Thursday, November 29, 2007

THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE

"When I was about fourteen, my biology master at school had convinced me that religion was a thing of the past, and science was the thing of the future. Religion shackled humans to superstition, priests, and dogma; but science liberated humans and enabled them to march forward to a new era of prosperity and brotherhood. Technological progress would bring about this kind of heaven on earth, through human reason, not through blind faith and mumbo jumbo.

It was nice to think that I was in the vanguard of a heroic, liberating movement. I took an optimistic atheistic and humanistic attitude, which lasted a long time. It’s a very firmly embedded mind-set once you get into it."

"I knew from quite an early age that I wanted to do biology, and I specialized in science at school. Then I went to Cambridge where I studied biology and biochemistry. However, as I proceeded in my studies, a great gulf opened between my original inspiration, namely an interest in life, actual living organisms and the kind of biology I was taught: orthodox, mechanistic biology which essentially denies the life of organisms but instead treats them as machines. I had to learn that you can’t respond emotionally to animals and plants. You can’t connect with them in any way except by detached objective reason. There seemed to be very little connection between the direct experience of animals and plants and the way I was learning about them, manipulating them, dissecting them into smaller and smaller bits, getting down to the molecular level and seeing them as evolving by blind chance and blind forces of natural selection"

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D.


I am not a scientist and I am going to make some observations about life. This in itself seems an arrogant statement in our society. Knowledge of life has become the sole province of biologists and biochemists and anyone who has not spent years looking through microscopes, scanners and x-ray machines, laboring to understand the complex chemical and electrical processes that are revealed with the help of this equipment, is seen to lack the authority to make statements about them. I do, however, have nothing but appreciation for all the dedicated hard work that has been invested in the study of biological processes and I applaud the accomplishments of Western medicine and science. I have no qualm with any of the actual observations that are made; how can you argue with an observation? What is disturbing to me, and, I think, of great damage to the society as a whole, are not the observations themselves, but many of the assumptions and inferences based on these observations.


What you see when you observe the world is a function of the instrument that you are using to make your observations, and this, of course, includes the human eye. When you look at a part of your body with the naked eye, you see one thing. When you look through a microscope you see something very different, and when you look through an electron microscope at the same body part, you see a third, and completely different thing than either of the other two. One of the assumptions that I think is dangerous, is the assumption that when you see this new vista, thanks to the microscope, that somehow you are seeing a greater, or deeper truth than you were seeing with the naked eye; that with the naked eye you were seeing a result, but with the microscope you are seeing cause. Another possibility is that you are simply seeing another view, which is neither more causal, nor more fundamental than the first view. Another way of saying that would be that smaller biological things are not necessarily the cause of larger biological things, but that they simply coexist on different planes. A second assumption is that with the naked eye you are seeing some things, but now, with the microscope, you are seeing everything. This view was, of course, disproved by the arrival of the electron microscope which revealed whole new worlds within the microscopic world. This is not necessarily, however, the end of the line. New worlds and new discoveries could be there awaiting the arrival of new instrumentation. And there may be whole planes of existence that are simply not visible, but that affect, very profoundly, the processes that you are looking at. Even if, hypothetically, we could see everything within a human body, would we be seeing cause? Is cause something that can be seen? Is cause a thing?


And one final assumption of biologists that I would like to mention is that if something cannot be seen it does not exist. Now this is not the assumption of other scientists, including physicists and psychologists. No one would argue that gravity does not exist, but no one can see it either. Forces, which are the province of physicists, cannot be seen directly. They are measured by their effects on matter. And psychologists study feelings: love, hate, ambition, jealousy; all of which can be deduced from the statements and behaviors of others, but not observed directly. The study and measurement of intelligence has also become part of the province of psychologists, and this too, like gravity, electro-magnetism and emotions, cannot be seen, but must be deduced from a person's conversation, written responses and creations.


Let's look at some of the conclusions drawn from these assumptions. Now, the latest brain research is grabbing headlines in major newspapers and magazines. Steve Pinker, writing in Time Magazine offers this, "Scientists have exorcised the ghost from the machine, not because they are materialistic killjoys, but because they have discovered that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain." Does that mean that consciousness is the brain? I can be tied to a pole. Does that mean that I am the pole? In fact, just by saying that something is tied to something else, implies the existence of two separate things. So, yes, consciousness is tied to the brain; but, no, consciousness is not the brain. What they, the brain researchers, have actually observed, is that during whatever mental activity there is: thinking, dreaming, seeing, remembering, hearing, etc., some part of the brain is activated; there is some heightened chemical and electrical activity in a specific part of the brain, depending on the particular activity involved. So as you focus on the beauty of a sunset, a certain part of the brain, as recorded by certain kinds of scanners, will light up. When you try to remember something, another part lights up. If you are worried about that stain on your shirt, from where you spilled your coffee this morning, yet another part is lit. When scientists study the location of all these different processes that shift every time you change your focus, do they ever wonder where you are, who is not the processes, but whose shifting focus is creating all these processes?But even though you are the primary and most obvious truth of your existence, in terms of these scientific observers, you do not exist, because you cannot be observed. They have eliminated you from their investigations, theories and conclusions.


