Published in Massage Therapy Journal, Summer 1995, VOL., 34, No. 4.
The first part of this essay defined "somatic recall" as the release during massage and other kinds of bodywork of repressed and often highly emotional memories. Often such "flashbacks" are beneficial, leading to resolution of old trauma, pain, or psychological attitudes. Sometimes therapist and client simultaneously detect an identical avalanche of sensory information. We described some ways that soft tissues can store information, and how touching certain parts of the body could trigger and then erase memories at the same time that toxic materials are being released, physiological communication channels are opening up, and flexibility is being restored.
As a phenomenon, somatic recall seems a bit too peculiar for scientific exploration. Most scientists would consider instances of somatic recall to be hallucinations or delusions, as they do not fit with normal theories about how the brain and nervous system work. This is frustrating for the therapist who has such "hallucinations" frequently, and who would like some scientific validation for a phenomenon that seems both important and therapeutic. We take the view that the phenomenon is not only valid and therapeutic, but that it is an important clue that could help us answer unsolved questions about the mechanisms of learning, memory, consciousness, and whole-system communication.
In the first part of this essay, we described a new way of looking at living tissue as an interconnected molecular continuum, which we refer to as "the living matrix." This way of looking at the body is the result of an important discovery: the matrix inside cells, known as the cytoskeleton, is directly connected to the matrix outside of cells, classically known as connective tissue. The living matrix gives the body its overall shape and features, defines the form of each organ, tissue, and cell, and extends into every nook and cranny of the organism. The nucleus and DNA are a part of the living matrix.
The most exciting property of the living matrix is the ability of the entire network to generate and conduct vibrations. Modern biophysical research is revealing a wide range of properties that enable the body to use sound, light, electricity, magnetic fields, heat, elasticity, and other forms of vibrations as signals for integrating and coordinating diverse physiological activities.
According to the continuum communication model, every event in the organism produces vibrations that travel throughout the living matrix. In this way, every part is informed of what all other parts are doing. Massage and related techniques are effective because practitioners have used their intuition and sensitivity to develop methods of interacting with fundamental and evolutionarily ancient communication systems that are not part of conventional biomedical paradigms.
The cytoskeleton is being referred to as the nervous system of the cell. Biologists are now describing ways that specific components of the living matrix can store, process, and erase information. We now continue to develop a theory of how massage and other kinds of bodywork may release memories stored in soft tissues, and how these memories reach the consciousness of both the client and the practitioner.
Before doing this, however, we need to summarize the reason neurophysiologists have not looked beyond the brain in their search for the location of memory.
The brain as the seat of memory?
Modern biomedical research focuses on the brain as the location of memory, in spite of the many signs that this is only part of the story. The reason for the bias is partly historical. It arose from early brain research, some of which was done by the famous Canadian pioneer of neurosurgery, Wilder Penfield, in the 1920s. Penfield discovered that electrical stimulation of particular areas on the brain surface caused patients to re-experience "memories" from the past. These recollections contained vivid details of long-forgotten events that manifest as moving picture like "flashbacks."
After years of research along these lines, Penfield concluded that electrical brain stimulation could activate sequential records of consciousness laid down during a person's earlier experience. The detail contained in these recalls was so vivid that Penfield concluded that every experience we ever have is recorded in the brain.
The vividness of memory recall is familiar to massage therapists as well as to practitioners of various other somatic methods, including hypnotic regression, rebirthing, acupuncture, and even music and movement therapies. During sessions employing these and other methods, clients often relive early traumatic experiences. In some cases, experiences that took place at birth, or even in utero, can be recalled in detail, and with observable therapeutic benefit.
Penfield's discovery that electrical brain stimulation elicits specific recollections led to an obvious, but incorrect, conclusion. Memory traces, which are called "engrams," seemed to be stored as patterns of neural discharge in specific areas of the brain. This idea was supported by research showing that surgical lesions in certain areas of the cortex can seriously disrupt learning.
