Hello Fellow Travelers!
Below is an article that appears in the October 2010 edition of "Further Light," a Masonic Education Magazine published by the Florida Lodge of Research, of which I am a Lifetime Member and contributing author.
Fraternally and Sincerely,
Bro. Coach N
Masonic Influence on Brain Transformation
Not many Masons know that the training of Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts is designed to transform their brains. Yeah, I know this might sound “pretty scary” but it’s true. What’s even scarier though is that I was a Masons who didn’t know this up until this year. What changed my understanding of this was asking a simple question. As a result on my asking this question, seeking an answer and knocking on whatever door I could find, a flood of information was opened up to me that bordered upon overwhelm.
Admittedly, it was an innocent enough question; one of many that seem to pop into my head from time to time when I’m involved in Masonic adventures. The focus of my adventure this time was the Fellow Craft degree. More specifically, the last Seven Steps of the Winding Staircase talked about in the Fellow Craft Lecture.
My question was simple: What does studying these seven topics do to the brains of people studying them? I had no idea where this question would lead me, but there was one thing for sure, I was ready, willing and able to go to any length to know the answer.
Soon after I asked it, the question led me toward some information regarding brain function(1). It seems that some time over the last century, brain neuroscientists had mapped the function of the brain, specifically, the cerebral cortex. They discovered some very interesting aspects that fit very nicely into affirming what Masons have focused upon for some time. It appears that the functions associated with the lobes of the cerebral cortex are affected by studying the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. Let me explain.
Our brains(2) are created with natural affinities. Being natural, these affinities are already wired into our being. This means that our brains naturally will do what they have affinities toward. The problem though with those natural affinities is that what may come natural does not always get nurtured to maximize its potentials.
This is where specific study comes into play. By studying targeted subjects such as those comprising the Trivium and Quadrivium, precise areas of the brain are exposed to patterns that enhance the brain’s natural abilities in that region. Simply put, exposure to Light Orders the Chaos of that area.
Trivial Brain Function
Let me share an example of this. The back of the brain known as the Occipital Lobe is wired for sight. In that wiring are tendencies to recognize objects such as “horizontals, verticals and diagonals.” When this region is exposed to specific patterns, it “learns” to recognize these patterns and even associates them with what they mean.
When those who are instructed properly are exposed to visual numbers and letters, this region of their brain eventually imprints upon the shapes of those visual patterns and associates these patterns with numbers and letters. Of course, this recognition also works in conjunction with the sound of such letters and numbers, along with the words that they spell out and language memory.
The latter part of the brain is associated with the left Temporal lobe and this associated region stretches from the area from just in front of the ear, all the way back past the interface of that lobe and through to the left area of the Occipital lobe and the lower portion of the left side of the Parietal lobe. This whole region is associated with Grammar. When exposed to Grammatical training, the natural affinity of this brain region Orders itself to recognize Lexicon and the Rules that govern that Lexicon – Grammar!
Additionally, if we examine how exposure to Logic affects brain Ordering, we would find that the upper part of the Frontal lobe is affected. Logic training exposes this region to the Logical patterns which Order it toward recognizing when proper Logic occurs and when what is presented is obviously faulty or flawed.
Finally, training that exposes the brain to Rhetoric shows that this specific training accesses, integrates and further Orders these just mentioned regions, most all of which are left Brain activities. Furthermore, this activity includes the lower parts of the Frontal lobes along with the front parts of the Temporal lobes; some of which are right brain activities.
You might now ask yourself what these just mentioned regions have to do with Rhetoric and you’d be right in doing so. It is not enough to say that it accesses, integrates and further Orders these regions. One should know the basis of such claims. Let’s connect the dots.
Integrating the Entered Apprentice Work
The lower parts of the Frontal lobes are associated with we call “morality.” Their function controls whether we say and do or not say or do. This is but one of two areas that Rhetoric study access and helps integrate. The other areas are the two front parts of the Temporal lobes. These are the emotional memory areas of the brain. These, together with the lower portion of the Frontal lobes, control our morality.
Of course, study of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences only reinforces the functions of these just mentioned moral influence areas. These areas should have already been Ordered through the Work of the Entered Apprentice prior to being Passed.
You may quickly ask: What Entered Apprentice Work Orders the morality areas? And the answer may surprise you: All of it! Let’s review it quickly.
The recognition and divesting of Vices and Superfluities frees the Entered Apprentice from unnecessary and harmful Burdens. In conjunction with this divestiture, Strengthening takes place in the form of establishment of Virtue within the daily activities and choices of the Entered Apprentice. This takes discipline and such activities are continually recognized and affirmed by Fellow Crafts and above before Entered Apprentices are Passed. Should such Work not be completed, the Ordering of these area will not be completed either and the Brain of the Mason shall be Burdened and weaker than it should be while progressing through higher degrees. Such a condition is best exemplified by the Hebrew word “sibolet”, which means “burden.(3)”
The follow up Fellow Craft studies that Order mostly the right side of their brains are Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Arithmetic Orders the Right side of the Occipital lobe in conjunction with the back part of the Parietal lobes. It structures our understanding and recognition of numeric lexicon and the proper use of operators in dealing with them. Geometry Orders the back part of the Parietal lobe and Right Temporal lobes. It structures our understanding and recognition of numbers as they relate to space. Music Orders the right Temporal lobe. It structures our understanding and recognition of numbers as they relate to time.
