THE SYNTHESIS PERSPECTIVE

Life is usually defined as an entity that has the capacity to perform certain functional activities including metabolism, growth, reproduction, responsiveness and adaptation to stimuli such as light, heat and sound. It is further characterised by the presence of complex transformations of organic molecules and by the organisation of such molecules into the successively larger units of protoplasm, cells, organs, and organisms.

Although the above mentioned abilities are obviously a very important part of the life process, it is questionable if they really define life. An organism that does not reproduce (e.g. mules that are born sterile) or has stopped reproducing or growing is still alive, thermometers can respond to heat yet they are not alive. These examples are brought up not to point out that such a definition is imprecise (after all, most definitions have fuzzy boundaries) but that something essential may be missing. What common-sensically seems fundamental to life are the abilities to experience and to be pro-active, and consequently, having a unique centre of experience and pro-activity (meaning that my experience cannot be your experience). In other words, awareness, intent and the self. A computer, for example, can perform certain operations that can be paralleled to mental processes. Yet, a computer has nothing that can be paralleled to awareness. A computer can perhaps simulate thinking, but it is not aware, it does not experience. It can beat a human being in chess, but it is not aware that it has won and it cannot feel happy about it.

There is, however, an epistemological problem with the above proposition. An ability to be aware may be a necessary characteristic of life, but due to the inherent limitations of observation, it cannot be easily verified. We phenomenologically know that we are aware. It can be also extrapolated from verbal reports and the behaviour of others that they also experience. Animals react in a similar way to situations that cause pain, pleasure or fear, so it is plausible that they have a similar capacity. But what about plants or bacteria or even individual cells in one's body? Do they experience at all? They may have some rudimentary experiences that are so different (e.g. temporally) that it is impossible to make any conclusions on the basis of observations, including transpersonal ones[4]. The self is also non-observable. However, something that separates an organism from inanimate matter can be observed, and this is self-generated movement. Some believe that this will also eventually be traced back to physical causes, but nobody has ever managed to come close to proving it. Philosopher Teichman writes: ‘A human being is in a way a self-caused cause so far as his actions are concerned, unlike a stone' (1974, p.33). There is no reason why this should not be expanded to other living organisms. That innate activity is an important difference between the animate and inanimate has already been pointed out by Cicero, Thomas Aquinas and many others. While one of the main characteristics of the matter is inertia, agency is one of the main characteristics of life. Inanimate objects can undergo certain processes or be moved under the influence of various forces, but are not active. They are passive, acted upon. A stone does not fall, it is fallen by the combination of gravitational force and other physical factors. On the other hand, life can be proactive, as well as reactive. Many internal processes are the result of an organism's chemistry and some of its activities can be reduced to reflexes, but not all. Similarly, many processes in the car and its movement are the result of the car machinery and its interaction with the environment, but a driver is necessary to start and direct it. This distinction is quite clear in practice. The limbs of dead frogs can be made to twitch by applying an electric current, but nobody in shis right mind would confuse this with life. What is recognised as self-initiated movement is associated with life and only with life. As discussed earlier (and as is also evident from any introspective analysis), intent seems to be its most plausible source. Considering that intent is impossible without the self and awareness, they too can be linked to life. To put it simply, energy is alive if it is focused.

The self, awareness and intent are attributes of the One. If life forms are in the process of becoming the counterpart to the One, they must also have self and at least rudimentary intent and awareness, and consequently a non-material aspect - the soul[5]. So, energy is alive if it has the self and the abilities of awareness and intent (they, of course, do not need to be always active - an unconscious person is not dead, just as a switched off radio is not broken[6]). This is what distinguishes the animate from the inanimate. The soul brings the dynamic principle (inner movement) into that interaction, which enables life, development and evolution. This view was commonly held since antiquity. Thomas Aquinas wrote (using the Latin term anima for the soul):