Modern researchers have repeated Penfield's studies and questioned the original interpretations. "Memories" elicited by electrical stimulation of the brain have a dream-like quality, and may not be memories at all. Sometimes stimulation at different sites produces the same recollection, and at other times repeated stimulation at one site evokes different recollections. Even removal of major parts of the temporal lobe, the location of the stimulation points, did not destroy memories of events that had been elicited by electrical stimulation of the lobe before it had been removed.
The brain is part of an intricate system, and the effects of stimulating, damaging, or removing certain parts does not prove that those parts are the locations of memories. Because of the interconnectedness of the nervous system, one cannot be certain that a particular evoked experience is stored near a site of electrical stimulation, or far away from it. Moreover, each region of the cortex refers to a particular part of the body. The brain and distant tissues are connected by motor and sensory nerves and by other communicating channels within the living matrix. Stimulation of a spot on the cortex may activate an intricate system that includes cells and tissues that are very far from the site of stimulation. [Fig. 1]
The logical problem of confining the search for memory and consciousness to the brain has exacerbated an already difficult problem: study of these phenomena is conducted by narrow disciplines, each with methods to study only a small part of the whole problem.
The brain's monopoly on memory has been eroding for many decades. Studies done as early as 1940 demonstrated that certain simple reflexes can be conditioned or learned by spinal cord neurons that have been surgically disconnected from the brain (Shurrager and Culler). This fact led to the conclusion that memory may be found in all parts of the nervous system. We now see that this concept, too, may be limited, because of cytoskeletal memory in non-neural cells, and because there are other forms of information storage in soft tissues (ea. as the orientation of connective tissue fibers)
From our point of view, the most significant lines of inquiry arose from studies of neurophysiologists who continued Penfield's search for the location of the engram. Of these, one of the best known was Karl Lashley, the distinguished Harvard psychologist who spent virtually his entire scientific career, 30 years, in an unsuccessful search for the engram.
Lashley's basic approach was to train rats to perform tasks such as running in a maze to find food. He would then surgically damage or remove specific parts of the rats' brains, or cut the connections between them, and test again. His goal was to identify the part of the brain where the maze-running engram was stored. Even removal of large amounts of brain tissue, which impaired the rats' motor skills, failed to erase memories essential to running through the maze. Lashley concluded that all parts of the functional area where memory is stored are "equipotential."
Karl Pribram was a student of Lashley, and wanted to continue the search for the engram. After reviewing all of Lashley's work, Pribram concurred that memory must somehow be distributed throughout the brain as a whole, rather than localized at specific sites. This view was supported by the repeated observation of neurosurgeons that removal of large portions of the brain for medical reasons can dim a person's memory, but never seems to cause a selective loss of particular memories. The engram is so elusive that some neurophysiologist suspect that it may not exist.
Pribram's problem was that there was no concept of memory that was consistent with all of the evidence. This fact had a deep impact on the field of experimental psychology, which had great difficulty advancing without a solid understanding of the mechanisms of processes so basic as learning and memory.
All of this changed dramatically with the invention of the hologram. Holography was first postulated by Dennis Gabor in London in 1947, but it did not blossom into a radically new branch of optics until 1964, when Leith and Upatnieks introduced modern holography.
Holography is technically defined as "photography by wave-front reconstruction". To understand this concept, consider a beam of light shining on an object consisting of a single tiny point. The diagram shows how the light will be reflected from the point. The light waves bounce back toward the source in a series of expanding concentric spherical shells, called wave-fronts. They are three-dimensional versions of the circular waves formed on the surface of a pond when a pebble is dropped into the water. [Fig. 2-A]
A complex object can be regarded as a collection of points, and light reflected from it's surface will produce a reflection composed of an intricate set of spherical wave fronts. [Fig. 2-B]
In holography, this intricate pattern, which contains precise information on the shape of the object, is recorded directly on a photographic film. The recording, however, is not a record of an image of the object. In contrast to conventional photography, holography employs no lens to focus the image on the film. Instead, wave fronts reflected from every part of the object flood over the whole film. Each point on the object reflects light onto the whole area of the film, and each point on the film receives light that has been reflected from every point on the object.
