Volume 3, Number 3 Summer, 1990

Editor : Dr. Charles Laughlin, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6, Phone (819) 459-1121, E-mail charles laughlin@carleton.bitnet.


I guess it was inevitable. Paying for NNN by donation didn't work. So we will have to change to a subscription basis as of Vol. 4(1), winter, 1991. I have not yet worked out the costs and procedures, but will give you full information in the next issue of NNN and will also supply you with a subscription form.

If possible, I would like to continue sending NNN free to members in eastern Europe. They have serious cash flow problems over there. And we will need different rates for institutions and students as well. I am sorry it has gone this way, but the network has to stand on its own as of 1991, and I see no other option.

We owe a great vote of thanks to Dean Marilyn Marshall of Carleton University, Ottawa, for her encouragement and financial support of the network during its infancy. Please contact me if you have any suggestions re subscription costs and procedures.



Roland Fischer

One implication of Pasteur's discovery that "L'universe est dissymetrique" is the symmetry-induced disappearance of reality. When Cocteau's Orpheus is gushing through the mirror: he becomes his own reflection. Rossler (1), in an evocative essay of captivating sophistication, recalls within the above context that Godel's discovery of incompleteness -- that is, the inaccessibility of certain true statements from within the formalism that implies them -- was obtained in a discrete logical context (that of number theory), while an analogous result in a continuous logical context had already been obtained two centuries earlier in the form of Newtonian classical causality. In that earlier case, the argument involved, not an infinite number of steps as in Godel's, but only a single one, the introduction of bilateral symmetry. Rossler then recounts the story of Leibnitz who proposed a paradox to Newton's friend Clarke: suppose that the universe existed twice in perfect symmetry; then it nevertheless would exist only once.

The principle of the identity of the indiscernible, by Leibnitz, is the starting point of our question: is our perception of the world a symmetrical counterpart of the real world, or is the world a quasi-symmetrical counterpart of the self-reflective nature of our consciousness?

Let's deal with the question first on the quantum level. The Nobel laureate Eugen Wigner and the no less famous John von Neuman have both argued that only special types of measuring devices, those possessing human consciousness, can "collapse wave functions;" that is, accomplish a non-deterministic state vector reduction. And this is what happens when an observation or measurement is made. Briefly, when photons pass through a double slit, they can be regarded as waves that interfere with themselves. An interference pattern emerges on a screen behind the slits unless one places a detector at either slit. The act of observation forces the photon to decide, in effect, which hole it will pass through. This is the phenomenon of state collapse. The experiment can be extended to an observation that takes place at either of two sites that are a kilometer (even a light-year) apart. The photon can decide which slit it will pass through, many physicists claim, only if it is effectively in both places at once. At what point, then (in the continuum of scales from the atomic to the galactic), does the quantum-mechanical system become a classical one? (2)

On the macroscopic level the world "out there" does not appear to be a symmetrical counterpart of the self-reflective nature of consciousness. Otherwise, we would not encounter views about the nature of the universe as divergent as those proposed by people like Newton, Einstein, Jeans, and Rucker. Newton, for example, describes the universe as if it were a "Giant Machine," while Einstein describes it as if it were a "Grand Mathematician." To Jeans (3) the universe begins to look more like a "Great Thought" than a giant machine, and for Rudy Rucker (4), everything in the cosmos is a kind of pattern, and mathematics is the study of pure pattern.

The "real" universe is rather a quasi-symmetrical reflection-construction of our very peculiar "observing" mentality; or, in Barrow's words, at the most fundamental level all the photons we detect from the distant stars are quantum waves whose wave functions are collapsed to classical certainty by the detectors and the astronomers who observe them.(5)

Not only is there no access to a mind-independent world, but such a world does not even exist.

Did a five billion year old galactic explosion exist prior to being observed in the present? Definitely not! The unobserved galactic explosion is not a describable occurrence in space-time; it defies visualization and verbalization since it is unobserved and hence unrelated to the nature of the human mind, a mind that confers properties onto the observed and thus makes it real. Did fractals exist before Mandelbrot had observed them in his self-reflecting consciousness? Potentially, they might be implicated as Platonic attributes of the conscious mind, but actually they certainly did not exist at all. It is the interactional transformation of the observed in the observer's consciousness that I am trying to emphasize! Both a galactic explosion and fractals appear to us as they do since they are creations of human mental functions that are embodied in unique neural networks developed through a unique carbon-based evolutionary process.

