I’m finishing up a degree and one of the discussion questions this week is about consciousness, science, and measuring the work of the brain. It suggests, as scientists and engineer types are wont to do, that one day, as our understanding of the brain increases, they will be able to predict behavior. I disagreed:
The ancient Greeks, after examining human cadavers, postulated that our brain was a cooling mechanism for our body and that thought and emotions came from the heart. There are stories in the modern world of heart transplant patients who suddenly assume some of the characteristics of the donor, like a craving for certain foods the donor loved or the sudden use of phrases that the donor used. There are reports of tofflers who remember detailed accounts of past lives and deaths. Science might understand something about the brain, but there is much we don’t know, and consciousness is at the head of the list. So, what is this uncertainty scientists ask about?When I go into a nice, deep meditation and am able to observe my thoughts without letting them control me, who is it that is doing that observing? I have decided that this observer is close enough to what we call our soul, my spiritual essence that came here in the first place. It seems we best find consciousness by turning off our brain, and, in my experience, when we do that we realize that “uncertainty” does not exist. In this purely mindful state of consciousness we suspend all expectations and practice acceptance, we understand that expectations are caused by the mind,they are thoughts too, so uncertainty can merely be described as thoughts about thoughts. When we observe our thoughts in a detached manner, we understand that we have the power to choose our own thoughts.There is a Buddhist greeting you have heard, “Namaste” and it means “the God in me recognizes the God in you.” Science hasn’t been able to find or prove the existence of this God in you and me. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, it means that science is too limited to find it.Can we predict future actions of the brain? Anyone married for more than a week knows that you cannot, and any parent will tell you that predicting (or even dictating) the thoughts of our children is impossible. Science, as I have stated ad nausea, is limited by its own method, it can only measure the measurable. And, while brain activity can be observed, and even stimulated, we all know that there is more to being a spiritual being than science will ever understand. When a human being dies, as he lies in the morgue, science may find a way to reuse his organs but I dare say it will never find a way to re-insert his soul. We are spiritual beings, Augustine described this is spirit as “non-bodily”: 1500 years ago he understood that our spirit is from the realm of God, of the angels. Plato described “forms”: 2500 years ago he understood that there was truth beyond the “bodily.”
There is God in me and in you.
Me? I prefer to think of the heart as the repository of my soul. The brain is a wonderful machine, the most advanced computer imaginable, but I prefer to think of my soul as something that science will never be able to quantify or understand. I believe in matters of the heart. Calvin (and Newton) got it wrong, we are not programmed, pre-determined, or pre-ordained. We have the choice to listen to our hearts, to fall in love, to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, to choose a road less traveled. And that is what makes life more interesting and worth living.