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The Missing Moment
Robert Pollack

How the Unconscious Shapes Modern Science
Published by Houghton Mifflin/NY in 1999
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2003


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Pollack, a distinguished molecular biologist by his own bookjacket's admission, begins his Introduction with this amazing quote:

[page 1] Contrary to what I had believed, the process of experimental science does not consist in explaining the unknown by the known, as in certain mathematical proofs. It aims, on the contrary, to give an account of what is observed by the properties of what is imagined. Francis Jacob, The Statue Within

If Pollack, a molecular biologist, can only imagine the be-all and end-all of life as existing in molecular form, one can only expect that the accounts he gives of what is observed to consist of a lugubrious paean to life and death in the physical plane. He does not disappoint this expectation. If there were an organ that one could clamp down on to stem the tide of grotesque images of death and destruction of the human physical body by every form of microbe, virus, or genomic defect as one can clamp on one's nose to stem the inrush of odorous stench into one's nostrils, one would do well to apply the pressure immediately on reaching Chapters 4, 5 and 6, which have the relatively innocuous titles of "Fear of Invasion", "Fear of Insurrection" and "Fear of Death". In order to allow the air to clear quickly, I will deal with those three chapters with dispatch. "Fear of Invasion" deals with microbes and viruses and details the many ways they play havoc with us human beings as they wend their merry way around the globe. "Fear of Insurrection" treats cancer as if it were an internal rebel force against which a legion of blue coated soldiers must be sent to blast it out of existence. "Fear of Death" is a background dirge to a life that ends at the grave. There — I've saved you a whole bunch of time and useless trepidation.

"Can't you say more about Death?" one of you might ask, so I'll quote the first two sentences of Chapter 6:

[page 125] According to all scientific evidence, death is final. Resurrection and reincarnation are ideas that have no demonstrable reality, and irreversibility of an individual death is as well established as the continued persistence of life itself. Nothing in science is proven, everything "known" has just been shown to be extremely likely — but the persistence of life and the irreversibility of death are supported by complex webs of interlocking observation with no reproducible evidence to the contrary.

Pollack tells us, in effect, "Life is a death sentence." That is blunt enough and we can agree with that. But to go as far as to say that "according to all scientific evidence, death is final" is to equate life with material existence, which is to presume that science, which prides itself on only giving credence to the material world of sensory data, can have any credence when it pronounces the non-existence of a non-material or spiritual world. Such a pronouncement can only be called hubris in the extreme — the lack of evidence is not evidence!

It gets worse. In the next sentence he makes a global statement that "resurrection and reincarnation are ideas that have no demonstrable reality" but he doesn't bother to qualify the statement with any of the tools of logical thinking such as: "at this time" or "so far as I know." Let's examine what the statement might reveal if he chose the first tool: "Resurrection and reincarnation are ideas that have no demonstrable reality at this time." This restatement would encourage you, dear Readers, to investigate as to whether reincarnation [which is resurrection into another lifetime] had a demonstrable reality at some earlier time. If you looked carefully, you would, in fact, find that it is only in the centuries since the 15th that reincarnation did not have a demonstrable reality. Only by neglecting the time index tool for logical thinking is Pollack able to gloss over that potential reality.

The next version of the sentence would be: "Resurrection and reincarnation are ideas that have no demonstrable reality so far as I know." Using this version of the sentence, Pollack would openly admit that this statement is not a universal statement for all individuals, but rather only for himself. He is giving, in the best manner of the experimental scientist, in the words of Francis Jacob, "an account of what is observed by the properties of what is imagined." Material scientists imagine that reincarnation does not exist, so they make definite statements about it based on the properties that they imagine reincarnation to have, namely, non-existence. There are many people who, knowing this propensity of material scientists, do not bother to share with them the demonstrations that reincarnation exists.

As for the requirement for reproducible evidence to the contrary, the evidence disappeared when the ability to see into the spiritual world, where such evidence is reproducible, ceased to be a common ability for every human. Some still have that ability, but to find it in a scientist would be as hard as finding a rain forest in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Scientists who claim there is no reproducible evidence for reincarnation are like Nasruddin, the Sufi clown, who was looking outside his tent for the key he dropped inside his tent. When asked why he didn't look for it inside his tent, he replied, "Because there is more light here."

When Pollack, in his mid-fifties, encountered his own mortality and nearly died from a bout with pneumonia, he set out on a search for how science dealt with death, a subject he had suddenly developed an interest in.

[page 9] I soon found that science had no useful model for dealing with mortality nor any apparent interest in developing one: death was simply not interesting. This struck me as odd.

