The best way to describe the human nervous system? Compare it to an office job. A job where you work on a floor in a cubicle, amongst a sea of other cubicles. And all these cubicle farms are cached on many floors, that when stacked – make up a large skyscraper. The most important and powerful offices? On the top floors. The worker bees? In all the other parts of the building (where you are).

The human nervous system, and a multilevel corporate work environment run on the same types of information systems, schedules and hierarchies.

How do I know this? Because I’m in one right now, an office building that is. I’m actually hiding in the 14th floor custodian’s closet of that very mega-corporation, writing this all down on memo paper with a little pen-light that came with a box of cereal I had for breakfast in the company cafeteria this morning. I am crouched down here, scribbling in near darkness, deeper inside a massive, multi-storied building that holds the corporate headquarters where I work, or well… might not work anymore. My boss (who’s office is in the penthouse office of the top floor), is extremely angry with me for going over his head about some organizational and personnel decisions I was making in my department (which I am in charge of), and acting on my own.

I’m apparently fired now, and he’s hired a rooting-out firm to find me and extract me from the company because he knows I’ll resist. Or more likely, since he now sees me as an enemy, he probably thinks a good offense is the best defense… so I’m kind of playing along guess. Hiding and writing all this down for you while the boss’ hired goons hunt me down is a good example of the analogy I am about to lay down for you, and may help me figure out how to escape being found out, terminated from the firm, and kicked out of the building. I don’t want to cause trouble or make waves here at the company… things are too messy already. So here I sit, transcribing to you in the last moments of my existence… my existence as one tiny part of this body of concrete, steel, drywall, industrial carpeting and fluorescent lighting. This very structure that I once belong in, no… belonged to… and that is now about to get rid of me. I wonder if they’ll find me? I wonder if I’ll have enough time to tell you everything…

If you were to directly compare this building i’m in to my nervous system which lies deeper within me (in terms of scale), I would be hiding somewhere near my spleen. Looking outwards; my body itself, with it’s working nervous system, is a minuscule replica of that corporate headquarters I am within. Yep, universes hidden within universes hidden within universes… backwards and forwards, the old Carl Sagan cliché.

For starters, I’ll explain the actual real mechanics of the human nervous system expressed in layman’s terms. The system as a whole is made up of two parts:

1. The CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (or CNS, as I shall refer to it from this point on) is housed within the brain and spinal cord.

2. The PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (or PNS, got it?) is made up of everything else.

They work together. No, I mean they really, really work together. Large corporations should be so lucky as to run an information, production, service-providing and profit-making enterprise based on the deftness of the human body’s nervous system, with it’s infinite highways and limitless corridors of information processing efficiency.

The CNS is paid to think, while the PNS is paid to work. The CNS is housed inside the lush top floor offices of the brain and spinal cord (which have a lovely view) and spend their time processing and de-coding what the remainder of the nervous system, the PNS, gathers, records, and stores to send to it later – in a schedule that the two have worked out beforehand. The PNS is, obviously, housed within the lower cubicle farms, cafeterias and janitorial closets inhabited within the veins, muscles, organs and bowels that make up the rest of the body (strictly functional spaces). The PNS are the busy little worker bees constantly tasking and following orders, while the CNS sits upstairs and sends directions back out to the PNS and decides what to do with the information that comes back through it, and weighs that information with the PNS’ observed behavior. The PNS and CNS may be robotic in their own respective ways (in various degrees according to time and circumstance), but together they make up an organic.

