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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


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The Semantic Mind

The third, semantic, program is what is generally known as "the intellect". It is imprinted throughout the educational process. It handles artefacts and makes a "map" (reality-tunnel) that can be passed on to others, even across generations. These "maps" may be illustrations, symbols, words, concepts, tools (with instructions on use transmitted verbally), theories, musical notation, etc. Right-handedness is intimately connected with our tendency to use the left-hemisphere of the brain more than the right, in accordance with our left-brain schooling of reading, writing and arithmetic.

This has become a genetic (hard-wired) preference in most humans for right-handed manipulations and left-brain mentations, that are linear, analytical, computer-like and very verbal. Thus there is a neurological linkage between mapping and manipulating. The right hand manipulates the world (and makes artefacts) and the left-brain maps the results into a sequential model, which allows for predictions about the future of that aspect. These are distinctly human (post-primate) characteristics, which depend on differentiated functioning of the left and right hemispheres.

The right brain, on the contrary, deals with holistic, supra-verbal, intuitive, musical and mystical functions (higher circuits) and first and second circuit functions are routed through the right brain. The left brain sequential files are represented in the right brain by analogical connections that work like Tony Buzan's "mind maps" - a 3D holistic overview of inter-relationships. It's as if everything in the left brain is connected by hypertext links through the right brain. That's the way the right brain "thinks" - intuitively rather than analytically and affected by emotion.

The neurological components of the bio-survival program or "id" go back to the oldest parts of the brain, the limbic system or "reptile brain", mediating sensations. The imprint sites are the brain stem and autonomic nervous system, connected with the endocrine and other life-support systems. Disturbances on this circuit cause illness.

The emotional-territorial program structures appeared with the first mammals and are centered in the thalamus, mediating feelings and emotions. Imprint sites are the voluntary nervous system and the muscles. This results in the "body armor" described by Willhelm Reich, a memory of the stress of events represented by muscular tensions.

The imprint sites of the semantic program are located in the left cortex, mediating reason and the "ego", and closely linked with the delicate muscles of the larynx and the fine manipulations of right-handed dexterity. The cortex itself is relatively recent in evolution; it is only found in higher mammals and is most developed in humans and cetaceans (dolphins and whales). It is only fully differentiated - left and right - in humans.

It should be no surprise that most people, most of the time, are controlled more by the older reptilian-mammalian programs than by the human semantic (rational) program, or that the semantic program is so easily perverted into false logics (bigotries, intolerant ideologies, fanaticisms of all sorts) when the bio-survival program signals threat to life or the emotional program flashes threat to status.

“When someone paints a new semantic map, or presents a new model of experience, this is always a profound shock to those still trapped in the old program, and it is generally considered a threat to ideological territory.”
As Korzybski noted, those that rule symbols rule us. Since words contain both references to the senses and connotations of emotional states, plus poetic or rhetorical hooks, humans can be moved to action even by words that have no meaning or reference in actuality. This is the mechanism of demagoguery, advertising and much of organized religion.

It seems to be installed in us to believe in everything that is written or said in the media - they seem to have a parental authority. We forget to examine the realizm and limitations of the statements; as when politicians make speeches and they all sound plausible despite saying the opposite. A healthy scepticism would expose all sorts of unproven assumptions and altered or omitted data.

Whoever can scare people enough (produce bio-survival anxiety) can sell them easily on any verbal map that seems to relieve the anxiety. By frightening people with Hell and offering them Salvation, the most ignorant individuals can sell a whole system of thought that cannot bear two minutes of logical analysis - this religious reflex is apparent universally.

Any man, however cruel or crooked, can rally his tribe around him by shouting that a rival male is about to lead an attack on their territory - this patriotism reflex is also seen universally.

Whatever threatens to remove a person's status is not processed by the semantic mind but through the emotional-territorial program, and is rejected as an attack on one's ego, social role or feeling of superiority. This is simple mammalian herd-behavior, typical of perhaps a majority of the human race who have not developed their semantic mind to a useful degree.

The huge amount of TV viewing, from childhood onwards, exposes the population to an input-overload of information, facilitating a hypnotic trance in which suggestions of cultural patterns are installed and survival and emotional-territorial reflexes stimulated. At the same time, the subjects of cultural trance are also de-sensitised from reacting to stimuli that would normally be fight/flight provoking, such as aggression, poverty, starvation, tragedy, manipulation, injustice, abuse, crime, violence and murder. The media is therefore an immensely powerful control mechanism, whether or not it is consciously used in this way.

The semantic mind allows us to sub-divide things and reconnect things, at our pleasure. There is no end to this labeling and packaging of experience. On the historical level, this is the time-binding or cumulative function described by Korzybski, which allows each new generation to add new categories to their inherited mental library.

In this time-binding dimension, Einstein replaced Newton before most of the world had heard of Newton. The process is accelerating as time passes, because the symbolizing faculty is self-augmenting. Similarly cultural patterns are passed on, since the vast majority in a given society have roughly the same semantic program and this is reinforced daily by assumptions in the media that are taken for granted.

When someone paints a new semantic map, or presents a new model of experience, this is always a profound shock to those still trapped in the old program, and it is generally considered a threat to ideological territory. The long list of martyrs to free enquiry demonstrates how mechanical this fear of new ideas is.

In bio-survival behavior there is no time - "I just found myself doing it" we say after passing through an automatic bio-survival reflex. The emotional program however does begin to include time as a factor - we often agonise over emotional decisions, becoming acutely aware of time as we hesitate. These first two programs are based on positive feedback - they maintain homeostasis (cyclically returning to a fixed point, like a thermostat).

The time-binding semantic program is a mechanism of negative feedback - it does not seek a steady state but constantly seeks a new equilibrium at a higher level. It seeks a moving goal, like a guided missile. This third program has always been heavily sanctioned with rules, laws, prohibitions, taboos, etc. because it breaks up the cycles of constant human affairs and threatens vested interests. Many such taboos are unconscious and pass themselves off as "common sense" or "common decency".

In the semantic program time becomes conceptualised as well as experienced. We know ourselves as receivers of messages from sages of old and as potential transmitters of messages that may be considered long into the future.

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