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Bright Air, Brilliant Fire
Gerald M. Edelman
On the Matter of Mind
Published by HarperCollins/NY in 1992
A Book Notes by Bobby Matherne ©2000

I think it not improbable that man, like the grub that prepares a chamber for the winged thing it never has seen but is to be, that man may have cosmic destinies he does not understand.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

This quote headed my review of Citadel, Market, and Altar [See ARJ], but I could not resist placing it at the top of this review of a book by a materialist scientist who claims to understand that the mind originates in the brain, and therefore our individual cosmic destiny is dust. He has found a watch in the jungle and fabricated an intricate theory to show how the pieces assembled themselves. What he does not say is, who winds the watch. What he does not hear is the ticking of the clock of the centuries that will relegate his grand materialistic masterpiece to the status of a quaint 21st Century myth in a couple of ticks.

It is a grand masterpiece laid out before us of how the matter of the brain is organized and assembles itself into recursive, intertwining loops of systems of neuronal groups as it bootstraps itself into perception, primary consciousness, and higher consciousness. In doing so, he systematically demolishes the arguments of the "brain is only a computer" school of thought, but he attempts to create in biological wetware what he has just convinced us is not achievable in software.

[page 1] If we consider that without a mind no questions can be asked, and that there has never been a solidly established demonstration of a mind without a body, the importance of the subject addressed here needs no defense.

There has been no solid demonstration of a non-solid object! Imagine that! To require materialistic evidence of a non-material world was the fatal flaw of the table-tappers of the 19th Century. Each century has its own quaint way of thinking about the mind. Ancients Greeks thought it was located in the region of the heart. In the 21st Century we think it's located in the brain. Rightly understood, we really don't know where the mind is located, and it is only by reductionist materialistic thinking that one can hold the position that the mind is nothing but an evolving property of matter. He says on page 15, "In the course of evolution, bodies came to have minds." From the perspective of anthroposophy, one could say with equal eclat, "In the course of evolution, minds came to have bodies." The situation is like two alien scientists who come to Earth in the Old West and see men being riding horses. The scientists argue over the evolution of the strange creature they're examining. One claims that the upper part evolved from the lower part and the other claims that the lower part evolved from the upper part. From our perspective we know that there are two beings, a human and a horse, that have formed a cooperative venture. From the alien scientists's perspective they can state that there has been no "solidly established demonstration" of a human without a horse.

Nevertheless, Edelman's position is that bodies came to have minds, and let's take a close look at his brilliant theory of how the material of the brain works, how he sees minds evolving out of matter.

On page 23, Figure 3-3 shows the brain as it develops from the neural groove (Figure 6-3 on page 59) to the cerebral cortex. The neural groove develops into an elongated tube that extends past the top of the spinal column and becomes piled together as toothpaste that is pushed from a tube into a larger space might. The skull of our brain provides the larger space and it evolved from the very top vertebra which expanded during evolution to accommodate larger and larger convolutions of the neural tube as it formed into the cerebral cortex. The concepts of minds coming to have bodies and the skull evolving from the top vertebra I owe to Rudolf Steiner and his comprehensive science that accommodates both material and spiritual facts of existence, anthroposophy. As we progress into the 21st Century, it is time for us to begin to consider seriously both the material and spiritual aspects of our human beingness, and this review of Edelman's book offers me an opportunity to do that.

[page 40] In considering our minds, we must also consider both our kinship with and our differences from other species. As I discuss in chapter 16, one difference is that each of us has an individual "soul" based on language. Whatever we find out about the properties of language, however, the sad fact is that neither psychology nor biology will permit the transmigration of souls.

Rightly understood, our bodies are like compact disk players and our souls are like the recordings in the disks. When a compact disk (CD) player breaks, the disk is easily moved to a new player. One could beef up the analogy by adding that the CD is a read-write CD and new recordings are added each time it spins for a while in a new CD player. And that the music it plays in each new player is also kept in the master recording library called the Akashic library.

[page 41] It was Darwin who first recognized that natural selection had to account even for the emergence of human consciousness.

