Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rain Man

Someone has to make this observation, so it might as well be me. Rain Man - in real life Kim Peek - was lacking the corpus callosum, which is the neural tissue which connects the hemispheres of the brain. As you, gentle reader, already know, I find Julian Jaynes' thesis compelling: that it was the "breakdown" of inherent divisions between the hemispheres of the brain which occasioned consciousness.

This trivial seeming thesis has yet to make the main stream, and perhaps as with all things scientific, I am making only a metaphorical read of what more disciplined minds read with more disciplinary understanding. The thesis may add nothing new to research and advancement in our collective understanding of consciousness; of how the brain works.

But the metaphorical read is compelling too; that as with Kim Peek who has been called a "walking Google,", we each "store" much more knowledge than we are, consciously, aware of. Rain Man's savantism was not evidence of some excess capacity. It was, rather, evidence of an utter absence of any inhibition.

There was no organizing principle to Kim Peek's collection of words and facts and snippets from that stuff which he could read - each eye taking its own page - at whatever rate his hands could crawl them.

Now the literal Google seeks to make the idea of "real time" search more actual; better embodied. And we will be able, therefore, to understand less. Just as Rain Man had no useful intelligence. All noise without a signal.

The missing link in Kim Peek's intelligence, of course, was that "me" filter, composed largely of emotion, which enables us - those of us both less idiotic, and less savant - to make intelligent statements about what we read. It enables us to button our shirts and make reasonable decisions. It keeps from us, thank God, most of what we already "know".

There is no mistaking the fact that poor Tom Cruise was so taken with this notion that he found a religion to embody it. For religions, being invented out of whole cloth by a science fiction writer must be one step up from having the deed done by a horse thief, although it doesn't seem to make you more adherents than those Mormons get.

If the film which I just re-watched, starring another savant actor from the Church of Scientology - John Travolta in "Phenomenon" - truly is a Scientology-style Christ-like story, which I'm pretty sure it is, then they, at least, are onto this idea that most of what we know is inhibited. Although they seem to target emotion as the thing which blocks it out.

You can grab a pair of tin cans to get started along the Scientology path, and learn from the feedback loop of some dial on some meter how to remove the blocks which prevent you from becoming "clear."

This must be particularly valuable for actors who must inhabit personae other than their own. Get your "me" filter shut down, and you can be anyone you'd like. Which works pretty well to get you roles, up to and including that of President of the United States, just in case you were wondering how GWB pulled it off. Or the great one himself, Ronnie Raygun. Thank God Sarah Palin will only be a talking right wing head as the freshest new face on Foxy News, which is pretty much where she belongs. I thought she was gunning for the role of female Hitler.

People without inhibitions in the way of the roles they play can get right into your comfort zone through a kind of border invasion which leaves you helpless to respond. An expert salesman, selling you a car by daring you to call the bluff and suggest back to him the obvious; that he truly is a sociopath in this context, without any care at all for what is best for you. The more he believes it himself, the more dangerous he becomes.

He seems so nice and so earnest, that expert salesman. These transactions are always a one-way street. You are far too earnest to challenge his seeming decency.

By definition, there are no such abusers among the downtrodden in the context of the streets who don't belong in jail. But if you're on the other end of the spectrum, there's no limit to how high you might arise.

I am your friend, I care about you, I agree with everything you feel, and won't ever ask you to break it down, to analyze it, to true it against any facts. You are right, have always been right, and I am here to give your rights their voice. Huzzah and tear down the castle walls! (disclaimer, I value the role of salesman more than you do, and don't tend to be a do-it-yourself shopper. I was killer once, at selling bicycles. And yes, I believed myself what I was saying. And yes, I was fooled sometimes)

Most of us slow down and retreat when we feel that mob that we are part of moving into action. We blush to think that we would take advantage that blatantly as the oily womanizer does. We feel a sense of fraud directly proportional to the scope of the stage we climb up on to.

Those who have no such inhibitions are rewarded with corporate leadership roles, super starring someone who actually does believe himself better than what the lottery rules of random picked out of the hat of humanity. (True disclaimer: I actually do believe that many of our corporate titans are better at what they do than is their blasted competition. Some of them also hide better what they're truly good at. Marketing is not the same as invention. The better mousetrap hardly ever prevails.)

