YOU DON’T HAVE A BRAIN

Everything You Know About Yourself, Science, and Religion is False.

You don’t have a brain. You have a story about this thing called a brain, which is made up by the brain. The brain makes up a story about itself, but it’s certainly not true. You don’t even have one.

And this can easily be proved.

Show me your brain.

Hand it to me.

Let me feel it, smell it. Examine it closely.

This is impossible for obvious reasons, but it’s also impossible for not such obvious reasons.

First, it’s impossible because if you cut your head open and pull out your brain, you’re going to be dead.

It’s just not possible.

So we have to believe that you have a brain based on the actions that you take, the things you say, what you create. 

There are certain behaviors correlated with parts of the brain, so we can assume that when you yell at your lover in anger, something is activated in your amygdala, of which you have two, one on the left and one on the right side of the brain.

We can assume that you have a brain based on your actions and what we know about the mechanisms of the brain.

(But never assume –you know the Ass-out-of-you-and-me thing?)

Observing your evolutionary behaviors doesn’t mean you have a brain.

It means that you have a biological organism that physically responds to phenomenon. You’re like one of those slimy creatures on the beach, when you touch it, it retreats into the wet sad.

How do you know you have a brain?

Because you’ve been told you have a brain.

Somebody told you a story about the parts of the brain, and you believe them.

But of all the information that is available on the brain or any branch of science, history, any subject, geology, biology, we only know a tiny fraction.

Everything we believe about physics is a metaphor, a story made up by somebody else, but it’s not true.

It’s trying to express a truth in with language, English, French, Spanish, whatever.

But the story of science in any language but math is false.

It’s metaphor.

It’s a made-up story so that we can understand.

Math is my worst subject, and I know no matter how much I may think I know about quantum entanglement, all I’m getting is a story, a metaphor.

And it’s not true.

It’s meant to represent or even contain something that’s true.

And the other reason why it’s impossible to pull out your brain to prove that you have one is that even if I were to look at it, what I would see right before me is a limited percentage of the information about the object you hold in your hand. It’s simply my visual representation, which is incredibly superficial.

In other words, when I look at the brain that you’re showing me to prove that you have one, I’m seeing how light and texture interact in my visual system, which is part of the brain, the visual cortex.

I’m making up what I see. The colors are not real, they are just my brain processing light intensity.

I don’t really see the brain that you’re putting in front of me. Rather I receive information that allows me to create an imaginary model of what you’re holding, so that I can understand it.

What you would really be showing me is a mass of data structure, atoms, subatomic particles that don’t even touch each other. You would be showing me empty space.

You don’t have a brain. You can never see it to believe it.

There’s a part of the eye called the fovea, and it’s about the size of a quarter.

When you look at anything, the fovea is the only part that you see in detail.

Everything else you’re making up. You are creating.

This is fact.

When you look at the mountains, all you really see is the size of a small rock. You’re creating the mountains.

So even if you physically show me your brain, when I look at it, I’m creating what I see.

Of course you could argue that we can put your brain into an fMRI and look at it closely, prove that you have one by the way the information is relayed onto the screen that we’re analyzing, but, again, that’s a representation.

You’re looking at data, not a brain.

You’re analyzing activity converted into a mathematical model that allows experts to analyze and make predictions. Watching an MRI of your brain would mean nothing to me. I wouldn’t know how to interpret the information.

All I can do is create a story about your brain.

But it’s false.

You don’t have a brain.

I don’t have a brain.

What does this mean?

It means you control the story, not only of your brain and what it means to the organism, that is, your body, your mortality, but also the story of your consciousness as you travel through time and space. Nobody gives meaning to you more than you.

You are only a detail in the story of others, a huge detail if you live with somebody, but for most other people, you are encoded in other brains as meaning, even the images they have of you. Whether or not they think you are beautiful or ugly, sad looking or happy, mean or nice, good or evil, you are a projection of their story, a detail within it. If you walk through a crowd and people see you but do not encode you into their memories, you don’t even exist to them, no matter how self-conscious you may be about how you look.

And if you know this, other people’s perceptions of you only matter if you can use those perceptions to get what you want for your own story.

In other words, knowing that you don’t have a brain is essentially saying that you don’t exist. And you don’t.

You are not an eternal soul. You are not a child of God.