It doesn't strike me as odd at all. Would anyone expect Columbus to have an intense interest in what happened when a ship sailed over the edge of the world? His invested interest was in ignoring that commonly expected possibility as long as possible. If it proved necessary, he was soon enough going to explore it directly. What I found interesting was his statement that scientists found death not to be interesting. Here is the poem that resulted — actually a song to be sung a capella by a molecular biologist backed up by a Greek chorus singing doo-wop.

Death Not Interesting
Death is not interesting to science, they say
At least not in a religious way.

Scientists are going to die some day
And they’re not interested in death, they say
At least not in a religious way.

“To die, to sleep, perchance to dream”
was what death to Hamlet seemed.
“To be, or not to be — that is the question”
which Science has not esteemed.

Death is not interesting to science, they say
At least not in a religious way.

The Big Bang’s popped into the Halls of Science
DNA tests have proved their reliance
Scientists come, scientists go away

But . . .

Death is not interesting to science, they say
At least not in a religious way.

This next quote contains what Mrs. Freud would call her slip, an ambiguity that is tantalizing. I have italicized the word in the passage below to highlight the ambiguity.

[page 10] Scientific reality, like any other attempt to explain the world, lies, Harold Bloom says, at the "rim of inner self"; it begins in the universe of our senses and ends at the moment of death."

Scientific reality is not "like any other attempt to explain the world." So far as I know, it is the sole attempt that "begins in the universe of our senses and ends at the moment of death" — this is a condition that science is proud of, and yet it blatantly betrays what science tries so hard to conceal: its basic ignorance for the supersensible world that lies outside of our senses and those events that transcend the moment of death. There are a plethora of ways of explaining the world that do not have such a limited scope of explanation. Given that, the statement that "Scientific reality lies at the rim of the 'inner self' " takes on a humorous and unintended meaning: "Science stands at the rim of the inner self and tells this lie: beyond this point nothing exists." There are many other ways of explaining the world which include an inner self that does not end at the moment of death. Many of these ways have existed longer than science or even history itself have existed. And even though the stories are many and varied, there is a common thread in all the stories that one can trace which gives more credence to these stories than to the lies Science stands at the rim of the inner self to tell us.

Goethe was not a materialistic scientist and as such he knew the abstract flatness and blandness of scientific theory compared to the lush vibrancy of the living world it purports to describe. Interestingly, Pollack quotes Goethe at the beginning of Chapter 1 with a quote pertinent to this point:

[page 12] All theory, my friend, is gray
But green is life's glad golden tree.
— Mephistopheles to his student Faust

Pollack devotes Chapter 1 to Sensation and takes us on a guided tour through olfactory and visual perception. We learn from a molecular biologist how odors are processed by the nose and carried to the brain and how color vision evolved in human beings. It seems that through an "accident of gene duplication" humans came to be able to distinguish between green and ripe fruit by the addition of yellows and reds to their color vision.

In Chapter 2, Consciousness, we learn this amazing fact — that the simultaneity of events that we have taken for granted does not exist. Benjamin Libet's experiment revealed a world of puzzling displacements of time, all of which have led us to a new vision of the teeming whirl of events that are synchronized within our brain to create the phenomenon we call, "consciousness."

[page 38, 39] When they pinched the man's forearm, he said, "Ouch." He was sure he had said "ouch" immediately on being pinched, but instruments showed that about half a second had elapsed from the instant his arm was pinched until the time he responded. . . . for the man and, by extension, for all of us, the conscious present is demonstrably about a half-second in the past.

This was a phenomenon that I noticed about 12 or so years ago while I was shaving. I recall that I encountered a displacement of time of the order of a half second or so when something happened to me that could not be explained any other way. I attributed it at the time to my subjective experience of time. Here is my description of the phenomenon, which was written in 1990 shortly after it happened to me. I realized that it was an important effect that I had not encountered as reported elsewhere at the time.

During the Christmas season, I had the experience of shaving while listening to my favorite Christmas music in the background. Just barely audible over the shaver's random noise, I could hear and follow the music's lyrics and hum along. Then, when I shut the razor off, there seemed to be a discontinuity in the lyric line. Each time I shut the razor off, it happened the same way. My hypothesis is that because of the noise my interpretative, pattern recognition processes were working very hard to assimilate a coherent melody and lyric out of the background noise and as a result there was a time delay in the presentation of the data to my mind. Once the noise stopped, the recognition process jumped to normal speed, causing an apparent jump into the future, several notes forward into the song.
Here’s how I am inclined to interpret the phenomenon now, after reading about the above experiment: With each level of difficulty of processing cognitive information, there is a different time delay. When my razor was on, I was living in a consciousness time about a half-second behind my normal consciousness time, which is always a half-second behind the real time outside me (as demonstrated by the experiment described in the [page 38, 39] quote above). When I switched the razor off, I jumped forward to the normal half-second delay, thus skipping over portions of the song. I wonder what would happen if an experimenter measured the auditory responses in the brain to show the first half-second delay, then produced some buzzing noise and checked for an additional half-second delay on top of the first half-second delay.

