Mirror Neurons, Individuation Spellcraft, and the Art of Shamanic Writing
“Don’t scorn the word:
Poets, the world is noisy
and silent, only God speaks.”
Pornography and Shamanic Healing
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
In 1992, Giacomo Rizzolatti and a team of neuroscientists accidentally discovered mirror neurons while experimenting on monkeys. The monkeys had their brains wired up in order to observe how motor neurons related to hand movements, and when a monkey picked up a peanut, the neuron fired. But to the team’s surprise, the same motor neuron also fired when the monkey was watching a lab assistant pick up the peanut. Apparently, to the monkey’s brain, seeing someone grabbing a peanut was a similar experience to grabbing the peanut itself. Action and perception were “tightly linked.” The neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran believes that the discovery of mirror neurons for neuroscience is equivalent to the discovery of DNA for biology, and that the “fifth revolution” is the neuroscience revolution (following Copernican, Darwinian, Freudian, and Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA).
Before we look more closely at what mirror neurons are, I’d like to begin by citing an interesting demonstration of how they function, using for an example a subject we are all acquainted with—pornography. The following is from “Porn and Mirror Neurons,” by Jonah Lehrer.
“But how does porn work? Why do humans (especially men) get so excited by seeing someone else have sex? At first glance, the answer seems obvious: watching porn triggers an idea (we start thinking about sex), which then triggers a change in our behavior (we become sexually aroused). This is how most of us think about thinking: sensations cause thoughts which cause physical responses. Porn is a quintessential example of how such a thought process might work.
“But this straightforward answer is probably wrong. Porn does not cause us to think about sex. Rather, porn causes to think we are having sex. From the perspective of the brain, the act of arousal is not preceded by a separate idea, which we absorb via the television or computer screen. The act itself is the idea. In other words, porn works by convincing us that we are not watching porn. We think we are inside the screen, doing the deed.”
Now let’s reframe this argument and apply it instead to a shamanic healing ritual.
How does shamanic ritual work? Why do humans get healed by seeing someone else perform a ritual? At first glance, the answer seems obvious: watching a ritual triggers an idea (we start thinking about healing), which then triggers a change (we are healed). This is how most of us think about thinking: sensations cause thoughts which cause physical responses. Shamanic ritual is a quintessential example of how such a thought process might work.
But this straightforward answer is probably wrong. Shamanic ritual does not cause us to think about being healed. Rather, shamanic ritual causes us to think we are doing the healing. From the perspective of the brain, the act of healing is not preceded by a separate idea, which we absorb via watching the shaman. The act itself is the healing. In other words, shamanic ritual works by convincing us that we are not watching a shamanic ritual. We think we are the shaman, doing the ritual.
This interpretative model can be applied to absolutely anything within the parameters of human experience; but what we are interested in applying it to here is writing, most specifically journal writing, which involves the observation of behavioral patterns. What are the ways in which writing can be used to hold a mirror to our psyches and develop empathy for ourselves, as well as for others? How is isolating ourselves from the input of others a means for self-examination and a way to become more integrated into the community? What is a group mind, how is it formed, what makes its hold upon us so complete, and how does writing help to break that hold? What is individuation, how does it pertain to finding our own unique “voice,” as writer-programmers of our reality—and what does all this have to do with porno and shamanism?!
Stay tuned, all will be revealed.
Reality as a Language-Based Construct
“The linking and relinking of objects by the Brain is actually a language, but not a language like ours (since it is addressing itself and not someone or something outside itself). We should be able to hear this information, or rather narrative, as a neutral voice inside us. But something has gone wrong. All creation is a language and nothing but a language, which for some inexplicable reason we can’t read outside and can’t hear inside. So I say, we have become idiots. Something has happened to our intelligence. My reasoning is this: arrangement of parts of the Brain is language. We are parts of the Brain; therefore we are language. Why, then, do we not know this? We do not even know what we are, let alone what the outer reality is of which we are parts. The origin of the word “idiot” is the word “private.” Each of us has become private, and no longer shares the common thought of the Brain, except at a subliminal level. Thus our real life and purpose are conducted below our threshold of consciousness.”
—Philip Dick, Valis
As many of us have long known (or are beginning to suspect), writing is a lot more than just marks on a page or pixels on a computer screen. Computer programming and html code are helping us to conceptualize reality as a language-based construct, and however foreign, even revolutionary, this idea is, it is not without its precedents. In fact, biology’s discovery of DNA and genetic code has already established this idea for several decades, but because DNA is something few of us have direct knowledge of, it remains a largely abstract hypothesis. With computer programming, however, the idea that a series of letters could give rise to material reality—image—is something that we get to experience for ourselves every time we boot up our PC. We all know that code creates images, and images reflect (and can pass for) reality.
Once upon a time this idea—and most of all the possibility of applying it—was restricted to the few. Once upon a time only initiates were privy to the occult knowledge required to activate “junk DNA,” raise the “Kundalini,” and recalibrate consciousness from human to divine frequencies. In Gnostic tradition, this self-activation process was symbolically described as moving up the chain of planetary “Archons,” using certain key words of power to get past each Archon or gatekeeper, until individual freedom was attained. These days, kids who don’t know an archon from their elbow are playing video games which require certain clues and passwords to get past a series of obstacles, or “gatekeepers,” in order to make it to “the next level.” Without digressing any further into the sacred science of occultism, you might say there’s been a progression from the magical tradition of spellcraft once reserved to the priestly caste, to government-sponsored biologists and neuroscientists tinkering with DNA and monkey brains, until today, when the oldest and most arcane art and science is being taught to pre-schoolers, and anyone with the time and patience to master computer-programming can summon occult forces and shape reality—via the power of words.
All of these various disciplines and media have one thing in common: language. Language is a series of symbols which only become meaningful once their meaning is agreed upon and they can be used to communicate. DNA, html code, god-names and video games are all metaphors, because in a reality that’s interpreted (and therefore shaped) via language, everything is metaphor. So what are they all metaphors for? In simplest terms, they are metaphors for the human psyche, and the process being described is that of individuation, or, to use another metaphor, the alchemical transmutation of consciousness. This is the “real life and purpose” which (writer) Philip K. Dick intuited as being “conducted below our threshold of consciousness.” It is happening right here, right now, beneath the surface and between the lines of our everyday narratives.