The brain

The brain does not have a uniform structure. It is neurologically organised into three distinct parts that reflect the evolutionary development of species. The part of the brain that is developed (in utero) and starts functioning first, is dominant during early life; it is also the most primitive, corresponding to the reptilian brain (hence, the name The R-Complex), and is chiefly responsible for physical preservation through instinctive behaviour. The second one built on top or rather surrounding the first one, is called limbic system; it corresponds to the brain of early mammals and is involved in emotional reactions. The last one, the neocortex, that is developed in primates but is especially enlarged in humans, is related to cognitive functioning. The neocortex is also divided into two hemispheres that have somewhat different functions (for example, the region associated with language is situated in the left one). On the cellular level, the sheer complexity of the human brain is hard to grasp. It is estimated that it contains approximately thirty billion neurons (3 x 1010), and each neuron can have as many as ten thousand synaptic connections. These give an unimaginably high number of possible combinations. Any detailed description of the brain structure and its functioning is far beyond the scope of this book, so the focus will be only on those aspects that are relevant to the relation between the brain and the non-material side of the living organism. In a nutshell, neurons, via synaptic links, enable electro-chemical processes that provide the material basis for consciousness. They create waves that through awareness become information or experience, and in this way affect the soul.

 

The brain's contribution to consciousness

There is no doubt that the brain is instrumental for consciousness, especially for the formation of specific patterns (images, words) that correspond to, or are associated with, the phenomena and events of physical life. In a way, the brain helps in forming scaffoldings to support more fluid energy configurations. The likely mechanism that enables this process is the interference of coherent electromagnetic fields at the point of dendritic interactions[20]. This interference can (at least in theory) produce holographic-like representations. It also allows memory to be recalled by a ‘reference' signal (any associated element can be a trigger, ‘reminder' for the activation of the pattern), and enables the storing of potential information in a distributed rather than localised manner. On the basic level, though, a very complex structure of the brain does not seem to be necessary. A cytoskeleton consisting of micro-tubules could play a similar role to the nervous system in cells with a nucleus. Pribram, Hameroff, Schempp and many others have applied quantum physics to analysing the relation between consciousness and neuronal functioning. They claim that quantum coherence (which means that when two quantum systems interact, their wave functions become ‘phase entangled') can occur in micro-tubules and provide a mechanism for intracellular quantum holography. If this is correct, it is possible that all living organisms (even very primitive ones), have at least a very rudimentary consciousness. Of course, this is not to say that the activity of neurons and their simpler equivalents is sufficient. A global, synchronised production of waves of a particular intensity and frequency is necessary to enable the ‘read-out' by awareness. Like any other matter-energy systems, the brain continually interacts with a non-material energy field of a specific sort - in other words, with a part of the soul.

 

Brain Functions

The brain has several essential roles regarding the mind.

Perceiving - one of the main functions of the brain is to be the intermediary between the soul and the environment, translating signals into the wave patterns that awareness can pick up. In other words, the brain provides the materials by transforming sensations into potential information or experience. The already mentioned ‘blind sight' experiments (p.112), for example, indicate that the major function of a particular brain region is to enable the link with awareness, rather than perception as such[21].

 

Selecting within an accessible range of signals, happens on several levels, but first of all in the brain. Bergson regarded the brain as a filter whose purpose is to reduce the amount of data which would otherwise invade our consciousness, and to eliminate what is superfluous. This view is experimentally vindicated:

Much of neural activity is known to be inhibitory... There is ... evidence that selective attention operates, in part, by the inhibition of nonattended stimuli (cf. Arbuthnott, 1995). This is consistent with the view that the brain may act as a filter (as well as an organizer) of information. (Velmans, 1995, p.261)

The importance of this selection becomes clear considering that 75% of neurons in the human brain are inhibitory, compared with 45% in the monkey brain and even less in rabbits or cats. A release from inhibition though, could explain certain phenomena such as the sudden improvement in short-term memory performance, if after a series of trials with similar stimuli, the features of the stimuli to be remembered are changed (see Wickers, 1972). Alleged extra-sensory perception might also be a result of bypassing this filter.

