BEING AN OUTLAW does have its share of sudden and tragic surprises. The moralist (if he has read this far, out of a taste for voyeurism or some other vice curious to those who know what is right and hesitate not to coerce others to their views), shall now have permission to gloat. Yet it has been my life experience that sudden misfortune occurs to us all, most unexpectedly and just when we thought we were going along quite nicely. Moralists and fanatics of all kinds get their share quite as much as the outlaw, the iconoclast, or the revolutionary, but moralists seem rarely to commit their misfortunes to pen and paper. The worst of misfortunes that men suffer is in my view the slow, life-long and silent tragedy of those who do not, or will not abandon so-called security when opportunity knocks. To be simply dragged along by the responsibility to safety may be instinctual, but it is hardly creative nor does it lead to the fulfillment of the more precious potentialities of being human. To arrive safely at the stage of life where it is certain that the halfway point has passed, yet not even have an interesting story to tell, would be for me a far greater tragedy than the several which awaited.
During the later stages of our morning-glory researches, news reached us that two friends, who had been missing for a few days, had been ambushed and shot dead while on an expedition into the mountains of Michoacan. Several times previously they had brought back with them the most amazingly potent cannabis for us to sample; in those days seedless marijuana, or sinsemilla, was almost unknown. I remember introducing sinsemilla from one of their mountain forays to a few friends in New York who were well acquainted with all the varieties of hashish and pot that international smuggling could bring to market. With the exception of that rare piece of especially strong Lebanese Red, the sinsemilla won all contests.
In spite of the new climate of liberalism on both coasts of America, for several marijuana smoke-ins had occurred and were mostly tolerated (it even seemed like legalization would not be too long in the offing), in Mexico association with any aspect of marijuana classed one immediately as a contrabandista, and subject to the same wild-west outlaw-style of justice as any train robber, or trafficker of guns, hard drugs, slaves, or revolution. The fate of our mild-mannered hippie friends was adequate proof of this. A few weeks previous, we had been invited to a luncheon in celebration of I-was-never-certain-exactly-what, and around the great table of Mexican haute-cuisine sat the chief of police of Guadalajara, a couple of army generals charged with controlling, among other things, the local drug traffic, a half-dozen other government types, a whole tribe of the most authentic-looking contrabandistas one could imagine, including the major marijuana and hard-drug broker of the state of Jalisco, and three disguised hippies (we had cut our hair short north of the border to ensure ease of entry into Mexico). Well it was a merry time indeed, I am ashamed that I had not then learned enough Spanish to relate here the details of the merriment, but the machine guns were casually reposing along the entire length of the dining room wall in a manner surpassing even Hollywoodian depictions of 1920's Chicago. We hippies, of course, came unarmed.
Perhaps the JohnWayneian fables we had been nourished on from early youth inured us to such signs of impending catastrophe, but the loss of our friends suddenly transformed the mythology of good guys versus bad guys into a sobering lesson. It was not the type of sobriety the moralist will now blame me for not embracing, for that is the sobriety of capitulation to a lie, a lie which is not even one's own. It was more the type of sobriety gained by the hard won contest in which a small bit of wisdom is wrested from the ritual of initiation which fate so generously supplies in response to boldness. All the ancient tribes had structured their societies with elaborate and demanding ritual contests whereby the young, expressing their natural and new-found boldness, might gain wisdom with minimal risk, but our own advanced Western society had dispensed with such superstition, with the feeble exception of First Communions and Bar Mitzvahs, and so the young found it necessary to express prowess through automotive inanity, alcoholic one-upmanship and other silly sport, the corporal and spiritual fatalities of which seldom prompted scholars to bemoan the demise of ancient ritual. If anything, new layers of laws and regulations, and a few new prisons were expected to do the trick. But I digress.
What the tragedy prompted me to do was not beat a penitent retreat from my errant ways, disobeying laws that were written for my own good, but to remove to safer climes and continue on my researches with redoubled enthusiasm. Since the outlawing of all use of LSD in 1967, the predictable had happened. Clandestine manufacture and distribution had flourished as had bathtub gin several decades before, and parallel to bathtub gin incidents, not all clandestine LSD was of good quality, nor manufactured by those intending that its use be accomplished intelligently. (And as for parallels between alcohol and psychedelic drugs, this is as far as it goes: either, or both, may be legal or illegal, used or abused.) As a chemist, it seemed a worthwhile project to experiment with the various published synthetic methods it was possible to use in the manufacture of LSD and other psychedelics, in order to develop the most efficient processes possible. Efficiency here would mean that the process had to employ a minimum of equipment, easily obtainable chemical precursors and reagents, and still produce a product of more than just acceptable purity, and in maximum overall yield.
And as a shaman concerned with the existential health of my tribe, it was also my duty to discover and relate all possible knowledge to the people who would need such information to use the psychedelic substances wisely. This aspect of my work turned out to be by far the more difficult, for not only had we lost touch with (eradicated, actually) much ancient wisdom gained over millennia by the shamanic traditions, but the modern political, social, and even scientific climates made it practically impossible to recapture much of that early wisdom in the natural way. The modern situation colored and distorted our abilities to reproduce the mindset that would naturally see the psychedelic experience as sacrament: the modern orientation had first suspected the diabolical, then the insane, and soon thereafter was trying to discover how to use psychedelics as weapons of war and subterfuge.
Luckily, my friends, who were experienced in that sort of thing, were able to import my laboratory back across the border no questions asked. And so I found myself, back in Somewhere U.S.A., (still a draft evader), and with an interest that attracted over the next several years various groups of persons wanting to promote the clandestine use of psychedelic drugs, for reasons which seemed to change from noble to pecuniary in proportion to the success achieved.
Unfortunately the prohibition of psychedelics has for the last quarter-century prevented much progress from being made on elaborating the details of the neurological effects of LSD and other psychedelics in the human brain. As I mentioned previously, the very modest amount of work that has been done was with laboratory animals, or in vitro cultures of nerve cells, and has in general been directed toward toxicological or forensic ends. Thus there is not alot of reliable data available on how normal doses of psychedelic substances affect normal neurochemistry in normal human subjects experiencing the more valuable and interesting aspects of psychedelic experience.
If for the past several years experiments could have been performed using volunteers, especially experienced psychedelic users, in the attempt to accumulate some reliable data, the task I will now attempt would be far more straightforward. For example, I suspect that if the new and powerful scanning techniques of PET and MRI were combined with the experimental ingenuity of some of the top cognitive neuroscientists to illuminate the brain mechanisms paralleling cognitive processes altered by psychedelics, we would rather quickly find out alot more about not only the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs, but many other neuro-psychological realities as well. If mere speculation about the psychedelic experience has led me to discover a major new brain function (assuming that the HRS mechanism is as important as I suspect, and corresponds to various discoverable patterns of neural signaling in the brain), imagine what a little serious research is likely to turn up. Needless to say, even the underground scientist of independent means is unlikely to have access to Positron Emission Tomography equipment.
Nevertheless, I have gleaned enough data from existing research to at least advance a few preliminary guesses as to the neuromechanics of the Habit Suspension Model of psychedelic experience. But before I venture into this minefield of complexity I must discuss some further implications and illustrations of the habit routine search cognitive process that I have hypothesized. In proposing the habit routine search mechanism as a fundamental but previously undiscovered brain/mind process not only out of necessity to explain psychedelic effects, but also from the perspective of other psychological, anthropological, and evolutionary viewpoints, I hope to build some badly needed bridges between these disciplines utilizing the new model.
The phenomena discussed below, when viewed through the new lens of the HRS model, start to be understandable in a new way. But in addition, since current discipline-specific models leave much to be desired in attempting to explain at least some these phenomena, they demand a new and global way of understanding them. The habit routine interpretation is not just an alternative model for aspects of reality already well modeled, but a viewpoint which may be able to unite poorly understood and diverse phenomena under a common theoretical outlook. All of the topics I will mention deserve more space than I can give them here, some would require a lengthy analysis, but at the risk of over-simplification, I don't believe I need an exhaustive treatment to show just how wide the application of the habit routine model might conceivably be. My attempts to propose neurological models also will require reference back to these many topics:
In anthropology, our understanding of the phenomenon of shamanism and the ability of shamans to temporarily divest themselves of their culture-bound cognitive limitations using psychedelic preparations suddenly becomes much more than the drugged delusions of the primitive mind as some have suggested. The historian of religion Mircea Eliade wrote in 1951, "But we have seen that, in shamanism itself, narcotics...represent a decadence and that, in default of true ecstatic methods, recourse is taken to narcotics to induce trance." (1) Naturally, if one's whole viewpoint concerning "narcotics" has been shaped by the Prohibitionist Ideal of Twentieth Century Western Civilization, it would have been difficult indeed in 1951 to recognize the true significance of the use, not of narcotics, but psychedelics by tribal peoples. But Eliade's view is stillclung to today by more than a few so-called scholars, yet paradoxically their own "culture-bound cognitive limitations" strikingly revealed in the mentioned Prohibitionist Ideal are as in need of cure as were those of the tribal peoples they see as decadent.
