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Neuro plastic possibilities for expanded consciousness: A consideration of the effects on brain dynamics and consciousness of neurophysiological alterations attributed to temporal lobe epilepsy and post temporal lobectomy recovery

Dissertation
Author: Teri K. Strong
Abstract:
This dissertation is a neurophenomenological examination of how retraining a damaged limbic system suggests that the human brain is more malleable than previously believed. The work is an integration of third person scientific research with first-person neurophenomenology. Integrating these two approaches provides a deeper understanding of neuroplastic possibilities. A study of people with enhanced malleability who have specific neurological aberrations also isolates specific forms of consciousness that contribute to a deeper awareness of reality that may be considered a form of spiritual consciousness. A neurological foundation and social dynamics are proposed for why some develop what may be considered to be a spiritual personality. The dissertation presents a study of conscious alterations due to brain dynamics caused from temporal lobe seizures in epilepsy and healing after removal of the non-dominant temporal lobe of the human brain. It includes a neurophenomenological study, research of accepted medical realities, and a historical reflection of how people with an invisible physical brain disorder have been viewed throughout history. It pursues an embodied and large-scale dynamical approach to the neurophysiology of consciousness as the brain continues to change years after a temporal lobectomy. Integrating subjective experience and the study of brain dynamics in the neuroscience of consciousness is critical when attempting to work with people who have neurological alterations. This work proposes that what I call other ability consciousness (heightened and/or decreased embodied awareness in specific areas of consciousness) is a reality due to altered neurology. Both subjective and objective data are included in the development of this new theory.

Table of Contents Abstract iv Acknowledgements vi Chapter I: Introduction 1 Alterations in Embodied Consciousness 1 Isolated Areas of Human Consciousness in People With Neurological Alterations 4 Statement of the Problem 5 General Facts 16 Chapter II: Methodology 21 Genesis: Method of Analysis 21 Taylor and Chalmers 24 Third Person Clinical Neuroscience Methodology 25 First-Person Neurophenomenology 28 Obstacles involving first-person data 33 Discovery 35 A brief review of the heuristic research method 35 The seven sensitivities that support heuristic research 37 The seven phases of the heuristic discovery process 38 Initial engagement 39 Immersion 39 Incubation 40 Illumination 41 Explication 41 Creative synthesis 42 Identifying courses of action 42 The challenges of heuristic research 42 The reliability challenge 44 The challenge of validity 44 Ethical concerns 46 Delimitations of the study 46 The heuristic research design 47 Data collection 47 Data analysis 48 Compiling the data / Immersion and documentation of essential themes. 50 Incubation 51 A return to the original data 51 Developing the individual depictions from people of history with TLE. 51 Developing the composite theory 52 Developing exemplary portraits 53 Creative synthesis 54 Chapter III: Varieties and Examples of Experiences in Persons with TLE 56 vii

Embodied Phenomenon From People of History 56 St. Teresa of Avila 56 Alfred Lord Tennyson 57 Vincent Van Gogh 57 Gustave Flaubert. 58 Virginia Woolf. 59 Other Persons With TLE 59 Description from a young woman 60 Description from a young girl 60 Description from a middle-aged man 61 Chapter IV: Medical Review of Neurology and the Epilepsies 62 Basic Anatomy of the Brain and Central Nervous System 62 The Brain Stem 62 The Cerebrum 64 The Limbic System 66 Chapter V: Epilepsy 69 Origin of Epilepsies 70 Types of Epileptic Seizures 72 Generalized seizures 72 Partial seizures 75 Temporal lobe seizures 78 Phases of Altered Consciousness in Partial Complex Seizures 80 The Limbic System and Epilepsy 82 Chapter VI: Neurological Alterations Due to TLE 87 Kindling and Increased Sensory Input Generated by Limbic Hyperconnectivity and Hyperexcitability 87 Kindling, Hyperconnectivity, and Enhanced Creative/Spiritual Abilities 91 The Theory of Temporolimbic Hyperconnectivity 94 Revisiting Geschwind's Theory 100 Spatial Awareness Alterations and Hippocampus Damage 101 Chapter VII: Applying Theory to Historical Cases 109 Inside Famous Minds 109 Neuronal Alterations as Seizures Progress 110 Vincent Van Gogh I l l Fyodor Dostoevsky 114 St. Teresa of Avila 116 Lord Tennyson 120 Virginia Woolf. 122 Chapter VIII: Normal Emotions in the Exaggerated Brain 124 A Closer Look from the Inside Out: How Seizures in the Emotional Center of the Brain may Exaggerate Normal Human Emotions 127 Chapter IX: Literature Review 130 A Review of Historical and Cultural Stigmas 130 Associations with the Supernatural and Seizures in Monotheistic Religions. 133 viii