Animate means living and inanimate non-living, so soul means that which first animates or makes alive the living things with which we are familiar.  (in Thompson, 1997, p.120)

What does not have the self, awareness and intent does not have its own life. Only humans can conceptualise their intentions and what they are aware of, but it has been observed that even simple organisms possess a certain level of awareness and intent[7]. This implies (contrary to what Descartes thought) that soul can be associated with all living organisms not only humans. Which is not to say that an individual soul always corresponds to an individual biological form. Almost certainly not every fruit-fly or ant has its own soul and self. Considering the highly synchronised nature of their societies it is more likely that most of the related non-material energy of single-cell organisms, some insects and plants is focused collectively, while individual selves constantly appear and disappear depending on the extent of separation from the collective that is happening at any point. Evidence for this is that an insect such as ant, for example, cannot learn from experience, but insect colonies can. Even in higher organisms some energy fibres may still be attached to a collective energy field, which could account for the cumulative learning of species mentioned earlier on (p.142)[8].

Thus, the basic premise here is that life is a result of an interaction between two distinct types of energy (material and non-material) and therefore cannot be reduced only to the physical and chemical properties of the body. Reductionist attempts run into numerous difficulties, and also certain phenomena can be better explained otherwise. So, although the claim that all life forms (including one-cell organisms, plants, animals and humans) have a non-material aspect cannot be materially verified, it is not less rational than the belief that one day everything will be possible to understand in terms of physical and chemical properties. Such reasoning is not foreign to science. Gravitational fields, for example, (not to mention super-strings and other esoteria) cannot be detected directly either, but are postulated from their effects or the requirements for a coherent model of reality. It should be also taken into account that the above inference is supported by common sense (e.g. the notion of self) and cross-cultural transpersonal experiences.

  • [4]. The concern here is not with the nature of such experiences (which is the subject of Nagel's classic paper ‘What is it like to be a bat?'), but whether they experience anything at all.
  • [5]. If referring to these elements rather than to the physical body, humans and, in fact, all life forms reflect indeed ‘God's image' (in the case of the latter, of course, God merely reflects the human image).
  • [6]. These inactive states are temporary, so the above argument regarding reproduction, for example, does not apply. A permanent cessation of awareness and intent, for all practical purposes, indicates cessation of life (there are border cases though, when a person is artificially kept alive, but if there is no hope that such a person will regain at least some awareness, life support machines are usually turned off). Permanent cessation of reproductive ability, on the other hand, does not indicate cessation of life.
  • [7]. Polanyi and Prosch maintain that ‘...even paramecium is an individual that quite apparently strives... to adapt itself to its conditions and to stay alive and to reproduce' (1975, p.170).
  • [8]. Rather than bubbles, souls can be imagined as the crests of waves that are connected underneath.

The connection

It is already suggested that the waves produced in the brain are instrumental for mental processes, but they are not sufficient to maintain the relationship between the material and non-material aspects of a living system (otherwise the connection would be broken in a deep sleep or when unconscious). The body, however, produces other wave patterns. The body can be indeed considered ‘a complex network of resonance and frequency' (McTaggart, 2000, p.53). All the organelles (cell's ‘organs') are rotating and vibrating. Each of them is involved in this ‘musical' activity of creating rhythmic waves of energy. Some of these vibrations are innate to chemical components, but some of them are genetically programmed. It is known that DNA produces a wide range of frequencies, so genes can be understood as ‘notes' in a composition that is unique for each person. Of course, functional genes are not the candidates for the connection. However, the wave patterns produced by some of the DNA sequences that present scientists call ‘genetic garbage' (because they do not contribute to protein production) may be responsible. One curious characteristic of life is that, unlike machines, life cannot be interrupted. For example, a car can be switched off and turned on again much later. Life cannot. A living organism needs constant activity. In principle, this should not be necessary in order to preserve body functioning, and is ineffective from the energy consumption point of view. It is more likely that the constant working of the body is needed to maintain the vibrations that connect the body to the soul[9].