 

Constructing - another important function of the brain is structuring and organising. Neurons and synapses create a network that is strengthened by repetition. The brain is not aware, but it can perform complicated operations and preserve connections without awareness (similar to a computer). Corpus callosum (the structure that bond the two hemispheres), for example, is necessary to maintain the link between the image of an object and the corresponding word. However, it is important to remember that different brain modules process different types of signals (shape, colour, movement etc.) They do not form meaningful representations (which is why it is possible to use the same group of neuro-connections to form images of different objects). So, awareness is still necessary as a field within which these connections are established and reinforced (therefore, the claim that one can learn a foreign language while sleeping is largely unfounded). Although awareness is required for the process of connecting and separating, to what extent and what can be connected or separated depends on the complexity of the brain organisation. Psychologist Rock writes:

... it would seem that the world we perceive is the end result of events that occur in the nervous system and in this sense is a construction. It bears a certain kind of similarity to the realm of the material world, but is also very different from it.' (1975, p.4)

Storing - the brain also has an essential function in storing information in a specific form. Neuronal connections enable particular structures (e.g. images and words) to be permanently preserved. Without the brain, experiences and information are not lost, but the form they have taken can be. This is because the brain configuration is more solid than its non-material equivalent, and because a form can be reinforced by sensations from the material world, dialogue and internal monologue (language structures). It is still possible to create and preserve mental constructs without the brain, but in such cases they are much more fluid, so normally, the brain is necessary to consolidate, stabilise and maintain them.

 

Movement - the brain also plays an intermediary role for both, voluntary and automatic movements, in terms of coordination of its sequences. Furthermore, it can amplify a weak intent signal and initiate the mobilisation of physical energy for an activity.

 

The contribution of the brain to development

The increase of brain complexity enables the development of the mind which, in turn,  can enhance the complexity of energy configurations in the soul. In other words, the growth of consciousness (that depends, to a large extent, on the growth of the brain) enables expansion of awareness and a greater influence of intent. A larger number and variety of neural connections also facilitate the further separation of the soul from the rest of non-material energy, leading to self-reflection and internal feedback. This not only enables individualisation, but also the intentional shaping of the soul. So another factor, besides the body, that contributes (with the help of the brain) to the forming of the soul is the mind - the subject of the following part in the book.

 

Some possible questions

Does every (intentional)  thought trigger brain activity?

Every thought carries some energy (because it is essentially made of waves), so it should have an effect on brain activity. This energy, however, can be so small that it is practically undetectable. The important point to be made in this respect is that the mind affects the brain field, so there is no one to one correlation with brain processes. This enables the mind to utilise the plasticity of the brain. For example, having an active mind can slow down the progress of Alzheimer's disease because unaffected areas of the brain can be used (however, when they become affected too, the deterioration becomes rapid).

 

Is there any symmetry between the material and non-material aspects?

If the soul is considered parallel to the body, its ‘surface' can be paralleled to the brain. So, in a way, there is an inverse symmetry: the body is the cover of the brain and the nervous system, while this surface is the cover of the soul.

 

Why this exceptional increase in complexity does not happen in the kidney, for example, but in the brain?

One of the conditions for evolution is an exposure to a variety of external stimuli or an adaptation to environmental changes. All the senses are connected to the brain. So while kidney cells are exposed to a relatively narrow range of stimuli, brain cells are frequently brought into contact with new ones, which is conducive to learning and ongoing development. In other words, the kidney can ‘afford' its relative simplicity.

  • [20]. Dendrites are numerous branches from the main body of a neuron that connect it with other neurons.
  • [21]. This may also explain the paradox of the primary visual brain area (V1): it is claimed that ‘V1 does not ‘explicitly' represent colour and form because it has no cells that are sensitive to colour, and so on. And yet conscious appreciation of colour and form is destroyed by damage to V1' (Baars, at al., 1998, p.275).