THE BRAIN


Now, according to the most advanced research, we know that the brain remembers, the brain sees, the brain hears, the brain protects us, the brain repairs itself, etc., etc. Each day, it seems we are discovering yet another wonderful thing that our friend, the brain, does. But, hold on! The brain doesn't do any of those things. The brain is three pounds of protein. The brain is no more than the passive conductor of these processes. Let's look at memory. When you try to remember something, it is you, not your brain, that is remembering. Your brain's contribution is that of a filing cabinet. A filing cabinet has no memory. It simply stores information, in the form of letters, numbers and pictures. You look through that cabinet and locate the desired information that you decode from those letters, numbers and pictures to help you get in touch with the experience that you were trying to remember. The brain doesn't remember, doesn't try to remember, doesn't care whether you remember or not. The brain doesn't even know you. The brain doesn't even know it's a brain. It stores and conducts chemical and electrical charges that we interpret as information, but it doesn't know that it is storing or conducting information. The only differences between a brain and a filing cabinet in the area of memory, is that a filing cabinet stores information in codes that we are consciously familiar with, i.e. letters, numbers and pictures. The brain stores information in codes that we do not yet understand intellectually, but that we, our self, automatically translates into various memories, in the same way that we translate other patterns of electrical and chemical responses into the experience of sights, sounds, smells, emotions, etc. Also, while we use our physical body to access our filing cabinet, we use part of our non-physical self to access the memory codes stored in our brain. This non-physical part is called our focus, or our attention. Focus, or attention, is so much an integral part of our experience, has so much more reality for us than any biological information gotten from a scanning machine, and yet, according to brain researchers, it, too, does not exist. Why? Again, because it cannot be observed, although the results of it can easily be seen by the shifting patterns of excitation as you watch any brain scan unfold.


When people say it cannot be observed, therefore it has no reality, what they really mean is that it cannot be observed by anyone other than yourself. In other words, if you experience something it has no reality unless it can be observed by others. That's a bit of a shame really, when you consider that your self, your focus, your feelings and everything that you experience, in fact the entirety of your life, cannot be observed by anyone outside of yourself. You can tell them about. You can write books about it. But since no one else can directly observe it, you and the entire experience of your life does not exist for modern research scientists. This, too, would be okay if these researchers confined themselves to talking about the chemical and electrical processes that they observe, but they do not. They equate these with life, as if these processes are life itself, and anything else, like the self, like focus, etc., are quaint, superstitious myths.


Then, since they cannot see the self, or consciousness, and they cannot see God, or the Cosmic Consciousness, they confer intelligence, will, desire, ambition and creativity on the things they can see, especially brains and genes. With all the articles written about what "Your Brain" wants and what "Your Genes" compel you to do, there seems to be no room for you, for the actual existence of the individual. We have become little bewildered specks being tossed about at the confluence of two mighty rivers, "Our Brain" and "Our Genes". Yet I have news for you. There is no such entity as "Your Brain". Talk about a quaint, superstitious myth, a being called "Your Brain" does not exist. Of course there are three pounds of protein that are sitting in your skull, and those proteins are the passive conductors of countless electrical and chemical processes that keep you alive and conscious, but they do not act as an entity. They do not form one living being. They do not have their own will, their own desires or their own agenda. You have those things. You decide, by where you place your focus, which part of the brain is being used at any time. You remember. You see. You desire things. The brain is the place where those processes, that assist you in doing those things that you want to do, are arranged in such a way that you, not the brain, can translate them into the actual experience of your life.


What, I think, has happened, is that as researchers have figured out the purpose of many of these complex electrical and chemical processes that take place in your brain, they have instinctively realized that there must be an entity, a being, that has those purposes. If the goal of these processes is to assist you in remembering, or hearing or preventing sensory overload, it is not the actual electrons or the chemical traces of these processes that has that goal. They, the researchers, have unwittingly, I think, ascribed these purposes to your brain, because they can see the brain. But it is not the proteins of the brain that are the ground of being, the seat of these purposes. It is not any easier to imagine proteins wanting to accomplish anything, or having an agenda, than to imagine a stream of electrons having an agenda. We instinctively know, if we consciously attend to it, that desires, ambitions and purpose begin in the non-material, not the material. Beings have desire and purpose, proteins do not. When scientists say "your brain wants..." they have unintentionally created a being called "Your Brain" that is not the proteins in your skull, but a non-physical entity that lives alongside these proteins. It is the point of view of this post, that the two entities, "Your Brain" and "Your Genes", that have been unwittingly created by research scientists, have no reality, and the two entities that they have replaced from the modern perspective, your Self, or consciousness, and God, or the cosmic consciousness, not only have reality, but, between the two, they are the source of, they create, your entire reality. The being whose purposes are served by the brain and its processes is not the brain itself, but you, your Self. And the being whose purposes are served by the genes and the genetic code is not the genes themselves, but is God or the cosmic consciousness.


From the perspective that all life is observable, it seems that those patterns on the surface of the brain are the culmination of life, the end of the process. What is not seen is the invisible process that translates those patterns into actual experience. If I am scanning your brain while you watch a sunset, I am not seeing that sunset, am I? When you are listening to Beethoven, I don't hear Beethoven when I look at your scan, do I? The culmination of life is not a brain process, for the satisfaction of the brain. The culmination of life is the conscious experience that you have when you translate those processes into actual experience. Sense organs in conjunction with nerves translate incoming light waves, sound waves, tastes and touches into electric and chemical brain patterns. The organ that translates these brain patterns into actual experience is not seen. It is not part of the physical universe. We call that organ 'you'.