Non-material energy consists of wave patterns too, so there are reasonable grounds to believe that, at least in some cases, they can resonate with the waves produced by heavy and slow matter (or its constituent parts on the border with non-material reality). The soul and the body can therefore be considered different forms of energy that are linked via waves[10]. Thus, the soul is not in the body or attached to the body, but body and soul resonate with each other. This process goes in both directions, but the material aspect is normally more intense. The likely way that this connection happens is that each body and soul has a specific wave pattern, a unique signature. When a new organism is created, if those signatures are compatible, the waves of the soul harmonise with the waves of the body and in that way the body gets connected to the soul. When the body ceases to function (and produce waves), that connection is broken. This means that the body is a replaceable part of that system.

Although the connection between the body and soul may be attributed to the waves produced on the molecular level, the question may be raised whether there is a ‘relay station', a crucial part of the body in this respect. Historically, several ‘seats of the soul' have been suggested (liver, heart, brain, pineal gland), but the only part of the body that could really be a candidate for this role is the brain stem (the area at the base of the brain that includes the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla). The brain stem contains the ascending reticular activating system, which plays a crucial role in enabling and maintaining alertness. Even small lesions in some parts of the midbrain and the pons cause permanent coma. The brainstem also contains the respiratory centre that is responsible for breathing (so it can be associated with the ‘breath of life'). Moreover, all of the motor outputs from the cerebral hemispheres (e.g. those that mediate movement or speech) are routed through the brainstem, as are the efferent fibres of Autonomous Nervous System responsible for the integrated functioning of the organism as a whole. Most sensory inputs also travel through the brainstem. Consequently, if there is no functioning brainstem, there can be no integrated activity of the cerebral hemispheres, no thoughts or sensations, no interaction with the environment.

All this, of course, does not amount to a proof and is no more than suggestive. Because of its anatomical position and other factors brainstem is notoriously difficult to study. Nevertheless, if there is a crucial part of the body responsible for a stable connection with the non-material aspect, brainstem seems the safest bet. This is not to say that the brainstem  is an ‘organ of connection' (otherwise organisms that did not develop a brainstem would not be really alive). It is the only probable place though, where there could be a necessary and sufficient concentration of wave patterns to maintain the permanent resonance in higher organisms. Possibly all body parts have weak connections, but they most likely cannot be maintained if not linked to this centre[11]. It is interesting that an interference with the wave patterns of an organ can cause disassociation even if it is still attached to the body. For example, when one's arm is exposed to a strong electric current, it is not experienced as one's own, but as a foreign attachment.

 

  • [9]. Plant seeds and some simple organisms can be dormant for a long time, which seemingly contradicts the above. However, they can be considered not a life but a potential life, similar to frozen sperm.
  • [10]. It should be pointed out though, that not the whole soul, but only a part of it is associated at any point with physical (or mental) life.
  • [11]. ‘Most likely' is added because of strange recent claims that patients with transplanted organs can apparently pick up some experiences that belonged to their donors. More research is required for all these issues, but in the present climate, this is something that one can only hope for.

The beginning

An answer to the question how life started can now be attempted. As discussed earlier, it is likely that the necessary conditions and an initial push are the result of the Intent, but then the process could unravel in a more spontaneous way. It can be speculated that non-material energy separated from the rest by the material world was at the beginning amorphous - a sort of energy soup. Some energy or, to continue with the above metaphor, some drops from the energy soup at the edges (of speed and density) may have developed a ‘resonance attraction' to the heavy matter. But not any matter would do for life. Being movement, the energy has an affinity towards a form of matter that gives least resistance to movement. The specific features of carbon based matter (e.g. amino acids that can be spontaneously formed) make it perfectly suited to attract energy: plasticity (e.g. water is too fluid to allow formation of discrete structures, while crystals are too solid to allow the necessary dynamics); the capacity to form multiple bonds and a vast numbers of diverse compounds; relative stability (the inertness of carbon in its molecules) and yet propensity for chemical reactions; possibility to grow in complexity (the forming of long chains of atoms).