There is another quasi-symmetrical analogy to what has been discussed so far. Some of the symmetries in physics, although exact in the equations, show up as spontaneous broken symmetries in the resulting real world, because the equations describe a symmetrical set of unsymmetrical solutions, one of which appears in fact.(6) An example is provided by a magnet, which can point in any direction, but in actuality points in some particular direction. (Somewhat like the desire to choose a mate can point in any direction, but in actual romantic love points to the particular direction of the beloved.)

What can be said about the quasi-symmetrical relationship between the structure of the observing human brain-mind and the structure of its stories about the behavior of a universe (that is, itself)? The rules used in the formalization of behavior are, apparently, not the same rules according to which behavior is produced. Hence, we either arrive at an inaccurate description of a self-consistent (i.e., comprehensible) universe, or we arrive at an accurate description of a universe that is resistant to meaningful comprehension. Rucker, when paraphrasing Gregory Chaitin's and Charles Bennett's theorems, comes to the cryptic conclusion that: Chaitin showed that we cannot prove that the world has no simple explanation. Bennett showed that the world may indeed have a simple explanation, but that the world may be so logically deep that it takes an impossibly long time to turn the explanation into actual predictions about phenomena. To make it even simpler, Rucker continues, Chaitin shows that we cannot disprove the existence of a simple Secret of Life, but Bennett shows that, even if someone tells you the Secret of Life, turning it into usable knowledge may prove incredibly hard. The Secret of Life may not be worth knowing.

Outlandish accounts of the "real" universe, the likes of faster-than-light travel, time-space warps, and Everett's "many worlds interpretation" of quantum mechanics are now being appropriated by science fiction writers. The shifting boundary between fiction and non-fiction may have something to do with the nature of the human interpretive repertoire. While fiction may reflect a veiled "autobiography" of the conscious mind, the quasi-symmetrical relationship between reality and fiction implicates both the structure of the human brain-mind as a process and humanity as a structure of the stories that the brain tells itself about itself.(7)

References Cited

1. Rossler, O. (1989) Leonardo 22:55-59.

2. Dewdney, A.K. (1989) Scientific American 261:9093.

3. Jeans, J. (1948) The Mysterious Universe . New York: McMillan.

4. Rucker, R. (1987) Mind Tools . Boston, MA: Houghton- Mifflin.

5. Barrow, J.D. (1988) The World Within the World . Oxford: Clarendon.

6. Gell-Mann, M. (1989) Bulletin of the Santa Fe Institute 4:11-14.

7. Fischer, R. (1987) J. of Social & Biological Structures 10:323-351.


An interesting MA thesis entitled A Neurophysiological Model of Trance with Practical Application has been written by A.S.A.N. Marusich . "Sasha" Marusich did the piece for the Department of Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University, in 1989. The following is an abstract of the thesis:

Certain techniques are virtually universal in the production of religious trance. Rhythmic drumming, chanting, singing and vigorous dancing, for instance, are all commonly accepted as playing significant roles in the induction of trance states. But the effectiveness of these techniques has yet to be explained fully. Contemporary neurophysiological and brain sciences can provide the basis for a more comprehensive explanation of trance induction techniques and trance states. In accounting for trance within a neurophysiological model, two questions are fundamental. What kind of neurophysiological activity typifies a trance state? And how do trance induction techniques stimulate and generate the neurophysiological dynamics that occur during trance?

In attempting to answer these two questions, I consider the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, cerebral lateralization of cognitive functions, ergotropic and trophotropic excitation and the concept of tuning. I show that a heightened state of ergotropic excitation is the neurophysiological counterpart to trance. Trance induction techniques thus become stimuli which excite the ergotropic system. Also, I explain why hemispheric-dominant activity is not an inherent feature of trance states.

I consider the possession trance of Vincentian Shakers and the shamanic trance of the Kalahari King in terms of neurophysiological theory. I also try to account for Michael Harner's technique for inducing a shamanic state of consciousness on the basis of neurophysiological activity.

The neurophysiological model of trance adds a new dimension to the understanding of trance states and trance induction techniques. In some cases the level of ergotropic excitation is high enough that the neurophysiological dynamics evoked by trance induction techniques are clear and unequivocal. In other cases the level of excitation is not sufficiently intense for clear indices of neurophysiological activity to be readily available. When the latter case exists, specific neurophysiological activity can be suggested, but not confirmed. I present a neurophysiological model of trance as one of many tools available for the investigation of trance phenomena. Other avenues of investigation must be followed for an understanding of the experiential component of trance states.


Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Gall's first publication and the 100th of Freud's monograph on aphasia. This is an occasion which seems a reasonable excuse to convene an historical conference to discuss topics on the origins of our disciplinary interests. Therefore, a conference will be held from January 2-6, 1991, at the Ramada Inn in Ft. Myers, Florida, USA.

