Monday, 28 December 2009


I seem to have lost the book—at least it’s not filed on the shelf where I expected it to be—amongst the D’s, between Csikszentmihalyi and De Bono. Nor does it seem to be in any of the heaps of books around the place awaiting further scrutiny.

It was such a good book and I know it contains the answers to everything I’ve been thinking about during the past few weeks. But I seem to have lost it.

However, when I first read the book I lamented the fact that the author was heavily into linear presentation and I even thought of writing to him to show him the diagram I had made out of his book. In the end, not wishing to be presumptuous, I didn’t write to Antonio Damasio, author of the lost book, The Feeling of Now... But I still have the diagram I made; whilst the basic figure of eight construction remains, the diagram has undergone several changes since I first drafted it so that I now no longer know whether it’s an accurate depiction of the argument of the book or whether it’s just a model that works for me. Certainly Antonio Damasio does not mention Brian Lancaster. Perhaps it doesn’t matter in the least sub specie aeternitatis.

In any case it’s a model that I keep tinkering with; it seems to change as I think about it!

The fundamental part of Allport’s concept of the Proprium—the ground of our being, that which precedes all the other parts of it in developmental terms—is Bodily Sense; there begin here all the other parts of the Proprium—Self-identity, Ego-enhancement, Rational Agent and so on: the little baby kicking & rolling over & lolling its head on one side, somehow expecting you to do the same, is exploring its deep sense of what it is to be a physiological being, delighting in its physical existence in the world; it has no words to explain the behaviour that can be such a delight to the doting parents; unlike them, it cannot use linguistic tags to explain its behaviour or predict what it will do next. Yet...

But it does have a vestibular system—a growing sense of balance and spatial orientation—the sensory system in the labyrinth of the inner ear, situated in the vestibulum in the inner ear. The vestibular system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control our eye movements, and to the muscles that keep us upright.

It has viscera—internal organs, specifically those within the chest (heart & lungs, for example) or abdomen (liver, pancreas, intestines...)

And it has musculo-skeletal props that enable it to clench or unclench itself depending on its current felt-sense of the world and what it feels (without ‘knowing’) that it needs to do to achieve homeostasis—get fed or be made comfortable and so on—in order to maintain the constancy of its ‘internal milieu’.

In our unsophisticated adult way, we project the words for the simplified patterns of behaviour we have come to call ‘emotions’ on to the behaviour of the growing baby— ‘anger’, ‘upset’, ‘being in a paddy’, expressing ‘pleasure’, being ‘happy’ and so on. A less immediately comfortable but ultimately more accurate view of things is to grasp the idea that what we file away as ‘emotions’ are in fact simply ‘...cognitive representations of body states that are part of a homeostatic mechanism by which the internal milieu is monitored and controlled, and by which this internal milieu influences behaviour of the whole organism...’ (Bruce G Charlton)

When we adults become less smug about the truth of the way in which we see the world, when we slow ourselves down in order to make fine discriminations in what’s going on for us we will be able to comprehend that this is still and always going on for us: we have feelings deriving from the combined activity of our vestibular system, our viscera and our musculo-skeletal props, feelings and we need never impose a limit on them by our habitual recourse to the simplicity of words.

It is dawn. I look out of my study window to watch the hundreds of seagulls who fly inland every morning along the course of the river. Somewhere deep inside me is a feeling-response that I would be hard put to express in words though I have often tried. What is it I feel? Happiness? Nostalgia? Pain at the endless rigmarole of things? A whoosh of energy at feeling myself to be an integral part of Nature?

There are no precise words. But I know that always at dawn, if I am at my window, I will have this undefinable feeling; and at sunset I will have ‘the same’ feeling because I will see all those hundreds of gulls flying back out to sea. In Antonio Damasio’s terms, I have a ‘somatic marker’, a something or other inside me that pre-verbally, bodily, in my gut, knows that river + dawn + seagulls will evoke ‘the same’ cognitive response today as it did yesterday and will tomorrow. ‘The somatic marker mechanism is the way in which cognitive representations of the external world interact with cognitive representations of the internal world—where perceptions interact with emotions...’ (Bruce G Charlton)

Many animals display awareness of external sensory stimuli (eg. monkeys may be aware of specific aspects of the visual environment they see, as demonstrated in innumerable experiments). But what is unusual about humans is that we are also aware of our bodies, our ‘selves’, and this inner-directed attention forms the root of consciousness. Damasio argues that consciousness is based upon an awareness of the ‘somatic’ milieu, and that awareness of inner states evolved because this enables us to use somatic states (ie. emotions) to ‘mark’, and thereby ‘evaluate’, external perceptual information.