The above characteristics enable the segments of undifferentiated non-material energy on the boundaries with the matter to resonate with and get attached to it. This process does two things: it separates (at least partially) these segments from the rest, which enables differentiation, and at the same time keeps them coherent. Such ‘enclosing'[12] leads to energy loops that make possible the focusing of energy into one point. Thus, separation and focusing are the result of an interaction between non-material and material forms of energy. However, separation alone is not enough to keep energy focused. A certain degree of integrated complexity that minimises permeability, a plasticity that allows activity, and reproductive potential are also needed. The molecular structure of RNA/DNA and the resonance it produces fulfil these criteria. The pro-activity of the energy, in turn, separates a particular form of organic matter from the rest, reflecting the separation on a non-material level. This is possible because organic matter is sufficiently flexible to enable the expression of self-generated movement. So, the first cell membranes that can keep the intricate chemistry inside can be formed and maintained long enough to start the whole process.

  • [12]. This, of course, is not a physical enclosure, but the resonance field enclosure. A crude analogy can be made with the gravitational field of the Earth that captures the Moon, yet the Moon is not inside the Earth and its own field also subtly influences the Earth.

The body

The Synthesis perspective concurs with the view that physical bodies are extremely complex organic instruments. Materialists make a similar claim, but it is inconsistent within their framework. They seem to neglect the facts that instruments are always built with a purpose and their working has to be externally initiated (at least the working of the first one that may create and initiate the working of other machines). This inconsistency is avoided here since the Intent and purpose are acknowledged. ‘Instrument' does not imply though, that the body is simply a mechanical thing. Its enormous complexity and organisation is unparalleled, so a real comparison with machines is admittedly a gross simplification. In any case, the body is considered the material aspect of a living system that consists of comparatively slow but very dense energy. This is why physical sensations (e.g. pain, hunger) can have such a strong effect. The body is the intermediary through which the interaction between the non-material and material, the soul and the environment, occurs. The body enables physical life, but itself is not alive. It is a part of a living system for as long as it is coupled with the soul. To say that the body dies feels counter-intuitive because it has never lived.

 

The relation between the body and the soul

Asking where the soul is in relation to the body (e.g. whether it is in the body) does not make sense, since they do not share the same ‘space'. It could be said, though, that the soul encompasses the body it is connected to, because it belongs to the realty within which the physical domain is situated, and because it has potentially a wider scope than the body (as the one who dreams includes the one in the dream). On the other hand, the body is largely a boundary at least for the part of the soul during the life-time. So, depending on the perspective, the soul ‘encloses' the body and the body ‘encloses' the soul[13]. An urge to see the soul as being somewhere else in space (usually above as if it was a satellite) should also be resisted. This is as misleading as imaging that the soul dwells in the body. One metaphor, however crude, may, perhaps, help to avoid these temptations: the soul and the body can be compared to a wind and a sail. A sail captures some wind, and the wind blows into the sail, so they interact for a while. But, where does the wind dwell? Not in a particular place, it is a moving mass of air, in which the sail, boat and everything else is submerged.

 

The purpose of the body

The function of the body is to hold the soul grounded (to slow down the energy), which enables its rudimentary shaping. The body allows dynamism, but a limited one. So besides enabling communication with the environment, it also creates the boundaries that are needed until the non-material aspect is capable of self-control. In other words, the body has a role to stabilise and protect (primarily from the volatile exercise of agency and an excessive amount of input)[14]. As already mentioned, the senses are the first instance of selecting that of which we are going to be aware. This narrowing of the soul is necessary to allow a gradual development. Without these restrictions, it would be like a radio or TV receiver that picks up all the available transmitting signals; they would not produce potential information, but a meaningless noise.

