It is a common-place assumption that brains generate consciousness. The fact that brain damage, drug use, sleep deprivation, etc., impair thinking seems to confirm the brain’s generative capacity. However, how a physical mechanism could generate subjective experience is entirely unknown. In fact, the existence of top down causation, where the mind affects the brain and body is inconsistent with the notion. Although normally correlated, consciousness exists when the brain is not functioning and also in the absence of brains all together. This may well be why brain science has done little to explain the mystery of consciousness and may never succeed in doing so.
Are Brains Necessary? Part 1
Brains and a nervous system are not necessary for memory or evaluation. Stentor raesilii are a trumpet-shaped single-celled organism. If they are disturbed, they withdraw themselves out of harm’s way. If the stimulus appears to be harmless, the Stentor will quickly cease to react to the stimulus in a process called “habituation.” If the stimulus is a threat, when it appears the Stentor will increase the speed of retraction in a process called “sensitization.” If the negative stimulus continues, eventually the Stentor will swim away and attach itself elsewhere.
Figure A: The single-celled organism Stentor raesilii, showing the currents of water around it caused by the beating of its cilia.
The slowing down of retraction and then its ignoring the stimulus is not due to chemicals being depleted or the like. This is proven with sensitization, where the reaction times actually increase.
Stentors exhibit memory and decision making. They evaluate the stimulus, change their reactions depending on the assessed risk, remember what happened last time and decide to try living somewhere else if the negative stimulus is too prolonged and threatening all without a brain or nervous system. This means that intelligence and consciousness seem to reach down into the fundamental units of life (cells). Panpsychism is the view that consciousness is an inherent part of the universe, extending even to atoms. This also fits an organismic view of the universe. Since how reality is modeled affects what is seen, thinking of the universe as an organism rather than as a machine might reveal aspects of reality that are otherwise ignored.
Mimosa pudica also exhibit habituation and sensitization. An apparatus was rigged to drop the plants a few feet onto a soft and safe surface. Initially the plants closed up. Once they realized that it was safe, the plants stopped reacting.
All organisms can be anesthetized – plants, animals, bacteria, chloroplasts, the mitochondria within cells. This is suggestive, at least, of panpsychism.
Operant conditioning was made famous by Ivan Pavlov who got dogs to associate food with ringing a bell so the dogs would salivate just from hearing the bell. It turns out this can be applied to plants too. A scientist got plants to associate light with a fan blowing (normally the plants would just ignore the fan). The plants placed in darkness would turn towards a light source. The scientist turned on a fan every time the light was turned on. After three days when the scientist just turned on the fan with no light, the plants would turn towards the fan.
Trees communicate with each other through mycorrhizal networks. These are fungi that live in symbiotic relationships with trees attaching themselves to the roots and forming networks that resemble underground brains. Without the fungi, trees could not access certain minerals and could not grow taller than about three or feet tall. In return, the trees supply sap to the fungi.
Trees will send sap to other trees that are in distress. In one instance scientists found a tree stump, having no leaves it could not photosynthesize, being kept alive by the surrounding trees. Dying trees will send their sap to living trees and plants being eaten by predators such as giraffes will warn the other trees by giving off gases and the trees will pump toxins to their leaves to make them unpalatable.
Are Brains Necessary? Part 2
In“Is Your Brain Really Necessary?”John Lorber writes about several remarkable cases of hydrocephalus. This occurs when spinal fluid leaks into the skull in utero and prevents the brain from developing in the normal fashion. In some cases this results in severe mental retardation, but in other instances the people suffering from hydrocephalus have 95% of their brain missing and are actually of above average mental functioning with no deficits whatsoever. The hope that brain science will identify which bit of the brain does what until a complete understanding of the brain is reached, is doomed. The brain seems to be largely redundant, at least in some cases.
In other instances, children who have had half their brains removed due to chronic epilepsy have gone on to make a full recovery and to have all or most of the normal mental functioning of anybody else.
Neuroplasticity and Strokes
Neuroplasticity exhibited by stroke victims means that parts of the brain can be repurposed and lost mental functions can be performed by portions of the brain that once did something else. This is achieved simply by a combination of merely wanting to regain an old ability and by trying to perform this ability repeatedly. But if parts of the brain can be repurposed it means that there is not much point in trying to understand why one part of the brain does something different from another part of the brain. This is related to the fact that how one brain performs a particular task can be different from how another brain does it. Even the neurons that control the left and right ears of mice are in different parts of the brain and differ from mouse to mouse.
This means that brain science has a big data problem. “Big data” is the term used to refer to masses of collected data that have no obvious meaning. No one has been able to come up with a theory that makes sense of it all. In such cases, no real knowledge is developed.
The notion of modularity; that the brain is divided into identifiable discreet functions is contradicted by neuroplasticity. For this reason, thinking of the brain as a kind of machine does not seem fruitful. A car is a machine. When an element fails, the function is lost. The brakes do not transform themselves into the transmission, or vice versa.
The machine model of the brain would seem to imply that once a module was lost, the function would cease. Instead, the mind is sometimes the boss of the brain. The brain as servant changes to accommodate its master – at least with regard to neuroplasticity and strokes.
Placebos and Nocebos
Philosophers refer to top down and bottom up causation. Bottom up causation occurs when physical factors affect the mind – such as sleep deprivation, or alcohol and caffeine consumption. Top down causation is when the mind affects the brain and the rest of the body. This occurs, for instance, when people get emotionally upset by what someone has said, raising blood pressure and increasing respiration. Neuroplasticity is an example of top down causation.
If mind were simply a product of brain function with the brain being a machine that produces consciousness, then it should not be possible for the mind’s wishes to turn around and affect what is producing it. Placebos and nocebos provide a striking example of this kind of top down causation.
Henry K. Beecher accidentally discovered placebos in World War II. Having run out of morphine, he injected wounded soldiers with saline solution telling them it was morphine. This had exactly the same pain-killing affect that actual morphine does. It is now known that placebo painkillers work on exactly the same physical principles as “real” painkillers. Both function by releasing dopamine into the brain. This means that the recipients of placebo painkillers do not just falsely think that the pain has been reduced when it has not. The pain really is reduced.
Materialist scientists recognized the mind over matter implications of placebos and many of them steadfastly rejected their existence for many years. Unfortunately for them, the placebo effect is very real and stands up to experimental verification. It is repeatable and publically observable. In fact, placebos are now a mandatory part of drug testing. Proposed new drugs must be proven to be more effective than placebos if they are to be approved by the FDA.
It is sometimes mistakenly thought that giving someone a placebo is giving them “nothing.” However, as has just been seen, placebos result in real physical effects. Thus, a controlled drug experiment would have to include three parts – the drug to be tested, a placebo, and literally nothing.
“Nocebo” is the name given to a placebo that has negative effects. In a well-known experiment reported in the article Behaviorally Conditioned Immunosuppression by Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen, rats were given sugar water with a drug that suppresses the immune system. All the rats were sickened and half died. The remaining rats were then nursed back to health. They were then fed the sugar water with no added drug. Half of the recovered rats died as a result and all were sickened. This means that a mere belief or association can be enough to kill a creature. It is definitely mind over matter – a phrase that when repeated by one of my students in her psychology class reduced the professor to a fit of apoplexy.
