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Neuro-Physiological Patterns – The Basis of Clinical Interventions
Everything around us and inside us is all about patterns. This includes physics, astronomy, biology, cultural relationships, and everything else. For a hypnotherapist this concept is crucial, as it extends to the totality of human experience and transformation.
The commonality of all existence is the tendency to move from chaos to order. Order implies the elements of a system are organized in a logical pattern reflecting relationships of interdependency. Chaos means that everything entropies eventually into disorder. Regardless, the next step is always a return to order. Patterns mean order; order means patterns.
Patterns are all around us. They can be organic, physical, or social. Examples include such mundane, everyday experiences as traffic patterns, medical and therapeutic protocols, values, beliefs and cultural norms, languages and linguistics, the rules of physics, and martial arts traditions. We live around, and even within patterns every second of the day. In fact, both our mental and physiological existence is dominated and defined by the patterns inside us, and in the world around us.
An excellent metaphor for patterns is found in the conventions of Western music. Music is recorded on a staff, which is a series of five horizontal lines and four gaps. The musical environment is further defined by establishing the cleft, which describes the range of pitches; key signature, which establishes whether notes are to be flat or sharp; and a time signature, which divides a piece of music into regular groupings of beats. Next, notes are added in order to demarcate rhythm and frequency. This over simplification of musical notation merely serves as an illustration of a pattern. (Note that different cultures may use different methods to notate music. However, the core concepts are shared despite their differences on the mechanics of notation.)
From the genetic influence on neonatal development to the neurological and physiological patterns derived from our environment, patterns define our existence and interactions with others. Those which involve the human mind and body are neuro-physiological patterns. Unlike myths and superstitions, they are tangible scientific realities which can be analyzed by using medical, social, and psychotherapeutic investigative methods. They can also be detected through our visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory sensory channels. Most importantly, it is through our heightened kinesthetic awareness that we can actually feel our neuro-physiological patterns.
Patterns dominate our lives. When a pattern is established we become accustomed to it. In the brain and body we say that the patterns are habituated – which means that they have become firmly hardwired and strengthened in our neural networks and firmly rooted in the relationships and routines of our physiology.
We exist in a world with multiple systems, such as biological, physical, and cultural. Also, they exist at different levels, like cellular, organic, aggregate human, and transpersonal. Therefore, patterns are at a minimum two-dimensional in that by nature they are interrelated with the patterns of other systems and sub-systems.
Although patterns of one system will work in harmony and concert with those of other affected systems, conflicts among one or more of them must be resolved. For instance, any unexpected pattern – such as a parallel fifth in Western music – almost always will create an uncomfortable disruption. In humans and other organisms this is reflected by an uncomfortable feeling and will result in some type of a reaction, such as entrainment of the patterns of one system to match the disharmonious patterns – thereby creating a new harmonic synthesis. Failure to do so will create an excommunication, obsolescence, and even extinction of the system which fails to adapt. Therefore, like resistance to transformation, correcting discord through entrainment and adaptation is a critical feature of pattern theory.
Instinctually our brains are perceptually organized to recognize patterns. As will be discussed below when memory and thought formation is explained, the brain will immediately filter all perceptions and attempt to locate matching patterns. Examples of this include a geologist studying aerial photographs and satellite imagery in an effort to locate natural resources, a fireman in a smoke filled room looking for unconscious humans, and participants in a television game show.
Sometimes our pattern recognition efforts lead us to false conclusions. Illusions occur when our recognition system misidentifies a pattern. These are sometimes referred to as hallucinations when we detect something that is not actually present or fail to recognize something which is. NLP practitioners state that these pattern recognition failures are due to the fact that our filters distort, delete, or generalize perceptual data
The human mind and body is comprised of multi-level systems at the cellular, organic, and aggregate levels. Each level has multiple variations (e.g. types of cells) and sub-systems (e.g. histological components such as proteins), and integrates with peer, subordinate, and superior systems (e.g. the organization of cells into organs and organs into the aggregate body, etc.).
