I'm still trying to get my head around the main message of a book that I'm reading: God is in the brain.
And not just "God," whatever this famously fuzzy word means, but also every form of religious, spiritual, or mystical experience.
This shouldn't be a big surprise, to me or anybody else. Yet the more I dig into The Mystical Mind, by Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, the more I'm having to re-examine some deeply held and largely unconscious beliefs.
Like, the notion that when I'm meditating, something marvelously mysterious is going on. Or, at least, could go on if I were able to turn the key that unlocks the door separating Me from It – really real reality that is out there somewhere, though I'm completely clueless about "where" and "there."
Most meditators and spiritual aspirants feel this way. But you'd think (or rather, I'd think) that with my decidedly churchless attitude toward spirituality, my attitude would be firmly in line with d'Aquili and Newberg's.
Echoing a quotation I included in my last post, they say:
The implication is that the brain and the mind either generate mystical states or allow us to experience mystical states. Differentiating whether the brain and mind actually cause mystical phenomena or are merely the necessary occasion for them is most difficult.
The former implies that mystical phenomena are completely caused and contained within the functions of the brain and mind. The latter requires that mystical phenomena exist "out there" in the external world, which can then be experienced by human beings through the brain and mind.
We have argued in the past that the most problematic aspect of this issue is that the only way in which to solve this problem is somehow to get out of the function of our brain and mind, since, so far as we know, everything about the world, both internal and external, comes to us through the brain.
Thus, it is difficult to form an epistemological perspective to determine the true reality of any phenomenon, whether it be mystical or ordinary in nature.
That's for sure. The kitchen stool I'm sitting on feels hard at the moment. But "hard," obviously, is my feeling. I just said as much. To someone else with a differently sensitized posterior, another adjective would apply. So what's the true reality of the situation? Tough to say.
Similarly, even a powerful mystical experience like the one James Austin described at the start of this story is happening inside a human brain. A physical lump of matter. A concoction of chemical and electrical impulses. A piece of flesh.
The Mystical Mind is full of sentences like these, which are describing what happens in passive meditation, often called the via negativa.
The partial deafferentation of the right orientation association area likely results in stimulation of the right hippocampus by means of the very rich interconnections between the orientation association area and the hippocampus.
If, in addition, there is a simultaneous direct stimulation of the right hippocampus from the right attention association area, then the right hippocampus ultimately stimulates the quiescent centers of the right amygdala.
Oh, now I know what I've been doing wrong in my meditation. Got to do a better job of stimulating my right amygdala. Whatever the heck it is.
But seriously…I'm beginning to settle comfortably into an obvious truth that hadn't really dawned on me until this book hammered it home. Every experience that I have, whether meditative or otherwise, comes to me via my brain.
More, my brain and my experience aren't two separate entities. We're one and the same. Brain/Brian.
Naturally this isn't true just for me. It's true for everyone.
There's little (or no) doubt that if you stuck Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tzu, or anyone else in a brain scanner while they were communing with God or ultimate reality, their mystical experience would be reflected in a particular pattern of brain activity.
I find this to be a comforting thought, one which brings me closer to myself. And, my thoughts. Along with all the other experiences that my mind and brain generate through their fantastically complex neuronal goings-on.
There may indeed be a spiritual "out there." But as d'Aquili and Newberg said, there's no way to tell whether a mystical or religious experience is solely the internal product of a brain, or whether it reflects an independently existing external reality.
All we know for sure is that the brain is where it's at – what's happening.
And that's marvelously close to home, for all of us. There's nothing nearer to me than my brain. It's what just typed out those words, and came up with the thought, "It's what just typed out those words."
The idea of "nearer, my God, to thee" is appealing to many. Me too.
Yet it could well be that the "God" being sought for is a lot nearer than we could ever imagine. As near as the brain that imagines, in fact.