Memories and the brain

(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

Olin Levi Warner's Memory (1896). Source: Wikipedia.

For over a hundred years science has been looking for physical traces of memory in the brain and has, so far, largely failed in such endeavor. Indeed, this video illustrates one of the fundamental difficulties of the postulate that experiences are somehow materially encoded in the brain. Since memories are themselves conscious experiences, many take the inability of science to locate them in the brain as evidence that consciousness is immaterial, as opposed to being merely a result of brain activity. However, recent scientific papers  of which this one is just the most recent example as of the time of writing  have been putting forward new evidence for material memory correlates. We've debated this briefly in this thread of the message board. Nonetheless, in this article, I want to explore in a bit more depth whether this new evidence contradicts, in any way, the hypothesis that consciousness is not a result of brain processes.

There are three hypotheses for the immaterial nature of consciousness, and its relation to the brain, which I find particularly interesting:
  1. The so-called 'transmission' hypothesis, which postulates that consciousness exists in an immaterial realm, protruding into space-time through the brain. The latter is then seen as a kind of transceiver of consciousness, 'SCUBA gear' for consciousness to have a material experience;
  2. The so-called 'filter' hypothesis, which postulates that consciousness is fundamentally non-local and unbound, the brain working as a 'filter' that limits and localizes consciousness to a particular point of space-time. This hypothesis was popularized by Aldous Huxley in the 1950s;
  3. The 'brain as a knot of consciousness' hypothesis that I put forward myself.
These three hypotheses are similar, except in that hypotheses (1) and (2) postulate dualism, while hypothesis (3) entails monism. Nonetheless, hypotheses (1) and (2) can be framed as explanatory metaphors in the context of hypothesis (3), which is exactly what I did in my books Rationalist Spirituality and Dreamed up Reality, respectively. We talked about this 'hosting' of hypotheses (1) and (2) under hypothesis (3) in this thread of our message board. Indeed, for the purposes of this article, all three hypotheses above can be considered equivalent. From this point on, I will refer to them as the 'non-materialist hypotheses.'

The non-materialist hypotheses are consistent with the empirical observation that, ordinarily, subjective states of consciousness correlate fairly well with objective, measurable brain activity. That is why, for instance, your mental state changes when the brain is intoxicated with alcohol; why you get knocked out from physical trauma to the brain; or why you go to sleep under anaesthesia. Indeed, the 'transmission' and 'filter' hypotheses postulate that conscious experience is modulated by physical brain states in much the same way that planetary explorers' perceptions and actions in Mars are modulated by the robotic rovers' sensors and actuators. A similar rationale applies for the 'brain as a knot of consciousness' hypothesis.

Now here is the crucial point I want to make: According to the non-materialist hypotheses, certain brain activity patterns are, in a way, analogous to 'keys' that 'unlock' (not necessarily in a causal, but perhaps a synchronistic manner) the awareness of certain phenomena; phenomena that would otherwise be either unavailable to consciousness ('transmission' hypothesis) or kept out of it ('filter' and 'knot of consciousness' hypotheses). So why should it be different in the case of memories? Why shouldn't access to memories be correlated to 'keying' brain activity (which Rupert Sheldrake would call 'resonant' activity)? If the non-materialist hypotheses are to be internally consistent, that should in fact be the case.  If physical events are found in the brain that correlate with memory access, that in itself would not contradict any of the non-materialist hypotheses, but in fact reinforce their internal consistency. Proponents of the non-materialist hypotheses should look forward to the discovery of clear physical correlates of memory access.

But one thing must be made clear: The non-materialist hypotheses entail that certain activity in the brain should correlate with memory access; but not necessarily that these physical correlates carry the entire information entailed by the corresponding memory. As Sheldrake explained through a clever metaphor, the 'transmission' hypothesis, for instance, looks upon the brain as a kind of TV tuner. Think of an old analog TV set: The electrical activity in the tuner circuitry causes it to resonate with a broadcast electromagnetic field in the air. It is the latter that carries the information of the TV show one watches, not the tuner. Nonetheless, activity in the tuner correlates well with the programming and, in fact, 'keys' into it. Naturally, trying to crack the TV tuner open to find the information corresponding to last night's show is futile, despite the correlation observed when the show was being watched through the 'keying' action of the tuner.
So when I say that the non-materialist hypotheses should entail physical correlates of memory access in the brain, that does not necessarily mean that the entire information associated with the memories is always in the brain (a TV show is not in the TV set). Therefore, a potential test of the non-materialist hypotheses, insofar as memory is concerned, is to estimate the amount of subjective information contained in a memory and compare that with the amount of information in the activated brain structures that supposedly store the memory. If the latter is lower than the former, the non-materialist hypotheses would be reinforced.

