If there's one aspect of scientific discovery guaranteed to make any creationist crow, it’s the intricacy and complexity of the human brain and nervous system as revealed by medical science: “Only God could design this!” we hear.
Of course, that claim is an error in understanding, but I’ll leave that argument for another article, here’ we’ll concentrate on something else.
Awed, one certainly should be by the brain. And, the more one appreciates how the senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, etc) convey the state of the outside environment to the perception machinery; “astonishment” barely begins to hint at that proper response. I’ll touch briefly on the process in a moment, but first – the gist of this article:
The same religious folks who rightly celebrate at an appreciation for what it takes for a brain to work an this world to be percieved, will, in the next breath seem to forget those details, and babble off about the ‘spirit’ and an afterlife.
This is a contradiction that should immediately be obvious, but, in case it isn’t, I’ll explain why it’s a crazy claim; I’ll start by summarizing the function of the nervous system:
Brain Function – A Primmer
If you were to watch the digital data, the pulses, of a nerve firing along its length to the brain; whether it be an optical nerve or a skin stimuli/pain stimuli nerve; it uses precisely the same 'code'; i.e. at the level of a nerve, there is no difference between the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or standing on a thorn, or hearing a violin note.
One nerve; be it one serving the optical, pain, or taste senses; and the ‘message’ it carries, is precisely the same pulsing electrical signal as the next.
So, what then gives the vastly different 'perceptions' of sight, of sweet, of pain, or heat, is the site where that nerve into the brain, and, how the brain has come to perceive those stimuli over time. Of course, to provide an exhaustive explanation of those details would take more than a book – so I’ll leave it there, and simply hint at what is going on:
Let’s consider eyesight and the processes of vision; when you look at a scene or a vista, there is (obviously) no "little man" on a lazy-boy in your head, reclining to 'watch' what you’re seeing as if it’s some kind of TV image you're providing; that would only leave you with an endless regression of still having to unlock what’s going on in ‘his’ head.
What's happening is that around 100-million light sensitive cells are being struck by photons of light (each carrying a quanta or level of energy – a specific wavelength of light, a ‘colour). The photon of a given wavelength flips a protein within the cell that corresponds to that wavelength - and that flipping of the protein (and subsequent flipping back to 'original/natural' shape) causes an electrical pulse to fire back along nerve track into the parts of the brain associated with vision.
Though there are 100 or so million light receptors, interestingly, there are only around 1-million optical nerves that path to the optical centres of the brain - so there is an apparent ‘loss’ of around 99% of available data that enters the eye and strikes the retina, that is conveyed. On that note, the retina itself has degree of complex 'discernment' between light and dark that it can fire into the central nervous system, actually bypassing the brain and allowing for faster reactions under certain conditions.
So, what’s happening to give you the perception of sight (and every other sense is the same) is quite remarkable:
If you stretch out your arm and make a fist as though hitch-hiking, as you look at your thumb nail - that is the only portion of your vision that is conveyed to your brain in full colour and full motion; the rest of what you see is interpreted by the brain. To assist with that interpretation, your eyes dart rapidly in a process called "saccades" – and this helps fill in the 'gaps' in vision.
This process (of interpretation) has fundamental ‘flaws’ in terms of what we see, what we think we see, and how we process it. It goes a long way to explain ‘tricks of light’, apparitions, and other anomalies that magicians and charlatans purposely exploit, and ordinary people experiencing perfectly normal environment or occurrences label as ‘supernatural’.
Spirit is the Journey, Body is the Bus
Yet – for all this magnificent hardware and ‘software’ interfacing through a healthy brain; and, experts agree that there is no redundancy or wastage on the process – it is all necessary; When one contemplates a 'spirit' – a spirit that ‘experiences’ some aspect of life or the universe, one is effectively suspending the necessity for all this hardware; all the while somehow retaining for that spirit the full experience and functionality of brain perceptions (presumably of sight, hearing, smell, feel... etc).
Stop and think about that for a moment – re-read the last 3 or 4 paragraphs.
This appreciation on the one hand for a vastly comlex neural network being necessary to experience life on the one hand, flies into the face of an ethereal ‘something’ that can experience pretty much the same set of data without requiring substance.
In fact, I’ve heard tell that the spirit or soul; a ‘thing’ without a nervous system, without receptors or processing (chemical, electrical, or otherwise), has even greater powers of perception than the five ‘ordinary’ senses.
To that I can only shrug and say “wow”.
It is, you will agree, a remarkable claim that requires an extensive explanation that goes far beyond “just believe it”, if it is to be taken seriously.
Yet – there is more – this extraneous ‘essence’, infinitely invisible as it is and remains to science, is capable of 'downloading' the data it somehow experiences; of interfacing itself; with the physical nervous system and brain.
Indeed, we’re told that it ‘enters’ the fetus before birth, and then exits it at death (and perhaps during sleep or meditation).
You will appreciate that I am so awestruck by the claim that I am far beyond mere confusion by what might be at play, and I am truly and deeply intrigued and curious as to the mechanisms, and, mostly, hungry for an explanation from those who know or experience this phenomenon.
Bain Damage and Afterlife
The way I understand it, the brain/spirit/soul interface is both seamless and bi-directional – those how claim a past life experience or out of body experience, seem to enjoy the (visual, sound, smell) benefits of the soul delivering data into the brain, properly arranged in that complex organ and fully accessible, and, after death, they insist that the memories of this life exit to somewhere else with ‘them’. This has to be true if they are to later ‘recognize’ loved ones, right?
To my, clearly and relatively, unsophisticated mind, it’s sort of like the ‘cloud’ concept in computer data storage – accessible to read to or write from and to.
But this convenient bi-directional cloud concept does throw up an issue that itself needs some explanation – after brain damage; one would imagine that the spirit could access whatever information might have been ‘lost’– yet I’m not aware of any such occurrence in all medical science.
I propose to the mystics among us that there may well be untold wealth, satisfaction, and a Nobel prize for you if you can articulate why, on the one hand this exo-perception definitely exists and regularly shuttles data this way and that, yet it cannot be called upon to retrieve important data when the physical machinery that we can see and deal with is damaged.
And, further to that – let us remember that when, say, brain damage occurs that causes some aspect of an physical sense to be lost, other parts of the brain can be co-opted to step into the breach and revitalize that sense – so, logically (to me anyway), the brain is well capable of making the necessary internal adjustments to accommodate any data that may exist out there in the ‘ether’ of its own existential projection.
My Challenge – Your Conundrum
What is this elusive spirit and how does it interface with the hardware wiring of a brain?
That, dear spiritual reader, is not a rhetoric question – News24 provides to you a comments section via which you can respond and explain this.
Ø > In the absence of your opinion, can we assume that your are geniunely stumped?
Ø > In your vague and rambling assertions of some magic at play, can we conclude that you are so utterly confounded by the existence of this claimed ‘environment’ that you should; in the spirit of Occam’s Razor; perhaps seek a simpler solution – like, for instance, that what you believe is a ‘spiritual’ experience is nothing more than a natural aberration of the brain’s physical function?
What I truly hope you do give us, and I mean this with all sincerity (as I too would love to cling to something ‘magical), is something quantifiable and substantive; verifiable, testable and repeatable – something substantive.
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