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19th Annual
Winter Chaos Conference

 Dynamical Systems Thinking in Science, Education, the Humanities, and Society 

   March 18-20, 2011
New Haven, Connecticut, USA


Fractal Vision
My Anacoluthian Journey Through Nonarteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (NAION)
Dr. Mark R.Filippi
Beautiful, Downtown Larchmont, NY ;)                   
On Christmas Eve 2010 I was wrapping presents hastily and accidently bumped my head on a door. No big deal, right? Well, just like that old butterfly we all love, that knock triggered a chain reaction that had me lose the inner third of my vision in my right eye. The officially diagnosis of Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) is an isolated white-matter stroke of the optic nerve (ON). NAION is the most common cause of sudden optic nerve-related vision loss, affecting more than 10,000 Americans every year, often bilaterally. No clinically effective treatments exist, largely because little is known about its pathophysiology, and there are few histopathological studies of the acute condition. That's straight from the wiki page on it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anterior_ischemic_optic_neuropathy

What follows is my idiopathic recovery from that fateful night. I'll explore a lot of the original concepts I took from the research on the retina from Karl Pribram's octal coding and other contemporary neurobiology on the nature of visual processing. I'll get into Burrow's notion of the eyes as the "organ of vision' which tie into the bionomic concepts of cotention and ditention. All of that applies to the fractal nature of visual neurology, somatic recall & the eye-heart-brain connections I've experienced. Fun!


The Burning Question

"How much of what we see is purely vision?"


In discussing the role of ocular function in shaping the nervous system's perception of itself Varela, as noted by O'Connor and Van der Horst, states ,  "It is evident that 80 per cent of what any LGN (lateral geniculate nucleus) listens to comes not from the retina but from the dense interconnectedness of other regions of the brain... Thus the behavior of the whole system resembles a cocktail party much more than a chain of command.  So whatever the brain looks at is really about 20% signals from the outside world and 80% of pre-existing filters, memories and beliefs.  Varela notes that this phenomenon is a uniform principle throughout the brain."

O'Connor J., and Van der Horst B. Neural Networks and NLP Strategies, part 2. Franktown, CO: Cahill Mountain Press, Anchor Point, 1994: 33.


The NAION Timeline



So Wha Happened?

After the initial accident, I consulted Marc Grossman, O.D. at the Somers Eye Center. He confirmed my suspicions that my little knock on the head had resulted in this very poorly understood condition called Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). So I left his office on JAN 3rd with my "BEFORE" picture, affectionately known as...


Now that we knew what it was, the focus became how to 'meet the condition' and not fall into the trap of trying to 'treat' it. We both know from our nearly 20 years of working together we had to go to the woo closet for help...   

 George Muhs, DC's DC, D.A.C.N.B., C.C.N. rendering of my ocular dilemna

This led me to the "Somatic Surgery" night of JAN 6th. George and I went about defragmenting the accident and addressing the myriad of cranial, spinal, extremity and soft tissue imbalances I'd accumulated since the initial clunk. It was a revealing experience for both of us. The 3D aspect of the neuroanatomy we were working to support gave way to a flood of empirical insights (odd word choice there) and we ended up with yet another paradox afterwards.

It seemed my eye felt better and my HRV scores improved when I held my eye up to the right, which is the exact position we determined would kink the opthalmic artery. Inexplicably, my HRV coherence would drop when I looked down and to the left, the eye position that unkinked the artery. After consulting with Dr. Grossman, I decided to not fight the feedback and hold the up to the right position for a few minutes and then switch to the down to the left. That seems to support both sides of the coin and within weeks it was 'clear' that my visual issues were more subtle. 

After a few weeks of a combination of nutrition from Dr. Grossman, HRV biofeeback exercises, some sarcode homeopathic remedies and my usual somatic practices it was time to reassess. On JAN 20th, I was able to read 20/25 with my prescription at Dr. Grossman's office. I wasn't able to read the 20/40 line back on JAN 3rd. Rather then rest there, we doubled up our efforts for the next month. But no one said you only could stop at one injury! During one of the endless weeks of snow here, I hurt my lower back while shoveling. But the fascinating part was when George worked on me this time, the focus was more on my bizzare cranial pattern. So on JAN 29th, we addressed the 'football head' pattern I was carrying, which literally had widened my face side to side and left the R eyeball loose to rattle around in the socket. When that was addressed, it was like a turbo button had been pushed.

