Science is, as yet, unable to provide us with an explanation for consciousness' nature or seat. Definitive determinations may never be scientifically realized for questions such as: what is consciousness; where are memories stored; does consciousness persist after death, or does the brain contain consciousness within its tissues or is the brain merely an organ facilitating consciousness. Consequently, humanity must answer these questions for itself, philosophically.
Goal attainment, achieving pervasive personal happiness or developing a permanent love relationship are incapable of providing meaning to life or a sense of fulfillment. Life is a process. Processes are fulfilling in themselves. When life is lived with meaning, fulfillment is the natural consequence and is expressed in one’s life through continuing personal growth, the realization of a generally pervasive, personal attitude of happiness and the recognition and development of loving relationships with all life forms and respect and loving care for each other and the environment.
The meaning of life is a subjectively personal, yet universally sought, state of understanding. Most individuals anticipate their life’s meaning arises only when viewing the end state or entire personal history. Only at that point, it is often reasoned, can the totality of anyone’s deeds and influences upon the world be weighed and an individual’s goodness determined. Meaning, it is often suggested, can be inferred from intermingling accomplishment, goodness, righteousness, position and acclaim.
That kind of meaning has nothing to do with why the person was born to exist or why anything (or even everything) exists. No, in the grand scheme, no matter who “I” might be, for anyone to say “my life had meaning,” that person must define “meaning” in their own terms, rendering meaning subjective, not objective, in that very instant.
The search for meaning both underlies and permeates every facet of one’s existence. Within the nuances and variations appropriate to each individual consciousness, existence offers variations of meaning for each individual. Hence, the desire to interpret life as inherently possessing an underlying universal meaning is a proposition which can only be answered by each individual for themselves, and whose answer expresses little or no significance for anyone else because of its inherently extreme subjectivity.
Humanity seeks answers to questions regarding the meaning of life and establishing a fulfilling lifestyle in the wrong place. Nearly all people are taught from birth that fulfillment arises at the end of pursuits: attainment of a goal, coherence of a relationship into the realization of a dreamlike fairytale love, and the ultimate example being the promise of acceptance into heaven in the afterlife. This kind of thinking stems from the Puritan point of view, humans are worthless creatures who only find redemption by earning it and one must spend one's entire life trying to earn redemption. Redemption’s revelation can only be perceived, in the Puritan view, through assessing ends. This point of view has been subsumed by the Hollywood movie which nearly always imparts to the audience that same philosophical stance within the “happily ever after” conclusions to the entertaining, commercial ventures produced by Hollywood.
While these kinds of endings to movies most certainly increase the commercial viability of the product being sold, they have nothing to do with the reality of our world or what really provides meaning to life. There is a huge gulf spanning the difference between enjoyment and fulfillment, between ego gratification and meaning, between goal attainment and understanding. Meaning can never be the product of the realization of selfish, personal desires.
Life is a process. Life is movement. Life is fluid. Life is change. Life is the constant interplay of the relationships between the present and new experiences, ideas, perceptions and insights which arise from converting that which was into that which is. Life, progress and progressive values will always be in conflict with stasis and conservative approaches because the conservative approach is to hold back change. Change is the basis of life, without it we suffer from boredom and ennui, cultures never improve, the course of individual freedom is never advanced, and no scientific or technological advances can occur. Thus, we can see that the conservative point of view is not only in conflict with every life affirming urge and the natural flow of events, but it also seeks to subvert the advance and progress of cultures, societies, governments, nations, economies, science, technology and art. No momentary life situation or circumstance is capable of providing meaning. Each moment always collapses into the next one, erasing whatever sense of meaning or fulfillment one may have had as new challenges and new opportunities present themselves. This is why the progressive point of view is so significant as a cultural and sociological motivator for continued change, it seeks continued improvements over whatever the current status quo may be.
The fluidity of life, the ever-present pressure of movement and change exerted upon stasis, reveals there are never any ends, only constantly arising new beginnings. This is one of the reasons why no ends can ever justify any means used to gain those ends. Allegations that good ends have been achieved cannot justify ill means used to achieve those ends because ends do not exist. All which really exists is a momentary pause as perception gives us an opportunity to glimpse at and reassess all the changes perceivable in every evolving new now up to the moment of most recent perception. The observable reality that no ends ever exist explains why fulfillment and meaning are not the products of ends as well as why ends cannot be offered as justifications for any previous actions taken. For an example, as recently as the Iraq War, George W. Bush and his neocon cronies offered the point of view that their invasion of Iraq was justified, even though no WMDs were found (which had been the cited reason for the invasion) because, they said, a horrible dictator, Saddam Hussein, had been deposed. However, as we know, no ends exist. The aftermath of the Iraq invasion has led to over 1,000,000 innocent Iraqi deaths, a constant state of Marshall Law (meaning there is no sense of freedom of movement or to live as one would choose), and the Iraqi economy descended into a nightmarish nonexistence. All of these results are circumstances far worse than the conditions Iraqis faced while living under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Do those ends justify the means? What if, as it appears might quite likely be the ultimate outcome, Iraqi citizens decide to embrace a Shiite theocracy after the U.S. leaves? That would leave Iraq as an ally of Iran. Would those ends justify the means? The only justification for any means arises from the degree of honor and morality inherent in the means.
Really, if fulfillment and meaning are found in ends, then there will never be a single second in one's life which one can say felt fulfilling of imparted meaning, because those impressions could not be apprehended until death. However, everyone experiences moments in their life which impart to the individual feelings of fulfillment and insights containing profound subjective meaning. Again, the functioning of reality in one's life provides the truth that it is the process not the outcome which offers the individual opportunities to approach a sense of meaning and fulfillment in life.
Consciousness specifically adapted in a manner which encourages storing experiences in sequences – each moment leading to the next. Consciousness functions in a manner revealing itself as being a point of view which constantly reassesses everything. This is accomplished because the mind views the world in terms of relationships between people, things, situations and ideas as they constantly evolve.
Value determinations arise as each individual subjectively superimposes new impressions of those relationships and entangles those impressions with subjective judgments in the midst of events' unfolding from moment to moment. Minds are always creating new hierarchies, variations in relative worth, new hopes, needs, fears and modifications to personal coping strategies. That kind of mental activity is part of the game of life - keeping the mind occupied and entertained.
People find themselves feeling more alive while in the middle of processes, the ends of which always seem a bit of a letdown compared to the exhilaration of the moment while experiencing the process.
If ends really could provide meaning and fulfillment, social, cultural and psychological variation, as well as all social, cultural, artistic and scientific progress would long ago have ceased. The need for change would have been obviated by the discovery that some specific end caused the rush of fulfillment and meaning to overcome the individual. Individuals, and even humanity as a whole, would have had no need or motivation to want change once a state of constant bliss and complete sense of purpose was achieved which could be maintained in perpetuity. However, as we know, no state of being, happy or sad, thrilled or anguished, love or hate, ever reigns in perpetuity. Everything changes. That is the story of reality and of life. We might as well grow up and embrace the truth that change reigns and that to embrace life is to embrace change.
Consciousness fulfills itself by filling up each moment with new experience. Consciousness demands new experience. We say we are bored or in a rut when life becomes too predictable or familiar. Because feelings of boredom and ennui associate with too little change (stimulus) is another indicator which suggests processes (as opposed to ends and results) are what provide fulfillment. Again, if ends are most significant, the mind would not need a constant parade of new stimuli. Rather, once an individual found themselves in a blissful moment, the individual would choose to remain in exactly those circumstances for the rest of their life. We’ve all had experiences of blissful moments, yet none of us has ever been capable of holding on to it and maintaining it.
However, people do not opt for such a situation. No, people are unable to perpetuate a blissful state. Neither Nirvana nor paradise has been created on Earth. Consequently, people keep seeking the next blissful moment, no matter how many painful moments one must endure until one experiences that next blissful moment. It is the search for each next blissful moment which drives life to perpetuate itself.
In order to understand consciousness more fully, let us investigate how consciousness manifests itself in the known universe.
Consciousness is not limited to the human species. If one watches a cat, or a dog, or even a bird, one is struck by the presence of individual personalities expressed by each individual animal within each species. Those personalities display various degrees and expressions of curiosity, playfulness, needs, desires, a gamut of emotions, the ability to learn, and a variety of individual interests, preferences and coping strategies. These are all signs that consciousness is expressed as being unique to each individual life, irrespective of species, and is emblematic of a distinct personality and sentience.
The presence of sentience (self-aware consciousness) heretofore never considered by any human as existing in animals, has been proven to varying degrees in various animals by recent scientific studies, in fact, to exist in a variety of non-human creatures. These recent scientific discoveries not only show that animals have consciousness but also possess language skills and the ability to learn grammar, which was also previously thought not to be possible.
Tim Gentner, a psychology researcher for the University of California at San Diego, during a one month period in 2006, while conducting studies on songbirds, was able to “teach grammar” to his bird subjects. The birds, starlings, learned to pick out explanatory clauses from bird songs. Noted linguistics professor, Noam Chomsky, averred for decades his contentions that: humans are the only known beings capable of recognizing an explanatory clause in a sentence and this ability to recognize explanatory clauses is one of the major methods for separating human intelligence from animal intelligence. However, nine out of eleven of Gentner’s starlings were able to recognize bird songs containing clauses 90% of the time. The other two birds continued to “flunk grammar.” One could infer from this study that 82% of these birds are getting an “A” in grammar class. Consequently, the birds do better in grammar than most human children in their school courses.
Jeffrey Leman, a professor of cognitive science at UCSD, has said, “What the experiment shows is that language and animal cognition are a lot more complicated than scientists once thought, and there is no single magic bullet that separates man from beast.” [Leman’s comment was extracted from the article, “Study: Songbirds Can Learn Basic Grammar,” an Associated Press article which was published on April 26, 2006 by CNN.com.]