All this said, as a proponent of the 'knot of consciousness' hypothesis, I feel personally encouraged by the recent progress in finding physical correlates of memory access, since my hypothesis somewhat requires them to exist. Indeed, in my book Rationalist Spirituality I talked openly about there being 'symbols' (that is, correlates) of memory circulating in the brain. But I am very cautious about celebrating the progress just yet. If one looks at the different theories being put forward, one notices fairly quickly that they contradict one another; they cannot all be correct, so at least several of the claims recently made are baseless and precipitated (as it seems to happen so often in science these days, given the mad scramble for funding). For instance, this paper proposes that memory formation has to do with protein transcription in the nucleus of the neuron, while this paper states that memories are stored in microtubules. For now, it seems things are all over the place, which doesn't inspire much confidence.

The entire discussion about whether the discovery of material correlates of memory access contradicts or reinforces the non-materialist hypotheses is insignificant in face of the broader problem where it is contained: The problem of explaining consciousness itself in terms of physical metabolism. This broader problem may be unsolvable.

My philosophy and Sheldrake's morphic fields

In the message board of this blog, reader David Bailey suggested that I compare my philosophy to Rupert Sheldrake's ideas, among which the hypothesis of morphic fields figures prominently. As regular readers know, my philosophical position entails that nature – indeed, reality at large – exists only insofar as it is a construct in the medium of consciousness; that there is no reality outside of consciousness, such an idea being simply a seductive, persistent, but unprovable and unnecessary abstraction. In philosophy, the position I hold is usually called idealism. My specific articulation of an idealist philosophy is elaborated upon in my books, papers and in several articles in this blog. The question then becomes: How does Sheldrake's hypothesis of morphic fields relate to my idealist position? This is what I hope to explore in this article.

In the short video above, Sheldrake summarizes the concept of morphic resonance. Basically, he postulates the existence of a non-physical field of memory called 'morphic field.' The shape of our bodies, and those of all organisms and even crystals, is determined by a form of resonance between the DNA-transcribed proteins in our bodies and this invisible, non-material morphic field. The information in the field itself is determined by habit: Animals today look the way they look largely because they looked the way they looked in the past. (Except, of course, for changes in the patterns encoded in the field caused by the current activity of organisms, which tentatively accounts for evolution in a somewhat Lamarckian way.) Similarly, Sheldrake also postulates that our memories are not stored as material traces in the brain, but are themselves encoded in the morphic fields in a way that transcends time. Morphic fields are, thus, not only fields of forms, but fields of qualia. When we recall a past event, "resonant patterns of activity" (The Science Delusion, page 197) in our brains tune into the corresponding segments of the morphic field, giving us access to qualia across time. This is, in a nutshell, the thrust of Sheldrake's hypothesis. Personally, I find the hypothesis quite intriguing and coherent, even though there is no theoretical articulation (i.e. a formal, perhaps mathematical model) for the morphic fields themselves, nor for the process of resonance by means of which the fields causally affect the physical world.

Sheldrake's metaphors suggest that the morphic fields are objective, autonomous realities. As such, they are supposed to be like electromagnetic fields, but of a different nature. Electromagnetic fields are abstract and invisible, detectable only by their ability to interact with particular arrangements of matter, like ionized gases or magnetically polarized metals. Similarly, morphic fields, which are equally abstract and invisible, are detectable only by their ability to resonate with particular arrangements of matter under particular circumstances, like those of embryonic development or electrochemical activity in the brain. Sheldrake thus places his views on a firmly realist ground: Morphic fields exist objectively in nature as part of it, next to other objective parts of nature like atoms and fields of other types. In other works, Sheldrake also suggests that mind itself is a kind of field centered in the brain but extending beyond the brain, much like the electromagnetic field of a magnet is centered in the magnet but extends beyond it. Here again, Sheldrake's metaphors seem to be underpinned by a realist assumption: Minds are objective and causally-effective fields just like electromagnetic fields. As such, mind-fields are a part of nature, but not the very medium of all reality, as idealism entails.