A short month later, after continuing the support regime supplied to me by both Dr. Grossman and another longtime friend, Dr. Fred Richards, and diligently doing my stretches and other somatic work, we went back to Somers to get a look at the retina again. On FEB 28th, my journey through the world of NAION found it's anacoluthian turning point. What follows is a retracing of the steps I took to meet that condition and explore the dimensions of my fractal vision. 


The Maps

One of the first directions I turned to during this process was the work of Karl H. Pribram (that's pree-brum everyone!) for some guidance. As some of you may now, Dr. Karl was a guest contributor to the 2010 Coherence Conference. His interview and other links are found by clicking his picture below. Now let's focus on his map a bit...   


Karl H. Pribram, MD



 Diagram expressing the holographic nature of light incident on the surface of the lens of the eye.
 The following information can be found in an article by Jeff Prideaux 

The light scattered from point A is incident at each location of the lens (likewise for the light scattered off of B. The lens functions to transform this holographic domain to an image of A and B at the retina. The discussion so far has just taken us to the image formed at the retina. The interesting part of the holonomic brain theory is what happens next. The focal point of the above discussion is that a lens does an effective (inverse) Fourier transform on the light incident to it. The Fourier transform (and inverse Fourier transform) consists of convolution integrals which mathematically smear or de-smear the information...

Pribram says that both time and spectral information are simultaneously stored in the brain. He also draws attention to a limit with which both spectral and time values can be concurrently determined in any measurement (Pribram, 1991). This uncertainty describes a fundamental minimum defined by Gabor in 1946 (the inventor of the hologram) as a quantum of information. Dendritic microprocessing is conceived (by Pribram) to take advantage of this uncertainty relation to achieve optimal information processing. Pribram then says that the brain operates as a "dissipative structure" where the brain continually self-organizes to minimize this uncertainty...

One way of modeling a structure that goes to equilibrium is to minimize a mathematical expression for the internal energy (which is the same as maximizing an expression for the entropy). This is called the lest action principle. This would not be appropriate, though, for a "dissipative structure" since it is not going towards equilibrium. "Dissipative structures" self-organize around a different "least action principle". In the holonomic brain theory, Pribram has the entropy being minimized (which maximizes the amount of information possible to store) as the "least action principle". Thus, the system (the brain) self-organizes such that more and more information can be stored.

  Pribram believes the brain to be such a "dissipative structure"...

Use your inner vision to reconstruct and refine your outer vision


The next map I turned to was one Dr. Grossman had shared with me many years ago. It's called The Four Circles. It was used as a tool by the early behavioral optemtrists to illustrate the underlying processes vision emerges from. Back in 2002, I wrote a manuscript for a book on Vision & Posture where I discussed this map in more detail.

"While attending an optometry conference in the mid-1950’s, A.F. Skeffington, along with his colleagues, were discussing theories about how the visual process unfolded. Through their dinner conversation he arrived at a method to present his ideas graphically. These overlapping circles you see in Figure 6 were the result of a discussion on Boolean logic (just think of a Venn Diagram) and a Ballentine Beer logo (a three-ringed triangle) he noticed at the time. Neat, huh?

What Skeffington did was devise specific questions that each circle represented and then correlated them to the clinical experience. Let’s review his model of explanation here briefly.

The first circle represented ANTI-GRAVITYactivity that related to visual processing. The questions Skeffington attributed to this aspect concerned spatial orientation within and around the body. So the anti-gravity circles answers the basic question of “Where am I?”and that leads to more refined follow-up questions like, “Where am I in space?"and"Where are my body parts in reference to the other parts of me?"which further detail the feedback gained from the initial inquiry. This links the visual process with vestibular activity, bringing top-down and bottom-up processes into one integrated whole body action. This first circle placed vision in a new arena.

The second circle is concerned with CENTERING activity the visual process uses to locate and relate to actual or conceptual objects. It uses the so-called “vergence system”, which includes but is not limited to the ciliary muscles and the extraocular muscles. The centering circle is concerned with efficient ocular motion and will engage body movements that work to square the system off to its focus. To Skeffington’s way of thinking, the centering circle is assigned to answering the question, “Where is it?”, which places it in the role of shifting the focus of the eyes to the target in the inner or outer world.  Circle #1 locates “us” and circle #2 finds “them”.