Another interesting, recent discovery made by dolphin researchers indicates, “Bottlenose dolphins can call each other by name when they whistle, making them the only animals besides humans known to recognize such identity information, scientists reported on Monday.” [That comment was reported by Reuters on May, 9, 2006, and published by CNN.com.] The report continues to inform us, “Scientists have long known that dolphins’ whistling calls include repeated information thought to be their names, but a new study indicates dolphins recognize these names even when voice cues were removed from the sound. For example, a dolphin might be expected to recognize its name if called by its mother, but the new study found most dolphins recognized names – their signature whistles – even when emitted without inflection or other voice cues. More than that, ‘two dolphins may refer to a third by the third animal’s name,’ said Laela Sayigh, one of three authors of a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences.” [This information refers back from the report by Reuters on May 9, 2006, ibid.] The study was conducted on bluenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida.
Dario Maestripieri, Jessica Whitham and Melissa Gerald participated in a study, the findings of which were published in the journal Ethology, revealing rhesus macaques, when approaching an infant of their species from another “family,” speak to that infant in what they describe as being “baby talk” or “motherese.” The research showed, while some male macaques engage in this behavior, it is much more common among females because “all monkey females are interested in babies.” [Information extrapolated from the article, “Monkeys Use ‘Baby Talk’ with Infants” by Jennifer Viegas, which appeared in Discovery News on Aug. 24, 2007.] Females vocalize in this way when encountering stray infants who wander away from their mothers. The research was conducted on free-ranging monkeys on the island of Cayo Santiago near the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico.
The use of “motherese” or “baby talk” clearly indicates that those macaques use a verbal language among one another with specific vocalizations (“words”) which impart specific meaning, and furthermore, the monkey species has learned to carry language to another level, where “words” and language are altered for babies in much the same way humans speak in “baby talk” in the presence of human babies. Science has also discovered that lemurs, monkeys and apes all have specific “words” for warning each other of the presence of danger, and different “words” signify different dangers, for example different “words” (scientists call them vocal cues) are used to indicate the presence of snakes and leopards.
Erica Cartmill and Richard Byrne, researchers with the University of St. Andrews School of Psychology, presented research in Current Biology showing orangutans, when they become frustrated in attempts to communicate to humans, will invent a kind of “game of charades” with humans to facilitate communication. The researchers presented six captive zoo orangutans with two of their favorite food treats — wheat bread and bananas — along with two of their least favorite, “yucky” foods — celery and leeks.
“The orangutans eagerly displayed interest in their food [favorites] by pointing at them, or by trying to capture the scientists' attention through cage banging, clapping, swinging, waving and even blowing sputtered raspberries. Some of the large apes actually tried to trade celery and leeks for the bread and bananas.
“To complicate matters for the orangutans, the researchers pretended to either not understand some of the apes' gestures, or none of them at all. The testers did this by handing over only small portions of the desired treats, or by giving the large apes the foods they did not want.
“At first the exasperated orangutans communicated their displeasure by spitting or throwing the celery and leeks at the researchers. When partially understood, however, they narrowed their signal choices to only those that seemed to be working. Just like charades, if the onlookers seemed fully perplexed, the apes then switched strategies by utilizing completely different gestures than those that apparently failed.
“Byrne told Discovery News that these gestures do not necessarily have ‘word-like meanings.’ Instead, they are more context-specific.
“As an example, he said a person may wave his or her arms, but that could mean any number of things, such as ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ a mimic of bird wing flapping or even ‘I'm drowning,’ depending on the situation.
“Cartmill added that while some apes have been taught simple sign language skills, ‘The orangutans in our study were all using natural gestures and had never been taught specific signs for different objects. The gestures they used varied from individual to individual.’
“William Hopkins, a scientist working at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, led a somewhat similar study on chimpanzees.
“Hopkins and his team found that the chimps emitted ‘vocalizations as attention-getting signals’ in the presence of a human standing in front of them holding a banana. [Yeah, the chimps were probably yelling out, “Hey, you! Gimme a banana!”] Like the orangutans, the chimps also clapped, banged, blew raspberries and more to communicate with the fruit holders.” [Imagine how stupid the chimps must think people are who can’t figure out their simple requests, “Brother, can somebody spare a poor caged chimp/orangutan a banana?”]
“While the chimp researchers did not test the animals for their reactions under situations of partial misunderstandings, the scientists did find that chimps can ‘generate novel communicative signals, which is a hallmark of human linguistic communication.’
“While no researcher in either study would support the idea that apes possess full language skills, they do now suspect the roots of early language development may have existed in our ape ancestors.
“Byrne said, ‘The significance of our work is in showing how ancient is the ability to understand other individuals’ understanding, part of the ‘theory of mind,’ and a crucial part of using language.’” [The foregoing sections were excerpted from the article, “Orangutans Play Charades to Get Food,” by Jennifer Viegas which appeared in Discovery News on Aug. 2, 2007.]
At this point, I'd like to interject a commentary on the whole suggestion to which most scientists hold: most of the animal kingdom does not possess verbal language capabilities. Just how is it, then, that animals learn to respond appropriately to every human vocal language spoken if they do not possess vocal language capabilities and consequently have never even come into perceptual awareness of such a thing or concept as a spoken language? Meanwhile, humans, who do possess language skills, cannot decipher the languages of any other animal on the planet. Heck, they can't decipher each other's languages most of the time.
It is important to note that among the Homonida family (hominids), the common chimpanzee, pygmy chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan all are counted as members, along with humans. The common chimp and the pygmy chimp are considered the closest living evolutionary relatives to humans. In fact, some scientists debate the possibility of reclassifying chimps and pygmy chimps in the Homo genus instead of in the Pan genus. The relationship of taxonomic similarities of both types of chimps to humans appears at least as recently as through Australopithecus. They are sentient, self-aware beings.
The common chimp has an omnivorous diet, a troop hunting technique based on beta males being led by an alpha male, and highly complex social relationships. During a 51 month period in the 1960s, Allen and Beatrice Gardner, in an experiment to see if chimps were capable of language, were able to teach a chimpanzee 151 signs of the American Sign Language. In a longer time, the chimp learned over 800 signs and was able to use them to communicate with humans, meaning the chimp used the words to effect language communication. Modern chimpanzees use tools, and research indicates that tool use by chimpanzees has been prevalent for the last 4300 years. They have advanced to the stage of developing spears for hunting, which ends are honed into points by their teeth. Research also indicates that chimpanzees engage in altruistic behavior.
The Bonobo or “Pygmy Chimpanzee” presents another interesting case of intelligence in the wild. They are mainly frugivores – eating nuts, fruits and berries (but sometimes supplement their diet with leaves, invertebrates like termites, and rarely, small vertebrates like flying squirrels) – and exhibit a matriarchal society. These happy-go-lucky creatures exhibit a fascinating array of intelligences, suggesting evolution continues to lead apes out of the trees and into eventual cities of their own.
It is widely accepted that one of the critical factors leading to a differentiation in hominids, and the ultimate evolution of Homo sapiens, was that the branch of the tree which led to thinking humans like Neanderthal, Java-Man and Cro-Magnon (we weren’t the only thinking Homo erectus, but we were victorious in conquering our opposition, a trait which may have served us well as recently as 50,000 years ago, unfortunately, we retain the trait and use this vestige of our animal past to divide ourselves into groups of differences, to make war, group upon group, throughout history, right through to today) started the journey by creating the first tool and significantly increasing their animal protein intake. Our ancient ancestors discovered how to use long, reed-like grasses as tools, stick them into holes in termites’ nests, extracting termites from nests so they could ingest the termites. That additional protein source is thought by scientists to have been a factor in increasing our brain size and led to an improvement in cognitive functioning. Well, Pygmy Chimpanzees are proving capable of doing the same thing, right now, in the wild.
The furry frolickers are known to group into communities containing from 15 to 80 individuals. The chimps also build nests out of grass in the trees where they sleep. In addition to hunting for termites, they forage for fruits and nuts indigenous to their habitat. Pygmy chimps have learned to communicate with humans through sign language. They have been observed to use vocal and facial expressions to communicate with other pygmy chimps, while their facial expressions range through a vast wealth of emotional content. Our cuddly cousins even like to greet each other with embraces or other touching in addition to vocal utterances. In other words, I would suggest, they display love to one another, and happiness whenever re-greeting one another. (Heck, even a dog displays love as it wags its tails furiously upon its owner’s arrival back home.)
Another astonishing development pygmy chimps have attained is revealed in their use of yet another tool. They have discovered they can use a large rock as a sort of anvil, combine it with a smaller, handheld rock, and by adding the third item to be both intellectually considered and physically manipulated, the chimps place a nut on the anvil and break it open with the hand held rock. The greatest part of the accomplishment is that the monkeys break the shell open, but they avoid crushing the meat of the nut!
Of additional interest is that different cultures of pygmy chimps break open their nuts with different tools. They all use a large anvil rock, but while some use smaller hand held rocks, others use hard pieces of wood. I specifically used the word culture, because, while all chimps have figured out how to open nuts in this way, in different regions they apply slightly different techniques and exhibit the use of small variations in tools. This is the kind of difference in behavior which we use as indicative of different cultures among humans. Imagine, it’s this kind of divergence which ultimately leads to world war, peremptory incursions and occupations, well that, and a desire to maintain control over whatever trinket or resource may be considered of value in a given time and place. Doesn’t this seem too petty to hold onto when viewed through such an illuminating and magnifying prism?
Another level of interaction evidenced by pygmy chimps may reveal their relationship to humanity and the presence of their budding intelligence best. Perhaps the exhibition of traits like altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience and sensitivity are the true measure of their intelligence and, consequently, a truer measure of their sentient consciousness. All one need do is to watch the chimps for a while to witness a constant flood of examples of their nurturing side, such as: holding one another in their arms, grooming, caring for the sick or infirm, and joyful playfulness.