The great importance of shamans and psychedelic drugs to so many early societies can now be seen much more in terms of the temporary yet cumulative cognitive advantages that psychedelic experience would have conferred. The success of shamans in curing some of the diseases of tribal members under their care takes on new meaning, as does the use of psychedelic agents in rituals for initiation into adulthood, for devination and the making of important decisions, and more. Psychedelic experience as habit suspension unites the understanding of many aspects of the life and evolution of Early Man. And far from being a decadent substitute for "true ecstatic methods" as some insist, I will show that psychedelic use was and remains the genuine article for which many less efficacious substitutes were tried and abandoned. The stability, longevity and ecology of many ancient societies could only have been a by-product of cultural wisdom; if limited and narrow from our modern point of view, such wisdom certainly was not accidental, and in some respects represents ideals which modern industrial civilization has not even pretended to espouse. Our knowledge of ancient psychedelic plants and their use is the subject of many excellent books and reviews now available (2); the knowledge represented in these works goes far beyond the primitive views that were prevalent in 1951.
The transformation of shamanism into organized religion, a much discussed though poorly understood process, was most certainly a process which was paralleled by the discontinuance of the use of psychedelic preparations. Insofar as this transformation has also been one in which doctrine and dogma have not only replaced, but forbidden direct individual experience of spiritual realities, it would be difficult to maintain that the change worked for the benefit of the individual in need of spiritual fulfillment. It seems obvious that the transformation was a political one, brought about by those requiring control over their subjects through the creation and manipulation of cognitive habit routines, and especially the prevention of the use of methods enabling the individual to bypass the limitations imposed on him.
The transformation was certainly not a refinement which led to peace and harmony among early civilizations having organized religions and priesthoods. Lack of peace and harmony among nations and civilizations has, in fact, become the most important behavioral characteristic of the human species insofar as it threatens that species with extinction. Individuals, robbed of their access to direct experience of religious truth (and here there is no substitute: religious truth is something that must be personally experienced), become members of a society which can be coerced by petty tyrants into all sorts of collective insanities. In a future chapter I will extrapolate the importance of early shamanism and the use of psychedelic plants in two directions: firstly to show that a very significant role for psychedelics can be hypothesized in the early evolution of man; and to supply yet one more sermon on the faults of modern civilization and what might be done about it.
Meditation and Other Techniques
The understanding of meditation techniques, sensory deprivation, religious ecstasy provoked by various insults to the body, and the panoply of other methods that human individuals seeking enlightenment and self-transcendence have employed down through the ages becomes unified by the present model of habit routine search and suspension. I propose that all these diverse techniques are more-or-less effectivemethods for achieving what the psychedelic drugs do more efficiently and directly, viz., to suspend one's programming as represented in the personal collection of habit routines. If there is something to be said for the "naturalness" of non-drug methods, methods whereby the individual is purportedly gaining the ability to achieve transcendent states at will, there is even a stronger statement to be made by the obvious unnaturalness of the more violent and self-destructive methods of certain religious ascetics: extreme fasting and mortification of the flesh, such techniques must be seen as quite primitive substitutes for the use of natural psychedelic plants, quite benign by comparison.
Note that I do not propose that these various techniques affect brain operation through exactly the same mechanisms: the outcome of altered or suspended habit routines may be realized by quite different mechanisms and points of intervention in neurological operation, both neurochemical or self-induced, as I have already suggested. The hypothesis of the HRS system being the fundamental and primary cognitive operation of the nervous system upon which all the ensuing processes of thinking are based, fits well with the proposal that there would likely be many diverse ways to alter the system as a whole, especially considering the cybernetic nature of most if not all brain processes.
The operation of what have been called instincts, both in animals and man himself, may now be understood in a new way. Although the capacity and characteristics of memory in animals are generally agreed to be very limited compared with man, the use of data implanted by experience, as well as the genetically-expressed data of the collective experience of a species, not as long-term memory in LMA, but as data for the operation of HRS, seems a promising new approach in ethology. Chapter 6 will explore some of this territory.
Personality and the Unconscious
In psychology and psychiatry we may begin to understand better what the personality is, where and how the neurological data that result in observed personality traits is stored and accessed. A more physiological and operational understanding of the properties of the "unconscious mind" may now be possible, and may extend to understanding how the prevalence of irrational belief can coexist in the same society, even the same individual, with logic and rationality. We may be able to apply the new concepts to the understanding of phobias, neuroses, and personality disorders, the power of propaganda and the phenomenon of crowd madness, the neurocognitive correlates of prejudice, and the practice of methods by certain individuals which seem to render them much less susceptible to these major human weaknesses.
Human - Animal Dichotomy
The fundamental difference between man and animal is an ancient question, still debated from the perspective of many opposing viewpoints. The habit routine model may provide a new assessment of man's uniqueness in his ability to suspend or modify the operation of habit routine at will, (with practice), and so develop and cultivate the ability to be creative. I think it is safe to say that animals have the ability to be creative, at least in a simple way, but they exhibit such ability only when there is little alternative, as in a crisis, or in experiments designed to elicit such behavior. They do not do so out of the exercise of free will, so much is obvious. Man can, however, cultivate and practice the art, and dwell in a creative state by choice, but this is not to say that most human beings make the required effort to do so to any significant extent. Thus proposed differences between man and animal have to date always seemed merely a matter of degree rather than substance, animals exhibiting any suggested trait simply on a less complex level. Tool-making, language, music and dance, and other examples could be cited. Understanding the difference as a major reorientation from a habit routine governed mode of existence to at least a potentially Creative-Individual Mode (3) may be the characteristic which is more of substance than degree. Further exploration of this topic must also await future chapters.
The Binding Problem
The so-called binding problem in philosophy and psychology, the lack of an adequate psychological or neurological theory to explain how unitary consciousness arises out of the multiplicity of sensory signals which arrive at the brain, (and the multitude of independent channels of sensory processing that have recently been demonstrated), may have a solution using the ideas I have suggested. With the recent elaboration of Parallel Distributed Processing models of brain function, where it is not even suggested that there is a central structure "responsible" for consciousness, the binding problem has become even more mysterious, to philosophers at least. But if our unitary conscious experience is not the experience or awareness of the totality of sensory input (and mental reflection) itself, but rather the after-the-fact experience of our own habit routines activated by the sensory data, and overlaid with only a sparse sampling of the sensory data relevant to the habit routine complex called into play, the binding problem disappears.
The relative absence of brain structures which associate all the sensory data from the various sensory inputs and intermediate processing areas to produce overall unitary or "bound" awareness is no longer a mystery, because unitary experience of external reality is an illusion. What we experience are the cognitive or perceptual structures provided by our own habit routines which enable the evaluation of only the most salient or attended to aspects of external reality; we see, hear, and understand only what we have already seen, heard, and understood, plus a small fragment of new sensory data which relates agreement or disagreement, the presence of novelty or sameness. It is through this deceptively small window upon the external that we exercise our apparently powerful abilities of free will and creativity. The power over external events which results, although demonstrably quite limited, seems great, great enough to install in us an illusion of control far greater than the evidence warrants.
If one of the fundamental questions in cognitive science has been whether perceptual data for which there is no conscious awareness can influence behavior, then from the above it can be seen that not only is this possible, but since the total sensory input is used primarily (almost exclusively) to select habit routine complexes in thinking1, which is entirely a pre-conscious operation, then the conclusion is that sensory data is primarily unconscious and the primary "causative" agent in behavior! I will return to the binding problem during my discussion of the brain systems which enable the construction of habit routines.
The Experiments of Benjamin Libet
The time delay between sensory signaling and the subjective conscious perception of sensation which has so carefully been demonstrated by neurosurgeon Benjamin Libet and other experimenters may also have a simpler explanation than those proposed so far. Libet and others have shown that a pin-prick of the finger, for example, transmits a signal to the cortex of the brain via the thalamus, which arrives in a few thousandths of a second. All sensory signaling except olfaction is similarly transmitted: first to the thalamus which acts as a sort of relay-station distributing the signals to the appropriate domains of the cortex. Yet conscious perception of the pin-prick can by various experimental techniques be shown to be delayed by up to a half-second, while "cerebral neuronal adequacy" is achieved. (4) It is proposed that there is then "a subjective referral backwards in time, after neuronal adequacy is achieved, which antedates the [perception of the] experience to correspond to the time of early cortical responses..." [the onset of signaling measured after a few thousandths of a second].
The alternative view that I propose is that the original sensory signaling, passing through the thalamus, is projected to all the appropriate areas of the cortex, and it is this signal, by comparison with all the stored data representing the frames of memory, which generates the habit routine complex which is then used in the thinking2 processes of perception and symbolization. The time delay corresponds precisely to the time necessary for all the thinking1 (pre-conscious) comparisons of current sensory signals with LTM (long-term-memory) to assemble the habit routine complex to be presented to thinking2.
According to my view then, the original signals from the periphery of the body, projected upon the cortex by the thalamus, are not at all the "data" of which we become aware. This original sensory "data" will be selected, trimmed, and mostly eliminated during the process of HRS (habit routine search), and only details from the data which are relevant to the habit routine complex brought to awareness will be included. Thus the greatest part, by far, of the "data" which is experienced, the supposed "bound awareness" of external reality, is merely the data that already existed as LTM.
