this space kept me out of the rain until I could get to where I wanted to be. I walked to the kitchen without realizing I never took my eyes off the valley laid out below me. Maybe I followed the aroma of fresh coffee. While I got myself a cup, I could hear Alex coming up the stairs into the kitchen.
"Did you sleep well?", Alex asked.
"Yes, until I was blinded. Frank Lloyd Wright would not be proud of the direct sunlight."
"Frank didn't build this home. Besides, it's difficult to block out the sun when it is actually lower than the house", he said with a smile.
"So, you chose the view over his principles?", I asked.
"Actually, there are coverings for the windows blocking out the light. I should have told you during the tour", Alex replied.
"So, I would still have to chose between the view and his principles?"
"Yes", Alex said, looking at me plainly.
It actually felt good to be right, however, it didn't feel as good as I thought.
"I started reading 'The Romantic Manifesto' last night", I offered.
"Excellent! Have you finished the first two chapters?", he asked.
I didn't know. I opened the book and saw I was in chapter four. "Yes, I'm further."
"Good, then we can talk about the One Dimensional Model. I have a couple of things to complete, first. I will be downstairs...", he said as he went.
I took my coffee into the living room and found Alex's copy of "Atlas Shrugged". It took me awhile, but I found the passage he performed last night. The scene was the music composer (Richard Halley) speaking with the industrialist (Dagny). I sat on the couch and relived the performance: reading a section, retracing Alex's movements, reading another section. Had it really happened?
I looked at the portraits on the wall. I didn't know there was another brother. I found the passage Alex quoted when he addressed the middle brother. Alex called him "the operator of a coal mine". I looked at the rest of the art. In the entire room, there were no photos. No pictures of a mom or a dad or grandparents.
I made my way downstairs. The first door on the hall was closed. However, I could hear Alex in the room across the hall. I couldn't tell if it was typing or tapping. It was so fast. When I got to the doorway, I could see he was hunched over a computer having several chat conversations at once. He would click a window and type while he read their response. Then he would click another window and type while he read their response. He did this with several windows, then he returned back to the first one.
I didn't think he knew I was there, but one by one, each window disappeared. Just before he closed the last window, he said out loud, "Are you ready for the downstairs tour?"
"Sure. Who were you chatting with?", I asked.
"Katelynn, Amber, Stephanie, Cayla...you know her dog isn't as big as she said." He got up.
I looked confused.
Alex said, "Cayla?. The girl at the airport? She was the one who liked the latest single because it reminded her of her friend who died of cancer."
"Yeah...her. I remember...", but clearly I didn't remember any of this. I was also realizing Alex probably wasn't putting on an act at the airport. Apparently, he did remember the insignificant details of their lives. He even cared.
He showed me his recording studio, which took up most of the bottom level. At the end of the hall was a small room with a piano.
"What is this room? You have a piano in the studio..." I asked.
"This is my room. The studio belongs to the band. This is my room...to work on my art", he said as he sat down and began to play.
"What's that?", I asked, pointing to Alex's left.
"The couch. Well, it's actually the back seat of the van. We needed the room for the equipment, so I put it down here. Make yourself comfortable", he smiled.
I sat down and asked him, "So, what did you want to tell me about the first two chapters of 'The Romantic Manifesto'?"
He closed his eyes, played a few quick chords, then stopped and turned to face me.
"Actually, there is something I want to explain before we discuss that book. Did you know an animal has one brain, while we humans actually have two?"
That didn't sound right to me, but I answered the question, "No. I did not know that."
He began playing again, however, he looked at me while he explained.
"Animals have an automatic brain. Some people call it a unconscious brain. Others call it an unaware brain. Basically, this brain takes in information without effort, determines patterns, retains predictive patterns, and responds to external events according to the patterns that have been identified. This brain does not communicate with words. It can only take in information through the five senses. It can only communicate physically...with movement, with feelings, with increased heart rate, with impulses..."
"You mean intuition?", I asked.
"Yes, intuition comes from the unconscious brain. But notice, the feelings come from a specific cause. They are the result of a pattern our brain has identified, yet we are unaware of it."
"So, animals including man have this brain?", I clarified.
"Exactly", responded Alex.
"However, we have another brain, right?", I asked.
Alex looked back to the piano and found some sheet music as he said, "Yes, the conscious brain."
Alex began to play while looking at the sheet music. "The conscious brain works in terms of words. The conscious brain only takes in what we intentionally choose to focus on. The conscious brain only determines patterns with this information if we choose. However, the conscious brain is also the reason we can intentionally remember...and intentionally imagine."