Furthermore, Pygmy chimps, along with other monkeys and apes, have been seen and filmed making solitary pilgrimages to beautiful natural settings, like waterfalls for instance, and then engaging in what can only be described as celebratory rites. Are they worshipping nature deities? They must be. Try to imagine how this seed of an idea may enslave their masses in 5000 or 10,000 years.
I know scientists tell us humans are the only animals aware of the limitation of their lifespan. I cannot accept that for an instant. I have to believe that, for instance, a pack of wolves is aware that death can come at any instant. They’re killers; they know something bigger can kill them. They, like all other members of the animal kingdom, are taught by their mothers to be wary of predators and situations which present potential danger.
Come on, everything living in the wild is much more cognizant of the immanence of death than any human is, if only because the threat of death is far more ever-present in the wild than to humanity. Wild animals know they are mortal, just as humans do, and the lessons mothers teach their young about how to survive and what dangers to avoid support that contention.
Anything more than a casual observance of animals in the wild will also reveal that all animal groups (packs, herds, flocks, pods, schools, etc.) work together, cooperatively, to facilitate the entire group’s welfare and survival. Furthermore, anyone who has seen film of animals in the wild is aware how much real love is expressed between mothers and their offspring, and often between mates as well.
Clearly, science is discovering, day-by-day, just how intelligent the animal world is! Humans invest belief in their superiority. Humans treat the planet as if only humans matter. We approach the environment as if we have an ownership deed in a safe deposit box. What we fail to recognize is that nature is full of intelligence, and most of the intelligence in nature expresses more sense than humanity commonly exhibits.
I have owned dogs, birds, fish, and also cohabited with cats in my life. I cannot say I ever recognized any kind of consciousness in my fish, nor any communication abilities among them. This is not intended to be an assertion that fish do not possess communication abilities, rather, that I have failed to recognize communication abilities in them, so I qualify the failing as being mine as opposed to belonging with the fish. However, my dogs, birds, and the cats I have known never exhibited a problem communicating to me their needs and desires on a wide range of subjects. I readily admit that their communication styles have not always been verbal. However, often their desires were expressed verbally.
In any event, the communication abilities evidenced by these animals indicates complex activity by their consciousnesses. It shows they have memories. It shows they know I am the keeper of the food, or the one who will let them out. They can manipulate a variety of complex thoughts in connection with one another to make and remember those observations. That shows complex thought is present. Scientists will say, “Too complex for the size of their brain; it’s instinct.”
Hogwash! When, how and why did nature create instincts in animals allowing them the ability to adapt to the condition of being domesticated and specific traits which endear them to humans? What evolutionary path leads an animal without intelligence to learn to understand any and every language humanity uses and to accept human instructions even though humans are incapable of understanding the languages of any non-human species? I suggest it is the human-centric view of the universe and out place in it (which is nothing more than a vestige of the ancient Roman Catholic assertion that the universe revolved around the Earth and that man was the centerpiece of creation) which leads scientists to so routinely and perfunctorily write off the obvious manifestations of animal intelligence.
Another interesting coincidence regards a cat, Sheba, with whom I once shared living space. She was Sheba, as in Queen of Sheba, because the home was her habitat, and you were lucky she allowed you to share her space. I often talk to myself. I noticed Sheba picked up the habit of speaking aloud to herself from time to time. This was not something she did when I first came into contact with her, but after living with her for over a year, she started to pick up my habit of talking to myself. Sheba also uttered verbal comments to birds and other animals she saw outside when looking through an open window. One thing of note is that Sheba, though she did talk to herself at times, never uttered her remarks to animals situated outdoors when the window was closed. However, she became quite talkative to the outside world when the window was open, indicating she was apparently aware that the animals outdoors could only hear her when the window was open. This evidences an amazing degree of cognition. It also strongly suggests she was saying something with a specific meaning to her and, perhaps, understandable to the creature to whom she spoke.
I recently resided with another cat, named Myna. She spoke often. I always greeted her in the morning, usually in a phrase like, “Good morning, kitty.” She always responded with a “Mew, mew, mew,” that I took to mean something similar (but addressed to a human). I noticed that if other humans spoke to her in a greeting, she always seemed to express that identical, “Mew, mew, mew,” utterance. When she wanted to be fed, she licked her lips. If you’ve ever watched a cat look at itself in a mirror, a cat quickly evidences a realization that the cat in the mirror is itself. Self-recognition is a sign of sentience.
In an examination of sea life, let’s take as an example cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are related to octopi, both being invertebrates. These two branches of animals are among the highest in brain size to body weight ratio for animals lacking backbones (invertebrates). Cuttlefish live for about 18 months maximum, dying after their first and only breeding season. However, cuttlefish exhibit remarkable intelligence. In fact, scientists have yet to plumb the depths of their intelligence. They are inquisitive and display the capacity for a fast learning curve and complex retention skills.
Scientists observed that cuttlefish, when presented with a clear bottle containing a food fish in it, will attack the food source initially. But after a quick couple of attempts, the cuttlefish quickly learns that there is a foreign substance preventing it from getting at the fish (the bottle), so it loses interest.
Now, fascinatingly enough, cuttlefish can be trained to attack the fish in the bottle to receive a reward (an actual fish in the tank for food). These cuttlefish will hit that bottle time and again in a constant stream to be fed fish after fish. However, when control subjects are placed in an environment in which trying to hit the fish in the bottle does not result in receiving a reward, the cuttlefish, again, immediately loses complete interest in the fish in the bottle. The same effect occurs when scientists place a wind up, mechanical fish in the tank with the cuttlefish. If a reward attached itself to striking the wind up, the cuttlefish would do so. However, they would only do so if a reward was attached. As soon as the cuttlefish realize the wind up is not a food source, the first try, they lose interest in the toy.
Scientists interposed a more complicated test for cuttlefish intelligence. The animals were put into a chamber. The chamber opened into a central tank. There were two possible exits from the central tank (porthole looking, clear ovals, one of which was glass and the other of which was indeed a water opening). One hole was surrounded by a single color background, the other by a striped background. Next, the cuttlefish were given a clue. Either of two objects were placed in the central area, one would indicate one hole was the correct exit to use, the other object indicated to the cuttlefish that the other hole was the correct choice for finding the exit from the chamber. These cuttlefish learned the indicators in a try or two and got the maze right every time after that.
There are other fascinating bits of information regarding cuttlefish. Consider, for instance, how cuttlefish mate and the degree to which intelligence is favored in the method natural selection exhibits its mating process among cuttlefish. The first thing to note is that the male takes one of his arms and reaches in to grab a handful of sperm (so to speak) and gives it to a willing female recipient. The females take the sperm and tuck it under one of their arms. Later on, when they are alone, the females decide which of the potential mates’ sperm they want to use for fertilizing their eggs.
Now, a fascinating corollary presents itself as the female cuttlefish decides which sperm is preferred for inseminating her eggs. The females are generally much smaller than the males. However, scientists have noticed a growing population of smaller males which more closely match the size of the females. One of the complex properties (or abilities) of cuttlefish is to camouflage their exterior with colors and textures. To impress the females, and to give themselves the best chance of mating with a female, the larger males engage in great displays of body colors and textures as they do battle with one another. However, the most effective current strategy which has arisen to impress the females is expressed by the smaller males. They camouflage themselves to look like a female. In this way, the smaller males can cuddle up right next to the females and share their handfuls of sperm quite easily and readily without interference from the large males who fail to challenge them, believing the smaller males to be females.
To the observing researchers, the female cuttlefish actually appear far more receptive to males who approach them in this manner. The scientists studying cuttlefish behavior tested the DNA of all the participants during a particular study and determined the next generation was composed of about a 70% success rate in the strategy of the smaller males. This indicates that it is their intelligence traits which are favored for successful mating in that the smaller males utilize an intelligent and innovative strategy instead of engaging in ancient, brawny displays.
There is an additional naturally selective, survival strategy which a particular branch of the cuttlefish tree is beginning to demonstrate. Cuttlefish only occur in the wild in the waters around New Zealand and Australia. As a species, they are widely hunted. Humans catch them and enjoy cuttlefish sumptuously in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. They are also something of a prized meal for most vertebrate fish as well. In fact, certain dolphins prize cuttlefish as a delicacy, eating only the heads and arms, while leaving the bodies for other fish to scavenge.
Probably in response to being so heavily predated, a new lineage of cuttlefish has been discovered to have arisen. This new branch of cuttlefish, called the flamboyant cuttlefish, lives out on a kind of long, desert plain of the ocean floor. They are about half the size of a human’s thumb. (Other cuttlefish are much larger animals.) The flamboyant cuttlefish is brightly colored and does not swim like its cousins.
This cuttlefish walks along the bottom, and generally out in the open. However, when a potential predator swims near, the flamboyant cuttlefish doesn’t try to camouflage itself or scurry off to some potential, hidden safety. No, this one displays its bright colors and continues wandering along without expressing fear. As it turns out, the flamboyant cuttlefish is poisonous. From the ink it emits to the tissues of its body to its bite, the flamboyant cuttlefish is protected by its poisons. Perhaps in 300 million years or so, these cuttlefish will walk out of the water and adapt to life on land. With their intelligence continuing to evolve over the eons, it may be that their ancestors will someday rule the planet.
Scientists have also discovered that every living organism on the planet, like humans, has written into their DNA the ability to perceive the passage of time. For instance, rats have been taught to touch a mechanism in precisely 12 seconds in order to receive a food treat. “How can a rat know when twelve seconds has elapsed?” you may wonder. They must have a similarly functioning part of their brain as do humans.
