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August 19, 2017


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Hi Brian

You have nicely detailed the conundrum between brain, spirit and consciousness you struggle with, and the proposed answers provided by others, along with your own synthesis.

As a behavioral psychologist the distinctions all appear conceptual. From a behavioral perspective they are not testable and therefore the likelihood of getting beyond concept to factual understanding, which appears to be your aim, is dubious.

Clearly from your comments here and elsewhere, you want to go beyond concept. There is no tangible reward for acquiring someone else's drawing of a place. Even if someone can prove it's there where they claim, or that their map is more accurate, it's meaningless if you don't go there and see it for yourself, as often as you need to in order to test the reality of that experience adequately.

Buying nicer looking maps doesn't seem to be a satisfactory substitute for you. Having a collection of someone else's maps, even the ones you tried to piece together from others isn't doing it for you either.

There's no adventure if the scenery doesn't change.

If you can't pick which road to travel and then actually, physically go down that road and see the different things that interest you, make your own real discoveries, then it seems to me, Brian, these concepts about what lay beyond those distant hills, these discussions about what might be there, even the claims that nothing is there, that the Earth is flat and drops into nothing beyond the visible horizon; these debates about what different people think is or isn't there, though fascinating, is not satisfying, nor acceptable.

Discussing different foods does not an actual meal make. To claim the taste of chocolate is all in your head does nothing to satisfy one's craving. But where to go to get Real chocolate.... And at some point we must ask, "Do I even know what real chocolate tastes like?", "Now all my friends and family insist I'm a fool to keep asking... 'Give it up! There's no such thing!' They claim."

The nobility of what you are doing lies in the thing eating inside you... The craving. Because you still keep up the search.

I say trust the craving. That's real. And try to do more effort and less debate. I get it, too painful to think about. Too much stupidity in blind faith, too many real tragedies there.

Someone says it's down this road and you claim you walked that road a full six miles in rain, in heat, in sun, in ice, in darkness, and saw no chocolate shop. You walked that road every day, year after year. It's tragic really. And after six miles of exhaustion day in and day out, you decided, wisely, not to beat yourself up over it. But somehow you can't let it go.

Because it's exactly 7 and 1/4 miles. I'll pick you up early tomorrow morning. Be at the usual meeting place. You can ride in my car.


I really enjoyed this post. Great insight and comments. I am going to attach a speech from a Greek Australian neuroscientist -- George Paxinos. He mapped the human brain.
I know it is too long, it is up to you if you would like to read it.

George Paxinos May 1, 2017 (1150words)

Brain & Mind: Who is the puppet and who the puppeteer?
The question in the title has social, legal and religious implications.
If the mind controls the brain, then there is FREE WILL and its corollaries, dignity and responsibility. You are king in your skull-sized kingdom. You are the architect of your destiny.
If, on the other hand, the brain controls the mind, an incendiary conclusion follows: There can be no FREE WILL, no praise, no punishment and no purgatory.
I will explore the issue of who is the puppet by considering what some neuroscientists think about awareness, consciousness, the mind and free will. The best term to describe neuroscientists who study consciousness is “puzzled.” In contrast to the impasse with consciousness, many of them are convinced the mind is the activity of the brain and behavior is the outcome of two influences: genetic endowment and experience –– nature and nurture (Johnson, 2016). This means experience sculpts your character from the genetic material you are granted, much as Michelangelo sculpted David out of a block of marble. It means further that because you have no choice of parents or the society you are born in –– no choice of nature or nurture –– you cannot have free will.
Sensation, perception and consciousness are totally dependent on the brain. Consciousness or phenomenal awareness is the inner mental life. It is what it feels like when you experience love, hate, lust, jealousy or the colors of the rainbow. It is believed an organism needs many neurons before awareness can arise and even more neurons and interconnections before consciousness can arise. As though by magic, if you have enough neurons you can have consciousness and fall in love. The greater the complexity of the nervous system, the more complex the repertoire of conscious states. Even within your own life span, you are more conscious when you are concentrating on a lecture and less when you are falling asleep or when you are embryo or dementing.
Koch (2012) studied consciousness through its proxies, the neuronal pathways that are responsible for it. Neuroscientists suspect factors that enable consciousness to be pathways that broadcast to the cortex, such as the serotonin, noradrenalin, acetylcholine and dopamine neuronal groups. However, science has failed to answer the basic question: how 1.3Kg of neurons and supporting cast of glia cells produce subjective experience –– how matter becomes conscious of its own existence. But before you rush to murky metaphysics, read what some neuroscientists say about free will and whether the mind can influence the brain.
All subjective experience tells us we have free will, but most scientific evidence speaks against it. We have impulses, desires, passions. The question is whether our preferences are freely arrived at or totally forced by genetic predispositions and environmental factors entirely out of our control. Do we even have the freedom to abandon undesirable desires?
It seems there is no free will in the domain of romantic love. In the words of Carmen in the opera by the same name, “L’ amour … il n’a jamais, jamais, connu de loi” –– Love has never, never, known the law. Some scorned lovers state emphatically they want to lose their love, but cannot. They keep loving someone who has abandoned them, or is even abusive to them. Some are more capable of committing suicide than switching their affection from the one who does not love them to one who does love them. This absence of free will in emotion is consistent with Voltaire’s celebrated comment, “… I can’t help wanting what I do want,” and with Schopenhauer’s aphorism, “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
Our brain is the riverbed that holds and channels our stream of consciousness (Koch, 2012). It is molded by the family and the culture we were raised in. There seems nothing left for free will to explain once you account for nature/nurture and random influences on behavior. If so, this would render us passive observers of the thoughts and emotions the brain parades for us, with no crack for free will to elbow in and join the parade. From the above hypothesis follows a prediction: Any of us raised in a country where men stone women who allegedly burned their holy book will be equally likely to stone a woman as men born there now.
The mind cannot be an agent that will interfere with the activity of the brain. The mind is the activity of the brain. Indeed, if the mind were to force brain neurons to fire, it would violate the principle of conservation of energy. Beyond this, one line of research suggests it is not the mind that decides and informs the brain, but the brain that decides and informs the mind. The readiness potential (electrical activity) reflects the preparatory phase of a response and occurs about .35 sec before we become aware of wanting to make the response (Libet et al, 1983). The brain decides in neural darkness and then informs the mind that thinks it made the decision. In fact, the decision was made pre-cognitively.
If the brain controls the mind, then there is no free will because the brain connections, neurotransmitters and synapses will make the decision and this decision will be based only on events that are physical, chemical, electrical or random. As it happens, even freedom of thought seems not to exist: You can no more predict your own next three thoughts than my next three thoughts (Harris, 2012). Neither can you look at the rainbow and consciously suppress the color neurons in you visual cortex to see it in black and white.
Alzheimer’s disease will pay an unwelcome visit to most of us at the end of life. It will disrupt the internal structure of our neurons and we will be living evidence the mind is the product of the brain and has no influence on it.
The 19th century poet Lord Alfred Tennyson was half right when he wrote in Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.” The other half of the truth lies in genetics.
You cannot abandon love that torments you any easier than you can shut off pain after surgery. Much as your shadow cannot force you do something, the mind cannot make the brain do its bidding. Which one of us would not like to discard our depression, anxieties, obsessions, compulsions? It seems the puppet cannot choreograph the puppeteer.
Neuroscientists agree genes confer predilections. Many consider the environment is the only sculptor of behavior. If only we could abandon our undesirable desires, our depression, our obsessions, our compulsions, our unrequited love. If only we were the authors of our thoughts and not mere observers of what the brain presents us. If only the puppet could get hold of one of the strings with which the brain makes it dance. It seems the puppet is free only in as much as it loves its strings.

