Before reading this chapter please start with:
WOB is optimal
WOB has two meanings:
1. The set of processes in the body.
2. Their control.
Both WOB aspects are essentially the same since the wisdom of the body emerges from the interaction between processes. This idea or metaphor was simulated elsewhere in this site with cellular automata. Cellular automata (CA) are interacting processes whose WOB emerges with time. You plant a zygote (one bit CA) in an empty matrix and it evolves into a mature CA. It buds and creates additional CA (processes) and the system becomes more and more complex.
As CA (processes) interact the system attains its final structure (solution) which is maintained as long as it exists. Although cells of the CA are born and die, the CA set (process set) maintains a steady state. Despite its relative simplicity, it is impossible to comprehend how it controls itself. Already this simple CA has a wisdom which beats our understanding.
WOB is regarded here as a non-linear black box with inputs and outputs. Since it is impossible for us to comprehend its wisdom we take it for granted in the same way as we take gravity. We do not understand how gravity pulls us, nevertheless we formulate useful laws in order to harness its power. Although we do not comprehend WOB, we may still formulate rules for treating patients. WOB has a language with which it communicates with the mind.
Imagination is the main WOB input
Hitherto we were concerned mainly with outgoing WOB messages, e.g. thirst, hunger or dis-ease. Here we explore messages from the mind to WOB, particularly how do we communicate our will to WOB. For instance, what happens when I (the mind) decide to touch my nose? In a split second the image of touching my nose crosses my mind and is transmitted to WOB for execution. This sequence of events is more obvious when undertaking new tasks like when learning to play a piano. When I decide to hit the C key, I first imagine this action, then look for the key, transmit its image to WOB which drives my finger to it. Generally, imagination is the main channel by which mind communicates with WOB. (v. Will and imagination)
In 1985, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet conducted the following experiment.
With electrodes connected to their wrists and scalps, his subjects had brain
waves recorded as they watched a clock with a spot revolving faster than a
second hand. They were told to flex their wrists spontaneously. They were
also told to note the spot's position at the time they decided to do so. They
stated where they saw it, and Libet correlated their observations with data
recorded by electrodes at wrist and scalp.
Libet measured three factors: the action's beginning, the moment of decision, and a change in the electric activity of the brain called Readiness Potential (RP), which indicates when the brain initiates a signal to carry out an action. Libet expected that the decision to act will be the first, then the planning phase manifested by the RP, followed by the action. Instead he found that the brain action took place before the decision to act:
“ the brain exhibited an initiating process, beginning 550 msec before the freely voluntary act, but awareness of the conscious will to perform the act appeared only 150-200 msec before the act” (1;p. 124). Libet concluded that: “The brain initiates the voluntary process first. The subject later becomes consciously aware of the urge or wish to act, some 350 to 400 msec after the onset of the recorded RP produced by the brain (1:p.134)
Intention to act: do we have a free will?
If the brain decides for us to act , where is the self that seems to make all the decisions? Apparently consciousness builds over time. It lags behind events and only later corrects the delay by making us think that awareness occurred before the stimulus. These disturbing conclusions stimulated lively discussions among philosophers and neuroscientists about the nature of the self and free will. They all fell prey to Cartesian reductionism.
We read that the brain is an independent entity operating in us, and even decides for us. Action potentials are manifestations of our thoughts and desires. Some even regard this brain as a sophisticated computer whose bits, the action potentials determine our self. What a farce!
A false association between a subjective event and an electrical signal
In reality what Libet measured were WOB signals. In order to maintain our life, WOB continually decides (for us). Most of its decisions are unconscious, which means that WOB does not signal the mind about its decisions. It sends two kinds of signals, information and requests for assistance. When I raise my hand WOB signals me (the mind) its position, yet the raising of my hand is unconscious. When I walk I am informed where my legs are, everything else is handled by WOB. When I talk I hear myself while the talking is handled by WOB. Talking is an inborn instinct which is exercised by WOB.
The decision to act is instinctive and when WOB executes an act it informs me (the mind) when it is done. Apparently this instinctive decision is not manifested by an electrical activity, or it might originate in structures inaccessible to Libet’s instruments, like the brain stem. Even if Libet’s measurements are correct, his interpretation is false.