It now appears that most of the efficacy of anti-depressants is the result of the placebo effect. Irving Kirsch in Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect shows that if antidepressants outperform placebos at all, it is probably due to antidepressants having some rather horrible side effects, such as nausea. This means that patients and doctors are frequently able to tell whether patients are receiving the “real” drug or the placebo, effectively increasing the placebo effect for the “real” drug.
Fergus Campbell, a physiology lecturer at Cambridge, regularly gives a demonstration to his classes of the mind over matter effects of hypnotism. He hypnotizes a student and tells him that he is being touched with a lighted cigarette. In fact, it is just a pencil. The skin reddens and a blister forms where the pencil touched. Other hypnotists have done the same thing.
In one experiment a soldier was told that a molten shell fragment had hit his hand. Within 20 minutes, a narrow red mark had developed. After an hour, a blister had formed, going on to become a second-degree burn. The soldier was under observation the entire time.
In another case, for the purposes of relaxation, a patient was told to imagine lying on a beach on a sunny day. To the doctor’s surprise, her skin began to redden due to “sunburn” spreading across her shoulders and down one arm. The sunburn conformed to the contours of her dress.
Warts are particularly amenable to cure via hypnosis. In one case, a German physician exposed patients’ to “x-rays” that were nothing more than an intimidating looking and sounding machine that did nothing. Their warts were then painted with a topical “medicine,” really a dye, and the patients were told not to touch the warts until the “medicine” had faded. 31% were cured after one treatment and 78.5% after more than one treatment. In some cases, the patients had had the warts for years and previous attempts at treatment has failed.
To rule out the possibility of spontaneous remission, experimenters have been able to choose just one hand to be cured, and even select which warts on a hand will disappear and which remain.
Fish skin disease is a painful congenital condition where there is a “thick, black, horny layer of skin, inelastic and subject to painful lesions.” There is no known cure for this condition. However, hypnosis has resulted in some total recoveries.
In one experiment, women were hypnotized and asked to visualize the way they would wish to look while feeling tingling and a sensation of warmth. “Nearly all of the 70 women succeeded in increasing their breast size, with an average increase of 1½ to 2 inches.”
Analgesics (painkilling) by hypnosis does not release dopamine in the manner of placebos, but can be equally effective. Naxolene, which blocks dopamine release, had no affect hypnotic analgesics when it was injected. One woman had 40 teeth removed under hypnosis. Another had two impacted wisdom teeth extracted requiring removal of bone using chisels.
Evidence that something profound is happening in hypnosis is that patients who are hypnotically regressed back to 5 or 6 months old have spontaneously developed the Babinski reflex which occurs when the sole of the foot is stroked. It was not suggested by the experimenters and the hypnotic subjects did not know the reflex existed.
Near Death Experiences
NDEs are also not consistent with the notion that the brain produces consciousness rather than being merely the usual means that mind interfaces with physical reality. Pim van Lommel’s Consciousness Beyond Life is an excellent scientifically-minded book on the subject. Van Lommel is a Dutch cardiologist and his work on NDEs has been published in The Lancet, the premiere British medical journal.
Van Lommel is at pains to show why many objections to the existence of NDEs are ill-informed and scientifically unsound. Oftentimes these “objections” are merely ad hoc musings with no evidential support and, in many cases, in contradiction with the known facts.
Some of the important features of NDEs include the fact that some people who were blind from birth experience perfect vision during an NDE. This is particularly interesting because if sight is restored to someone blind from birth under normal conditions, their brains are unable to make sense of the unfamiliar sensory input.
NDE experiences are typically hyper lucid, faster, clearer, more real seeming, than everyday experience, with good memory formation. None of these facts is consistent with the notion that NDEs are the result of oxygen deprivation which results in hazy experiences and interferes with memory formation.
Many NDEs contain verifiable perceptions, such as the story of a comatose patient who identified the man who had removed his false teeth while the patient was in a coma and asked him where he had put them. Likewise, in the famous case of Pam Reynolds, she was able to identify the music playing in the operating theater, the tools used to open her cranium and the conversations had by the medical personnel during the operation. This, while her eyes were taped shut and “clickers” in her ears. Most importantly, her brain also had zero electrical activity at the time.
NDEs are unlikely to be a human invention since there is large cross-cultural agreement about their features and their existence. Tibetan Buddhists, Plato’s story of Er, adherents of Judaism, Jainism, Islam, Hinduism and Christian mystics have reported similar phenomena to NDEs, including life review. Children who have not heard of NDEs have had them; sometimes meeting dead relatives or friends who they did not know were dead.
Blind people seeing, verifiable perceptions, cross-cultural agreement and children’s NDEs mean that the notion that NDEs are hallucinations is not sustainable.
NDEs can include an out of body experience, an awareness of being dead, positive emotions, moving through a tunnel, the observation of colors, the observation of a celestial landscape, and the presence of a border with an awareness that if this border were crossed, it would not be possible to come back.
Most importantly, NDEs cannot be the product of residual, undetectable brain function during cardiac arrest and therefore not detectable by an EEG. This is because of certain scientific facts concerning brain function.
Muscles store glycogen, but the brain does not. The brain cannot operate without oxygen and blood flow. If the heartbeat is not immediately restored, there is a complete loss of all electrical activity in the cerebral cortex. This is always the result in between 10 and 20 seconds (15 sec. average).
The first result of the absence of blood flow is a neuron’s inability to maintain its membrane potential, resulting in a loss of neuronal function.
The acute loss of electrical and synaptic activity in neurons can be seen as the cell’s inbuilt defense and energy-saving response. The remaining energy sources can be briefly deployed for the cell’s survival, for just a few minutes. The joint and simultaneous activity of the cerebral cortex and brain stem is a prerequisite for brain associated consciousness as shown by MRIs.
Blood flow to the brain during resuscitation is not enough to restore consciousness. Consciousness with no EEG reading should not be possible if consciousness were always dependent on brain activity. Upon resuscitation it takes between hours and several days for an EEG to return to normal. Recovery of consciousness takes from between 5 minutes, to 72 hours, with a mean time of 6 hours. Until this occurs, the brain mostly flatlines. So NDEs are not the result of brain activity as one is being resuscitated.
NDEs are not related to medications, the duration of a cardiac arrest, the duration of unconsciousness, a fear of death, the standard of education, religious beliefs or religion, or familiarity with the notion of NDEs.
Deathbed visitations are also common, where within a week or two of death a dying person experiences a visit from a loved one who has predeceased him. In many cases the visitor is invisible to others in the room and the dying person seems to be interacting with thin air. In other cases, the visitors are visible to the attending doctors and nurses and have been picked out of photos that include large groups of people. So, for instance, a nurse says “this is the person I saw” and points at what turns out to be the dead husband of the dying patient. The dying patient confirms that this is who visited her.
Drug Use and Mystical Experiences
People who have taken psychedelics like LSD have reported some of the features of NDEs. Experiencing unearthly colors is a common event.
