Where ya gonna run to?

Montreal, April 28, 1999


Where ya gonna run to, if you find yourself trapped in the exclusionary logical realm of divine judgements and 'sinner-men', where control is the order of the day and it happens to be in someone else's hands?

That was the question that Jean and I were discussing as Simone's curiousity got the best of her and she peered over Jean's shoulder to catch the title of the essay he was holding, .... "The Defining Issue: Humility Rules!".

'Sekeekeeladee?' she said in Quebecoise as she picked up energetically on 'humilite', as if this word was somehow offensive, ... and as Jean tried to explain, I reached for the essay to point out where this was discussed. Simone, who speaks little english, pulled the paper out of my reach and the provocative expression on her face insisted that I explain myself without reliance on prepared thoughts. Somehow the explanation fowled forth in generic french, ... that my intention of humility was not in the dictionary sense of 'subservience', as it also is in the french language: "Sentiment de notre petitesse, de notre faiblesse, qui nous pousse a ravaler toute espece de hauteur ou d'orgueil. Synonyme modestie. Abaissement voluntaire L'humilite chretienne. 2. Soumission, deference.", ... instead, I was using humility in the sense of allowing our collective aspect to be in the primacy over our individual aspect, ... to see ourselves as being the whole and the part at the same time, but not allowing the part, the individual aspect, the 'ego', to dominate.

Simone seemed to get my drift, .... calmed down, and told me, as far I as could understand, to read 'Eloge de la Fuite' by Henri Laborit. Hell, I had barely spoken to Simone, so there was no way that she could have been 'tuning' in to the same issues, just like that, but the title sounded interesting, ... in fact I had already pre-translated it in my mind into 'In praise of 'intermogular space-time''.

So last night I hit a small 'librairie' up in Outremont where I secured Laborit's 'Eloge de la fuite' (In praise of flight [from conflict]), as well as 'Dieu ne joue pas au des' (God doesn't play dice) and another, very illuminating essay dedicated to a young psychology teacher at Laval University (here), entitled "Les bases biologiques des comportements sociaux" (The biological basis of social behaviors). And guess what, ...

You guessed it, ... Laborit (1914 - 1995) was speaking the language of intermogular space-time; ... of inclusionary space-time spheres within spheres, 'systemes englobantes' (systems which 'englobe' one another), and which infuse information into each other. Laborit's lamentation of science was that it persisted in considering only closed form structures and matter and energy relationships, ... it did not consider the reality that all systems are in effect 'open systems' exchanging information (the basis for order and for life).with one another.

For Laborit, like Scott Momaday, the Kiowa writer, ... we are being informed by the landscape which 'englobes' us, ... whether we care to listen on an aware level or not, is another matter. In Scott's words, "The events of one's life "take place", "take place" . How often have I used this expression, and how often have I stopped to think what it means? Events do indeed take place; they have meaning in relation to the things around them. And a part of my life happened to take place at Jemez. I existed in that landscape, and then my existence was indivisible with it. (excerpt from 'House made of dawn').

But our cultural tendency is to ignore the mutual infusion of information with our 'englobing' landscape, and to consider ourselves and all things, as detached forms fully describable in terms of matter and energy. And this ignoring of our connectedness leads directly to issues of control, as Laborit very clearly describes.

In speaking of our persisting reflex to dominate and control others, Laborit says;

"How are we to hope that, one day, the 'man' that we all carry in us might be able to disengage from the animal which we also carry in us, if one is never informed as to how this admirable mechanism called his nervous system, functions? How are we to hope that we shall see the disappearance of destructive aggression, hate, violence and war? Isn't it indispensable when pointing out how science views those feelings he has been taught to consider as the most noble, as mean and ridiculous, to make sure and tell him that it's only because they are the most useful for the preservation of groups and social classes, while the creative imagination, a fundamental property and characteristic of the brain, is most often not even cited as a requirement, ... that's the least one might say, ... to make him an honest man and a good citizen. [1]"

In other words, biology may get a bad rap for failing to deify 'feelings' as many in our culture would tend to (just watch Oprah Winfry), but the point is that our culture, even as it puts its highest value on feelings, tends to ignore or even deny the importance of imagination in helping us to understand ourselves and 'community as complex system'.