There is a small area in the core of the human brain which beats, constantly, like a heart. As it beats, it also fires impulses from synapses into the plasma membrane, igniting certain specific neurons in the frontal lobes. Those neurons fire at internally regulated, regular intervals, which remain different from each other neuron. In this way, the brain divides up perceived experience into intervals of time fragments, just long enough for the mind to grasp, but each a fraction of a second. Every moment of our lives is integrated into experience and filed in our memory in this manner. Under life threatening situations, the core beats at a faster rate, focusing its attention on shorter, more quickly expiring momentary fragments. This provides individuals with the ability to perceive these life threatening events as if in slow motion and in greater detail. Scientists’ tests recently proved this ability.
Other kinds of stimuli can cause the internal clock to beat at different rates, thereby distorting our perception of time. For instance, scientists have tested rats and found: 1) under the influence of cocaine they will push the mechanism about 4 seconds too soon and 2) under the influence of marijuana they will push the mechanism about 4 seconds too late. This indicates that at least one effect of cocaine use is that the internal metronome speeds up, and one effect of marijuana use is to slow it down. I would anticipate similar effects must accrue due to the use of other drugs. All opiates, muscle relaxants, alcohol, sleep inducers, etc. must slow down the rhythm of that beat. At the same time, all uppers, caffeine, speed and crystal methamphetamine ought to make the inner clock speed up.
As a slightly off topic interjection, I’d like to offer, for what it’s worth, that using any substance which causes the inner metronome to speed up would be highly beneficial to every athlete. So, in addition to concerns regarding the use of steroids and HGH, amphetamines should also be considered as being significant, performance-enhancing drugs. Oh, and marijuana use could only be performance detracting, so I can see no reason for athletics to proscribe against its use. Since the legal system has chosen to cover that already, and no person should be subjected to double punishment since that is unconstitutional, I don't see what other interest sports might have for establishing penalties against marijuana use.
Young people’s inner clocks move at a pace which is faster than time’s progression. However, as people age, their inner clock slows down, and to a considerable degree over time, becoming slower than time’s rate of passage in later life. If you stop and think about it, the elderly often act like they’re perpetually stoned. Maybe they are stoned, naturally. As they say, aging slows them down, allowing greater and more thorough enjoyment of their moments. Many elderly also seem more peaceful and tolerant.
Now, not all of the elderly show all those changes later in life, so maybe we all don’t get the dopamine, the endorphins and tranquility. Then again, maybe personal experience colors how much of that one can access. Those whose whole life has been spent as a curmudgeon often seem to grow less tolerant and more crotchety with advancing age. Perhaps a scientific study of this phenomenon would reveal that old age only accentuates and intensifies expressions of personality types in humans.
On a different but related topic, stress is one of the great killers in our time. Stress causes the inner metronome to speed up. Scientists have shown that the slower one’s inner clock beats, the longer one’s life promises to be. Here’s another recommendation for smoking pot and removing stress from your life, your inner clock will calm down and move more leisurely allowing you to have a longer, more serene life span.
People reveal varying levels of consciousness marked by varying degrees of intelligence and emotional responses. Apparent innate abilities and talents are exhibited, which are not universal, and cannot be correlated with an individual’s IQ, amount of schooling, or political, cultural, religious or philosophical background or outlook. Furthermore, children seem to be born with much (perhaps even most) of their personalities intact, which begin to be evidenced as soon as they begin to express themselves after birth.
Nevertheless, environment plays a significant role in the development of each individual consciousness as well. It is apparent that siblings, even of the same gender (even including identical twins), often display unique personality traits and can often be so unalike that environment cannot necessarily be presupposed to be the primary factor in the development and expression of the divergences in personality from sibling to sibling.
However, individuals also exhibit transformations of character which cannot be explained other than by admitting environment does indeed affect both the growth and expression of one’s personality. Evidence that environmental factors do affect the individual consciousness is also apparent by realizing behavior modification techniques are effective tools in reshaping personality traits such as in gaining personal control over alcoholism or drug abuse.
My own deduction from these conclusions is: the role environment plays must have more to do with modification of behavior patterns and responses as they relate to the individual’s development of coping strategies rather than some possibility that we are all born with the same blank consciousness upon which environmental factors and experience imprint the formation of a post-birth individuation of that supposed at-birth universally blank consciousness. Besides, this presupposes that an aware consciousness has not already arisen in the womb at some point during fetal development. It is scientifically held that a fetus does have awareness and consciousness prior to birth. Science informs us consciousness in the fetus arises by the third trimester, which is why laws were enacted to prevent abortions during the last three months of pregnancy.
The personality is the mode of expression for the consciousness. It is how we present ourselves to the world. The personality is both part of, and yet also apart from, consciousness. One is just as able to present an affectation, which can only be described as deception (apart from), as one is able to act without forethought (innately), hence, without deception.
If one acts or reacts naturally in a given situation, that is, without trying to be in control of how one presents oneself, one is being true to one’s nature. However, if one stops and considers the ramifications of an action or reaction, that person creates a façade. Both modes of expressing the personality are relevant in the presentation of one’s individual consciousness.
For example, if I calculate how best to act in a given situation, I will not be acting naturally, and I will be more or less likely to be perceived as a phony to the degree with which I am more or less skilled at acting. However, to not maintain some degree of control over my actions and reactions could result in the commission of murder, theft or any other inappropriate act of greed, anger or hostility, not to mention misunderstandings with those around me through thoughtless remarks. Therefore, an understanding of the correct balance is pivotal if my goal is to always be true to my nature, respect all other life and act in moral accordance with the will of my individual consciousness.
Where does human consciousness reside? When I sit in meditation, contemplation, reflection, recollection or any other conscious mental activity, my awareness of my thought process does not seem or feel as if it occurs solely in my brain. However, I admit an awareness of sensations of brain activity and I can even localize those sensations if I concentrate upon the location of their emanation.
Nonetheless, I am completely unable to localize anywhere in my brain the origination of a unique or new thought. The more I concentrate on my thought process, the more I feel aware of a kind of bubble or sphere which surrounds, but also permeates, my head, my eyes, my ears and even down the area of my medulla oblongata. I would expect that kind of intuitive notion about the residence of the “mind,” in concert with dream states, probably gave rise to the notions in more primitive cultures that humans have indwelling souls or spirits and suggested the existence of a god or gods.
It is also important to note that if I make any attempt to localize my emotions, the result is a general feeling or awareness that they emanate from either my heart or my solar plexus regions, sometimes even both. Furthermore, illness in any part of my body affects my consciousness, just as “dis-ease” in my mind affects my body. This would seem to indicate that the mind, another way of saying the seat of the individual consciousness, permeates one’s whole body while simultaneously surrounding the body as well.
These theories are not based on scientific research of any kind. They are my own analyses based on my perception of my own internal processes. In an effort to provide scientifically accepted theories on this subject, let me inform the reader on the most recent findings from the field of cognitive neuroscience, which information I will present below, generally postulates that all thought is related to energy transfers through synapses in the brain and all memories are stored in synapses and/or neurons.
From my perspective, and I think cognitive neuroscientists would concur given what they have written and said on the subject, there is a problem with viewing the brain as a kind of physiological computer where all memories and learned information are stored in a kind of physiological, synaptic, neural network, data bank. In that model, there is no explanation for spontaneous original thought. Recent research, however, has also led to the discovery that, as an example, memories do not come from a single specific area of the brain. Rather, they arise out from what neuroscientists describe as a web or network of synapses emanating and projecting from multiple areas of the cortex simultaneously. The corresponding deduction neuroscientists derive from this is a negation of the concept of a brain which functions as a great file cabinet of data storage whereby information is accessed by opening the correct file. One needs a whole series of files in order to recover data.
I would suggest, perhaps the brain needs to access material from, for instance, a variety of sections of the brain controlling and/or integrating multiple senses in order to serve up the memory to the individual actively seeking to remember something. For instance, sight and hearing, at the very least would be required to remember a conversation, whereas an athletic event might require integrating a whole series of muscles, scents, body sensations, and emotions as well. Such a complex system for integrating aspects of remembered activity which must be integrated by the mind in order to access a memory could explain why so many different sections of the brain are working at once in memory recall tests conducted by cognitive neuroscientists. This need for a series of files to be opened (or more appropriately, the excitation of many areas in the brain during memory recollection) seems perfectly natural to me, since the process of remembering would logically have to incorporate all of our senses (or at least many of them in concert) in addition to stringing together the series of snippets of time into which the brain divided the experience being remembered. Am I the only one seeing this correlation? Many different areas of the brain would have to be coordinated into order to recall a coherent memory.
All the cells of our body die over a period of time and are replaced by new cells generated by the body, including our brain cells (that brain cells die and are replaced is a fairly recent discovery by science). What could be said to happen to memories stored in cells which have died? Would that indicate that very old memories should be lost to us forever once the cells containing those old patterns of thought and perceptions have died? If so, how is it we do retain memories throughout our entire lives no matter how old the memories may be and which should have been long lost since they were contained within cells long since replaced?
One would be able to counter this analysis with the scientific belief that those brain cells involved in memory do not actually die, but are replaced through the process of mitosis. This is a complex subject and one which is being researched now as a result of recent scientific findings. Let us review the science on this issue.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) conducted studies into the structure of the central nervous system. Those studies led him to the formulation of hypotheses, which were further developed into the “neuron doctrine.” This doctrine alleged that the central nervous system is composed of billions of cells known as neurons. These neurons are polarized (positive and negative). They do not form a continuous reticulum or web (as previously postulated by Camillo Golgi). Rather, they are in communication with one another in order to transfer data through “specialized junctions” otherwise known as synapses. The use of electron microscopes revealed that neurons are enclosed within a plasma membrane.
A neuron is really the complex formation of multiple constituents. Contained within the neuron are: the nucleus, soma (cell body) and (in most instances) multiple dendrites. These dendrites form branches in the form of cellular extensions. The branching dendrites are known as the dendrite tree. It is thought that dendrite trees are the main receivers of information from other neurons’ axons. However, it is also generally accepted that they can also transmit information to the axons of other neurons. Scientists do not know the nature of the information being transferred, so it is entirely possible that dendrites and axons carry on conversations.