The third circle is designed to work on IDENTIFICATION of the objects the individual encounters by integrating peripheral and central vision to optimize foveal positioning. In Skeffington’s line of reasoning, the identification circle attempts to answer the question, “What is it?”, delineating the figure/ground relationship from the world it perceives. “Current work on magno and parvo cellular pathways of visual control, reviewed by Tychosen, has confirmed this concept.”15 Now, recall that the fovea was analogous to the “sit bones” in our discussion earlier. Can you see how shifts in foveal positioning may impact the tension in the ischiums (sit bones) and vice versa? The reason I stopped to mention this now was that while it may appear that this circle is excluding the body, it is in fact, very aware of the macro-correlation occurring. What happens once this material is organized to use? Something strange and wonderful will be revealed soon. Let’s add the forth circle to the mix to complete the picture. 

The fourth and final circle deals with SPEECH/AUDITORY which allows the individual to name or label the objects in their environment. This allows the nervous system to encode experiences and recall them as needed. In this way the eyes serve as the conduit for our social-conditioning from a very early age. The question that Sheffington assigned to this circle was “What is it’s name?”which allows us to capture our experiences and encode them semantically.  Clinically, it can manifest in both internal and external dialogue. The key to remember here is that Skeffington took the insights from the four circles, distilled it into a useful clinical application, and reframed the way visual limitations are viewed by both himself and the patient.    

Use your physical movement and social interactions to make the images you notice more embodied.   




The next map I added to the mix was the one I've been using everyday since I crossed paths with the sapes way up in the mountains in Boulder Creek, CA almost 17 years ago now. The Institute of HeartMath introduced me to the world of neurocardiology, and in so doing, compelled me to refute almost everything I'd learned at chiropractic college in the late 80's. What that led to was a more scientific awareness of intelligence and how living systems used it to adapt to adverse environments and conditions. I applied this map to my NAION condition and began to connect the heart, lungs and brain (the old chiropractic triune of life actually) whenever the emotional overwhelm kicked in.

Here's a quote from their article "Head-Heart Entrainment - A Preliminary Survey"...

HeartMath techniques... focus on the area of the heart in order to disengage from the racing mind or emotions and shift perception. It is interesting to note that all the above systems focus attention to areas of the body which are known to contain biological oscillators. The heart, brain and intestines [5] all have natural rhythms around 0.1Hz which is the entrainment frequency shown in (the picture seen above). It appears that these three systems can operate in or out of sync with one another. Further, by the intentional focusing of attention on any one of these systems, their rhythm can be altered.   

Take more time to compose the body within the mind when optimal vision is unavailable.  


Now that I knew what role the retina played in detecting the tone of my visual environment, I need a map that could lead me through the neurological maze. In the Vision & Posture manuscript, we had arrived at these 6 core premises...

#1 The shape and position of the eyeball determine its capacity for acuity
     #1a) The spine/vertebrae's shape & position determine real-time capacity for neural integrity.
#2 Habit and awareness are linked to shifts in orientation and/or the environment.
#3  Light and emotion couple thoughts and actions toward a self-organized resolution.
#4  Posture reflects more than a mechanical response to gravity. Posture = Attitude.
#5  People constantly connect to us through their visual-postural dynamic. Speak to it!
#6 What we perceive is largely a function of what we expect, based on prior experience.



Next I turned back to my Vision & Posture manuscript and a CE course I'd written based on it called "Crossing Paths". I found a few more explanations of how the layered and intertwined nature of visual processing uses the six transitional state attractors to self-organize. The one salient thing I found out there was... I knew a lot....once! 

"So what is this visual-postural dynamic? And how can we use the common ground of experience to better understand and relate to another individual's "style" of using it? What is proposed is a series of developmental landmarks - universal experiences if the reader allows - that both client and practitioner can hover around and pool their resources. At their base level, each of the six visual-postural skills used to get to this common ground are normally characterized as mundane actions we may take for granted. However, when we examine how a given individual executes these actions, we learn a great deal about how they employ speed and accuracy as one resource.

The binding of vision to posture is a lifelong process. When they are not joined, our experience fragments proportionally. Unfortunately, the habitual bias of the visual-postural dynamic tends to obscure that from the user. To us, subjectively, things are just as they "always" were. It's for that reason that we benefit from interacting with others, especially those self-aware of their visual-postural dynamic. The alchemy of relationship is where the healing process is fueled. That holds whether the relationship is between client and practitioner or within either one of them.