Something that intrigued me was how the study of Astronomy acts like a capstone to all this study. The answer that was revealed was amazing. Astronomy integrates the left and right brain functions dealing with time and space and the manner to which we use language to convey our understanding of time and space discoveries. In doing this, Astronomy further Orders, accesses and integrates all lobes mentioned throughout this writing.
Aside from all the interesting and wonderful things that occur to the brain to transform it so that its natural affinities are honed to a sharp edge, there is an underlying reason such abilities are desired by Masons. If you examine history, you will find that the study of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences was required as preparation for higher learning targeted at Scholasticism – reconciling Theology and Philosophy. A person would not dare enter into such serious study without having a firm foundation in these Liberal Arts and Sciences. Such lacking would inevitably lead to problematic evaluation, translation, interpretation and conclusions. That understanding continues today. The primary reason for such specific Liberal Arts and Sciences study remains the same – to prepare for further, more serious study of Theology and Philosophy(4). Masons should keep this in mind should they attempt to dismiss the relevance of such studies.
Let me provide an example of how this works.
The Jewish observance of Passover occurs upon the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Sacred Lore is interpreted by some to reveal that the name “Passover” comes from the belief that the Lord “passed over” houses whose doorposts and lintels were sprinkled with the blood of a specific type of lamb. Study of the events and the timing of the celebration reveal many interesting aspects of the celebration that are not so obvious to those who do not have Liberal Arts and Sciences training.
The first fact of interest lay in the timing of the event. The Passover celebration always starts when the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is the 14th day of Nisan which begins on the night of a full moon after the vernal equinox.
In ancient times though, the start of spring was not always astronomically guided. There were more practical signs that needed to be considered. The tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of Nisan would not start until the barley is ripe, being the test for the onset of spring.(5) Since at least the 12th century, knowledge of Astronomy and mathematics reveal that the spring equinox is the point in which the sun position above the rotating earth provides an equal amount of light during the day with the darkness in the night. Any day soon after this moment could be considered a day that showed the sun had “passed over” this equality point of day and night length. Knowing this, the question still remains as to why this observance comes during the first full moon and not immediately after that tipping point.
Upon further examination of the cultural records of the time it become clear that the reference to the lamb is also quite revealing. At the time this celebration was immortalized in the practice of the Jewish people, many tended flocks of animals as a matter of daily activity. Part of that activity was to make sure that these flocks were both fed and kept secure. When the season changed from winter to spring, the passing over of the sun was a sign to those tending their flocks that the feeding grounds to the North were about to be producing food. This meant that their flocks would have to be moved toward these pasture lands so they could feed on the new growth.
These moves were problematic if they were not planned for and executed properly. Two conditions that had to be considered deserve some reflection. The first condition was that all newborn animals would slow the flock’s progress to an unacceptable pace; this placed an unnecessary sibolet upon the entire flock. The second condition was that darkness created additional dangers involving terrain and predators. To move flocks during the darkened hours of night would place them in danger, especially if that movement were done under star light alone.
To minimize the possibility of newborns within the flock slowing them down, sacrifices would occur. This meant “spilling” blood. Such sacrifices were seen as necessary and were accepted without question to assure the safety of these flocks. Not doing so jeopardized the flock’s very survival.
To minimize nighttime threats, flocks were moved during those times when the moon’s brightest light lit the skies. This occurred on a regular bases and all that was required was a bit of Astronomical know-how to get the timing correct. Since the first full moon after the spring equinox proved the perfect time to move the flocks to the North, this became the day in which that activity occurred year after year.
As you can imagine, most people within the Jewish faith do not tend flocks any longer. There is no need to make journeys from one pasture to another and not minimize travel time by sacrificing those creatures who would slow that transit. It is clear though that the memory of such activities have been dutifully and faithfully carried forth year after year as sacred lore in honor of their ancestor’s diligent activities.
To participate in serious Theological and Philosophical studies, one must have the capacity to decode the records of the past. Specific study provides a firm foundation for cultivating this capacity. Without such firm foundation, assumption about these records might lead one to conclude falsely what these records and events reveal.
It’s truly a marvel how specific studies transform the brain and bring Order to chaos. Masons might want to assure that those Masons who come up through the degrees do the Work that Ritual points to, otherwise men are Raised into positions that they are not properly prepared for.
About this submission: This article is based upon the research behind the book “Building Athens – Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education - Volume 3” by Dr. John S. Nagy. The book was published in May 2010. (http://www.coach.net/BuildingAthens.htm)
About the Author: Dr. John S. Nagy is a Master Mason, a perpetual member of Tampa Bay Lodge No. 252 in Tampa Bay Florida and a Life Member of the Florida Lodge of Research. He is the Lodge Musician for both Lodges and occasional Masonic Education provider.
2 All reference contained herein are those of right-brained individuals. Left-brained maps are mirror images of those.
3 Ephraimites – The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry - Mackey
4 Trivium and Quadrivium - Wikipedia
5 The barley had to be "eared out" (ripe) in order to have a wave-sheaf offering of the first fruits according to the Law. Jones, Stephen (1996). Secrets of Time. This also presupposes that the cycle is based on the northern hemisphere seasons.