You are a biological organism that has convinced itself that this is true and needs to convince itself this in order to survive. And because your genes want to procreate they want you to think well enough of yourself to feel you need, for the sake of humanity, to produce offspring.

You don’t need to.

All that really matters is you tell a good story and surround yourself with good stories, optimally based on love. Love is the safest, most comforting of human emotions, that which connects you to God, to the eternal.

Oxytocin, the love hormone, is produced in the pituitary gland of the brain, tiny as a pinto bean, but long before he knew of oxytocin, Descartes thought the pituitary gland explained duality, the hard problem of neuroscience, the mind-brain duality, the brain-consciousness duality, the physical and eternal human.

His connection of the organism, that is, the human body with the Eternal, that is, with the soul, with God, etc, is located in the same tiny part of the brain that produces love.

Whatever love turns out to be, it’s got to be good for you.

DARK NEURONS AND THE DARK POWERS

As I’m writing this, one of the latest theories of neuroscience is that of Dark Neurons.

Dark Neurons!

Is that a cool idea, or what?

This is a new theory articulated by neuroscientist Mark Humphries in his new book The Spike: An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.5 Seconds.  

He explains what Dark Neurons might be and possible reasons why they exist.

Because this discovery may turn out to be a branch on the existing model, a sephirot if you will, it could change how we think about oUr brains.

First, what are Dark Neurons?

At this point they don’t know much about them except that they may be neurons that don’t fire, or if they do, they fire very rarely and without creating an action potential. That is, they serve no purpose for you.

They sit in your dark brain like mummies, while all the other neurons spark like firecracker babies and make you do and think stuff.

Neuroscientists do not know they what purpose they serve.

I suspect that neuroscience and physics are essentially different models attempting to explain the same thing, which is reality itself. Obviously there are differences to their models, but they all have the same goal, to unify our understanding of reality.

It seems many quantum physicists have left their field for neuroscience and are studying the brain mathematically, like the Argentinian neuroscientist Rodrigo Quiroga who has a mathematical model of the brain that shows that among the 86 billion neurons we have, there is one dedicated to Jennifer Aniston.

For most of us.

If you know who she is and you got a picture of her, or put her in context with being an actress or whatever, that neuron just fired. It will spark only for her, nobody else.

Before the exodus of physicists into brain science, the standard theory was that we had 100 billion neurons in our brain, those connecting things that spark memories and action potentials, but as mathematical models become more elegant, that number has been reduced to 86 billion.  This is the precise number scientists agree upon.

The brain is a universe it itself, and I could see what physicists would be eager to go into it.

So here’s my question:

Are Dark Neurons to neuroscientists what Dark Matter and Dark Energy used to be to physicists?

Physicists believed for a long time in what they couldn’t measure or even see, that the majority of the universe, that is, the cosmos, are made up of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  Physicists believed this to be true even though they didn’t know what they were or why they existed.

They arrived at this belief because of the math. If they followed the equations of General Relativity, the language told them that the universe should be expanding at a much faster rate than it is. There must be a lot of invisible matter holding it back with strong gravitational forces.

It became reality through math, not observation, which is to say, it became a model created through syntax and mathematical incantation, that is, an elegant equation.

Later it became confirmed by observation, at least that’s how we understand it, and today no one in science denies Dark Matter exists. In fact, with Dark Energy, the two make up more than 90 percent of everything in the universe.

Dark Matter is.

Dark Energy exists.

They may very well hold the universe together.  They ARE the universe.

And, yeah, we still don’t know WHAT they are.

But they’re dark.

That’s kind of like Dark Neurons, no?

Of the 86 billion neurons inside the cosmos of our brain most of them are dark and we don’t know why they exist.

Humphries got into neuroscience because of his interest in code writing, which he started doing when he was seven-years old, so it makes sense that he could study the brain by creating mathematical codes that explain it and by which you can test reactions and behavior.

Code is a language. Humphreys is looking at the universe within our heads mathematically, giving it structure, creating models that will describe truth, and because it’s with the brain, what he sets out to do would describe who we are, what it is to be human.

This is what the poet does.

This is what the philosopher does.

We use different languages, but we’re all trying to arrive at an understanding of truth.

In poetry we understand that we will never get there, that it is ineffable, unreachable, but we still try.

We create poems we hope will explain the unexplainable.

