Equations of Eternity

From the book jacket:

“David Darling holds a degree in Physics From Sheffield University and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Manchester, in England.”

In a fascinating and unique treatment of the subject, David Darling prompts the reader to consider the interdependence of both sides of the brain hemispheres. Identifying the left brain as the analytical center which hosts language skills, and describing the right brain as having “no barrier between itself and the undivided universe,” Darling delivers an insightful conclusion as to why the tasks and skills of the left brain lead to an explanation of “…why, in the end, science and all other rational pursuits are never completely satisfying:”

“In taking apart and analyzing, they lose the essence of the whole. The truth is that the universe is an unbroken totality. And though immeasurable benefits may come from looking at the world in pieces, they will never include an appreciation–still less, a direct perception–of the unity of nature.”

This quote is contained in the chapter Darling entitled, “A Parting of Ways,” and while that phrase does capture the central idea that there are two fairly opposing views of the universe generally, he goes to great lengths to express how both sides are quickly being forced to consider the benefits of the other:

“We have been compelled by modern physics to regard things in a very different light. As we shall see, we have been forced to concede that not only may consciousness have a purpose, but that it may actually be indispensable to the universe in which we live.”

Recent experiences in my personal interactions with the “unbroken totality” continue to inform me and provoke me to consider how a greater understanding of this concept would benefit all the people of the planet, should such an idea engage more hearts and minds.

Just thinking out loud……John H.

New Life Springs From Ancient Wisdom

What we know of ourselves,
In the very moment we exist,
Though often hidden or somehow obscured,
Can be revealed in several ways.

We cast our glance to the horizon
To pierce the inner world,
Only to discover that our world
Is here now, already within us.

We gaze upon a reflection of ourselves,
And suppose that this is how the world sees us;
What we sometimes miss is how we appear within,
And how much of our inner world we share.

Ancient remains of centuries past,
In the stillness of a quiet mind,
Embrace the memory of the ancient thoughts–
Frozen in time–whose essence lingers even now.

My own life and mind are here with you now,
In this very moment, and for all time;
As my children play and their children run,
New life springs from ancient wisdom.

© July 2011 by JJHIII

Ancient Worlds and Modern Consciousness

Egyptian Heads
Mummies of the World Exhibition
On loan from the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums, Mannheim, Germany
Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Imagine for a moment that you are in Egypt in the latter part of the 26th Dynasty in the Late Period of Egyptian history witnessing the burial rituals of Nespaqashuti, an Egyptian priest in the religious hierarchy. His body is being prepared for burial in an elaborate mummification process, that could take up to two months. According to the description in the exhibition catalog, the wooden sarcophagus in which this priest will be buried “is made from sycamore wood,” and is being painted with intricately beautiful hieroglyphics, which describe the priest and his “journey into the afterlife.”

Standing next to the coffin, intricately detailed with paintings depicting the stages of the “journey into the afterlife,” you can see the brush strokes in the thick layers of paint. Within the outer shell of the sarcophagus are other layers of equally impressive images hand-painted and symbolic of important concerns in the “afterlife.”

According to J.M.Roberts in his epic volume, “Ancient History,” the ancient Egyptians showed:

…a remarkably uniform tendency to seek through religion a way of penetrating the variety of the flow of ordinary experience so as to reach a changeless world most easily understood through the life the dead lived there. Perhaps the pulse of the Nile is to be detected here too; each year it swept away and made new, but its cycle was ever recurring, changeless, the embodiment of a cosmic rhythm.

Indeed, many of the mummies in the exhibit suggested that those who were preparing the deceased person for burial were not only concerned for the well-being of the person on their final journey to an existence which took place outside of the temporal world, but also their own destiny as well, preserving their bodies so that “their owner’s souls could live in them forever…transforming the dead person to an ancestor spirit.”

Viewing the exhibit, which provided “windows into past cultures and civilizations,” included fragments of a papyrus scroll of the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” as well as mummified remains from all over the world. During my visit, I was struck by the respectful demeanor of my fellow attendees, recognizing not only that the remains were of real people who once walked the earth, but that the efforts to preserve them reflected a life-affirming notion, that we are more than our bodies and our brains…

At the very last stop in the exhibit, we were invited to share our thoughts in a logbook. Here is what I wrote:

The allure of this exhibit for me, aside from the link to humanity’s ancient past, is that throughout human history the notion has existed that there is good cause to consider the existence of a life after death.

