January 05, 2007
In Dreams We Are Insane

have just finished Consilience, a masterpiece on deep ethics written by the great evolutionary biologist from Alabama, Edward O. Wilson. I can count on my fingers the number of books I have read more than once as an adult; Consilience is one of them. In my first re-reading since Bush occupied Iraq, these excerpts struck me:

There seems to be no limit to the combinatorial power of the dreaming brain. And whatever we see we believe, at least while sleeping; it rarely occurs to us to doubt even the most bizarre events into which we have been involuntarily thrust. Someone has defined insanity as an inability to choose among false alternatives. In dreams we are insane. We wander across our limitless dreamscapes as madmen 

What we call meaning is the linkage among the neural networks created by the spreading excitation that enlarges imagery and engages emotion. The competitive selection among scenarios is what we call decision making. The outcome, in terms of the match of the winning scenario to instinctive or learned favorable states, sets the kind and intensity of subsequent emotion. The persistent form and intensity of emotions is called mood. The ability of the brain to generate novel scenarios and settle on the most effective among them is called creativity. The persistent production of scenarios lacking reality and survival value is called insanity.



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 05, 2007 12:57 PM
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