Each system participates in proactive and reactive processes and uses specific languages to codify states (e.g. bioelectric, hormonal release or inhibition, protein polarity, nurturing/protective reactions, and immune response). Additionally, each system has an ability to communicate with peers, subordinate, and superior systems and possesses the ability to self-monitor, entrain, and adapt.
The ability for a system or an element of a system to be both self-aware and aware of its environment strongly implies that each element has a consciousness. For example, on the surface of the human cell are two types of proteins which are critical to its awareness and its ability to sustain itself. One – the receptor – scans the environment and signals the other – the effector – which serves as the portal for nutrition, to open or close. This is just one form of cellular awareness. Also, the open or closed state is not dissimilar to a computer chip’s binary operation – and therefore presents another metaphor for the human body to store information and programs. Additionally, the actions of the various proteins inside the cell will change as they adapt to the input they receive. When the appropriate proteins are not currently available, RNA/DNA interaction will produce them. If the appropriate DNA programs do not exist, they will be altered so that the cell can adapt to the situation. This system of self and environmental awareness and the intelligence to adapt gives cells a level of intelligence. From the cellular level upward, every element and system possesses an innate level of consciousness. Therefore, as no element or system is below the threshold of consciousness, the terms subconscious or unconscious are misnomers.
A neuro-physiological pattern is a codification of multiple states within a system. The mental and physical manifestation of an emotion is a neuro-physiological pattern. The current status of one’s health is a neuro-physiological pattern. The mental and physiologically codified states associated with an addiction such as smoking are a pattern. A memory is a neuro-physiological pattern. So is the letter I or any other symbol or idea that is encoded into memory.
Upon transcending neonatal development, the human brain continually develops in stages generally through the first 25 years of life. Unless interfered with by trauma, disease, or inherited disorders, this development follows specific genetically-determined patterns.
A major portion of neurological development is environmentally based. During the first 26 months of life, an infant increasingly responds to the environment Neurologists believe that during the initial period, the brain contains a massive number of undifferentiated neurons. Environmental influences, to include encounters with family and surroundings, result in the strengthening of various neural networks. Other networks weaken through disuse. Through a process called apostasis, redundant cellular structures die and are not replaced. (However, recent discoveries relating to reorganization and neural stem cells tend to contradict this belief.) The remaining networks become the basis of patterns which affect identity and rival DNA in their impact on establishing the nature of personality. Around the 26th month of life, the basal ganglia – a dual substrate of the limbic system which sits laterally astride the two thalami – produces a burst of dopamine. This act curtails this period of rapid differentiation.
The adherents of localization and plasticity disagree about the subjects of brain development and maturity. Both agree that development continues until all substrates mature around the 25th year. However, the popular belief among the former maintain that every network which will ever exist is created during an initial differentiation period ending at about the 26th month. They are consistently contradicted by the preponderance of evidence provided by researchers who promote the theory of brain plasticity. This latter group presents the idea that new neural networks and further differentiation are created all the way through old age. Specifically, research involving stroke victims and Alzheimer’s Syndrome prevention supports their claims.
Sensory input and new ideas or thoughts are stored both in the brain and in the body. (The transpersonal dimension will not be discussed.) Such storage is typically referred to as memory.
There are two types of memory. The formation of each follows a different neurological pathway and is stored in a completely diverse manner. Both types of memory, however, create distinct patterns which biologically represent the stored phenomena. Both types of memories are created simultaneously. The two types of memory are explicit and implicit – which are often called declarative and procedural, respectively.