Now, to clarify some gossip that I’ve overheard in the company washroom: as I pointed out above, the spinal cord is essentially part of the CNS, but really it’s just an over-paid, ass-kissing, PNS-er that acts as a glorified conduit for information meant to the real meat of the CNS; the brain (everybody in the office knows this but of course no one says anything). It’s just that the spinal cord is so close up there to the boss, and spends so much time near it, that it gets lobbed in with the CNS’s crew. Of course, I’m sure it does what it can to keep the brain thinking that it is somehow protecting it from the riff-raff of the PNS (lie!). The spinal cord is PNS, darling… through and through, no matter how it tries to dress up, or what kind of airs it thinks it’s putting on. It’s like Mr. Smithers’ relationship to Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.? We all know the spinal cord is that sniveling, sycophantic, ass-kissing boss wannabe that we have all know at one time or another while working in offices; placed by luck in close proximity to the boss, and ready to do anything to protect it’s position. We know what’s really going on: it’s got it’s head all up inside the brain’s rectum (literally!) all kissing and sucking and massaging it and getting it’s nose a million shades of brown and saying “Here brain, here’s some more lovely info from all the underlings downstairs, can I massage your cells and rub your neurons while I regurgitate it to you?? and the brain is all like “Yes OK whatever thank you.? I mean, who does the spinal cord think it’s kidding? The brain is just stringing the spinal cord along because, as the brain knows (naturally) and the spinal cord does not (duh!) the spinal cord will never, ever be able to usurp the brain and take it’s place. But the brain needs the spinal cord for various reasons, so it just keeps letting it get all up inside it so it can use it. So distressing, really… isn’t it? Unlike Eve Harrington who eventually usurped Margo Channing in the film All About Eve, the spinal cord, sadly, will never accomplish the goal that most boss’s assistants sometimes do. It will never be the brain. Born PNS, die PNS. Your body is a cruel place isn’t it?

OK, so even though we all know the spinal cord is just a sycophantic PNS, for the practical purposes of this example the spinal cord is categorically CNS.

Now, back to the matter at hand: the PNS in the body always knows that the CNS is boss. It knows this informally by understanding, but at it’s root by the nature of it’s very existence. It must do what the CNS tells it to – the PNS worker’s existence is function, and it is subservience, and to rebel against that is to stop existing. Without it’s “place? apart from the CNS, the entire body and system would fail.

There are times however, when the CNS and PNS act as one equal entity, collectively in the pursuit of one goal (and no, it’s not the annual office Christmas party, where the two entities reluctantly get together and pretend to like one another – which only strengthens the walls separating them). These instances are swift, explosive, unexpected moments when the system of defining borders and ceilings vanish for a micro-second in the quest for one goal. And when do these swift moments occur? When the body as a whole is unexpectedly threatened. It’s kind of like a disaster movie where several people of different classes, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are forced to ban together as equals in the quest for survival during a crisis.

If you see a wasp land on your arm, your PNS has just told your CNS this information. Whether or not you slap your other hand down on top of it and kill it, or let it live, is the choice of your CNS. The PNS just sends the information along, waits, and then carries out the orders about whether or not to slap it or, perhaps shoo it away and let it live (for karmic reasons which the CNS would have specified).

Even more revealing: lets say this wasp landed on your arm without the PNS knowing. Then let’s say the wasp stung your arm. Technically, the PNS does send the information to the CNS for processing and waits for instructions. But, the action is so fast that the difference between the CNS and PNS blend into one swift, blinding resolve: EXTERMINATE THE THREAT. The CNS doesn’t get bogged down in red tape (conscious rational and weighing of morality) and think “Well, the wasp is a simple animal and only doing what comes naturally, and I should let all living animals be as I’m a buddhist.? It just tells the PNS to destroy what is causing the intense pain, which is most likely a menace (or at least feared as one). Int appears that the PNS almost overrides CNS habit of “meeting? and “group thinking? decisions… and just pulls things forward and goes for the goal, but the CNS is in control of all of this. It’s just that the borders between the two in that moment become irrelevant. They pull together, or at least appear to pull together as one for a primitive, animalistic bulls-eye stab at surviving. Even someone who refuses to kill a wasp, even one that has just stung it, cannot control (without great mental preparation) the swift impulse to slap or pull away or jerk. The human nervous system under swift stress does not suffer sensitive or intellectual types in war time.

So, during moments like this, everyone from the higest-paid executive in the luxury suit offices of the upper cranium to the lowly mail room clerk in the small intestine come together as one efficient, non-partisan super weapon of efficiency and swiftness – with no internal structure (just one very simple switch that operates in only two modes; ‘on’ and ‘off’). If elements and conditions (and luck) outside the body are in agreement, the CNS and PNS acting as one usually get their way. It’s an admirable revolution of sorts, actually.

But unfortunately, right after the threat and ensuing class revolution, the simple, efficient device that the two had become becomes complex once again; with it’s endless internal structure and hierarchy. A bad reality? Nope, because without these complex structures and hierarchies in the long-term… the body as a whole ka-put.

