Primal Therapy And Consciousness 2/16/20
Updated: Oct 13, 2020
When I began doing feeling work, the thing that was startling to me was that, not only was my body presenting a play (re-enacting organized series of sensorimotor reactions), but that I was watching that presentation. This is why I sometimes refer to primal therapy as sensorimotor meditation.
Successful primal therapy is all about consciousness and self-awareness. Yet, this area of brain science is in its infancy, with some scientists and philosophers of science even denying the existence of both functions.
Suppose that we define consciousness as our ability to sense the environment and to automatically organize responses to that information. First line consciousness would then be subcortical consciousness: the ability to sense isolated components of an experience and to organize (automatic, mindless) responses to that information. Scientists refer to this as low-road information processing, which bypasses the cortex. Normally, we are constantly engaged in this stimulus/response activity. Experience comes and goes, mostly unnoticed. But, if the experience is traumatic, the organized response gets memorized (classical conditioning). This memory gets re-experienced throughout life, gradually getting generalized onto many experiences. And it gets operantly conditioned, which results in the unique ritualized behaviors that we call neurosis. So far, so good. The tenets of classical and operant conditioning are well studied and grounded in science. If we accept that Janov’s Imprint is a fear conditioned memory, then this aspect of primal theory is well grounded in science.
Third line consciousness would be our ability to sense cortically organized networks of subcortical information and to generate informed, corrective responses to that information. This is called high-road information processing.
Then, there is our ability to willfully draw small amounts of information from all levels of consciousness into working memory for examination by the mind’s eye. Now we’re getting into trouble! Science is unable to help us here. Perhaps the function of willful self-awareness should be described as fourth line consciousness. And, if panpsychists (1) are correct, this form of consciousness is universal consciousness. It’s important to note here that primal connection is not dependent upon this willful reflection by the mind’s eye (although it is enhanced by it). Rather, connection happens because information was cortically processed.
One critically important result of cortical processing or third line consciousness is that “the medial prefrontal cortex …has been hypothesized to play a role in the extinction of conditioned fear responses.” And...
“By exerting inhibitory influences over the limbic system, including the amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex thereby regulates the generalization of fear and overall increase in the fearful behavior mediated by the amygdala.”(2) This explains the importance of making primal connections, as it relates to getting rid of neuroses.
(1) Goff, Philip, Galileo’s Error, Pantheon Books, New York, 2019. Panpsychism is the theory that speculates that consciousness is not confined to biological entities, but rather that it is a fundamental feature of all matter…from sub-atomic particles to the human brain.
(2) Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, and Clare Pain, Trauma And The Body. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006) PP 148-149.