From the soma, axons extend in what is termed a “cable-like” projection. Neurons generally have only one axon. However, that axon will also normally undergo extensive branching, which facilitates communication with many neurons. Scientists tell us axons are the primary transmitters of information to target cells. However, they are also capable of receiving information.
The place where the axon extends from the soma is called the axon hillock. The axon hillock is the most easily excited part of the neuron (otherwise called the hyperpolarized action potential threshold) and serves as the spike initiation zone of the axon. Axons contain further subcomponents known as the Node of Ravenier, Myelin sheath, and Schwann cell.
Extending from the end of the axon is the axon terminal. This specialized structure releases neurotransmitters and communicates with target neurons. Axon terminals form in branches just like dendrites.
Neuron communication occurs through synapses, where the axon terminal of one neuron impinges on the dendrite or soma of another neuron (most commonly, although sometimes the communication occurs from one axon terminal to another axon terminal). Neurons have differing numbers of dendrites, sometimes as many as a thousand. Consequently, neurons have the ability to communicate with tens of thousands of other neurons per dendrite. Talk about your information superhighway!
Chemical synapses can be either excitatory or inhibitory. Excitatory synapses increase activity in the target neuron whereas inhibitory synapses decrease activity in target neurons. However, neurons can also communicate with one another through electrical synapses, which are direct electrical junctions between cells.
The human brain has a gigantic number of synapses. Each of 100 billion neurons has on average 7,000 synaptic connections to other neurons. Most authorities estimate the total number of synapses as being 1,000 trillion (quadrillion) for a three-year-old child. Scientists have held this number declines with age and stabilizes by adulthood. Estimates vary for an adult, and range from 100 to 500 trillion synapses (one-tenth to one-half the number in a three year old child).
In October of 1999, Princeton scientists announced a discovery promising great implications for science regarding new brain cells’ addition in the cerebral cortex. “Princeton scientists have shown that new neurons are continually added to the cerebral cortex of adult monkeys. The discovery reverses a dogma nearly a century old and suggests entirely new ways of explaining how the mind accomplishes its basic functions, from problem solving to learning and memory.” [The quotation emanates from Princeton University’s Office of Communications and a press release they issued dated October 14, 1999.]
The release continues, “Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross report in the Oct. 15 issue of Science that the formation of new neurons or nerve cells — neurogenesis — takes place in several regions of the cerebral cortex that are crucial for cognitive and perceptual functions. The cerebral cortex is the most complex region of the brain and is responsible for highest-level of decision making and also for recognizing and learning about the world. The results strongly imply that the same process occurs in humans, because monkeys and humans have fundamentally similar brain structures.
“The traditional view among neuroscientists has been that the primate brain is different from other organs in that it is not capable of repairing itself or growing new cells, that no new neurons are added to the brain in maturity. This dogma has gradually eroded in the last decade as evidence accumulated for neurogenesis in several evolutionarily older parts of the brain such as the olfactory system and the hippocampus, which is believed to play a role in memory formation. In the last year, Gould and her colleagues helped this erosion by proving neurogenesis in the hippocampus of several types of monkeys.
“The new finding in the cerebral cortex is much more dramatic, the Princeton team believes, because the cortex is the largest and most advanced part of the brain. After the discoveries in the hippocampus, says Gould, most scientists remained convinced that adult neurogenesis was an anomaly and could not be found in the newer, higher parts of the brain. They believed, for example, that the brain relies on a stable structure for storing memories.
“The Gould and Gross discovery also may require neuroscientists to draw a less bold distinction between the brains of humans and other animals, says Fernando Nottebohm of Rockefeller University. Scientists have observed neurogenesis in birds and rats for many years, but assumed that as evolution advanced and mental capacities increased, the brain supported less and less neurogenesis. ‘What you can say now is that the primate brain is more like that of songbirds,’ [Nottebohm’s correlation is fascinating in light of Tim Gentner’s recent scientific discovery that songbirds recognize explanatory clauses] says Nottebohm, who believes that theories of the brain have been too ‘human-centric.’
The old view, which deemed neurogenesis as a function of lower primates, seems to be a backward view of the process. It seems far more likely that the more highly evolved a brain is vis-à-vis the innate intelligence and comprehension of the being, the more highly evolved that brain would have to be in terms of how it forms and functions, its inherent ability to repair itself, and its ability to create new neuron cells in order to facilitate newly evolving, higher brain functions.
However, since scientists have always held that memories are contained within neurons, they believed the neural network had to be a stable one. If the system is unstable (as the new research indicates), scientists would be at a loss to explain where memories are stored since any instability would be indicative of the presence of neurogenesis and that neurons undergo changes, a process which would have to affect a human’s memory functioning, processes and contents.
“For their experiments, Gould and Gross took advantage of the unique properties of a chemical known as BrdU. When cells are exposed to BrdU during cell division, the chemical becomes incorporated into the DNA of newly formed cells. The researchers injected BrdU into rhesus monkeys, whose brain structure is fundamentally similar to that of humans. Then, at intervals ranging from two hours to seven weeks, they looked for evidence of the chemical in neurons in the cerebral cortex. [The scientists were originally attempting to count the number of neurons in the brains of the monkeys, which was the reason for marking the neurons. Marking the neurons would aid in spotting and counting the cells.] In all cases, there were neurons with BrdU in their DNA, which showed that those cells had to have been formed after the BrdU injection, again indicating neurogenesis had occurred in the interim. [Princeton University, ibid.]
“The earliest cells, found in the walls of the ventricles and then migrating toward the cortex, were not yet mature. By the time they reached the neocortex — a matter of days — they had developed into mature neurons. In a final test, the researchers showed that the cells extended axons, the long, thin extensions of neurons that send messages to other neurons. They injected a chemical tracer into the brains of several of the animals a few weeks after the BrdU injections. The tracer has the property of traveling from the end of an axon back to the body of the neuron. An examination of the animals’ brains showed neurons that had both labels, the BrdU and the tracer, suggesting that the new cells had formed working axons and were participating in the functional circuitry of the brain.
Scientists currently postulate these new neurons form in order to contain newly formed memories. However, since neurons function in a variety of ways which are not all related to memory, and since the newly formed neurons travel, as Gould and Gross explain, to three different areas of the brain which are not all devoted to memory, but to a variety of higher cognitive functions, this does not seem to me to be an adequate explanation. Furthermore, since all of us are creating new memories every millisecond of our existence, the number of new neurons which would have to be created to support all these new memories would indicate to me there should exist more neurons in the brain of an adult than in a three-year-old child, not less (especially not reduced to between one-half and one-tenth the number in a three-year-old child) if, indeed, those neurons are created to store new memories. Finally, that memories occur faster than new neurons can come into existence through mitosis, and considering it takes days for the new neuron to mature and travel to their ultimate destination, indicates inadequacies in the scientists’ findings on this subject. If it takes days for the new neuron to become mature and reach its destination, how is it one can recall things which have occurred in the last few days, let alone seconds.
“Within the cerebral cortex, the researchers found neurogenesis in three areas: 1) the prefrontal region, which controls executive decision making and short-term memory; 2) the inferior temporal region, which plays a crucial role in the visual recognition of objects and faces, and 3) the posterior parietal region, which is important for the representation of objects in space. [Princeton University, ibid.]
“Interestingly, there was no sign of neurogenesis in a fourth area, the striate cortex, which handles the initial, and more rudimentary, steps of visual processing. That contrast suggests that neurogenesis may play a role in performing higher brain functions. Virtually all theories of learning and memory hold that memories are formed by modifications at the synapse, which is the transmission junction between neurons. On the basis of the new findings, it is now conceivable that the introduction of new neurons into the circuitry of the brain may play a role in memory.
Scientists tell us the role of neurogenesis is to create containers for new memories, mapped instantaneously as they occur. However, the role could just as easily be explained as relating to how the brain functions as an interface processor in accessing memories at the mind’s request and correlating physical expression in one’s body (such as tears or laughter) as opposed to actually storing memories. Cells formed by neurogenesis must travel long distances to arrive at their proper location in the brain. How can they be mapped instantly? How can we have immediate access to the newly recorded memory while the cell is still maturing and traveling to its final position?
“Gould and Gross emphasize that any ideas about the functions of the new neurons are highly speculative. But the fact that there is neurogenesis in the cognitive and executive portions of the brain opens vast new areas that can be explored.” [Emphasis added.] [Princeton University, ibid.]
“So,” the reader may point out, “science has revealed that neurogenesis may explain the creation of new neurons in the brain through mitosis. This still does not prove that neurons also die.” Let us see what science has been able to uncover on this issue.
“Only a decade ago, the idea that the primate brain is constantly creating new neurons, and that these new neurons are not only functional but responsive to changes in the environment, was unimaginable. Indeed, the fact that neurogenesis did not exist was one of modern neuroscience's founding principles. This theory, first articulated by Santiago Ramón y Cajal at the start of the 20th century, held that brain cells — unlike every other cell in our body — don’t divide. They don’t die and they are never reborn. We emerge from the womb with the only brain we will ever have. [The Reinvention of the Self, Jonah Lehrer, Seed Magazine, February 23, 2006.]
“’All neurons of the rhesus monkey brain are generated during pre-natal and early post-natal life,’ Rakic [Pasko Rakic, M.D., Ph.D., Sc.D., Duberg Professor of Neurobiology and Neurology, Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology, Director of the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience at Yale University, Director of Yale University School of Medicine] wrote in his 1985 paper, ‘Limits of Neurogenesis in Primates,’ ‘Not a single’ new neuron ‘was observed in the brain of any adult animal.’ While Rakic admitted that his proof was limited, he persuasively defended the dogma. He even went so far as to construct a plausible evolutionary theory as to why neurons can’t divide: Rakic imagined that at some point in our distant past, primates had traded the ability to give birth to new neurons for the ability to retain plasticity in our old neurons. According to Rakic, the ‘social and cognitive’ behavior of primates required the absence of neurogenesis. His paper, with its thorough demonstration of what everyone already believed, seemed like the final word on the matter. No one bothered to verify his findings.