Ok, so physicists have Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

Neuroscientists have Dark Neurons.

Do poets have Dark Language?

Dark Language is the unused linguistic units available to you, so when you’re writing a line and it’s coming to you and you hear it and you follow it, but suddenly two or three other possible paths pop up, you keep going in the same direction or you turn and change directions. Either way, the other syntactical and rhythmic possibilities are still there, they’re just dark, waiting like soldiers to be used by the poet.

One of the possibilities Humphries has as to why Dark Neurons might exist is that they could be waiting for some sort of cognitive challenge of the brain, some sort of rewiring, learning new things, a new language, for example. These dark neurons are ready, and they will fire up when needed.

I like that idea, especially as I get older and my brain suffers entropy.

It’s good to believe that buried deep inside in my brain like the terracotta soldiers of Qin Shi Huang are neuron warriors ready for any challenge, ready to come alive and fight.

REALITY IS FAKE AND SO ARE YOU (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

For at least a couple of generations university scientists refused to consider consciousness, whether or not it exists, because they believed that the question fell outside of empirical hard science, that it was Woo woo! Mystical mud that had no place in the lab.

But as it becomes more clear in physics –as it has long been stated by mysticism and spirituality –consciousness may be the center of all natural phenomenon as we know it, that is, reality itself. Without conscious experience the cat is both dead and alive.

Consciousness creates reality.

And how does reality come to us, how does human consciousness work?

Stories.

We tell ourselves and hear stories about everything, and we believe many of them, even when they’re not true, like the memory we had as children, getting into a fight, giving my first blackeye, when in fact, if you asked somebody else, like the kid I supposedly gave a blackeye too, I’m the one that got the black eye.

The truth doesn’t matter to our physiology, in cases like this; what matters is meaning. Our brains encode memories based on their meaning and emotional impact.

We believe two main stories, one about ourselves, who we are and one about truth, God or science or how we think the world works.

These two stores scaffold millions of the micro stories we tell ourselves or are told by others in our life time.

The mere act of reading this text is a story.   Why are you still reading? Most people gave up after the title.

Why are you reading?

Whatever you take from this —is a story, and it more or less reinforces your belief about the two main stories, who you are and what is reality.  

If you’re reading this you’re probably interested in consciousness, you like to have fun with metaphors of philosophy and science, and you like to look for connection in things, to use your imagination.

Our two stories, the story of me and the story of God or Science or both,

are only stories. They are false.

There is no God, no Theory of Everything, and no such thing as you.

And that’s a good thing. 

THE MEXICAN ABUELOS IN YOUR BRAIN

Some neuroscientists call the prefrontal cortex the CEO of the brain, because it’s supposedly in control of your executive functions, your conscious decisions and thoughts, and how you create narratives about yourself and reality.

But as a Latinx writer who cares about how we use metaphor, I don’t like the CEO image.

The model is based on capitalism, corporations and profit. And even though it’s ONLY a metaphor (neuroscientists don’t use the term literally), any explanation of a system that uses the elements of a larger metaphorical structure, in this case capitalism and the market, limits the possibilities of the overall meaning.

If my prefrontal cortex is the CEO of my entire biological system and the consciousness created by it or in correlation with it, then my reason for being, like a business, is to expand my possessions, to get more, which in Western culture is getting rich.

Female Frontal Lobe – Anatomy Brain. Anatomy image on colored background. Detailed view.

I prefer to think of the prefrontal cortex as the Mexican Abuelos in my brain.

Notice how I didn’t say “Abuela” or “Abuelo”, but Abuelos, both of them, the grandfather and the grandmother, left and right side of the brain.

The THEY.

The abuelos in a Mexican family are in charge of the direction of the family, the decisions, the family narratives, and so on.

Or so they think.

They often create narratives about decisions that have already been made by other parts of the brain, their hijos and nietos in the limbic system and the brain stem, that is, the reptilian brain, the flight or fight decisions.

The grandchildren may get into occasional trouble, but eventually the abuelos will find a way to fit that behavior into the family narrative.

MEME VS. DREAM

This morning I was taking a walk with the baby when I saw a house with a small front patio, and on it was a round rot-iron table with two rot-iron chairs.

And I knew I wasn’t looking at a table and chairs.