In the brain we see that the ontogeny of a single human brain recapitulates the evolutionary development of the brains of the lower animals: first the fish brain, then the reptile brain, then the mammal brain, then the primate brain, and then the human brain. There are two ways to think about this progression: one is, as animals grew more complex they finally progressed to the human stage. Another is to say that as humans evolved in their bodies, some of the humans stayed behind in lower stages of evolution. The first presupposes that humans are the output from the latest stage of evolution, and the second presupposes that humans were the agent of evolution at each step along the way. The former is the Darwinian view and the latter is the anthroposophical view. For more details on the latter view, check out my ARJ review of Spiritual Hierarchies and the Physical World by Rudolf Steiner.

On page 102, Edelman makes the comment that "memory is the ability to repeat a performance." Nowhere in the human physiology is that more true than in the curious type of memory recently postulated by the nascent science of doyletics that we may call doylic memory. Doylic memory stores the performance of the human body before it was five years old (an experiential result, but an expected one in light of the neocortex development), and whenever some component (a sensory trigger) of that original memory presents itself in the here and now, the human body that stored the doyle, re-evokes it, thereby repeating the original performance. These repeat performances, that we call doyles for short, comprise the substrate of the complex of human experiences we call emotions, feelings, and many other human capabilities that we take for granted, such as: walking, talking, breathing, and heart rate, among other things.

Further down the same page, Edelman elaborates a bit on memory, referring to his Theory of Neuronal Group Selection [TNGS] thus: "The TNGS proposes . . . that memory is the specific enhancement of a previously established ability to categorize." If the sensory trigger associated with a doyle provides a categorization method, then the storage of the doyle enhances that ability by providing a mechanism for recapitulating the distinction that was categorized.

[page 105] Cortical appendages - the organs of succession. The brain contains structures such as the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, and the hippocampus that are concerned with timing, succession in movement, and the establishment of memory. They are closely connected with the cerebral cortex as it carries out categorization and correlation of the kind performed by global mappings.

The cerebellum provides the fast linking of doyles so as to smooth out such complicated movements as speech production. People who learn a second language after five-years-old lack the phonemes and smoothness of speaking of the language they learned before five when the speech sounds are still able to be stored as doyles of their phonation apparatus. Those who learn a second language before five have the linkage of the phonemes established in the cerebellum and that provides the fluidity of speech we associate with a native speaker of the language. The basal ganglia acts at a higher level over long time scales to correlate the sequences of doylic motor operations. The hippocampus serves to correlate the short time sequences of the cerebellum with the longer ones of the basal ganglia.

[page 114] Qualia constitute the collection of personal or subjective experiences, feelings, and sensations that accompany awareness. They are phenomenal states- "how things seem to us" as human beings. For example, the "redness" of a red object is a quale. . . . Often, the phenomenal scene is accompanied by feelings or emotion, however faint. Yet the actual sequence of qualia is highly individual, resting on a series of occasions in one's own personal history or immediate experience.

Qualia may be live or doylic. That is, the sensations we experience subjectively may be due to sensory data impinging on our senses at the moment, and therefore, live. Or the sensations may be due to a doyle triggered by some aspect of the phenomenal scene, and therefore, doylic. At any one moment we may be experiencing qualia of both live and doylic origins.

[page 115] It is our ability to report and correlate while individually experiencing qualia that opens up the possibility of a scientific investigation of consciousness.

In a similar vein, it occurs to me, Steiner's ability to report and correlate his subjective experiences allowed him to open up the possibility of a scientific investigation of the spiritual world.