 

The contribution to development

An interesting fact is that the brain is allowed to use an extraordinary amount of energy relative to its size. In humans, as much as 30% of the body's resting energy expenditure (oxygen and glucose) is due to the brain, while its mass accounts for around 3% of one's weight - ten times more than its share. No other part of the body by far is in such a privileged position, which strongly indicates that biological evolution is geared towards the development of the brain. It seems that the body exists to support the brain, not the other way around. This is congruent with common sense: if you had to choose, would you rather be without the body and retain the brain, or without the brain and retain the body?

 

Some possible questions

Why does the soul not separate from the body during a lifetime (or join another body)?

For the same reason why people do not jump out of cars at full speed. A car must stop or substantially slow down so that the person who is in it can get out safely. Similarly, the body and the brain must stop or at least substantially slow down and the corresponding soul must dis-identify in order to separate. Connecting to another body is practically impossible, not only because every body has its own unique code, but also because it would have to be ‘vacant', not already resonating with another soul. In such a case it would not be a functional body any way (although purely physico-chemical processes in some parts of the body can continue even without the connection).

  • [13]. As already mentioned (p.149) this is not a physical enclosure, but the resonance field enclosure.
  • [14]. In the later stages of development additional factors are involved too, which will be elaborated later.

The aura

There is a long and widespread tradition of belief that the body extends beyond its physical boundaries, in other words, that it has its own energy field. In Christianity, the term aureole is used for such a field surrounding the whole body and halo for the part of it around the head. Bio-energy fields are also commonly recognised in the East (e.g. Kundalini, chi, or energy flows that are associated with chakras and treated in acupuncture). In modern times, a morphogenetic (form-generating) field was postulated as early as the 1920s by biologist Alexander Gurwitsch, who claimed that the generation and regeneration of organisms is guided by it. In the 1930s, as a result of experimental work[15], a professor of anatomy Harold Burr and a professor at Yale at that time F. S. C. Northrop, proposed the existence of a life-field that shapes the organism. Experiments at Lanzhou University and at the Atomic Nuclear Institute in Shanghai seem to confirm the existence of an energy field generated by the human body; moreover, it appears to be affected by the mental power of the subjects. Scientists at the A. S. Popov Bio-information Institute in Russia reported that the field consists of frequencies within the range of 300 to 2 000 nanometres. All this indicates that the existence of such a field, for which a common term in the West is the aura, should not be dismissed.

The body, as any other physical object, ultimately consists of subatomic entities that have a dual nature. So, while the physical body, as normally perceived, can be identified with its corpuscular form, what is commonly called the aura could reflect its wave (or field) nature. This is not to say that there is an exact correspondence between those two (just as the two sides of the same coin can have different engravings). The body perceived as a field may have some properties that the body perceived as a conglomeration of particles does not, and the other way around.

In any case, such a field seems necessary. About 100 000 chemical reactions per second occur in each cell of the human body, so billions of chemical reactions happen at every moment. They all have to be synchronised for an organism to function. Chemical processes throughout the body are simply not fast enough to achieve this. It was already suggested (by physicist Hebert Fröhlich, for example) that some sort of collective vibration was responsible for getting proteins to cooperate with each other and carry out DNA instructions. As early as the 1960s, a Nobel laureate for Medicine Albert Szent-Györgyi proposed that protein molecules can function as semiconductors, meaning that they can conserve and pass along the energy of electrons as information over relatively long distances (Becker and Selden, 1985, p.93-94). Both, molecules and intermolecular bonds, emit unique frequencies, so it is possible that they interact with other molecules through a resonating wave, creating a cascade of electromagnetic impulses.