Libet’s mistake originates from an arbitrary association of an subjective event with a measurable electrical activity, which is practiced by medical scientists. Take for instance brain death which is manifested by a flat electroencephalogram. Despite the flat signal neither the brain nor the individual are dead. Many metabolic processes continue to function and WOB keeps the organism alive. The brain condition ought to be labeled as a brain insufficiency and not as brain death. Who would call a failing kidney as kidney death? “Brain death” is an example of a false association between a subjective event, being alive, and an electrical signal. A similar false association underlies Libet's experiments.
Will and Free Will
We ought to distinguish between will and free will. Will is what WOB decides when it controls unconscious processes. Free will is signaled from the mind to WOB asking it to execute its will. WOB will is the will to live, while mind’s will is the will to act. WOB will is taken for granted. Free will is conveyed to WOB as an image.
When you accidentally touch a hot stove, WOB pulls the hand before you have realized the danger, and you start feeling the pain after the hand was withdrawn. WOB decides for you (your mind) to pull the hand and notifies you when it saved it. Pain is a WOB message asking you (your mind) to care for the wound.
is a co-factor of biochemical processes in the body
Elsewhere it is described how imagination triggers processes involved in digestion. Imagination is a co-factor of biochemical processes in the body. Recent studies with functional MRI (fMRI) imaging provide new information about the nature of this signal. The fMRI method uses a blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast. The signal arises from changes in magnetic characteristics of blood related to differences in the relative amount of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin.
Tania Singer and her team (2) used fMRI to asses the reaction of an individual to pain. She chose couples who were in love. The female was placed in the fMRI instrument which portrayed her brain activity. When she received sharp shocks her sensory cortex and other areas in her brain lit up indicating where the pain was handled by the brain. Later on she watched her partner receiving the same treatment while the instrument monitored her brain activity. This time her sensory cortex which handles sensation did not lit up. However other brain areas lit up as before. These brain areas responded to experienced as well as imagined pain. Singer regards these areas as harboring our empathy. Yet there is more to it. While her partner was treated, her mind conveyed his image to WOB which lit up the “empathy” areas. The message from mind to brain was the image of her suffering partner.
Christian Keysers and his team studied the response of volunteers to touch. He found that the secondary somato-sensory cortex, thought to respond to physical touch, was strongly activated by sight of others being touched.
Giacomo Rizzolatti’s group at the University of Parma in Italy showed that the brain area active during a motor activity, such as throwing a ball, appears to be active when the subject views someone else engaged in the same activity. While studying monkeys, Rizzolatti and his colleagues found the so called mirror neurons in the pre-motor cortex. These neurons got turned on when a monkey saw another monkey do some thing.
Imitation is an instinct by which babies learn how to stand, walk, and speak. Actually language allows us to communicate concepts we already have. Like “I am thirsty” which is a WOB message.
Placebos alter the experience of pain
In two fMRI experiments Wager and his team (3) found that placebo analgesia was related to a decreased brain activity in pain sensitive brain regions, providing evidence that placebos alter the experience of pain. Elsewhere it is explained that the placebo effect is a manifestation of the Shamanic instinct.
How to slow down
We have seen that imagination is a co-factor of many biochemical processes in the body. It is also a co-factor of healing processes. We would like to find out what to imagine in order to slow down cancer progression? The patient has two instincts with which she can help herself, imitation and empathy. The novice who just detected a small nodule in her breast is advised to join a group of experienced cancer yogis . With empathy and imitation she can learn their secret and apply it to herself. In addition, the group instinctively practices shamanic healing.
Benjamin. Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness. Harvard University
Press Cambridge MA 2004.
2. Singer T. Seymour et al. Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain.
Science 303: 1157, 2004.
3. Wager, TD et al. Placebo-induced changes in fMRI in the anticipation and experience of pain. Science 303, 1162, 2004.
4. Rizzolatti et al. http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230;jsessionid=jAa7zJb2NCac?cookieSet=1