Our emotional filter works on the stuff in our brain way before we can put our decisions into words. Before we can rationalize them and give them voice. That's how our character gets informed. That's how our words become us.

Last night I was at dinner with three other people each of whom brought to the table direct knowledge of life in Central America. Central America is where our United States threw its weight behind oppressive regimes which outsourced violence and murder; to the extent that our politicians could smugly feel that they truly were only protecting the rights of US corporations properly to exploit the riches of the earth which would otherwise not make their way to market. Aluminum, Copper, bananas, coffee, and inevitably the drugs.

There are murders still, in the name of our self-indulgent desires, whose chain of payoff is so many links long that the local thug who would ingratiate himself with the local boss really does have nothing to do with your tiny decision at the supermarket. Or on the dark streetcorner scoring dope.

I was plenty embarrassed to realize last night at dinner that I myself once knew that much more about Central America than I now do. Because my very own left-wing angst, no matter how much I read nor how hard I try to inform my actions, is all focused where the main stream media shines its light.

I know all sorts of relevant facts about Iraq and Afghanistan, and al Qaeda in Pakistan. My opinions are very well informed and even better formed in their certainty, even while I give our president a pass on the assumption that he must be that much better informed still. And meanwhile, I don't even bother to sort the facts from Central America. Neither does the Church, which still disavows, I'm told, the socially uplifting work of the "liberation theologists" left behind there.

There is tremendous hope in this revelation, no? That the spotlight of public attention is both what inhibits understanding, as well as what makes it likely.

There is a pearl of wisdom, which has by now become as smooth and enlarged as an old chestnut, contained in George Lakoff's work about how the right wing has succeeded in "framing" all political debate by choice of words and contexts.

In the largest sense, if you can manage to get nearly the entire reading and thinking public focused on the Middle East, you can do anything you'd like, say, in Central America. A sucker punch by any other name. You win the debate by simple repetition. Too bad Chomsky and Lakoff don't see eye to eye.

No matter how nutty the Scientologists really are, there might be more fact than the rest of us would credit, to the power inherent from the process of getting "clear." Facts beyond imagining, standing at the ready behind the Hoover Dam of metaphoric inhibition. Or was the dam the metaphor?

We do know that for the purpose of our Internet searching, the once powerful notion that we could find our needle in the haystack by resolving all the linked choices made by the "mob" is tired and old beyond belief. No matter how quickly Google renders up the millions of "hits" against your clever wording, they will never be able to program in the metaphoric categorization which enables even the stupidest among us to "get" what's right, before we ourselves quite know it.

So, search engines will figure out, as we at Hoover Blanket, Inc. already have, how to give you, the searcher, sufficient clues that you can find your own way in among the thicket of noise so far beyond even Rain Man's capacity to digest.

Even if he could read it, there's no computer in the world which could click through those millions of "relevant" hits, arranged in descending order of their relevance to everyone else on the planet. As if the beauty of your lover would cause her to arise to the top for the mob. Well, I suppose that it might if you are a Hollywood celebrity, but I hardly think that's a position from which generalizations can, nor certainly should be made.

And your brain too can adopt new framing metaphors. And suddenly the world is new.

It very much does seem as if the mob still rules the day, and we are sports fans out of context. We act in public the way the hooligans do in the stadium. "They" tell me our sports fan shere in Buffalo - as with all such measures of quality - are at the very bottom of the heap; for war-painted drunken brawling ending in arrest. I'm pretty sure we're not so low as Eurotrash following their style of football, but then I'd be way too scared to find out. I know you're certain that suicide in Buffalo is redundant, but not for me, dear reader, not for me.

I start with love, a feeling my body still manages to teach me, as my own personal root metaphor. I start with your ear, wet kisses there still cause the rest of me to melt, and then I take that knowledge and apply it to the world. Where women such as Sarah Palin, no matter how good she is in bed - and believe me I'm nowhere near man enough to want to find out - seem to operate from a root metaphor of power. There is the muscle and there is the siren call of the body imagined naked. Power still corrupts. Especially when deployed in seeming earnest.

The facts I choose from my own personal imaginarium get trued against my own root metaphor, as do all facts. If you're a Christian, then my root metaphor is the same as yours. Not the strict father. The feminine in ascendant, against Him in a trajectory toward female earth. Christ was, after all,  a wimp too. We only celebrate who we would be in his place. An angry Titan. Bolstered by a mob.

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