To understand Laborit's above comment, it's useful to review his simplified model of the nervous system. What man has in common with animals is 'the pleasure principle', ... sensations of pleasure which are activated in certain situations. A man/animal acts on the basis of keeping his internal systems in balance, and his learning through experience is guided by pleasure (and pain), ... pleasure comes to us in both 'lutte et fuite', fight and flight, ... the pleasure of winning and the pleasure of having avoided punishment, .... two fundamental actions, the common pleasure-giving ingredient being the aspect of unleashing the action. Laborit's early theory, validated twenty years after he came up with it [sound like Gabor?], was that most pathologies arise from situations where our third system, the 'action inhibiting system', is activated for extended periods. The SIA ('systeme inhibiteur de l'action') is invoked when we desire neither pleasure, nor fight, nor flight. As Laborit observes, this system has evolved to serve the mouse when he is being overflown by a falcon, or the autoworker when he doesn't like the look of his foreman, ... i.e. there are cases when it makes sense to neither flee nor fight, but to suspend both of these stimuli.

There are in fact several types of situations where our nervous system acts to inhibit action instead of unleashing action, ... one is where we have an urge but there is no 'object' available in our environment which can satisfy the urge, ... another is where there is 'an information deficit', i.e. we have no prior experience of the situation we are in. Our action inhibition systems can also be activated where we have an abundance of information, one important class of which involves the geometry of mogular space and intermogular space-time and is described by Laborit as follows;

"... if you are unable to flee or fight, you are in a state of action-inhibition. Finally, there is an inhibition mechanism which is uniquely human, that we owe to the existence, in our species, of the orbital-frontal lobes, that is to say, to the imaginary. We are in effect capable of imagining the emergence of a painful event, which might never actually occur, but we fear that it will occur. As long as it hasn't yet happened, we are unable to act, ... we are waiting in a state of tension, and when we are in a state of inhibition of action we are in anguish. The anguish of the threat of nuclear war is an example."

You can see where this leads to Laborit's title 'In praise of flight', ... if you are stuck in a state of inhibition of action, your immune and other systems are thrown out of joint and you are open to pathologies in addition to feeling anguish. If you are anticipating the arrival of a painful event (an approaching mogul) which you do not feel you can overcome and neither can you run from it (Y2K?), you had best proceed directly to 'Go' ... to intermogular space-time, and collect your free burst of pleasure (from the unleashing of action).

Now that clearly seems to make sense, but Laborit's further point is more subtle, and it is that hierarchical social systems are the natural result (self-organizing from the pursuit of dominance) of our animal pleasure system WITHOUT making any use of our unique ability to 'imagine'. I'll repeat what Laborit is saying here, that; SOCIAL HIERARCHIES EMERGE (by autonomous co-evolution) WHEN THE EMOTIONAL ASPECTS OF OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM OVERRIDES OUR CAPACITY FOR IMAGINATION, as is inevitably the case with animals who lack the powerful equipment for imagination possessed by humans. In other words, animals and people naturally form and stay in hierarchical groups on the basis of 'feelings' (pleasure and pain); i.e. there is pleasure in both winning and in fleeing (and avoiding pain) and this forms the hierarchy. And on the sustaining side, as in the case of the foremen and the autoworker, ... if they flee, they are out of a job, and if they fight, they go to jail (are punished), ... and so they remain in the hierarchical group structure in a state of 'action inhibition', of anguish and exposure to pathology due to disequilibrized nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In effect, humans can be paralyzed and punished, as well as rewarded by their gift of imagination, and this ties to the reason why one doesn't hear much about Laborit, in spite of his impressive record of scientific achievement. Laborit was induced by his own understanding of the human nervous system, to eschew the hierarchy represented by his own discipline and to pursue his research independently (see appended biography). To Laborit, to belong to a focused discipline was to succumb to the animal aspects (feelings but no imagination) of the nervous system which manifested themselves on the social and community scale of things, by falling into that no-man's land between the insurmountable dominating power of the high priests of the discipline, and having no place to go, since a scientific discipline exists in the form of a single global hierarchy.

This no-man's land effect is well known to me since the type of ideas I work with tend to make me persona non grata to any discipline which I might touch upon, and there are scant sources of nurturance and co-cultivation in the cracks between the disciplines. One can't give one's honest efforts away to the social hierarchies, if they are 'non-compliant' and this is the intensifying problem facing today's youth.

