MIND AND BRAIN: –
Since the human nervous system is the most complex piece of hardware on the planet, it’s no surprise that the most complex form of consciousness accompanies it. Though still eschewed by most mainstream philosophers and scientists, this view is gaining ground, particularly among the alternative intelligentsia, in large part because it provides a potentially non-reductionist framework for understanding the relationship between the mind and the brain (even if some of its proponents, like Chalmers, use it as an argument for the possibility of conscious machines—if all matter is conscious, after all, why couldn’t a super-complex computer be as conscious as you or me?).
GOD versis NEURONS:
Still, in the face of such multilayered complexity, one can’t help but feel compelled to reach for synthesis, whether it’s God or the Neurons that are doing the compelling.
I find the materialist notion that the mind is an irrelevant byproduct of brain function about as plausible as the dualistic idea that consciousness is some ghostly ethereal substance that exists entirely independent of the brain. The truth, it seems, must lie somewhere in between. But where exactly?
Just how the brain’s neural network could function as a “tuning system” for consciousness, however, is still something I’m struggling to visualize. But as one philosopher pointed out to me, “Until someone explains how emergence occurs, we might just as well say GOD did it.” Where mind and brain are concerned, however, even the most integral theories have thus far been unable to explain how the two interconnect, leaving the mind/body problem a mystery for another day.
Think about it—this whole three-dimensional experience of sound, color, thought, feeling, and movement all somehow arising out of the organic functions of this wrinkled slab of tofu-like substance in your head. It seems hard to imagine, but if it were true, what would that say about the nature of matter itself?
The great specter of brain science is that it will demonstrate that we are merely conscious organic machines, that all of our experience and behavior originates in the brain. Based on the evidence from frontier science alone, it doesn’t seem likely at this point that it will quite be able to do that. But let’s say that it were able to show that most of our behavior and experience is rooted in the brain. What would that mean? Well, for starters, we’d have to come to terms with the fact that we’re a lot more organic machine than we’d like to think.
And this leads us to what may be the most interesting point of all. For as Newberg’s research demonstrates, there is little doubt that the brain is at least a big part of what is enabling us to perceive that higher order. This means that, in what may be the greatest miracle we know, life somehow managed to evolve an organ capable not only of reflecting on itself but of perceiving something higher than itself—perceiving, even, that which many believe to be the very source and creative driver of the cosmos. Looked at in this way, the brain suddenly starts to seem a lot less like some frightening organic computer that we’d do well to distance ourselves from and a lot more like a rather mysterious and even spiritual event in its own right. After all, if it can do all that, who knows what kind of genius and untapped potential live within its folds? Given that human evolution is still in its early days, it in fact seems likely that the awesome powers of the human brain have only begun to reveal themselves. If we can use our gray matter to avoid destroying ourselves, we may find that the story of humanity’s higher potentials is just getting started.