Chapter X: Temporal Lobectomy: A Cure for Some 139 Neuroplasticity: Hope for Retraining the Brain 139 The Malleable Brain 149 Plasticity: Possible Relevance for the General Population 151 Chapter XI: Neurophenomenology in Other Ability Consciousness in the Malleable Brain 159 Neurophenomenology: Experience of a Once Untamable Brain 164 A Radical Approach to Retrain the Malleable Brain 167 One Path Forged: Radical Empiricism as Evidence of the Power of Will To Believe 181 Chapter XII: Conclusion - A Chosen Spiritual Journey of an Apophatic Beyond Neurology and Religious Experience 183 References 190 Appendix: Bibliography 201 IX

Chapter I: Introduction Few of us are not in some way infirmed, or even diseased; and our very infirmities help us unexpectedly. (William James, 1902/1961, p. 18) Personality change in temporal lobe epilepsy may well be the most important single set of clues we possess to deciphering the neurological systems that underlie the emotional forces that guide behavior. (Geschwind, as cited in LaPlante, 1993, p.34) Alterations in Embodied Consciousness Self- transcendence, the concept of going beyond awareness of self, is considered a valuable spiritual quality. It is also important in science in order for what is considered to be "objective" research to emerge. In both science and religion, a reality beyond subjective interpretation is significant. Scientists are looking for specific areas and/or functions in the brain which may contribute to the notion of egolessness, (Fabbro, 2010) — in other words, pure objectivity, the whole picture — beyond the limited boundaries of the known realities of self, space, and time. Over the last decade, specific scientists have claimed various "spots" in the brain as being the center for spiritual or religious experiences where these "spots" are said to contribute to self-transcendence, induce visions and/or contribute to out of body experiences. These "spots" keep moving around, but have two things in common. They are found in people with neurological maladies which effect embodied consciousness and alter spatial awareness. What scientists 1

continue to conclude is that somehow they all effect neural structure and allocentric awareness: "Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking," explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy. Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making a direct link between brain activity and spirituality. They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one's self as an integral part of the universe as a whole (Fabbro, et al, 2010, pp. 309-319). V. S. Ramachandran has spent years studying people who have temporal lobe epilepsy and has briefly reported that repeated electrical bursts inside the patient's brain (the frequent passage of massive volleys of nerve impulses within the limbic system) permanently "facilitate" certain pathways or may even open new channels (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 180). This process, called "kindling," may contribute to the propensity for spirituality. This theory is elaborated on in chapter VI. Other scientists such as Michael Persinger propose that the temporal lobes of the human brain house the spot for God consciousness (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 175). The debate continues as to which temporal lobe is primarily involved. Neurophysiologist Brick Johnstone proposes that spiritual experiences are related to decreased activity of the right parietal lobe, and increased activity of the left temporal lobe. He agrees that self-transcendence or less awareness of "me-ness" is an indication of spirituality. Johnstone proposes that the experience of specific religious archetypes (religious figures and symbols) 2