John H.

The Placebo Effect

Mario Beauregard’s book makes special notice of the placebo effect in chapter six entitled, “Toward a Non-materialist Science of Mind.” In that chapter, he details the research being conducted using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and describes what it is and why it is being employed in this kind of research:

A magnetic resonance imaging unit is a huge cylindrical magnet that encloses a research volunteer or patient and creates a strong field. Inside the unit, radio waves affected by the field, image the small, quick changes observed in the brain while a person is actually thinking, feeling, saying, or doing something (hence it is called “functional”). Apart from its obvious value for research in neuroscience, fMRI is favored by brain surgeons preparing for an operation (individual brains differ).

In discussing the many applications of the placebo effect for problems like pain relief, depression, phobias, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, he defines the placebo effect in this way:

…the significant healing effect created by a sick person’s belief that a powerful remedy has been applied when the improvement cannot have been the physical result of the remedy.

Perhaps most interestingly, he quotes W. Grant Thompson from his book, “The Placebo Effect and Health:”

Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments have found that the placebo analgesia is related to decreased brain activity in pain-sensitive regions of the brain known as the thalamus, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex. Pain relief was also associated with increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (where thinking occurs) during anticipation of pain, suggesting that placebos act on pain-sensitive areas of the brain to alter the painful experience.”

Beauregard notes that in view of some of the consequences of studying this and other phenomena in a variety of scientific disciplines, particularly physics:

…physicists have been forced by the weight of evidence to move AWAY from strictly mechanical models of the universe, toward the view that the mind plays in integral role in all physical events…The reason that consciousness is a problem for materialist neuroscience is that it does not appear to have a mechanism.

Whether or not Mario Beauregard convinces anyone of his premise in his book, I was struck by his open-minded assessment of the many varieties of human experiences that simply cannot be written off as wishful thinking or metaphorical nonsense. He insists that there is “no need to choose between science and spirituality,” and he reminds us that by working together and “understanding the relationship correctly gives us valuable neuroscientific tools for successfully treating psychological disorders…”

He also cautions that while “the study of consciousness in the twenty-first century promises to be an exciting adventure,” that it will be “stymied if the only purpose is to reduce consciousness to something it is not or to demonstrate that it is an illusion.”

My inclinations are with Dr. Beauregard…..John H.

Here is a link to Dr. Thompson’s book in which, according to the product review, “He convincingly demonstrates that patients need the best that science has to offer combined with kind and compassionate care-giving by doctors in order for a treatment to be its most effective.

A Spiritual Neuroscience – Mario Beauregard

Another interesting viewpoint that suggests our understanding of the nature of consciousness would benefit from being more inclusive appears in the book, “The Spiritual Brain,” which takes on the purely materialistic view that the brain alone produces the mind and accounts for consciousness. In a methodically reasoned and admirably balanced manner, the book addresses how, in the author’s view, “the activity of the human mind…is not identical to the functions of the brain.” Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to discover which areas of the brain were active when a group of Carmelite nuns recalled their most profound spiritual experiences.

In a 2006 study the recall by nuns of communion with God invigorated the brain’s caudate nucleus, insula, inferior parietal lobe (IPL) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (MOFC), among other brain regions. Image: Neural Correlates of a Mystical Experience in Nuns, by M. Beauregard and V. Paquette, in Neuroscience Letters, Vol. 405, No. 3; 2006

In the October/November 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, (Searching for God in the Brain) associate editor David Biello describes how the research attempts to “pin down what happens in the brain when people experience spiritual awakenings during prayer and meditation,” and suggests that such research “might reconcile religion and science,” with regard to this issue. The debate continues on several fronts, but a consensus seems unlikely anytime soon.

It’s not so surprising that scientists and materialist proponents of this debate have such a difficult time reconciling the facts of neuroscience with the subjective experience of consciousness, since, by far, the most astonishing aspect of the debate is that consciousness even exists at all, based on what is currently known about neural and cognitive functioning. Since there is no solid scientific evidence that supports even the existence of consciousness, our subjective experience of it, which is so real to us as individuals living “inside our heads,” flies in the face of the materialist view. The same is true of quantum theory.

Modern physics provides us with a context within which to begin formulating a non-material construct as a component of consciousness. Quantum theory, which posits, among other ideas, that the very act of observing quantum events alters the outcome of those events–our conscious intention to observe or study quantum phenomena–may be a vitally important aspect of comprehending them. According to Beauregard, “The synapses, the spaces between the neurons of the brain, conduct signals using parts of atoms called ions. The ions function according to the rules of quantum physics.”