I was looking at a meme, in the Richard Dawkins sense of the word, “an element of a culture passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”

Consciously or not, the people who live in that house with the table and chairs replicated an image they’ve seen before, an image that perhaps came to them as they looked at that empty spot. The odds are good that they will rarely, if ever, sit on those wobbly chairs. 

But everybody wants chairs and a table on their front porch!

Everyone wants to be able to sit outside and have an iced-tea and watch the sunset.

Yes, but the impulse to put chairs in front of a house is not the meme itself, and is in fact a logical thing one would want to do, sit out on the porch.

But wouldn’t one want to sit on COMFORTABLE chairs?

Does anybody ever think, I would love to sit on hard iron!

This is a meme:

Obviously, all of us to some extent are meme-machines.

A toddler follows you around the house and repeats what you say, those things that are easy and fun to say, like Mama, Dada, kitty, even without knowing what they truly mean. Some words are easier to replicate than others, and as much as I hate to admit it, that’s why my daughter said dada, before she said mama.

One of the challenges of the poet is to know the difference between an image, a rhythm, the dreamworld, maybe a sound in the distance that finds its way into their work and the cultural memes that keep pounding on the door to be let in.

I don’t think that you can avoid memes, they will be there, and you will practice some level memetics.

But as a writer, you can deepen a meme. Subvert it. Use it to arrive at beauty or truth.

MUSIC IS TIME TRAVEL

That music is time travel for those who listen to it is such a basic idea that we hardly need to present proof. Still as an example, when many people reach a certain age, even when they can listen to all the available music in the world on iTunes or Amazon Music, they return to the same old songs from their past, mostly from adolescence.

Not everybody does this, but it’s common.

They listen to the songs they loved as teenagers, maybe even as they were going through puberty, and they feel emotionally connected to the past. They relive it in their imaginations.

But what about Time traveling for the artist?

Artists, writers, and musicians know that there is such thing as arriving in the Zone, or whatsome neuroscientists call Flow.

It can be defined as the times wherein you are so absorbed in the creative act that everything disappears and you lose sense of time. You are completely inside of the work.

When you come out, when you’re interrupted by something like a pounding on the door, you immediately lose the Flow or come out of the Zone.

This experience is similar to The Writer’s High.

When an artist arrives in the Zone, space-time doesn’t exist.

There’s no arrow of time.

There is no matter and thus no laws of classical mechanics, which means that the artist in the Zone can time travel.

Physicists agree that theoretically time travel is possible, but nobody can do it because we are matter and matter cannot travel faster than the speed of light nor can it go through an event horizon into a wormhole without being torn into pieces, completely obliterated.

However, artists in the Zone appear in other space-times, non-spatial realms, places of the imagination, the astral plane.

A poet who follows her language and ends up in the Zone or experiencing Flow will often run into spirits of the dead.

If you follow language, you sometimes hear voices that come from somewhere else, maybe an old text you read but forgot about, or a sentence you overheard in a coffee shop, or something your abuela used to tell you when she was alive.

The dead come to us in Flow.

Think of improvisational Jazz, a sax player hears a rhythm and follows it.

As they are in the Zone, they hear the bop of another beat, distant but getting closer, and they pick it up, play with it, follow it up and down, all around, back and forth. They may very well be channeling the spirit-sound from a musician long dead or a song sung to them when they were kids.

Music is time travel.

Later I’ll write about how the music you choose to listen to over and over again, especially as you age, can begin to shrink your ability to time travel or to appear in the zone, but for now, I want to show proof of an artist who time traveled.

Or, to be fair, who time travels NOW, because although this artist is long dead, he’s still out there in the Zone.

The example is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3.

(Hmm, I won’t go into the numerology of it, 3+3+2, the number eight, which circles around and around like an infinity sign.)

I admire his work, but until I heard this piece, I never thought of him as great as Bach, who spends so much time in the Zone that he can appear anywhere and anytime unannounced, even in a Led Zeppelin riff or jazz improvisation.

But in this Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, we can map his journey into the Zone.

To experience this, imagine here’s what happened:

One early morning, Ludwig, still in his Ebenezer Scrooge nightgown, walks to his piano, sits down, still glowing from a peaceful night’s sleep.

He begins to play a tune he heard in his dream.

It’s very early, still dark outside.

Everybody else is sleeping.

He starts to play.

Nothing special.

