An interesting article in The Atlantic
highlights a growing debate among prominent neuroscientists regarding whether or not the brain itself is the origin of God, spiritual experience, and religious belief.
The article would like to instill in the reader that despite the contrary opinions of several top neuroscientists mentioned in the article, God and all spiritual revelations are nothing more than the result of physical phenomenon and chemical processes occurring in the brain. In other words, your out-of-body or near-death-experience was really nothing more than a feel good laser light show courtesy of your dormant epelipsy.
What the article fails to mention are some very important facts about the brain itself that science has yet to uncover, as well as some intriguing facts about the nature of consciousness that remain a mystery to most everyone.
A couple of the key points the article failed to address:
- Is the brain itself the origin of consciousness?
- What exactly is consciousness?
- What exactly is a brain?
David Chalmers, an Oxford graduate and prominent Australian philosopher of mind and language, introduced the concept of the Hard Problem of Consciousness
in 1995. A simple explanation of the theory goes like this:
All of the physical sciences (such as neuroscience) can indeed connect the dots between neurons firing in the brain and the corresponding physical actions that take place next – motor reflexes, certain thought patterns, bowel movements, etc. What these sciences can’t explain is why the “qualia
” of such experiences are what they are
For example, the neurons in your brain can be stimulated by hearing a person play a minor key on a piano. Upon striking the notes, sound waves will emanate from the piano and hit your ear, causing synapses to fire and register appropiately in your brain.
That’s the easy part. What can’t be explained is why
a minor chord feels
like a minor chord as opposed to the way a major chord feels. As far as physics are concerned, it’s just another note on a scale. Math. A sound wave. There’s nothing in a neuron’s “anatomy” that suggests why any feeling or emotion resonates with a particular note/sound wave whatsoever. Hence the assumption that consciousness is more than just the end result of a collection of physical processes, no matter how complicated they may seem (then again, we could all just be philosophical zombies
This leads to the second question, what is consciousness? Is it really sensible to assume that the brain itself is the origin?
Our physical brains did not create the universe. They are products of the universe, something both an Atheist and Religious Follower could both agree on. One of mankind’s greatest flaws (as well as the article’s) is the hubris in thinking that we are somehow separate from the very reality we are trying to measure and understand. We are an independent consciousness (in a relative sense) trying to interpret consciousness itself. No small feat. So no matter how much of a “controlled experiment” a neuroscientists may try to initiate, any experiment in consciousness is immediately subverted by the unknown variable of the very matter it is trying to understand – consciousness. Quite the mind fuck indeed.
Another hypothesis, shared by many philosophers and neuroscientists, is that the brain works as a “receiver” for consciousness. In other words, a “consciousness receptacle” that allows for an individual experience of the cosmos, something the body creates in order for the organism to “fine-tune” to reality and form its own version of it. Anybody who has a crazy uncle understands this concept quite well.
So what may happen then during these epileptic seizures the article mentions isn’t so much that the brain “caused” a hallucination or religious experience, but that rather the seizure allowed for the brain to fail as a stable platform for maintaing an individual-focused awareness. This allows for a more direct experience of “consciousness” as it exists on a primal, universal level to flow into the receivers awareness. This “universal consciousness” could be then described as God or a religious experience, since it would suspend and transcend the recipient’s normal awareness – efforts the brain maintains to limit the organism’s reality to the needs of the day-to-day survival experience.
This could also explain why certain hallucinogenic drugs have the effect they do, that they “suspend” normal brain functioning to allow the receiver access to other levels of reality the brain normally tunes-out in its waking state. It’s been proven that the chemical DMT, the main ingredient in Ayahuasca, is secreted by the pineal gland upon death. Why exactly is unknown, but it has been theorized by some this allows for a transition between “individual awareness” and “transpersonal consciousness” to occur. In other words, a literal “Heaven’s Gate”, minus the castration and complimentary UFO ride.
And finally, what is a brain? A brain is not an absolute reality. In fact, science is far from any universal theory of everything
. One of the world’s leading theoretical physicists Michio Kaku
admits that “atoms” only make up “4 percent of the known universe”. That’s hardly an absolute understanding that would allow a definitive interpretation of what any physical mass truly is, especially something that fundamentally underlines our ability to interpret reality itself – our brains. We have a long way to go then before science can lay claim to “pure objectivity”, especially considering that the notion itself of “objectivity” might not really even exist once a full understanding on consciousness is arrived at. If we indeed are both the observer and observed, expect things to only get more confusing.
So what is the answer? Is your brain God? Does God even exist?
Hmmm…maybe it IS all in your head.