The wave fronts reflected from the object create a set of waves known as the "object beam." This light interacts with a "reference beam" consisting of light from the same source that has been simply reflected from a mirror. The final image is an interference pattern, created from the interaction of the object and reference beams. [Fig. 3]
Let us take a closer look at interference. Most of us have thrown a pebble into a pond and watched in fascination as the ripples spread over the surface. Consider a pond with a smooth surface, with no wind or other disturbance. When we throw a pebble into the pond, the ripples spread concentrically outward. In the language of physics, we have created a series of ripples known as a wave train. The leading edge of the wave is called the advancing wave front. It is the place where the moving disturbance produced by your pebble interacts with the placid surface of the pond. [Fig 4-A]
If there is no wind, and if no other activity is taking place on the pond, we can watch the waves spread over the entire pond surface, even to the farthest points. The spreading wave contains information. When the wave has spread out over the entire pond, information about the splash you created is distributed throughout the surface of the pond. (Recall that Lashley and Pribram thought memory might be distributed throughout the brain, but could not think of a way this could be accomplished). An observer at any point on the pond could study the size and direction of the incoming waves and estimate where your pebble had splashed into the water.
Note that the distant observer studying the incoming waves does not see a real image of your pebble hitting the water. Instead they see a wave pattern from which they can infer when and where your stone hit the water.
Our observer would have a more difficult problem if there were a breeze or a boat or a duck or another pebble thrower creating waves that interact with those from your pebble. Interference patterns form where wave fronts interact. [Fig. 4-B]
The interference pattern is produced because some of the interacting waves add to each other to produce larger peaks, while other waves subtract from each other to produce smaller waves. The diagram below shows how two different waves interact to produce a third wave form, the interference pattern. This is an intricate array of crests and troughs caused by the collision of the two wave fronts. It is an irregular wave form, but it still contains information from the events that produced the original waves. [Fig. 4-C]
Let us ask our distant observer to analyze the interference patterns and reconstruct the events that caused it. The problem is not as complicated as you might think. A Frenchman, Jean B.J. Fourier, showed that a complex wave can be mathematically separated into its parts. Fourier analysis is a form of calculus that can be applied to any mixture of waves, whether ripples on the surface of water, sounds emanating from an orchestra, or radio signals coming from deep space. The most intricate wave pattern can be separated into the simple waves that created it. And the simple wave forms can be converted mathematically back into the original pattern. The equations are known as Fourier transforms. We shall soon see that Fourier transforms may also be used by the brain to process visual and other kinds of sensory information.
Now consider the situation created by many disturbances on a pond surface. To research this, we observed a nearby pond. The wind was blowing gently, creating a wave train moving from right to left. A small twig fell into the water, producing a concentric wave pattern. A similar pattern appeared when the head of a turtle popped above the surface. A frog made three hops in the shallow water near the shore, creating three more concentric waves. Small bugs, each about 1/4 inch long, glided over the surface. (Remarkably, these bugs left no wake except when they changed direction. It looked like they were skimming along, in a state of levitation, just above the water surface, and only made contact when they changed direction by pushing off with one leg). A flying pair of mating dragonflies dipped down and the tail of the male briefly touched the surface, creating a tiny bulls-eye wave pattern on the surface.
At any instant we could take a photograph looking down on the pond surface, and record the advancing wave fronts and interference patterns. The photo might look something like [Fig. 4-D].
The picture of waves on the surface of a pond resembles a holographic image. Information about the object is optically encoded as a pattern of concentric rings.
The pattern of light waves reflected from a complex surface is intricate, as we have seen. If white light, composed of many colors, is used, each color will produce a separate pattern of fringes. There will be an averaging out or overlap of the information, and the image will be fuzzy. The quality of the image is therefore greatly improved if the source of illumination is monochromatic, i.e. of a single color. Even better images are obtained if the light is coherent.
What is meant by coherence? Coherent radiations are very different from the random signals produced by random vibrations. This is an important point in relation to massage therapy and other kinds of bodywork, and is therefore worthy of an explanation. As an example, compare the light produced by a light bulb with that from a laser. Laser light is monochromatic. All of the vibrations of the atoms in the laser are coupled with each other, and the waves spread uniformly and concentrically outward from the source. In contrast, the light bulb is simply a hot body, producing a jumble of light of many colors. The vibrations of the atoms in the bulb's filament are random, and the waves spread outward chaotically from the source. [Fig. 5]
The diagram in Fig. 6 compares the wave forms of coherent and incoherent light, and distinguishes between temporal (time) coherence and spatial coherence.
