Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is There Really a Heaven?

Something touched a nerve about this subject because the forthcoming book on heaven is on the cover of Newsweek (Oct. 15, 2012), (Read the article here) and is a new book.  It is written by a scientist, self proclaimed, because he is a neurosurgeon.  Scientists and neurosurgeons are not necessarily equal.  In the field of psychology he is far from a scientist.  But  let’s look at what he claims; but first in order to establish his bona fides,  his disclaimer:  he never  believed in near-death experience.  He was a “faithful Christian” but not a practicing one.  I think he means he was a believer but not really a “true believer.”

  He  contracted meningitis, fell into  a  coma for a week, and a good part of this thinking/aware  neo-cortex was shut  off.  “Then on the morning of the seventh day in the hospital, as my doctors weighed whether to discontinue treatment,  my eyes popped open.  While  the neurons of  my cortex were stunned to  complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another dimension of the universe.”  He went to a place he never dreamed existed; sorry, I mean he went to a place that he dreamed existed.  This placed him in a “new  world.”  And I am sure that world is new to him: but not to me.  And not to me as a scientist who studies the deep unconscious.  I will need to explain.

As soon as our doctor had  his top level surgeon  brain  knocked  out he was like all of the rest of us: non-scientific schlubs  with no critical/judging cortex to help  understand our experience.  He was no longer scientist but someone who went through what our patients go through every day. The  difference is that our patients are able to connect their experience to higher level processes, where the doctor could not because there were no higher levels operating at the time.  I will have to explain better.  Our therapy is based on the three levels of consciousness, not as a theoretical abstraction but as a scientific therapy that has been heavily researched.  We take patients back to their childhood to relive and integrate childhood trauma, and even before to birth trauma and earlier events during womb-life, which  is neurologically possible.  These events operate  on different levels of consciousness where the deepest level is processed in brain structures that lie on the bottom part  the brain in the brainstem which handles our instincts, primitive experiences such as terror and fury, and imprints early events far below our ordinary levels  of  conscious/awareness.  And  that means far below the emotional experience of a surgeon whose whose life  is focused  on the here and now, not on his childhood and emotional trauma.

The top  level cortex is the thinking, comprehending analytic brain that understands experience, but we have experience without all that.  Look at the Alzheimer patient  who has  a pretty full life, albeit unconscious or unaware, who operates on below conscious/aware levels.  She can fall in love, care for  animals, take walks with someone she cares about and carry on minimal conversations, bereft of fancy abstractions.  She can have a life.  Well that is what  all of us have but beyond  that we have a deeper, brainstem life with  a  little bit of an emotional/limbic  system component that signifies a  life before words and even before the full  development  of our emotions.  I reiterate, those brain levels  exist in  all of us and have their  own operating system that dictates how we respond.    Unfortunately, few of us ever have a chance to go back  to visit  and relive  those experiences, except for our patients.  And what happens when they do?  The  imprinted experience on the brainstem sends its nerve shoots (brain pathways) to higher levels that in turn respond in their  own way.  The limbic area offers  emotions to the mix, and then at long  last  the cortex  enters the fray and adds is ideas and fantasies.  The final step  in our work is arriving  at  conscious/awareness; lower levels rising and  gathering up parts of each higher  level, finally recruiting  the neo-cortex to make sense of it  all.  It  unifies the entire experience into a specific meaning…  “They didn’t love me.”

  How do we know? Well we  have years of research behind us,  discussed in peer reviewed journals, but  also  in our therapy when patients descend  to deeper levels  they not only begin to feel deep sadness or pure  terror but  as  the  feelings expands the brainwaves also  mount, as does  the blood pressure  and body  temperature.  More important, when the feeling is unified there is a descent of key vital signs below starting baseline.  That signifies the beginning of  integration; and over months those vital  signs remain changed as the body changes.  We change all levels of consciousness not just the top level neo-cortex, as happens in cognitive therapy.

  We have seen patients approach these deep levels, after months of therapy, never right away, and begin their strange ideas……”I am in a washing machine that won’t stop and I don’t know how to  stop it.”  Or, “I  am  suffocating in a cave. There is no air and I cannot get out.”  These, in my experience, are derivatives of the birth experience (foreshortened here),  that first send up vague  but related ideas, the forerunner of the reliving experience.  It is very possible  in those who approach these experiences too soon  or who have take drugs to get there, that they will get stuck in the fantasy,  the dream sequence, and never arrive at  a connection.  Here is  where our surgeon enters.  Surgeons, and we have treated them, are notorious unfeeling  souls who  left their emotions far behind to be able  to  cut into our brains.  We get them in therapy after a stroke or from some exotic disease.  We get them when they have no other option.  They are the  last to believe  in feelings and the  emotional level.  I am not sure that if we are fully feeling we could take  a knife and cut  into someone’s brain.  But you know what they say, “a shrink is a doctor who cannot stand the sight of blood.”

