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Mar 14 39 tweets 15 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
In 2002, Jason Padgett, a bodybuilder, was brutally assaulted at a nightclub.

After the incident, something remarkable happened to his brain.

Padgett suddenly developed a talent for abstract geometrical draughtsmanship.

What can his story tell us about consciousness?

Before Padgett's injury, he had no interest or aptitude for geometry or mathematics.

What was the cause of his sudden obsession with shapes?

Doctors discovered that he sustained bilateral damage to his brain, but the injuries were more severe in his right hemisphere. Image
The damage done to his right hemisphere forced his left hemisphere into compensating by going into overdrive

This part of the brain, as Iain McGilChrist writes, "prefers narrow focus, rule-following, and is engaged by parts or fragments." Image
Everything in Padgett's world, from trees to clouds to water, started to develop an explicit, abstract structure.

Living, embodied forms suddenly became something new and beautiful, but essentially numerical and inanimate, 'like an equation translating', as he said. ImageImage
In his book, he says:

"I thought there was more to the nature of the universe than equations—I thought perhaps the universe spoke in its own form of math. And that math was geometry. Equations were symbolic; numbers were symbolic. But to me, geometry was real.” Image
Padgett saw shapes and angles everywhere in nature, 'from the geometry of a rainbow to the fractals in water spiraling down a drain.'

Padgett drew a picture of water spiraling down a drain, entitled 'black hole', showcasing the pattern of lines he saw overlaid on the water. ImageImage
What can Padgett's story tell us about consciousness?

James saw the entire universe as a seamless flow, "its members interdigitate with their next neighbors in manifold directions, and there are no clean cuts between them anywhere.”

Matter + energy are connected at every level Image
The human organism is not a machine, but a stable metabolic flow of energy and matter.

As the German poet Novalis observed, “there is no doubt that our body is a molded river."

Consciousness, as William James described, is like a stream. Image
Just as the banks of a river constrain the flow of water and are integral to its being a river, all experience comes to us through the brain and is therefore constrained, and shaped, by it

It's like air passing through vocal cords giving rise to your personal voice. ImageImageImage
Padgett's injury might lead one to believe that the brain is the seat of consciousness since his damaged right hemisphere changed his behavior, but what if there's another explanation for this?

What if the brain, or matter, limits consciousness, instead of producing it? Image
Friedrich Schiller once said that if something happens to a person's brain, "the man after a time more or less recovers the faculties of which the injury to his brain had deprived him, and that not in consequence of a renewal of the injured part, but in consequence of the…
…inhibited functions being performed by the vicarious action of other parts, the easiest explanation certainly is that after a time consciousness constitutes the remaining parts into a mechanism capable of acting as a substitute for the lost parts."
In other words, in the case of a brain injury, the mechanism of consciousness is thrown out of gear, so that its properly limiting function is deficient, and certain aspects of thinking are no longer capable of being shaped into being, as was the case with Padgett.
As Iain McGilchrist writes, when the brain is functioning correctly, "it shuts out from the field of our consciousness all that is of no practical interest to us, all that does not lend itself to our action.”

It is the brain that is in the mind, not the mind in the brain. Image
Some scientific findings confirm the filter hypothesis of the brain.

Suppression of the left medial frontal cortex, for example, has been found to increase a subject's ability to influence the numerical output of a random event generator.
In the study, it is said that:

"The medial frontal lobes may act as a biological filter to inhibit psi [phenomena that are anomalous according to contemporary orthodoxy] through mechanisms related to self-awareness."

Interestingly, feelings of self-transcendence follow damage to either the left or right parietal region

In addition, when mediums write during a trance, there's a marked reduction of brain activity in key regions such as the frontal lobe and hippocampus…
Most compellingly, during near-death experiences, EEG scans show brain activity to be absent.

During these experiences, patients report feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and well-being, a sense of cosmic unity, and being one with everything.…
Why don't we have these experiences? Why can't we see the hidden harmonies in nature like Padgett?

The brain has to formulate conceptual structures that are much simpler than
the complex phenomena they are attempting to account for, in order to interact properly with the world. Image
In an industrial society, the left hemisphere - the analytical part of the brain - must tie down the stream of happening into the unity of ego, to dictate its 'law' to the content of the world, in order to understand and engage with it.