For holography, it is essential that the light be both spatially and temporally coherent. While there are other ways of producing coherent illumination, the laser is far superior to any other, and is responsible for the remarkable holograms that are being made today.
When illuminated with coherent light from a laser, the hologram reconstructs an image of the object that contains all of the information in a normal photograph, plus additional information that normal photography is unable to capture. The holographic image looks exactly like the original object, but in contrast to a normal photograph, the object appears suspended in space in three-dimensional form, complete with parallax. (This is the way the parts of an object become displaced relative to each other when they are observed from different angles). The image has depth, and cannot be distinguished from the original object. You can view a holographic projection from different angles, and you will see its front and sides, just like a real object. But when you attempt to touch the object, you find there is nothing there. In terms of optics, the holographic projection is a virtual image rather than a real image. [Fig. 7]
The other remarkable aspect of the hologram is that each part, regardless of how small it is, can reproduce the entire image. A corner cut from a normal photographic image contains only a portion of the original scene, but a fragment of a holographic film contains the entire image in miniature. This is comparable to placing observers at various places around our pond and having them watch the interference patterns produced by disturbances of the water's surface. The story of these disturbances is present everywhere on the surface.
As the pieces of a hologram are made smaller, there is a loss of detail and image intensity. The entire image is still available, but it must be reconstructed from a smaller number of interference fringes.
Leith and Upatnieks published a technical article on holography in 1964 and a popular article in Scientific American in 1965. Pribram saw the second article, and immediately recognized that holography provided a single conceptual framework that could account for many of the remarkable aspects of memory.
Pribram's subsequent work is responsible for the widespread application of the holographic model to brain function, but he was not the first to suggest it. In 1965, immediately after the first technical paper by Leith and Upatnieks, two other scientists, Julesz and Pennington, made the explicit suggestion that memory is stored in the brain as interference patterns comparable to those used in holography.
Now we can see why Pribram was so excited by holography. He had concluded that memory is a distributed property of the nervous system. He and others had noted that removing large parts of the brain only dims memory but does not erase it, and these properties are the hallmarks of holography.
Holography is a very sophisticated way to store information, and Pribram saw immediately that the brain could exploit holographic principles. Perhaps physical structures responsible for memory were elusive for the same reason that the patterns on a holographic plate are unintelligible and bear no relation to the images they encode. Perhaps brain structures and patterns of nerve impulses contain no first order information (like a regular photograph) about memory and learning. Perhaps memory is to be found not in the patterns of neural activity, but in their Fourier transforms.
Over the years, a number of different lines of evidence have been developed to support the holographic model of memory and to show that some of the remarkable aspects of memory are virtually impossible to explain by any other concept. For the recent neurophysiological perspective on holographic memory, see L.R. Squire's book, Memory and Brain. A very readable description of this story can be found in Michael Talbot's book, The Holographic Universe. The following summarizes some of the evidence:
All of these ideas seem to fit together, and neurophysiologists are beginning to accept that at least some aspects of memory are stored holographically.
Among those skeptical of holographic memory was Paul Pietsch of Indiana University. Pietsch was doubtful of Pribram's theories, and set about to disprove them. To do this, Pietsch did a series of experiments with salamanders. The brain of a salamander can be removed without killing it. Without a brain, the salamander is unable to do much, but normal behavior can be restored by returning the brain to the salamander's head.
Pietsch did a series of experiments based on the idea that if the holographic model is correct, it would not matter how the portion of the brain that controls feeding behavior is positioned in the head. He figured he would flip-flop the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and this would disrupt feeding behavior. Pribram's theory would then be out the window. To his great surprise, the experiment caused no change in the salamander's feeding behavior, once the animal had recuperated from the operation.