The process of encoding explicit memories is slower and the storage capacity is limited. Yet it is superior in the fact that only explicit memories possess meaning and relevance. When perceptions or thoughts are recognized by the applicable department of the thalamus, then the hippocampus begins a process of encoding short-term memory. As the thalamus constantly scans the rest of the limbic system and the entire neocortex as part of a bi-directional communication system, active substrates impact on the encoding process. Chief among these is the role of the right prefrontal cortex. (More specifically, this is the right orbitofrontal cortex, which is just above the right eye.) This substrate is critical to the establishment of meaning and relevance. Should it become damaged or otherwise inhibited, a person’s memory would have no significance. This is much akin to random, unsorted telephone numbers which have not been related to names or businesses.
The implicit memory formation process is extremely rapid and has seemingly unlimited storage capacity. However, its shortcoming is that the stored memories are bereft of meaning. Many idiot savants have demonstrated miraculous memory formation and recall abilities. Regardless, their inability to understand the relevance of the data stored in their nearly encyclopedic memory underlines the fact that their memories are almost entirely implicit rather than explicit. Therefore, intelligence – which is the ability to form new patterns such as new neural networks – is more related to explicit rather than implicit memories. (Note: Regardless of their remarkable memory storage and recall abilities, by definition idiot savants have IQs of less than 50; many with IQs less than 25. “Idiot savants” is the correct clinical term is often not considered politically correct. Therefore, this article will refer to them as savants or refer to concept as the savant syndrome. )
Due to space limitations, explicit memories must be truncated and stored in a way which will allow later retrieval. To attempt to store complete details regarding every sensory input is impossible. For long-term explicit storage they must be abbreviated and reduced to patterns of data. Consider for a moment a forensic sketch artist working with a witness. The artist attempts to promote recall by using various categories of attributes. The artist then fills in the details. The use of patterns as the primary explicit storage methodology is extremely important to understanding the power of the conscious mind to use suggestion to affect both neurological and physiological changes. Explicit memory is stored as patterns by altering neural networks of the brain.
Methods used to store and warehouse memories are largely dependent upon the frequency of their recollection. Memories are strengthened by continued use. As the brain must protect itself by subordinating less relevant memories, it operates through a continued differentiation process, which was called use it or lose it by the late Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, PhD. Constantly reused memories result in denser, more developed, and more efficient neural connections and pathways. Neural networks – which are often called brain maps – for habituated patterns are primarily stored in the parietal lobes. It is interesting to note that the autopsy of Albert Einstein’s brain reveled denser parietal lobes. Unused pathways are subject to the differentiation process.
Implicit memory encoding, storage, and retrieval are also pattern-based, although not necessarily as simplistically as that of explicit memory. These memories dominate the first 2 to 3 years of our life. They are more rigid and less likely to change. All implicitly stored memories correlate to bioelectrical and biochemical changes within the body. (The changes are states which then become codified into patterns.) For instance, a memory of a fearful event will cause a flow of neuropeptides and hormones from the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. This in turn affects a multitude of organs, such as the heart and the adrenals. Also as mentioned above, Bruce Lipton, PhD, pointed out very succinctly that each cell’s receptor proteins will signal the effector portals to close, thereby preventing cellular nutrition and reproduction. As the hypothalamus communicates to the pituitary, a sympathetic autonomic process occurs which leads the body to subordinate many visceral processes in order to emphasize muscles and organs more suited to the survival of the system. Add to this the concomitant bioelectrical reorganization of the cells, organs, and major systems – such as cardio-vascular, respiratory, endocrine, etc. Each biochemical change has a bioelectric counterpart and visa versa. These collections of codified states represent the patterns of implicit memories.
Publications and research presented and/or conducted by Lipton and California psychotherapist and Erickson protégé Ernest Rossi, PhD, indicate that environmental responses impact on the internal behavior and functioning of the cells. Their research points to the fact that DNA can be restructured by environmental processes. Therefore, this response is part of implicit memory formation.
Every perception, concept, and idea which enters into our implicit memory system is coded by an intricate reorganization of bioelectric, biochemical, and possibly even genetic responses.. This signature or codification is synonymous with what is known as our feelings. The physical manifestation of our memories is found in our feelings. All knowledge has a powerful kinesthetic component.
