Red Oak

Four ten in the morning.

I can hear it raining right now. Yesterday I noticed how the oak tree is beginning to drop its leaves, which now are a deeper gold before they turn to burgundy. My brother used to say he remembered when Mom planted that tree, sometime in the Seventies, and today it towers over the whole neighborhood, an arboreal giant. Many of the leaves fall in my neighbor’s backyard and onto the roof of his shed, but he doesn’t say anything. When life was less harmonious for me with my sister, I didn’t appreciate the red oak; but currently it gives me some happiness to think of the leaves it has shed every year since my mother passed away. I tend to forget that trees are living things because they don’t move around the way animals do, and that’s very foolish of me. Every cell of every tree has a nucleus that serves as its brain and intelligence, and every tree has to breathe like you and me. The only difference is that they breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, which benefits us who breathe oxygen.

My brother was quite a naturalist when I knew him last, or rather he was torn between this and civilization. He was always at home in the woods or at the coast, the mountains, or wherever it was pure wilderness without the taint of humankind. I wonder if someday he might just vanish in the woods with a fishing pole and a few beers? 

Mind and Brain

Five o’clock in the morning.

I took my Vraylar just now. I don’t remember any dreams I might have had. I woke up with a few lines of poetry in my head, so I got up and wrote them down. A poem was generated from the lines, but nothing great. I figure I need another dose of inspiration, or maybe I can go back and revise it later. I ask myself how one writer like Edgar Allan Poe could have such an influence on a whole movement in France, and be more heroic for them than for his own country. Also I wonder what were the last dreams of Edgar Poe. I feel as if I should have shared his fate as a casualty of alcoholism. In my own mind, it’s hard to discriminate between Poe and my mother, who was his ardent fan, proclaiming him a genius. She never had a desire to stop drinking, so she’s really kind of a bad angel to me— though I say that with regret. What would she have been like without alcohol and tobacco? These were her defenses, her security blankets against a hostile universe that was out to get her. My brother still condemns her, but doesn’t realize his own similarity to her. Now I wonder about the roots of paranoia, this diseased thinking that must come from somewhere. In some ways I’m more like my father, and his optimism and willpower are gifts I can hold onto, and wield them against the rest of the family.

Six o’clock. The phenomenology of schizophrenia gets tiresome after a while, and it’s easier to conceive it as just a biological disease, no different from cancer or some other somatic illness. Mental illness scares people because it attacks the mind, the seat of our thoughts and feelings, and also no one wants to acknowledge that behavior comes down to brain activity, a purely physical thing. The pastor of Our Redeemer is phobic of the reality of biological psychology and neuroscience. He chooses to ignore the facts of mental illness— and that’s a pity for him. But for this reason I won’t go back to church on Sunday morning. 

Splitting of the Mind

Midnight. 

My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.

One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology. 

A Mini Lesson

The summer of 2020 was not just a fluke. We can expect summers to get a lot worse from year to year. I say this because I believe what scientists tell us about climate change. When we reject this information, it’s because people are too vain and selfish to accept the truth of modern science. We don’t want to believe that we belong to the animal kingdom and that Darwin was absolutely right. It may take forever for people to be disabused of their religious ideas and the fluff built into their languages. This stubbornness partly explains why some people still support the president in denial and delusion. Our policy on the ecology has always been that of the ostrich.

During Victorian times, Tennyson wrote a poem that grapples with the problem of being “descended from the brutes.” He had a hard time countenancing the implications of Darwin’s ideas. Unfortunately, we in the 21st Century are not much closer to acceptance than he was. We’ll never feel the full force of the ecology and our participation in it until we acknowledge what Darwin had to say a century and a half ago. And since his time, there’s been the whole field of biological anthropology and paleo anthropology, which deals with our hominid ancestors and the lines of the hominids that became extinct. But first we have to accept evolution for a fact in this country, and not just an idle theory. And yes, human beings are subject to evolution as well as every other species on earth. It’s time to stop exempting ourselves from nature and the biosphere on the pretext of flattering old traditions. 

Humanity as Family

Wee hours.

Aesop, my dog, stayed in bed while I got up to make a few notes. An email from Library of America tells me that the book of Sandburg has shipped. By waiting a few more days, I saved myself a couple of bucks. Patience is a virtue. I’ve never seen such hard times as those confronting us today. What is it about? Is it about “saving” a capitalist system that doesn’t work for us anyway? Is it about the White working class? Why is it preferable to some people for us to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? I used to believe that my sister agreed with the right wing. I imagined all kinds of things about her beliefs that panned out to be only partly true. I think that what it comes down to is the fact that human beings live together on this planet, therefore we should learn to get along with each other. Why is this so hard for us to do?… It started to rain a few hours ago. The sound lulled me into a dreamless sleep. James Joyce conceived of the human species as a big family, one of the themes of Ulysses. We may not treat each other like family, yet this fact of biology remains true. If only we could feel the truth of this condition… 

Non judgment

Three o’clock in the morning.