Best regards, AD

Hi Anita

You quoted
"The mind cannot be an agent that will interfere with the activity of the brain. The mind is the activity of the brain. Indeed, if the mind were to force brain neurons to fire, it would violate the principle of conservation of energy. Beyond this, one line of research suggests it is not the mind that decides and informs the brain, but the brain that decides and informs the mind"

Both mind and brain are conceptual. You can test both but it's possible you are just testing one thing. Analysis of the brain's signals will not yield a reconstruction of the sunset you are perceiving. So mind is there. But damage the brain and poof the sunset disappears. Change brain chemicals to build a mind and you might have something to defend the claim brain comes first. But changing what you focus on changes brain chemicals! So thinking which is limited by brain can also change and unlock and develop both brain and "mind"!

If focusing attention can unlock an entire universe of stars and planets, people and places for you to explore, even if this is just how your brain puts new signals into something you can see and experience, there is an adventure! Can you go while awake? Can you test that experience?

What has been there, genetically, physically, all along for you to discover? And how subtle is it? Is it connected in some way with the energy fields that connect all of us? Then there might be something that continues, however tiny, after the body ceases to function. And some means of gaining an actual physical experience of things outside this body!

It doesn't seem too complicated unless you are attempting to question what else is there, something metaphysical. Neuroscience can't detect that. But one day they may. Let's just say it's all physical and we are learning to detect more and more. Maybe one day we will measure the Spirit or the Soul. There must be a connection. If those things exist. Or maybe we will realize that the immense and thundering bell of Spirit that pulls the soul up is indeed connected to physical experience. Part of the human brain that takes us into some physical field of energy that is it's own experience and it's own place. Perhaps the most wonderful part!

Like gravity, we can't see it, can't record it, only its effect on physical objects. Same for 'mind', same for 'soul'. Same for 'Regions'. But everyone knows gravity is real because they experience the effects all the time. One day scientists hope to actually detect gravity. No one doubts it. But it is still beyond detection.

We say the subconscious is real in a similar way, though most of us have no access to it.

Being more aware or less aware.. That much we have some control over. We can control what we attend to, and that yields different results depending upon where we point our little telescope of attention.

Hi Brian,

I was wondering what your views are on the latest news in India about this baba gurmeet ram rahim Singh. You should do a blog post on this. It would be a very interesting read.

Thank you

Reet, Brian's take on Ishwar Puri , a living Sawan Singh Guru, would be much more interesting to RSSB Exers on this Forum than Brian's opinion of a Rogue Jim Jones type Guru who's followers die for him to keep him out of Jail.


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