“Investing in “the best ideas.” That’s what President Obama wants to do. And he plans to do it by funding the mapping of the human brain.
Understanding where perception, actions, and consciousness comes from or resides is an intriguing idea, but I’m wondering if the search will ever provide the answers we want or need.
In a webinar broadcast by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine Dr. Norman Doidge, MD suggests that how we view the functioning of the brain is rooted in mechanical physics.
“Ever since Galileo made his great discoveries and explained the movement of the planets with what were called the “mechanical laws of motion,” scientists and clinicians thought that we should explain the workings of our bodies according to this new physics and according to those mechanical laws of motion. They took very, very seriously the idea that the human body was a machine and that the brain was like a machine. In more recent times, they saw the brain as a computer – as a hardwired computer.”
And yet, he goes onto explain how the brain is actually not a machine or computer, but is rather an adaptive organ responding to damage to itself and changes in the environment.
He describes a woman who was born without a left hemisphere in her brain and yet the right hemisphere adapted and performed functions normally done by the left side. In many respects she functions normally even though a brain-mapping venture might say she shouldn’t be able to.
His conclusion? “Half a brain does not make for half a mind.”
Interesting, though this is not a new discovery. Over one hundred years ago theologian and medical researcher Mary Baker Eddy noted that “…brain is not mind” (p. 372)
Further evidence that the mind is not tied to the brain is found in the research of biologist Rupert Sheldrake PhD. His findings have caused him to conclude that our minds reach out beyond the brain to great distances, and that our nervous system can’t explain why we’re conscious at all.
Though Sheldrake and Doidge make a strong case that the mind and consciousness are not confined in the brain, it’s the experience of Dr. Eben Alexander that sheds light on just how much we don’t know about consciousness and the mind.
Alexander is an experienced academic neurosurgeon. After contracting an extremely rare disease, the part of his brain that neuroscience says makes him “human,” literally shut down. According to the accumulated knowledge of his profession:
“If you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious.
“This is because the brain is the machine that produces consciousness in the first place. When the machine breaks down, consciousness stops.
“Or so I would have told you before my own brain crashed. During my coma my brain wasn’t working improperly–it wasn’t working at all.”
He was in a deep coma and yet he had a profound and incredibly vivid and complex experience that he describes in his book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.
“I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain.
“My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave.”
Do these researchers and anecdotal experiences, then, point to the possibility that our consciousness, our mind, does not reside in the brain? Perhaps our consciousness is part of a larger scheme that isn’t mechanistic and dependent upon an organ.
What is to be gained by mapping the brain? One of the hopes of researchers is to find a better understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. With a huge body of research showing that one’s consciousness affects health, perhaps mapping the brain isn’t going to be as fruitful as hoped.
Sages and holy teachers have stated for centuries that consciousness cannot be compartmentalized. Perhaps all the research on mapping the brain will discover this beyond a doubt. Then they will arrive back at what the Bible encourages: “let us all be of one mind”, “having the mind of Christ”. Understanding this could unleash a powerful healing force for the body.