less awareness of "me-ness" is an indication of spirituality. Johnstone proposes that the experience of specific religious archetypes (religious figures and symbols) may be associated with increased activity of the left temporal lobe (Johnstone, personal communication, March 1, 2010). I propose that brain injury in areas which alter spatial awareness and change neural patterns contribute to varieties in conscious experiences. This phenomenon occurs because of complex neural networking, not simply attributed to one location. As an example, this dissertation focuses on one specific theory providing evidence that the complexities of neural reorganization post-injury are beyond our current knowledge. This work is an investigation of multiple dimensions beyond a specific location which may contribute to a propensity for a religious personality. I also question the definition of spirituality as merely being one's experience of self-transcendence and the tendency to attribute religious meaning to events. Propensity for spirituality because of neurological modifications may be only the beginning. I suggest that rather than look beyond the human experience we need to look deeper into it. Self-transcendence may be something other than escaping the experiences of the full range of what it means to be human. Perhaps subjective experiences in all of us relate to the core of the human condition in general. Subjective experiences may be necessary in order to develop qualities of spirituality which join us together, resulting in what can be called a sacred objectivity. Daring to dive in to what it means to be human rather than float out into transcendent experiences is explored in this dissertation. 3

Isolated Areas of Human Consciousness in People With Neurological Alterations People with neurological alterations have gifts to offer consciousness research. Current research is in its embryonic stage concerning how specific areas of consciousness are affected while the brain continues to heal after a significant portion is removed. Little is known about what happens to neural connections and slight alterations in conscious interpretations of events when selective areas that contribute to emotions and spatial awareness are surgically removed. People with brain injuries are often thought of as abnormal. Prejudices and stigmas continue to enshroud people with certain brain conditions which add to the silencing of the voices of people who have experienced both. Third parties often are the only voices that are heard. Without the integration of third-person with direct first person experience, suffering may be added too rather than relieved and knowledge of the malleability of the human brain may be untapped. Brain conditions are difficult for people to understand. Most people associate the need for brain surgery with a tumor or a stroke. There is a common condition called temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) which may or may not have identifiable etiology, but is a disabling and life threatening malady. Before modern day medicine and brain surgery were options for people with TLE, there were myths attaching epilepsy to the paranormal left over from the cultural history of the disorder itself which remain in the collective sub-conscious today. These religious myths and cultural stigmas will be elaborated on in the literature 4

review explaining how their carry-over still affects people who suffer from temporal lobe seizures. TLE has impact on the emotional center of the human brain. TLE is one of the most vexing of all physical afflictions, as feared as it is misunderstood. The cost of fear and confusion is measured in human misery. TLE victims often feel compelled to conceal their disability, thereby denying themselves the treatment such maladies require — the light of public understanding. Public awareness notwithstanding, TLE has a long and distinguished history. Among the most visible of its victims Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Paradoxically, his narrative masterpieces both veiled and revealed his seizural experiences. Consider this excerpt from The Idiot: He fell to thinking, among other things, about his epileptic condition, that there was a stage in it just before the fit itself (if the fit occurred while he was awake), when suddenly, amidst the sadness, the darkness of soul, the pressure, his brain would momentarily catch fire, as it were, and all his life's forces would be strained at once in an extraordinary impulse. The sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly tenfold in these moments, which flashed by like lightening. His mind, his heart were lit up with an extraordinary light; all his agitation, all his doubts, all his worries were as if placated at once, resolved in a sort of sublime tranquility, filled with serene, harmonious joy, and hope, filled with reason and ultimate cause. But these moments, these glimpses were still only a presentiment of that ultimate second (never more than a second from which the fit itself began. That second was, of course, unbearable).... If in that second, that is, in the very last conscious moment before the fit, he had happened to succeed in saying clearly and consciously to himself: "Yes, for this moment one could give one's whole life!" (Dostoevsky, 2003, pp. 225-226) Statement of the Problem A novelist brings a character to life by creating a voice, a face, a personality. These determine whether the character is loved or loathed, whether readers view him with sympathy or contempt. 5