The problem of how experience is referred backwards in time is also neatly resolved since what is experienced is the habit routine complex generated from sensory data received at the time of the pin-prick or other peripheral input: the habit routine complex represents the sensory data at the instant of reception into thinking1, not at the (up to) half-second later instant of perception in thinking2. The variability of the time delay may represent the level of complexity of the HRS process required in each case, a strong sensory signal is perceived more rapidly than a minimal one because less cognitive effort is required to construct a habit routine when the salient data is stronger than the background sensory information. Remember that both strong and weak signals arrive at the cortex with the same small time delay ("a few thousandths of a second").
The idea that "perception is a function of expectation" (5) is, of course, not new. But the dependence has so far been seen more as a minor imperfection or inconvenience, easily over-ridden by careful observation especially by he who is in the act of studying such phenomena. The new view provided by my theory shows that very attitude to be a product of the "minor inconvenience", the magnitude of its influence being directly proportional to the certainty of its negligibility. I repeat: in a very literal sense, we see what we have already seen, hear what we have already heard, think what we have already thought, believe what we have already believed, and I'm afraid in most instances in most people most of the time, little else. Illusions to the contrary may well be provided and sustained by installed habit routines! Disagreement with this analysis may well provide evidence for its accuracy!
In a further series of investigations, Libet was able to show a similar and apparently much more mysterious anomaly. A carefully executed series of experiments seemed to call into question the operation, perhaps even the existence of "free will" as we know it. Again, the results were indicated by the existence of various time delays in neural signaling relative to tasks that the subject was asked to carry out. Here is an abstract of theoriginal article:
Voluntary acts are preceded by electrophysiological "readiness potentials" (RPs). With spontaneous acts involving no preplanning, the main negative RP shift begins at about -550 [milliseconds]. Such RPs were used to indicate the minimum onset times for the cerebral activity that precedes a fully endogenous voluntary act. The time of conscious intention to act was obtained from the subject's recall of the spatial clock position of a revolving spot at the time of his initial awareness of intending or wanting to move (W). W occurred at about -200 ms. Control experiments in which a skin stimulus was timed (S), helped evaluate each subject's error in reporting the clock times for awareness of any perceived event.
For spontaneous voluntary acts, RP onset preceded the uncorrected Ws by about 350 ms and the Ws corrected for S by about 400 ms. The direction of this difference was consistent and significant throughout, regardless of which of several measures of RP onset or W were used. It was concluded that cerebral initiation of a spontaneous voluntary act begins unconsciously. However, it was found that the final decision to act could still be consciously controlled during the 150 ms or so remaining after the specific conscious intention appears. Subjects can in fact "veto" motor performance during a 100-200-ms period before a prearranged time to act. The role of conscious will would be not to initiate a specific voluntary act but rather to select and control volitional outcome. It is proposed that conscious will can function in a permissive fashion, either to permit or to prevent the motor implementation of the intention to act that arises unconsciously. Alternatively, there may be the need for a conscious activation or triggering, without which the final motor output would not follow the unconscious cerebral initiating and preparatory processes. (6)
Although Libet himself commented in the closing section of his paper, "...it is important to emphasize that the present experimental findings and analysis do not exclude the potential for 'philosophically real' individual responsibility and free will", several writers have, at least in popular presentations, rather exaggerated the possible implications of the experiments:
...The conclusion is that we are deluded in believing that each of us is a free agent who may decide to take an action. Such a decision is an interpretation we give to a behavior that has been initiated someplace else by another part of ourselves well before we are aware of making a decision at all. In other words, the decision has been made before we are aware of the idea to even make a decision. If "we" are not pulling the strings, then who or what is? The answer is, it is an unknown part that is unfathomable to introspection. (7)
...Here we have physiological confirmation of Ambrose Bierce's definition of 'intention' as apprehending the imminence of an action. Behind the scenes the blind brain-mind is determining what action to take, and when to initiate it. And as it sends out messages to the muscles to move, so it also initiates processes that may end up as a conscious prediction of the act that is already on its way. Consciousness, however, ignorant of its own foundations, takes this prediction, and re-interprets it as control. (8)
Actually there are some elements of truth in these observations, as I hope to show below, but they do not support the implied positions of the authors. The peer commentary in the same journal as Libet's original article, it must be said, did not at all suffer from the same exaggeration, but presented a range of quite perceptive criticisms of the methodology of the experiments and suggested several less extreme psychological, neurological and philosophical conclusions, yet Libet was in my opinion able to support his position effectively. But none of the commentators seemed able to simplify the experimental results and their implications with a new modelof what might actually be taking place. Let me first describe some further details of the experiments:
Each experimental subject was asked to observe a kind of TV monitor on which was projected a spot of light rotating around the center of the screen. This was the timing device: psychological and sensory events were timed by observing their occurrence relative to the clock-position of the spot of light. The subject could then relate, for example, the timing of a pin-prick or other event such as a decision, to the position of the spot at say, three o'clock. The subject was then asked, at a completely random moment chosen by himself, to suddenly flex the fingers of his hand, and observe the clock-position of the spot of light at the moment of his being aware of having made the decision to flex his fingers. What was consistently found was that an electrical signal in the cortex of the brain, the "readiness potential", would appear about four-tenths of a second before the subject signaled his awareness that he had made the decision to flex, and that the actual flexing of the muscles appeared about two-tenths of a second after the apparent time of the decision. The fact that these were considered startling and unexpected experimental results is illustrated by the depth and intensity of controversy that ensued in trying to explain the results within the framework of the various critics' paradigms. What was debated by all was the question of volition. How could the decision to take a voluntary act, which in anyone's book must certainly be a conscious event, be preceded by an unconscious event of such regularity that the timing of the ensuing muscle movement could be predicted from it?
The answer, according to the habit routine model, is that there was no volition whatsoever concerning the decision to flex the fingers. This was a "decision" pre-programmed to take place as an instruction in working memory for the selection and implementation of habit routines that would lead to the desired movement. The trigger for this decision was another instruction in working memory, the instruction to "choose a random moment". The volition involved in the overall process consisted of the voluntary programming of working memory by the subject to carry out the instructions of the experiment, nothing more. And nothing less, especially, for in this process we observe quite unambiguously the operation of free will: the subject chooses quite freely to follow the instructions of the experiment, and consciously programs his working memory with the recipe for carrying out the desired sequence, viz., choose a random moment, notice the position of the timing device, and then flex the fingers.
Owen Flanagan has expressed a similar interpretation of the experiment. But his philosophical intent seems to be to argue against any idea that mind might be anything other than something caused by physical, observable-in-principle brain processes. He calls his position on the mind/brain debate "constructive naturalism", but seems to fall into the same trap concerning causation that I mentioned previously:
I conclude that Libet's results, far from offering solace to the suspicious epiphenomenalist, are precisely the sort of results one would expect if one believes that conscious processes are subserved by nonconscious neural activity, and that conscious processes play variable but significant causal roles at various points in different cognitive domains. (9)
The first proposition, "conscious processes are subserved by neural activity", is in logical contradiction to the second, "conscious processes play causal roles". If the first proposition is taken to mean that for every conscious process that may be defined or intuited to exist, then there is necessarily a real, durational, and logical sequence of neurological operations in the brain which precedes and causes the conscious activity (causation must have duration and precede the effect which results), then the conscious process of the second proposition must be included: it must also be caused by neurological activity, and so its apparent causative power is only a reaction to previous neurological causation. As I stated above, the mind, or consciousness, is thus reduced to having no actual causative power at all, it becomes an inoperative concept.
I must also reiterate my own position that this argument does not automatically make me a "suspicious epiphenomenalist" nor a closet mysticist. The mind/body debate has, like so many other debates, become polarized into a binary reductionism: if you're not in the one camp, you must be in the other. If you don't believe that the physical manifestation of the brain "causes" all the mental, intentional, qualitative, subjective, and yes, spiritual manifestations of the human (to say "organism" would already be admitting to the reductionism I am questioning), then you must be an advocate of mysticism, i.e., unscientific.
My previous analogy to the dual nature of electromagnetic radiation is apt, I think, for it illustrates the same debate that occurred in physics long ago: is light a particle or a wave? Or both simultaneously? Does the particle nature of light cause its wave aspects? Or vice versa? All these questions may only be asked from the point of view of classical physics, they only have meaning from the classical view. Once quantum mechanical physics enters the scene, no one even attempts to answer the questions on the classical level. If my guess that brain and mind are parallel aspects of a more fundamental reality is nebulous, perhaps it will take on some relevance when a "quantum mechanics of philosophy" will be available. Whether a process of mind studying mind will accomplish such a feat is still an open question.