"Are you saying animals don't have a memory?", I asked.
He smiled. "I'm saying animals don't intentionally remember. A dog doesn't reminisce about what it was like to be a puppy. A cat doesn't plan her activities for next week. Animals remember in response to an external event. They don't initiate these things from within themselves. The ability to intentionally imagine or remember requires words."
I put my hands to my head as if to help my conscious brain (or was it my unaware brain?) take in all the information. I looked to the ceiling and continued to process this while Alex played the piece in front of him.
When Alex finished, he said, "The key is to use both brains and get them to work together. Let me give you a couple of examples..."
He began to play another familiar song, but I couldn't place it.
"I read about an example of art experts being asked if a particular sculpture was a forgery. The people who took time to study the sculpture, wrongly concluded it was authentic. The art experts who took a glance and used their intuition, correctly identified it as a forgery. The unaware brain recognized a break in the pattern the experts didn't consciously identify. The unaware brain responded physically to the question of whether the sculpture was an authentic piece or a forgery. This was anything from a bad feeling to sweaty palms. The unaware brain communicated in physical terms."
I said, "That isn't an example of the conscious brain and unaware brain working together. That just proved it is possible for the unaware brain to take less time to be more right than the conscious brain even if the conscious brain has more information." Alex nodded. I asked, "What is an example where the conscious brain and the unaware brain work together?"
"Well, for a century, people have known you are much more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it down or tell someone about it. This is because writing down the goal lets the unaware brain know what the conscious brain is trying to accomplish."
"You mean the unaware brain doesn't know what the conscious brain is thinking?", I exclaimed.
"Correct. The unaware brain only takes in information through the five senses. The unaware brain is like a very efficient worker who does busy work all day...and can't choose to do anything else. This worker is going to get exhausted if it thinks all its effort is pointless. This worker desires an objective. When the conscious brain states an objective...any objective...the unaware brain is going to get energy when it does work in line with that objective. Likewise, the worker is going to feel horrible when the work goes against the objective. This is a key point: the worker doesn't care if the work is illegal or not. It just desires the objective."
That really made my conscious brain (or was it unaware brain?) feel overwhelmed.
I said, struggling, "So, the conscious brain is where we determine 'good and evil', while the unaware brain is where we determine...'right and wrong'? I mean, 'right and wrong' as in, there is a pattern or there isn't a pattern...I think."
"Yes! That's a unique way of saying it, but yes, that is 'right'...regardless of whether it is 'good' or 'evil'," Alex said with a self-satisfying smile, like he had successfully navigated a mine-field.
"Give me an example of something being 'right' and 'evil'...or is that 'wrong' to say?", I asked beginning to confuse myself.
Alex pounded out three quick chords, loudly, and turned to me, "Awesome question! I can...but it fits under the Two Dimensional Model. We will definitely cover it tomorrow."
I realized this was the ideal place to stop. I just got credit for being perceptive, like I completely understood everything he presented. Yet I knew I still was partly confused.
"Well, I'd like to brush up on the first two chapters. When did you want to teach me the dimensional...uh, thing?"
"Why don't we do it after dinner?", he asked.
I left him at the piano. The sun was overhead and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was the perfect conditions to take a long walk and clear my brains...
When I got back, I decided I was going to read in the guest room. Now that the sun wasn't shining directly through the glass, the room had a completely different feel. As I entered, I stopped because I realized I had not actually taken the time to examine the room. To the left was the bed. Straight ahead was the door to the bathroom with the cedar walls. To the right of that door was a simple desk, next to the windows extending from the floor to the ceiling. To my immediate right was a closet.
I was about to sit at the desk when I noticed there was a lot of writing in black ink marker on the pine walls and ceiling beams. There must have been over two dozen signatures, like the walls were pages in a high school yearbook. People thanking Alex. A lot of inside jokes. People who had stayed in this very room. Some of the signatures were well known musicians. Most were names I hadn't heard of at that time. Some of the people must have been artists because there were several signed drawings. One caught my eye. It was enclosed in glass.
It was on the wall opposite the closet. Four slats of bare wood were mounted directly to the wall. Covering this makeshift frame was a sheet of glass. The picture was of a rose in full bloom. Below the rose was a piano. Actually, the rose was balanced on top of the piano. No vase, nothing to support it, just the piano. The more I looked at it, I couldn't tell if it was a drawing of a piano decorated with a rose or a drawing of a rose supported by a piano.