INTELLIGENCE AND INTELLECT


And I should interject here a few words about the eye. Darwin describes at some length, and in a way that has become perfectly acceptable to most scientists, the manner in which the eye could develop, step by step, from the seemingly simple light sensitive membrane found in single celled beings to the exquisitely complex organ found in humans. But, hold on! The eye does not see. The eye separated from a living being is a lens with some gelatinous proteins attached to it. The eye in a living being, and in conjunction with the optic nerve, is the passive conductor of light waves and electrical impulses which form a pattern in the brain. The eye does not see. You see. You translate those brain patterns into trees and sunsets and friends and enemies, the actual experience of seeing. And you were the one that began the whole process of receiving certain light waves in the first place, because you, not your eye, wanted to look at something. What Darwin was talking about was not the evolution of life, but the evolution of the equipment that life uses. By what manner did this equipment evolve? According to Darwin it evolved step by step because at each step it gave a survival advantage. But a survival advantage to whom? To the eye itself? Of course not. It gave a survival advantage to the intelligent being who was looking through this equipment. How can you explain the evolution of an eye if you exclude the intelligent beings without whom the eye would have absolutely no use. Now you may object to the word "intelligent" since Darwin's whole point was to devise a scenario in which life could evolve without intelligence. But the ability to discern enemies from friends, food from poison, and safe environments from threatening ones, and to adjust one's behavior accordingly is, precisely, intelligence. If intelligence is not the reading of one's environment and the making of appropriate adjustments to it, then what else could it be?


Humans, using language and writing, have been able to extend this intelligence to the contemplation of other environments besides the one that is immediately at hand, including our attempts to understand past environments, to anticipate future environments and to understand environments other than our own. We also live in an environment of ideas and concepts that we try to understand, to 'read', and then to make our own adjustments, our "intellectual adaptations" based on this new learning. So humans may be the only species that has intellect, which is a form of conceptual intelligence, but all species, including plants and animals have intelligence. The being whose entire sensory equipment consists of the light sensitive membrane of one cell, may have a much more limited use of intelligence than a being who is blessed with the one hundred trillion celled human body with its dazzling array of sense organs, but they are both using intelligence. How can you try to describe this exquisite system of adaptation that you call evolution and then say that there is no intelligence involved, when adaptation is the entire point of intelligence.


Let me interject something to try to clarify the difference and similarity between intelligence and intellect. If you live near the seashore or have visited there, I hope you have had the pleasure of throwing bread crumbs into the air and watching the seagulls dive and swoop to catch these crumbs in their beaks. Sometimes they misjudge the texture and density of these morsels and they clamp their beaks down too hard and the crumb disintegrates, but they never miss. If there is a breeze blowing from the sea to the shore, they never miss. If there is a breeze blowing from the shore to the sea, they never miss. If there is no breeze blowing, they never miss.


To catch a crumb in the air when you are already flying in the air, requires a calculation of the velocity and the arc at which the crumb is thrown, a calculation of the wind and barometric pressure as it effects your current velocity and inertia and as it effects the amount of energy you have to exert on all the muscles of your wings and torso to change direction and velocity and the precise moment to open and close your beak. Now the fact that a seagull is doing this instantaneously without any conscious calculation does not mean that these calculations are not being made; they are just not being made in time. That is intelligence. Now a really skilled physicist with instruments to measure the weight of the crumb, the force and angle of the throw, the barometric pressure of the air, the velocity of the wind, the weight of the bird, and the anatomical understanding of which of those many muscles does what, and how much energy is required for each, could, theoretically, figure out what that bird has to do in order to catch that crumb. But by the time our beleaguered physicist arrives at his conclusions, the seagull will have already caught the crumb, digested the crumb and pooped it out all over his calculations. That is intellect! With the exception of the weird bubble that some of our intellectuals have been in for the past century or so, it has been commonly understood that the whole thrust of human intellect has been to slowly, slowly, baby step by baby step, come to an ever deepening understanding of the intelligence of the universe which surrounds us, pervades us and has been with us since the beginning of time. But to think that humans are in sole possession of the only intelligence in the universe, when the only measure of that intelligence is the extent to which we are able to understand the very universe that is supposed to be devoid of intelligence, is a feat of arrogance compared to which Aristotle's placement of the earth at the center of the solar system seems a minor faux pas.


