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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Declaration, Imperation and Language

The Role of Brain Chemistry

One of the parallels that one finds between Gurdjieff and Ramana is the emphasis on inquiring – in the case of Ramana in his teaching and in the case of Gurdjieff in his younger intense-seeking life.
So today 60 years after them let us inquire:
Why inquire??
But first a little detour into…


Language is essentially predicative: Sentences have subjects and objects. Words themselves are nouns – things – verbs – doings – or subsidiaries that interlink them. In effect language forms the essential context of the duality mode of perception.
And if language is essentially polarizing – boolean, binary – reality is quintessentially real-valued and multi-dimensional 1
Now if we can step back from the lower levels of language mentioned above – subject-predicate, parts of speech etc – to the higher levels we find something called moods – the declarative and the imperative moods.
I am writing this post – is declarative – and is therefore true or false
Write such-and-such article (please!!) is imperative and induces (or not) a corresponding action.
Our entire civilization which after all is only an outer reflection of our inner psychic state, mirrors this schizophrenic dual-mood-iness. We spend our lives in two moods:
  • Patronizingly ordering those below or sycophantically receiving orders from above – imperating mode
  • Commenting on reality 'dispassionately,' believing we are sages without realizing the Heisenberg-ing that such commentary-ing induces – declarating mode
The sages on the other hand 2 (seen in genuine quality spiritual literature) break this polarization:
The Upanishads invariably end with the mystical incantation 'Ya evam veda, Iti upanishad' He who knows this. Oho the secret!
The implication being that knowing some things (more correctly knowing things in a certain way) changes those things.
But how can that be?
Quite simply (and super-humbly) the Vedas, Gurdjieff, Ramana could not have have said what I say because the language of recent science did not exist then. I am specifically referring to the field called brain chemistry often most strongly associated with the chemical


When dopamine was first discovered it was assumed to be the pleasure chemical – associated with sex, drug-addiction etc. Further studies indicated the so-called pleasure is more fine tuned – the distinction being made between 'liking' and 'wanting'.
From wikipedia Incentive salience
Incentive salience refers to the "wanting" or "desire" attribute given by the brain – specifically, by the nucleus accumbens shell – to a rewarding stimulus. Reward is the attractive and motivational property of a stimulus that induces appetitive behavior – also known as approach behavior – and consummatory behavior. This "wanting" is unlike "liking" in that liking is a pleasure immediately gained from consumption or other contact with stimuli, while the "wanting" of incentive salience is a motivational magnet quality of a stimulus that makes it a desirable and attractive goal, transforming it from a mere sensory experience into something that commands attention, induces approach, and causes it to be sought out. Incentive salience is regulated by dopamine activity in the mesocorticolimbic pathway of the brain.
In other words the liking mode is almost entirely an animal mode whereas the wanting mode is at least potentially human: the process or act of inquiring may seem to seek (a) answers (declaration) or (b) results (imperation) but as long as the state is one of non-satisfying and also non-doing, the dopamine levels are increased and the corresponding mental state is one which – to use traditional Indian language – is maximally sattvic. 3
One of my blog favourites PJE has this to say
See, when you think (more correctly feel/sense) there might be something NEW to know, that you don't "already know"… a brain chemical called dopamine kicks in, to make you explore and learn and figure things out.
To DO something, in other words!
But when you think you basically "already know" something… the dopamine cuts out, leaving you bored, apathetic, and unmotivated.
Even if what you REALLY know about the subject is jack squat!
Which is why the elders of many traditions assert: "Stay with the question!" 4


If reading(writing) this article has made your dopamine levels go up it has succeeded, if down it has failed. And if it has gone up you(I) should be asking thusly:
  • Why am I getting into all this 'spirituality' stuff? (or 'Work' or whatever tag you use)
  • What am I/others getting from/for it? Is it always positive?
  • Why am I reading/writing silly articles like this one?


1 Look at this sentence itself: What a clever separation… And how false
2 Oh look how language polarizes: Am I/you a sage? No?
3 Atma-vichara is usually translated as Self-Enquiry – technically correct but without the sense of wonder in 'vichara'. I wonder… would be a better idiomatic translation. And if one insists on nounifying 'vichara' then perhaps 'I-wonder-ing'
4 Unfortunately in the Work-tradition this has now become a fetish and real answers are often discarded along with the inadequate ones. We need to remember that questioning must be provisional and tentative if it is to be genuine. Given that master and seeker are mutually exclusive we must accept that even superlative seekers like Gurdjieff cannot be given lifetime-seeker status nor are great teachers of inquiring like Ramana lifelong wonderers.


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