Sheldrake's hypothesis thus seems to contradict my idealist philosophy. Yet, this is merely a difference of interpretation, not of substance. When one looks carefully at the phenomena Sheldrake describes to motivate his ideas, one quickly realizes that they all equally support idealism. In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that an idealist interpretation is simpler and requires less abstractions. You see, morphic fields are conceptualized as memory fields shaped by habit. Now, very few things are more intrinsic to what we call mental activity than memory and habit. Therefore, when Sheldrake talks about the habits of nature he is flirting with the idea of nature itself being mental. The idealist hypothesis is that all of existence is simply 'excitations' of the medium of mind, which would be entirely consistent with all of Sheldrake's observations of habit formation in nature: Mental excitations simply 'flow' more easily through previously traversed, 'softened' paths, something we all know from personal, direct experience. Morphogenesis can be interpreted as the result of the mind-medium of nature shaping itself the way it has 'learned' to shape itself before, without need for postulating objective morphic fields. Memories can be interpreted as a resonant 're-flow' of mind excitations across time (time itself being a construct of mind), without need for postulating objective qualia fields. A process of resonance could still be involved, but as a form of self-resonance within the medium of mind. There would be no need to postulate objective fields centered in the brain and extending beyond the body to explain reported mind-over-matter phenomena. In fact, in his discussion of potential 'experimenter effects' in the physical sciences, Sheldrake comes agonizingly close to endorsing idealism. In page 306 of The Science Delusion he writes:
Although experimenter effects may often result from biases in the observation and recording of results, experimenters might affect the experimental system itself. This is easy to understand when experiments involve human subjects, who may well respond to the experimenters' expectations and attitude. [i.e.placebo effect] ... But there is a more radical possibility. In the uncertain circumstances of research, the experimenter's expectations may directly affect the system under investigation through mind-over-matter effects or psychokinesis. (my italics)

"Fluctuations in the subjective medium of mind." See discussion below. Source: Wikipedia.

My own view is as follows: There is only mind. All phenomena of nature are 'excitations' of the subjective medium of mind observing itself. Not all such excitations are cognizable from the point of view of ordinary human awareness: The excitations of our so-called 'unconscious' mind – which I prefer to call obfuscated mind – correspond to a rich phenomenology that is as real as our ordinary reality, but lies outside the perceptual scope of the ego. Now, here is the key point: Some of these obfuscated excitations of the medium of mind are prone to habit formation, converging over time to very stable patterns, some of which we've come to call the 'laws of nature.' Ordinary reality seems autonomous because it is merely the visible 'tip of the iceberg' of excitations of mind, some of whose underwater (i.e. obfuscated) dynamics have 'crystallized' over time. Because much of the 'iceberg' lies hidden in the obfuscated mind, we are not aware of these crystallized mental mechanisms that produce the phenomenology of ordinary reality. Therefore, ordinary reality, despite being our own mentation in action, feels separate from us and takes on an illusory (albeit convincing) cloak of autonomy, much in the same way that the visions of a schizophrenic feel entirely autonomous to him or her. If only we were to become self-reflectively aware of the whole medium of mind, we would immediately identify ourselves with all of nature, understanding at once that the 'laws' of physics are merely the expression of our own (obfuscated) habits, crystallized through the aeons of cosmological history. We would grok how ordinary reality emerges from these underlying, ordinarily obfuscated mental processes.

Under this perspective, it is not mind-over-matter phenomena that need to be explained through a proliferation of invisible, objective fields; after all, if all of nature are excitations of the unified medium of mind, there is no such a thing as matter-separate-from-mind, but only non-local mind reaching across time and space. Instead, what needs to be explained is why the so-called mind-over-matter phenomena are not happening all the time! And here is where Sheldrake's observations and insights come handy. Indeed, I used them above to substantiate my form of idealism: To help explain, through habit formation, how a continuous, stable and seemingly autonomous reality can emerge from an otherwise notoriously unstable medium of mind. I believe Sheldrake's empirical observations and insights help tackle this very critical challenge of idealism, without any need for postulating yet more objective fields; yet more linguistic abstractions that take our culture further away from the immediate experience of reality (I discussed this before here).