GENES


From the same perspective, that all life is observable, in the same way that it seems that life culminates with the brain, it appears that life begins with the genes. The assumption is that genes are not only the starting point of individual life, but that genes began the entire evolutionary process of life. The theory is that genes, microscopic bits of nucleic acids called nucleotides, randomly came together by a kind of freak accident, in such a way that they formed a code, that no one ever invented, but which allowed them to start replicating themselves. I should mention that nucleotides and proteins are always made by a living being. All proteins are either animal or vegetable. There is no such thing as laboratory protein. There is no protein found on the side of the road or floating around in a pond, that was not part of a living body that was born, that grew and died and that was manufactured by the miraculous processes of metabolism and digestion. (If you don't think that these processes are miraculous, that they are 'understood', then please prove me wrong and create something that metabolizes and digests; and, of course, I know Miller/Urey type experiments where a few carbon compounds and amino acids were produced, all of which had to be immediately removed from the very atmosphere that created them or they would quickly break down. I am not talking about a carbon compound or an isolated amino acid. I am talking about a protein.) Yet, by this theory, nucleic acids and proteins created life, rather than life creating proteins and nucleic acids. Not only did these infintesimally tiny dots of acid create life, but everything that was created in the entire kingdom of plants and animals on this planet is attributed to 'discoveries' (always written in quotes) made by these acid particles, or genes. Genes 'discovered' how to build cells. Genes 'discovered' digestion. Genes 'discovered' consciousness. Genes 'discovered' photosynthesis. Genes 'discovered' how to build brains, etc., etc. Based solely on this assumption, we have nullified the concept of God, of a cosmic consciousness, because we cannot see it, and freighted our poor little genes, these microscopic bits of nucleic acid, with all the intelligence, will and creativity of a deity because we can see them. Yes, we know that certain combinations of genes will lead to certain traits and characteristics. We even have some sense of how the genes are involved in the manufacture of proteins. But the body is not just a puddle of proteins. It has a unique and incredibly precise and complex shape. We know that different gene formations result in different shapes, but what that process is, what hand the genes have in the creation of shape, is not known by Western science. Also, it is not just a body that is reproduced, is it? Are we as joyful at the birth of a still born baby as a live one? What we celebrate at birth is not just a new body, but a new being. That new baby is as alive, as conscious, as intelligent, and as willful as we are. A new combination of genes attracts a particular consciousness, will and intelligence along with a particular shape and a particular sequencing of protein manufacture. How is it done? This is not known, but the assumption is that the genes, themselves, are doing it.


Suppose we didn't deify these bits of nucleic acid that we call genes. Suppose we accept them for what they are, nucleotides. Then, first of all, we wouldn't have to create these tortured, impossible scenarios of how genes started replicating, by themselves, and how they discovered every miraculous aspect of life, by themselves. Richard Dawkins, in his book, "River Out of Eden" likens the genetic code to computer code as a way of demystifying it. If you think about it, it is a good analogy, to a point, but not the way Dawkins intended. Computer code is made from arrangements of high and low frequency electric charges, 1 or 0. Genetic code is made from arrangements of four nucleotides, A, T, C and G. The brilliance and creativity of computers, what caused the computer revolution, was not, of course, the high and low frequencies, by themselves. It was the brilliance and creativity of computer scientists and soft ware engineers that created arrangements of these codes to serve human purposes. Dawkins would like us to think that it is the microscopic pieces of adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, by themselves, that create a human body, never mind consciousness, will and intelligence. That makes exactly as much sense as saying that the high frequency and the low frequency of computer code got together, by themselves, and without the intervention of any intelligence, human or otherwise, created Microsoft, Dell and Apple Computers!


We actually have a pretty good understanding at this point of what genes actually do. Most of the time, in terms of observable activity, they do nothing. They sit encased with, in the case of human beings, three billion of their brethren, within the nucleosome of each cell in our bodies. Occasionally, when a particular enzyme is needed by the body, another enzyme opens a tiny hole in the nucleosome at the exact spot among the three billion genes, that will reveal the needed strand of code. Another enzyme, again, from the cell and not the genes, separates the needed strand of genes from its partnered strand (all genes are arranged in double strands) and presses it against the opening in the nucleosome. At that point an RNA molecule copies the exposed code. Another enzyme returns the strand to its partner and another enzyme closes the hole. That's it! That is the entire involvement of genes in protein manufacture. They are moved by an enzyme to an opening where they get copied, and then they are moved back. The genes are not initiating any of this. The genes are not manufacturing anything. They are not planning anything. They are not coordinating their activities with other genes. They are not figuring out what the body needs. They are doing exactly what you would expect microscopic pieces of matter to be doing, which is absolutely nothing. They passively participate in a process that they neither initiate, energize or control. And the same is true for replication. When genes replicate they do it in conjunction with the whole cell's replication. Replication begins in the outer cell and the genes start replicating at a certain point in that process after a signal has been received from the outer cell. The DNA molecule, containing the genes, does go through some complex gymnastics during replication, but that, again, is at the behest of signals and enzymes that it receives. Once again, it is neither initiating, energizing or controlling this process. It is simply, totally and completely passive.


WITHIN AND WITHOUT


Yet, obviously, the genes are connected in some way to all the biological functions of our body, to its specific shape and to the abilities and the emotional make up of the being that inhabits this body. How can the genes determine all this if they are not creating it? Because the genes, even when they are not doing anything, which is the great majority of the time, are receivers. They are attracting to our bodies the particular consciousness, will and intelligence that makes the whole thing work. This is a bit hard to grasp because even though we cannot see consciousness, will, and intelligence, we associate them with physical bodies, especially human bodies. From the spiritual perspective, consciousness,will and intelligence are not created by bodies, or by matter (genes, of course, are tiny bits of matter). Instead, bodies, including genes, are created by consciousness, will and intelligence. This may strike many as odd (though no more odd than the other way, from material to spiritual) because, normally, consciousness, will and intelligence are experienced as coming from within, and in our twenty-first century society with its materialist bent, "within" is considered to be deep within the body, and not deep within the spirit.