I sat at the desk underneath the drawing. I read the first two chapters of "The Romantic Manifesto", pausing every few pages to consider what I had read while looking up at the art under glass.
I took a nap and woke in time to see the edges of a glorious sunset. I went outside to get a better view. I saw the violent smears of color. My favorites have always been gold, red, and purple. Purple wasn't the right word for what I saw. It was a color both light and deep.
I could smell dinner when I came back in. Alex said he made grecian chicken because I'm Greek. I am Greek, however, it made me wonder with that logic, what he made some of the other tenants of the guest room.
I asked him about the signatures. He talked casually about the fact a lot of performers have stayed with him and it is a practice to sign the walls "backstage". Alex eventually admitted the contents of the house were made by the occupants of the guest room. He told me to feel free to sign my name.
When dinner was over, we went downstairs. He unlocked the first door and I followed him in. Immediately upon entering the room, there was a large ship hanging at eye level. It was made of stretched fabric over branches and pieces of scrap wood. There were balloons in place of sails. In order to follow Alex, I had to make an immediate right. In front of me were books. Shelves and shelves of books. When I came to that wall, I had to go left. Even then, I could only take a step before I encountered an electric keyboard. I had to make another left. Now, in front of me was a wall full of artwork: paintings, etchings, drawings, mosaics. Too much to take in at once. I was mesmerized.
"Why don't you sit over here?", Alex said gesturing to a chair in front of a large oak desk and pulling me out of my trance. The chair was turned to the left, towards the wall of art. The room wasn't large, yet I felt like I had walked a mile. I sat down.
Alex adjusted an overhead light. Then he moved his chair next to the wall of art and opened his copy of "The Romantic Manifesto".
"As we talked about earlier today, reality occurs and we take it in through our five senses. Through our conscious brain, we only take in what we intentionally perceive. This is a choice. Ayn called it volition. All of this information is in the form of words. Rand wrote, With the exception of proper names, every word we use is a concept that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. This means while a specific idea is represented with specific words, these specific words can also be used to represent other unique ideas. This forms the bridges between our thoughts. Let's look at pages six and seven."
I opened up my copy. Alex continued.
"The conscious brain is where we use philosophy. First, we perceive the what of reality with metaphysics. Ayn wrote: Metaphysics - the science that deals with the fundamental nature of reality - involves man's widest abstractions. It includes every concrete he has ever perceived, it involves such a vast sum of knowledge and such a long chain of concepts that no man could hold it all in the focus of his immediate conscious awareness. This is information we perceived intentionally...the raw data"
I underlined that section on page 7. Alex continued...
"Next, epistemology is used to reason the information...which is the how...the processing. The result is the why behind the what. Some people call this 'morals'...which implies a right and wrong. We talked about this earlier today. Rand called it 'ethics'. On page six, she wrote: Ethics, the normative science, is based on two cognitive branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn explained the normative abstractions deal with that which ought to be (in the realms open to man's choice). So Erik, this means the conscious brain is the volitional organ based on words and philosophy. The information is metaphysics. The process is epistemology. The reason is morals or, as Ayn called it, ethics."
I realized Alex wasn't really going to teach me. He was going to accentuate and amplify what Rand had written. However, I appreciated his gift because he was showing me which parts to focus on so I understood the entire book.
"Today we also talked about the unaware brain. Ayn called it our 'sense of life'. Remember, we take everything in through our unaware brain whether we are conscious of it or not. Rand wrote on page twelve: A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. Do you understand?"
I thought for a moment and replied, "The sense of life is made up of emotional information of which we aren't consciously aware."
Alex nodded approvingly. The he continued, "Three pages later, she gave a prophetic explanation of the unaware brain! Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. Erik, this book was written in the 1960's. At that time, there was no physiological proof for what she had written. She wrote theory completely from experience!" Alex shook his head in amazement.
"And there's proof now the unaware brain is responsible for our automatic response? This response actually occurs for a reason?", I asked.
"Absolutely...and it completely fits together with what we just read. Notice, Rand cannot explain specifically how this sense of life works. Today we know all of reality that is experienced is brought into the unaware brain...which is a what. The unaware brain processes everything, which is a how. The unaware brain retains everything that is a pattern...that is causal...which is a why. She even wrote about this last step: The key concept, in the formation of a sense of life, is the term 'important'. It is a concept that belongs to the realm of values, since it implies an answer to the question: Important - to whom? Yet its meaning is different from that of moral values. 'Important' does not necessarily mean 'good'. It means 'a quality, character or standing such as to entitle to attention or consideration' (The American College Dictionary). Her use of 'important' is the same as our use of 'causal'...forming patterns. She's also stated the unaware brain does not focus on good and evil."