On an episode (#766) of the podcast WTF with Marc Maran, Shane Mauss described taking DMT, a chemical found in plants ingested by shamans. After many experiences he came to a carnival-like place where a blue woman was dancing. Mauss felt like he had known her for millions of life times. She said that they had been waiting for him. Her body was covered in serpentine figures with some kind of code written between the lines.
He later gave the drug to someone who had never taken it before and he was careful not to mention anything about his own experiences. While high, the newby said:
“Oh man, they love you in here.
There’s a feeling of love?
No, they love you.
There is a carnival and there is a purple woman who says she knows you really well and you come in here all the time and she just needs you to know that she loves you.
I said “What did she look like?”
The strangest thing was that she had this serpentine pattern . . .”
Since Mauss is an avowed atheist, he found this rather unnerving. This seems similar to the veridical experiences of NDE’rs.
The evidence that psychedelics are unrelated to psychosis or madness is that they have been given to schizophrenics and others suffering from severer mental illnesses who have reported that the experiences are nothing like their pathological experiences.
Another consideration is that those who take psychedelics commonly rate their experience as the most important in their lives. This is similar to NDErs and mystics. And in addition, there seem to be many long-term positive benefits such as a reduced fear of death, more openness to experience, a reduced chance of suicide, a better sense of life as meaningful and worthwhile, more positive feelings towards others, etc., and that fact is inconsistent with the experiences being pathological.
Dostoevsky had epilepsy. Ten seconds before having a seizure he would experience a profound mystical state filled with meaning. He commented that he would give his whole life for one such experience but also that the experience was so powerful he felt that he could not have stood it if it lasted longer. Dostoevsky is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of all time with a penetrating insight into the human condition. This suggests that though epilepsy can be life-threatening, the experiences it can induce can be legitimate and nonpathological.
Plato, in The Republic, with the character of Socrates, at one point seems to be trying to describe his own experiences of The Form of the Good. As the father of Western philosophy, Plato too seems to be endowed with extraordinary insight and wisdom. Jesus also claimed to be the beneficiary of religious experiences which seem related to the way in which he advanced the understanding of moral duties – love your enemy. Plotinus too claimed to have had four peak experiences in his lifetime and was so famed for his unbiased perspective that he was commonly asked to arbitrate disputes and parents who were about to die would leave their children for Plotinus to raise. None of these instances seem consistent with a notion of mystical experiences as pathological.
So What is Consciousness if Not Something Produced by Brains?
Plato’s dialogue, The Republic, is often incorrectly thought to be about an imaginary polis (city/state); a perfectly just utopia. Plato then gets mistakenly criticized for its rather horrible features. For instance, romantic love is banned and children are raised in anonymous nurseries so parents cannot be biased in favor of their often mediocre children.
However, Plato explicitly writes that he is only discussing the polis as a metaphor for the soul; using something large, exterior and visible to examine something with no size, invisible and interior. His paeans to love in the Symposium and the Phaedrus demonstrate that his imagined city is a dystopian nightmare that results when a single virtue like justice is pursued at the expense of all other virtues. As such, it is also a criticism of all ideologies that engage in precisely the distortion of taking a single good thing, like “order,” (tyranny) or “compassion” (communism, the welfare state) and turning it into something intolerable by excluding other important things, like freedom.
Plato’s Cave is about the structure of reality which he conceives of as primarily involving consciousness and the spiritual. The philosopher is someone who takes the interior journey towards the sun – Plato’s symbol of the divine foundation of reality.
Plato calls this highest level The Form of the Good. This is fairly close to the Christian God. The Form of the Good, what Plotinus called the One, is the source of all the lower levels of reality. Soul, mind and physical reality are all projections from this Source (spirit). A creature with sufficient interior depth, like a human, potentially can access this highest level because it contains a connection with the One within itself. Physical reality as mere matter is divine too, but lacks self-awareness – though sufficiently complexly arranged matter might also be home to higher levels of consciousness. The sun, for instance, might be conscious, or the universe as a whole.
In Plotinus’ account of Plato, the level of mind (psyche) looks to soul (nous) for its perfection. Nous is symbolized by the tree outside the cave where the Forms (beauty, truth, justice) reside. To gain wisdom, people try to have their concepts of things like beauty and truth resemble perfect Beauty and Truth which reside in an eternal spiritual realm.
This picture of consciousness and the divisions into body, mind, soul and spirit, conform to Buddhism and many other religious conceptions of reality. In Zen meditation, the practitioner focuses on the breath as an aid to concentration. The mind observes the body. After several years, the meditator no longer counts breaths, though remaining aware of them, and observes mind and body. The soul perceives the mind and body. Enlightenment is reached when the distinction between perceiver and perceived ceases and the meditator rests in nondual awareness. This is to experience the non-point of view of the One and thus God.
Thus ultimate consciousness is Pure Awareness. It is the same for everyone. Only a person’s thoughts and feelings differentiate one person’s consciousness from another’s. Since all types and levels of consciousness presuppose the Ground of all Being, Pure Awareness, it is sometimes said that everyone is always already enlightened. The connection with the One permeates all experiences, good and bad. In meditating, a person is not trying to get anywhere; he is already there but just does not know it. All experience of any kind takes place within consciousness. If a person is conscious, he is already implicitly aware of Pure Awareness but most continue to search for something he cannot lose or exist without. This consciousness beyond mere things, thoughts and feelings and yet constituting them is sometimes called the Transcendental Self. To notice this is to wake up. Heraclitus writes that when asleep, each sleeper disappears into his own private world. When awake, he shares a world in common.
An important feature of Plato’s Cave is that the philosopher leaves the cave in order to pursue human flourishing; to gain wisdom and develop otherwise untapped capacities. It is a kind of love called Eros that involves overcoming current problems by developing beyond them. Eros is connected with tough love and involves effort and growth; something that should be encouraged in anyone a person cares about, including himself. But out of compassion, Agape, the philosopher returns to the shadows to help teach the prisoners there about what lies beyond. Symbolically, this is important because it means the philosopher does not stay contemplating the Divine perfection, but goes back to the marketplace and embraces physical reality and all the messiness of life. Having understood his own nature and its connection with ultimate reality he is better equipped to deal with the vicissitudes life throws his way.
Plato’s Cave is life affirming. It presents a vision of looking towards the highest good that can be conceived and pursuing it rather than running away from life and trying to escape it.
Consciousness is ultimately one and indivisible. Not being physical, it has no borders or boundaries. It is not a thing. It is that in which things arise. There is nothing with which we are more intimately familiar and yet it is a mystery. It is a light that shines through the eyes of all sentient beings, plants and atoms too; in all Nature. Of one being with the Father, Creation is a thought that shares in the divinity and sacredness of its Source, hence it has intrinsic value, providing the basis for ethics.
Life on Earth is a school in which the soul and ego are buffed and polished to try to let the light shine through. Or as Plotinus puts it, we sculpt the soul through suffering; slowly, painfully eliminating that which is not beautiful in the pursuit of happiness. Plotinus’ question – why do we love the beautiful? – is profound. His answer: Beauty, Truth and Goodness attract us as reminders of our true home; of our origin. The made seeking its Maker.
A time must be found when the mind shuts up and lets the soul speak its silent message. In pursuit of happiness, the ego must imitate the relative perfection of the soul.