“The genius of the scientific method, however, is that it accepts no permanent solution. Skepticism is its solvent, for every theory is imperfect. Scientific facts are meaningful precisely because they are ephemeral, because a new observation, a more honest observation, can always alter them. This is what happened to Rakic’s theory of the fixed brain. It was, to use Karl Popper’s verb, falsified.
“Beginning in 1962, a researcher at MIT named Joseph Altman published several papers claiming that adult rats, cats, and guinea pigs all formed new neurons. Although Altman used the same technique that Rakic would later use in monkey brains — the injection of radioactive thymidine — his results were at first ridiculed, then ignored, and soon forgotten.
“As a result, the field of neurogenesis vanished before it began. It would be another decade before Michael Kaplan, at the University of New Mexico, would use an electron microscope to image neurons giving birth. Kaplan discovered new neurons everywhere in the mammalian brain, including the cortex. Yet even with this visual evidence, science remained stubbornly devoted to its doctrine. Kaplan remembers Rakic telling him that ‘Those [cells] may look like neurons in New Mexico, but they don’t in New Haven.’ Faced with this debilitating criticism, Kaplan, like Altman before him, abandoned the field of neurogenesis.
As we know, by 1999, the work of Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross not only reinvigorated neurogenesis, it also invested it with scientific acceptance.
“By 1999, even Rakic had admitted that neurogenesis is real. [“The Reinvention of the Self”, ibid.]
“[Dr. Jonas] Frisén first leapt to the attention of the neuroscience community in 1999, when his lab announced that they had identified stem cells in the brain. Stem cells are the source of neurogenesis: It is their mitotic divisions that create new neurons.”
“To further his research, Frisén founded a biotech firm, NeuroNova. The first disease NeuroNova targeted for treatment was Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons…”
Elizabeth Gould’s latest research investigates the effects of stress on the brain.
“From the brain’s perspective, stress is primarily signaled by the increase in the bloodstream of a class of steroid called glutocorticoids, which put the body on a heightened state of alert. But glutocorticoids can have one nasty side-effect: [t]hey are toxic for the brain. When stress becomes chronic, neurons stop investing in themselves. Neurogenesis ceases. Dendrites disappear. The hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning and memory, begins withering away.” [“The Reinvention of the Self”, ibid.]
Gould and her post-doctorate assistant, Christian Mirescu, pursue Gould’s research into the effects of stress on the brain. They discovered that the introduction of stress into the lives of newborn rats not only affected neurogenesis during the period when stress was being experienced, but also had lasting effects by leading, “… to a dramatic decrease in neurogenesis in their rats’ adult brains. The temporary trauma of childhood lingered on as a permanent reduction of the number of new cells in the hippocampus. [“The Reinvention of the Self”, ibid.]
“’This is a potentially very important topic,’ Gould says. ‘When you look at all these different stress disorders, such as PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], what you realize is that some people are more vulnerable. They are at increased risk. This may be one of the reasons why.’
“Subsequent experiments have teased out a host of other ways stress can damage the developing brain. For example, if a pregnant rhesus monkey is forced to endure stressful conditions – like being startled by a blaring horn for 10 minutes a day – her children are born with reduced neurogenesis, even if they never experience the stress once born. This pre-natal trauma, just like trauma endured in infancy, has life-long implications. The offspring of monkeys stressed during pregnancy have smaller hippocampi, suffer from elevated levels of glutocorticoids and display all the classical symptoms of anxiety. Being low in a dominance hierarchy also suppresses neurogenesis. So does living in a bare environment. As a general rule of thumb, a rough life – especially a rough start to life – strongly correlates with lower levels of fresh cells.”
Three points cry out for comment.
The first is Dr. Frisén’s discussion on stem cells and neurogenesis using the term mitotic, a derivative of mitosis. Most readers will be well aware that mitosis is the process whereby a single cell duplicates its genome and then separates into two identical halves. This is how new cells form and, technically, old ones die. When one cell splits into two during mitosis, they form two new cells (two new daughter cells), not one new one (daughter cell) as a replica of the old one (mother cell) with the old one unchanged. Additionally, if one takes the process at face value, all that happens during mitosis in neurons, or neurogenesis, is the creation of two, new, identical neuron cells.
If the cells are identical, would they not contain the same memory, if indeed they contain memories at all? How did a new memory get in either of the newly formed cells? How can a memory get into something just being created as the memory is occurring? If memory is being divided up into millisecond moments filed away, how is it we can store all those momentary glimpses when cells cannot be produced that rapidly? How does the memory know which cell to enter? What happened to the old memory? Is the old memory in either cell, both cells, or neither cell? And if it is in neither cell, then how do we retain the memory? If a cell has more than one memory in it, how do we access the memory we wish to access among however many memories which may be contained in the cell? Scientists have looked at these cells, so, what does a memory look like in a cell? What is the physical manifestation of it? There must be something additional in cells containing memories which should be observable, so what is it? If the cells are duplicates, shouldn’t they be identical, down to the memories contained therein – both containing the new memory? Wouldn’t the cell with the old memory be lost forever? As, Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross cautioned, all ideas science has on these questions are highly speculative.
The second point requiring comment is Gould’s discovery that stress leads to the disappearance of dendrites and the withering away of the hippocampus. This is a clear sign that not only does stress inhibit neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons), but it also kills previously existing cells. We have always known that physical trauma and toxic substances can kill presently existing brain cells. Now, we also know that non-physical influences can lead to the destruction of neurons as well as prevent the brain from healing itself by creating new neurons to replace the old ones which have died.
The third point demanding additional exposition regards Gould’s discovery of the relationship between the stress-induced reduction in neurogenesis and a concomitant reduction in the capacity for the brain to function. “Gould’s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.” [“The Reinvention of the Self”, ibid.] As Gould herself points out, “’One thing that always strikes me is that when you ask Americans why the poor are poor, they always say it’s because they don’t work hard enough, or don’t want to do better. They act like poverty is a character issue.’” [“The Reinvention of the Self”, ibid.]
Well, as Gould’s research enlightens us, those blights which fester among the poor and underprivileged cannot be reduced to character flaws, poor education, genetic inferiority among portions of ethnic diversity, or poor nutrition. Certainly poor nutrition and poor education will inhibit the brain’s ability to function to varying degrees, and genetic inheritance provides individuals with areas and degrees of ability which differ in expression and manifestation uniquely within each individual. However, it is imperative people recognize that the blight of the poor is the result of stress and stressful conditions endemic to poverty, whether pre-natal or post-natal, and which are compounded daily as additional stresses accumulate.
Seen through this lens, we learn that poverty perpetuates itself through stress induced reduced neurogenesis. People born into stressful situations or a pervasive climate of stress will not perform the same levels of neurogenesis throughout their lives as will people born into affluence and a calm, serene and encouraging environment. This is one way in which position, wealth and power continue to be bequeathed by right of birth. If one isn’t born into money and privilege, one is far less likely to accumulate them because the brains of the poor are less likely to develop – not because of genetic inferiority or lack of motivation or industriousness, but because the conditions of the lives and environments of the poor suppress neurogenesis from pre-birth throughout the lifespan. Given the pervasiveness of stress in the contemporary world, I wonder if the apparent worldwide epidemic of Autism bears any relationship to the pervasive stress and the concomitant spreading of neurogenesis’ inhibition in today's world?
Another commentary recommends itself at this juncture. Remember, a child of three years has double to 10 times as many synapses as an adult. One strong possibility for explaining the reduction in synapses exists in the manner humanity rears children. People provide children with a moral code, a religious doctrine, a philosophy of life, and demand children obey a specific set of rules. This is a completely different process from what we see occur in every other species in nature. Every other species encourages their offspring’s curiosity and individuality. Other than a few general warnings regarding danger, and a few basic instructions on what is food and how it is obtained, the offspring are left to discover the world entirely on their own and in their own manner.
I'd suggest there is great significance to the difference in techniques. In human society, each individual is required to live by a code of ethics which conforms to a culturally predetermined morality. Children have their belief systems dictated by their parents and society. I believe children should be busy learning their morality and ethics on a trial basis, learning as they go, discovering what works and what doesn't. The sense of what constitutes morality should come out of fair play.
The way to guide a child’s moral development is to constantly reinforce a requirement that the child consider and act according to their developing sense of fairness and be able to defend their actions with an explanation incorporating that sense of fairness. However, the child should do most of the talking - the more parents dictate, the less growth the child will actually be able to garner. The standard of fairness should be, “Would the child's course of action be considered acceptable to the child if the circumstances were reversed?” This is a question which probably ought to be posed to children time and again, when a child makes a good choice as well as bad. Positive reinforcement is more likely to result in encouraging acceptable behavior whereas negative reinforcement is more apt to elicit from the child coping strategies such as deflection, denial or even the fabrication of lies.
The important point in this suggested system arises from understanding that the child would be spending its time investing in developing synapses which would be specifically adapted to assisting the individual to act morally at all times. Instead, children spend their time with cutely impish pranks, but all the while investing in the development of synapses specifically adapted to devise ways for getting around rules without getting caught. It is my impression that society and parents unwittingly interfere in children's synaptic development by creating rules and demanding blind obedience to those rules. As a species, we need to encourage the correct kind of synaptic development. One cannot accomplish that by force. One can only encourage and nurture proper synaptic development.
Science cannot inform us whether memory function is a result of electrical or chemical information transmission between neurons, although science does know that the brain’s method of dividing up experience into short increments through the beating of an inner time clock located in the center of the brain is accomplished through electrical information transfer by neurons.