Our dual memory systems work in unison and in tandem. Due to the limitations of the explicit memory system, implicit memories provide the color that makes memories seem real. For instance, a memory of the relevance of a loved one or the object of our distrust or disgust may be meaningfully recalled though our explicit system, which will only serve to provide the outline and basic filtered facts about that person. (Details may be available should due to how recently the pattern was formed. The more details, such as color, association – versus dissociation, clarity of sound, strength of smell or taste – will also be related to the feeling derived from the implicit memory.) However, this will trigger the implicit recall, thereby providing the emotional or rather feeling context. The bi-directional nature of the implicit/explicit memory relationship is why emotional triggering of kinesthetic reactions occurs. NLP practitioners will quickly recognize that this is the basis of their anchoring concepts.
During our entire lifetime we continually build up a library of patterns to support our recognition system. As explicit memories also contain the element of meaning, it is important to realize that without meaning many of our perceptions are completely irrelevant. As an example, consider a person in her 40’s who goes through surgery to restore vision which was lost at infancy. Even though she can now see, she has no concept of the meaning of what she is seeing. She can see a face but not understand that the person is a loved family member. Or, she will see a curb, but still stumble over it as she has never been able to associate (i.e. give meaning) the curb with the danger it presents. Thus over time our learning (e.g. new pattern encoding) provides needed context for our explicit memories.
While understanding memory is critical to understanding how patterns are stored and recalled, appreciating thought formation is necessary if we are to realize how perceptions and ideas become the content for new memories.
Perceptions can either originate in the external environment or from the consciousness of subordinate systems. However, artificial perceptions – which are created by the imagination or anticipation created within the right orbitofrontal cortex – will produce similar thought processes.
Thought is a process which creates new explicit and implicit patterns.. A pattern is a network or signature of interdependent associations. When new associations are created, regardless whether it results in new explicit and/or implicit patterns, a thought has occurred. Thoughts are synonymous with the term learning.
When imagined or perceived phenomena reaches the limbic system (i.e. the thalamus), the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – the brain’s switchboard – attempts to match/recognize the phenomena with existing patterns. When this happens successfully, feedback is transmitted to the limbic system. As the endocrine system is triggered by the hypothalamus-pituitary interaction, biochemical and bioelectric responses occur. The ACC locates a recognized pattern as encoded in explicit and implicit memories and no further response is necessary. The limbic response is one of comfort. At that point the basal ganglia’s caudate nucleus releases sufficient dopamine to inform the ACC to cease its search. (The role of the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter dopamine by the caudate nucleus is a critical factor in understanding rapid phobia cures, memory and motivation problems, and the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and chronic anxiety.)
When the ACC is unable to find an immediate pattern match, it will attempt to find similar patterns and synthesize a new pattern. This process is called thinking. When pattern matching fails, biochemical and bioelectric responses will result in a feeling of uneasiness. New patterns result in new explicit and implicit memories. Again, when the cycle is completed by the formation of a new pattern, the caudate nucleus will give its all clear by releasing dopamine. (Using this conceptual framework of thought also begins to explain the nature of creativity.)
On the other hand, if the ACC should fail to quickly locate either a matching pattern or similar patterns from which a new one can be synthesized, then it will continue to function. Due to the ACC’s inability to signal back to the thalamus an achievement of closure, its continued operation will quickly result in an increased requirement for additional glucose. This will also result in both a dumbing down of nearby energy starved substrates, such as the temporal lobes and the prefrontal cortices, and cause the limbic system to trigger a fear/flight reaction. While this will increase motivation for the brain to find a solution (i.e. the ACC to locate the appropriate pattern or stimulate the creation of a newly synthesized pattern), this prolonged stress on the neuro-physiology will negatively affect brain capability as it serves to retard functioning and may adversely affect the adaptive immune system.
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