I Am Not I
Juan Ramon Jiménez
I am not I.
I am this one
Walking beside me whom I do not see,
Whom at times I manage to visit,
And whom at other times I forget;
The one who remains silent when I talk,
The one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
The one who takes a walk where I am not,
The one who will remain standing when I die.
All that really matters is invisible; love, meaning, purpose, emotion, value, morality, inner beauty, consciousness and God. To attack one is to attack all.
Mind at Large
The Cambridge philosopher C. D. Broad argued that the brain, nervous system and sense organs are eliminative rather than productive. In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley comments that mind at large is “funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented . . . languages.” Otherwise people would be overwhelmed by useless and irrelevant knowledge.
This is consistent with Frederick Myer’s earlier assertion that human consciousness evolves and adapts according to environmental and social pressures. Abilities are developed and others are allowed to wither according to the demands of living in a particular context. Hunter gatherers will have a much more alert and intense interaction with their natural environment than someone living in a contemporary developed country, but their ability to think abstractly will probably be minimal. It is just not relevant or necessary for their existence.
The eliminative function of the brain seems to be supported by neurophysiology. The brains of babies are a mass of interconnections. Those interconnections that are not used are pruned away and those that are used are thereby reinforced and strengthened. Like muscles, use and activity affect the very structure of the brain. Abilities that are practiced improve and those that are irrelevant or ignored remain merely potential or disappear. Windows of development open and then close if the relevant activities fail to materialize.
Idiot savants are people who have unusual seemingly superhuman abilities but with corresponding deficits. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks describes twins with IQs of 60 who had a mysterious ability to identify prime numbers up to 20 digits long. They were variously diagnosed as autistic, psychotic and severely mentally retarded.
The movie Rain Man is loosely based on Kim Peek. He too was diagnosed as mentally retarded. However, he could read two pages of a book simultaneously, using one eye to read one page and the other eye to read the second page. He also had over 90% recall of everything he read. He had read over 10,000 books by the time he died. On the other hand, he was unable to look after himself at all. His father accompanied him everywhere and fed, bathed and dressed him every day.
Daniel Tammet is both a math prodigy and can learn a new language to fluency in a week. He was challenged to prove his ability by learning Icelandic in one week and then to be interviewed on TV by native speakers. He succeeded. He can recite pi from memory to 22,514 digits which he did in five hours and nine minutes in 2004. He is also autistic and suffered from epileptic seizures as a child.
Reducing consciousness to a trickle allows people to focus on the task at hand. Too narrowly focused, however, and consciousness can produce unusual but pointless abilities at the price of mental retardation and the loss of the capacity for independent living. The result is a kind of hyper-specialization. The twins cannot actually do anything productive with numbers. Reciting pi is pointless. Reading thousands of books and recalling them is not the same as acquiring wisdom and understanding. At best, Peek could serve as a kind of library of memory for intelligent people to access in the manner described by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 when books are burned.
The Goldilocks point is to be generally capable of many things: an all-rounder; a dilettante. Mircea Eliade once commented that he was grateful for the mind-numbing interest in minutiae demonstrated by specialists, such as the world’s leading expert on the left rear knees of the Alaskan semi-aquatic grasshopper. He could read all their work and try to make a useful synthesis, i.e., something interesting, out of it.
Expanding consciousness by taking LSD might open the valve to give someone access to broader, more expansive levels of consciousness, but being high on LSD renders the consumer not fit for anything productive and possibly a danger to himself and to others. To get anything productive done and take care of quotidian matters, normal consciousness is required.
Those who are regarded as enlightened tend to have had just a few peak experiences in their lifetimes. They do not walk about in a state of bliss and unity with all that is. Peak experiences can also be called “peek” experiences in that they give an insight into the true nature of consciousness and what is possible, but a person cannot stay there and still function in the ordinary ways necessary to get around. Being one with the bus in mystical unity might turn into being one with the bus in another sense, or rather a smudge on the road.
Mind and Epistemology
Sam Harris, one of the New Atheists, taking a leaf out of Descartes’ book, comments that consciousness is the one thing that cannot be doubted. Even if humans turn out to be brains in vats and the external world an illusion, the fact that people seem to be experiencing the world cannot be questioned.
All theories about the mind and reality exist in minds, so mind has priority over everything else.
Consciousness is experienced directly only from a first person perspective and so is not amenable to scientific analysis grounded in third-person techniques. Therefore, any defects in a person’s brain function will harm his ability to assess the plausibility of different ideas concerning the mind.
People with low emotional intelligence, such as those suffering from autism or Asperger’s syndrome, are unable to identify or describe their own emotional states or those of others. They are also likely, depending on severity, to lack a “theory of mind.” A theory of mind in this context means attributing mental states to other people in order to explain their behavior.
Such people are often attracted to science because science is restricted to the third person and no insight into a person’s own mental states or others is required. They are also more likely to be attracted to the notion that people resemble robots because of their own lack of insight into their inner workings. One individual encountered said that up until two years prior to my meeting him, he had doubted that emotions even existed. That gives an indication of just how profoundly lacking and strange his phenomenology must be. To a certain extent, he looked within and found nothing there.
Meditation provides an alternative route to a scientific perspective; first focusing attention on the body, then the mind, the soul and then resting in nondual awareness coextensive with mind at large. The drawback is that knowledge of these levels is accessible only to the few.
Since science focuses on what can be physically verified, its truths are in principle accessible to all. Science is a lowest common denominator phenomenon – mind using what can be very sophisticated techniques to study matter. By restricting themselves to studying the tactile and physical, scientists examine the world like very intelligent babies. Becoming habituated to this mode of thinking déformation professionnelle leads many of them to nihilism since meaning and purpose, being invisible, are excluded from their purview.
Real babies, however, only exist because of love – one of the invisibles. Without love and affection most babies give up the will to live. Understaffed orphanages can have astronomical mortality rates for this reason. Those babies who survive are likely to suffer from attachment disorder and remain unassimilable to normal human society, having no interest in their fellow humans.
Whatever the popularity and prestige of science, in real life mind cannot be ignored. Social existence means paying careful attention to the varying emotions and thoughts conveyed by faces, tones of voice and gesture. Far from being skeptical as to other people’s consciousness, close attention is paid to every nuance of an interlocutor. This ability to recognize human emotional states is highly developed by dogs in particular with whom humans have coevolved. Dogs, cats and humans relate to each other as conscious beings.
Consciousness and Machines
One definition of a machine is that it is a rule-following device. A rule can only be instituted for something that is predictable. For unforeseen circumstances, no rule can be formulated.
Consciousness provides creatures with the ability to improvise; to respond flexibly to the uncertainties of their environments. In many activities, music, martial arts, writing, etc., someone begins as a novice with no skills. He then learns the rules. Mastery is attained when the rules have been become second nature and then transcended as required. There are literally no rules for a street fight. Anything can happen. Victory will depend on responding organically to the circumstances rather than behaving in a rule-driven machine-like manner.