In order to appreciate the impact of consciously regulating the visual-postural dynamic, the value of nonverbal communication needs to be quantified. It is well established that over 90% of communication comes in this form of emotional expression. This “silent language” is largely carried in what registers in our awareness visually and posturally.  The construct of the visual-postural dynamic offers the practitioner-client coupling a more accessible means to deepen their capacity to interrelate in a coherent and dromologically progressive manner.  As they develop their intersubjectivity through this construct, the amount of information transferred increases in both density and velocity, leads to complex, somatic integration in both individuals. One way to account for this milestone is to evaluate the coherence of the client’s heart-rate variability (HRV).  This one marker can be used as a means to tailor the interaction’s tone to the client. As the case evolves and the practitioner-client pair enter the realm of intersubjectivity, this process becomes more accessible during peak moments of coherence between the individuals. It is in these moments that the practitioner must apply his awareness of the visual-postural dynamics role in resolving the disharmony in the client’s somatic terrain through the interaction."

Don't be a single skull about it. What is unseen personally is retrieved socially.  



Another one of the maps I traveled with is the Eye-Body work of Alexander Technique innovator, Peter Grunwald. His world of analagous structures has been instrumental in my somatic awareness. So I took the areas implicated in the NAION condition and cranked up the sensory acuity for them in my daily practices. The hologram was taking shape.

Again, from the Vision & Posture manuscript...

"Grunwald’s eye-body analog, the areas that work with ambient vision map to the spine itself, again promoting the notion of a locomotion bias. Retinal processing, via the transduction of light into electrochemical signals, parallels the spine’s capacity to convert gravitational forces into electromagnetic signals. The spine use the piezoelectric effect, which is the voltage produced between surfaces of a solid dielectric (nonconducting substance) when a mechanical stress is applied to it. This further demonstrates the deep embryological ties between the eyes and spine." 

 Seperation is only good before gym class. Let the eyes play nice with their analog friends!  


Finally, I tapped into one of the oldest and most resourceful maps I had; shamanic awareness. As a crusty disciple of Carlos Casteneda's books, I was well-versed in the realm of the unseen. Craig Janjulus, a shaman from Sedona, AZ had provided me with a set of easy shortcuts to open my 3rd eye when faced with a 'forked road'. NAION qualified.

 If it's all light, than it has a path. Don't push a river. Find the current and ride it home. 


The Terrain

Burl Pettibon, DC


 Now that I had my maps, I needed to find some turf to use them on. It seemed like perfect symmetry to pair up what I'd learned from Pribram with what I endured under the relentless guidance of Burl Pettibon, DC in the mid-90's. His biomechanical model was unique because he viewed the skull as the '25th vertebra' - the gorilla on top of all the monkeys so to speak. The skull was different because it has neural tissue inside it...ugh! It's called the brain Burl!

I found this in an paper I wrote for one of Dr. Grossman's eye journals circa 2001...

“The skull must be considered a vertebra, and is the only vertebra with neural tissue that dictates its position in three dimensional space.  The patient’s five righting reflexes correct the skull’s position in such a way that the eyes and ears are perpendicular to gravity, both side-to-side and front to back.  This righting always occurs, often at the expense of misaligning the entire lower spine.  When this happens, displaced vertebra throughout the spine are forced into compensation positions relative to the skull.”  

Getzoff, H. A Practical Guide to Cranial Adjusting: Riverton, NJ: Weidner & Sons: 1996: 4.     


From that infernal Vision & Posture manuscript...yet another voice from the past linking structure and function...

"Harmon (1958) stressed that vision was more than a higher order skill, that it was integrally related to lower gravitational mechanisms and that an individual's visual space world was essentially an extension of the organization of the body's gravitational system. He viewed the organism as being constructed of three basic spatial referential coordinate systems; the torso with its righting and counterbalancing reflexes; the head with its gravitational-oriented vestibular mechanisms; and the visual system with its unified action of the two foveas (or a single fovea in the case of one eyed individuals acting as a space center or a spatial referential benchmark. The neck being the transducer mechanism modulating the actions of the trunk in relation to those of the head and visual system. To Harmon, the electrical discharge from the retina aids in establishing "basic support with gravity and also the alignment of the body. The action of the extraocular muscles aids in determining direction of movement. And the ability of the visual process to operate as a distance receptor beyond the reach of the body aids in determining efficiency of movement affecting the total skeletal motor organization of the body."



Model courtesy of Brian A Rothbart , Ph.D

As we had discussed, cranial motion played a critical role in restoring rhythm to my body's visual-postural dynamic. The combination of this with the notion of The Four Circles map allowed me to get beyond the spiral attractor of the anacoluthian journey...I could get my cap and gown and get ready for the next challenge ahead.