In my view, Sheldrake is right in the essence of his hypothesis: Yes, there is no such thing as 'laws' of nature but merely 'habits' of nature, which express themselves in ordinary reality through a form of trans-temporal resonance. But there is no need for new abstractions of objectivity, like morphic fields, for this entire process to take place. Reality may be much simpler and more elegant than that: It may consist simply in excitations of the subjective medium of mind.

NDE's and the after-life reality

Across the ages, people have reported amazing stories derived from their experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Though the underlying themes of these stories seem very consistent – as argued, for instance, by Dr. Richard Bucke (in Cosmic Consciousness) and Aldous Huxley (in The Perennial Philosophy the metaphors used tend to be enormously varied, culture-bound, and contradictory across reports. The stories of people who underwent Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) are no exception to this: while there is an unquestionable similarity and consistence of themes, the stories vary wildly in details and metaphors. This way, some report, for instance, to have met the Buddha, while others were in the arms of Christ. Such variety and lack of consistency motivate skeptics to claim that NDE reports are mere hallucinations of some sort. After all, if these people had witnessed a real, valid after-life realm, one would expect their reports to be consistent across the board and not so bound to particular beliefs and cultures. In this article, I will argue that such expectation is wrong, motivated by mere assumptions about the nature of reality, and that many NDE reports, despite being inconsistent with one another and highly culture-bound, may still be entirely valid.

Let us first look at the similarities of themes underlying NDE reports. In the video above, several testimonies are shown. A cursory analysis of these testimonies identifies the following common themes:
  1. Association between a perceived light source and the feelings of unconditional love, acceptance, bliss, serenity, and peace;
  2. The feeling of being back 'home,' to the place where one's primordial self originates from;
  3. Interactions with what is perceived as entities of some sort, variously described as angels, dead relatives, or undefined, abstract 'presences;'
  4. The sensation of knowing (or rather, remembering) everything there is to be known about reality and one's true identity, even though one cannot articulate that knowledge later in words. This often includes the idea that ordinary life is a kind of dream;
  5. A life review and excursions across the universe that transcend linear time or space constraints, as if everything happened 'here and now;'
  6. Transcendence of all dichotomies, like good/evil, positive/negative, past/future, I/you, subject/object,  etc.;
  7. The notion that there is an important purpose to ordinary life.
Such commonality of themes is indicative of a core of truth behind the reports. Yet, we have to explain the circus of contradictory metaphors often used to 'dress' these underlying themes with a more objective and descriptive language. Indeed, some people experience the presence of an abstract, impersonal white light, while others report an encounter with a blue-eyed bearded man, both of which are described as 'God.' Some people report being welcomed by dead relatives, while others describe winged angels at the doors of heaven. The religious symbolism behind different reports tends to be very tied to the particular beliefs and culture of the individual in question. If the transcendent realm witnessed during an NDE is valid, how can we explain this variety of incongruent descriptions, despite the commonality of themes?

The first line of explanation is simply to notice that there is most-likely a difference between how people report an experience and what the experience in itself looked like. Even in the ordinary world, when different people witness exactly the same events, they describe the events sometimes in different ways, owing to particular interpretations, misunderstandings, and to the use of different descriptive metaphors.

Yet, this idea does not seem sufficient to explain the differences and contradictions across NDE reports, particularly given the level of passion and certainty conveyed by the people who report them.

Here is a clue to another explanation: we tend to extrapolate certain particular characteristics of our ordinary waking world as if they were necessary characteristics of every conceivable realm. Since the ordinary world seems to be very objective, autonomous and independent from our thoughts or beliefs, we extrapolate this objectivity and assume it to be intrinsic to any conceivable realm. In other words, even if you believe you can fly, our ordinary world is such that you will likely die if you jump from a tall bridge. The ordinary world doesn't care about what you think or believe; it appears to be very separate from ourselves as subjects. And then we assume that all conceivable realms must be equally autonomous and separate from ourselves as subjects. So reports describing these other realms, if valid, should all be very similar, regardless of our cultural background or personal beliefs.