In Edelman's section on Primary Consciousness, he describes how the brain stem and the limbic system (which includes the two amygdala) operate to form what in doyletics we would call the doylic system, that is, that system of the brain responsible for the storage and retrieval of doyles or physical body states. This system would contain sources of internally generated pain and pleasure, appetites of all kinds, as well the homoeostatic settings of the respiration, heart rate, and other glandular functions. Here's how Edelman describes it:

[page 117] The first system [of Primary Consciousness] is the brain stem, together with the limbic (hedonic) system, the system concerned with appetite, sexual and consummatory behavior, and evolved defensive behavior patterns. It is a value system; it is extensively connected to many different body organs, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system. Together, these systems regulate heart and respiratory rate, sweating, digestive functions, and the like, as well as bodily cycles related to sleep and sex. It will come as no surprise to learn that the circuits in this limbic-brain stem system are often arranged in loops . . .

In the next section (page 119 quotation below), he develops how the cortical system [i.e., the neocortex] is evolutionarily grafted on top of the existing doylic system to provide a novel type of memory based on this connection which we call conceptual memory. What he doesn't say, but is a major tenet of doyletics, is that the earlier evolved doylic system remains fully operational in read-write mode until five years old and then switches into read-only mode for the remainder of one's life. The read-write mode from shortly after conception to five years old corresponds to the period of evolutionary development during which higher consciousness came to fruition in the human race. With the evolutionary advent of conceptual memory, the keystone to higher consciousness (according to Edelman), the older read-write memory stopped operating around the age of five years old. Think of conceptual memory as a more refined way of remembering an event, a more human way because the doylic memory capability was from our animalistic evolutionary past. As soon as a new, improved function comes on-line, our brain will use it in preference over the older, clunky method of storage. However, all the events stored in doylic memory before five years old, are only available in doylic memory and will continue to be retrieved that way for the rest of our lives, unless some process occurs which permits us to convert an event from a doylic memory into a conceptual memory. That these processes happen normally is evinced, e.g., by the loss of most food dislikes as one ages. For example, a person wonders why he still dislikes macaroni and cheese casseroles. He thinks long and hard over all the times he had macaroni and cheese as a child and soon he realizes that the aversion he had to eating those two foods together, which he has now been eating separately for years and enjoying them, is gone. A process, such as the one I just gave, which allowed someone without conscious planning to remove a food dislike, we call an unconscious doyle trace. Everyone has had some experience of disliking something as a child only to begin liking it as an adult. What Doyle Henderson did was to discover that it was possible to perform this process consciously some twenty-five years ago and thereby laid the foundation to what is now the science of doyletics, named in his honor. With a doyle trace one may quickly and easily, without outside help, remove unwanted feelings and other bodies states that are unpleasant.

[page 119] The first is the development of the cortical system in such a way that when conceptual functions appeared they could be linked strongly to the limbic system, extending already existing capacities to carry out learning. The second is the development of a new kind of memory based on this linkage. Unlike the system of perceptual categorization, this conceptual memory system is able to categorize responses in the different brain system that carry out perceptual categorization and it does this according to the demands of limbic-brain stem value systems.

An animal stores events that happen to it as doyles in its limbic system - that is its only means of recording its past history since it has no higher consciousness. The primary consciousness of early human beings provided them with doylic storage of their individual past history when they were still at a level we would call "animal" today - before humans had developed what Edelman would call a higher consciousness. He says that the importance of the doylic system is to help primary consciousness "to abstract and organize complex changes in an environment involving parallel signals," thus:

[page 121] Even though some of these signals may have no direct causal connection to each other in the outside world, they may be significant indicators to the animal of danger or reward. This is because primary consciousness connects their features in terms of the saliency determined by the animal's past history and its values.

For example, consider this actual case history. A four-year-old girl saw a big Labrador retriever eat her cat's baby kittens and she cried her eyes out. Specifically, she cried so much that the area around her eyes became red and puffed up and her breathing labored. Now, there was "no causal connection" between the Labrador retriever and her swollen eyes and labored breathing in the outside world. However, in the inside world of that little girl, now a grown woman forty years old, when her boss one day brought a Labrador retriever into the office, she developed puffy eyes and labored breathing, and the next day made an appointment with her doctor to treat her "dog allergy." In Edelman's words, the woman's primary consciousness connected the salient features of puffy eyes and labored breathing with the presence of a Labrador retriever and made a casual connection from her personal history. In doyletics terms, her limbic system had stored those items as a doyle at age four, and thereafter the mere presence of a Labrador retriever was enough to evoke the stored doyle. She grew up with a "dog allergy," but curiously, not to every type of dog. Until she traced and removed the dog allergy and recovered the memory of the kitten-killing episode, she had no idea that her dog allergy was specific to Labradors.

