Most likely, you are very much like me, wondering what role my brain plays in creating the reality right in front of me. Whether I am wealthy or broke, is my financial status entirely shaped by it? Whether I am feeling healthy or sick, is this condition strictly caused by that same brain? Did I unwittingly guide my brain to create a specific outcome?
Does the notion that it all comes out of my brain even hold water? What about the mind? Is my mind the same as my brain? Could my mind interact with my brain, and my brain with my mind? What about my body and my world? Don’t they interact with my brain, and even my mind? Could it be that the brain is a projector creating my sense of reality? Could there be a level of consciousness that is neither my brain, nor my mind? It is certain that we cannot avoid philosophic questions.
This is why it would be best to look from a very high level at three well-developed positions on this question, so that we can form our own perspective.
Scientists and mystics currently argue with each other over three distinct possibilities:
1. The mind is but an electrical storm of neurons in the brain.
2. The brain is not the mind, and plays a very secondary role to consciousness, itself.
3. The brain is a tuning mechanism for universal consciousness to individualize.
The brain, alone, is a vast matrix of 10 billion cells arranged in precise patterns with a virtually infinite number of combinations exceeding the stars in the known universe. The notion here is that they can fire in such a way as to create all the experiences we are having, such that we think we have a separate mind, or soul.
While we have come to the point after a hundred years of being able to localize specific functions within the brain, the frontal lobe for decision making and the occipital lobe for vision, we are still at a very elementary level of understanding.
If we were in nursery school before, perhaps we are at third-grade now, a long, long way from graduate school. It is tempting, due to the stunning progress of computing over the last generation, to imagine computers becoming smarter than humans in a couple of decades, what is referred to as the singularity.
However, neurologists researching on the cellular level find that each cell is vastly more complex than a computer switch, having an intelligence of its own. It is also tempting to imagine an electrical storm explaining everything because of the impressive gains of neuroscience over the last decade or two.
Metaphysicians, or philosophic idealists, recognize only one reality, the mind, or consciousness. They are against dualism and see only thought as real, nothing else. Our whole reality is based on thought or ideas. Therefore, the brain, along with both the body and the world, is strictly an illusion, and should be discounted.
If you want to change your reality, simply switch your thoughts. Support for this idea can come from quantum physics, which postulates vast regions of empty space between the atoms in our body, and everything we see. We are essentially a void, just as the Buddhists have suggested all along.
It is clear from prayer, meditation and positive thinking that certain types of thought can have a very definite impact on our experience of reality, including inner turbulence or inner peace. However, this reasoning gets a bit hollow when you suffer a lobotomy, or undergo a brain operation that interferes with various mental functions. If the brain isn’t real, what difference should an operation on it make?
Many years ago, Napoleon Hill in his classic, Think and Grow Rich, suggested that the brain is a filter for thoughts, ideas and information from intangible sources, including God, which he referred to as Infinite Intelligence.
Napoleon had closely followed early psychic research and came to the conclusion that people received inspiration and accurate information through non-material means. This was picked up by people experiencing psychedellics in the 1960’s who had a radically different experience of the world upon taking such chemicals as LSD. It seems this hallucinogen relaxes certain inhibiting mechanisms that give our everyday world such clear boundaries.
More recently, Dr. Deepak Chopra, a veteran physician who has done significant research on the brain, as well as being a pioneer of mind / body medicine, has suggested that the body and brain provide an individualized experience for Universal Consciousness.
In a sense, God creates both the player and the playground, being the world, and even gets to play, Himself, being the Source of the player’s consciousness.
This is certainly an attractive view, given that it fits in with quantum theory and progressive notions of God. Deepak suggests that when you download a file from iTunes and play it on your loud speakers, the band or orchestra is not inside the speakers, but rather comes from somewhere else. The musician is non-local.
If you have 90 minutes on your hands, you can watch Dr. Bruce Greyson’s thoughts on this topic, that consciousness does not need a physical brain nor a physical body.
The materialist explanation provided by such researchers as Dr. Daniel Dennett, or such futurists as Ray Kurtzweil, begs the deeper questions asked by physicists, such as Peter Russell, or medical doctors like Deepak Chopra.
What accounts for our experience of color, like bright red or orange? What accounts for our experience of enchanting music, not neural impulses, but the actual experience, itself? What accounts for our best ideas, or our passionate feelings of romantic love or even spiritual ecstasy?
Those experiences cannot be found in the neurons, nor are they in the computer chip. The mind must be distinct from the brain, even though the two may be closely correlated.
Correlation, by the way, is not causality. A cat’s tail is correlated with its head, but its head most certainly doesn’t cause its tail. Also, we don’t yet know enough to be definitive about the role the brain plays.
When we get to the level of a sophomore in college, we might speak with some confidence, but it would seem that we are generations away from that. The tuning mechanism idea shows a lot of possibility, and should be further developed. In the end, you are left with YOU, like Renee Descartes, the thinker. “You think; therefore, you are.”
You can hardly walk away from that!