Tuesday, October 06, 2015

EMBRACING AROUSAL (This oughta get hits!)

Philip Bromberg
Allan Schore
Ed Tronick
Dan Siegel
Pat Ogden
Joseph Ledoux

These are the names of the shrinks that Mike Defreitas brought up in his desire to go back to the more classic theories of trauma.  I pulled up on the computer each of their biographies, websites, blogs and webinars and came away with a lot of suspicion about how much money each of these guys is making, why those archetypal Manhattan Jewish Freudians still migrate to Berkeley as soon as they’re famous, and how much they moosh together a lot of stuff that will soon turn your own brain to moosh if you try too hard to grok what they’re saying, even though most it is perfectly obvious.  

The main thing I get out of it is that Mike’s little rhyme-- “name it to tame it” is both helpful and not helpful, because so much is in a name, particularly if it's a catchy phrase like “Standing in the spaces” (I love it, but what the heck does it mean?) made up by some academic prize-winner with a very big income.  We’re still talking about less than 12% of the earth’s population, the same college students (white, male, professional) on whom the research community standardizes their ideas.  It’s a circle.  Because the troublesome psychic mismanagement of whatever it is, once named, hands over a script telling what to do next.  And that controls the results of research.

Mike also nailed another problem: that people like the soldiers who have volunteered for our modern military are not just likely to be from the stigmatized margins (in color much more like the people they are fighting) but also from a different generation; contemporary people but not equipped with all the post-modern philosophical equipment available to upper-class college grads.  When I googled, it appeared that the thinking about contemporary military issues was mostly about the equipment.  It’s all about guns.  Soldiers, not so much.

This morning it was clear that I had to do my monthly 5-load wash at the laundromat.  This time I chose the Cut Bank version because the owners tend it well and hand over change instead of depending on a machine.  They also provide coffee and conversation.  The man is 89 and fought in WWII in Germany and France.  He started to tell me about what it was like to walk through a city reduced to rubble and decomposing body parts, but his eyes began to tear and he said,  “It’s not a good thing to talk about.”  We’d only stumbled into it because he admires Richard  S. Wheeler’s account of the San Francisco earthquake, an account that includes heroism with tragedy.  I had given him my paperback copy of "Aftershocks" more than a year ago, but he's still thinking about it.

San Francisco earthquake  

Then my friend wanted to tell me what a terrific writer John Grisham is and wanted to me to read one of his novels he had been working on.  I had brought along my “Neuroanthropology” book and he looked it over carefully.  “Is THIS what you read?” he asked.  “Well, everyone has their own preferences, but if you want to read something really good, try Grisham.”

I tried to explain how many PTSD people live around here and how I was trying to understand them, but how difficult it is, since each person’s gestation, infant framing of the world, acquisition of elementary skills, sexual flowering . . .  But I could see I was losing him.

He sighed.  “There’s just so much to know, so much new stuff.  What’s this about mice now?”  We visited a bit about the very new discovery of stem cells in the brain that keep creating new neurons.  A mouse makes maybe a hundred new neurons in the timespan that a human makes a thousand.  I started explaining how each neuron has a specialty and some let you know whether you are right-side-up, but I’d lost him again.

Part of his endearing old-fashionedness is that he won’t let me complain.  (I’m not a fan of Cut Bank.)  But he did like hearing how Pat Fields’ boot heel got shot off at the U of Texas when Whitman flipped out and started shooting people from the campus clock tower.

In the end the theme to our conversations is always the likelihood of coming disasters: more earthquakes, local scandals, flooding.  And always the economic worry.  This couple has run small businesses all their lives, knowing everyone,  watching kids grow up, securing their old age with the laundromat and attached car wash.  Their sons are local and attentive.

Few reflect much about how brains work.  I keep thinking about my 7th grade library teacher’s version, much like a Escher print: little paths going this way and that and teeny messengers running along them.  She believed in learning something by repetition -- “keep your feet on the path.”  There are good guys and bad guys and not much point in knowing a lot more about it, like what it is that keeps them the way they are.  They don’t dissociate -- they just get drunk, and if that doesn’t work, they pick a fight.  Thinking about it will just screw your head into the ground.

I’ve been thinking about “arousal” and Defreitas talked about “hypo” (too little arousal) and “hyper” (too much arousal) and made a case for self-awareness in terms of arousal because either too much or too little can shut out information you need to know about your own state so you can either wake up or calm down.  These days I can flash into rage in a second, but then it’s gone.  People tell me I sound angry, but I don't feel angry.  More frustrated.   Both arousal extremes will shut down the pre-frontal cortex.  Maybe even put a person into a state of dissociation where info just isn’t getting through.  He suggests this is why people become inconsolable (no comfort can get through to them) or lonely (same problem).

So I googled arousal and you can guess what I got: page after page of how to arouse a woman for the pleasure of a man.  (None of the suggestions mentioned washing the dishes once in a while.)  Strange on a planet where even one-celled creatures can under-react or over-react -- surviving in happy non-arousal in some ecologies and doing very well in an aroused state in other ecologies -- even if they are sexless and reproduce by simply dividing in half.  (Mitosis.)

They don’t bother about guns or death.  Maybe violence -- does anyone research one-celled violence?  I suppose it’s absorption by a bigger, meaner cell.  Can a mitochondrial inclusion in a mammal cell feel pain and regret?  I wouldn’t rule it out.  Or is there a social dimension? Does one pond algae put a pseudopod around another and say,  “That’s okay, little buddy.”  In the end it’s all secretions, so why not?

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