I hope I may be forgiven for having diverged considerably from my analysis of Libet's findings to repeat an argument of the previous chapter, for I think that the argument and the logical inconsistency it points out lend some credibility to the use of the habit routine model as a way to resolve many aspects of current debate. The habit routine model is far from being a mystical proposition, yet it seems that many questions which previously forced opinion into either the reductionist or mystical extremes are now moot. If the habit routine model does not itself show how mind and brain might be parallel and complimentary aspects of the same thing, it at least weakens some arguments that such a view must be unscientific. To continue with the habit routine view of Libet's results:
I would propose that the time of the onset of the "readiness potential" corresponds exactly with the implementation of the instruction in working memory to "choose a random moment", and that the ensuing delay corresponds to the time necessary to activate the habit routine search process to produce a pattern which seems to the subject to satisfy the instruction, "choose a random moment." At this point, the second and third pre-programmed instructions to notice the time, and then flex the fingers is launched, and the ensuing delay again corresponds to the time necessary to select and activate the various habit routines necessary to implement the physical action. The subjective timing of the intention to move the fingers occurs when it does because it must await the success of the first instruction to choose a random moment. When conscious awareness is satisfied that this criterion has been met, it "approves" the continuation of the instruction sequence in working memory. Notice that I have adhered to my intuition that mind and brain are simultaneous, not causative in either direction; in this example the readiness potential is the physical attribute of the larger process which is implementing the instructions of free will.
I have already alluded to the idea that the so-called hallucinations resulting from psychedelic experience are not "real" or strong hallucinations at all. In this case, normal sensory data, perceived without the usual framework of acceptable habit routines to organize and categorize the perceived sensations, becomes itself seemingly hallucinatory (in the naive subject) because it is perceived "as is". And, as I mentioned previously, the perception of such sensory input, especially if the set and setting of the experience are threatening (as in the above account of a hospital-setting LSD session), will through feedback to further thinking1 habit routine search produce even more bizarre results, greater feelings of loss of control, etc.
Classical hallucinations produced by brain pathologies and various diseases are a quite different phenomenon, as was noted by many of the early psychedelic researchers. It was in fact the widespread dissatisfaction with the term "hallucinogen" (and also "psychotomimetic") which led to the coining of the term "psychedelic" as a properly descriptive name for these substances. Classical hallucination produced by brain pathology (or as manifested in the delirium tremens of end-stage alcoholism, for example), is probably outside the domain of the habit routine model, although the psychological and cognitive results of certain nervous system diseases may assist in devising the neurological model of habit routine search. In the next chapter I will discuss some types of brain damage which provide such evidence.
Many diverse psychological experiments have been able to show that information from a briefly encountered experience, although not subsequently accessible to normal recall of memory, nevertheless provides data which the subject uses "unconsciously". (10) In recent studies, the terms "explicit memory" and "implicit memory" are used to denote sensory information which can, or cannot be consciously recalled. The terms correspond roughly to what I have called LMA, or logical memory access (explicit memory) and the output of the habit routine search system (implicit memory). But defining the two as different types of memory obscures what the habit routine model makes clear: the memory "data" is the same, it is the method of access which is different.
A typical experiment would run something like this: Subjects are given a brief exposure to a word presented on a screen. A 30 millisecond showing is not long enough for the subject to recognize that he has seen anything at all, yet in subsequent testing the word will be identified more frequently from lists of random words than statistics would predict. Research on subliminal perception had been motivated by studies of amnesic-syndrome sufferers, who had often been observed to have intact implicit-memory function despite gravely affected ability to recall autobiographical events. A patient afflicted with amnesia might be taught a procedure, for example, and shown by testing to have retained at least some information that he had learned. Yet he would have absolutely no memory for the time or place nor the procedure in which he had learned this information.
Daniel L. Schacter (footnote 8) has identified five types of evidence for the dissociation or independence of these two memory processes and concluded, "Taken together, the...studies constitute solid evidence for a fundamental difference between implicit and explicit memory." The evidence, I believe, fits the Habit Routine Model like a glove, but it is not at all necessary to propose independent memory systems to explain it. The Habit Routine Model proposes that the same memory "data" from exactly the same distributed sources in the various domains of the cortex, are accessed and assembled by two different processes, one automatic, ongoing, and pre-conscious (HRS in thinking1), the other voluntary, deliberate, and accomplished by feedback of cues assembled from conscious analysis and evaluation of thinking2 (LMA).
The model illustrates how HRS can retrieve information from the briefly perceived, subliminal exposition, yet LMA, which must have reference to a process of duration, cannot access the same data. The film frame/clip analogy is useful here: the 30ms exposure is recorded, just like all sensory data, but it represents only a frame of a film. LMA must access a sequence of frames during recall, a series of time-related frames of a certain duration, a "film clip". This may be a result of the nature of the cues which are used in LMA, or perhaps just the inherent operating characteristics of the brain system which reconstructs conscious memories. Or it might be hypothesized that the memory of an instantaneous cross-section in time, like the 30ms. exposure, would simply not register in consciousness, thus no process of cue-construction necessary to retrieve a memory would be possible.
An interesting experiment suggests itself to attempt to show the operation of information collected and useable as habit routines, but not accessible in LMA. A series of images is shown, all subliminally, demonstrating one of several possible logical relations between several different generic objects depicted in the images. By "generic" I mean that the objects do not have individual or "personal" characteristics, but denote a type, or a class. Numbers or letters in a non-descript font would be a good example, as would simple geometric figures. In each image is also a prominent and unchanging "reference" object which does have intrinsic specific characteristics, a photograph of Jack Nicholson perhaps. The images may be interspersed with other images, both subliminal and perceptible, or they may even be inserted in a short film, for instance.
Afterwards the subject is asked to deduce a possible logical relation between the several types of generic objects, now shown continuously, in one case with the reference object shown, and in another case without the reference. To deduce any one of the several possible logical relations between the generic objects requires a logical sequence of brain/mind operations, including attention and decision, reference to previously learned knowledge of similar cases, it requires deliberation of a complex nature. The logical relation between the generic test objects implied by the series of subliminal frames, if deduced preferentially over other possible logical relations when the reference object is included, would indicate that habit routines had been installed by the data in the images; the co-presentation of the reference object should reinforce the habit routine learned about the logical relation indicated by the images. And not only would the routines be invisible to LMA, but even recall of the objects themselves would be nil.
Note that some preference for the required logical relation should be present even without the reference object. The prediction is that a small preference should be found without, and a larger and much more significant preference with the reference object present. This is because the reference object has obvious and strong individual characteristics which would be expected to activate the assembly of habit routines in which it played a part, whereas the test objects have little or no specific characteristics. The experiment would demonstrate that even complex logical decisions, supposedly made on the basis of consciously applied information and calculation, are nevertheless guided by invisible and pre-emptory patterns installed in memory in perhaps involuntary and illogical ways. (What would be logical about preferentially choosing one of several relations among geometric figures based on a picture of Jack Nicholson being present?!).
Context - Dependent Memory
This proposed experiment is a reduction to the subliminal perception level of a more general phenomenon called Context-Dependent Memory, which was described as long ago as 1690:
The British associationist philosopher John Locke refers to the case of a young man who was taught to dance. His lessons always took place in the same room which contained a large trunk. Alas, it subsequently proved to be the case that: "The idea of this remarkable piece of household stuff had so mixed itself with the turns and steps of all his dances, that though in that chamber he could dance excellently well, yet it was only while the trunk was there." (11)
Experimental studies of context-dependent memory in recent years have established the importance of the effect, but no general cognitive model has been proposed which might explain its operation. The application of the habit routine model may consolidate understanding of several currently studied aspects of memory. Baddeley reports a particularly interesting study, the results of which lend themselves directly to interpretation using the habit routine model. This interpretation of context-dependent memory will additionally lead us into another question of importance for understanding HRS and LMA and how these processes are initiated:
Is it actually necessary for the subject to return physically to the same environment for context-dependent effects to work, or is it sufficient to imagine the original environment? This was explored in a study by Smith (1979) who had his subjects study 80 common words in a distinctive basement room on the first day, and then attempt to recall them on a second day in either the same room, or in a fifth-floor room with very different contents and furnishings. Subjects who recalled in the original basement room tended to remember about 18 words, significantly more than those who remembered in the different upstairs room, who recalled only about 12. Of particular interest however was a third group who were tested in the different upstairs room, but instructed to try to recollect as much as possible of the original learning environment before starting to recall. They remembered an average of 17.2 words, not significantly different from those who had physically returned to the learning environment. (12)
The habit routine interpretation of these experimental results would be as follows. The original session in which the 80 common words were studied was, like all ongoing cognitive activities, organized around and facilitated by habit routine complexes which each individual has developed over his lifetime of conscious activity. They would be roughly similar for all the subjects, but not identical, some persons obviously having developed routines for study (the memorization of a list in this case) which are somewhat different and more or less effective than those of other individuals. Nevertheless, for a given subject, habit routines typical for that subject are used for the learning process, and the information learned is incorporated into memory as further habit routines based on the learning routines. Thus the learned data is itself organized into habit routines related to those used in the learning. We might think of the learning routine as a sort of template on which the data to be learned is imbedded. But more than just the "data" of the words is recorded! All habit routines are potentially re-assembled from the entire sensory and cognitive input of the moment (including the habit routines brought to bear in implementing the ongoing process): if the words were printed in red ink, if Beethoven's Fifth Symphony were playing at the time, if one had an annoying itch, all these, including the general surroundings of the room and the emotional "feel" thus elicited in the learner, are part of the habit routine which contains the information concerning the words studied.