It seems clear to me that physiological processes are probably controlled through chemical neuron transfers for information transmissions. It is also important to suggest that electrical transformation of information between neurons may yet have a relationship to electromagnetism, although I have found no such reference or even inquiry into this possibility in my research.
“Electric fields are created by differences in voltage: the higher the voltage, the stronger will be the resultant field. Magnetic fields are created when electric current flows: the greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. An electric field will continue to exist when there is no current flowing. If current does flow, the strength of the magnetic field will vary with power consumption but the electric field strength will be constant. [“Electromagnetic Fields”, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, 1999.]
“One of the main characteristics which defines an electromagnetic field (EMF) is its frequency or its corresponding wavelength. Fields of different frequencies interact with the body in different ways. One can imagine electromagnetic waves as [a] series of very regular waves that travel at enormous speed, the speed of light. The frequency simply describes the number of oscillations or cycles per second, while the term wavelength describes the distance between one wave and the next. Hence wavelength and frequency are inseparably intertwined: the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.
“Electric fields exist whenever a positive or negative electrical charge is present. They exert forces on other charges within the field. The strength of the electric field is measured in volts per metre (V/m). Any electrical wire that is charged will produce an associated electrical field. This field exists even when there is no current flowing.
“Magnetic fields arise from the motion of electrical charges. The strength of the magnetic field is measured in amperes per metre (A/m); more commonly in electromagnetic field research, scientists specify a related quantity, the flux density (in microtesla, µT) instead. In contrast to electric fields, a magnetic field is only produced once a device is switched on and current flows. The higher the current, the greater the strength of the magnetic field.”
Radiofrequency (RF) fields, “induce currents within the human body, which if sufficient can produce a range of effects such as heating and electrical shock, depending on their amplitude and frequency range. (However, to produce such effects, the fields outside the body would have to be very strong, far stronger than present in normal environments.)
“Mobile telephones, television and radio transmitters and radar produce RF fields. These fields are used to transmit information over long distances and form the basis of telecommunications as well as radio and television broadcasting all over the world.” [WHO, ibid.]
So, electric fields exist in any location where an electrical charge exists. Within the brain, neurons communicate with other neurons through two methods, one of which is electrical, that is, through direct electrical junctions between cells. This indicates there has to be an electrical field inside or around the brain, or at least within the plasma membrane where neurons reside. As we know, electrical fields exist whether or not the electrically charged particles are in motion. Consequently, the electrical field exists as long as the brain is alive, not merely during moments when the brain is involved in thought or when specific memories become stimulated.
We also know that magnetic fields exist while the electrically charged particles are in motion, however, not while those particles remain inert. Therefore, it follows that magnetic fields should be present in the brain as long as the brain is active. However, the magnetic field ought to dissipate during periods when the brain is inactive. The brain of any living thing is active at all times while alive, including during sleep. Hence, a living brain always possesses a magnetic field.
In actuality, both fields are interrelated. John Clerk Maxwell, a physicist who lived and worked in the 1800s “discovered four powerful equations that, for the first time, set out a rigorous theoretical framework for understanding electricity, magnetism, and their intimate relationship. [S]cientists found that changes in an electric field can produce changes in a magnetic field, which can then cause changes in the electric field, and so on. Maxwell found the mathematical underpinnings of these interrelationships, and because his equations showed that electric and magnetic fields are entwined, they were eventually christened electromagnetic fields, and the influence they exert the electromagnetic force.” [“The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality”, Brian Greene, Vintage Books, 2004, pgs. 40-42.] In his glossary to the book, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality, Brian Greene defines the electromagnetic force as, “One of nature’s four forces; acts on particles that have electric charge.” [“The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality”, ibid., pg. 538.]
Potential energy stored within an electromagnetic field is constant. This is a basic premise of electromagnetism. [“Eric Weisstein’s World of Physics”] “A particle that exists within an electromagnetic field will have a circular motion unless the electric and magnetic fields are at right angles to one another, then the particle’s path is cycloid,” [“Eric Weisstein’s Mathworld”] meaning it moves in regular, consistent and predictable arcs. The arc is determined by following the path of a particular point (locus) on a circle while the circle rolls on a straight line. I assume, within the plasma membrane surrounding the brain where synaptic activity occurs, the fields must be at right angles to one another because it would seem illogical for information to be transmitted from one neuron to another if the path was a circle since the information, ultimately, would return to its source as well. That would be a senseless redundancy of function which one would expect to cause some kind of feedback loop.
I would like to offer revolutionary and radical ideas on how and where our thoughts and memories are stored. I believe it must be the same place as where new thoughts and ideas arise. Since cells are constantly dying, the seat of this mental activity, or consciousness if you will, has to be outside the body while simultaneously being linked to proper brain functioning in order for people to have access to consciousness through brain activity. This must be true if the thoughts are of past events and perceptions, currently occurring thoughts and perceptions and new thoughts or ideas created in a mind spontaneously, seemingly out of “thin air.”
It is my theory that the seat of consciousness exists not within cells of the brain or a neural network or synapses or a plasma membrane, but in the electromagnetic field which surrounds and permeates the brain. This field has to exist, as explained by the laws of physics and the research of neuroscientists, and which is also borne out by my own perceptions.
I am not suggesting that all electromagnetic fields possess consciousness because, as I believe is patently obvious, an electromagnetic field has to be attached to a living thing in order to possess consciousness. This seems to me to be the case because consciousness serves no purpose without the presence of life. In my theory, the brain is only a tool of consciousness as opposed to the container of consciousness. The brain is more of a radio transmitter/sender than repository of the sum total of an individual’s consciousness, and as such is suited best as being an interface between the mind and the body, translating the potential for consciousness into actual consciousness, as opposed to being consciousness itself.
Pim van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist and NDE (Near-Death Experience) researcher, retired to concentrate on NDE research. As astounding as it may be, he argues, the implication of NDEs is that consciousness can be experienced in some alternative dimension without our body-linked concepts of time and space. “In my view, the brain is not producing consciousness, but it enables us to experience our consciousness,” he says. He compares the brain to a television, which receives programs by decoding information from electromagnetic waves. Likewise, he says, “the brain decodes from only a part of our enhanced consciousness, which we experience as waking consciousness. But our enhanced consciousness is different, and this is what is experienced during an NDE.” [“The science of Near-Death Experiences,” Daniel Williams, Time Magazine, Aug. 31, 2007.]
There are other neurological concerns which clinical neuroscience is incapable of solving. Examples are Autism and Savant Syndrome. Some Autistic children (those diagnosed with Savant Syndrome), at some moment in their early lives, are said to spring forth with an amazing talent in a specific field.
For example, let’s review one case study detailed by Oliver Sacks, Ph.D. The study concerned a child, aged three, who exhibited no learning curve in the sudden expression of an ability to draw with meticulous detail, form and style. Dr. Sacks revealed, “Just as the sudden appearance of the new ability arrived fully formed, no evidence appeared, upon the subsequent passage of time and experience, indicating that the child could learn to improve that talent which arrived so mysteriously.”
Sadly, Savant Syndrome patients rarely develop reasonable abilities in any other area of their lives, while the Autistic without Savant Syndrome basically never gain control over any area. [Some of the sources I pursued in my investigation into Dr. Sacks’ explorations into human consciousness, included in the above reference and which will continue to appear from time to time in following sections of this essay include: “The Science Show,” an Australian national radio broadcast, consisting of a pre-recorded presentation by Dr. Oliver Sacks to the Australian National University at his inaugural lecture for the Center for Mind, presented by Robyn Williams, 10/1/1998, information on Dr. Sacks presented by Contributing Editor Steve Silberman in an article for Wired.com, April 2002, and various articles authored by Dr. Sacks which have appeared in the New York Review of Books over the years including: “Neurology of the Soul”, November 22, 1990, “A New Vision of the Mind”, April 8, 1993, “In the River of Consciousness”, January 15, 2004, and “Speed”, August 23, 2004.]
Anthony J. Koleske, Ph.D. of the Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and one of the members of Dr. Rakic’s research team, is currently studying how decreased synaptic connectivity in the cerebral cortex contributes to the pathology of Autism, mental retardation, and schizophrenia in humans. Since Dr. Koleske’s research is ongoing and has not yet yielded factual findings, I choose not to go into this in great depth. I simply want the reader to be informed that this research is currently being conducted. Generally, however, I think it is fair to say that his research is an inquiry into the possibility certain proteins essential in regulating axonal and dendritic extension and stability do not function properly and, as a result, this may contribute to reduced dendrite complexity and/or mutant cortical neurons.
I wonder how much this research will yield with regard to Autism and Savant Syndrome. Certainly, mutant cortical neurons and reduced dendrite complexity could explain why Autistic patients have a reduced capability to develop reasonable abilities in all areas of their lives (or, in the case of Savants, in areas other than the area where unique and amazing special talents occasionally evidence themselves – though take care to remember, not all Autistic sufferers evidence Savant Syndrome). This research could also inform us why Savant patients cannot learn to improve on their amazing talent after it suddenly springs forth. However, I do not see how this can explain the actual sudden appearance of an amazing talent in a specific field at an early age and before the patient received any formal training in the field where this amazing talent is expressed.
Dr. Sacks explains that sight is a process involving “something like 30, 40 or 50 different systems of the brain, whose processes occur concurrently and are integrated simultaneously.” This would indicate that brain systems for sight (at the very least) must operate at the speed of light. This seems to me to be the case since we register all our visual perceptions as fully and instantaneously integrated images while the brain has to coordinate those 30, 40 or 50 different systems and integrate them into a cohesive image to which and with which humans are capable of reacting (such as a baseball player hitting a baseball and all of us walking in any environment). As physics teaches us, nothing is capable of moving at speeds greater than the speed of light, so light speed would have to be the limit. This indicates to me that consciousness must exist outside of the brain, while operating in coordination with the physiological processes of the brain in order to register thoughts, perceptions and memories as well as to facilitate physical interaction with the environment.
