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Body, Brain and Culture Victor Turner Before I examine some recent conjectures about the consequences for the study of religion of a possible coadaptation of cultures and gene pools, I should say something about the "lateralization" (the division into left and right) of the cerebral hemispheres and the division of control functions between the left and right hemispheres. The work of the surgeons P. Vogel, J. Bogen, and their associates at the California Institute of Technology in the early sixties, in surgically separating the left hemisphere from the right hemisphere to control epilepsy by cutting the connections between the two, particularly the inch-long, quarter-inch thick bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum, led to the devising of a number of techniques by R. W. Sperry (who won a Nobel Prize in 1981), Michael Gazzaniga, and others, which gained unambiguous evidence about the roles assumed by each hemisphere in their patients. In 1979, an important book appeared, The Spectrum of Ritual, edited and partly authored by Eugene d'Aquili, Charles D. Laughlin, and John McManus.' In an excellent overview of the literature on ritual trance from the neurophysiological perspective, Barbara Lex summarizes the findings of current research on hemispheric lateralization. She writes: "In most human beings, the left cerebral hemisphere functions in the production of speech, as well as in linear, analytic thought, and also assesses the duration of temporal units, processing information sequentially . In contrast, the specializations of the right hemisphere comprise spatial and tonal perception, recognition of patterns-including those constituting emotion and other states in the internal milieu-and holistic, synthetic thought, but its linguistic capability is limited and the temporal capacity is believed absent. Specific acts involved complementary shifts between the functions of the two hemispheres.2 Howard Gardner, following Gazzaniga, suggests that 26 at birth we are all split-brained individuals. This may be literally true, since the corpus callosum which connects the hemispheres appears to be nonfunctional at birth. Thus, in early life, each hemisphere appears to participate in all of learning. It is only when, for some unknown reason, the left side of the brain takes the lead in manipulating objects, and the child begins to speak, that the first signs of asymmetry are discernible. At this time the corpus callosum is gradually beginning to function. For a number of years, learning of diverse sorts appears to occur in both hemispheres, but there is a gradual shift of dominant motor functions to the left hemisphere, while visual-spatial functions are presumably migrating to the right .... The division of labor grows increasingly marked, until, in the postadolescent period, each hemisphere becomes incapable of executing the activities that the other hemisphere dominates, either because it no longer has access to its early learning, or because early traces have begun to atrophy through disuse.3 D'Aquili and Laughlin hold that both hemispheres operate in solving problems via a mechanism of mutual inhibition controlled at the brain stem level. The world "is approached by a rapid functional alternation of each hemisphere. One is, as it were, flashed on, then turned off; the second flashed on, then turned off. The rhythm of this process and the predominance of one side or the other may account for various cognitive styles [one thinks of Pascal's contrast between 'I'esprit de geometrie' and 'I'esprit de finesse'], from the extremely analytic and scientific to the extremely artistic and synthetic." 4 These authors and Lex then make an interesting attempt to link the dual functioning of the hemispheres with W. R. Hess's model of the dual functioning of what are termed the ergotropic and trophotropic systems within the central nervous system, as a way of exploring and explaining phenomena reported in the study of ritual behavior and meditative states 5 Let me explain these terms. As its derivation from the Greek ergon ("work") suggests, ergotropic is related to any energyexpending process within the nervous system. It consists not only of the sympathetic nervous system, which governs arousal states and fight or flight responses, but also such processes as increased heart rate, blood pressure, sweat secretion as well as increased secretion of catabolic hormones , epinephrine (a hormone secreted by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 26-34
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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