But listen to it, and imagine each note is a step along a path leading into something, a forest, a garden, a portal, a wormhole. He may or may not have been conscious of where he was going as he was playing that morning, because he’s following the music from the dream.

The player in the link I provide is Lang Lang, a badass pianist who I’m sure spends a lot of time in the zone.

At the 1:14 seconds mark, the portal opens.

He falls into the future.

He communicates with multiple artists who are also in the Zone, maybe Philip Glass is there, Thelonious Monk, maybe Ludovico Einaudi, and because there’s no time-space in the Zone, all can be in there at the same time, although this is ineffable, because there is no time.

Every time you enter into the zone, you enter into every  time.

So after 1:14 seconds in this video of Lang Lang, Beethoven falls into a wormhole, and the music become dances, geometrical rhythms, triangles and circles, spirits of the New Age, entities outside of his own time-space.

Listen. At exactly the 1:14 mark.

(Sorry if you have to sit through part of a commercial before the music begins)

But go with Ludwig.

Follow him with your imagination, not your intellect.

Do you see the breach?

Lang Lang in the Zone with Ludwig.

THE HARD PROBLEM OF POETRY

I interviewed philosopher Philip Goff about his book Galileo’s Error, for Words on a Wire, to air in our 10th or 11th or 12th season (I’m nor sure which) in September 2021. 

It’s about the Hard Problem of consciousness, which is the question of how a physical system, the body, can create conscious experience, or qualia, like the taste of a carne asada burrito, or that first glimpse into the eyes of your lover. 

Scientists have three major solutions to the Hard Problem, one of which is Duality, that the mind and the brain are separate entities. In this theory, consciousness may be correlated to brain activity, but it’s separate from the material brain. We have a soul, if you will. We are eternal beings, or at the very least connected to the Eternal, through our consiousness. 

This is the belief held by most people and rejected by most scientists.

Scientists hate duality. 

They want a grand unified Theory of Everything. 

The two other approaches either say that consciousness doesn’t exist at all (Materialism) or that consciousness is a fundamental element of the universe (Panpsychism), as fundamental to the workings of reality as space and time and matter. I like this idea.

The Hard Problem will not be easily solved, but I’ve noticed a lot of physicists, who speak on the level of math, are getting into neuroscience these days, perhaps to escape the academic myopia that tends to pop up in science departments throughout history. I’m not saying they have to beware of string theory Nazis or whatever is going on in their department, just that there is solid evidence that even science departments can be so subjective as to ostracize those seeking unconventional explanations that don’t conform with popular theories. That’s all I’m saying.

Whether or not it has anything to do with the physicists, neuroscience is discovering new mathematical descriptions of brain activity and correlations with consciousness. 

They can brilliantly express equations that depict brain activity during conscious experience, but they cannot explain WHY brain activity produces my experience of biting into that juicy carne asada burrito.  

They can’t explain what I, Daniel Chacón, or you, are experiencing right now, and why. 

This hard problem is to  neuroscience what the unity problem is to physicists, uniting relativity with quantum theory. 

Goff writes, “We’re still waiting for the Newton of consciousness to produce the simple equation that will capture the connection between body and mind. “

When it comes to who we are, science has not been able to help us answer that question, at least not yet. 

Scientists can explain HOW we are this way, but not WHY.  

Goff claims that Galileo, who was the first one to establish math as the language of science, never intended to describe the quality of experience, but rather the quantitative experience of things.

How things behave, not why.

How a carne asada burrito behaves in relation to other matter and space and time, but not the intrinsic nature of a delicious burrito. Or taco for that matter.

(By stating burrito, you can tell a lot about me, that I’m a Chicanx person, as we may favor burritos over the tacos that might be the first choice of our Mexicanx neighbors. )

The problem with scientists trying to explain qualia is that they don’t have the language for it. What is the mathematical equation for my experience of biting into a juicy mango?

Or for that matter what is the equation that describes my intrinsic nature?

For that you need the philosopher.

For that you need the poet.

Science and Storytelling

Some students in my Writer and The Brain class turned me on to The Storytelling Animal by Johnathan Gottschall, which I am halfway through and am loving. 

Here’s a great quote:

“From Science, I argue, can help us make sense of storytelling. But some say that science is a grand story (albeit with hypothesis testing) that emerges from our need to make sense of the world. The storylike character of science is most obvious when it deals with origins: of the universe. . .”

