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Chapter Two - Urizen and the Left Hemisphere

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

I am God O Sons of Men! I am your Rational Power!

Am I not Bacon & Newton & Locke who teach Humility to Man!

—William Blake, Jerusalem

In the Brain of Man we live

Urizen is repeatedly associated by Blake with the human brain, and indeed that is where he is located. Los, who shares this location with him, specifically describes Urizen's world as being within “the Brain of Man”:

I see the swords & spears of futurity

Tho in the Brain of Man we live, & in his circling Nerves.

Tho’ this bright world of all our joy is in the Human Brain.

Where Urizen & all his Hosts hang their immortal lamps

[FZ 11:14–17, p. 306]

And again in The Four Zoas Urizen is depicted “as he stood in the Human Brain/And all its golden porches grew pale with his sickening light” (FZ 23:12–13, p. 313). Indeed, one of the most brilliant and startling aspects of Blake's presentation of Urizen is the very physicality of its location within the structures and activities of the brain. The precision with which Blake describes and presents the vegetative brain, with all of its nervous branches, its moated parameter (cerebrospinal fluid), its oxygenating blood vessels, and its rock-like orbed skull to enclose it all, is only matched by his insistence that these circuits and activities conceal a much greater wonder and power within them. In modern neuroscientific terminology Urizen therefore represents both the “software”—the network of interacting calculating processes and rationalising functions—and also the “hardware”—the material embodiment of these activities within the cavern of the skull. Blake describes Urizen's realm as being “a place in the north,/Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.” Indeed, as Damon has noted, Urizen is consistently associated with the “north”, a region that is clearly of significance within the human body as being the locus of the brain (Ur 2:3–4, p. 70). And within the north he is also associated with the “west” or “western” parts of the psyche (“In the west the Cave of Urizen”): so that the north and west are areas significantly associated by Blake with Urizenic activity (FZ 74:15–16, p. 351).1 Positioned there, Urizen inhabits and indeed embodies a strange sort of self-enclosed, abstracted, or conceptual space that, in distinguishing itself and separating itself conceptually from the rest of existence creates for itself a sort of “non-being” being: an abstracted “inner” solitude or “void” (“unknown, abstracted/Brooding secret, the dark power hid” (Ur 3:6–7, p. 70). This conceptual “void” Blake strongly associates with the Lockean, or Cartesian, mind. Blake had earlier presented this “self-closd”, brooding, introspective “void” as being situated within the “cavern” of the cranium itself, the perfect materialisation of the cave-like reduction of perceptual existence by which this new emergent consciousness (“Reason”) believes itself to be limited. Thus, in one of the most famous passages of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake observes that “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern” (MHH Plate 14, p. 39). These epistemological caverns, chains, links, and “self-closings” return with a vengeance in The Book of Urizen, the full account of the development of this powerful new rationalistic and analytical consciousness. “Unknown” and “unprofilic”, the newly emerging Urizenic world is portrayed as being almost completely self-involved. Indeed the epithet “unprolific” perfectly sums up the huge difference between the left hemisphere and right hemisphere modes. Being unable to genuinely “create” anything (this being a function of bodily rather than logical existence), the “Reasoning Power” instead becomes a sort of immense Demiurge. It creates, but (in a key point for Blake) it creates solely by division and abstraction, and the conceptual world thus produced is both staggering in its complexity and ingenuity but also a lifeless mirror image or shadow-world reality: a world perceived not immediately and intuitively any more but merely rationally, abstractly, and conceptually. Blake magnificently evokes the sense of the immense brooding, introspective labour and sheer mental effort that this powerful evolutionary process entails: “Times on times he divided…In his desolate mountains rifted furious/By the black winds of perturbation” (Ur 3:8–12, p. 70). These perturbed, cogitative rifts and folds capture well the gradual materialisation of Urizen through the actual physical landscape of the human cranium, the abode of Urizen's “vast forests” of nervous fibres and neural networks which constitute both Urizen's modus operandi and his material formation. The result of these Herculean cognitive efforts is not only the brain itself but the way of perceiving the brain.