Sheldrake writes: “Ethologists, scientists who study animal behavior, have observed that many fixed-action patterns show a “fixed” component and an “orienting” component that is relatively flexible.” A fixed component, which might be regarded as rule-like, can include things like the quest for food. A hungry fox has no real choice about whether it feels hungry or not and the consequences of not eating are non-negotiable. However, in order to catch its prey, the fox must match the relatively random and unpredictable actions of the animal. Evolution and the survival of the fittest will select for hard to catch prey and smart, flexible predators.
A greylag goose is “programmed” to retrieve eggs that roll off its nest. That is a fixed component. The eggs are not round and so the motions of the goose’s bill in retrieving the egg and rolling it up a hill are the orienting aspect.
Similarly, female mud wasps of a Paralastor species in Australia build underground nests covered by a funnel that the wasp constructs. When scientists made holes in the funnel, or removed it, or altered it in other ways that would never occur naturally, the wasps would inspect the damage and respond intelligently and appropriately. Their response cannot be innate and instinctual because such events had never happened before. Their goal is to have a functioning well-protected nest. How this goal is achieved can include flexible behaviors and smart problem-solving.
The goal is fixed. How the goal is achieved is not.
Even if the universe were rule-driven in some deep sense, the actual behaviors that creatures encounter are not in fact predictable or known in advance. Thus, if consciousness did not exist, it might have to have been invented by evolution.
Left Hemisphere, Right Hemisphere
In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist writes that a creature like a bird needs two types of consciousness simultaneously. It needs to be able to focus on something specific, such as pecking at food, while it also needs to keep an eye out for predators which requires a more general awareness of environment.
These are quite different activities. The Left Hemisphere (LH) is adapted for a narrow focus. The Right Hemisphere (RH) for the broad. Human beings have the same division of function.
The LH governs the right side of the body, the RH, the left side. With birds, the left eye (RH) looks for predators, the right eye (LH) focuses on food and specifics. Since danger can take many forms and is unpredictable, the RH has to be very open-minded.
The LH is for narrow focus, the explicit, the familiar, the literal, tools and the man-made. The broad focus of the RH is necessarily more vague and intuitive. The LH is high resolution but narrow, the RH low resolution but broad.
The RH is where novel experiences are processed and where mathematical problems are solved. The RH is involved with the natural, the unfamiliar, the unique, emotions, the embodied, music, humor, understanding intonation and emotional nuance of speech, the metaphorical, nuance, and social relations. It has very little speech, but the RH is necessary for processing all the nonlinguistic aspects of speaking, including body language. Understanding what someone means by vocal inflection and facial expressions is an intuitive RH process rather than explicit.
Using the metaphor of Chaos and Order, the RH deals with Chaos – the unknown, the unfamiliar, the implicit, the emotional, the dark, danger, mystery. The LH is connected with Order – the known, the familiar, the rule-driven, the explicit, light of day. Learning something means to take something unfamiliar and make it familiar. Since the RH deals with the novel, it is the problem-solving part. Once understood, the results are dealt with by the LH.
Science is an attempt to find Order. It would not be necessary if people lived in an entirely orderly, explicit, known world. Science assumes Chaos. Theories are reductive and simplifying and help to pick out salient features of a phenomenon. They are always partial truths, though some are more partial than others. Any interaction with the world realizes only some of its potential.
The LH looks for and finds order in the flux of experience. In reality, every person is slightly different and every experience is unique. The 100th time something is done is different from the 99th. In order not to just get lost in Chaos, the LH uses categories and applies them across experience. While focusing on the repetitive aspects of experience can be useful, too much LH and Order is boring – been there, done that.
Analytic philosophers pride themselves on trying to do away with vagueness. However, in order to understand things, it is necessary to have the big picture, the overview, as well as the details. There is no point in having details if the subject does not know what they are details of.
By trying to emulate the explicit formulations of science, analytic philosophy effectively excludes from its purview and thus from their conception of reality, all RH phenomena. By focusing only on what can be made explicit and what can be put into words using them literally, they distort reality. This happens even in their discussion of consciousness.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger tried to describe the human condition, how humans are in the world, in a more RH way. He invented the term “Dasein,” which is described as Being-in-the-world. We have a dim apprehension of the situations or contexts in which activities are done. We are building a house, meeting a friend, sick of our lives, bored, relaxed, anxious, etc.. Each RH feeling or purpose reveals the world in different ways, foregrounding some things out of the infinite complexity of background. The RH determines what the LH sees. One person experiences X as a friend, another as a son, another as a student, another as a mechanic. Each experience is legitimate and none is comprehensive.
Heidegger described people as always, already in the world. The World is the largest conception one might have of context. It is pre-theoretical and implicit. We find ourselves in the world and then try to make sense of it. We are in the world and then proceed to have theories about it. We do not and cannot prove the external world exists as a theoretical matter.
Most of our interaction with the world is precognitive. When we learn a skill (RH) we have to learn it consciously. Once acquired, the skill becomes LH and familiar. Colin Wilson calls this “the robot.” By that he means all activities that can be undertaken without the necessity of conscious thought, such as driving a car in non-difficult conditions. Driving a car is not entirely unconscious, but neither is it very conscious.
We demonstrate that we know what a hammer is, what it means, by stretching out our hand and hammering with it. Only if it breaks do we look at it and think about it because we are back to the novel. The hammer is “ready-at-hand,” and then “present-at-hand” if it breaks.
From a RH perspective, to understand a hammer is to understand what it means; its function. Since meaning is a matter of connections to context, the thing to be studied must be carefully placed in its appropriate context rather than being studied in isolation. Just analyzing the wood and metal used to construct the hammer is not to understand its meaning. The exact materials, so long as they are fit for purpose, do not really matter.
To understand the hammer it is necessary to look at in relation to the tool users who employ it, then to recognize that it points to nails and boards and then to the items constructed out of them. These matters of context are understood dimly via the RH. The ultimate meaning might be to build a house.
Dasein is in the world concernfully. How the world is going for it, matters to Dasein. Dasein is not an object to be fully seen and understood. It reaches into the past and imagines alternative futures. It is a clearing in the forest where things get revealed. It is also “Being-toward-death.”
For Aristotle, passive nous (mind) is the great sweep of perceptions cascading over us. Active nous (LH) involves focusing on some elements and not others, partly to avoid confusion and partly to avoid sensory overload. We do not want to be constantly thinking about persistent but unimportant sensations like the feel of the shirt on our backs, etc.
Attempting to understand consciousness by focusing only on the LH will omit everything connected to the RH. All such accounts tend to say nothing about music, humor, intuition, context, the metaphorical, emotion, emotional nuance of language, the unique and individual, social connection, and meaning.
Having a stroke in the RH means having to make do with the LH. The LH is forced to identify a person by single attributes, like a nose, or mouth, or haircut. Normal people recognize someone using the RH which has a broader focus and can see wholes. RH also deals with the unique. RH perception takes multiple factors into account, including how a person moves. Fewer details, but it can see the forest for the trees.
LH accounts of consciousness tend only to include what can be seen by the LH. Unless a person is autistic, these accounts will therefore not correspond very well to our actual experience of consciousness. They will be exceedingly partial and incomplete, focusing only on what is explicit and can be articulated clearly.
A lot of moving through the world is non-linguistic. Animals reason and problem-solve non-linguistically and we do too, much of the time.