Pietsch then did a series of some 700 operations on salamanders, turning brains upside down, slicing, flipping, shuffling, subtracting, and even mincing brains and reinserting them into the animals. In all cases, the animals' behavior returned to normal after they recovered from the "post-operative stupor". All of his research, which Pietsch details in his entertaining book, Shufflebrain, led him, reluctantly, to become an ardent believer in the holographic model.
Soft tissue holography
Now we can return to Young's model of connective tissue memory, and Hameroff's model of cytoskeletal memory, described in the first of this pair of articles. In Young's model, the stresses of the environment select the sites where collagen is deposited. Information is stored in the form of oriented collagen fibers. What is stored is a set of structures that reflect the situations, postures, movements, stresses and strains that have been experienced by the organism. Hameroff and other cell biologists have extended soft tissue memory processes into the cytoskeletal level. Can these ideas be integrated with Pribram's holographic model?
Such an integration can be achieved by recalling that all of the molecules of the living matrix create large scale coherent or laser-like vibrations. Therefore the orientation and other properties of each fiber in the connective tissue and cytoskeleton, and the forces imposed upon it, will be translated into specific wave forms that will travel through the living matrix and that will be broadcast into the environment. Since every molecule in the body can act as both a source and a conductor of information that can spread throughout the whole, the entire body can be viewed as a dynamically interacting, three-dimensional, communicating, coherent hologram. The same mechanism that unifies the structure of the body may simultaneously provide for the storage of information or memory. Consciousness and the processes we refer to as "mind" may arise as consequences of this dynamic system.
Implications for massage therapy
The living matrix is a continuous physical, energetic, and informational network that distributes regulatory signals throughout the body. Every physiological event and every process creates a variety of kinds of vibrations that travel through the tensegrity matrix, much like ripples spreading over the surface of a pond. Some of the vibrations radiate into the space around the body.
When a massage therapist or other bodyworker approaches a client, vibrations are exchanged back and forth between their respective living matrices, even before there is direct physical contact. This interaction is a natural and inescapable consequence of the fundamental design of the living matrix as a communicating system, and is explainable by the laws of physics. Biomagnetic and other field interactions take place all of the time when two or more people are within a few feet of each other. The fields are the result of electric, magnetic, thermal, photonic, microwave, and other kinds of energy.
Empathy, the ability of one person to "tune-in" to the physiological or emotional state of another, and other so-called "psychic abilities," occur because the living fabric radiates energy fields into the environment. These fields are a rich source of information about the history and the present status of the living matrix. The communicating continuum ends with one person who is a receiving antenna, detecting the state of the tissues in another. The transmitters and detectors involved in these exchanges are the molecular components of the living matrix.
Therapists project specific vibrations directly into places in the client's body where energy and information flows are distorted or deficient. The result is the restoration, revitalization, opening up, organizing, balancing, energizing, and tuning of resonant vibratory circuits.
Learning involves various kinds of changes in the living matrix, some of which we have described: tensional patterns in the connective tissues and structural patterns in microtubules and other components of the cytoskeleton. Other kinds of molecular information storage are being investigated in laboratories around the world
"Remembering" involves manipulating coherent wave fronts to "read" information holographically encoded in cell and tissue structures. "Consciousness" at any instant is the totality of the coherent signaling within the living matrix, including wave fronts reflected from specific information-containing structures. Our behavior is shaped, on a moment-to-moment basis, by choices that are referenced to information contained in the reflected wave fronts.
Coherent signals from the hands of a massage therapist or other bodyworker influence wave fronts flowing throughout the molecular fabric of their client's body. When emotionally "charged" regions are contacted, there may be a sudden recall of stored memories. The memory trace is released as an energetic pulse, and interacts with other wave fronts present in the body. The memory is erased when various polymers, such as ground substance and microtubules, depolymerize or fall apart,
In a separate article, we have suggested that some of the more powerfu1 energetic phenomena taking place during massage or other approaches to the body may involve solitons. These are coherent solitary or singular waves that can occur on the ocean or in any other medium. In contrast to normal waves, solitons do not disperse or dissipate their energy by spreading out. The concentric wave pattern produced by dropping a pebble in a pond loses its energy as it spreads over the water surface. In contrast, solitons carry large amounts of energy over long distances without loss. "Qi projection" in the martial arts probably involves soliton waves. [Fig. 8]
Sometimes massage therapists notice a visible or palpable wave or ripple propagating through their client's tissues in advance of the place where they are working. This may be a powerful, self-regenerating, coherent soliton wave. In the ocean, solitons are called tsunami or tidal waves, and are produced by submarine earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. They can be very destructive.