Dostoevsky understood the limitations of first-person testimony as a teaching device. What a memoir achieves in poignancy is often lost through lack of objectivity. By contrast, however, Dostoevsky's characters are believable precisely because they lived, and suffered, in his make-believe world — a world where complete knowledge and understanding were possible through the observation of the third person narrator. A master of character development, Dostoevsky's work demonstrates the power of fictional characters in a nonfiction world. The novelist "plays God" — creating ordinary human beings in order to accomplish extraordinary understanding. Understanding's offspring are credibility, sympathy, intrigue. Dostoevsky gambled that readers would believe in epilepsy only if they believed in its victims. It wasn't much of a gamble. Dostoevsky veiled his own experiences as a victim of TLE in order to be considered worthy of being heard. So have I. So have millions. TLE is among the last of the major physical maladies to be accepted in society. The reasons are many. They involve collective cultural myths, stigmas, fears, and modern day science's suspension of subjective knowledge as being a critical component to include in what is called objective research. Those of us who have lived with TLE understand why millions remain silent. There are celebrities with TLE who have elected not to "come out." Their fear is too great. A few celebrities have made mention of our disorder. Elton John 6

and Nash Young have been courageous in some ways as people who live with epilepsy, but no celebrity has yet to make epilepsy publicly acceptable as Michael J. Fox has for Parkinson's and Ronald Regan did for Alzheimer's. I am not a celebrity, but am I not afraid. I am a former Miss America contestant. Heather Whitestone won the crown two years after I competed. She is deaf but danced her way to the Miss America crown by feeling the music. The American public understood her bravery. Had I "come out" I might not have won my state crown of Indiana. They would have been afraid that I would have had a seizure on the job. So a choice to smile, wave, pivot turn — and remain silent — was best. That was years ago. In the collective consciousness, things have not changed. Imagine what it would be like to live with a brain that randomly produced embodied altered consciousness events throughout one's lifetime. What if every moment of your life you were at risk of suddenly having your brain seize your mind? Each time your brain seized your mind you were transported into a reality that was too glorious and too horrible to explain. Since no other person could see that you have electrical activity in your brain which caused these events, would people think you were crazy if you attempted to relate your internal experiences of having too much electrical activity in your brain? What if you attempted to tell them that you had just experienced a oneness with God, heard voices of angels, felt the fires of hell, and tasted the blood of human suffering? Without a diagnosis, your friends and family might become afraid of you. You might be considered a person who was mentally ill or hooked on hallucinogenic drugs. 7

Lack of understanding about this real physical malady contributes to the suffering of those who live with it. It's difficult to imagine the dilemma of one whose embodied conscious experience is vastly different from what is considered normal. If one cannot imagine Dostoevsky's characters in The Idiot as real or relevant, how can one comprehend the notion of living inside the brain that embodies such persons? How does one find words to explain life from the perspective of one whose brain has been altered by temporal lobe seizures? Many of Dostoevsky's fictional characters had epilepsy, some of whose seizures were transcribed directly from the author's personal journals (LaPlante, 1993, p. 37). In order to communicate that which seems abnormal and beyond comprehension to those who do not experience seizures, many writers, artists, religious leaders, and ordinary people use fiction, art, or the abstract language of theology to attempt to explain an intense way of experiencing being human. It is intense because in TLE, the emotional center of the brain is continuously "electrified" or "charged" by seizures. So, not only does a person who has TLE have random alterations in embodied consciousness, but as the seizures change the brain the emotional life is enhanced. In people who have exceptional skills, this alteration in the emotional center can have amazing results. A short list of famous people from history or legend includes Hercules, King Saul, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Saint Paul, Joan of Arc, Ludwig II, Charles V. Moliere, Napoleon, Lord Byron, Pius IX, Alfred Nobel, Margot Hemingway 8

