When I was an undergrad, the big psych scene was stimulus/response. That is, everything was analyzed in terms of what the stimulus was and then what the resulting response was, but in the middle was a mysterious black box where something inscrutable happened inside the person. (Actually it was usually a rat, but ignore that. Still, it explained why no one thought about it. What can happen in a rat brain?) Now I’m doubling back to see what the concept of “liminality” can tell me about the mediating processes of the brain between input and outgo.
First, a stimulus impinges from any of the sensory equipments available to the person (actually I suppose there is always a complex of sense impressions). Second, in the liminal space -- which is a special consciousness-state of the brain in which a neuronal center, an “interpreter,” focuses to sort/digest/process/metabolize whatever has been fed into it. (To simplify, I’ll leave out the sub-systems that process each set of sensory inputs before forwarding them to Gazzinaga’s “Interpreter” which is the Big Mama dashboard processor. Some of the sub-systems edit, others transform.)
Third, after what I imagine as grinding/percolating/sawing/cooking (Oh! Cooked -- that’s Levi-Strauss !! Shhhhh. We’re simplying here!) inside the person, there is an action on the downstream side of the processing. The person thinks or does something. (The actors’ formula for this is: Realization -- SLAP !! Stop. Readjustment. New action.)
So now we’ve got three different areas to think about. First is the sense inputs. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that there is a modern problem with feeling things, whether sights, sounds, tactile. We are numb, searching always for more exotic, more intense, more exalted, more mystical experiences. We don’t mind using chemicals. In fact, we’d rather hurt than feel nothing. But contradictorily, at the same time, we don’t want to feel BAD things. We don’t want pain, worry, etc. What we want is safe risk. Intense intimacy that’s not dangerous. But exciting. Thrill me, chill me, get me home safely.
So now comes the processing step, but we seem to be short on strategies, missing some categories, stuck with some that don’t work, and underpowered when it comes to making decisions. We watch others to figure out what they do. We look to authority figures to fix everything. What we want is childhood. Except to be in control this time around.
Forget that, too.
So we do stuff (or mostly buy stuff) in hopes that will do the trick. (pun) There are two theories about depression. One is that it’s anger turned inwards. The other is that it is a strategy for preventing yourself from taking action when it’s likely that the action you will take will only hurt you. (Like suicide.) Of course, we know that depression is a neurochemical phenomenon and very real -- therefore, it COULD be imposed by meds or the situation itself putting you into a double bind. It could be a processing glitch in all the machinery of the brain -- a skipped step, a repeat loop.
You can’t forget depression. Forgetting is doing something. (You can forget pain. Or more likely override it with other brain functions.)
All these remarks are conditional, provisional and possibly just flat wrong. I’m only now thinking through the implications. It seems to me that the way to address the first third is pretty clear: making oneself an instrument that is aware and taking in all the sensory information possible. There’s an element of needing to stay healthy to do that, and another of benefiting from training so one knows what one is hearing and seeing. (An experiment going around the ‘zine/youtube circuit shows that you can’t see a subtle variation in a color if you have no word for it.) When it comes to skin, it would be a shame to burn or scar it -- not because of ugliness but because of sensitivity. Genitals -- oh, such a gift/problem.
The counter force to treating yourself like a Stradivarius is being wild and intense enough to smash your guitar just to see what that’s like. Set the piano on fire. Excessive caution can shrivel everything.
The struggle seems to be balancing high sensitivity against being overwhelmed, discriminating in various ways, seeing and feeling and hearing patterns. Not choosing what the world throws at you and then on the other hand being able to turn away, to avoid or to seek.
At the downstream end of this Stimulus/Process/Act triptych, the problems and opportunities are abilities: what can you DO, MAKE. How much muscle do you have? What tenacity, what endurance? Can you concentrate, set goals? Dexterity, timing, verbal control. What weaknesses, what lingering sicknesses? How much resourcefulness in managing them? (Everyone has deficits of some kind.) You can’t really find out much about this end without doing things.
That middle section -- the brain stuff newly discovered through fMRI, blood flow patterns, single-neuron electrical firing, almost daily identification of newly found kinds of cells with special duties (like mirror cells) -- seems to live in the neuronal platform workspace on the side of the cerebrum that is connected to your handwriting. BUT much of what it draws on is not sensory at all but strategies mostly in the forebrain of humans (apes don’t have them): morality, judgment, social skills, expectations, projections, empathy. (My brother, my father, and probably my cousin had lost many of these “marbles” due to trauma.) It’s a card game -- the cards come in from the senses, the “black box” decides how to play them, and then the muscles throw down the cards -- or not. Identity mainly lives in this game..
You can’t really get at these things except through experience, which is why many who address and negotiate to change someone’s troublesome categories find it works best to use games. And the arts, because all arts are games. Your senses tell you about turpentine and pigment, canvas and brush -- then the card game starts -- and your hand and eye collaborate to make something. The more you paint/write/sing/dance the more neuronal information from this trio builds up below the surface where you can’t see it but you can use it. There has been a little ditty about how many hours of this work it takes to make mastery, but I think that’s silly. Everyone is different, doing different things, with different memories and goals. There is no right or wrong, only what works and what doesn’t. SLAP! Stop. Realization.