This ‘morphogenetic field' may also account for some phenomena that remain a mystery for modern science, for example, how the one-dimensional sequence of bases in the genes determines three-dimensional tissues and organs that give the organism its shape and properties. The extremely complex and intricate processes of embryogenesis (the development of an embryo) are most unlikely to be mapped by stable attractors[16] and governed alone by genetic information. It is more probable that such a chaotic (meaning ultra sensitive) system results from an interaction between DNA, environment, and the organisation of the morphogenetic field - or the aura. According to biologist Brian Goodwin, bio-fields are the basic unit of organic form and organisation; molecules and cells are merely ‘units of composition'. Life evolves in the interaction between organisms and the field in which they are embedded. Polanyi and Prosch write:

A considerable amount of experimental work, done by such biologists as H. Spemann, Paul Weiss, and C. H. Waddington, has shown that some of the development that takes place in embryos is controlled by fields, although exactly how this occurs is still uncertain. (1975, p.176)

Guiding the development of each organism by its own species-specific morphic resonance can also explain why species always breed true (the morphology of the offspring becomes similar to the morphology of its progenitors). The aura is already three-dimensional and contains complete information, so it can form a mould before the cells form a body. In other words, it is possible that when an egg is fertilised, a three dimensional blueprint (as a potential) is formed, which governs the activation of different sets of genes in different cells[17]. It ‘envelops' embryonic cells which allows some genes to be expressed while others are suppressed. So, the dual nature of organic matter enables the whole to act upon the parts.

This concept may also account for an extraordinary re-generation ability of some simple organisms. It appears that the cells are guided by an orientation system that functions even when they are separated from one another. Such a capability diminishes though in higher organisms. This is probably the case because the processes in their organs are less chaotic and seem to lose their sensitivity to the feedback from the field fluctuations. With greater organ specialisation the intensity and power of the aura to act as a blue-print for the body is decreased and the regeneration capacity is largely lost. Such an explanation is in line with the experimental research done by biophysicist Fritz-Albert Popp showing that the more complex the organism, the fewer photons are emitted (McTaggart, 2001, p.50).

The aura, however, should not be mistaken for the soul for several reasons. If the above mentioned pieces of research are credible, the aura has to be a part of the material world (situated within the space-time framework) while the soul is not. The aura cannot be separated from the body (chakras for example, roughly correspond to bodily glands, and the meridians of chi energy partly to the nervous system) and it dissolves after death. The soul, on the other hand,  does not correlate to the body so closely. For example, the aura of a new born baby reflects its relative structural simplicity, while the associated soul is, according to Jenny Wade who researched pre-natal consciousness, more complex (1996, chapter 2). Moreover, it seems that only highly sensitive individuals may be able to perceive this field, while to perceive a soul (or more accurately, the soul processes associated with an immediate experience), extraordinary abilities are not necessary[18].

There are some indications though, that the aura can reflect the state of the soul. It is well known, for example, that attention (which is linked to awareness and intent) can have an effect on the aura. So, it is likely that the non-material aspect of a living organism communicates with this field rather than the corpuscular body, and such interference[19] may be reflected in the aura. This mutual interaction can be accounted for by the findings of physicist Renato Nobili, showing that the fluid in cells promotes wave patterns that correspond with wave patterns in the brain cortex and scalp. If this is correct, the aura cannot be reduced only to an electro-magnetic field that the body produces (as some investigators believe). Thus, the characteristics of the field depend first of all on the body and environmental factors, but also the mind and the soul itself,  which is why it is apparently possible to distinguish different layers of the aura.

  • [15]. It consisted of separating and mixing up the cells of a salamander embryo. If that mixture was then put in a slightly acid solution they would re-form into an embryo.
  • [16]. Equilibrium states or end points into which these process would settle.
  • [17]. This coincides with transpersonal insights. The spiritual philosopher (with a Christian bent), Rudolf Steiner, described the etheric body, another name for aura, as ‘the principle which calls inorganic matter into life'. For this reason it is sometimes also called ‘formative-force-body'.
  • [18]. Tuning in beyond the constructs of reality and stabilising perception is sufficient in this case (see The perception of the soul).
  • [19]. Interference is the mutual action of two or more waves that results in a new wave pattern.

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).