Yet, many of us have had unusual or abnormal experiences of consciousness, will and intelligence. These 'supernormal' experiences of consciousness, will and intelligence, are usually experienced as coming from without; as something received. Soldiers on the battlefield, fire fighters and police officers in critical situations, have had the sudden experience of an extra rush of energy, clarity and determination. No one is more surprised at their heroism than they are, and they describe that moment when that extra energy and determination overtook them with a kind of awe. They consider it something that came into them, something received. These are examples of being touched by the cosmic will that sustains us all at every moment, but usually works separately from our conscious will. Great writers, artists and scientists, as they labor at a problem, as they obsess on the same information, or the same scenario to no avail, pray for an inspiration (atheism does not diminish the artist's enthusiasm for prayer at this juncture). Inspiration literally means the intake of breath. They pray for a gift to be taken in, to be received. They certainly don't pray for an expiration, which means breathing out and is associated with death. Einstein wrote a fascinating account of how the idea, the insight, of the theory of relativity entered his body; how he could feel it coming up through his legs and into his brain, and then getting it. Archimedes, having received a thunderbolt of inspiration, lept from his tub shouting 'Eureka' as he ran wet and naked through the streets of ancient Syracuse. Horowitz, the great concert pianist, when asked what he did in the moments before an important performance, said that he just tries to relax and hope that the winds of inspiration blow through him that night. Moments of great insight, great heroism, great performing, are considered by the people that experience them to be, not their own, but gifts from without, some thing unseen, yet extremely tangible, in fact always among the most vivid experiences of their lives. And, of course, spiritual seekers, people in deep prayer, fasting, chanting and/or meditation, report being transported to a new level of consciousness, which led to a new sense of themselves. Not so much that something was received, but that a boundary, a sense of separation between their limited consciousness and the unlimited cosmic consciousness, was momentarily dissolved. They were still themselves, of course, but they had a much greater, more expanded sense of who they were; of being an inextricable part of something infinitely greater than their individual bodies and brains.


All this is to say that consciousness, will and intelligence are the foundation out of which physical life comes, not vice versa. This consciousness, will and intelligence that is not bound by a particular body, not even bound by space and time, is far beyond our power to understand or even conceive. We call it God, Infinity, the Tao, the Atman, Allah, Buddha, Christ, the Cosmic Consciousness, etc. Every culture has its own name, but the name is irrelevant. As Lao Tzu said, "The name that can be named is not the Nameless Name ". The spiritual perspective, and the only one that really makes sense, is that consciousness existed before physical bodies, that physical bodies grew out of the desire of cosmic consciousness, or God, to have a presence in, to participate and interact with, the physical universe. This cosmic will, or God's will, is the energy that drives the ten quadrillion biological processes occurring simultaneously in each of our bodies, and every biological process in every physical body of every being on this planet, toward survival and replication. Cosmic intelligence, or God's intelligence, is the amazing way that this energy responds, adapts and reconfigures itself at every moment, in response to it's changing surroundings. The genes, then, from this perspective, are receivers, God's channel changers if you will. They don't create life, but they attract, depending on their configuration, the particular cosmic will and cosmic intelligence to grow and maintain your body. They also attract a particular nexus of consciousness, will and intelligence. I have been referring to this nexus as you, or your self. It is also referred to in many religions as your soul.


If there are hierarchies of spiritual beings, of souls, and how, and the degree to which, they are separated from God, from the ultimate consciousness; whether or not these souls choose this new combination of genes, or whether it is thrust upon them; if this takes place at the moment of conception or thereafter; what the purpose is of this action, which results in a new birth and a new life; these are all valid questions, but they do not concern us here. The important thing for now is that out of the cosmic will, consciousness and intelligence comes three things that can and should be separated. There is life, which is experienced but not directly observed and which contains its own limited and seemingly separate consciousness, will and intelligence. There are biological processes, mainly electric and chemical, that support that life, and there is a body, mainly proteins, that conducts and transmits these processes.


If you have a different opinion, for instance if you believe that biological processes are life itself, that life was created by nucleic acids, that the highest intelligence in the universe is human intelligence, and that the ten quadrillion (not a hyperbolic but an actual and very conservative estimate) biological processes, that are going on at this very moment in your body as you read these words, are all conducted and synchronized with no intelligence, what so ever; all that is fine. But if you are a research scientist who studies these biological processes, then, in your professional capacity, make statements about biological processes. Don't make statements with the mantle of authority and science that are really conjectures, or unexamined assumptions about the nature of these processes, who is doing them and what their ultimate purpose is. Don't make statements, for instance, that imply that because you see a process taking place in some tissues in my skull that we call the brain, that, therefore, "My Brain" is doing these processes. There is a lot of cooking done in my kitchen, but a mythical being called "My Kitchen" is not doing them. And, please avoid condescending statements, such as, "I have been looking through a microscope for thirty years and I can assure you there is no such thing as a soul, a self or consciousness, based on the fact that I have never seen any of them". No, you will never see any of them, but did you ever wonder who it is that is doing the looking? As to that final observation, at the cessation of biological processes, please do not say, "She's dead." Much better would be "she's passed on," or "she's no longer with us." And if your beliefs in the supernatural powers of nucleotides and proteins are so rigid that you cannot bring yourself to say either of these, then, perhaps, you should just say, "I'm sorry."


