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I am my brain

October 27, 2011

My brain is a sac about the consistency of blanc-mange, quivering inside the hardest bone in my body, the skull casing. It is powered by electricity. Th electricity is caused by the transport of charged chemicals, such as Na+, K+, Ca2+, Cl-, and such, across infinitesimally small channels termed “synaptic clefts” in your brain’s billions of neurons. The more frequently the same channels are activated, the stronger that channel becomes, until it becomes an automatic electrical firing. We call this “learning.”

All learning is created through the activities of neurochemical transmitters, called “neurotransmitters.” There are some major neurotransmitters, such a GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. The proper balance and activity of these makes us happy, positive, and active. When these neurotransmitters aren’t in balance, or aren’t able to perform their proper functions – because of lack of production, or over production, or inability to be taken up, all sorts of diseases can occur. These imbalances can be cause by actual physical damage to the brain, though concussion, or a blow, or violent injury to the skull, or a stroke, or multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy, or years of smoking or other chemical exposure, or even by stress and injurious thoughts and beliefs. Yes, in the pat ten years, we’ve actually found solid scientific ebidence that proves that you are what you think. Your brain will reshape itself according to your thoughts and beliefs, forming new channels and growing new neurons depending on what your mental imagery is.

You become what you concentrate upon.

It means that you can change your brain and your impression of the world, indeed, your very “personality,” by concentrating upon outcomes you wish to attain. There is solid neurochemical evidence for the Napoleon Hill philosophy of “Think and Grow Rich.”

But what if the physical damage to your brain actually alters your very ability to think? What if the neurotransmitters your body is producing – because of the chemical compounds you are inhaling, or the stimulus of your environment – are damaging to you? , What if you are eating food that only provide the wrong precursors to the neurotransmitter-factory that is comprised by your brain, your endocrine system, and your hormone-producing body-fats? What if you have inherited a neurotransmitter-production profile that stints you on dopamine, or serotonin? Sure, there are techniques that you can use to change these factors: drugs, regimens of thought or exercise or diet. But how do you even know where to start?

I have been convinced of my brain-based nature ever since I was a tiny child. I was known as being “brainy,” that is, intellectual and even ratiocinated, ever since I was forced by ill health to be sedentary and a reader, rather than active and athletic. I learned to read at a very early age, and read as much as I could get my hands on – even books that I couldn’t understand. My braininess became the way I self-identified – I was “smart.”

Of course, later I was depressed, very depressed. Severely depressed – the first time I was in grad school and sat by myself in front of a typewriter for hours, unable to write. I went into talking therapy, which I attended for three times a week for three years. That made it worse! Then I was put on antidepressant for the first time, probably about 1983 – antidepressants –  amitryptylline. (It’s the same drug that I take today as an agonist for my gabapentin.) But I mention it here because my reaction to amitryptlline, and the way it literally l”lifted” my depression, made me a fervent believer in the function of neurotransmitters on the brain. Suddenly I didn’t see my mind as the product of events and beliefs, so much as as chemical soup that responded to events by forming new chemicals, which ended up *experienced* as moods, feelings, ideas.

Obviously the brain’s neurochemical interactions is how we “have” ideas, learn anything new, develop feelings and hold beliefs. I remember falling in love with Jack. The more time that we spent together – and especially the more we made love- the more it felt as if my brain itself was changing. At the time, it was a novel concept. Now it’s obvious that that was exactly what *was* happening – the hormones of love actually change the brain’s functioning.

The brain is also the way we experience a lot of our pain. It’s implicit in the entire concept of
psychosomatic pain – the idea that the pain “is all in your head.” Biofeedback and mental training work so well to adapt the ego-experiencer to not “feeling” the pain because they are working from the point of view that mental recognition of the pain can be altered and trained.

But what happens when the brain *itself* is the physical cause of the pain?  In the case of CPS, the injured brain causes the experience of pain – and the pain is very real. It’s not imaginary, or a chimera, or a ghost. CPS is a disease whose only attribute is pain. Usually, the pain caused by an illness is designed as an indicazator of a greater medical issue. A tumor begins to give a dull ache; the nodules in an arthritic knee make walking too uncomfortable to be borne; a ripping pain in the throat, or a piercing split in the sinuses, testify that there is an infection in the body.

Ameliorating the sources of the infection will usually make the pain cease. Pull the infected tooth; the toothache will end. Remove the appendix; the patient will recover. The fact that they felt the pain stays in their memory, while the memory of the pain itself is erased. We can’t remember actual pain; we can only remember that we did feel it – where we felt it, its qualities, its duration, its intensity. But remembering breaking a bone, or spraining an anjke, or even burning oneself on the iron, doesn’t actually cause us to *feel* that pain again. That amnesia is a blessing to humans, who couldn’t bear life if they were constantly *re-feeling* all the painful incidents in their lives. Look at my scars: the one at the base of my throat from the traecheotmy; the long scar down my back from the spinal fusion, the caesarean scar, even the scars of my knees from childhood falls onto gravel, or the marks on the back of my left wrist from the seventh grade recess when Paul Sullivan let me fly off the end of the playground whip right into the brick wall of the school.

But CPS? You have the pain without the injury. The pain isn’t an indication of *anything*, other than that you have suffered an injury to your CNS somewhere. Since injuries to the CNS don’t heal, as other injuries to other tissues do, you are stuck with it. It is the most peristenet pain, because it has no chance to spontaneously resolve itself. There is no point to CPS, other than that it exists.

CPS is the human existence. We hurt because we exist. The injury was the Original one – let’s not cause it a sin. “Original Injury” does a nice poetic job of conveying the state of human existence, anyway. It’s an injury to our relationship with God, because it cuts us off from the Godhead. We are each caught in th e glory and the isolation of our solo sensibilities. Our birth is thus an injury to our Spiritual Nervous System. The human pain of numinous is thus the “Spiritual Pain Syndrome” from which we all suffer, no matter how blithe we are to the cause of our existential misery.

Is there really no hope for the end to either forms of these continual agonies until we die, and these beloved bodies and identities pass away? That is, I suppose, the promise of Buddhism, and perhaps every mystical discipline: that we can lose that fiction of the precious solitary ego while we are still in this corpus.

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