To receive information about, or to register (pre-registration fee = US $60, registration at conference = US $75) for the conference, contact: Dr. Harry A. Whitaker , Dept. of Psychology, Laboratoire de Neuroscience de la Cognition, Univ. of Quebec at Montreal, C.P. 8888, Succ. A, Montreal, PQ, Canada H3C 3P8, E-mail: r12040@uqam.bitnet, Fax: (514) 987-7953, Ph: (514) 987-7002.

Ramada Inn reservations and travel arrangements, contact: Mr. Richard Brisson , Uniglobe Voyages AVAT, Inc., 6770 Joseph Renaud, Anjou (Quebec), Canada H1K 3V4, Ph: (514) 355-0505, Fax: (514) 355-1347.


Paul C. Wohlmuth and Louis J. Goldberg have written an interesting paper entitled, "Justice and the Crisis of Human Membership." They would like to get feedback on their ideas, and will send a copy of the paper to anyone interested in reading it. The following is an abstract of the paper:

We link the concept of justice with issues of inclusion and exclusion which arise in the everyday context of human group membership and affiliation. This viewpoint is informed by the theory of neuronal group selection advanced by Gerald Edelman. A human central nervous system shares with a human social group the problem of signal recognition. We use Edelman's concepts of degeneracy and reentry to depict the manner in which signal recognition in both systems develops and maintains balance between the individual and the group. The objectification of justice emerges as a crystallization of the role that human language has always played in regulating this balance for humans.

Contact: Paul C. Wohlmuth, School of Law, University of San Diego, Alcala Park, CA 92110, USA.


Congratulations are in order for Wenda Trevathan who just won the Margaret Mead Award. The award is jointly sponsored by the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology and is given to young scholars whose works interpret anthropology in a way that is useful and meaningful to a broadly concerned public. Wenda received the award for her work on human birthing.


Barry Gordon, Cognitive Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, 600 North Wolfe Street, Meyer 222, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA, Ph: (301) 955-6431.

David B. Rosenfield, M.D., Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Medical Center, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, USA, Ph: (713) 798-5971.

John Hugham, Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, 215 Ford Hall, 224 Church Street S.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.

Maxim I. Stamenov, Institute of the Bulgarian Language, Chapaev Street 52, bl. 17, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria.

J. van Brakel, Department of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada.


Edelman, G.M. (1989) Topobiology. New York: Basic Books. [Chap. 10 an excellent summary of group selection theory]

Edelman, G.M. (1990) The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness . New York: Basic Books.

Calvin, W.H. (1989) The Cerebral Symphony . New York: Bantam.

Ruse, Michael (1987) "Sociobiology and Knowledge: Is Evolutionary Epistemology a Viable Option." in Sociobiology and Psychology , ed. by C. Crawford, M. Smith & D. Krebs. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bednarik, R.C. (1990) "On Neuropsychology and Shamanism in Rock Art." Current Anthropology 31(1):77-84.

Fialkowski, K.R. (1990) "On the Origin of the BRain and Heat Stress: New Facts." Current Anthropology 31(2):187-188.

Csikskentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience . New York: Harper and Row.

Noonan, David (1989) Neuro: Life on the Frontlines of Brain Surgery and Neurological Medicine . New York: Simon and Schuster. ["a beautifully written exploration of the NS and the people who struggle to understand it"]

Harrington, Anne (1987) Medicine, Mind, and the Double Brain: A Study of Nineteenth Century Thought . Princeton: Princeton U. Press.

Allman, W.F. (1989) Apprentices of Wonder: Inside the Neural Network Revolution . New York: Bantam.

Posner, M. et al. (1988) "Localization of Cognitive Operations in the Human Brain." Science 240:1627-1631.

Churchland, P. and T. Sejnowski (1988) "Perspectives on Cognitive Neuroscience." Science 242:741-745.

Hari, R. and O. Lounasmaa (1989) "Recording and Interpretation of Cerebral Magnetic Fields." Science 244:432-436.

Briggs, J. and F.D. Peat (1989) Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness . New York: Harper and Row. [an excellent introduction to chaos theory]

Sacks, Oliver (1984) A Leg to Stand On . New York: Summit Books. [a doctor's own description of being a neurological patient after a severe injury]

Klivington, Kenneth (1989) The Science of Mind . Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

Ornstein, R. (1989) Multimind: A New Way of Looking at Human Behavior . Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Star, S.L. (1989) Regions of the Mind: Brain Research and the Quest for Scientific Certainty . Stanford University Press.