The Four Quadrants
Ken Wilber locates interior subjectivity and individual consciousness in the top left-hand quadrant. Human consciousness is a collective phenomenon. Without culture (bottom left-hand quadrant) and the economic system that sustains it (bottom right-hand quadrant) humans cannot exist. So, to understand oneself it is necessary to study the cultural heritage of which a person’s individual mind is a part. Thoughts are influenced by the thoughts of others. Likewise, normally, the brain and mind are intricately related (top-right quadrant).
The idea of the four quadrants is to encourage a thinker to focus on multiple aspects of an item. To answer a question like “Why do you like blue jeans?,” the four quadrants can be used to provide a more complete, less reductive answer. (IT) Jeans are practical. They are moderately warm and very durable. (ITS) Thanks to mass production and factories, they are readily available and reasonably cheap. There is no point liking jeans if it is not possible to buy them. (WE) The culture we live in considers them moderately fashionable, normal and acceptable. This will contribute to an individual’s view of jeans. (I) A person’s idiosyncratic taste happens to favor them. But this taste takes place in the context of biology, the social (economics), the cultural (interior, shared ideas and meanings) and the individual.
Similarly, “What does it mean to be a woman?” has a biological component (IT) contributing to cross-cultural constants concerning motherhood, the hormonal and the feminine. What jobs are available to women in a particular society will influence the answer (ITS). There are general cultural conceptions of womanliness that tend to provide the choices available to an individual (WE). And finally, there is the conception that an individual man or woman has (I). Each quadrant influences all the others. If a woman thinks women are rough and tough, she might work out more, altering her biology. In turn, the hormones and brain organization of a woman will affect her mind and her thoughts on the subject. Which jobs a woman does will affect her body. Her body will in turn determine which jobs she is suitable for.
This means sex is biologically, socially, culturally and individually constructed.
Mystics like Plato and Plotinus focus on interior subjectivity. Each person tends to have his favorite quadrant, but each quadrant influences the other. Brain and body influence mind – bottom up causation – and mind influences brain and body – top down causation. Individual minds exist within a cultural heritage that provides concepts, traditions, points of view, literature, poetry, music, art and philosophy. And those in turn are influenced by social institutions like the Church and economic practices.
So consciousness at the level of mind exists in a social and cultural context which changes. Spiritual truth remains constant, but, as is frequently observed, each generation must rediscover those truths for itself. People use the concepts and points of view available to them. Without the process of rediscovery, coming to know and feel the truth, spiritual truth is in danger of becoming what William James calls a dead hypothesis. He uses the example that it is no longer possible to believe in the existence of the Greek gods.
Thanks to the discovery of the Big Bang, Moderns know that the universe itself is evolving and this becomes a way of reacknowledging the older organismic and animistic conception of the universe as alive and conscious expressed in Plotinus’ notion of the World Soul.
Wilber points out that Plato’s Cave can easily be set in motion and depict the history of the universe as well as the path of individual growth. By making these minor adjustments it is possible to keep spiritual realities as live hypotheses.
One thing missing from Wilber’s picture is a quadrant of “You.” It is important that a distinction is recognized between the You who is not I. “We” is merely the plural of “I.” This provides a link to the Absolute, but “You” recognizes that you may have different desires and ambitions from me. Christianity emphasizes the I/Thou of the Relative, while Buddhism tends to focus on the We – all is one.
Part of the communality of human consciousness is its intensely mimetic (imitative) nature. Thoughts, attitudes, desires, points of view, beliefs and the language employed are all copied from other people. Even the desire to be original, if it exists in the individual, is mimetic. The possessor of this desire has copied it from the people around him. There is nothing original about wanting to be original. Thus, human consciousness is inherently communal. Without the shared aspect; without copying the speech and behaviors of others; someone is not really human at all – just a grunting animal who would possibly never discover the ability to walk on two legs.
Humans only exist as persons in relationship with others. Each person discovers who he is in connection with other people.
Epistemically, it can happen that the communal nature of human consciousness gets ignored or forgotten. The mind is the means by which we think. Each person is bequeathed ideas, concepts, modes of thought from others which are then used to think about, among other things, ideas, concepts and modes of thought. What is doing the studying is of a piece with the thing being studied. Philosophers are notorious for ignoring the self-reflexive implications of what they write, generating tears-inducing absurdities.
René Girard argues that human consciousness originated in the communal awareness generated by scapegoating. With the scapegoat mechanism, the violence that comes from imitating desires, wanting what other people want, is assuaged when an innocent victim is blamed for all the mutual antagonisms and murdered; thus ending the conflict in cooperation. Fortunately, Judaism and most especially the Passion of the Christ brought the scapegoat mechanism to light. Jesus is the innocent victim murdered by an angry mob par excellence and the disciples served to counter the usual universal condemnation of the scapegoat. Unfortunately, this awareness has remained partial at best and with the fading popularity of Christianity, pagan scapegoating is enjoying a renaissance. Many people fail to recognize that bonding together over the shared hatred of anyone at all, from presidents, to criminals, to the physically handicapped, is to scapegoat.
A True Myth
At times, Plato used the concept of myth or story. He would write “this may not be exactly true, but something like this might be the case.”
In the movie Surrogates, humans send robot surrogates to interact with the world for them. If a robot is harmed, no harm can come to its operator. The operator stays safe at home. Someone figures out how to kill the operator when he destroys the robot, causing a crisis in the social setup.
Likewise, it is the view of most religions that humans are spiritual beings having a temporary sojourn on Earth. This means that bodies and brains are an interface with the physical world. Like the human operator in Surrogates, the spiritual self cannot be harmed or killed. It is immortal.
This transmission theory of mind suggests that consciousness exists in another non-physical atemporal dimension. A brain and body are necessary for us to interact and operate in the realm of the physical. The brain is thus like a radio receiver. It does not generate thoughts and trying to find the source of consciousness in the brain is no more realistic than attempting to find the source of music and speech in a radio. If the brain is damaged, then transmission is impaired.
The neuroscientist Benjamin Libet got experimental subjects to decide on their own when to press a button while hooked up to an electroencephalograph (EEG). He found that the conscious decision occurred 200 milliseconds before the finger moved. However, Libet also found brain activity 300 milliseconds before the conscious decision. This would make sense on the transmission theory of mind. The conscious decision of the soul is communicated to the physical realm via the brain. Libet suggested that there was time in those 200 milliseconds for the mind to veto the decision coming from what could be called the soul mind.
The Story of Er
The story of Er was reported in Plato’s Republic. Er was a soldier whose body was about to be burned on a funeral pyre when he suddenly woke up and reported his near death experience. He recounted that he was taken to a place of judgment and told to watch the proceedings. He saw souls coming from below the Earth and from Heaven. The former were care-worn, weary and stained from travel. They had spent a thousand years underground in punishment with murderers and tyrants. The latter were refreshed. After seven days the souls traveled to the Fates where they were to be assigned new lives as mortals. They could choose the kind of life they would lead. Some chose wisely, some did not. Before being reborn, the souls drank from the River of Lethe – Forgetfulness. It is possible to be reminded of what a soul once new through earthly experience – a process Plato called anamnesis.
