Artistic impression of the universe. Image credit: Pingnews
In his recent book, “The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human,” V.S. Ramachandran makes a substantial argument and goes to great lengths to express what it is that distinguishes human beings from all others. In reviewing the structure of our brains, he notes how each component works in “close cooperation,” and notes specifically “…the upper part of the left temporal lobe contains a patch of cortex known as Wernicke’s area.”
“In humans this area has ballooned to seven times the size of the same area in chimpanzee; it is one of the few brain areas that can be safely declared unique to our species. Its job is nothing less than the comprehension of meaning and the semantic aspects of language–functions that are prime differentiators between human beings and mere apes.”
He also makes an excellent point regarding the difference between human perception and what might be described as a robotic response:
“Even the simplest act of perception involves judgment and interpretation. Perception is an actively formed opinion of the world rather than a passive reaction to sensory input from it.”
He also makes a surprising appraisal of how our atoms were “forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago,” and how those atoms now form our brains…a brain that can:
“…not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself.”
Recent contemplation of all these thoughts has made me wonder a bit as well. The new science of the cosmos, which includes theories about “dark matter,” and “dark energy,” one holding everything together and one pushing everything apart, seems appropriate to the opposing forces of those who believe that this marvelous brain of ours is all we need for consciousness and those who believe consciousness is fundamental to the universe and that some additional component must be added to achieve a comprehensive theory.
The polar opposites of our temporal existence, which appear so often in our experiential awareness–hot and cold, darkness and light, good and evil, fast and slow, black and white, life and death, even male and female, on the surface, they all appear to define the opposing forces in each instance, even though many times there are whole ranges of gradient degrees of each which muddle the descriptive term we sometimes apply–“opposites.” Depending on the circumstances, one or the other in the dichotomy may dominate or tip the balance in one direction or another, and the outcome of the imbalance may represent either an advantage or a liability. In other situations, the degree of separation may allow for compromise to create a balance or mitigate the imbalance. There are even those who feel strongly that what we VIEW as opposites may actually instead be complementary (like male and female).
I once stood at the very front of a long platform at a train station in Europe, and when a train on a different track appeared in the distance, I viewed the train as coming towards me, but as it rushed by me, even though there were others at the “opposite end” of the same station, it now appeared to be going away from me, even as it was still approaching those at the other end of the station. Anyone who ever observed the dawn of a new day, starting off in total darkness, would only slowly perceive the introduction of light, and another person, looking out their window before it was notably light in the sky might consider what they saw as still being darkness.
Even only a hundred years ago, scientists believed that our galaxy was all there was to see in the cosmic ether, but now we know there are millions of galaxies in a web of super-clusters expanding billions of light years in every direction. Just how many of those galaxies have the potential for the development of sentient life may never be known, as it appears that all the galaxies we can observe are, for the most part, accelerating away from us and will eventually disappear from our view completely.
When we ponder these mysteries, they make us look more closely at our own consciousness and what connection there might be to everything else in the universe.
Here is a brief description of this interesting project from Nour Foundation website:
“The Human Consciousness Project is an international consortium of multidisciplinary scientists and physicians who have joined forces to research the nature of consciousness and its relationship with the brain, as well as the neuronal processes that mediate and correspond to different facets of consciousness. The Human Consciousness Project will conduct the world’s first large-scale scientific study of what happens when we die and the relationship between mind and brain during clinical death. The diverse expertise of the team ranges from cardiac arrest, near-death experiences, and neuroscience to neuroimaging, critical care, emergency medicine, immunology, molecular biology, mental health, and psychiatry.
These studies appear to suggest that the human mind and consciousness may in fact function at a time when the clinical criteria of death are fully present and the brain has ceased functioning. If these smaller studies can be replicated and verified through the definitive, large-scale studies of the Human Consciousness Project, they may not only revolutionize the medical care of critically ill patients and the scientific study of the mind and brain, but may also bear profound universal implications for our social understanding of death and the dying process.”