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?

Advertisements

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.

Addicted to Happiness: The Brain is Your Dopamine Dealer

I decided to see if there was any science behind the fact that I love vacations (I know, who doesn’t?) and it seems to alter my brain activity. What I found suggests that, like many other enjoyable things, more dopamine is released when you are on vacation enjoying yourself. You see, I may actually be addicted to vacationing.

In the past, dopamine rewarded humans by being released to promote survival. Psychology Today uses an example of a berry patch being found, which promoted survival for primitive humans. So the next time they saw a berry patch, or something that last time led to a berry patch, dopamine is released. This ensures the brain is rewarding things that will help you survive.

But it is not always like that these days, probably because it is so easy to survive. An alcoholic gets a dose of dopamine when he sees a bar, and a doctor when he finishes a surgery. I get a dose of dopamine when I explore a new city. But if I always went to the same city, my brain would not release as much dopamine, so I would need to find a new place to explore in order to get the old “high”.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, and first vacation of the year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can't always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, the first vacation this year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia that I found on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can’t always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

This is the same thing that happens with setting, working towards, and accomplishing goals. Each of these things encourages your brain to release dopamine, thus helping you on your way to “survival”. When I talk about this small goal/ large goal paradigm to promote happiness, this is the scientific explanation behind it.

Everything that makes your brain release dopamine will inevitably get old, or run its course, which is why you need to always have different types of goals you are working towards and accomplishing. Once you accomplish a goal though, your brain is going to want another. Otherwise, the absence of dopamine will make you feel sad. That is why it is important to diversify your goals, and your hobbies.

Work goals should not be your only source of dopamine, because then you might not be happy when you are at home. And hobbies cannot be your only source of dopamine, because then you will become irritated in other settings. The Psychology Today article points out that we need to make peace with our “unhappy” brain chemicals in order to reap the full benefits of the “happy” chemicals like dopamine.

Eventually your brain will be rewired to the point where it knows it can survive the unhappy chemicals. It is like replacing instant gratification with long term rewards. If you can wait it out, and weather the boring or unhappy times, the dopamine reward in your brain will be that much better when it comes.

If the chemistry behind your feelings interests you, check out the Psychology Today article. It also talks about the other “happy chemicals” that course through your brain. If dopamine equals success, serotonin equals importance, oxytocin trust, and endorphins “brief euphoria that masks physical pain”.

They are all released by our brains to promote survival, though congruent with my theory, our brain is essentially still serving cave man needs. That is why it is important and beneficial to understand our brains, so that we can usher them into the modern era, and make them work for us, instead of being a slave to our brain chemicals.