The brain, this fabulator

Holes in experience are intolerable

The section of the corpus callosum, this thick neural cable that unites the two cerebral hemispheres, has been performed in very severe forms of epilepsy. Side effect: the operated person ends up with two effector consciousnesses. Right and left hemibody are potentially autonomous. But they are still firmly attached, along with the rest of the brain by the stem, so that one side rarely ignores what the other is doing. Coordination continues. It takes specific experiences to highlight separation. For example, show the left eye the injunction ‘Walk!’ knowing that only the right hemisphere will read it (the optical pathways are crossed). The right hemibody starts, automatically dragging the left. The person walks to the door. The experimenter (neurologist Michel Gazzaniga) pretends to be surprised: “Where are you going?”. The centers of language and self-observation are in the left hemisphere, which ignores the cause of this departure. The person replies from tac to tac: “I’m dying of thirst, I’m going to get a drink!”. Without any knowledge of the motive of its own behavior, the left hemisphere produces it on the spot.

Not the slightest vacuum of explanation in our minds. Look carefully, you won’t find any. Is this an unfamiliar subject? We “believe that…”. Fragile and clumsy thinking, which should timidly hide behind a displayed ignorance. Of course not. All of them are looking for the front of the stage, strengthening links that they know how to find easily, as soon as the fingers wander on the keyboard. The network says the opposite? The idea started the knowledge so is not so bad. But today the network says everything and its opposite. We easily find a place where the idea is ‘excellent’.

The subject is totally unknown? Here again the vacuum of explanation is not complete. It is a “mystery”, not a nothingness. Mystery is a temporary container for something knowable. Our knowledge already has rights over it, makes it exist. Almost one due to knowledge. Not a void in any case. In some cases the mystery is in itself an explanation. To say “The divine mystery is not accessible to us” is in itself knowledge. No need to go any further. We are the owners of the mystery, not dispossessed of inaccessible knowledge.

Does the mind abhor emptiness?

“The mind abhors emptiness” is one way of describing its tendency to fill it, not the best. The mind is an assemblage of representations of the world. If it were a puzzle, a void would not pose any difficulties. The mind would know precisely whether it is in an already completed zone or not. But this is an surimposition: the representations are woven on top of the others, entangled with their neighbors. Impossible to bring one out of nowhere. The mental emptiness is not a nothingness but a looser area between the representations, where a new external object does not find its correspondence. So there are neighboring images that the mind immediately begins to assemble. The links exist. Missing a new symbol in the middle. The explanation is already present, in a way, but requires focus.

There is no such thing as a mental vacuum because our reality is entirely inner, personal. The outside? We are just interacting with it, through our perceptions. The real unknown is beyond our perceptions. Impossible even to represent it. When we feel a void of explanation, it is actually intrinsic to our mind: it is a distance between perception and representation. “Explain” consists of tightening the representative fabric, or applying an additional thickness to it. New paradigm in reinforcement, which consolidates the underlying contradictions. In this process autonomous to the mind, there are blurs and stalls but never “nothing”.

An inner reality ahead of the real one

Why treat the brain as a fabulator? It spontaneously fabricates the explanations as soon as a question arises. For objective reality it is a prediction, with all its uncertainties. But the mind is the fable, confuses it with reality in itself as long as it has not been denigrated. Our inner reality is always ahead of the objective. The brain is a natural soothsayer. In its dreams it even builds a multitude of alternative realities that could one day show themselves.

This imagination is detected in neural physiology. Neurons form a code from sensory signals. They spot regularities and associate them together. Complexity increases with their multitude. Some associations find a fairly solid match, others less so. However, they do not disappear. Just as our genome is dotted with genetic residues of evolution, our mind is dotted with archaic and always active representations, unrealistic and leading to imaginary worlds. None of us possess an inner reality corresponding to the true one. Errors force our neurons to reconfigure themselves, to perpetually weave new associations, to multiply imaginary worlds in the hope of better understanding the true. We are that process.

More universal fables

The brain is a born fabulator, as an individual. What brings it closer to reality in itself is the confrontation with the fables of its congeners. Collectively, the brains are attached to a scientific and philosophical consensus close to the truth. At the same time they abandon their imaginary worlds. So should we choose a magician’s or Cartesian destiny? The two are very close in fact. Let us let go of the bridle to our imagination, knowing that it will have to sediment for a long time before pretending to join the solid layers of our inner reality. Distrust of the imagination of others on the networks. Many confuse sedimentation and precipitation…

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