In the above experiment, recalling the words later is improved if the subject is tested in the same room; here the word information embedded in the habit routine created at the time of learning is accessed more reliably by the presence of the sensory input of the room (which matches elements of the original habit routine). But improvement is also noticed just by asking the subject to imagine the original learning location. In this instance, the habit routine is activated by thinking2 imagining the original scene and supplying this as an input parameter to HRS via working memory.
It has been noticed in many studies that if the words to be learned can be organized in some way, either intentionally with a mnemonic or categorization process, or "unconsciously" by the influence of context, as is the case here, then subsequent recall is much improved. We may view this effect as the production of habit routines having an internal organizational structure, a cross-linking between elements of the routine, so that recall or recognition may be brought about by more numerous cueing situations. The context in which the learning is taking place, the basement room, provides an organizational framework, as would more intentional or contrived methods such as relating the words to certain categories or classes.
This brings us to the related question of the difference between recall and recognition. In word learning experiments, a subject can be tested for his recall of words, i.e., the words that he can remember on demand; or for recognition, wherein he is given a list of words only some of which were words to be learned. The subject then goes through the list and replies yes or no to each entry. Baddeley discusses the many experiments that have been done and the methods used to correct for various errors inherent in the procedure. (13) It has been shown that, as a rule, recognition is far better than recall, scores for the former being typically twice or more the scores for recall. A single case study (of myself) illustrates the disparity and suggests also that using the experimental paradigm of learning and recall of words (as opposed to images, or composite sensory patterns) may not tell the whole story:
In the 1950's and 1960's I often frequented small record shops to buy cheap (I was a student) and usually out-of-print jazz record albums. Album cover design, even then, was crucial in promoting records that were not expected to be big selling items, and so many were quite original in appearance. When sifting through the bins, I almost never erred in knowing if I had already bought an album, yet a printed list of titles was much less helpful. To this day I can look at an old jazz album on display, and tell immediately if I already own a copy in my collection of well over a thousand. A list of titles is much less effective. And if asked to recall the cover art from a well-known album, I will usually fail for most items. Out of a thousand, I can right now bring to mind the cover of perhaps twenty or thirty, yet somewhere in my head is the "data" required to recognize them all. I predict, on the basis of my own experience here, that if experiments on recall vs. recognition were performed using visual and perhaps audio material, as well as composite sensory input, the disparity between recall and recognition would far outpace the results found for word study tasks.
Baddeley notes, "The question of how recall and recognition are related is one of the oldest in the study of memory. It is also one that remains complex and controversial." I think that the Habit Routine Model may have some ability to simplify the controversy, for the distinction between recall and recognition parallels closely the distinction I have made between LMA and HRS. In recognition, the result comes about automatically and rapidly through HRS, the effect of context being entirely "pre-conscious", an operation of thinking1 processes; whereas in recall, the context can be consciously recreated to assist in the process as in the experiment above. Thus in the recall of words learned in the basement room, the subject can improve his score by simulating the context, using LMA to intentionally reconstruct the look and feel of the basement room. In the experiment that I have proposed (showing a series of subliminal images containing the constant context or non-generic item), the context item automatically supplies access to habit routines which produce the response. In the basement room experiment the working memory is intentionally programmed with a reconstruction of the context (in the case of the upstairs recall), which then as a parameter for ongoing thinking1 assists in recall.
Another phenomenon of recent interest and debate which may benefit from a habit routine interpretation is filling in. In its simplest aspect, it has long been known that due to the particular structure of the eye, there is a small blind spot on each retina at the position of its attachment to the optic nerve. The portion of the visual scene projected here is therefore not represented in the visual cortex of the brain, yet we have no awareness that there are two blank spots in our field of view. (A simple experiment that all children are taught shows the reality of the blind spot.) The process whereby the brain nevertheless produces an apparent continuous field of view is called filling-in, and some examples of recent research and controversy are nicely summarized by Francis Crick. (14) Although the filling-in of the blind spot may be a quite simple process in normal persons (the retina itself may play some supporting role) a more extensive and higher-order kind of filling-in is known to occur with brain-damaged patients. Crick reviews the research of Ramachandran (15) and his colleagues and concludes,
Filling-in is probably not a special process peculiar to the blind spot. It is more likely that, in one form or another, it occurs at many levels in the normal brain. It allows the brain to guess a complete picture from only partial information-a very useful ability. (16)
The Habit Routine Model agrees entirely with this assessment that only partial information arrives at conscious awareness, yet an apparently seamless perception of reality results. But the model goes even further in saying that most, or nearly all, of the data we believe we are perceiving is the data produced by the "filling-in" that the habit routine search process has provided. It is not surprising then that such a powerful system can fill in the minor amounts of data lacking due to the characteristics of the retinae, or even of damage to the visual cortex of the brain.
Along with the renewal of interest in consciousness and the mind/body problem in the wake of the demise of behaviorism has come a wave of new theories about long-known yet little-understood phenomena such as synaesthesia, the cross-over or confusion of two or more sensory domains. Popular books about such long-standing enigmas have reached a wide audience. In observing the disparity of proposed theories attempting to explain some of these phenomena, it becomes evident that psychology and the study of the mind is still in its infancy. But also, due to the breakneck pace at which research is now eliciting important if uncoordinated results, it seems of paramount importance for some part of this wide area of exploration to devote its efforts to providing linkages between the various disciplines, attempting to design overall theoretical frameworks which deal with all the phenomena on a unified basis. If not, I fear we are in for even greater overall confusion, disagreement, and controversy. In reaction, a new brand of behaviorist, mechanistic, nothing-but-ism is likely to take hold to again stifle creative approaches in man's study of himself. I make these comments here because a recent book on Synaesthesia (17) illustrates the lack of coordination in recent theoretical approaches. I should not single out this book from the many others which have purported to "explain" consciousness or various aspects thereof; reading several of these is more like watching a sporting match than an exposition of a deliberate research undertaking.
The quotation from The Man Who Tasted Shapes above, in the section on Benjamin Libet's time-delay research, exemplifies the point, I believe. One-upmanship contests, perhaps encouraged by editors and publishers, take precedence over accurate representation of others' work. As for synaesthesia, Cytowic presents interesting theoretical ideas, but limits them by inaccuracy of presentation of supporting evidence. This is certainly the case where he attempts to present results of psychedelic research to support his ideas. (18) Reported synaesthesia during psychedelic experience has occurred frequently enough to warrant attention. Yet scientific attention is so severely limited by research restrictions that it is certainly a dubious conclusion that psychedelic synaesthesia has anything more than coincidental parallels to naturally-occurring synaesthesia. Cytowic remarks,
Ethical considerations guarantee that 1950s-era government research into the effects of LSD on humans will never be repeated. While no contemporary research exists, however, the older data about the drug's general effects on the nervous system are reliable.
The statement reveals, I fear, a dual ignorance. If the unethical 1950s-era research he refers to is that undertaken by the CIA, (and highly unethical it was, along with much if not most other CIA "intelligence" activities), then Cytowic displays a glaring unawareness of the research of the dozens of workers who administered many thousands of psychedelic experiences in which ethics were not only respected but a primary consideration. But if Cytowic is ignoring this much greater body of highly ethical research for the abominable fumblings of the weapons and mind-control crowd of MK-ULTRA/CIA fame, it is highly questionable to then express confidence about "older data being reliable."
It is simple enough to explain psychedelic synaesthesia in terms of habit routine suspension, (I will leave it as an exercise for the reader!), but I believe that the habit routine model may also succeed quite well in explaining naturally occurring synaesthesia. Cytowic states that synaesthesia is a product of the limbic system, not the cortex, and with this the habit routine model is in moderate agreement. I will show in the next chapter the interplay between the cortex and various centers of the limbic system which brings about the various habit routine cognitive operations. But rather than having to postulate an enhancement of limbic activities, or the actual crossing-over at some point of sensory signals as others have done, (both of these hypotheses depend on the supposition that it is the bound awareness of all the sensory domains which consciousness perceives), a simple and small change in the limbic activities which access and apply habit routines is the only hypothesis necessary.
Once again we see that if it is not bound sensory awareness of which we are conscious, but rather our own habit routines, the mechanism underlying the phenomenon is easily imagined, rather than requiring several hypothetical nervous system operations unsupported by any existing research. And once again I think, the habit routine model shows its capability to moot certain questions of controversy by providing an overall structure in which previously misunderstood or misinterpreted phenomena are now brought together.
The Newly - Sighted
Another such phenomenon recently discussed in a popular book (19) concerns persons who have been blind for many years and whose sight is then restored, the "newly sighted". Oliver Sacks relates the rare yet typical case of Virgil, a man blind since early youth due to heavy cataracts. At the age of fifty, he undergoes the relatively simple and risk-free operation for cataract removal. All are hopeful for wonderful results, yet, as has been noted in the handful of cases with other newly-sighted patients, curious and difficult problems arise and persist, and the final result has often been disappointment and tragedy: Not because sight is not restored, but as Sacks relates in a lengthy and fascinating account of Virgil's tribulations, sight seems to be extremely difficult to understand and interpret in such a situation. According to the habit routine model, we could say that firstly, Virgil had no available perceptual habit routines to be activated by visual stimulation, therefore what he "sees" is only color and motion in a practically random and significance-less pattern. With effort and practice, he is able to interpret some of the visual data in terms of the world as he has known it through his other senses, but he has immense difficulty in learning these interpretations: they must be repeated each time anew. For instance, visually he cannot tell his dog from his cat. The instant he touches one or the other however, its identity is obvious. Relating the visual data to the touch is not retained however, for the next time he encounters the animal visually, again he is lost.