The swift efficiency of the PNS and CNS working as equals in a threat should only come together in emergencies. Otherwise, they should work as usual… with all the bullshit politics and ridiculous red tape and some-people-being-better-than-others-just-because and egos (just like an office). This is just the way things are.

Imbalances in the system can unfold during other situations as well. When the CNS doesn’t have enough to do… dysfunction on a massive scale can set in. The CNS can start to anticipate fear responses before they are even there. It can start to send messages to the PNS to tell the glands to sweat, or tell the intestinal tract to create processes to make the CNS feel nauseous. Why? It’s thinking too much… it’s sending the PNS all into a tizzy because it’s anticipating things that may indeed not happen, or even exist at all. This is normal, like feeling like you’re going to throw up before going on stage for the first time, or stuttering when you’re introduced to that person you’ve had a crush on for months. Your CNS screws up the normal efficiency of your PNS by over-thinking and over-guessing what is needed or routine in certain situations. Without visiting the nitty gritty real world that the PNS deals with daily, at least once in a while, naive, paranoia and fantasy-based decision making processes set in and the whole thing becomes poisoned. Your CNS cannot afford to live in an ivory tower away from your PNS. In these situations, the strange thing is that it would almost be better for the PNS to just take matters into it’s own hand. Your PNS would do best to handle going on stage for the first time, or meeting that crush by itself, without the CNS’ help (in this state). But that’s impossible because without your CNS, you would just be a PNS (a jelly blob) – and wouldn’t that be sad? Plus, even beyond that… the fact remains that, no matter how screwed up a CNS becomes, it will never allow the PNS to usurp power from it, ever. And if the PNS really wants to infiltrate the CNS and start a war against it and overtake it, victory for the PNS would mean death, because death for one would be death for both. So… for your PNS to be sent into over-drive by your CNS in tense situations is normal, it keeps your body on it’s toes and, in an ironic twist, shows the CNS by example it’s own fallibility. This develops character which is good for your ego (which is kind of like an invisible God that secretly controls the CNS), which it knocks down a peg, in order to keep it from running amok and making all kinds of stupid decisions based on fantasy logic. See how it all connects?

This ego balance thing can also swing too far in the other direction: when the ego that controls the CNS is taken down and disrespected too much, and at a very low point (for whatever reason, usually from factors coming from outside the body as a whole), it can send even weirder directions to the PNS (as listed above, inappropriate sweating, nausea) so as to give something for it to react to and control, something that it knows it can handle. It can create these little (or big) internal “dilemmas? in the office so as to come down and throw it’s weight around and feel more in command, so it feels like it has a handle on something. It works, but is very unhealthy for the corporation as a whole because, much like the ivory tower-syndrome, the CNS begins to live in an entirely internalized world, and the PNS crumbles under it’s direction.

Dysfunctional company overrun too long by a lack of checks and balances that result in gonzo politics that cause ridiculous reactions and decisions to be made upstairs? The same thing is happening in a human body that suffers from anxiety or mental disorders, or even physical disease in some cases. With the CNS given too much free reign and the PNS with very little to do, or too much… things spark up and go haywire.

How well does upper management know the problems and conflicts facing the lower working levels? How in tune is the CNS with the PNS workers? Maybe your brain should spend a shift or two sloshing around next to your liver to see how things are really operating, rather than getting all it’s information in memo form from that bootlicking spinal cord (oooh how I hate him!).

I would continue, but the door to the closet I’m hiding in just opened and I have to stop writing. They’re here. The rooting-out firm that the top brass from CNS hired to find me, has done just that. They’re wearing white uniforms and have on cloth face masks, and have metal instruments. All my coworkers don’t even seem to notice at all what’s going on… like me getting kicked out of the company is all part of the process. All I wanted to do was set up my own little branch on one of the floors here, to get some stuff that I was in charge of taken to – you know, another level. Expand things a bit. Is that so wrong? I know it would have upset things, and interrupted the “flow? somewhat, but I was using materials and resources from within the company. Alright, you know, whatever… from my perspective it was very much the right thing to do. I had my own ideas I guess.

OK, they’re hauling me out to the ground floor now, they’re handling me swiftly, I’m practically being dragged. They’re telling me that I’m never allowed back into the building, ever.

Comments Off on The Nervous System: An Office Building