Deep inside the white matter of
the cerebral cortex, atop the brain stem, and astride the thalamus,
a collection of interconnected regions form the basal ganglia. What
they have in common is that, along with the
cerebellum, they modify movement from moment to moment---from a
dancer's somatically memorized steps, to the wild involuntary
articulations caused by Huntington's chorea, to the rigidity and tremors
of a Parkinson's disease sufferer.
found in the Paleolithic cave at Trois-Frères,
is identified as a therianthropic shaman/dancer. With reindeer antlers,
two eyes bulge over a thin nose. He has paws for hands, raised in
the air like a kangaroo's. A beard and mask cover his mouth. At his
other end, a horse's tail waves above a feline phallus, while hind
legs suggest a cakewalk dance.
The basal ganglia are commonly identified
by clinicians as the candate and putamen (which together with the nucleus accumbens
are called the striatum), and the globus
pallidus. Being that the subthalamus and substrantia
nigra have well-defined interconnections with either the pallidum
or the striatum, they are usually included. Topological extensions
lead to such modules as the claustrum and amygdala, but to include
these in basal ganglia nomenclature opens the door to too many other
structures not directly involved in psychomotor behavior.
The Hindu god Shiva, Shatterer of Worlds, dances, and reality dissolves, clearing ground for further visions
of civilization. He is portrayed as having four hands. In his braided,
bejeweled hair is a cobra, a skull, and a mermaid that represents
the Ganges River. There is also the crescent moon, and a wreath of
Cassia leaves. From his right ear hangs a man's earring, with a woman's
in the left. Besides being adorned with various jewelry, the god's
dress consists of tight breeches, a scarf, and a sacred thread. In
one of his right hands he holds a drum; the other hand is uplifted
in the "Do Not Fear" mudra.
One of Shiva's left hands holds fire, the other points down to the
dwarf/demon Muyalka, while the left foot is raised in midst of his
Balancing the frontal lobes' abilities
in the realm of abstract, creative thinking, the basal ganglia mediate
rule-guided behavior, integrating implicit encoding with the frontal
cortex's explicit processing, allowing us to reject, if necessary,
motivations that are not useful to the current situation.
In more modern times,
the great Russian ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, whom Parisians
called le dieu de le dance, the god of dance, is the Western
archetype of sequential upward mobility, rising expectations, and
the eternally youthful Peter Pan. He also represents the self-indulgent in-sanity of our civilization. In contrast to
Nijinsky is the Japanese aesthetic of Butoh,
innovative "dance that crawls toward the bowels of the earth,"1 while
exploring "the dark feminine principle, subconscious spontaneous
life."2 The direction of the dance
expresses where a culture searches for its gods. In the West, it
is primarily upward; one is "lifted up," to the Father.
In the East, it is primarily downward, as if planting seeds in Mother
(1) Tatsumi Hijikata. Piercing The Mask. Aka Productions
(2) S.H. Fraleigh, Dancing Into Darkness. Pittsburgh, PA., 1999.