(German Epilepsy Museum, Kork, 2002). Hardly any women are found in the list of "famous epileptics" because of social conditions throughout history. Epilepsy is a little better understood with twenty-first century knowledge, but most of us who have it still experience social unacceptance when we attempt to explain our alterations in embodied conscious experiences in the first person. Things get more complicated for those of us who have had our temporal lobe removed to stop the seizures and attempt to communicate that we have neurological changes which have affected specific areas of embodied consciousness. This gap in communication continues to cause harm to numerous individuals who are suffering. This dissertation is an academic and personal study of people in society who experience random and uncontrollable alterations in conscious awareness because of neurological variances from those which are usually considered to be normal. I agree with William James that the value of altered experiences in embodied consciousness should be considered in the academy from a subjective perspective. The value of adding subjective literature is that first-person accounts are a bridge between the objective medical academy and human beings affected by a condition. Also in studying persons who have alterations in specific areas of embodied consciousness, understanding can be increased of how human beings in general use specific parts of their brains to function. James called a study such as this a focus on its "exaggerations and perversions, its equivalents and substitutes and nearest relative elsewhere... Insane conditions have this advantage, that they 9

isolate special factors of the mental life, and enable us to inspect them unmasked by their more usual surroundings" (James, 1902/1961, p. 16). While TLE is not an insane condition, a first-person perspective of the disorder may contribute to additional learning about certain isolated factors of the mental life which may be exaggerations of a specific form of consciousness. The neurological alterations which occur in the brains of some people with TLE may permanently change embodied conscious interpretation of input data even after the temporal lobe is removed and the seizures are resolved. These neurological alterations in the area of the brain, primarily responsible for emotion and spatial awareness, may contribute to a tendency to attribute cosmic meaning to ordinary events and result in heightened interest in topics that are spiritual, philosophical, or cosmic in nature. A question this dissertation addresses is: If a temporal lobe is removed in a person who has suffered from complex partial seizures, how will limbic system re-organization affect personality and behavior? Are there merely specific neurological alterations which may contribute to a person becoming more spiritual or philosophically oriented or do intentional choices in the midst of suffering determine ones spiritual development? Is there something different about the chronic condition of TLE relative to other chronic illnesses which contribute to positive personality changes? Is it the seizures alone which cause these personality changes or are there other factors such as gradual changes in neural structure, social reactions, and a long history of association with religious overtones that surround the condition itself? 10

There could be a variety of interpretations in most temporal lobe seizure accounts given. Many of them can sound as if they were a mystical encounter or recounting of a hallucinogenic trip. This malady has been linked to supernatural experiences for twenty-five hundred years, and many researchers have attempted to connect TLE and supernatural visions. This has resulted in some scientists attempting to identify a spot for God consciousness in the temporal lobe of the human brain. Some psychologists have interpreted the alterations in consciousness in people with TLE as a sign of a personality disorder, with "hyper- religiosity" as one of its symptoms. For centuries, TLE has been linked with the supernatural, and some modern day scientists are currently researching the temporal lobe of the human brain in search for a certain spot for God consciousness. In 1997 a team of neuroscientists from the University of California at San Diego speculated that seizures caused an over-simulation of the nerves in a part of the brain dubbed the "God module," although stating that scientists are a long way from showing that there is such a reality (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 188). Ramachandran and his University of California team of scientists wanted to test his hypothesis and he continues to this day to work with his team of doctors specifically with people who have TLE. His first theory was that sometimes people with TLE become more spiritual because everything becomes salient and deeply meaningful due to neurological alterations (p. 187). He first tested his theory by using words as stimuli while observing their skin responses. According to his findings, the people he interviewed only showed increased response to some categories of 11

stimuli—such as religious words and images—and not other categories such as sexually loaded ones (p. 187). This led Ramachandran to continue to assert that the limbic system, particularly the temporal lobe in people with epilepsy, could be responsible for and lead to enhanced savant type genius in the areas of religion, spirituality and/or creativity. He admits, however, that this theory alone is not enough to explain how an increase in ability to link together seemingly unrelated ideas may result in a belief in a God or a creative masterpiece (pp. 189-197). Canadian scientist Michael Persinger has dedicated much of his life work to the study of the temporal lobes and a search for a specific "spot" in the human brain for spiritual consciousness. Persinger (1987) believes the temporal lobes may have evolved to impose order and stability on society and are responsible for spiritual experiences (p. 12). He and his team attempted to stimulate the temporal lobes with a rotating magnetic field they call "the God Helmet" or "the Koren Helmet" which applies magnetic signals into the brain of the person wearing it (Murphy, 2007). Persinger merely popularized a known device, called a transcranial magnetic stimulator which, when applied to the scalp, shoots a rapidly fluctuating and extremely powerful magnetic field onto a small patch of tissue, thereby activating and providing hints about its function (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 174). Persinger said that about eight in every 10 volunteers reported quasi- religious feelings when wearing his helmet. However, when Professor Richard Dawkins, an evolutionist and renowned atheist, wore it during the making of a 12