I felt uncomfortable lying in bed trying to sleep, so I got up. It’s another very long night, and the rhythm of the rain keeps me company. Rain is one more “R” word. As for the psychology of addiction, I think you either kick it or you don’t. Maybe it’s as simple as the desire to stop drinking; if you want it, then it will happen. A counselor told me I’d be a rich man if I could solve the mystery of why some addicts quit and others don’t. It seems to be independent of all the psychology and religion that professionals throw at it. It has to be a biological mechanism, but no one has figured it out yet. But observe the distinction between not quitting and the inability to quit, or the disinclination to quit drinking. Simply not drinking carries no moral baggage. When we say a person can’t or won’t stop, we apply a moral label of either weakness or willfulness, respectively. Not surprisingly, the science of psychology derived from ethics, the whole field of prescriptive statements. The hard sciences are only descriptive. There is no should or ought about behavior. Things just happen, like the random rainfall on the roof. 

The Devil and Darwin

Eleven ten. Amazon has shipped my Goethe book, coming Wednesday. The Sorrows of Young Werther is such a beautiful read. I soaked it up in March of 2001, when my mother was still alive and I was jamming with Roger and Ian. I remember how ambivalent I used to be. Indecisive; even reversing decisions. It drove everyone crazy, me too. It had something to do with my delusions of heaven and hell. Very painful. No wonder that I drank. I was very frightened of the devil and did what I could to escape. To this day I can’t imagine what terrible thing I did to anyone to deserve schizophrenia. So that theological reasoning about it makes no sense whatsoever. The things that happen to us just happen, and not for a purpose. It is human nature to multiply entities, to believe in a ghost with intelligence that makes life go, either by pushing or pulling. But I think it’s more like David Hume: just a domino effect, a chain reaction of causes, A to B to C to D. This is what I choose to believe. It influenced the thinking of Charles Darwin, and produced a great revolution in biology. Americans are often offended by the thought of modern biology, even suggesting that Darwin was the devil— which is ridiculously superstitious… I just call it like I see it. In the meantime, I think I’ll be leaving the church. Be true to my convictions. If I can, maybe I’ll go back to seeing a psychiatrist. I still have options.

A Mystery

My dad quit smoking by sheer willpower but did a lot of lemon drops after dinner. I’m something like my dad. This reminds me of today’s sermon. Christians deny that our identities are the product of genetics, of pure biology: I have to disagree. Although, I’d like to believe that we are free above and beyond the physics: so how else is free will possible without God’s creativity? According to religion, God created us freely choosing agents and not subject solely to a deterministic universe. But it’s a hopeless ontological perplex for any thinking person. How does a soul dwell in a human body? Descartes guessed that the pineal gland of the brain was the locus for the conjunction of body and mind. He’s since been proven wrong. In addition, research on the brain reveals what cognitive functions are carried out in which areas. I took psychophysiology in college. The proof to my mind was irrefutable. Thus the arguments of Christians for God’s creativity are groundless. A materialist worldview is smooth and continuous with respect to a developing embryo and fetus. The only kicker is, how did subjective experience emerge from biology? This always gives me pause…

Platonism for Real

Two o’clock. The psychosis has departed to leave me reflective and a little sad. I feel like the lyric to a 1995 King Crimson song, “One Time.” It basically wishes for a one time reprieve from everything that is bad in life and hopes for an open hand. I like the song just for its honest expression of depression. If it weren’t a progressive rock tune, it’d be the blues. Now I wonder concerning the relationship between depression and the more severe mental illnesses. It seems to me that our natural state is to be happy, or anyway, happiness is our duty to society. Perhaps the farthest thing removed from joy is schizophrenia, and yet I never did anything to deserve it. Genetics is genetics. How amazing it would be if biology could be entirely psychologized. If the physics could be reduced to a state of behavior, an attitude of mind— to a verb rather than a noun, it would revolutionize the field of behavioral health. And this may be the trend anyway. On the other hand, could any schizophrenic person ever function without medication? Imagine finding a way to modify gene expressions just by altering the behavior. What we call “spiritual” could be the underpinning for mood, and in turn, mood could give rise to material reality as we know it. Then the songs we play and sing actually form moods into concrete existence. Therefore, depressing songs like “One Time” may someday be eliminated as unhealthy and counterproductive… Just thinking aloud…

Had Enough

Quarter of four. What I’m arguing for basically is biology. And the way I was raised. Do we punish a child for having an accident? My mother never did, and distinguished carefully between intentional and accidental behavior. Freud believed that there are no accidents in human behavior, which is itself a mistake. A lot of what we believe in depends on how we were raised. My mother had a great deal of compassion for misfits and misfortunes… The space heater appears to make a strange noise when kicking on. Another thing no one could have predicted. Its usefulness is limited. No: the noise was the coincidence of a train horn in the yards a few miles away. The heater is fine… Anyway, my attitude towards praising and blaming has everything to do with how deliberate the actions. But schizophrenia is not my responsibility, nothing that I did. Can I be blamed for being born? No, and nobody can. We are not culpable for accidents and unforeseen contingencies at all. Anyone who punishes another person for an accident is a moron. It is unwise parenting and management to do so… I’m probably whistling in a windstorm, but these are my convictions regarding behavior and any phenomena that occur. No one is blameworthy for what is unintentional. If the ramifications of this are godlessness, then so be it and call me a heretic as people inevitably will. I’ve had it with moral discipline for nothing.