If your statements about what you observed are actually that, statements about what you actually observed, then we will believe you, we will respect you, and we will accept your findings in good faith. If you start, intentionally, or not, to make inferences about the nature of biological processes, about why they are there, about who or what is doing them, and about who or what they are for, in other words, statements about life rather than biological processes, then you are conjecturing about that which you have no expertise and you are unnecessarily alienating people of a spiritual persuasion. In fact, you may be sorely lacking in expertise in this area, because you have accepted all the materialist assumptions of your society without questioning them. And it is entirely possible that there may be more to learn about actual life, as opposed to biological processes, by experiencing it rather than trying to look at it through a microscope.



Any comments? Please let me hear from you.

5 comments:

euzkara said...

Hi: As usual your blog is a marvelous read filled with ideas I've never even contemplated and with great logic. The one point I see that would bring forth
strong criticism is the notion of "self" as separate from the brain. A fly sees as do fish and other lower forms of life. Their brains process what they see and they then react or act according to some genetically programmed impulse. Do
these insects have a separate entity or being other than their bodies that controls how they react to what they take in. Or go to higher forms of life such as dolphins, killer whales, chimps and gorillas. It has been demonstrated
that dolphins and killer whales have a sense of "self" similar to humans but unlike lower forms of life. They can recognize themselves in mirrors, something
only humans, chimps and gorillas can do, as far as we know. Gorillas have not have vocal chords like ours and therefore can't speak but they have been trained to
read and think and communicate with hundreds of words about as well as a four year old human child might. Do these creatures therefore have a similar "soul" or self or "you" as we humans do. And how would you differentiate what happens
when lower forms of life perceive images through their eyes and act upon what they see. I trained a German Shepherd bitch for obedience competitions when I was in my twenties and I can cite you numerous occasions when that animal
weighed visual or aural input and made quite rational choices much as a human might do. She could even understand complete sentences and dozens of words. Did she have a "self" within her being as I do? Honestly, I thought she did. And I agree with you that my brain isn't me, but rather a tool which "I" use.
See you soon, Luis

Matt Chait said...

Luis,
I appreciate your comment. I think there is some confusion about the meaning of 'self' as I used it in the blog. This word is misused or abused in our every day use of English. Yes, some animals seem to have a 'sense of self' and some do not. This sense of self is a kind of self consciousness a collection of images and beliefs that we have about ourselves, and a way we have of describing ourselves. But I am not talking about these images and descriptions. I am talking about the self that holds these images and descriptions. I am talking about a ground of being, not 'that' but 'that which experiences that'. Not the images, thoughts or ideas that you may have about yourself, I am talking about the self that has these ideas and images. When we recognize 'ourself' in a mirror, are we really recognizing our self? We are looking at the outside surface of our bodies. Recently, an obstinate gastro-enterologist insisted that I look at photos that he had taken of the inside of my colon. Now certainly that is as much me as the outside of my body. Yet, I may as well have been looking at a picture of the terrain on Venus. I had no familiarity with it, I had no way of recognizing mine from anyone else's, and yet I didn't feel any lack of self knowledge because of it. Now I don't want to seem cavalier about it. I understand that my health and even my entire experience in this body can come to a premature end because of the condition of that colon. But if there is any irritation there, that is not me. It may cause me pain, but that pain is not me either. I am that which experiences that pain. What we call the 'lower' forms of life, may not have the intellect to form images of themselve, or to be able to recognize themselves in mirrors, but the self I am talking about is the actual ground of experience, even if that experience is simply the experience of desire and the lack of desire or the recognition of a threat to their survival or the recognition of something that will enhance their survival. The non-physical context of that experience, not 'that', but 'that which experiences that', is the self that I am talking about, and it is a prerequisite of life.

Also, I think it is your knowledge of your dog that leads you to conclusions about his intelligence. People who study bees, bats, penguins, primates and all sorts of migratory birds, share a common bewilderment, even an amazement at the things these animals are able to accomplish. Case in point, when we are searching desperately for a way to protect us from the effects of lethal viruses, we turn to the abilities of the single cell, and its completely baffling ability to create the perfect chemical response to this threat (an antibody). We can't figure it out, but sometimes we can trick the cell into figuring it out for us.

Also, an animal's inability to recognize it's own body in a mirror may be due to other reasons than a lack of self-knowledge. All animals seem to know perfectly well what group they belong to. You never see an ant getting confused and hooking up with a colony of cockroaches. Also, all animals seem to have an exquisite sense of the contours of their own bodies which is evident whenever you see fish negotiating currents and reefs, seabirds lunging out of the wind with perfect precision to catch their prey, and mammals galloping through thick brush.

I do agree with you that in the usual sense of the word the 'soul' implies an ability to contemplate our existence and to wonder about God and our origins. In this sense of the word, animals would not have souls, but they would certainly have selves.

Matt Chait

murenhausen said...

It's always interesting when it is suggested that scientists are in some way failing society by 'making assumptions and inference's based on their observations; is it because, quite often, their 'assumptions and inferences' are basically 'bad news', in the sense that 'I didn't really want to know that'? or 'that goes against what i believe, so it must be wrong'? I wouldn't criticise a mechanic assuming that I'm a bad driver if he opens up the engine and his observations are that the engine is being excessively worn out through the car being driven badly...