Now try to suspend you disbelief for a moment and think about the possibility that the ordinary waking world is itself a kind of dream; a product of the imagination. This way, there would be no fundamental difference between your nightly dreams, your daydreams, and your waking reality; there would be just a difference of degree: the degree of consensus across individuals and the degree of momentum a certain storyline acquires. Your nightly dreams entail little or no consensus with other individuals, being your private storylines instead. Similarly, your nightly dreams have little momentum: people don't return to last night's dream to continue the story, but instead dream of something else entirely. The waking world, on the other hand, seems highly consensual: different people report relatively consistent stories about what they witness together when awake. Similarly, the waking world has a lot of momentum: the story keeps on unfolding with tremendous continuity and self-consistency regardless of one's efforts to wish a different storyline into existence. It is these two characteristics that make the ordinary waking world seem so autonomous and independent of our will or beliefs. It is as if the ordinary world were like a persistent, collective dream we share with other individuals, and then can no longer control by ourselves.

What I am suggesting is that the only reality that exists is the reality of the imagination. But just as light can assume different colors and intensities while still being light, the imagination can take on different degrees of consensus and momentum while still being imagined. I work this idea out very explicitly and carefully in my books Dreamed up Reality and Meaning in Absurdity, so you can look those up for more details (updated in May 2017: see this paper for a technical summary). Here, what I want to explore are the consequences of this model for the interpretation of NDE reports.

Perhaps the realm people witness during an NDE – while being imagined in much the same way as the ordinary world  simply has less momentum and entails less (if any) consensus. In other words, the imagination is less constrained in the after-life state. What one witnesses there may be a realm more acquiescent to idiosyncratic beliefs and expectations. Although the underlying core of the experience  in the form of the common themes listed above  seems to be always present, different people 'dress' these common themes with the metaphorical 'clothes' that render them most evocative and recognizable to them. For a Christian, little can be more evocative of the underlying theme of unconditional love and forgiveness than the figure of Christ himself; so it is through the Christos archetype that such reality will make itself cognizable to a Christian. For a sincere atheist, perhaps a dead relative is the most evocative alternative, which then determines the atheist's particular experience of the same reality. An so on. In the after-life, our imaginations are perhaps less bound to consensus constraints or on-going momentum, so we are freer to project, and live, the metaphors that are most significant to ourselves. A similar interpretation of the after-life realm was interestingly portrayed in the film Lovely Bones (see trailer below). It is also similar to how Buddhists describe the Bardo state after death. If anything, such interpretation only enhances the meaning and validity of the after-life in the broader matrix of the imagination.

We do not have empirical proof that even our ordinary world is autonomous and independent of mind. In fact, as I have argued in several other articles in this blog, the latest empirical, as well as philosophical, evidence seems to indicate just the opposite. As such, the expectation that NDE reports should be similar and consistent at the level of descriptive symbols and metaphors (even when they are reported as literal) reflects merely a prejudice. The possibility that a realm may be significantly more acquiescent and responsive to idiosyncratic beliefs and expectations may, in no way, render it any less valid or less real than the ordinary world. NDE reports, while varying widely in descriptive metaphors, may nonetheless be accurate accounts of a reality – a particular 'place' in the broader matrix of the imagination, mother of all realm – where less consensus and momentum constraints apply.

Has academic philosophy lost its way?

(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

Philosophy is the discipline of human thought that allows us to interpret and make sense of our experience of ourselves and of reality, thereby giving meaning to our lives. While science constructs models of reality to predict what will happen with certain arrangements of matter and energy under certain circumstances, philosophy asks the questions: What does it mean when reality behaves as if these models were true? How does it all relate to our condition as living entities? Without philosophy, science is merely an enabler of technology; it tells us nothing about the "nature of nature," despite Richard Feynman's best hopes. Science provides mechanistic tools that mostly work, but it is philosophy, even when done by scientists, which interprets those tools in the framework of reality and of our being. This way, the importance of philosophy for giving meaning to our lives cannot be overestimated. Yet, for over a century now, I believe, philosophy has lost its way and become nearly irrelevant to most educated people.

