Saturday, 2 May 2015

oilseed rape, chilly, local honey, cowslips, unconscious memory network, mice, jelly bean, neo-freudians, interdisciplinarity

















Photo above shows oilseed rape crop by cowlease corner near Bampton. Seen when I was out cycling - on a really grey and humongously chilly morning...

One positive to note is that so far this spring hay-fever season I've not been sneezing. Can it really be down to local honey? Great if it was! One of my colleagues gave me a jar last summer, saying that a spoonful a day was supposed to ward the sneezes. J's bought me more jars since. If it is the honey - thanks so much!

Meantime, on the bus and out cycling, I've noticed cowslips growing in place I've never seen before. And there are way more cowslips than ever. What's the story? Have the seeds been biding their time? Hope so! It's also been a bumper year for dandelions - not so cool on the allotment and lawn but a vibrant sight on the verges and in the meadows.

Went to the Unconscious Memory Network seminar, Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis, on Monday, as mentioned last weekend. Very exciting and stimulating event. The two speakers talked for about forty-five minutes each then there was wine and questions for another hour.

The seminar was chaired by my friend Professor Laura Marcus (such enjoyable chats on our bus from time to time!) and featured Professor Richard Brown from Dalhousie University and Professor Mark Solms from the University of Cape Town.

Professor Brown talked about his research involving animal models of Alzheimer's disease. Particularly intriguing was the point that Alzheimer's patients don't lose their memories per se but one or more types of memory. This relates to findings that have been discussed in other forums about how motor functions can remain - the ability to play musical instruments and card games, for example - when other, cognitive, abilities have waned.

While it is important to stress that the animal experiments here are behavioural rather than surgical, I did have some sympathy with the last questioner, who wondered - in a rather circuitous way - about the effect of the challenges that the mice are set on their consciousnesses. When the stakes are furthering understanding of Alzheimer's such research seems invaluable - though I did find a sentimental and doubtless anthropomorphising 'poor things' identification with the mice and their cognitive struggles! But then the thinking behind these TORCH networks is precisely to bring together people from all the different disciplines - practical scientists AND mice-empathising creative writers.

As a creative writer, I very much enjoyed Professor Solms' talk about how consciousness comes not from the outside but from a primitive jelly-bean-like entity deep within the brain. Though there were some in the audience - including the friend I was sitting next to (like Professor Solms, a Freudian) - who found his brand of linking neuroscience and psychoanalysis a touch freestyle and subjective.

Professor Solms suggested that the higher levels of consciousness were activated by the jelly bean below, which was the source of feeling. What, he asked, does consciousness add [to the information streaming into the brain from outside]? Feeling, he said. What you have is feeling. The fundamental add-on that comes from this jelly bean area. He went on to say how personal and definingly you this aspect of perception was.

During Professor Solms' talk I found myself thinking of my own motivating feelings. It occurred to me that in some contexts I can be motivated by a particular prevailing feeling for a number of years, which then gives way to another. Between the two periods governed by one then the other, there can be a time when the old feeling dominates but I am aware of the new one's existence. And when the new is dominant, the old one still features from time to time.

I also wondered about the process whereby the higher cognitive functions can sometimes override a feeling, choosing not to act on it. In Professor Solms' model, is that choosing initiated by another kind of feeling emanating from the 'jelly bean'?

From a creative writing point of view, it occurred to me that feelings can be imposed by others. Even, that one can be made to doubt the authenticity or validity of one's feelings by a dominant and influential person. I imagined that a person might lose touch with their own feelings as a result and would struggle to find their way back to them.

I suppose that what appealed to me about Professor Solms' talk was its imaginative power. It provided a metaphorical system that had ‎exciting possibilities for character creation.

Before I could ask about the influence of others on feelings, someone else got their first. The professor agreed that ways of feeling could be learnt or imposed - from parents, in particular - and that the things he had been explaining were just the basic outlines of the model of human consciousness he is exploring - in neo-Freudian terms.

A memorable and thought-provoking seminar indeed!

No comments:

Post a Comment