Secondly, cognitive aspects of the habit routine complexes are also lacking. This was illustrated by Virgil's inability to see photographs and pictures as anything but random if interestingly colored surfaces, even after he had been practicing with his new vision for awhile. Along with previous cases, he could not see people or objects in the pictures, even after he had learned to recognize them in the flesh. He simply did not comprehend the idea of representation for there were no cognitive habit routines available which would allow and facilitate such interpretation.
And thirdly, since all Virgil's existing habit routines consisted of structures building upon his previously available senses, (it had been remarked how his sense of touch and smell were acute, and far more developed than in normal persons), there was no possibility of intuitive or automatic cross-modal association between his new vision and his established cognitive schemes for understanding the world around him. With a cane, he could walk up a stairway easily, yet the vision of the same stairway gave no comprehension of its three-dimensional structure and how one might navigate it. This, in spite of knowing for certain that what was being viewed was the same object that could be climbed with ease bytouch alone. There were no cognitive habit routines enabling a connection between the reality as perceived by the two sensory methods.
I refer the reader to Sack's description of Virgil's symptoms (which one might call them in the sense that they are the result of a deficit, in this case a deficit of habit routines of perception and cognition necessary for the function of meaningful vision). With the elaboration of each strange effect, the habit routine interpretation is easily and effectively summoned to organize and understand the situation as a whole. In one sense, Virgil was in the situation of a young child, trying to learn and establish the habit routines necessary for interpreting a strange and colorful visual world around him. Yet in another sense, since his brain and cognition had already fully developed in other directions, taking account of his deficit, he could not hope to achieve what the child does effortlessly. In the young child, the entire cognitive structure of habit routines is nascent and plastic; at fifty years of age this structure is rigid, established, and not amenableto radical change such as the sudden introduction of a new sensory pathway. In such a case as Virgil's we can see that the total absence of habit routines enabling the interpretation of vision renders the visual sensation incomprehensible; visual data arriving in thinking2 awareness without any organizing habit routine structure results only in a profound and, in the end, often tragic confusion which becomes a liability rather than a gift.
Perception of Language
I believe it is difficult, if not practically impossible in some situations, to experience raw sensory data; we cannot avoid experiencing external reality in terms of our own habit routines. Consider what happens when we hear someone speak a few words. If the words are in a language which we ourselves speak, they are immediately and unavoidably transformed into meaning! Try studying some difficult subject while a conversation is going on, or worse, an abusive TV advertisement is running. We are practically incapable of hearing such auditory sensory data as just noise, the meanings of the words keep attracting our attention. But the meaning is not inherent in the sound! If the language is not a familiar one, no meaning is produced! What is the difference? We experience our own habit routines, as I have stated, and when we hear auditory input which calls forth habit routines of meaning, it is these habit routines which are pre-emptively experienced, not the pure sound of the words. Even for a foreign language, our habit routine search process is still active (if less insistent), trying to pick out short successions of syllables which might have a correlation to our own language, in the attempt to get at least some fragmentary meaning out of the noise. The point is, we are practically incapable of just listening to speech as pure noise, the habit routine search system simply overrides the will to do so. The habit routines turn the sound of speech into meaning, automatically, unavoidably. (Interestingly, in meditation, one practices the art of "quieting the internal dialog", of experiencing reality without analyzing it, without attaching one's own semantic interpretation to it. As I mentioned above, meditation seems to be a method for suspending the significance and use of habit routine in ongoing awareness.)
Now it is not conscious episodic memory, or LMA which gives us the ability to understand language; we do not actively recall the many instances in which we learned the meanings of the words and their combinations. Yet the data that was installed by these instances is certainly being used. For a particular word I may perhaps be able to recall the event of learning its meaning, but this is not what is used for present understanding. Rather, the sum total of all instances in which the meaning took on relevance for me is accessed (to continue with the analogy of a film), asa collection of frames, by the habit routine search process, and this collection of frames is the habit routine called forth through which meaning is produced in awareness. The fact that one can use a word in conversation quite accurately, yet find it difficult to produce a satisfactory definition of that word upon demand, illustrates the two cognitive processes. Providing a definition requires LMA, (or at least considerable conscious analysis of context to deduce what the meaning must be), whereas the automatic use of a word in proper and meaningful context is entirely controlled by the habit routines generated in the thinking1 processes.
If it is easy to see how auditory input of language results overpoweringly in the experience, not of the pure sound, but of the meaning of that sound, (and hence the habit routines which produce that meaning), I would ask the reader to go back over my arguments concerning the other sensory modalities. The experience of vision, for example, must be parallel to audition of language: we do not experience the raw sound, nor the raw visual scene, but rather the meaning to which we habitually attach that sensory input. I cannot stress enough, we experience what we have already experienced; the view, if it has been stated in many contexts down through the ages, now represents a new and radical paradigm shift for understanding perception and psychology, for understanding ourselves in a radically new and more complete way.
There are textbooks full of examples of visual, cognitive, and even auditory illusions. How do they work? One of my favorites, since I started playing around with a video camera and learning how to control the "white balance" so as to achieve accurate color representation in my films, is the Land Effect, named after the inventor of the Polaroid Land Camera. The absolute values of colors as perceived by a standard measuring instrument, like the charge-coupled-device (CCD) in the video camera, change radically according to the color balance or temperature equivalent of the ambient illumination. As I film my wife in the shade of a north-facing wall, thence to walk out into full southern-exposure sunlight, the colors of her costume undergo a radical metamorphosis in the final film, if I have not correctly regulated the characteristics of the CCD of the camera, the "white-balance", in order to take account of the change in illumination. If I film her in close-up, and set the white balance to automatic, then the costume colors remain fairly true to what we expect, but at a price: the background colors change alarmingly. If I film her little walk from further away, with the white balance locked to the setting which produces the correct background, then it is the costume colors which change. But as I observe the same scene with my normal vision, no apparent metamorphosis takes place: blues are blue, reds are just as red no matter where she walks, the background and the costume are perceived without significant change even though the color balance of light actually striking my retinae is changing just as radically as it is at the surface of the CCD. Am I to assume a "white-balance" feedback signal to my retinae, adjusting their characteristics? There are no such neural pathways in the brain. And any such regulation would not be expected to correct for the costume and the background simultaneously.
Whatever mechanism is producing this color constancy effect must therefore be in the brain itself, in the processes of cognition, although some preprocessing of "data" has been hypothesized to occur in the retinae of the eyes. Edwin Land and other researchers of the effect have come up with a mathematical model of how various nervous system "computations" of intensity information from the entire visual field might allow constancy of color perception, but I suspect that mathematical computation theories of brain operation are all, in some sense, artifacts which may have good predictive power, but are not really good models for understanding what the brain is actually doing. I, for one, am quite certain that my brain is not calculating integrals or differential equations due to its demonstrated failure to do so on my final "diffy" examinations! Admittedly, due to the very limited and tentative knowledge about the mind that the neurosciences have so far been able to provide, mathematical models may be all we have, in some cases. Computer analogies for mind processes all suffer more or less from this same failing, which is why I may (as noted previously) enclose "data" and "computations" in quotes when discussing mind processes.
Land's experimental findings can be summarized by stating that the perceived color of an object in the visual field does not depend solely on the color of light entering the eye from that object, but on the entire spectrum of light arriving from all locations in the visual field. The application to the habit routine model of perception is obvious, I think. We would say that the habit routines for the constant perception of color values overrule to a large extent the actual signals relayed by the retina. But if habit routines can counteract actual color changes with such efficiency that we are not aware that any correction is taking place, why then doesn't it happen while I watch the curious effect in the film of the scene which live, caused no such drastic change? Actually, I have noticed that after watching such a distorted film many times, as when editing it, that I do begin to get used to the odd change in color values, and correct for it, or at least ignore it (which might be practically equivalent). Such habit routines can and are inevitably developed to some degree in artificial situations such as the film editing, but are strong and well-developed for the experiences of daily life situations since they have been practiced and reinforced since early childhood. In agreement with Land's theory, we do "calculate" the color of the object perceived by comparison with the entire visual field. But we do so through the use of habit routines which define what colors to expect when we see sky, grass, stone wall, tree, etc., and such habit routine information is only weakly established, if at all, when divorced from natural three-dimensional surroundings, as in the case of watching the TV film.
There are parallel situations concerning the perception of the constant size of objects. Some very interesting illusions have been produced to confuse our nervous system's ability to tell us the absolute size of an object in spite of the wildly varying size of image projected on the retinae, if the object is moving for example. Again, I believe we can improve upon mathematical models of how size constancy is accomplished with the habit routine model. Constancy is again produced from the constancy of the habit routines in use by the perceptual system. The habit routines are what is perceived.