BBC documentary, he famously failed to find God, saying that the helmet only affected his breathing and his limbs (The Independent, 2009, para. 12). Ramachandran and Blakeslee (1998) drew on Persinger's work in their own study on religion and people with TLE. Ramachandran and Blakeslee suggest that the specific location in the human brain that produced religious consciousness is the temporal lobe. Although the scientists may have looked too quickly for a specific "god spot" in the temporal lobes in people with TLE, they asked two important questions which continue to be asked by those who search for a "God" part of the brain (Alper, 2008, p. 254), which are explored in this dissertation. "Do these findings imply that there are neural structures in the temporal lobes that are specialized for religion or spirituality, that are selectively enhanced by the epileptic process?" If the temporal lobe is removed in TLE patients, "would we have performed a Godectomy?" (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 187). Because I have experienced TLE myself, I integrate my own experiences with scientific discovery in this study. I suffered for three years with TLE and had my right temporal lobe removed to abate complex partial seizures nineteen years ago. I give no theological significance to any seizural event I had before my surgery or to my experiences of brief moments of a consciousness of Oneness since the surgery. However, I continue to seek a plausible new theory that would offer a partial explanation to a statement my surgeon Alan Wyler made to me after I underwent my temporal lobectomy: "Some people tend to become very 13

spiritual after a temporal lobectomy. We don't know why" (Personal communication, February, 1991). After two graduate degrees in theology and philosophy, becoming an ordained minister in two denominations and a state university campus minister, and having fleeting moments of conscious union while fully functioning in everyday situations, I decided it was time to contribute my experience and knowledge in the hope of furthering our understanding of any relationship between TLE, lobectomies, and altered consciousness. There is a great need for further research in this field because the academic literature offers little or no proof written from what William James called a radical empiricism perspective (1902/2008, p. 20). According to James empiricism differs from rationalism in that empiricism "lays the explanatory stress upon the part, the element, the individual, and treats the whole as a collection and the universal as an abstraction." On the other hand, rationalism emphasizes universals to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of being (p. 20). James explains: To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as "real" as anything else in the system, (p. 20) I use a broad radical empiricism perspective in that while I stress the individual experience, with emphasis on specific parts and elements in neurology which affect embodied emotional consciousness, I do not use his specific methodology. I identify how neurological aberrations and living with a disorder 14

Full document contains 210 pages
Abstract: This dissertation is a neurophenomenological examination of how retraining a damaged limbic system suggests that the human brain is more malleable than previously believed. The work is an integration of third person scientific research with first-person neurophenomenology. Integrating these two approaches provides a deeper understanding of neuroplastic possibilities. A study of people with enhanced malleability who have specific neurological aberrations also isolates specific forms of consciousness that contribute to a deeper awareness of reality that may be considered a form of spiritual consciousness. A neurological foundation and social dynamics are proposed for why some develop what may be considered to be a spiritual personality. The dissertation presents a study of conscious alterations due to brain dynamics caused from temporal lobe seizures in epilepsy and healing after removal of the non-dominant temporal lobe of the human brain. It includes a neurophenomenological study, research of accepted medical realities, and a historical reflection of how people with an invisible physical brain disorder have been viewed throughout history. It pursues an embodied and large-scale dynamical approach to the neurophysiology of consciousness as the brain continues to change years after a temporal lobectomy. Integrating subjective experience and the study of brain dynamics in the neuroscience of consciousness is critical when attempting to work with people who have neurological alterations. This work proposes that what I call other ability consciousness (heightened and/or decreased embodied awareness in specific areas of consciousness) is a reality due to altered neurology. Both subjective and objective data are included in the development of this new theory.