A Tour Of The Spiral Line 


 Now we get to the intense part of the terrain. For this leg of the journey, I'd need to rely on the Anatomy Trains of Tom Myers as I dealt with the background tension patterns the NAION condition had elicited. The good part was that I could translate those tension patterns into their respective somatic domain and attractor/transitional state. So if the lateral line (LL) was hypertonic, I knew I getting low in coherence in the ECO somatic domain and that would impair my ambient vision process if it registered in my trunk and my accommodative reflexes if it surfaced in R arm/leg. That nonverbal coding system served me well as I endured those snow shoveling injuries in late JAN. That's 3 down!




Images from an article by James Oschman, Ph.D called "What is Healing Energy? Part 3"
published in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (1997) 1(3), 179-194

 Now I'd crossed over to the more social/behavioral side of the terrain. Here I'd have to deal with one of the more pernicious aspects of the NAION condition - sleep hypotension. Seems I like to leave my body on screen saver when I crash and that makes the eyes vulnerable to oxidative stress. This is most acute right at the optic disc where the condition manifests. Coupled with the shallow optic cup I was blessed with, it made this condition very likely. So I had to be aware of these predispositions like a cab driver has to know where the potholes are at night. I gradually began to apply some of James Oschman's resources from his work in somatic recall by doing things like image streaming and breathwork prior to even the most brief cat naps. It's been a really deep and difficult part of recovery.



Related image

Now I'm back on 'terra soma' and I can apply my practices, called SIMPLES to be the bridge between the brain, body and eyes that Peter Grunwald's map had highlighted. Now I had a motor code to match with the sensory one I'd created from the EyeBody awareness. The eye movements and cross-crawls of SIMPLES established a new and more coherent relationship within my visual-postural dynamic. The eyes were no longer split. I was signed, sealed, delivered. 





Lastly we get back to the fractal design of all this. Again I turned to Dr. Grossman's work with sterograms that I'd applied in the past to deal with many embedded patterns of maladaptation. This fed my 3rd eye awareness and allowed my outer vision and inner vision to harmonize. I started with black and white stereograms and ramped up to deep purple ones like this as my eyes got a stronger and stronger connection. Conscious competence was mine!


I'll sum this up with the wisdom of Karl H. Pribram, MD from page 220 of the book "Languages of the Brain" (1971)

"In many ways the problem of behavior is thus the inverse of the problem of Image. Where an Image is a representation within an organism of its environment, a behavioral Act is a representation in the environment of something within the organism. Acts are achievements in the sense that building a nest or writing a book accomplishes in the external world something the organism had planned, was disposed or set to do. How an Act becomes organized make the substance of this part of our study." (Are ya listening Charlie Sheen?)  


Attention Is The Intervention 

By now you can probably notice there's an infrastructure to this seemingly random repair process. Being aware of the nature of the visual process and it's fractal components, I was able to apply many of the principles of NDS to this. As is my bias, I used the somatic oscillations of self and surroundings as my foundation. I chose six maps and six terrains to keep the transitional states of my system on the front burner. In my terms, attention was the intervention. To put it in some kind of somatic math, again I refer to the Vision & Posture manuscript for crack at it.

To sort of tie this all down, we can refer to the work of Trigant Burrow in the arena of phylobiology. His efforts to understand the eyes in both their biological and social roles was groundbreaking stuff. His research revealed that we can distinct modes of attention that are entrained in us developmentally. Being able to recognize them is the key.

“The first was the primary pattern, called “cotention” which was “…characterized by a constructive, impersonal type of interest that is inclusive or organismic.”  The second was the more common form of attention, called “ditention.” In ditention, interest does not flow directly to the objects and people around; it is diverted back upon the self-image…”. Even more conclusive were the physiological markers of the two patterns.  Burrow found that the state of cotention contained a slower, more abdominal respiratory rhythm, a reduction in the number of eye movements and a brainwave pattern with reduced alpha time and general diminution in cortical potential, which is most pronounced in the motor regions as compared to that of ditention.”

Burrow T. Toward Social Sanity and Human Survival. New York: Horizon Press, 1984


My Journey So Far...  

What we see is a result of how well we convert light and energy into patterns that we can alone can encode and recode. That axiom sticks from the neurobiological level all the way up through the semiotic and esoteric ones. By viewing our ocular function as an extentions of our brain's tensegrity, it compels us to regulate all the proprioceptive and perceptual aspects of the fractal elements of the 'organ of vision'. This is how vision becomes sight in my eyes.


 Here's the two retinal images side by side for comparison...nice journey so far eh sapiens? Bracing for 3/24!


Marc Grossman, O.D.


Thanks Snowflakes...See ya at WC 20!