The Brain and Consciousness: Science and Spirituality

I have a lot of weird musings about the mind, dreams, and consciousness. What is awesome, is learning the science behind some of the things I discuss.

It’s not so much that I am “right” per say when I say that maybe life is just our souls playing video games, but the science leaves open the possibility. My sister and brother-in-law got me a book for Christmas called The Future of the Mind, by Micho Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics.

I started making some connections when I read a chapter about dreaming. In the past, I’ve wondered if perhaps earth is somewhat like a computer simulation, and that when we sleep, information is uploaded to “the heavens” or whatever dimension, and we view this jumbled upload as dreams.

But recently I was thinking, maybe dreams are just random noise most of the time, unless a message needs to be beamed into us. So usually dreams seem random because they are (just random signals in our brains), but that particular dreams could have meaning, not all of them.

This would mean there is essentially a two way radio in our heads if both theories are true, but at least a receiver. So when I read the following in The Future of the Mind, I was somewhat taken aback. Kaku was discussing how a large percentage of temporal lobe epileptics had deep religious experiences, and felt connections with God, Buddha, the universe, or whatever fit with their religious and world view. Dr. Ramachandran who studies these patients said:

“I sometimes wonder whether such patients who have temporal lobe epilepsy have access to another dimension of reality, a wormhole of sorts into a parallel universe. But I usually don’t say this to my colleagues, lest they doubt my sanity.”

Now atheists and theists alike use this information to claim victory in the existential debate. Since a particular section of the brain can be pinpointed that causes these close to God feelings, atheists might assert that it is proof our brain chemistry makes up the existence of God.

But those who are religious and spiritual have a different explanation. God, the universe, or whatever, included in the human design a receiver, in order to communicate. You know, sort of like where the video game controller might plug in. If in fact we are in a massive simulation to help our souls “come of age”, it would make sense that sometimes the signals get jumbled which could create a seizure, or allow us a glimpse into the true nature of existence.

Likewise, if we are not really individuals, but only split up while on earth to feel the loneliness of separation from the whole, pings of feedback from the greater energy could give our earthly forms a taste of heaven, or oneness. So could the temporal lobe simply be a receiver built into the simulation, included in the human design by God, or accessing  another more “real” dimension?

The same Godly effect epileptics sometimes feel can be simulated by a “God helmet” which sends magnetism into specific areas of the brain. Kaku described what happened when 15 Carmelite nuns agreed to try out the “God helmet”.

…the nuns concluded that God placed this “radio” in the brain so that we can communicate with Him.

Their conclusion was that God created humans to have this ability, so the brain has a divine antenna given to us by God so that we can feel his presence. David Biello concludes, “Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them.”

And I’ve said similar things in the past. Based solely on the brain, you cannot conclude there either is, or is not a God, or afterlife, or eternal energy from whence we came and will return. If there is such higher life, it would be easy for God to create the human brain as such. Or in the simulation theory, if our souls are playing an intricate video game, our brains are simply programmed to work with the simulation, just like we program computers with certain rules in order to run the way we want it to run.

If a little computer chip gained consciousness, would it conclude that the electrical signals entering and exiting were simply an accident of nature, evident in the design of the chip, or would it consider its own programming a gift designed by a higher being? And if your initial reaction is to say, “So what, computer chips are not conscious,” does that not suggest a more intricate reason for our own ability of introspection?

Brains, Computers, and Meditation

As I was laying in bed last night trying to go to sleep, I figured I’d do some meditating. I tried to clear my mind, and simply view the thoughts that came to me, then let them go. As I was doing this, it reminded me of a computer shutting down, which was a problem, because then according to my meditation, I should have viewed that thought and let it go. But I wanted to blog about it! So I reviewed it a couple times in my head so that I would remember, then continued with my efforts.

It is so strange trying to think about nothing, because then seemingly random thoughts will pop into my head as soon as the others have faded, instead of the usual continuation of one subject evolving into another. And at this point, I can’t clearly remember what these thoughts even were, but at the time, it reminded me of pop-up ads as you are trying to close a browser. You realize there were all these ads behind the main window that you were focusing on. Maybe they weren’t taking up much of your thought, but they were certainly making the computer or internet run slower.

The same applies to background programs on the computer that you don’t even know are running until you shut it down. Then all these windows pop up like, “are you sure you want to close this?” and “forced shutdown could make you lose data”. But in the end the computer always seems to run better when it is restarted.

Our brains are probably very similar. Even though when we sleep we are often refreshed, it seems like it would be beneficial to shut down each memory train that is running in our brain. They reveal themselves as soon as you push out the more pressing thoughts closest to the front of your mind. Then random imagery, words, people, events, or fiction pops into your head. But somehow I doubt it pops in randomly, it must be playing off something else, or perhaps hanging out in the back of the mind the whole time just waiting to get some attention.

If anyone has a psychology background or understands how the brain works, let me know if I am onto something. But even if I am not onto something scientific, it certainly was good imagery to focus my meditation session. And then it puts my mind at ease, because I feel like I am putting to rest tiring backstories that need not constantly play in the subconscious.