Everyone has seen a radar screen: a green wand sweeps across the area of the screen and blips appear at various points on the screen. If an object suddenly appears somewhere in the surrounding area covered by the radar scan, it will not appear on the screen until the sweep reaches the direction in which the object appears and then will a blip appear. Our consciousness is like that as the Libet experiment shows. Something can happen to us, but it doesn't register in our consciousness until a scan of our consciousness is completed and our brain has correlated all the blips it has picked up into one coherent message about what has happened. The sweep of our brain is a wave of electrical energy that moves similar to a person combing their hair in a sweep across the top of the forehead to the back. This wave sweeps all the sections of the brain forty times a second; sometimes multiple sweeps are necessary before a correlation is completed and, say, a pinch is registered in consciousness. You may be thinking, "Hey, I can pinch myself and I felt it immediately." That is true — you feel it immediately because your brain has your internal clock of consciousness set a half-second early so as to achieve that very simultaneity you experience. If someone else pinches you, they have the same built-in half -second delay as you do. Imagine the 40 cycle per second (cps) wave as the baton of the brain's conductor and consciousness as a symphony he orchestrates.

[page 41] The conductor in charge of bringing the symphony of consciousness out of the brain's separate centers is a synchronizing wave of electrical activity that sweeps regularly through the brain, from behind the forehead to behind the nape, forty times each second.

[page 44] Apparently, the same conductor's baton beat that establishes functional links between sensory nerve cells and their different home bases on the cortex establishes and maintains functional connections between each region of the cortex and the various brain centers beneath it.

Pollack thinks that the usual comparison of the brain to a computer is faulty, and I agree.

[page 45, 46] This comparison is usually made with the clear implication that as time goes by, computers will meet and overtake our brains, for they will expand in complexity and in their capacity to handle information while our brains remain stuck inside our skulls. It is a metaphor that severely underestimates the brain's plasticity. Though the nerve cells in our brains do not grow much after we are born, their connections constantly form and reform. There is no brain hardware in the sense of permanent circuitry; the brain's "wiring" keeps changing in response to the lives we lead.

One must always remember that computers are designed by human beings with brains that improve as they learn how to better design computers. Our computer-designer brains will necessarily evolve and keep ahead of the computers they design!

Another metaphor he uses to describe the effect of the 40 cps thalamic global sweeps of the cortex is to compare it to the sweep of light across the face of the Earth and the effect it has on coordinating the awakening and going to sleep of the inhabitants of the planet.

[page 47, 48] The sweep of the forty-cycle wave through the brain is like the sweep of sunrise or sunset over the surface of the earth. As the boundary between light and dark sweeps over the turning face of the planet, a longitudinal slice of people go to bed and wake up in phase with one another. . . . Just as no interval shorter than a whole day will sweep the entire planet of people through bedtime, conscious time cannot contain any instance shorter than an eightieth of second, the time it takes for the entire cortex to be swept from front to back by a peak of the global, synchronizing, forty-cycle-per-second wave.

In Chapter 3, "Memory and the Unconscious" Pollack shows us how the two processes of the brain: sensory and memory merge together into an integrated whole. He shows us that our every perception, every second of our life, is molded, shaped, and infused with all the memories of our past life.

[page 61] We have already seen that our perceptions do not take place in the instant they seem to represent and that, instead, consciousness emerges from the immediate past in the fraction of the second it needs to integrate its perceptions. In that second the brain also integrates the "now" of external, sequential time with the more distant past of memory, making the entire lifetime of a person a source of yet another different version of time.

As we have seen in the science of doyletics, we have two forms of memory: doylic memory and cognitive memory. Pollack talks about both types of memory, but uses the traditional and non-scientific term for doylic memory, namely, affect. The "tugging of memory" refers to what we call a doylic trigger.

[page 62] We all instantly and permanently tie the erotic, frightening, satiating, fight-inducing, and socializing affects of an event to our conscious experience of it, first immediately and then in memory. Indeed, the affect of an earlier experience is one of the threads by which memory may be most easily tugged.
Memories with strong affect can be recalled by new events that bring on the same affect even if the new event otherwise bears little resemblance to the old, but the embarrassing and even awful content of such memories makes conscious recall difficult to sustain.