At any rate, Laborit's message is not that his science is telling him to choose between 'feelings' and 'imagination', ... this is not how structures which 'englobe' and inform each other work (as Vygotsky also tried to say). Here we run into this fundamental communication problem which derives from our acculturation in the west to reasoning in terms of exclusionary logic rather than inclusionary logic, and so we tend always to think in terms of 'either / or'. Laborit's message is, instead, that if we respond to our feelings (emotions) alone, without the use of our imagination, we can get stuck in the gap between 'fight or flight' and if we can't flee, then we're in for anguish and open to pathology. The pathology exposure arises from the fact that "the bacterium is nothing and the [state of the] milieu is everything" and our milieu is thoroughly screwed up by an excessive sejour in the 'action-inhibition' state.

As Laborit's elogeur Olivier Viret says below, Henri's message was at its base, very simple; .... "Before, judging, explaining or excusing, it is necessary first of all to try to understand how man functions. Before zombie-izing a child with laws, rules, hierarchical constraints, it is essential to give him the 'keys' to his own 'consciousness'. ... "... one would say that it is necessary to 'responsibilize' the individual [to his open systems state]. According to Laborit, this means that one must explain to the child that he is, BEFORE ALL ELSE: A living being which has for its unique goal, to safeguard its biological structure within its environment."

And for me, in one fell swoop, and in the most basic of biological terms, Laborit has articulated a geometry-necessity which is a layover to those I have been working on in the physics and philosophy aspects of 'community as complex system' and which lead to the same need, .... to put youth in touch with their 'divine' consciousness first, rather than infuse their minds, at the lowest conscious levels upon which they build their conceptual thoughts, with suspect socio-philosophical precepts labelled as 'absolute truths', ... absolute truths which have historically been collapsing and having to be built up anew.

The fact that our science and our scientific and professional disciplines focus only on material and energy in a closed form (exclusionary logic) sense in the microcosm of their research, according to Laborit, is the reason why, in the macrocosm, these disciplines operate as they do in closed form mode (specialist groups). Such an audacious suggestion, that their social structure suffers from the same blindspot as their research methodology (one excels at taking things apart but can't figure out how to put the pieces back together again), does not go down well with the high priests of the disciplines, as Laborit's friend and associate Olivier Viret notes in his hommage to Laborit;

"Fleeing the dictates and 'tradition' of the 'official' french scientific community, immersed in their certitudes, he started up his own research laboratory in 1958, financing it with the sale of patents to the pharmaceutical industry, patents which related to the work of the team he led. This is the laboratory of 'Eutonology' ['Intensology'] at Boussicaut hospital. He was never forgiven this independence of spirit and his death, on May 18, 1995, elicited almost no comment from the French scientific community.

While the predatorial emotions in the official circles of biology were not about to be aroused into a lament this 'outsider', Henri Laborit, Henri's emotions were transported by his imagination well beyond the fighting and angst within the disciplinary ranks and he very much lamented the loss and deprivation of authentic ontogenetic becoming in our society, a casualty of the same inability to get in touch with our consciousness which underpins the continued primacy of specialized disciplines, with their analytical focus and cherished 'expert status'. And just as our 'action inhibition' mechanisms keep us enslaved in our own hierarchical social structures at the employment and community level, ... unable to fight and unable to flee, we look out on multi-scaled versions of the same geometry, ... on the global persistance in thinking exclusively in terms of material and energy while ignoring the englobing informational relationships amongst things. And on the family front, our cultural programming of our children, which can short-circuit their coming to an understanding of their own natural conscious selves, ... is clearly the same stuff that the Kosovo's, Desert Storms and Columbine massacre's are made of.

Laborit was a non-judgemental optimist by all accounts. In an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, the intermogularity of his philosophy is clearly manifest;

LNO.- Your book before the last one is entitled "God does not play dice", ...Well, what does he play then?

H.Laborit.- This is in fact a phrase of Einstein's that I have repeated, but God, ... no one knows him. In science, one has experiments. The first man who tripped and cut his knee open on some flint deduced from it that flint was tougher than skin and so he made the hammer. That's what science is. There is experimentation, then one knows. But there is no experimentation on God. There has never been any. It is necessary to remain humble.