If you ask an educated non-philosopher to draw up a short list of key philosophers in chronological order, he or she will likely start with Socrates or Plato, mention a few key names like Spinoza or perhaps Descartes, and probably end with Nietzsche. Nietzsche's contribution to human thought at large, and his cultural influence in society, are undeniable. He guided the transition of our culture from theism to a secular worldview, and tackled the immense effects of such transition as far as our need for finding meaning in life. Countless people have read and been inspired by him. Political movements, like the Nazi regime in Germany, have misappropriated and distorted Nietzsche's ideas for political gain. The man had tremendous influence in the human psyche. But Nietzsche died at the turn of the 20th century. How many philosophers of the 20th or 21st century do you know to have had similar impact on our culture? What happened to philosophy in the 20th century?

What happened is that philosophy became academic and departmentalized. In itself, there is nothing wrong with that; on the contrary: it's a recognition of the relevance of philosophy. But a side-effect was that, in trying to emulate science and mathematics to gain more respectability within academia, academic philosophy formalized itself more and more. The problems dealt with by academic philosophers were more and more strictly framed and circumscribed. Eventually, the problems were so tightly circumscribed and limited that they became irrelevant to the lives of educated people at large. Academic philosophy became so formalized that it begun to resemble a highly abstract form of mathematical logic or linguistics, far removed from our immediate experience of reality. It was then that it earned itself the name "analytic philosophy." Few people described this transition better than Alan Watts in this short talk. Indeed, perhaps the greatest academic philosopher of the 20th century was Ludwig Wittgenstein, but how many lives has he touched? Have you ever heard of him? How many people are able to read and understand his "famous" book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? You see, the great ontological questions of existence, like the nature of reality and the meaning of human life, so cogently tackled by the likes of Nietzsche, Kant, Goethe (who I consider a philosopher before a poet), Plato, and even Jung (who I consider a philosopher before a psychiatrist), were left out; they couldn't be framed in sufficiently formal terms. In other words, they were fluffy and flaky, not enough amenable to strict, objective argumentation. Even the elusive and suspicious notion of "philosophical proof," an echo of mathematics, gained popularity among academic philosophers. Was academic philosophy being inspired by science and mathematics, or was it jealous of science and mathematics?

Today, the role academic philosophers should play in helping us all make sense of our lives, of our psychology, of our culture and science, of our historical nexus, and of our condition as living entities in general, has been left to others: priests, inspirational speakers, self-help literature, psychotherapists, and even scientists. This is a tragedy; it has caused our civilization to lose its bearings. Terence McKenna once talked about the consequences of this as a "balkanization of epistemology." Where are the Plato's, Nietzsche's, Kant's, Goethe's, and Jung's of our times? Who is guiding us to construct sensible worldviews and relate to reality in a mature manner? Not academic philosophers, but the evening news anchor, unfortunately; because academic philosophers are locked away in obscure conferences discussing unfathomably abstract issues of little relevance to the educated person on the street. Academic philosophy has shunned its own humanity, losing its link to our culture in the process.

Academic philosophy has succumbed to the insane notion that the original approach of classical philosophy, which harmoniously integrated the subjective and objective aspects of the total human being, was inferior (instead of complementary!) to those of science and mathematics. It began to believe that to "prove" an idea was more important than for that idea to resonate with the innermost selves of people and, thereby, make a true difference. Like a teenager unsure of his or her identity when standing next to older bullies, academic philosophy became blind to its own value, seeking instead to become something it didn't need to, and perhaps couldn't, be. In doing so, it forfeited its own role and relevance in our culture. You see, the only carrier of reality as far as anyone can know is conscious experience. And conscious experience, while projecting objectivity onto the world at large, is fundamentally affective. By denying the affective nature of reality, academic philosophy has alienated itself from a large and significant part of what it means to be a human being alive in the world. In seeking to become more objective and real, it ended up distancing itself from reality.

As our civilization begins to face the inherent contradictions of the way it relates to reality and life, we need philosophy more than ever. The absence of true, integral philosophy is not a symptom, but a cause of the current world crisis. Academic philosophers must wake up, find their own identity and cultural role again, and make a palpable contribution to society at large. We cannot go through this crisis without quality guidance. The advances of analytic philosophy, developed at such great cost over the last one hundred years, must be integrated (not discarded) into a renewed philosophy, but one that takes on board the broader nature of the human being and reality. A new path must be found; one that brings academic philosophy closer to the people and the culture.

The matter is urgent.