What he means by the last sentence is that cognitive memories with similar doyles (affect) can be triggered by a new event even though the new event bears no cognitive resemblance to the old. This sentence reveals that scientists of consciousness do know about doyles and how they trigger memories, but they have lacked the scientific precision of doyletics with which to express that knowledge, up until now. And yes, the rising up of doyles in inappropriate contexts can be most embarrassing, such as the case with the woman who went into a tremendous terror state if she merely heard a man whistling outside in the dark.

This next passage gives us a hint as to the origin of hunger pangs, a connection that anyone not familiar with the concepts of doyletics would be unlikely to make. Pollack was talking about the unintended consequences of weaning a child.

[page 63] As a result, deep feelings of fear and anger are directed at parents in response to a late breast or a bottle, a hug not forthcoming, or a harsh voice.

If a child under five cries for an extended time, the cramps in the stomach can be stored as a doyle. If the crying is due to an empty stomach, the signal of an empty stomach in later life can cause the doyle of cramps or pain to return. These pains are called hunger pangs and they are merely doylic memories that have no connection with an present need for nutrition or food. As such, un-traced, stomach pangs can cause one to eat when one isn't really hungry and cause over-eating and obesity. The best way to start a diet of reduced calorie intake is to first remove any hunger pangs that would otherwise make dieting so unpleasant and uncomfortable that one would scuttle the dieting regime before it accomplishes its objective.

This next passage shows how Alexandr Luria clearly delineated the processes of doylic memory and cognitive memory, correlating doylic memory to inner brain processes and cognitive memory to outer brain processes.

[page 68] The centers of the inner brain were concerned with unconscious processes, affects, and memories; the centers of the outer brain carried out abstract conscious thought, perception of the outer world, directed action, and judgment; and at their boundary, a set of centers called the limbic systems carried out the balancing acts of bringing together the past and the present.

In doyletics we understand that the emotional affect of every event is made available [albeit sometimes embarrassing or inappropriate to the context] — it's only the cognitive components of the affect or cognitive memories of the original event during which the doyle was stored that is unavailable, up until now. Up until one does a doyle trace to convert the doyle or affect into a cognitive memory. Here's how Pollack, a molecular biologist not familiar with doyletics, describes the process of repression, which can be simply viewed as the cognitive correlate of doylic memories that have not been converted into cognitive memories yet, so that they are unavailable (rather than "repressed").

[page 69] Unconscious memories are organized and held in the limbic region called the hippocampus; neural threads weave the hippocampus and its memories into other limbic systems and both inner and outer brains so that in the absence of repression, the emotional affect of every event can be made available to all parts of the brain. Surgery that stimulates limbic regions will generate a luminous recovery of old memories, a rich hallucinatory repertoire, and a constellation of vivid dreams.

While I see that there are very useful drugs in the pharmacopeia of modern medicine, I would certainly caution anyone who can remove problems naturally without drugs to avoid them and the laundry list of side-affects most any drug prescription that is packaged with the drugstore bottle. The drugs designed to alter a person's emotional response to experience are a particular case in point. A simple doyle trace can do the same job without any drug-related side-affects or, in fact, any side-affects at all. How do these drugs work? From a doyletics perspective, they work by gunking up the free flow of doylic memory so long as they are in the blood stream. A precision, laser-scalpel doyle trace will remove permanently a doyle that a opium-based or antipsychotic drug will only temporarily suppress. You decide which would be better for you.

[page 70] Many of these drugs bind tightly to the nerve cells of a single, specific limbic region and to nowhere else in the brain. The limbic pleasure center was rediscovered as the major binding site for opioids, while another limbic center is the binding sit for the type of antipsychotic drugs that have the side effect of reducing a person's interest in the world.

We have now completed our thalamic sweep of this book, starting at the middle and returning back to the middle. We have been led by Pollack to see the grand sweep of consciousness as orchestrated by two parallel 40 cps thalamic clocks. We can see him lay bare his own prejudices, hopes, and fears, such as in this closing paragraph of his book.

[page 163] I have no doubt there will continue to be moments when a science unable to plumb its own unconscious fears and dreams will indeed leave people with no defense from an evil will.

Only a science that includes in its sweep both the material world and the spiritual world, a science of the full human being comprising body, soul, and spirit — the anthropos — only an anthropsophy can avoid this end and give people the ability to overcome an "evil will" now and in eons to come.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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