Close those brain pop-ups down one at a time, and then enjoy the blank space, the clean surface, the properly functioning drive. Just clear it out, reset, and everything will run smoother when you boot it back up. Perhaps only truly important backstories will reboot, and you can put some of the nagging ones to rest.

The Simple Joys of Spring Approaching

Would springtime be special if not for the vast contrast with winter? It’s not spring yet, but there some encouraging signs. It has been almost a week since any snow has fallen, and the daytime temperatures have been above freezing for a solid five days! It feels so good!

I still have to wait for the snow to melt, but I am itching to go for a hike, run, canoeing, anything outdoors! I have been deprived. But would I be so excited about doing these things if I did not live in a frozen wasteland for half the year?

I have considered the possibility that I might let years go by without canoeing if I lived in a warmer climate, because the opportunity is always available, so there is no urgency. In Massachusetts on the other hand, there is a clear marker every year at the start of canoeing season.

These past few days would have been the coldest of the year in Georgia, and felt miserable by comparison. But here, they are the warmest days in months, and make it feel like the tropics. I still plan to move south. I will just make sure to spend a few days or weeks in the north each year, in order to garner my appreciation for warm weather. I just can’t handle being cold for half the year and stuck inside, when everything I love to do is outdoors.

Still, the enchantment of spring is a pretty good consolation prize. There’s that wet dirt smell of melting snow that tells you some plants are going to start peaking through the surface. A slight breeze no longer makes you recoil and crunch up inside your coat like a turtle. There is even a chance to soak up some warmth from the sun, which seemed like a cruel taunter in the sky for the previous frigid months.

I was just saying in the last post how quickly we get used to things, so I do worry a bit that down south in the warmer weather, I might become complacent, and no longer have an appreciation for spring riding in like the cavalry. But then the prospect of constant warmth is so inviting!

And I suppose down south there are still plenty of changes, like the greening of the scenery. And that might be the worst part about Massachusetts; even in May, things are just starting to look pretty again. Well I will have to make sure I appreciate the transition of seasons this year, since if all goes to plan, this will have been my last full winter in New England.

How Quickly We Adjust, for better or worse

After the February that Massachusetts had with the snow and cold, it was nice just to be warm! Pumping gas suddenly had a refreshing quality to it. Just being able to walk to the car without your hands aching was a treat. And hiking around outdoors was nirvana.

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The funny thing I noticed though, is how quickly I get used to something. Not just the weather, but also the stimulation; no matter how much is going on, it seems to level out, and I return to my typical demeanor. Shouldn’t I have been energetic and filled with excitement for the entire cruise?

There’s a lot of pressure when you have committed time and money to a vacation. I need to have fun, I need to not waste my time, I need to make the most of it! But this can make it less enjoyable and more stressful sometimes. Sitting in a pub on the lower decks of ship suddenly becomes boring. Sitting in a pub in Massachusetts a week before was my entire plan for the night, and possibly the most exciting thing I did all week.

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But on a cruise ship, I wasn’t contrasting the pub with work or shoveling snow, I was comparing it to swimming in crystal blue waters, and scaling a rock climbing wall. This relates to an earlier post about stress levels: it always seems that no matter how great we have it, the amount of stress on us feels relatively the same. And it didn’t matter how awesome this vacation was, there were still going to be highs and lows.

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Even though the low of the vacation is still higher than a typical high in a winter week in Massachusetts, it is hard to recognize that in the moment. How quickly I forget! Two weeks ago I couldn’t imagine ever being warm again, and one week ago I couldn’t imagine ever being cold again.

Likewise, the first couple days in Florida were spent doing things like lighting a large bonfire in order to clear some brush and junk wood from my cousin’s land. Now, I just so happen to like this sort of activity, but I can’t express through words the joy and satisfaction I felt spending all day outside doing yard work. I hadn’t been outside for that long in three months, possibly longer! And when I was outside in New England, it just hurt.

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And yet a week later I had adjusted and strolled lazily around a beach in Mexico, napping in a hammock under palm trees, standing just feet away from huge crocodiles at an exhibit. How drab. Yet if I could immediately teleport back to that hammock right now, my elation would be untamable. I would probably even go swimming, even though it was only about 74 degrees, and breezey.

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It all gets back to appreciating things and making sure to enjoy each moment. I certainly never complained about the heat down there, and when I felt annoyed that it wasn’t warm enough, I had to remind myself where I came from. The psychology of it all is fascinating; you would think everyday on the cruise I would feel as alive and happy as I did burning dead wood at my cousin’s house. But it is easier said than done.

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Really, it was an awesome vacation. But again a comparison poses a problem: last year’s cruise was even better. Had this been the first cruise I ever went on, there would be nothing to rank it against, and therefore nothing to be disappointed about.

My main takeaway from this is that without effort, things call fall into dreariness. It actually takes work to have fun and enjoy yourself sometimes! But stepping back and having appreciation for the opportunities offered can always kick me back to that place of gratitude. I had an awesome vacation, and I have an awesome life, for which I am grateful everyday!

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