  So what happens?  Experience on  deep brain levels are like the spokes of a wheel that  radiate upwards and forwards to inform high levels of it  all but without words or verbal  information.  We later put  words and fantasy images thanks to our  emotional levels and then we believe what we have “experienced.”  This only means that the person has stopped short of  connection  and has conflated or grown into a “cosmic consciousness” thanks to LSD, rebirthing and other nonsense.  He gets blocked on the emotional level, in this case, because the meningitis brain is not doing so well and cannot help out much.  And so later he really believes he has “been  to heaven,” which our previous LSDers believe after an acid trip.  We know  from research that the acid takers are flooded  with pain  as the  control mechanisms in the brain shut down with  the  drug.  Their pain of a lifetime surges forward into the top level.  Their  only recourse is to  manufacture another planet with the little cortex they have left.  And  they can construct someplace else where all is wonderful… clouds  and softness,  and especially, where  death  is not only not so bad but a nice place to be—everyone’s dream of heaven.  If our doctor  had written that it was a  horrible experience  it would never be on the front page of Newsweek.    It doesn’t help that he is a scientist; in fact it hurts,  because he has less  expertise on feelings than most of  us have.  He is on another planet; that of surgeons.  He states that although his top level was out of commission his lower brain levels were alive and well. And they are but he never knew what lies on those levels.  It took us forty years to get down to those levels safely and  finally to understand the brain well  enough to know about those three  levels and how they make out our conscious/awareness.  We have been there and have  taken careful notes on our patients” experiences.  They go through pretty much the same thing; first emotional/dreamlike fantasies, (as the limbic system contributes) and later the concoction of elaborate  notions of heaven and new planets of existence thanks to the neo-cortex.  If you want to call that heaven that is fine but don’t give it the imprimature of science.  It is  fantasy pure and simple, even when offered by a “scientist.”  I have  found  that  the minute a scientist gets slightly out of his specialty he tends to talk nonsense.  And he stops being a specialist.  He  leaves off  where we begin.  We don’t dissect the brain  but we dissect what  the brain does with feelings.

  Our doctor  could not do that so he hears beautiful chants  and songs  of angels; by the way, if the top level was  completely shut  down where did  he  get the idea of angels?    He  now sees that we are one, unified beings, part of all the world.  And  then he says it gets  worse: he has  a companion through  it all, someone  young and beautiful,  riding  along  on the wings of  a butterfly.  You need a limbic system to have even an imagined companion, so clearly, higher brain levels were at work.  And  then without  any words a wind thrusts  through  him  and he heard,  “You are loved.  Cherished.  You have nothing to fear.    There is nothing  you can do wrong.”  All three  basic primal feelings that one  gets to in  our therapy over  time.  But it is not an idea; it is a feeling where patients beg, “Love  me just a little.  Say  I  am  good and not wrong,” etc.  Basic needs  that we all have  and need to experience.  It  needs connection which  is  liberating, something  our doctor never had; and needs for a real  experience.  Doctor, it is not the wind speaking; it is your father.

  Years ago there was a  similar book, also  a best seller, who had little men who looked like ET who  bundled off the author to a waiting  starship where they performed all kinds of booga booga on him.  It sounds crazy but no more crazy than riding  on pink clouds with  a beautiful “princess.”  It is all fantasy and does not  make heaven  any more real except for the true  believers.  It is all in the mind.  The doctor believes, “It as if I were being born into a larger  world,  and  the universe was like a giant  cosmic womb.”  Exactly.    A symbolic birth primal.  We have patients who have been on drugs or who are  very disturbed  who have  those feelings;  once they connect, it  all disappears.  But imagine me explain to the doctor that birth imprints stay in the brain  and direct part of our lives. And then tell him that we can  relive it all. He will surely think I am  the  crazy one.  He says that what he went through demands explanation.  Here I am.

  One part of the explanation is that as death nears  the whole system goes into alarm state.  There is secretion of endorphins  and serotonin as the system fights the  danger, and then it  is  over; or not.  If it is not over, the person may have felt the near-death  syndrome but he never went to heaven.  He touched on hell and that drove his brain to  fabulate heaven.  There have many studies on near death.  Usually it is when someone has fallen into a coma, comes out and imagines she died.  She didn’t.  But that doesn’t stop the notion that “I left my body and traveled to another planet.”  Let us not forget  that Wilder Penfield in Canada, decades ago put an electric probe on areas of the temporal lobe (of those undergoing surgery for epilepsy) and got delusions and hallucinations.  It so happened that the closer he got to the  actual memory site the more real the memory became.  All this means that we can get all  of these fantasies in a surgical setting in those not near death.  The minute that  we interfere with neurotransmitters we can get this effect, as well.  LSD affects serotonin turnover.  And this can result  in  disinhibition  which  then results  in delusions as repression  and inhibition falters.  In  short, we cannot believe what the cortex tells us  when lower brain levels is telling us something else.  But when the cortex offers goodies such  as gorgeous girls and heaven instead of death it can’t be beat.