If consciousness is supported by activity at the subatomic level of matter and energy, and therefore subject to interaction with the quantum effects in the matter of the brain, our intentions that are manifested in our conscious acts may influence the activity on a fundamental level in that “non-material” realm. There is a great deal more to know about this interaction, and all of the components that constitute a comprehensive understanding of consciousness, but there really isn’t anything fundamentally incompatible about the idea that scientific and spiritual notions, if applied, might result in additional insights to both sides of the debate.

Much more to come…

Is Matter a Manifestation of the Spirit?

A current exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, “Mummies of the World,” contains over 40 mummies and a number of artifacts related to these discoveries. In the official exhibition catalog, it states that the goal of the exhibit “is to advance the relevance of anthropology in ancient global cultures, and to provide visitors with an educational and scientific window into the cultures, history, and lives of the people who came before us.”

More importantly, however, is the recognition of the “demand that human remains are treated with respect and dignity, taking in account the interests and beliefs of the social, ethical, and religious groups from which the human remains originate.” In a recent conversation on a related subject, I had occasion to consider the earliest known instance of spiritual inclinations in the history of our species.

Mesopotamia. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 10 Jul. 2011. .

Since writing was invented in Mesopotamia, Mesopotamian religion is often considered to be the oldest faith in written history, even though there is some evidence of mythologies and cultural practices of shamanism in the fossil records dating some 40,000 years ago.

From an article in Wikipedia:

“What we know about Mesopotamian religion comes from archaeological evidence uncovered in the region, particularly literary sources, which are usually written in cuneiform on clay tablets and which describe both mythology and cultic practices. However, other artifacts can also be used as the Mesopotamians’ “entire existence was infused by their religiosity, just about everything they have passed on to us can be used a source of knowledge about their religion.” (Bottéro, Jean (2001). Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.)”

While it seems clear that our ancient ancestors were, in many cases, trying to arrive at answers to the unexplained phenomena of their epoch, and also to establish some semblance of order in the early settlements and cities, the search for an understanding of existence itself has been at the heart of that search, and fueled the development of the various spiritual practices throughout human history. In our 21st century world, much of the superstition and ancient mythology that developed in those early beginnings have become simply footnotes in the historical records of humanity, but the search for a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of our existence remains as one of the driving forces behind much of the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual movements of our time.

My own inclinations, after many years of pursuing the study of our subjective experience of human consciousness, while acknowledging the important distinctions between spirit and matter, more importantly emphasize their interdependence on a fundamental level. It is my contention that consciousness provides humanity with access to an aspect of our nature not explicable in terms of sense experience alone, and that it represents a reality which exists in parallel with the world of matter, but in a wholly separate realm—unobservable in temporal terms—but still an essential component of a comprehensive understanding. It seems apparent to me that matter is a manifestation of the spirit; an expression in the temporal, three dimensional world of a reality that is foundational and essential to the world of matter.

John H.

Complexity in Nature – Brain Connections

Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman, and Joshua Sanes (2005)

A recent article on the Scientific American website detailed the extraordinary work being undertaken by scientists studying the complex array of connections and neural pathways in the brain. The following link will take you to a brief video explaining the current efforts being made to track these vitally important connections:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/video.cfm?id=820057168001

There can be no question that this area of research is illuminating the sometimes mysterious inner workings of our miraculous three pound mental organ, and the exquisite beauty of the images produced by the work are awe-inspiring:

Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman and Joshua Sanes (2005)

The complexity of the human brain as described and demonstrated by these technologies is truly fascinating. The intricate workings of the brain’s many components–the synthesis of chemical and genetic functions, the coordination of the many physiological functions and systems, the neural networks that manifest intelligence and make possible the awareness of what we call, “the Self,” as well as perception, differentiation, and experiential consciousness–are indeed miraculous!

From the earliest inklings of consciousness in our ancient ancestors, to the current levels of modern consciousness, the gradual expansion of our awareness and intelligence that permitted the discovery of these technologies, has brought us to a most dynamic epoch in the history of human existence. What one may wish to call the “evolution of consciousness,” or “inner evolution,” as I have pursued it, may eventually result in a far greater awareness than we presently enjoy, as well as other capacities about which we only have inklings today.