Soliton waves traveling through the living matrix restore communication channels. When this happens, the soliton can penetrate into areas of the living matrix that have been closed-off or protected for a long time. There may be an sudden recall of some long-forgotten or deeply repressed traumatic event. This can reach consciousness in the form of a reflected wave that travels through the living matrix. The reflected wave contains a detailed virtual holographic image. An entire array of sensations can be conveyed virtually instantaneously. The wave front does not stop at the surface of the client's skin, but is radiated into the environment, and communicated to the practitioner, who decodes the wave front into an identical image. The ability of the therapist to detect and decode the avalanche of sensory information depends upon the degree of coherence of their own structure.
The soliton wave may be energetic enough to bring about depolymerization of information-rich molecules and erasure of the memory. In other cases, the soliton may stimulate metabolic activity in a tissue that has long been dormant, and somatic recall will be delayed for a day or so, until the cells begin to divide, their cytoskeletons depolymerize, and tensional patterns begin to be reorganized in the soft tissues.
The phenomena we are describing are non-linear in nature. When a system behaves in a linear fashion, a larger input will produce a larger output. Living systems can operate in the reverse of this. A non-linear system can undergo a huge change in response to a tiny input. Bodyworkers and homeopathic physicians frequently refer to this as “small is powerful" or "less is more." The living matrix can be delicately poised to accept and utilize small amounts of coherent energy.
Conclusions: A biophysics of massage
There are many reasons for studying the nature of life, and as many approaches. Progress along all lines of inquiry occurs in fertile spurts, punctuated by times of relative stagnation. Progress slows for a variety of reasons that can be attributed to a tendency of "human nature" to:
Biophysics, the physics of biological processes, is by definition an interdisciplinary line of inquiry. Biophysicists combine information from the two great sciences upon which our medicine is founded.
The history of physical, biological, and medical research shows that clever and dedicated investigators have been motivated by similar goals that eventually proved to be erroneous. In physics, it was the search for the fundamental building block of matter; in biology, it was locating the fundamental particle of life; in medicine, it was finding the fundamental cause and cure for every disorder. Expenditure of huge amounts of money and effort yielded useful information, but the original goals remained elusive. As observational methods became more refined, smaller and smaller fundamental units of matter, life, and disease reveal themselves. The focus shifts from one component to another.
The study of memory dramatizes the points just made. It was obvious from the beginning that memory would be found somewhere in the body, and the brain was the best place to look. Logic also dictated that we define a fundamental "particle" of memory, the engram. Many years of research have failed to locate a single place where memory happens, and the engram is as elusive as the physicist's fundamental building block of matter. But the search continues, and it remains focused on the brain.
In the meantime, massage therapists and other bodyworkers have remarkable experiences, of which somatic recall is an example. To us, this is a huge clue in the search for memory, and suggests that researchers may benefit by looking beyond the nervous system. The biophysical properties of the living matrix can explain a variety of phenomena that have been elusive in the past: learning, memory, consciousness, unity of structure and function.
While the concepts presented here are not yet a part of normal biomedicine, they have a sound scientific foundation. And they go a long way toward explaining some of the phenomena that arise in complementary medicine. We believe your practice is one of the best 'laboratories" for testing these concepts. Before this can happen, biophysical language must be translated into understandable terms, so therapists can explore the new data and concepts. Our writings aim to do this. We look forward to hearing from those of you who find these ideas useful in refining and expanding your technique and understanding. Research is fun when it leads to new questions and opens us to new possibilities.
© 1995 James L. and Nora H. Oschman
This essay is dedicated to Joan Bisson and to others like her who embody our most ancient and natural healing instincts .
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