She did not have a conceptual memory of that episode with the Labrador, so she could not be aware of why she had an allergic reaction to dogs. She could not "plan an extended future" based on that non-existent conceptual memory. She did have a primary consciousness memory stored in her limbic-brain stem system, however, and that survived for over 35 years of her life, qualifying it certainly as a "long-term memory." The kind of memory she had of the event was an animalistic memory, one that existed when our human bodies were developed to the level that we would call "animal" today. The triggering of the doyles in her by the Labrador at her office created a repeat performance out of her awareness for what she experienced when the kitten-killing episode took place when she was four. As a repeat performance, it qualifies as a legitimate memory event by Edelman's definition on page 102. Read how Edelman describes primary consciousness. Keep in mind that it is not only true for animals, but also for the doylic memory system of human beings:

[page 122] An animal with primary consciousness sees the room the way a beam of light illuminates it. Only that which is in the beam is explicitly in the remembered present; all else is darkness. This does not mean that an animal with primary consciousness cannot have long-term memory or act on it. Obviously, it can, but it cannot, in general, be aware of that memory or plan an extended future for itself based on that memory.

Doyles are primary consciousness functions. They provide memory events equivalent to a flashlight shone into an event in our past. They provide a primitive sensory system and a dimly lit view of a limited area that is stored in a primitive memory and pattern recognition system in the limbic-brain stem system. The amygdaline structures of the limbic region have been shown to have primitive memory storage capabilities. It is that storage of sensory data associated with the events in our past that provides the triggers for re-accessing the doyles for a repeat performance in the present, thus creating a memory recall of physical body states (doyles) first stored before five years old.

In addition, without long-term memory the animal cannot do something else, that any human being past the age of five can do: a doyle trace. An animal cannot do a doyle trace for the reason that it does not have the conceptual memory capability mentioned in the page 119 quote above. Therefore an animal is not able "plan an extended future for itself based on that memory." [Some higher animals may have this capability, in particular, cetaceans with their large cortical systems, but we have no proof of this capability, up until now. In my dolphin novel, The Spizznet File, I share my views about the possibility of conceptual memory in dolphins.] The same conceptual memory capability that was grafted on top of the doylic memory system in the limbic-brain stem region provides a more efficient receptacle for storing events. As a result, when we pass the age five, conceptual memory storage replaces the doylic memory storage in the human being. From then on doyles may be retrieved from memory to provide that rich inner experience we call feelings, emotions, and other things - but after five, novel doyles can never be stored for the rest of our adult lives. This tenet is deducible from the theory of doyletics and is supported by the experiential findings that removal of a doyle is temporary unless one proceeds to before five. If it were possible for novel doyles to be stored after five years old, memory traces could remove them permanently without going to before five, and that is counter to the findings of twenty-five years of tracing and from thousands of memory traces .

If we do the following process: hold the doyle and go back systematically in time to ages before five, when we go before the time at which the particular doyle we are holding was stored, the cortical system makes a conceptual memory of the event that previously only stored in doylic memory. In terms of brain structure, the limbic-brain stem that had been storing the event, gives it over to the cortical system which records it. Since the original event happened before the cortical system was fully operational, five-years-old, the cortical system was not able to store it as a conceptual memory. Now at forty, let's say, the woman who witnessed the kitten-killing episode, is experiencing the doyle as a "dog allergy" or swollen eyes and difficulty breathing. She says, "I'm 40 and experiencing this." "I'm 30 . . ." "I'm 20 . . ." "I'm 10 . . ." "I'm 5 . . ." "I'm 4, am I experiencing this?" Directly upon asking the last question, she feels this enormous rush in her chest and finds that she is able to breathe freely for the first time in over 24 hours! In ten minutes her eyes are no longer puffy. What's happened? Simply this: when she went back to 4 during her trace, it was the first time ever that she had retrieved that kitten-killing episode when she had conceptual memory capability, so her cortical system stored the memory, newly created. From then on whenever she is around a Labrador retriever, she will remember the kitten-killing episode as a conscious conceptual memory instead of an unconscious doylic memory. In other words, she has lost her "dog allergy" for good.