This leads to the illusion of dualism. Image
The truth is that there is that we neither discover an objective reality nor invent a subjective one.

Rather, with consciousness, there is a process of responsive evocation, the world ‘calls forth’ something in me that in turn ‘calls forth’ something in the world. Image
A man living in a city will perceive nature differently from a man who lives out in the wild, just as an anatomist will look at a corpse differently from us.

As Iain McGilchrist writes, "what a thing is depends on who is attending to it, and in what way.” Image
In other words, "our attention is responsive to the world, and the world is responsive to our attention."

We are transmitters, not originators, of consciousness.

The brain's relationship to the world is analogous to M.C. Escher's painting of two hands drawing each other. Image
Ludwig Klages observed that, as Children, we perceive the world like an animist.

Everything is composed of living entities that exist in an intimate relationship with our being.

As BAP said, "as a small boy I felt every object was inhabited by an uncanny shadow or spirit." ImageImage
Overtime, however, we outgrow this state of consciousness, and a separation occurs between the perceiving self and the perceived object.

We start to project our own conceptual structures onto the world, seeing "objects" in a utilitarian light, rather than as living entities. Image
As a corollary to this, in one study, it was found that:

"subjects had one or other hemisphere suppressed, and those with their left hemisphere suppressed were ‘like young children or representatives of archaic societies."… Image
The world is disenchanted & devoid of sacred qualities because we've created an industrial society that molds and shapes our attention to suit the needs of capital

Our attention is responsive to the world, so when everything is turned into a machine, we are molded into cogs. ImageImage
As Ludwig Klages writes, "for the man of today the world agrees so perfectly with the actuality with which he is familiar that he cannot immediately understand why there was an abyss between the original world and spirit."

We only catch glimpses of the original world in dreams: Image
In Iain McGilChrist's book, the Master and His Emissary, he hypothesizes that western civilization, ever since the time of the Greeks, has gradually started utilizing the left hemisphere more to understand the world.

This has enabled us to master nature but at a spiritual cost. Image
As a consequence of the preferential utilizatization of the left hemisphere, we've grown to project our egos onto the world

As Klages said, almost all philosophies comprehend the prime cause of the world-content by an analogy of the ego - an unmoved mover, will, absolute, God. Image
As Nietzsche knew, this all began with Socrates.

As Joseph D. Pryce writes, "Socratic rationalism also gave rise to ethical schemes that were alien to life, being based upon a de-natured creature, as in the idea of man-as-such.” Image
Man has now lost sight of the stream of life that flows through all things.

The Pelasgians, those ancient people who inhabited the islands and seacoasts of the Mediterranean during the neolithic and bronze age, lived in a completely different world from us - they felt the stream Image
Klages said that these people were vibrant, healthy, and physically beautiful, in touch with the gods and with nature.

The history of consciousness started with this group of men and women, and has gradually evolved overtime into a different vision of the cosmos. Image
According to Klages, "the development of human consciousness, from life, to thought, to will, reveals itself in the three-stage evolution from prehistoric man (the Pelasgian), through the Promethean (down to the Renaissance), to the Heraclitean man (where we are now)." Image
Our ancestral consciousness may be imprisoned by the lifeless world we now inhabit, but it is still possible to open the doors of perception, to revive that child-like wonder that we've forgotten.

Eternal consciousness can always refract itself through the brain. Image
As Percey Shelly writes:

"The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity." Image
Just as the potential of the white light is actualized by the dome, your consciousness, throughout your life, is brought into being and shaped, as it were, by your brain.

The tension between matter and mind that gives rise to you began even before you were born. Image
Your brain is created by the pairing away of neurons on a colossal scale even before birth; it develops through the continual pruning of synapses over a lifetime.

Matter canalizes consciousness, sculpting a human being with self-awareness out of nature's primordial soup. Image
As a species, we have forgotten about the cosmic unity from which we arose.

We've all separated from nature, from each other, like ripples from a blade.

But this separation is divine, it is 'you'.

As Goethe writes, "life is not light, but the refracted color."

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