The brain has always fascinated me. How a person, with all our emotions, feelings, thoughts, etc. can fit in the small bit of organic matter always amazed me.
But, personally, I do not think the brain will ever be solved. In fact, I hope it never will. For, you know, if they do solve it with science, they will want to try to scientifically change it, misuse, and manipulate it in the name of ‘science’, ‘progress’, and ‘health’. We don’t need that.
Looking at the brain for many years it seems that neuroanatomy and neurophysiology don’t really reveal a lot about the mind, the self, the person, or the human being in general. Most certainly, there are aspects that say something, such as the fact there seem to be ‘centers’, anatomically, that are associated with certain functions. But what do they really reveal? Not a whole lot.
Looking at the brain is to see only a physical object, an organic living organism. Sure, it is alive, but only in the organic sense. The mind is more than organic. It is beyond organic. There is where the chasm lies. There is a big brain/mind gap between the living organic brain and the living human mind.
Do you think a thought can be traced along a path of neural pathways? Do you think its that simple? Do you think that a memory can be found in a neuron or a group of neurons? I don’t think so.
It seems to me that the mystery of the brain/mind association is not in organic functioning of the brain – axons, neurotransmitters, the basal ganglia, etc. – but in the brain/mind gap itself and why it exists at all.
How can the mind (whose interpretations and experiences is a matter of philosophy and psychology) by associated with scientific fact (chemical/electrical reactions, the functioning of the mitochondria, etc.)? It’s like trying to make a science out of art. These points of view are diametrically opposed.
There . . . there is the enigma. There is the block we cannot pass, the wall we cannot climb.
To me, what’s lacking is a point of view that fills that gap. Here are some of my thoughts:
First of all, it seems to me that the brain is a complex working network. It works as a complete unit, not as ‘neural pathways’, like an endless maze of reflexes. When one thinks, for example, the brain and its neurons increase its functioning creating an increased overall activity. Sure, the EEG shows increased brain activity when you do something. What do you expect? But, when it acts the brain works more as a single unified unit, not as ‘neural pathways’ (at least in the higher functioning like thought). What does this say? Not a whole lot. It just means a lot of neurons are working when we do things.
But this, I thought, was part of the secret. It’s this unifying working together of the brain that gives it such power. Indeed, the human brains ability to unify and communicate with other parts of the brain no doubt make it very unique. This is the real power and the real significance and, I think, leads to the phenomena of the human self.
This unifying element means that when the brain works there is no ‘center’ for this activity. It is, in a way, ‘everywhere in the brain’. It’s amazing. Even when a person has much of their brain damaged or missing they can still be able to think and be someone. This is because the self is ‘everywhere in the brain’. Specific lower functioning (like speech, motor activity, heat regulation, etc.) are so localized that if that area of the brain is damaged its functioning fails. This shows that the self is really a form of regulation of the whole person.
This overall functioning doesn’t just seem to be something that happens to happen. It seems motivated by an instinct, what I call self maintenance. This is an instinct within us all that requires us to maintain our self. Without this instinct we would not care for ourselves, we wouldn’t protect ourselves, we wouldn’t look out for ourselves. It seems innate, a part of living creatures as we all have it. In some respects, self maintenance is the ‘heart’ of all living creatures and defines any living creatures life. For something to be alive it must have this quality. It seeks to maintain and protect itself.
This instinct of self maintenance gears the brain to unity and a bringing together of all the sensations, experiences, etc. going on within us. In many ways, this is where the miracle happens for it is here that what I call the ‘sense‘ develops. This ‘sense’ is a result of the working of the brain as a whole unit in its need for self maintenence. In a way, the ‘sense’ puts everything all together, creating a unified constituent of a ‘something’ that, over time, becomes the self, a sense of me-in-the-world.
With this ‘sense’ we sense our self, the me, the I. But we also sense the world, the other, the ‘outside’. And we sense ourselves in that world. And so the ‘sense’ seems to consist of three things:
- The sense of me.
- The sense of the world.
- The sense of me-in-the-world.
And with the sense of me-in-the-world comes the real miracle: a new reality. This is the realm of the mind. This new reality is truly the mystery. Once this reality is created everything transcends the biology of the brain. We now move away from biology into something altogether different.