And this is what I am trying to say with The Poet and the Mind-Brain :

Theoretical branches of science, found mostly in the unification problem in physics and the hard problem in neuroscience seek to tell two of the most fundamental stories humans need to hear, how did it all begin, and who am I?

This is why writers are like scientists. 

These are the two stories that impel us to write, albeit articulated differently according to the writer.  

Instead of wondering how the universe began, the poet might wonder why does my heart feel so bad? Or why does the school bus stopping on the corner under the oak tree make me want to cry?

I would argue poetic details are microcosms of the two fundamental stories we seek to understand. 

Poets matter, because we seek to know the unknowable, and we will never stop until we find that ineffable elegant equation that says it all. 

EVERY GOOD POEM CREATES AN ANGEL

Almost every day, at least several times a week, I ask myself large, trite questions like a stoned teenager discovering philosophy for the first time.  I ask myself, Why are we here?

Do I have an eternal soul?

These are questions which mystics and physicists explore, and it is an exhilarating activity that often leads you to the Thinker’s High .

In The God Particle, Lederman writes about the moments all physicists experience when they explore the big questions, but in the quote below, I took out the word “physicist” and replaced it with poet, but in italics, so you know that it’s me.

The life of a poet is filled with anxiety, pain, hardship, tension, attacks of hopelessness, depression, and discouragement. But these are punctuated by flashes of exhilaration, laughter, joy, and exultation. These epiphanies come at unpredictable times. Often they are generated simply by the sudden understanding of something new and important, something beautiful, that no one else has revealed.

Asking these large questions, as silly as it may seem, is something great writers do consciously or unconsciously, and their poems and stories are like elegant equations.

Like scientists, writers want to express reality.

We want to write a haiku so intense that it will transform the reader like Borges’ Aleph into all points of space and time at once. You will get a glimpse.

I love what haikus can do to you, transform you to another space and time. They bring you there –for a flash!–then bring you back.

In my opinion, below are the two most elegant Haikus ever written:

In the ancient pond

A frog jumps into

The sound of water

And:

E=MC2

Imagine a haiku that brings you everywhere in space-time at once, all places and moments .

The more Reality there is in a work, that is, the ability to transcend space-time, the more beautiful the experience of the poem.

As waste of the time it may seem, asking big questions may help a writer in moments of creativity to enter into other realms of the imagination.

And imagination is an entrance into other universes. Imagination is our wormhole into places not rooted in our experience in time and space, but which may very well allow us to glimpse the thoughts of God. 

The Talmud says every good deed creates an angel.

I believe every good poem creates an angel, too, because its elegant use of language releases intense spiritual, intellectual, and emotional energy into the mind of the reader.

But beware, because if every good poem creates an angel, does every bad poem create a demon?

Probably every good poem makes an angel and a demon, and the fight they have is reflected in the work as tension.

Every good poem comes from questions that cannot be reconciled.

Why are we here?

What is the meaning of life?

I think it’s important to understand that if a writer sets out to write a poem about the meaning of life, it won’t be a very good poem. The poem most likely won’t create any demons; rather it’ll make mischievous little imps who will irritate the person reading the poem.

Do I contradict myself?

No.

I’m not saying a writer should set out to write a poem about the big questions, but I am saying that everything we experience on a visceral, emotional, and intellectual level has its roots in questions that can never be answered but that we cannot live without pondering. And it would be well for the writer to take time just to think about the big things, the corny questions, What is my purpose? Who created us? Who has the best burritos in El Paso ?

These questions, pondered and played with while you’re taking a walk, while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store with your device firmly shoved into your pocket or purse, are fun questions to imagine. They can lead your mind away from ordinary thinking.

And like a stoned teenager asking himself the big questions, the answers you imagine might even make you giggle.

Other people in line at the grocery store might look at you funny, but who cares?

A Poet, A Neuroscientist, and a Witch Walks Into Bar. . .

Bartender puts down a single napkin and asks her, What can I get you?

Get it?

The title isn’t a grammatical error, the subject and verb agree, because the poet who walks into the bar  –I picture someone badass like Natalie Scenters-Zapico, confident, meeting up with other poets for dinner and drinks during AWP—is also the scientist and the witch. 

Maybe in some ways, or like the poet Andrés Montoya used to tease me for saying, on some levels all poets are scientists and practice magick (why a k?). 