I noticed something.
"Alex, she also wrote the emotions are associated with the sense of life. So, the unaware brain doesn't communicate with words! It communicates with emotions and feelings!"
"Exactly! Furthermore, Ayn wrote it would be a mistake to think these feelings are causeless or the cause of these feelings can't be determined."
I saw the difference between the unaware brain and the conscious brain. I was just beginning to get excited, when Alex got up. He dimmed the lights and stood in front of the overhead light as he turned it on.
"So, we've seen Rand theoretically understood the conscious brain and the unaware brain, which she called 'a sense of life'. Now, it's time to look at what I like to call, 'The One Dimensional Model'. I have something to help us discuss this..."
As Alex stepped away, I could see the light shined on one picture. It looked like a page from an ancient medical textbook. It also looked like a drawing. Like art. Perhaps it was both.
Alex pointed to an arrow with the word "one" next to it.
"A stimulus happens. This stimulus is reality and it enters into the person. It is something not 'of' the person."
Alex then pointed to the arrow with the word "two" next to it.
"If the person is conscious of the reality, then the stimulus enters both brains. If the person is not conscious of the reality, it stops at the unaware brain. Remember, both the words and morals from the conscious brain and the feelings/emotions from the unaware brain are available for the person to act on. The person makes a choice, which Ayn called volition, and he takes action based on the information from the conscious brain and the unaware brain." With this, Alex pointed to the arrow with the word "three" next to it.
"What kind of actions are we talking about?", I asked.
Alex smiled and said, "In general, the conscious brain tends to result in a say...in words. The unaware brain tends to result in a do...in physical action and/or feelings. In fact, Rand had a lot to say about these actions. Some very specific and enlightening things..."
Alex and I spent hours discussing the following passages. Here is what we discovered:
"There are two aspects of man's existence which are the special province and expression of his sense of life: love and art." (p. 21)
Love and art are actions, not words. They are a do, not a say.
"Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments." (p. 8)
Art is the effect of an artist's perception of reality and his values. Apparently, so is love...
"By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man's fundamental view of himself and of existence." (p. 8)
Art pulls out of reality and presents those aspects consistent with the artist's view of himself and existence. Again, so does love...
"Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man's concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were precepts." (p. 8)
We spent a lot of time discussing that passage. Art makes intangible concepts tangible! This brilliantly set up the next point...
"Just as language (words) converts abstractions into the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units - so art converts man's metaphysical abstractions into the equivalent of concretes, into specific entities open to man's direct perception." (p. 8)
Art helps us directly perceive our intangible beliefs.
"Art is the indispensable medium for communication of a moral ideal." (p. 10)
Ayn's conclusion was art is a vital way to communicate the moral ideal: the Divine! Telling a story is a vital way to communicate truth. Then she qualified this...
"This does not mean that art is a substitute for philosophical thought: without a conceptual theory of ethics, an artist would not be able successfully to concretize an image of the ideal. But without the assistance of art, ethics remains in the position of theoretical engineering: art is the model-builder." (p. 10)
There was that word! Rand had used the word "model" in conjunction with "art". Just more proof I was not a modeler. However, Alex summarized the discussion this way...
"Ayn showed a stimulus causes us to draw from both our conscious brain and unaware brain to express ourselves...and the expression is a tangible representation of our philosophy and our values. Whether we are aware of it or not. Whether we want it to be or not."
I had a question. "Alex, according to Rand, would love be the ultimate performance art?"
Alex's eyes glistened. He said nothing as he turned and looked at the wall of art. I thought I heard a muffled, "Of course". He cleared his throat while he turned on the lights. Then he said, "That is just the One Dimensional Model. When you understand the Two Dimensional Model, you will realize this can change the world."
As we walked upstairs, I asked him, "How much do I have to read for tomorrow?"
"Just two more chapters."
"Can we continue this tomorrow morning?", I pleaded.
He said in an even tone, void of emotion, "As you wish."
That night, I sat near the desk, read two more chapters and watched the light show. Despite the impressive branches of electrical energy that lit up the valley, there was no thunder. I left the covers off the windows, so I could continue to watch the momentary illumination on the walls as I fell asleep.