LNO.- He doesn't exist?

H.Laborit.- No, hold on, ... all negation is unscientific. To say that God doesn't exist is already pretention: it is pretending to know that he is absent.

LNO.- And to say that he exists?

H.Laborit.- Once again, ... pretention!

LNO.- Then you are an agnostic?

H.Laborit.- I'm not saying no, I'm not saying yes, this is, in effect, a way of being agnostic. But there is nevertheless someone who touches me and that's Christ. It is more cultural than anything else.

LNO.- Then God, what is it?

H.Laborit.- One says that the word 'dog' doesn't bite. Neither does the word 'God'. One can therefore associate anything one wants with this word. In general, people associate those things they have learned since their infancy: their notion of goodness, of the universe, etc. But these are reflexive comments. Depending on whether one is buddhist, jew, muslim or catholic, one can dig around in this drawer of things which are certainly different and sometimes antithetical. God is a word-suitcase.

LNO.- And you, what do you put into this suitcase?

H.Laborit.- I would put in there, ... a universal consciousness which would depend on neither time nor space. But that is still a superficial definition.

LNO.- Do you believe that a convergence between scientists and mystics is possible?

H.Laborit.- In "God doesn't play dice", I cite the works of the great physicists who have found a rapprochement between the laws of quantum physics and the laws of Indian mysticism. The problem is that all that is the fruit of their brain. Yet they don't even know how this instrument of their work - their brain - functions. People assert thousands of things without even understanding how they have come up with them. I have studied the brain for forty years now, so I remain a little circumspect before those who assert whatever it may be, without even being familiar with their tool of inquiry.

LNO.- It's your brain that's taught you to be a sceptic?

H.Laborit.- Absolutely. I am going to kick the bucket without ever having resolved the problems which truly preoccupy me: Why be afraid of it, ... how does our memory function ...that's what I anguish over and not God. Lao Tsu said "He who knows speaks not, and he who speaks knows not." So the fact that I speak to you about God implies that I know nothing about him."

* * *

Laborit's yin/yang beyond-judgement outlook is what one needs to keep in mind as he sums up his essay on 'The biological basis of social behaviors' after discussing how the current imposing of the materialist western culture on the rest of the globe follows directly from our responding to 'feelings' while failing to understand the role of consciousness or the imaginary;

In his closing to the essay, Laborit is pointing out that just as a living organism acts and learns on the basis of maintaining the equilibrium of his internal system, cultures are similarly oriented. In the case of the western culture, this equilibrium has involved a cycle of appropriation of raw materials and energy which are converted, using technical information, in the most efficient manner possible, into goods and services. In the multi-player environment, dominance is established by commercial productivity and the advantage in technical know-how which has disproportionately accrued to the larger social groups in the northern hemisphere (this trend has been true since the last age ice age, ten or twelve thousand years ago).

Now it becomes clear that on this culture scale too, the pursuit of dominance induced 'fight or flight' choice re-emerges, and if a player can't fight (e.g. impossible odds) and can't flee (no place to go), they are left in a state of anguish and open to pathologies. Without acknowledging the role of imagination in our nervous system (at the individual or social group level), as Laborit says; "... the preservation of the State or even of groups of States, which are not seeking the expansion of people they direct in any other terms but of economic dominance, .. that is to say in the terms of appropriation of raw materials and energy, ... risks driving the species out of existance, in a blind productivity competition for the establishment of dominances. The wave of fear for the ecology, which has emerged in the course of the last few decades, without doubt frightens by means of ecological result without meanwhile denouncing the systemic behavioral factors. Thus, as La Fontaine has already said, "La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure." ("the reasoning of the strongest is always the best)".

We are witnessing, currently, the reign and the dominance of the technocrat and bureaucrat whose level of understanding is strictly professional, in domains which are progressively narrowing, who believe, in the total ignorance of their motivations to act, that their little "thing", their social-system, is the whole system. Meanwhile, one clearly doesn't have to graduate from what one calls "une grande ecole" to understand that what we are speaking of here is a dominance which has been historically established and therefore learned, and there isn't any reason for it to continue to appropriate the treasures of the planet, in terms of raw materials, energy and the technical information without which the two others are unusable. As long as these treasures are to be the exclusive property of human groups which are predatory, aggressive and sure of having right on their side, supported by prejudices and value judgements, genocides, tortures, wars (the Gulf war and others), in brief, the general 'free-for-all', will persist. Many amongst us will thus die without ever being born into their own humanity, having confined their associative systems to commercial innovation, while concealing with words, the blatant oversimplification of their unconscious dominator."