Is the Story of Er and the Immortal Conception of Consciousness Plausible?
For there to be any hope that an afterlife exists, then something like the transmission theory of mind must be true. NDEs indicate that consciousness can survive physical death, or at least, the cessation of all brain activity. Drug and mystical experiences suggest that consciousness might be universal, eternal and the ground of all being. Consciousness is generating us, not the other way around. Quantum physics indicates that the subatomic structure of physical reality itself is a very strange and counterintuitive phenomenon. Events change depending on whether they are being observed or not, such as a double-slit experiment, indicating that consciousness changes what it perceives.
Part of the question is what a person regards as plausible. Materialists, those who believe that physical reality is all there is or that everything can be reduced to atoms and molecules, subscribe to a Newtonian view of reality, ignoring the fact that Newton was a theist. Despite claiming to have their views guided by science, they are typically not remotely interested in quantum mechanics which has enough “woo-woo” elements to keep a religious believer happy for ages.
The materialist philosopher is attracted to a “common sense” view of reality that has only really been regarded as common sense since the scientific revolution and is therefore quite chronologically and culturally parochial. The view has since been superseded by quantum physics and things like Schroedinger’s Cat and quantum entanglement. There is nothing remotely commonsensical about those things.
Philosophers like John Locke tried to create a philosophy that took science as it existed at the time as its starting point, based as it is on a third-person perspective. In the process, Locke relegated all mind-dependent phenomena to nonexistence, and with it, consciousness.
What counts as “plausible” is very much the result of cultural context and a person’s starting assumptions about reality. Goedel’s Theorem proved that any axiomatic system beyond the level of complexity of addition must contain axioms not provable within the system. A complete and consistent axiomatic system does not exist. The simplest way of formulating Goedel’s Theorem is that not everything that is true can be proven to be true. The materialist might be right, but he cannot prove it. He too indulges in faith.
It is possible to at least hope that life is meaningful. A life where consciousness continues after physical death would seem to be more meaningful than one where it does not. The prospect of having everything a person learned in life be annihilated upon death seems bleak. There are reasons to think this might not be the case. Reincarnation too would seem to make life more meaningful by providing multiple opportunities to get it right. There is some evidence that reincarnation exists involving children who claim to be the reincarnated relatives of those still living and proceed to prove it.
Plato, the founder of Western philosophy, believed in both. He thought that consciousness is spiritual and eternal and that each person has had multiple lifetimes. Because of this, spiritual truths might resonate in a person’s soul by way of remembering. What makes sense and seems plausible could be influenced by this half-remembered knowledge according to him.
In Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr, this is the description of the meaning of life.
“Remember, that in the beginning there was the coming away from the Source for the correction of many disorders. Acquiring a physical body is only one stage in the corrections. To be in the physical is not always the most enviable stage, as just lately you may have learnt, but this I tell you: in this span of creation, the time or times in the state are of short duration, and, though important, are at the most very temporary. It is not surprising then that whilst you should be in this state the importance of comfort or happiness seen from the physical point of view is generally foremost in the mind of each soul. And yet the message that you have all been given, and which you must learn to hear with greater clarity, is the message of our Lord Jesus Christ [namely that] your physical well-being, your possessions, or lack of them, so important to you, are immaterial to your development. As the Lord said, you should neither be judged whether you be rich or poor, for neither state will qualify you for acceptance back to the Source.”
“Blessed are the poor”, you have read, words said by the Lord. Do not misunderstand these words, as often is done. The state of poverty in itself does not make them blessed. It is their own mentality and thoughts they have in the state of poverty. You will ﬁnd that the poor give as often as the rich do but because they have so little to give in material things they always give a larger percentage, more often than not all of what they have.
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” For the same reason are they blessed, for they look down on no man and call him less, for they are meek. The gift of meekness is a gift indeed; therefore pray for the mighty, for they are not thus blessed. Each one elevated to the heights of government of kingdoms has always to accept and give the example of greatness. They may not be meek: therefore, to be rich in grace is doubly great. If we were to carry on and talk more and give more of these examples we could only come to one conclusion: that life in a physical body is from necessity diﬃcult and undesirable. For it would be very hard to accept that when you have the least comfort, when you have the least position, you are greatly blessed and that when you have the most comfort and the higher position then prayers are needed more. It seems a contradiction in itself unless you understand that it is for this reason each and every one of you is in the position that you are for the reason that you may develop and that disorder may be corrected. Each is in the situation where he must learn, develop and correct disorder.
God seen as the Surgeon Operating on Us While We Live our “Unconscious” Lives on Earth
Stephen: Then you say, “Would it not be easier if the Lord our God were to make it very clear to us what the purpose is and what the working of that purpose is, and why and how, and when and whom?” You have asked questions like this, Olive. But think how a surgeon would act if, when he had to operate, he had to keep the patient conscious, adjust mirrors so the patient could see the operation that would be beyond his understanding in any case. Should he perhaps have each patient undertake advanced studies before an operation? Or would it perhaps not be better only to operate on a surgeon?
In actual practice the patient is treated and bathed and is given what medication he may need. He is clothed in a gown most suitable for access, and he is put in a place most suitable for the operation. He is kept in a state so that no pain more than he can bear will be administered to him. When the operation is completed and the wound is healed and the disorder is corrected then the patient may arise and even discuss the disorder and sickness with the surgeon and learn from him. This must be the order of things, therefore, that the patient must trust his surgeon and carry out his instructions regarding what the patient must know or do or, rather, not do. Likewise the patient must love his Lord God with all his heart and all his soul; he must trust his God as he trusts his surgeon, for when he comes to the operating table he is by his own choice made unconscious of the things that are about to happen. Even if he were a surgeon himself he would still be unconscious at the time of the operation. Even though in consciousness he would know what has to be done and how it should be done by his own choice he would choose the unconsciousness, for he would know that without this the operation would not be possible. So, therefore, you must trust your surgeon, have faith in his skill, place yourself in his hands and love him.
Furthermore we must all love one another for we are part of the one body; there is no separateness. To hate someone, dislike someone, is to hate or dislike yourself and to hate and dislike your God. There is no one, no soul beneath your love; for there is not one soul that should not give you love and not one soul that you should not receive love from. Therefore, the second of your duties is to love yourselves, for you are a part of God and He of you. Love each other; give to each other, for in giving you are receiving. The physical is only temporary; providing you do these two things then no state of mind or physical welfare is material to your progress. Your true reward for loving each other is to receive the love of each other, and the love of God. Understand and give only this, and you will ﬁnd that each time that you do this the wound of your operation will heal a little more; each time that you do this, consciousness which you lack now will begin to return. This is the way that the answers will come to you, to heal the wound and return to the consciousness. Therefore love much.
When you are gone from this place, when you are done with these bodies, physical, mental, ethereal and all others, then you will be back with the Source, and it will be of no mind.