This new reality seems to have no relation to brain anatomy at all, but seems removed from it, despite the fact that it is rooted within it. Like a tree the mind seems to shoot away from its roots getting further and further away from its origin. But, yet, the mind is there within the brain. It is for this reason that I speak of the mind, in respect to the brain, as the ‘mind space’ for it seems to be a ‘space’ within the brain, somewhere, hanging there like a mist. It transcends it, goes beyond it, and encompasses a whole other reality unrelated to biological functioning. But yet it is there hidden in the white and grey mass of the brain.
In many ways, the mind is the ‘sense’ developed and manifested. It seems that the ‘mind space’ rests on conception. That is to say, the mind must conceive of what is going on around it. This means it must do more than perceive and sense things. An image is formulated in the ‘mind space’ of the world, of me, and my relation within it. Again, this is another example of the unifying element of the brain and its ability to communicate with the other parts of the brain. This conception, really, is what creates a ‘transcended world’ beyond simple biological concerns and needs.
And what is conception? Look around. When you look you see colors. Experience tells you what they are. Imagine, for a moment, that you had no experience. Looking out everything would just be colors that seem to just be ‘there’, with no meaning, randomly placed. You wouldn’t be able to make out anything. You’d be as if looking out into an alien world. Having no experience we wouldn’t even know what shapes are nor their significance. Relating with the world like this would be impossible. With conception, we ‘sense’ that this color in front of us is a wall and that we need to avoid hitting it. We can see the colors in front of us is a door knob and we need to reach out to it. Conception gives a meaning to things in the world. It gives an image of what’s there and what’s going on and our relation to it. This conception is the net result of many aspects of the brain – sensation, memory, etc. All these things are put into a whole image creating a world conception that allows us to interpret and relate with the world.
Conception is critical in the ‘mind space’. For, without conception, how can a mind exist? And it is a result, not of a single localized part of the brain but a unified element of the brain, working together. And conception makes the new reality even more real.
Where is the mind exactly? Is it here or there? Can a person say where my mind is? It seems that the mind rests in conception. There it makes its abode and its existence. This I call the ‘mind place’. Our conception gives our mind, and our self, a ‘place’ to be.
But conceptions are a fluid thing. They can change, be distorted, and altered very easily. That’s its power and its way to adapt to the world. But it has a bad side. It means that, in reality, our minds rest on unsolid ground. Being so fluid, conceptions can range from a truth to an illusion. Sometimes this is not easy to determine. This also shows that we are out of the biological realm as normal biological processes are not so easily fluid-like. It seems to suggest that conception, in a sense, is created to allow a living thing to go beyond its biological functions, allowing it to adapt and react to the world better. If this is true, then the mind is really an ‘extended biology’.
Within this conception there is the sense of me, the ‘I’. And, within the ‘I’, there is the sense of self maintenance. This makes the ‘I’ more than just a perception. The ‘I’ becomes profound, more than the world even. Since we are maintaining ourselves in the world it’s only natural that a part of us gives great focus on our self. Any threat to our self, our being, gets quite a reaction from us. In fact, our whole body and mind will react to it more than anything else in the world. There is an innate concern for our self. This makes the ‘I’ more like an ‘I!!!’.
I’ve always felt this sense of ‘I!!!’ makes the self very prominent. In a way, the realness of life is really a result of self concern or, rather, self maintenance. This quality gives the sense of self a profoundness and reality. It makes the new reality of the mind very real and gives it its transcendental quality.
With the coming of conception is the formulation in our minds of images of conceptions, how things relate, a world view of how everything works together. There is the ground and a sky above. There is a sun that rotates across the sky. There is night and dark. Conception requires the ability to imagine. It’s this imagining that opens the doors to so much in the human world – language, dreams, art, religion, philosophy, social structure, etc. With the coming of imagination the human mind reaches its peak.
And where does imagination lie in the brain? All over, greatly using the front part of the cerebrum and limbic system in particular, though reaching out to other parts of the brain as well. When this happens the neurons fire and grow active all over these zones. The EEG is active and neurotransmitters are secreted in increased amounts. No one neuron, no one neural tract, no one anatomical location is singled out. Again, the mind is ‘all over the brain’.
There seems to be this pathway:
biological functions in the brain>>>>the need for self maintenance>>>>unifying>>>>the ‘sense’>>>>conception>>>>the new reality-the self>>>>imagination>>>>the mind
On one extreme is the biological functioning and on the other is the psychological functioning of the mind – two complete opposites, connected with a spectrum of function. For, it seems to me that the a spectrum connects the opposite qualities of the brain/mind gap. Determining the spectrum, though, is not easy. Even in the thoughts I described above there are many missing elements that I can see. Certainly, this is by no means a complete point of view.