The Mature Mind
Roof-brain chatter is a term I picked up from reading Robert de Ropp. Others call the activity our “stream of consciousness.” James Joyce used the phenomenon as a literary device. Tracing the origins of this “internal speech” performance gives a short summary of acculturation.
Recall how our body-threat reaction to a physical world has been transferred to an ego-image threat in a semantic one. The tiger is no longer much of a threat around that next bush, but there is mother-in-law, spouse, children, boss, parents, rednecks, dollars, Republicans, and so on.
The flight-fight system, only occasionally called on in a tiger world, is never at rest in our semantic one. The homeostatic stabilizers are overtaxed in our semantic sea, yet never get the ship on even keel. As homeostasis and the threat syndrome are converted to culture, and the acculturated mind to its semantic universe, semantic feedback from others becomes the stuff of life and reality. Authenticity of self and world becomes a matter of words.
A child will talk to himself out loud and unconcerned. He verbalizes his exploration of reality. Talking-out his world is his address to the objects named, self-included. Under pressure of conformity to use language only as communication with other people, this talking out of his world gets internalized. Schooling clinches the defensive maneuver of internalization.
Internal talk “joins forces” with the “real-me” operating behind the outer mask of social compliance. As the demands from out-there become increasingly insistent on the child, the “in-here” of the real-me must attend more and more to that activity impinging. Finally, internal talk becomes only a reflection of the outer pose.
Talking to one’s self inside one’s head acts in a homeostatic manner. Through it we try to achieve a pseudo-stable sameness of the semantic reality. A semantic reality must have a steady source of words. Talk is compulsive on every hand. And print is almost hypnotic in its pull on the literate conditioned mind. Language activity becomes a survival necessity, and roof-brain chatter forms a stable semantic background continually reinforcing the social world.
By maturity the practice of internal speech is virtually nonstop. It probably continues unabated even in sleep. Some dreams may well be forms of roof-brain chatter. Without the modifying reality checks of other people and other things, this night form gets bizarre, as in sensory isolation.
Personal awareness is largely this stream of roof-brain talk. Even when actual feedback from another source is coming in, roof-brain chatter goes right ahead, prestructuring, tape-looping, resenting, planning one’s rebuttal. Listening to one’s actual social world, much less a “natural world,” is difficult for the acculturated mind, while the various subtle body-knowing processes stand no chance of being perceived.
Roof-brain chatter can be categorized into three states: past, present, and future, or guilt and resentment, hostility, and anxiety.
The past event carried over in roof-brain chatter centers around resentment and guilt.
Resentment is hardly an incidental slight within the playback system. It is deadly serious and the source of many bodily ills. The mind tape-loops (John Lilly’s term) a bad event, fires it into play over and over, lining up the sequences in new, winning ways. Image verification unwinds the movies in the head the way it should have been.
The whole body often mobilizes according to these fantasy plays. Muscles tighten, blood rushes about, adrenaline is produced, and all the stuff generates for fighting, arguing, mating, or whatever is going on in the head.
Our resentment grid screens the present moment for similarities to past slights. We replay recent events for similarities with long-standing slurs. The body system, designed to handle actual dangers, operates in a similar way, but below awareness. Converted to this roof-brain reflection, the system runs out-of-phase, in reverse gear. It is kicked into continuous motion by word triggers from every direction.
Good feedback also acts as an effective grid, screening out the present moment. Good memories lead to the attempt to duplicate such events by manipulating current cues, as rehearsed ad nauseum in roofbrain prestructurings.
Either way, positive or negative, reflective memory tangles future expectancies onto past recollections and projects the resulting mess onto the present moment, neatly canceling whatever opportunity a now might actually offer.
Roof-brain chatter acts as a pseudo-homeostatic system. We furnish ourselves a stable optimum feedback world of ego-image verification. The present moment, what little might filter through the grid of resentment is fogged by latent hostility. Hostility toward the present results from real or imagined similarities with past bad times, or the possibilities of such reproduction. We redress past wrongs in tape-looped corrections and project such prestructuring onto current data.
The present carries the seed of potential hostility, and our intellect attempts to manipulate the current event to give a predictable future. We further check the present for proper response to our gestures, stances, and postures played for image verification. The responses we desire from the present are never forthcoming. The infinite contingencies of reality never seem to match our grids. So new resentment material is always close at hand.
This stew of resentment, hostility, and anxiety is never clear-cut in the roof-brain. Few ideas ever play themselves out in that kaleidoscopic montage. Crack readers will recall my outlining how all great creative “Eureka!” discoveries break through at odd moments when, among other things, this broken record effect of the roof-brain dims.
Roof-brain chatter makes up the bulk of one’s “mental life.” This activity filters out the present moment, drowns the primary perceptions in sheer head noise, and grounds one in a stasis of imaginary chaos. An American Indian said the white man was deafened by his own tongue. That Indian would have been astonished could he have tuned in on that internal chatter. An ancient Hebrew said: “Be still and know that I am God.” Roof-brain chatter has been around for a long time.