Without evidence of the 'self' I don't really see how any 'observation' is anything but an 'assumption' or an 'inference'? The religious say 'I am here, so, God must have put me here, because I can't explain how I got here, or anything else for that matter, therefore, there must be a 'god', and he must have put everything else here'; a fair enough initial observation, a very poor assumption, and a terrible inference... I'd rather go with the guy looking through the microscope... As for damaging to society? I don't think science necessarily has all the answers, because, as we all know, science gives us the ability to do something; it doesn't instruct us on whether we should or not... but science asks questions, and generally, 'good' science continues to seek answers...

With regards to the system used for making observations, one thing my old man always used to say was 'everything you observe is already history' - anything you observe is separated form you by a distance that light will take a certain amount of time to cross... so, what you're observing has already changed by the time you see it... and it seems a little strange to begin by questioning the making of assumptions and inferences, when it will be a scientist who invents the 'new instrumentation' of which you speak... the assumption leading the scientist to the invention will be 'we came this far, i assume we can go further'... I'd put money on it being 'assumptions and inferences' of scientific minds that led to the invention of both the microscope and the electron microscope...

I don't think it wise to compare what physicists and psychiatrists do in any way... studying the effects of forces on matter is in no way comparable to the study of feelings. Gravity is gravity; what one person calls 'love', another might call 'itching'; both might be talking about something similar or not, but both could be deluded, coerced, drugged, drunk, or demented... Gravity and electro-magnetism are attributes of the universe; we appear to have no real idea where emotions come from, or whether or not they are, again, a facet of the 'over-stimulation' of the collection of cells that combines and subsequently constitutes 'me'. Is it really so bad that the biologist, recognising the psychiatrist's failure to locate the region 'producing the emotions' infers that it might be a biological process, assumes that he might be able to find out, and sets out trying to observe the area in question by employing microscopes that dig deeper and deeper, making further assumptions and inferences along the way? I don't think so...

Is consciousness the brain? I don't really see why it couldn't be. There are cells in the brain; they do get stimulated, so they could therefore get over-stimulated (an assumption, or an inference?!); and, what we call 'me' does seem generally centred in the head... for obvious reasons... no, you are not the pole, but as you are aware, you do have a brain (the pole, as far as I am aware, doesn't) and there does seem to be a 'you', so, why couldn't the 'you' be a part of the brain? You WANT it to be something else, but that doesn't mean that it is... if you could accept that you weren't anything more than your over-stimulated cells, as is so often the case, you might start to ask 'well, what's the point in it all?' Obviously, the use of the word 'tied' is linguistically debatable, but the conclusion, whatever word used, might be inescapable - 'you' are a part of your brain. The sensations of which you speak seem to me to be simple manifestations of energy; seeing is energy transferred and transported through the eye; thinking and dreaming is electrical energy transferred and transported across and into the brain; hearing, through the ears, etc, etc... so, you say 'but even though you are the primary and most obvious truth of your existence, in terms of these scientific observers, you do not exist, because you cannot be observed', implying, if am I understanding you correctly, that the 'scientific observers' are missing something; but, what knowledge do you actually possess that you do exist, in a way that they have missed, and in a way that can be confirmed or tested? Your desire is that you exist as something more than your biological processes, you believe you exist as more than your biological processes, but by inferring that they have missed something, you are assuming that there is more there and that they have overlooked it by being 'too scientific'. But where is the evidence?

You say 'When you try to remember something, it is you, not your brain, that is remembering. Your brain's contribution is that of a filing cabinet. A filing cabinet has no memory. It simply stores information, in the form of letters, numbers and pictures', but that is not correct. Your brain is not a filing cabinet, it is a brain. I can make you a filing cabinet, and we can try putting it in your head if you like, but I'll bet we wouldn't have many more conversations like this! Let's not over-simplify what is an astonishingly effective bit of kit, eh? The simple fact that your brains does what it does is pretty amazing... you say it 'simply stores information, in the form of letters, numbers and pictures' - where? I've seen brains cut open, and I never saw any 'letters, numbers and pictures' or 'information' that looked remotely like them come tumbling out... you're right, all I saw was 'three pounds' of tissue... I can see how the heart works, and I can see how the lungs work; I can understand bone structure, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and so on... but the brain? It doesn't look, feel, smell, or taste like any filing cabinet I ever saw...

You say 'The brain doesn't remember, doesn't try to remember, doesn't care whether you remember or not. The brain doesn't even know you. The brain doesn't even know it's a brain', but where is your proof for this? If anything, I would think that the truth is, in fact, the direct opposite... scientists are now locating the parts of the brain that 'light up' when certain activities are undertaken, which suggests to me, that it is indeed the brain that does the things you claim it doesn't... if anything, 'you' and 'me' seem to be nothing but distractions... for example, if 'you' actually stopped and tried to think your breathing into its regulated patterns, I would wager that you wouldn't be able to keep the lungs working for very long... the only thing that matters is the continuation of life as a function and a mechanism of the universal transference of energy into matter and vice versa... the over-stimulation of the cells - 'you' and 'me' - seem pretty irrelevant... humanity's 'curse' is thinking that that is somehow 'not enough'.

A bit long winded, but I hope it makes some sense!

Matt Chait said...

Sorry that this response took so long. I had hoped that my brain would
write it. I waited a few days but when nothing happened, I decided to
write it myself.