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Chapter Four - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

It is through such experiences as those of Bolte Taylor that the previously inhibited and eclipsed world of the largely nonverbal right brain is becoming known and articulated. The experiences and research of such contemporary individuals as Bolte Taylor, Tolle, McGilchrist, and others, might in this sense witness a “return of the right hemisphere”. “One of the greatest blessings I received as a result of this hemorrhage,” Bolte Taylor notes, “is that I had the chance to rejuvenate and strengthen my neurocircuits of innocence and inner joy” (JBT, pp. 139–140). It is rare to have such direct, immediate accounts of a non-left hemisphere world within our culture, which is why such experiences as those of Bolte Taylor are particularly valuable. Indeed, it is a striking feature of recent discoveries and revelations into brain functioning that so many insights have come from apparent “disorders” and mental malfunctions, a coincidence that merits further research and investigation. To the insights acquired by Bolte Taylor through her debilitating experience of brain haemorrhage and stroke might be added the equally thought-provoking implications gained from the study of schizophrenia, as for example through the diverse work of Louis Sass, Julian Jaynes, Daniel Paul Schreber, and R. D. Laing. As Laing himself has commented:

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Chapter Five - The God of Reason

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

As the true method of knowledge is experiment the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences. This faculty I treat of.

—William Blake, All Religions are One

Introduction: The hall of mirrors

The first part of this book has explored the connections between the complex of ordering, rationalising, and evaluating processes which Blake terms “Urizen” and the dominant programs and features of the left hemisphere of the human brain. Drawing on the cognitive framework provided by Blake, it has argued that the neurological basis of the entity commonly referred to as “God” is grounded in a specific network of inter-related left hemisphere programs (such as its law-making, moralistic, abstracting, dividing, and linear-sequencing activities), a network both organised and integrated by a specific left hemisphere mode of attention or personality. Blake believed that the abstract, rationalising “Gods” of human culture were powerful instantiations of this power within the human brain, which he also termed “the Holy Reasoning Power” (J 10:15, p. 153, J 54:16, p. 203). Blake's arguments suggest new ways of interpreting the dominant religious and theological texts of our culture. They also, obviously, undermine the basis of all popular religion.

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Chapter Eight - Twilight of the Psychopaths

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life

The Beast & the Whore rule without controls

—Blake, On Watson

Introduction: Reason and insanity

The previous chapter has perhaps suggested something more “sinister” going on in human history, and inside the left hemisphere in particular. It examined hemispheric differences and focussed in particular on what McGilchrist calls the left hemisphere's “long-term agenda.” One of the characteristic features of Urizenic processes, I suggest, is an underlying and perhaps unconscious compulsion to interpret everything mechanically: to turn the experienced world into a mechanical model of itself, and thence to dehumanise the world. In a parody of right-hemispheric processes and values, it seeks to incarnate as a machine.

As the previous chapter also argued, in this the left hemisphere seems to operate as a sort of rationalised “version” of the right brain. It turns its metaphors into literalism, its bodies into machinery, and its right-hemispheric experience of eternity into an endless stretch of linear time. And the more it does this, the more it dominates as a mode, the more it mechanises and literalises. The hemispheres are not static: as the left brain becomes increasingly dominant and dissociated it also becomes increasingly dysfunctional and free-wheeling (M&E, pp. 392–393; as McGilchrist observes, “there is a range of evidence suggesting that just such an imbalance in favour of the left hemisphere occurs in schizophrenia”, ibid., p. 393). Blake charted and analysed the trajectory of this progress or “fall into Division” as he called it, in his longer, prophetic poems. In them he shows that the more Urizen, the “Rational Power”, is divided from its imaginative and humanist source, the more it degenerates and becomes increasingly out of control and destructive. It is caught in a sort of mad circle, in which the more it tries to impose and maintain order (through its complex of interrelated drives and programs: moral self-righteousness, the superiority complex, a consuming and ravenous “ego”, and an abstracting, instrumental, and manipulative propensity), the more it becomes degraded and—to use Blake's specific and precise word to describe this form of extreme, severed rationalism—“insane” (FZ vii:36, p. 360). In an astonishing passage in The Four Zoas this Spectre, the compulsive, free-wheeling, left-hemispheric “Reasoning Power”, now running out of control, itself realises this and declares:

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Chapter Three - The Myth of Genesis

Tweedy, Roderick Karnac Books ePub

Many suppose that before [Adam] <the Creation> All was Solitude & Chaos This is the most pernicious Idea that can enter the Mind.