A Cognitive Illusion
Another quite fascinating illusion that has been around for quite some time was discovered by J.S. Bruner and Leo Postman in 1949. (20) I will quote Thomas Kuhn's account of the experiments for its concision, and also because he raises a couple of interesting points:
In a psychological experiment that deserves to be far better known outside the trade, Bruner and Postman asked experimental subjects to identify on short and controlled exposure a series of playing cards. Many of the cards were normal, but some were made anomalous, e.g., a red six of spades and a black four of hearts. Each experimental run was constituted by the display of a single card to a single subject in a series of gradually increased exposures. After each exposure the subject was asked what he had seen, and the run was terminated by two successive correct identifications.
Even on the shortest exposures many subjects identified most of the cards, and after a small increase all the subjects identified them all. For the normal cards these identifications were usually correct, but the anomalous cards were almost always identified, without apparent hesitation or puzzlement, as normal. The black four of hearts might, for example, be identified as the four of either spades or hearts. Without any awareness of trouble, it was immediately fitted to one of the conceptual categories prepared by prior experience. One would not even like to say that the subjects had seen something different from what they identified. With a further increase of exposure to the anomalous cards, subjects did begin to hesitate and to display awareness of anomaly. Exposed, for example, to the red six of spades, some would say: That's the six of spades, but there's something wrong with it-the black has a red border. Further increase of exposure resulted in still more hesitation and confusion until finally, and sometimes quite suddenly, most subjects would produce the correct identification without hesitation. Moreover, after doing this with two or three of the anomalous cards, they would have little further difficulty with the others. A few subjects, however, were never able to make the requisite adjustment of their categories. Even at forty times the average exposure required to recognize normal cards for what they were, more than 10 per cent of the anomalous cards were not correctly identified. And the subjects who then failed often experienced acute personal distress. One of them exclaimed: "I can't make the suit out, whatever it is. It didn't even look like a card that time. I don't know what color it is now or whether it's a spade or a heart. I'm not even sure now what a spade looks like. My God!"... [italics added]. (21)
The first italicized sentence raises the question of what kind of illusion is actually happening here. The reaction to the anomalous card is so automatic and reliable that one is tempted to say that it is a perceptual illusion taking place, that the subject actually perceives the anomalous card as a normal card. But unlike many perceptual illusions, in which the illusion persists even when knowledge of deception is gained, here, as shown by the second of the italicized sentences, the illusion tends to disappear after the trick is discovered. It seems therefore that the illusion is cognitive, having to do with the analysis or evaluation of perception rather than perception itself. A perceptual illusion may rely on habit routines that are fundamental to the functioning of the perceptual system they involve, and thus be very difficult to counteract. An example would be the now famous line drawing which can be seen alternately as a vase, or as two faces in profile, but never both simultaneously. (22) An illusion depending on the analysis or higher processing of perception, as I believe the anomalous card trick shows, can be overcome almost immediately by the installation of new or modified habit routines via working memory, which are supplied as parameters for further habit routine search which then takes into account the new data that anomalous cards are likely to be presented. It would be interesting to know more about the few persons mentioned in the experiment who had difficulty seeing through the trick even after they knew about it.
At this point it might be useful to recall my view in the last chapter that at least two different categories for habit routines are postulated, although since a habit routine is a composite of data from many sources, in multiple sensory and cognitive domains, the categories will certainly overlap or be simultaneously applicable in some situations. But as far as it is useful, we may refer to habits of perception, and habits of cognition. The latter will be understood as the habit routines which are used for analytical and reasoning tasks, or the production of meaning from language as discussed above, while the former produce such things as the visual illusions mentioned.
I have suggested the term habit routine complex to denote that the unitary habit routine which is constantly constructed and presented to the awareness of thinking2 consists of all these types or aspects simultaneously. Thus if we can usefully isolate a part of an overall habit routine and see it as a habit of cognition, or a personality trait, such a dissection will be only a theoretical operation for heuristic purposes. The actual habit routine complex is an entity constructed from all levels of brain/mind operation from simple perceptual tasks to complex intuitive, deductive and associational processes such as the expression of personality.
Personality as Habit Routine
The very existence of strong, purportedly inalterable "personality traits" seems to me a perfect illustration of the prevalence and importance of habit routines in producing the range of reactions to the daily life process. As with the language example above, we do not use LMA to consciously search our memories for the data revealing how to act in a typical situation, consistent with our established "personality". We react typically, but automatically to certain situations, if not practically all situations, as an observer who knows us well will attest. Others know us by our personality, which when seemingly a bit different due to unusual troubles or a very bad mood, will invite sincere inquiries of "what's wrong? You're not yourself today!"
People who know us certainly do not expect radical or even moderate personality change from meeting to meeting; if encountered, someone will surely recommend a few sessions on the couch, or medication. The most startling and tragic event of diseases like Alzheimer's is perhaps not the gradual loss of memory and function, but the loss and/or change of personality which accompanies the disease. For the family relative who loved the person as expressed through personality, we may hear the lament, "he's just not himself anymore." What could the personality be, if not a large collection of routines suitable for automatic use; what data could personality arise from if not the very same data from which we extract conscious memories, yet accessed in an unconscious, rapid and automatic fashion by a cognitive/brain system not under conscious, analytic and deliberative control? The thinking1/thinking2 model outlined in the previous chapter is a far more descriptive and operational framework than simply saying that personality is a property of the "unconscious mind," as if there were some separate compartment, some independent source of data wholly other, completely independent of the conscious mind. It is the same data. It is the method of use and the neurophysiology of access which is different.
Cognitive illusions and intellectual traps are more difficult to explain than visual illusions, no matter what the theoretical model. But why shouldn't our opinions and beliefs, our prejudices and expectations, our ideas about reality, our personal metaphysical outlook, the very patterns we use to evaluate what we believe to be truth or lies, also be not only governed by habit routines, but actually be identical with habit routines modified only slightly, in the ongoing perceived normality of daily existence, by the precise monitoring of one's present intellectual intentions? I don't deny that extensive self-evaluation ever takes place, but in most individuals it may take a life-crisis to stimulate it, while the creative genius and artist may dwell there frequently. But since we all need to swim in some kind of water, the normal everyday joe has practically no awareness of his habit routines, and the artist little realization that partial immunity to habit routines is his own peculiar suspension medium. But if cognitive, evaluative aspects of habit routines are as important as we see the visual ones to be, psychiatry may be a far more primitive endeavor than had been suspected even by the pessimistic.
As so often happens when one invents a model, or attacks some problem with a new way of thinking, a search of the literature reveals that someone has already covered the territory and proposed something very similar. But the habit routine model is itself applicable here: in having re-invented the idea from a new perspective, without having previously been acquainted with older work, I may have avoided falling into certain traps or habit routines that the original work would have installed in the process of learning it. Thus I discovered, long after coming up with the idea of habit routine suspension as the mechanism of psychedelic experience, that Sir Frederick Bartlett in 1932 had proposed that memory and learning were represented in the mind by being embedded in large scale structures which he called schemas or schemata, "...an active organization of past reactions, or of past experiences, which must always be supposed to be operating in any well-adapted organic response". (23) But in having developed my own approach first, I arrived at a view of the function of schemas, or habit routines in my terminology, which attributes to them a more fundamental and primary importance than even recent developments of schema theory imply. Daniel Schacter notes that, "Although Bartlett's notion of a schema is rather fuzzy..., and his experimental results have not proved easy to replicate..., his approach has exerted a strong theoretical and experimental influence on cognitive research... Mandler...provides a useful summary of the cognitive conception of a schema:
. . . [a schema] is a spatially and/or temporally organized structure in which the parts are connected on the basis of contiguities that have been experienced in space or time. A schema is formed on the basis of past experience with objects, scenes, or events and consists of a set of (usually unconscious) expectations about what things look like and/or the order in which they occur. The parts, or units, of a schema consist of a set of variables, or slots, which can be filled, or instantiated, in any given instance by values that have greater or lesser degrees of probability of occurrence attached to them. Schemata vary greatly in their degree of generality-the more general the schema, the less specified, or the less predictable, are the values that may satisfy them. (24)
Baddeley summarizes the characteristics of schemas shared by the various recent interpretations of schema theory. The parallels to my own idea of habit routines will be obvious, but I shall presently point out the important differences in the two conceptions. (Baddeley is here summarizing a paper by Rumelhart & Norman):
Schemas have Variables
Schemas are packets of information that comprise a fixed core and a variable aspect...
Schemas can Embed One Within Another
Schemas are not mutually exclusive packages of information, but can be nested...
Schemas Represent Knowledge at all Levels of Abstraction
The concept of schema is broadly applicable, from abstract ideologies and concepts such as justice, to very concrete schema such as that for the appearance of a face.
Schemas Represent Knowledge Rather than Definitions
Schemas comprise the knowledge and experience that we have of the world, they do not consist of abstract rules.
