The Hidden Spring of Mark Solms

I’ve had Mark Solms (2021) book The Hidden Spring – A Journey to the Source of Consciousness” since April last year.

[Post Note: Final round-up of reading “The Hidden Spring” here. Many more references to Solms since.]

Finding lots of content I recognised (eg. a major dependence on Jaak Panksepp and life as “homeostasis” – the whole book is dedicated to Panksepp in fact), I had previously satisfied myself with maybe never actually reading Solms amidst other priorities. Primarily – the cortical fallacy – a shift of focus away from the “higher” brain cortex to mid-brain / brain-stem sites of conscious activity. At that point McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary was already history and The Matter With Things hadn’t yet materialised. The two are complementary: a higher-vs-mid/lower emphasis as opposed to a left/right-mediated-by-mid/corpus-callosum, and despite the fact neither references the other (?), both share a lot of resources.

Both also share an emphasis of practical experience of not just the physio-neurology but the clinical psycho-analytical / psychiatric aspects of their human subjects too. Both also are to some extent rehabilitating fields that became unfashionable due to too many subjective “snags” in being taken entirely seriously by science (*). In fact Solms has effectively created his own subject area – neuro-psycho-analysis – out of the wreckage of cognitive neuroscience.

I guess I was a little prejudiced against Solms apparent wish to locate a specific physical site of consciousness located within the brain, since I already subscribe to a pan-(proto)-psychism. For me the brain – the whole extended nervous and hormonal system – is the transducer and/or orchestrator of our conscious experience, whichever directions we slice and dice the functional elements for analysis. Solms and McGilchrist are clearly both right. It’s the systems architecture that matters, the elements all play their parts.

Anyway, I am now slowly reading Solms and getting plenty from it. As well as the obvious recurring idea – a given – that any science that discounts the subjective from its attempts to explain consciousness is discounting itself from any chance of doing so, Solms has a strong support (after Panksepp) for an ontology of feelings – the qualitative aspects of immediately sensed experience – as literally what constitute conscious experience. Very close to the Pirsigian quality of pre-conceptual, radical empiricism. Obviously Pirsig isn’t referenced, not even in the 2/3 I’ve not yet read, but I will complete it.

Again, still, highly recommended.


(*) eg the jibe of sneering scientific orthodoxy against Oliver Sacks as “the man who mistook his patients for a literary career”.

3 thoughts on “The Hidden Spring of Mark Solms”

  1. McGilchrist (in his earlier book) talks about higher-brain / mid-brain / cortex differences as a complicating consideration of which we need to be aware. He doesn’t present a theory of these differences, or discuss how the two theories might reference one another.

    For what it’s worth, and as I’ve mentioned before, I think might profitably consider volition as originating, not with the right hemisphere, but with a deeper structure that relies on both hemispheres — either somewhere in the brain, or or throughout our entire self-contained bodies (just as we might move the “seat of consciousness” to include the nerve endings in our fingers, or the sensations in our abdomens).

    Whitehead also considered feelings to be primitive in an ontological sense. (Science seems to prefer another sense, that of “paleolithic emotions” in E.O. Wilson’s famous comment on the modern condition.) Process and Reality has a long index entry, which includes the sub-entries “inseparable from subject, 220-222,” and “universal, 347,” among many others).

  2. I meant to say, “a deeper structure that relies on both hemispheres as its emissaries, or as its emissary.”

  3. Agreed the two simply have different focuses – neither is denying the other.

    And yes, I’m not really concerned in pinpointing a single “seat” of consciousness – it’s a system and it’s the arrangement of all the parts that matters. Different parts fulfil different roles and as well as different activities, their activities have different qualitative aspects. In any event the whole has co-evolved, so it’s obvious that some aspects must have emerged in “older” parts of the system.

    Referring to these “base” emotions as somehow prehistoric or animalian is what denies their lasting and important real value. (Which I’m sure both Whitehead and Wilson understood.)

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