—William Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment

Introduction: The myth of Genesis

The first part of this book has attempted to show the ways in which the activities, values, and functions associated by Blake with the figure of “Urizen” correspond with the properties and processes of what modern neuroscience calls the “left hemisphere” of the human brain. Or to put this more succinctly, it argues that the left brain is “Urizen”. The emergence of this extraordinary complex of processes and powers in human history, through left-brain dominance in Homo sapiens, is surely one of the most important and profound developments ever to have taken place on Earth. For it is the dominance of this “Reasoning Power” that has shaped, controlled, and defined every stage and aspect of human consciousness. This book has indicated that Blake was virtually unique in regarding “reason” not as some isolated, neutral, calculating function (as it had usually been regarded), but as a forceful complex of activities and values, all rooted in a shared interconnection, combining language, linear-sequencing, moral codes, law-making, conceptual abstraction, a powerful ego-centre, and instrumental rationality itself. It is no overstatement to say that this “Reasoning Power” has made us what we are. And according to Blake, the emergence of this dominating, rationalistic left-brain personality has also been recorded in many of the earliest “Creation” texts of human culture, such as the Hebrew Bible, Plato's Timaeus, and the Norse sagas. Drawing together all of the points and connections made in this book, he affirms that the “God” portrayed in the Book of Genesis is in fact none other than the “Holy Reasoning Power”: the “God” of the left hemisphere. For that remarkable power, captured so vividly and so remarkably honestly by the early Hebrew writers, fulfils and embodies all of the fundamental activities, properties and even personality, of left-brain circuitry. This early “God” of the Bible presents itself, as does the Demiurge of Plato's Timaeus and indeed all other rational abstract deities, as a “Creator” God, but through textual analysis it is evident that it “creates” solely by abstracting and dividing existence (an existence usually in fact acknowledged as being eternal and pre-existing in these texts, but in a state that appears to its rational programmed Deity as being relatively “chaotic”, void, and “formless”). This is most clearly apparent in Plato's Timaeus, which presents the apparently finite, rational universe (of left hemisphere programming) as a sort of imperfect “copy” of some forgotten, unknown, or eternal original: as Plato puts it, the Urizenic Demiurge “determined to make a moving image of eternity, and so when he ordered the heavens he made in that which we call time an eternal moving image of the eternity which remains for ever at one. For before the heavens came into being there were no days or nights or months or years, but he devised and brought them into being at the same time that the heavens were put together” (Plato, 1965, [38] p. 51). The key word here is “ordered”: what all these allegedly “Creator” gods do in fact is just to impose order (though to be fair, this is an extraordinary cognitive and conceptual feat in itself), through divisions, differentiations, and abstracted delineations, onto pre-existing being (rather like a child does in making sense of the universe in order to function in it and to manipulate it). According to the Urizenic Demiurge, it does this because “before” its emergence and domination, “existence” was, or appeared to be, “chaotic” and irregular—rather like the motion of subatomic particles appears to modern scientific eyes. The Demiurge's initial act of “Creation” was therefore essentially one of reduction and contraction: Plato's God, in a telling phrase, “reduced” reality “to order from disorder”. For before his rationalistic Demiurge took control and gradually imposed this rational order, the elements of the universe were, Plato says, “in the disorganized state to be expected of anything which god has not touched, and his first step when he set about reducing them to order was to give them a definite pattern of shape and number” (ibid., [53] pp. 72–73).1 This process of reducing things to “order” and giving them a “definite” (de-finite, de-fined) form, is indeed what all Rational Gods consider to be “creation”: it is their version of creation, creation made in the image of a computer program. And this is also clearly the sort of “creation” that occurs in the Book of Genesis, another version of Reason's account of the origin of its origin. “And the earth was without form, and void…And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Here we have all the typical Urizenic left-brain activities at work: giving definition to a pre-existing formless or fluid existence (there is no genuine “creationism” in either the Hebrew Bible or in Plato's Timaeus), using logos to delineate and separate existence (rationally enough, starting with the most fundamental conceptual categories of day/night, and hence the origins of every subsequent temporal-sequencing program), employing all the analytical, judgmental, evaluative processes of the left hemisphere in order to describe these new abstracted entities as “good” (just as Plato calls his perfect triangles “good”), before setting to work dividing the rest of eternity into equally nice neat, ordered, Urizenic bits. As Damon notes:

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