I went to a sermon at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Sunday: the topic was Faith but our minister talked about the brain. It was lovely.
He is in the Sunday morning book group. I am too, but he has been going, unlike me. I've been AWOL. They have been reading
On Being Certain
. The group is a mixture of skeptical scientists and Jungian analysts and the minister and it is great fun. We bounce between books on the brain and books that argue against the existence of God and books about our present world and technology. I am an amateur Jungian and doctors are rather half-assed scientists, really. We have to apply science to actual people which is messy and inaccurate. Some patients just don't read the book, damn it.
B, the minister, said that the cells in the brain correspond to actual thoughts. We build networks of neurons as we grow and these form frames. The frames are built according to your culture and your experience. He said that one reason that conservatives and progressives in the US have such trouble talking to each other is that their frames for "freedom" are incredibly different. So even though they THINK they are talking about the same thing, they aren't.
Frames are a lovely idea for a doctor. Any time I walk into the room with a patient, a negotiation begins. They may believe, quite firmly, that the local mill is poisoning their lungs. I may believe, quite firmly, that the two packs of cigarettes daily are more important than the mill. However, to help the person, and that is actually the goal for me, I have to somehow recognize their frame, acknowledge it and find common ground. Otherwise, they will hate me. Sometimes I fail. Often I am able to find someplace that we can meet. It doesn't mean they will stop smoking that visit, but maybe we can agree on a medicine that will help their lungs for the mill OR the cigarettes, and plant a tiny seed of an idea that at least the cigarettes don't help things.
Frames are lovely for my son as well. The Extroverted Feeler is an exchange student to Thailand. He is struggling. I wrote to him about frames. He says that he's supposed to bow his head respectfully to all adults, but he doesn't. He babbles something fast about neck pain and posture when people scold him. Different frames.
B went on to say that only 5% of the brain work is conscious. 95% is unconscious. A group of neurologists and neuroscientists were at a conference. One showed a 30 second video. He instructed the doctors to watch the basketball players. Three on three, black uniforms against white and their assignment was to count how many times the black suit team passed the ball.
The author thought it was 10. His wife and many others saw 11.
The speaker said, "Did anyone see anything odd?"
The brain specialists shook their heads no.
The speaker said, "Did anyone see a gorilla?"
The brain specialists were now nervous but firm. No. No one had seen a gorilla.
The video ran again. A man dressed as a gorilla walks onto the court and pounds his chest and walks off. The players ignore him. The crowd erupts. The gorilla is present for 9 of the 30 seconds.
The speaker explains. In telling their unconscious that the assignment is to count the number of times the ball is passed, the second message is that the unconscious should ignore things that aren't relevant. Thus, the eyes see the gorilla, the unconscious sees the gorilla, but the unconscious only passes on the information that it was told to concentrate on.
Ah! This has meaning to the Fuzzy Poet Doctor. I have fought with my ex-employer hospital for the last 3.5 years about templates. They say I'm an amazing diagnostician. I say I fucking hate templates. With a template for ear pain, the provider asks each patient the same questions. The goal is to get the questions done, the patient treated and go on to the next. It sucks and is stupid. And you miss the gorilla. My only template is "Why are you here?" and then the questions are specific to that person. Yes, there are some routine ones for ear pain. But I have had tooth pain turn out to be a psychotic break: tell me that that would have been picked up by a template! The room felt weird and I kept asking questions until the young woman said, "The dentist put an antenna in my tooth." Oh! We are NOT talking about dental pain. The next question is "Are you hearing voices?" and the roommate in the back of the room is nodding and nodding. I have thought for a long time that my knowing without being able to explain why in medicine has to do with picking up unconscious signals and applying medical knowledge that is apparently stored in my unconscious: it may look pretty weird, but it works.
B went on to talk about the feeling of being certain. It turns out that we can argue a topic with ourselves all day. He said that he was doing that at 10:30 Saturday night when he was trying to finish the sermon. If we just continued to go back and forth, we'd never decide anything. The feeling of being certain about a decision turns out to be from a different part of the brain, not the logical part. It mimics a thought, but it isn't one. The brain chemicals shift and voila, the decision is made. Even though it may absolutely be wrong. We have adapted to argue things with the logical brain in the frames, but then have a circuit breaker to let us move on. He said that luckily his had kicked in and for better or for worse, he'd finished the sermon.
We can't MAKE ourselves feel certain. It just happens, right? B said that in golf, you are not supposed to hit the ball until you are sure that you have the right club, stance, visualization, etc. And it turns out that if you wait until you have that, you are likely to do a better shot, though it STILL might be awful. It is more likely to go awry if you hit it while you are uncertain.
B thinks we need to tolerate the feeling of uncertainty more. And he thinks that we all need to look at each other's frames with deep respect and curiosity. Or perhaps that last is what I think: I am not certain that he said that. On the other hand, I am certain that I am tickled that the topic of the sermon was faith: about which many people are certain.