I Googled ‘Damasio’ and was excited to find the writings of Bruce G Charlton. They reminded of the contents of the lost book.

My consciousness of river + dawn + seagulls derives from some patterning in the neurons that has become relatively fixed. I know right now that if I look away from the computer and out of the window I will see a determination of seagulls still making their way inland between the river banks that are becoming lighter as the sun rises; the feeling is there, inexpressibly there. In cognitive awareness, I have used the event in poems as a conscious metaphor to build on the ‘somatic marker’. It all goes into my working memory as a thought-cluster.

Whereabouts, inside this physical frame where I have been all my life, is it located?—the pre-conscious, preverbal gut-feeling, that ‘if I look away from the computer and out of the window I will see a determination of seagulls...’ It’s there before the words come up for me... It’s somewhere in my ‘core consciousness’—the omnipresent sense of being alive, being able to form images of ‘reality’. I stop typing for a moment to put attention on the throb of heart, the coursing of blood through veins & arteries, my breathing, the movement of my chest, swallowing saliva, a ‘click’ in the bone as I move my foot, the cold on my fingers; after much practice, I can move awareness from one part of my body to another; when I STOP myself from simply identifying with the OBJECT of existence—the endless daily interaction with what’s ‘out there’, outside the boundary or envelope of my being—I become aware of being locked inside this great glob of being. So just where is it located?—the pre-conscious, preverbal gut-feeling, that ‘if I look away from the computer and out of the window I will see a determination of seagulls...’ Literally in the gut, maybe, or in the head, or in the mole on my foot, or, now I warm up to the search, spread throughout my whole being... Again, now, I am aware of the gestalt river + dawn + seagulls, the representation of which is contained in my body; it has a lot to do with my sense of self—a somatic marker that will determine one way in which my organism will interact with the object of the ‘out-there’.

It takes some time to write all this up. In reality it’s a split second event. Whatever it is inside me that comes up with a somatic marker runs round the lower half of the figure of eight in no time at all. It’s been like this for 72 years. Millions of somatic markers no doubt.

The top half of the figure of eight takes us into a somewhat more articulate consciousness. Exactly where this starts on the figure of eight is anybody’s guess. But as soon as we start using words on it, paradoxically, we impose structures that are not necessarily true to ‘life’.

One way to STOP our habitual lurch into the word-distortions is to get ourselves into what Gurdjieff/Ouspensky called ‘self-remembering’. The ‘this-is-me-here-now-being-me-here-now’ wordless experience. To be of any use in the whole figure of eight process it must happen very soon after we pass through the crossover point of NOW.

river + dawn + seagulls + this is me here & now experiencing the boundary between somatic marker and what’s out there, white flapping purposefully up-river in the half-light.

Focus attention on ‘the moment just before’ and then ‘the moment when’—in between is self-remembering... Get the feeling of NOW... Afterwards all the other things, including the news-world and breakfast and switching the central heating on and getting dressed, flood in.

Choose an event for yourself and use this template to explore what goes on for you. Your event probably won’t be river + dawn + seagulls—it will be whatever it is.


  1. Looking up now

    dusk+Dawn+white horse

    dusk+Dawn+brown horse


    runner in luminous yellow, the creaking chair spring,Mary's mulberry,partly digested wedge chips from the Co-Op,neck ache,no heating,slight irritation re viewing internet and seeing all my work for sale on sites I have no control over,feelings of expectancy-a visitor coming, thoughts of you in your office watching gulls come and go- I have a flock of rooks-their flight less determined-they chat and fool around-more like me I think, Dawn locks the gate.

    Much apprectiate your blog Colin, John

  2. Thanks, John!

    Good bit of Homework!

    Just in case the diagram (which is essential for future Blogs) is a bit indistinct as it is - when you double left-click on it it will fill the screen and be even more legible than the original!