Looked at in another light, her primary consciousness system had faithfully stored the original event for 35 years until she asked for it and once she did, it was stored as a conceptual memory. Having faithfully completed its job of storing the original event until it was transferred to conceptual memory, the original primary consciousness memory is no longer retrieved thereafter in deference to the newer and more efficient conceptual memory. The original memory is not erased, so much as it is left unused thereafter. It's as if the a doyle were a treasure that we hid in a secret place in a labyrinth as a child, and only by re-tracing our steps can we retrieve this treasure and place it on our mantelpiece to admire whenever we wish.

The loss of conscious recognition while maintaining implicit recognition of a familiar object can be attributed to a brain lesion that affects the cortical memory system while leaving the doylic memory system intact.

[page 122] A good example is provided by stroke patients who have prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces as such. Although they have no awareness of faces, some of these patients will, while denying that they recognize their spouse's face, perform on tests in such a way as to indicate strong discriminatory knowledge of that face. Another example is blind sight. Individuals with lesions in their primary visual cortex report blindness - no awareness of vision - but can locate objects in space when tested.

The blind sight capability must stem from some ability to perceive and recognize visual patterns without a conscious knowledge of doing so. This capability gives strong evidence for the capability that doyletics postulates for the amygdala. If this is so, it should be capable of verification in someone who has blind sight and then loses their amygdaline function: they should exhibit blind sight before the loss of their amygdalas and no blind sight thereafter.

In the chapter on languages and higher-order consciousness, Edelman describes the evolution of the doylic and conceptual memory systems. In his detailed description of primary consciousness, what he calls "a salience of patterns determined by the previous history of the individual" aptly corresponds to what we call doyles in the science of doyletics.

[page 133] A synoptic picture of how consciousness is related to evolutionary morphology [shows] how two successive sets of bootstrapping events (perceptual and semantic), each involving the evolution of new morphology (memory circuits and new forms of reentry) could give rise first to primary consciousness and then to high-order consciousness. . . . Primary consciousness provides the ability to determine by internal criteria the salience of patterns among multiple parallel signals arising in complex environments. That salience is largely but not completely determined by the previous history and learning of the individual animal.

I read this book with the hope of finding confirmation for some of the ideas of doyletics and was not disappointed. This should be kept in mind: Edelman was not aware of the tenets of doyletics. He was writing to provide the most detailed description he could give of our primary consciousness, higher consciousness, and the reentrant neuronal systems that provide the two levels of consciousness - the higher level resting on the primary level. By inspection of his work, we were able to discern that the primary consciousness system corresponds to the functions we have called "doylic memory" and the higher consciousness with the functions we have called "conceptual memory." In doylic memory we find an unconscious memory capability that leads to re-performance of a salient event from our individual life history before we were five years old. In conceptual memory we find a conscious memory capability by which we are able to re-construct conceptually a salient event that happened to us after five years old.

A perceptive parent who has raised a child from birth can attest that higher consciousness began sometime around five years old. Before that time, the ability to remember an event longer than a couple of days was nil. Freud described the period before five as a time of childhood amnesia, indicating the absence of a fully developed long-term memory in children younger than five. In the twenty-five years of research that led to the science of doyletics, it was found that unless a doyle trace culminated in an event before five years old, the doyle was not replaced by a conceptual memory and would return upon some future triggering. For this reason the age of five years old is called the Memory Transition Age. It is sincerely hoped that as future research is conducted on the processes of primary consciousness that researchers will find independent ways to confirm the existence of the postulated Memory Transition Age that has proven to be so functionally and explanatorily useful in doyletics.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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