Poets are like scientists (on some level they are scientists) because they have a curiosity about how things work, especially the brain-mind, what motivates people, how they feel, see, taste and connect ideas in meaningful ways. The best poets seem to soak their feet into the intellectual waters of sundry subjects. Toni Morrison dipped into the Nag Hammadi, which are beautifully creative texts reinforcing the gnostic point of view of God and Reality. Poe studied physics. Borges studied Kabbalah. Pizarnik studied philosophy.

Poets are neuroscientists.

Poets are witches.

But first, let me define what I mean by “Poet.”

I remember having a conversation with my colleague, the poet and translator Rosa Alcalá. 

She told me it irritates her when people write emails addressing “poets and writers.”  

Rosa is a working-class Latina from Paterson, New Jersey, and when she’s defending a position she sometimes switches into street mode, the don’t-fuck-with-me nod of the head. 

She tells me, Are they saying I’m not a writer? How are poets not writers?

I agree, and ever since our conversation I rarely make the distinction between poets and writers.

We are one.

By poet I don’t mean only those who write verse. I mean all creative writers.

Everyone knows that there was a time in our human story when narratives were told only in verse, and verse was used only to tell stories, but somewhere along the plot-line of humanity, what God had put together –the storyteller and the poet — were torn asunder. 

It was not a natural or inevitable split, so it makes sense that by poets we can mean all creative writers, poets, fiction writers, memoirists.

We’re all poets. All creative writers, all genres. Poets.

(By the way, what is the collective noun for poets?? You have a murder of crows, an army of ants, perhaps a star of poets?)

So a poet is a writer. 

The term neuroscientist, as it appears in the joke, refers to scientists in general, to the methods and the value system, especially those sciences involved in the quest to unite all of reality, such as physics and studies of the mind-brain duality. 

Scientists seek to unite, to offer one elegant equation about reality, the universe, the way things work.  

They say that the holy grail of physics is how Quantum mechanics, the study of the subatomic world of electrons and strange quarks can have the same laws as the theories of relativity, spacetime and the planets and the universe. 

The two areas of science don’t agree, and if someone can come up with a ToE, something Einstein tried but failed at most of his adult life, they will know the thoughts of god.

That’s one of the most famous quotes in all physics, Einstein saying, I want to know the thoughts of God. Everything else is detail.

The scientist who walks into this bar, who is also a poet, is the kind of scientist that believes reality can be explained through math, i.e. language, using the most elegant equation. A haiku of reality such as

E=MC2

Ever since Galileo math has been the language of science, and if it cannot be expressed in math, it is not science, it’s philosophy, metaphysics. What makes neuroscience fun to follow is how math is being used to explain consciousness, our behavior, our unpredictability, the mystery of our experiences. 

A book I highly recommend, readable for nonscientists like me is The Forgetting Machine by Rodrigo Quian Quíroga. 

He created a mathematical model of neuronal activity and can pinpoint with precision how neurons fire when a concept is brought up in the mind, like Jennifer Aniston. 

He found that there is a Jennifer Aniston neuron in your brain, and it serves only to represent her and what she means to you, and every time it fires, he can chart — again with mathematical precision — what other neurons will fire as a result. 

He’s from Argentina, Buenos Aires, having studied physics, but like a lot of neuroscientists today, he became interested in the brain. 

Since his emphasis is memory, he has found a connection with Borges and has written a book about him and memory, which I’ve yet to read, but I’ve ordered it and will get back to you on what I think.

So a poet is a neuroscientist.

What about the witch?

Why are poets witches?

In a nutshell:

When we follow language into imaginary places and possibilities, we travel outside of our bodies, like soul travel. We often enter into the zone, where matter and spacetime disappear. This is well known among writers. 

In other language, we enter into the astral plain, where we’re met with guides (voices) and demons (rhythms and incantation) and we are shown entirely new worlds in which anything can happen.  

Poets travel the various levels of reality in our imagination, and the more we are willing to allow language to lead us into alternate universes, the more we are able to see beyond the ordinary. This is why some fundamental Christian sects claim that free writing is evil, because you’re channeling demons, or more accurately daemons. Muses. Duende.

Do you know how long it could take practitioners of esoteric knowledge to enter into some of the realms that poets have visited?

Poets are witches.