Schemas are Active Recognition Devices
This is very reminiscent of Bartlett's original emphasis on effort after meaning. (25)
With a little editing, both of these sets of characteristics could be used to define the nature of habit routines. I have in fact learned much about what I expect of habit routines from a study of modern research on schemas. But there is a fundamental difference between the two concepts. Schemas were hypothesized as hierarchical structures resident in the mind/brain which provided an organized template on which knowledge and memory was stored, as well as for the incorporation of new knowledge or learning. Habit routines, by contrast, do not have any independent or inherent existence until they are called up, actually manufactured and assembled from LTM data by brain systems which I shall define in the next chapter. Although in speaking of habit routines, I continually refer to them being accessed or called-up for use, the terminology is only a convenience, for I do not wish to imply that habit routines have any independent a priori existence in the storage medium of the brain, which stores only the frames of memory; a habit routine is constructed, in my view, each time anew as required by the current ongoing cognitive state. HRS is thus a process of reconstruction rather than something akin to looking up a reference in a library. Also, it must be remembered that Attention does not refer back to habit routines after having received sensory information in need of organization. Quite the contrary, for the information which is at any moment available for Attention has already been constructed from habit routine data via unconscious thinking1 processes.
In addition, much of the research that has been conducted in the effort to illustrate the characteristics of schemas has used language oriented material in the experimental tests. The accuracy of memory in the recall of stories recounted to subjects was studied, for example, to explore how the learning of the story was superimposed upon schemas about typical aspects of stories in general. But since I have proposed that language is itself only a resonance to thinking1/2 processes, (symbolization), occurring well after and only in reaction to habit routine search and resulting thinking2 processes of checking, analysis, and so on, then of necessity habit routines do not themselves exist in terms of linguistic structures. Language itself is not what is stored in LTM, although the means (the data for the construction of habit routines) to produce or reconstruct it most certainly are. I have proposed that the HRS process is one of the earliest to have been evolved in the animal nervous system, and this would certainly not agree with the hypothesis that the data of habit routines was stored in terms of language (an error and abuse-prone, add-on option only available on the very latest models of animal life!) The study of the manifestation of habit routines through experiments utilizing language therefore misses their essential character. If we can observe the effects of habit routines through the study of symbolization processes we must not overlook the fact that we are not eliciting the properties of habit routines themselves, only their effect upon subsequent mental events.
An argument of economy supports the contention that habit routines are constructed rather than accessed in situ. If schemas or habit routines existed already structured in LTM, then a particular important bit of information that related to many different habit routines would have to be stored in many different ways, redundantly, in order to be present in the very many habit routine structures requiring it. If the habit routine is manufactured afresh each time it is needed, the bit of information need only be stored once. This is an oversimplification however, since it is debatable whether the storage of "data" in the brain can be conceived of on the computer model of the storage of "bits" or "bytes" of "data". Nevertheless I still believe the argument of economy above is significant.
My belated discovery of schema theory as such a close fit to my own model was in one sense a disappointment. It is always gratifying to believe that one's work has originality. But I also found an encouragement: If I had proposed the habit routine model of cognition as a deduction from observations of the effect of psychedelic drugs, (and in this I was sure to have many, many critics), yet the model proposed had so many similarities to a theory which "has exerted a strong theoretical and experimental influence on cognitive research" in Schacter's words, then my ideas about psychedelic experience might not be too far off the mark. I had arrived at a theoretical viewpoint from my study of psychedelic experience which replicated current thinking in cognitive science, about which I had studied very little.
I hope I have been able to convey the cognitive nature of habit routines as I understand them. If "Bartlett's notion of a schema is rather fuzzy", I expect that it will also be said that my own notion of habit routines is also somewhat nebulous. But the same could be said of many current theoretical approaches to the working of the human mind. The controversies and radically opposed paradigms in this endeavor are a sure sign that our knowledge is yet primitive and introductory, but also that a fruitful and rapid evolution of understanding is imminent. In this chapter I have tried therefore, not to propose a precise definition of what a habit routine may be, but rather to illustrate some of the things it may be in relation to several known phenomena. I am intentionally leaving the concept of a habit routine open to further development and more precise elaboration. If the habit routine search and suspension model is in fact useful and widely applicable, it will take more time and better minds than mine to develop the idea satisfactorily. It is an ongoing effort on my part to study the great volume of theories, models, opinions, data and sheer speculation that has been advanced in the very difficult task of understanding the human mind and how it works, but professionals in this field who spend their lifetimes in the universities and laboratories are far better equipped than I to continue this work.
Necessarily, I have omitted mention of many research studies about phenomena which seem to fit well with my model, but which would have overly encumbered the present text to describe. If at the end of the last chapter I mentioned the risk of seeing habit routines everywhere, the reader will now see that, if they are not omnipresent, my model at least intimates that they are pervasive in a way that has not at all been suspected in theories of the operation of mind/brain. I believe that habit routines are fundamental, that HRS is the primary cognitive operation of the brain/mind, coming before and providing the very structure for the operations of mind of which we have everyday awareness; and very importantly, due to these characteristics, that the HRS process is greatly obscured by its own operation. Only in the modification of its operation (gradual and unsurprising in the case of meditation, for example, radical and unmistakable in the case of psychedelic experience), can we even suspect its existence, and attempt to understand its characteristics and functions.
In the next chapter I will attempt to postulate neurological mechanisms of the brain which might be associated with the formation, use, and modification of habit routines, as well as some of the other functions of mind that I have discussed. Due to the present state of our knowledge of the nervous system, my attempt will certainly be fraught with error, not least because my own knowledge of neuroscience is self-taught, and only (so far) a year in the making. But I thought it would be useful to at least define some neurological possibilities for the habit routine model, and it has been quite alot of fun to do so. If professional neuroscientists will find it child's play to show where I have erred, I would ask their indulgence to suggest better neurological models rather than use my admitted status as a novice to reject the whole theory of psychedelic experience. In the act of too facile a dismissal of the new ideas, (as has repeatedly happened in the history of science), they might in the present case be providing evidence for the very theory they are rejecting out-of-hand!
"...Psychedelics actually break habits and patterns of thought.
They actually cause individuals to inspect the structures
of their lives and make judgments about them."
(1) Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade, Princeton University Press 1951, 1972 p417. (back)
(2) See Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hofmann, Plants of the Gods, McGraw-Hill 1979; Schultes and Raffauf, Vine of the Soul, Synergetic Press 1992; and the numerous references therein. (back)
(3) This is a term I shall employ in later chapters. (back)
(4) See "Neuronal vs. Subjective Timing for a Conscious Sensory Experience", and other reprinted papers of Benjamin Libet in Neurophysiology of Consciousness, Benjamin Libet, 1993, Birkhäuser Boston. (back)
(5) References here could be cited back to ancient Greece, I suspect. But a very cogent example is John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 1992, MIT Press, p136. See also Nicholas Humphrey, A History of the Mind, 1992, Simon & Schuster, chapter 14. Both of these, and other recent popular treatments give a good overview of such hypotheses in 20th Century research, and what they might indicate about the process of perception and the nature of consciousness. (back)
(6) Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4), (1987) p781. The original article and extensive peer commentary appeared in ibid. 8 (4), (1985) pp529-566, "Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action". (back)
(7) Richard E. Cytowic, M.D. in The Man Who Tasted Shapes, p170, 1993, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (back)
(8) Guy Claxton in Noises from the Darkroom, p224, 1994, Aquarian/HarperCollins (back)
(9) Consciousness Reconsidered, Owen Flanagan, 1992, MIT Press, pp136-138. (back)
(10) See Michael I. Posner, Foundations of Cognitive Science, MIT Press 1989, pp695-697 "Memory", by Daniel L. Schacter for a summary and further references of original research papers. (back)
(11) Quoted from Human Memory, Theory and Practice, Alan Baddeley, 1990, Allyn and Bacon, p268. (back)
(12) Ibid., p270 (back)
(13) Ibid., p271ff. (back)
(14) The Astonishing Hypothesis, Francis Crick 1994, Charles Scribner's Sons, in chapter 4, "The Psychology of Vision" pp54ff. (back)
(15) Crick lists the references: Ramachandran, V.S., "Blind Spots" Scientific American 266:86-91; "Perceptual Filling In of Artificially Induced Scotomas in Human Vision" Nature 350:699-702; and "Filling In Gaps in Perception: Part 2, Scotomas and Phantom Limbs" Current Directions in Psychological Science 2:56-65. (back)
(16) Ibid., p. 57. (back)
(17) The Man Who Tasted Shapes, Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., 1993, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam (back)
(18) Ibid., p128-129. (back)
(19) An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks, Alfred A. Knopf , New York 1995. See the chapter entitled, "To See and Not to SEE". (back)
(20) Bruner and Postman, "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm," Journal of Personality, XVIII, (1949), 206-23. (back)
(21) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition, 1970, The University of Chicago Press, pp62-64. (back)
(22) See Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994, Charles Scribner's Sons, chapter 4, "The Psychology of Vision" for some nicely illustrated examples of the vase/profiles and other visual illusions. (back)
(23) F.C. Bartlett, Remembering, 1932, Cambridge University Press, p201. (back)
(24) J.M. Mandler "Categorical and Schematic Organization in Memory", 1979, quoted by Daniel L. Schacter in Foundations of Cognitive Science, Michael I. Posner, ed., 1989, MIT Press, Ch 17, "Memory" p692. (back)
(25) Ibid., pp 336-337 (back)
Chapter 5 | Table of Contents