Don’t you get my point? A brain can’t initiate anything and it has no
desires. I have desires, like the desire to respond to your comment, so
I initiate action to get my desires met. That’s what living beings do.
And we use our equipment, including our brains and sensory organs and
muscles and nerves to do that. The way that we do that is that our
desires (not our brain’s desires but our desires) create polarity
between us and the object of our desires, which in this case is this
post. Polarity creates energy, which in this case is the pattern of
electrons in my brain that ‘lights it up’ so that brain researchers can
see it. This excitation causes the thoughts and activities and movements
necessary to create this response that you are now reading. If you
happen to own the world’s most expensive and complex computer, it still
doesn’t decide what it wants to do. You turn it on because you want to
accomplish something. You set the controls so that it will accomplish
the familiar with human desires and who thought, rightly, that this
computer particular task that you want it to accomplish. It was designed
by someone who was would be able to help humans fulfill their human
desires and therefore, that a lot of people would buy them. The purpose
of the computer cannot be found inside the computer. It can be found in
the intentions of the designer and the user of the computer. And exactly
the same holds true for the human brain.

If I am trying to remember something, let’s say the telephone number of
someone at work, and I suddenly remember that I have a list of all the
people at work and their numbers in one of the drawers of my desk, and I
go through those drawers and find the list, and I go through the list
and find the number, you are clear that it wasn’t the drawers that were
trying to remember that number, and it wasn’t the list that was trying
to remember the number. The drawers and the list have no interest in
whether or not I remember anything. I put that list in the drawer
because I thought that at some future time I may need to remember that
number. So this device (a list in a drawer) just like the computer was
designed with my needs in mind. And it didn’t design itself. It was
designed by another human being that was familiar with human needs.

“The simple fact that your brains does what it does is pretty amazing...
you say it 'simply stores information, in the form of letters, numbers
and pictures' ” Sorry, but I never said that. I said that it stores
things in terms of chemical and electrical patterns. When we try to
remember something we (not the brain, but we) translate one of those
patterns back into the experience that we had when that pattern was created.

“Without evidence of the 'self' I don't really see how any 'observation'
is anything but an 'assumption' or an 'inference'?”

Did you read my post ‘Self vs. Sense of Self’? The point is that the
self is not in the physical universe. You are not in the physical
universe. This is why you can find no evidence of the existence of
yourself no matter how sophisticated the instruments you use for making
your observations. This is the limitation of science which insists on
observable truth. But observations are a function of the instruments
that are making the observations, and I am not just talking about
technological instrumentation, I am talking about biological
instrumentation. The whole solidity of the world and matter is a
function of the structure of the eye and the materialist teachings of
our culture. I go back to the brain. Scientists can see and measure the
excitation at different parts of the brain, but they will never see you
and your desires which caused that excitation. They will also see
chemical and electronic brain patterns that underlie your experience.
But they will never see the ‘you’ that translates those chemical and
electric codes into the rich and varied fabric of your actual
experience. Everything that is of real value in life, including
yourself, love, all feelings and experience, cannot be observed
directly. They can only be inferred by an outsider, but they can be
‘experienced’ by the individual.

Look, I am not trying to defend my position. My position is not a
position. It is an experience. I have had certain experiences that you
haven’t had. I don’t want to prove you wrong. I want you to have the
experiences that I have had because I believe that will deepen your
experience and understanding of life. Can’t you grasp the difference
between an observation and an experience? “if you could accept that you
weren't anything more than your over-stimulated cells,” What do you
really mean by that? How are the cells over-stimulated? Do you think
they are experiencing over-stimulation? Do you think they are saying to
themselves, “Wow, rough night last night!”, or “ Man, did you taste that
pepperoni?” You are talking about chemical and electric responses. The
cell is not experiencing anything. You experience things. You feel over
stimulated. Is there a chemical underpinning to this experience? Most
likely, yes. But can’t you see the difference between an observable
chemical condition and an unobservable experience? Can’t you see the
difference between one measurable chemical change and an experience that
may result in someone writing a book, committing suicide, planning a
trip to Afghanistan or getting married? I don’t want to be redundant
with other posts that I have written, but you are not your chemical and
electrical reactions. You are the non-physical context, the ground of
being; you are that which experiences your chemical and electrical
reactions. Now right here you can come up with a quick retort, with some
way that you think will refute me. Let me assure you that I will not be
refuted, because my position is not based on my arguments, or on
something that I read or something that someone else observed. It is
based on my experience. It is not how I think, it is where I come from.
So, a better strategy at this juncture would be to take a breath and let
in what I am saying, to try to ‘get it’. In terms of any physical
observation that you might make in the world, through whatever
instrumentation you like, you are not that, you are that which
experiences that.

And as far as the damage to society, if you believe that life is merely
an irrelevant conglomeration of haphazard traits, that leads to a very
different society, a very different sense of self-respect and respect
for others, and very different institutions that mirror that lack of
respect, than would result from a society that believed that we were all
part of the inextricable spiritual fabric of the universe; that we were
not just our traits, but the piece of divinity that enlivens our traits.
Please read the post ‘The Game of Life (A Parable)’.

Peace!

Matt Chait said...

The typo in the second paragraph of the above comment should read, “You set the controls so that it will accomplish the particular task that you want it to accomplish. It was designed by someone who was familiar with human desires and who thought, rightly, that this computer would be able to help humans fulfill their human desires and therefore, that a lot of
people would buy them.” Sorry.