If I were to take this doctor into therapy we would get to the real feelings eventually but then he couldn’t sell a million books.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

More on the Critical Window

I have noted for decades now that there are  critical  windows when events have  their  major impact; windows that seem to open and close at specific biologic timeframes.  I have written about love and when it must happen. There is a new study just out that speaks more to the notion of the critical window.  It is found in Scientific American (Oct 1, 2012.  "The Story of a Lonely Brain."Read the Scientific American article here).  They start out the article  noting that we are social  animals, and when we cannot be social early on, we begin to suffer.    They use brain development as key example, demonstrating the difference between the evolution of our grey matter (the  thinking brain), and our white matter which lies below and has to do with connections between cells, and is  largely subcortical.  As white matter  becomes myelinated it develops into a  functioning cell that permits rapid  response where impulses travel at optimim speed. It is the fatty material that  covers  the cell that  allows it to become functional  spreading the message over long  distances  in the brain.  For some white matter the myelinization continues on into adulthood.    And we go on learning and evolving.    The authors point out that children who grew  up in orphanages had deficient myelin sheaths and  less  white  matter, which made learning more  difficult.  If they were soon put into a loving foster home  there was no such damage.  Their conclusion was that placement in foster homes when  early enough  and during a critical period avoided serious brain damage.  In short, they could "catch  up" neurologically.

  Part of what helps produce myelin are the oligodendrocytes.  Isolated,  non-social mice had stunted oligodendrocytes (OLIGOS) which were often  malformed and had fewer branches.  And worse, the nerve  cells connecting the right and left brains were fewer and thinner.  In other words, the ability to transmit emotional information from right to left brain is  diminished.  The  point of this was that mice that were isolated very early on had the greatest damage; those who isolated later on did not have this.  The damage had to be  during the critical  window.  That is when there is the greatest impact on the system.  Rhesus monkeys raised in  isolation had smaller sized corpus callosum.  They also had great learning difficulties.  All this to say what should be clear by now: that there is a critical period when love can have its maximum and  longest  duration; any love outside that period will have much less of an impact.  This is what they found with myelin sheaths that signal the readiness of a cell to fire.  If the mice were isolated outside the critical period, there is minimal impact.

  So to sum up: mice who were deprived of social contact  during a critical window had  lifelong damage  and learning problems.  So why don't they do good at school when they are fifteen? Maybe we should  look at much earlier times.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Childhood Trauma and Adult Behavior

There is a study done by Kaiser Medical on 17,000 subjects (See for example They tested them on childhood trauma, parents in prison, divorce, parental abuse, etc.  They gave them each an ACE* score: no trauma was zero and it went up from there, depending on how much trauma there was in childhood.  Those with an ACE score of four were 6 times more likely to have sex before age 15, twice as likely to develop cancer and emphysema, more likely to be alcoholics (seven times more likely); while those with a score of six were 30 times more likely to have tried suicide.  Those with zero scores had very little learning problems or trouble in school.  When the scores are four or higher school problems begin.  In short, trauma in childhood  does bad things to adult life, something that probably is a given for most of us.

    But wait! That did not include womb-life where  major imprints and dislocation of function occur.  Where the memories are more deeply embedded, where almost irreversible  damage happens and where  the greatest impact on the brain  occurs.  In other words, the study has ignored the most crucial time of our lives where the crucible  for most later behavior and physical symptoms get their start. For example, it is more likely that the seeds for later  cancer are there, in the  early part of our lives while being carried; then later life  trauma, the  obvious kind, (a parent in prison) are observed and are added to the pathological mix.

    As the brain begins its incredibly rapid development while we are being carried, trauma in this time period is of utmost important.  And this means that any proper treatment means going back to address those traumas and undo their impact. We are not simply victims of that abuse we are responders who can  gain control of  the trauma and surmount it.  It means being exposed again to that very same trauma, feeling  its pain and thereby lessening the impact.  It breaks open the repression and  allows for  full  feeling.  It means undoing the damage.  I have written how this can be done in my "Life Before Birth". It can be done.  We do it and measure the results. One  result is the reduction  of the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As stress comes down, immune function increases.  It also means that as we experience the early traumas fully, we are under far less stress.  These are measurable outcomes.

  The implications of all this are, among other things, difficulty in concentrating  and studying, and the inability  to sustain paying attention. It means later learning  problems.

   I would have thought that economic factors are important here, but evidently not as important as we might imagine. A loving family is what counts most.

   A carrying  mother who takes drugs,  drinks  alcohol, is highly anxious and/or depressed is starting  serious damage for the child.  So  this study just confirms the primal viewpoint which has been made public for over forty years.

*Adverse Childhood Experiences

Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.