If the above sounds like a Brahms requiem to you too, ... it's worthwhile thinking back to Laborit's interview. For those who think in 'inclusionary' terms, like the buddhist or the aboriginal, where good and bad exist simultaneously in the same thing, ... one is freed to speak honestly and openly on the starkest negative aspects of reality because one is aware that optimistic potentials are always in existance at the same time. This in itself requires the use of the imagination, to rise above the idea and feel and see both sides. Otherwise, it is the flatspace case of 'fight or flight' and if the idea looks too strong to overcome, and it appears to be coming on you whether you like it or not (you can't get away from it), then one is put into that anguishing state of action-inhibition UNLESS you invoke your imagination and your mind inflates up dimensionally, ... becomes larger than your binary view of the problem, ... allows you to 'let go' and move into action, ... to pivot off the fearsome mogul and slip into a smooth and continuous intermogular channel.

So, where areya gonna run to, if you find yourself trapped in the exclusionary logical realm of divine judgements and 'sinner-men', where control is the order of the day and it happens to be in someone else's hands?

You can run with your feelings alone, those noblest of sentiments which fuel both love and hate, ... and keep your feet on a solid flatspace which leads only to deepening anguish, ... or you can ignite the thrusters of your imagination and lift off, along with your feelings, into a new dimension, ... where you're free to kick off your boots of self-righteous anger, and wiggle your toes in the fresh air of humility, while your pleasure principle kicks in.

And while my rush of humility lasts, I'm going across to buy Simone a beer and ask for the next chapter.

* * *

Return to '98/'99 Update Page and Index of Essays

... apologies for not yet having had time to translate the hommage footnote (:-{

[1] "Comment espérer qu'un jour l'Homme que nous portons tous en nous puisse se dégager de l'animal que nous portons également si jamais on ne lui dit comment fonctionne cette admirable mécanique que représente son système nerveux? Comment espérer voir disparaître l'agressivité destructrice, la haine, la violence et la guerre? N'est-il pas indispensable de lui montrer combien aux yeux de la science peuvent paraître mesquins et ridicules les sentiments qu'on lui a appris à considérer souvent comme les plus nobles sans lui dire que c'est seulement parce qu'ils sont les plus utiles à la conservation des groupes et des classes sociales, alors que l'imagination créatrice, propriété fondamentale et caractéristique de son cerveau, n'est le plus souvent, c'est le moins qu'on puisse dire, absolument pas exigée pour faire un honnête homme et un bon citoyen." http://www.colba.net/~piermon/ad01.htm



Biographie et hommage à Henri Laborit


chirurgien, philosophe, chercheur, optimiste et visionnaire

(1914 - 1995)

Henri Laborit est né à Hanoi en 1914.

Suivant les traces d'un père trop rapidement disparu, il s'oriente vers la médecine et devient chirurgien de la Marine. Confronté au problème du choc opératoire et de l'absence de moyens thérapeutiques suffisants durant la guerre de 39-45, il développe ses propres méthodes et se met bient-t a dos sa hiérarchie, tant militaire que professionnelle. Son audace lui fermera la porte d'une brillante carrière au service de l'Etat, mais lui permettra de s'engager à fond dans la recherche.

En 1950, il s'intéresse à la Chlorpromazine, que l'on peut définir comme étant le premier tranquillisant au monde. Presque simultanément, il met au point l'hibernation artificielle, qui allait révolutionner la chirurgie. Jusqu'à sa mort en 1995, Laborit travaillera inlassablement dans le domaine de la recherche en micro-biologie, biochimie, parsemant sa route de découvertes fondamentales qui permettront l'évolution de la médecine dans des domaines aussi divers que l'anesthésie, la cardiologie ou encore la psychiatrie.