(Same session) You will forgive me for my serious talking this night for it is not often that I have the opportunity to discuss these things with you alone. Remember that mothers never tend to be less wise than their children are for, because of their development not in age but in experience, their wisdom grows and you will generally notice a calmness and an acceptance of life. Look upon the aged and those older than you and you will ﬁnd that you are looking upon yourself when a number of your own mis-arrangements have been corrected. Think of the acceptance, notice the calmness; this is a message. Do not expect the aged to be clever, for cleverness most times is a barrier to the healing. Cleverness often, as I have said, stops loving. Intelligence is a disability; this is why I am often amused when Tom accuses me of cleverness for I discarded cleverness many ages ago. I must depart now. Thomas is tired. God bless you all; pray for me and also for those in greater need of your prayers than yourselves or myself.”
The mysteries of existence include why there is something rather than nothing, the emergence of living organisms, and consciousness. Each person represents an unbroken chain of life reaching back to the first cell. Since cells are unfathomably complicated and manufacture a wider range of products than all of human manufacturing put together, all on a microscopic level, their existence seems profoundly unlikely. The emergence of living cells if imagined to be by chance, would be analogous to a tornado driving through a junkyard and assembling a fully functioning 747, including every rivet, electronics, miles of wiring and computer systems.
Humans find themselves to be alive, conscious and confronting a universe which is poorly understood. Physicists claim that ninety-six percent of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy, both of which are just placeholders awaiting further discoveries.
Materialists posit consciousness as something emerging from brains or, if brazen enough, try to deny that consciousness exists at all. Some even deny the existence of life; claiming that it is a poorly defined concept and that all definitions of life are unsatisfactory because some computer programs share the characteristics of life so defined.
In those two cases, materialists are willing to simply deny the two most important features of any human being. One, that the person is alive. Two, the person is conscious. Being dead or in a permanent coma spell the end of existence in this world as we know it.
Some materialists are willing to take these drastic steps because they intuit that consciousness and God are connected. Though normal human consciousness is but a trickle of Mind at Large, the connection is retained and can be experienced in moments of grace.
NDEs prove that human consciousness continues when the brain is not functioning. Brain plasticity, hydrocephalus and a normally functioning mind when one hemisphere is removed, mean that coming to understand human minds by examining brains seems unlikely.
The evidence favors the transmission theory of mind, that the brain, nervous system and sense organs function more like a radio, picking up signals and thoughts from another dimension rather than generating thoughts. Placebos and nocebos point to top down causation and mind over matter.
Human consciousness is but a ripple on a wider ocean of thought. Brains and bodies are normally necessary as interfaces with physical reality, but NDEs show that the link can be broken. Likewise, a person with ninety-five percent of his brain missing can exhibit above average cognitive abilities. Consciousness permeates the universe and according to Plato, Plotinus, the Buddhists and others, is more fundamental than matter.
 Rupert Sheldrake, Science Set Free (Penguin Random House, 2013) p. 200.
 Rupert Sheldrake, p. 201.
 See for background: Roger Lewin, “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” Science No. 210 (12 December 1980). [SydneyTrads: consider also the 2007 case of a 44 year old French man, who, while having most of his brain consumed by ventricular enlargements, was still able to live with “normal social functioning”. See for further information: Lionel Feuillet, Henry Dufour and Jean Pelletier, “Brain of White-Collar Worker” The Lancet Vol. 370 No. 9583 (21 July 2007) [DOI:10/1016/S0140-6736(07)61127-1]]
 Moheb Constandi, Neuroplasticity (The MIT Press, 2016).
 Ju Lu, Juan Carlos Tapia, Olivia L. White and Jeff W. Lichtman, “The interscutularis muscle connectome” Public Library of Science Biology (10 February 2009) [DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000032]
 Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen, “Behaviorally Conditioned Immunosuppression” Psychosomatic Medicine Vol. 37 No. 4 (July-August 1975).
 Irving Kirsch, “Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect” Zeitschrift Fur Psychologie Vol. 222 No. 3 (2014) [DOI:10.1027/2151-2604/a000176].
 Sheldrake, Science Set Free, p. 275.
 E. G. Pattie (1941), “The production of blisters by hypnotic suggestion: a review,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 36, 62-72.
 Ullman, M. (1947). Herpes simplex and second degree burn induced under hypnosis, American Journal of Psychiatry, 103, 828-830, p. 829.
 Bellis, J. M., (1966) Hypnotic pseudo sun-burn, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 8, 310-312.
 Barber. T. X. (1984), in A. A. Sheikh (Ed) Imagination and Healing, pp 69-127, p 80.
 Dreaper, R. (1978) Recalcitrant warts on the hand cured by hypnosis, Practitioner, 220, 305-310.
 Barber, T.X, (1984) in A. A. Sheikh (Ed) Imagination and Healing, pp 69-127.
 Barber, T. X, (1978) Hypnosis, suggestions, and psychosomatic phenomena, A new look from the standpoint of recent experimental studies, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 21, 13-27, p. 20.
 Goldstein A. & Hildegard, E. R. (1975) Failure of the opiate antagonist naloxone to modify hypnotic analgesia, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 72, 2041-2043..
 Mason A. A. (1955) Surgery under hypnosis, Anasthesia, 10. 295-299.
 Gidro-Frank, L. and Bowersbuch, M. K. (1948) A study of the plantar response in hypnotic age regression, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 107, 443-458..
 Pim van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life – The Science of Near Death Experience (Harper Collins, 2010).
 Ibid. p. 23 ff.
 Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars (Vintage 1, 1996).
 Pim van Lommel, op. cit. p. 115.
 Ibid. p. 127 ff.
 Ibid. pp. 169-170.
 Ibid. p. 144.
 Ibid. p. 162.
 Ibid. p. 165.
 Ibid. p. 163.
 Ibid. p. 145.
 Edward Kelly and Emily Kelly, Irreducible Mind (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006) p. 110.
 Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009) p. 6.
 Edward Kelly and Emily Kelly, op. cit. p. 80.
 Patricia K. Kuhl, “Brain Mechanisms in Early Language Acquisition” Neuron Vol. 67 Issue 5 (9 September 2010); Gail Gross, “Your Baby’s Brain, Part 3: Windows of Opportunity” Huffington Post (blog) (12 September 2014 @ 11:21 ET; updated 12 November 2014) <huffingtonpost.com> (accessed 26 April 2017).
 Tara Bahrampour, “Romanian orphans subjected to deprivation must now deal with dysfunction” Washington Post (online) (30 January 2014) <washingtonpost.com> (accessed 26 April 2017).
 Sheldrake, p. 135.
 Sheldrake, p. 136.
 Calling Dasein “the human,” is misleading because it reduces what it is to be to biological terms. A human being is just one very limited way of referring to Dasein.
 Mark Michael Lewis, “Ken Wilber and the Foundation for an Integral Science” Rational Spirituality (online) (undated) <rationalspirituality.com> (accessed 26 April 2017).
 William James, “The Will to Believe,” Address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities, republished in The New World (June 1896) § 1.
 Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (Shambhala Publications, 1996) pp. 228-229.
 René Girard, The One By Whom Scandal Comes (Michigan State Press, 2014) p 12.
 “Surrogates” (Director: Jonathan Mostow; Writers: Michael Ferris, John Brancato and others; Released on 24 September 2009).
 Sheldrake, op. cit. p. 123.
 Michael Cocks, Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr (White Crow Books, 2011) pp 11-12.
This was originally published with the same title in SydneyTrads.