Reply To: The Salience Network

  • Don Salmon

    June 8, 2023 at 11:39 am

    Hi Lucy:

    What a wonderful response. I was just starting to do my morning exercise routine, and mulling over all your points and thinking, “How in the world am I going to focus in on the most interesting, helpful way of responding” – and this came to me.

    I’m going to try to address your question regarding my caution about making LH and RH too discrete, making the correlations of experience and brain activity too discrete (this applies to your question about depression and the RH, as well as Whit’s comments about mind wandering and the LH and RH.

    Les Fehmi was a physiological psychologist who probably led at least 1000 or more sessions per year over 50 years – my guess is he saw over 100,000 people in that time. His “Open Focus” method is a means of bringing about a state of coherence, integration, in the brain. And he gave a VERY rough template for understanding how to apply different kinds of attention to our experience:

    He suggested 4 dimensions:

    1. Narrow

    2. Wide

    3. Detached

    4. Immersed

    Now, generally, he said narrow, detached is the mode of the LH, wide immersed is the mode of attention of the RH.

    But let’s look at it in practice.

    I’m guessing most people here have practiced breath awareness? I’ve observed dozens, maybe hundreds?? of teachers and students teaching and practicing this. I would say a significant majority teach and practice it in a rather rigid way, struggling with their minds, forcing their attention, tensely focusing and getting lost in mind wandering.

    I noticed quite early on, that Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh taught breath awareness in an unusual way – he would always emphasize “FEELING the breath IN the breath.’

    Now, let’s put that together with Fehmi’s categories:

    1. I’m sitting here, aware of my breath, my mind constantly pulled this way and that. I try to narrow my focus to ignore everything else, and I’m observing the breath as an object.

    Sounds like LH, narrow detached attention, right?

    But we look at a brain scan, and it seems that my RH is more active, and if we zoom in more closely, various regions in the right hemisphere associated with flow, immersed, wide attention, are active.

    Confusing, eh? Let’s try again:

    2. I’m sitting, completely relaxed, feeling the breath flowing, not so much as an object separate from me but as part of a field of energy, almost like an ocean undulating, with the “breath” not so much separate but simply one movement in this unified field of energy-awareness.

    Sounds like RH, wide immersed attention, right?

    So you know what I’m going to say – the brain scan says the opposite.

    How can this be?

    I think Iain’s biggest mistake is not COMMITTING to the hemisphere hypothesis as a metaphor. I”m sorry, I’ve been studying the brain since the early 70s, I’m quite familiar with Max Velman’s work (I met him at a conference in India some years ago and he was kind of enough to write a blurb for our book) – I mention him because Whit referenced his work in a paper).

    And I will say, we just don’t know enough about consciousness, about mind (mind and consciousness are not the same), about feelings, sensations, about what matter and energy are and how they relate to mind and consciousness – to make the kind of definitive statements about mind and brain that our LH is so desperate to make (sorry, I just through in “LH” for fun – I think saying things that way is almost meaningless)

    It’s a metaphor. IN any case, I’ll conclude with practice. Lucy, I’m sure you know, whatever your knowledge of Ayurveda or hypnosis or any form of therapy is, when you sit down with a client or patient, all that goes out the window (at least, all explicit reference to it does) and you’re just THERE with them in ways no science of psychology or neuroscience can touch.

    And if that doesn’t make sense, try breath awareness and watch the nearly infinite ways your attention plays with experience, and then you see that these distinctions of narrow, wide, immersed, detached, LH, RH, are USEFUL, but only to a very very very limited extent.