Ces observations l'amèneront à développer des théories extrêmement importantes relativement au comportement humain. Refusant d'entrer dans le jeu protocolaire de ses confrères français, il sera tenu à l'écart du monde scientifique hexagonal, tandis que les Américains lui décerneront leur plus haute distinction scientifique, le prix Albert LASKER.

Fuyant diktat et "tradition" de la France scientifique "officielle" engoncée dans ses certitudes, il monte, en 1958, son propre la laboratoire de recherche et parvient à le financer à travers la vente de brevets à l'industrie pharmaceutique, brevets relatifs aux travaux qu'il mène avec son équipe. C'est le laboratoire d'Eutonologie à l'h-pital Boussicaut. On ne lui pardonnera jamais cette indépendance d'esprit et son décès, le 18 mai 1995, n'a suscité quasi aucun commentaire du monde scientifique et de l'Etat français.

Le grand public ne le découvre réellement qu'en 1980, lors de sa prestation dans le film d'Alain Resnais, film dont il est par ailleurs l'instigateur involontaire. Tout au long de ce film, il donne des "clés" biologiques expliquant le pourquoi du comportement des protagonistes. Depuis les années '60, son soucis de s'adresser au plus grand nombre, le pousse à publier de nombreux ouvrages de vulgarisation scientifique, relatifs aux comportements humains, expliquant inlassablement les mécanismes de fonctionnement de l 'individu, mis en situation sociale.

Bien qu'assez difficiles d'accès, ses livres sont autant de révolutions et de mises en pièces de l'argutie traditionnelle relative à la "nature humaine" et ses déviances. Au fond, le message est simple :

Avant de juger ou d'expliquer ou d'excuser, il faut d'abord tenter de comprendre comment l'Homme fonctionne. Avant d'assommer l'enfant avec des lois, des règlements, des contraintes hiérarchiques, il faut lui donner les "clés" de sa propre conscience.

Bref, de nos jours, on dirait qu'il faut responsabiliser l'individu. Ce qui selon Laborit signifie lui expliquer ce qu'il est AVANT TOUTE CHOSE : Un être vivant ayant pour unique but la sauvegarde de sa structure biologique dans son environnement.

Henri Laborit fut notamment l'auteur, dans les années '70, d'une série de conférences très suivies par certains urbanistes et architectes, concernant les rapports de l'Homme face à la ville. Il a d'ailleurs exprimé la synthèse de ces observations dans un ouvrage intitulé "L'Homme et la Ville".

Toutefois, ses écrits les plus populaires restent "La Nouvelle grille", "Éloge de la fuite" et "Dieu ne joue pas aux dés", ouvrages qui parcourent le vaste monde du comportement humain et des origines de l'espèce. Dans les dernières années, Laborit a publié quelques ouvrages au ton plus personnel, dans lesquels il parle de son extraordinaire carrière professionnelle et humaine avec un humour et une humilité qu'on aimerait retrouver plus souvent dans monde scientifique. Ce sont notamment "La Vie antérieure" et "Une vie", dernier livre d'entretiens, sorte de synthèse de ce parcours exceptionnel.

Loin des honneurs, loin du pouvoir et des feux de la rampe, il a avancé, inexorablement le long du chemin qu'il s'était fixé, jusqu'à son dernier souffle. Une vie vouée à la compréhension de lui-même et de ses semblables. Un bel exemple de dévouement et de désintéressement. Combien de fois a-t-il refusé des ponts d'or qu'on lui proposait (surtout aux USA), préférant l'indépendance de pensée et de travail, au mirage de la fortune.

J'ai la chance d'avoir assisté à l'une de ses conférences (l'une des dernières sans doute) en 1994, et je garde un souvenir aussi ébloui qu'ému de cet homme qui, à l'âge où l'on se fait cajoler par ses petits-enfants au coin du feu et d'une retraite bien méritée, continuait inlassablement à faire profiter les profanes, dont je suis, de son immense expérience.

Merci Monsieur le Professeur, de m'avoir offert ce moment de bonheur et de m'avoir aidé à retrouver la foi en une Humanité toujours perfectible, malgré les atrocités et la démesure de son règne.

Ce modeste espace, très incomplet, vous est dédié ainsi qu'à votre équipe qui perpétue et continue votre travail, que dis-je, votre vie.

Témoignage olivier_viret