I pose this suggestion because a baseball player should not be able to hit a baseball if all the functions related to seeing the ball, registering its path, and informing the required muscles to act at a specific moment are all controlled by chemical reactions within the brain.
Herbert Benson, M.D. and William Proctor, in their book “The Breakout Principle,” wrote, “… in professional baseball, even the slower-moving curveballs may take [only] less than half a second to travel from the hand of a pitcher to the batter at home plate,” going on to point out that time fraction, “allows little time for mental evaluation or decision.” With regard to research into cricket players, the men inform us, “… some scientific observers have said that laboratory measures of visual reaction time suggest the performance of the batter is ‘impossible,’ because there is too little time to respond to the unpredictable, moving ball.” “The Breakout Principle,” Herbert Benson, M.D. and William Proctor, Scribner, 2003, pg. 186.
Chemicals cannot move at the speed of light, if they controlled sight, or even if they only coordinated the body’s interactions with things in the environment by integrating sight with specific body motor functions, one would always be late in interacting with physical objects. No, the only way to explain our ability to interact with the physical world is if sight, decision-making processes, and communication of intended motor functions within the body from our consciousness through the brain to the appropriate muscles occur at the speed of light. The only method for that to occur is if the process of thought controlling all those functions occurs in a medium (like an electromagnetic field) which operates at the speed of light and if information is transmitted within the brain and to the parts of the body being required to act by electrical synapse since electrical impulses would be the only manner by which that transmission of information could occur at light speed.
The only way to explain the mind’s ability to analyze data and make decisions at light speed is for the mind (or consciousness if you will) to be the electromagnetic field, something which can operate at the speed of light. It is not enough for the mental processes to be communicated to various parts of the body through electrical synapses in an instance such as a batter trying to hit a Nolan Ryan fastball. In that kind of example, the batter has to see the ball, decode the rotation of the ball by reading the direction of the stitching as the rotating ball tumbles toward the batter, analyze if the pitch will be a ball or a strike, decide if this is a pitch which is hittable (probably incorporating memories of previous at bats against the pitcher), and then communicate to the body not only to swing the bat, but precisely where and when to swing it.
Unless all of these cognitive processes occur at the speed of light, I cannot imagine anyone even hitting a ball thrown with movement at a speed close to 100 miles per hour, let alone getting the bat so square on the ball so as to hit a home run. I cannot believe for a moment that all home runs are accidents, either. If that were the case, then there would be no rational, statistical explanation for how Hank Aaron hit so many more than anyone else while his brother, Tommy Aaron, barely even eked out a few sub-average years during his career in baseball – he couldn’t hit well enough, or for how Joe DiMaggio could have had a 56 game hitting streak while his brothers, Vince and Dom, never got near that accomplishment, or why some batters can consistently have a .300 batting average and others are incapable of ever reaching that degree of accomplishment.
The only explanation for this phenomenon is: 1) all the higher cognitive functions occur at the speed of light, 2) some individual consciousnesses are better at manipulating these cognitive functions (this suggests the possibility their interface was wired for improved function in these areas, meaning the neural network created specialized synapses to facilitate hand-to-eye coordination and the ability to estimate where the position in space will be of an object at motion), and 3) the mind is not a chemical/physiological entity which operates through electrical synapses, but rather, the mind is the electromagnetic field and its higher functions are communicated to the body through electrical synapses, and only then transferred to chemical interactions within the body.
I feel certain all autonomic functions must be controlled by chemical synapses and are regulated by the physiological brain in concert with the solar plexus, lungs and the heart. When one considers all the functions of the body controlled by the so-called autonomic nervous system, one realizes the brain, heart, lungs and solar plexus have plenty to keep them busy at the same time as one realizes the brain, our central nervous system, respiratory system and circulatory system do everything without one ever having to be consciously aware to direct a body function occur, that a body function is occurring, what is occurring, when it should occur or how it is being done.
With regard to any consciously intended activity, or even a desire to exert conscious control over something like regulating one’s breathing rhythm in meditation, one must not only direct one’s mind to the task but one must also maintain mental focus on the task to maintain control over it. If one allows the breathing to return to autonomic control, the rhythm will not be maintained in the manner the mind (or consciousness) had set when exerting conscious control over the breath rate. It is this division between physiological and mental activity which, in my view, separates mind from brain and thought and decision making from involuntary, but necessary, physiology.
Dr. Sacks has offered an example of a case study in which an artist suddenly and unexpectedly lost the ability to perceive color because the artist lost the functional use of one of the brain systems involved in sight. The irony of that unfortunate disability was that the artist also lost the ability to imagine color, remember color and even to dream in color.
My interpretation of the consequent significance in the pathology described is that the function of consciousness (at least in some ways or degrees) requires that the brain be alive and properly functioning. When one of the brain systems ceases to function (or is impinged to some degree), the mind loses its ability to function in the realm of activity where brain function no longer exists (or the mind experiences reduced functionality in any area of the brain in direct proportion and correspondence to the brain impingement or injury experienced) because once the necessary brain system evidences reduced functional capacity, the mind atrophies in correspondence to the reduced mechanical control by which it accesses the kinds of information facilitated by that system.
If memories are stored in the brain, then the memory of color should still infuse the afflicted artist's dreams with color. That an individual who cannot see color, but who once could visually discern colors, no longer remembers color and can no longer dream in color, provides us with an indication of the increasing likelihood that brains are not repositories of memories since the memory of color should still reside in the physical tissue of the brain under current scientific dogma, and therefore be able to be accessed by the mind during the states of dreams and remembering.
The reduced capacity of brain/mind functioning caused by Downs Syndrome provides another area of interesting inquiry. In Downs Syndrome (DS), it appears that the brain does not develop properly. Elke Stein, Ph.D., another member of Dr. Rakic’s team at Yale University in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, is conducting research into this area of study. As with Dr. Koleske’s research, Dr. Stein has not yet arrived at any formal results. Generally, Dr. Stein’s research concerns the congenital nature of DS.
As Dr. Stein points out, “DS patients have stereotyped facial and physical malformations, congenital heart and gut disease, as well as complications within the immune and endocrine systems, as well as an increased risk of leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease. Among this constellation of symptoms, DS is most closely associated with cognitive deficits that arise from a complex cortical phenotype. Human postmortem studies have shown that cortical size and thickness are reduced and lamination is disrupted in the brains of DS patients.”
In other words, something went wrong with the development of the child in the womb which led to physical deformities in both the body and the brain. Her investigation seeks to determine whether the cognitive defects are a result of the patients’ DNA as would be the case for the other pathology described, or are the cognitive defects the result of problems which occurred during corticogenesis (maybe a disruption in cortical development). Is this condition hereditary or a result of environmental factors?
I am forced to wonder, based on the research presented earlier by Elizabeth Gould and the effects of stress on neurogenesis, if stress, or some other human generated phenomenon, could be either the cause of, or a factor influencing the rise of, the problems which occur in corticogenesis leading to DS and/or Autism? Maybe they are the result of electromagnetic waves we generate with television and radio transmissions, microwave ovens, radar, cell phones and/or other electronic equipment currently in use. There could be any number of causes which have nothing to do with DNA encoding at the time of conception leading to the rise in incidence of conditions like DS and Autism, but which would, however, still have the signature of genetic mutation.
Certainly, the sudden rise in incident rates of DS and Autism should provide a strong indication that something new in the human environment leads to these conditions. That seems more likely than the appearance of a sudden and unexplained rise in birth defect rates. Other possible causes might lie in either our food or our water.
Our water is so polluted with chemicals and drugs created by humans, we now drink some Prozac, some valium, and some tetracycline; yes, some of everything in every drop of tap water ingested. If you, like I, listen to the advertisements from pharmaceutical corporations warning one must take care which drugs are consumed in what combinations and consult a physician on the matter before combining medications, one may be as concerned as I about what effects we are causing to human and animal life by infecting our water supply with not only drugs but also toxic chemicals and pollution from factories and farm runoff. It isn’t inconceivable some forming fetuses experience horrible reactions to the combinations of drugs and/or other toxins present in the water ingested by its mother.
Science observes the effects from human contamination of its water supply on animal populations. For instance, recent research has revealed that the runoff from farming is leading to deformity in frogs because of the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous. The increased levels of those chemicals promote a parasitic infection of tadpoles resulting in the loss of legs, the appearance of extra legs, or other deformities. Scientists have discovered the high levels of drugs which have leeched into our waterways lead to a variety of troubling problems for fish and wildlife. For example, female fish have been found to also develop male genital organs, incur high rates of kidney failure, and reduced growth also occurs in some species. As we see in the animal kingdom, the effects from our water pollution can cause birth defects in a variety of species, so the possibility that the sudden spike in human birth defects might be causally related as well isn't so far-fetched.
The AP has reported finding pharmaceuticals in the drinking water of 41 million Americans, generally about 20% of the population. However, most of our largest cities (like New York City, for instance) refuse to conduct the tests, so no finding can be made. That, of course, does not mean New York City does not channel contaminated tap water through its pipes to its citizenry. But it does skew the results of the AP’s findings as well as the percentage. It seems more likely that New York City water would have some pharmaceuticals in its water, too, given the size of the city and its proximity to industries, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the population size which would be the sources for leeching. Ironically, there is a new brand of bottled water which originates from NYC tap water. That could present a national hazard, and there is no FDA regulation to protect consumers from drinking bottled water containing pharmaceutical contaminants or toxic pollutants.
On December 8, 2008, researchers at the University of California at Davis released information regarding the effects on fish in the waters of the San Francisco Estuary stemming from contaminants found in their bodies. The offspring of striped bass were found to have underdeveloped brains, dysfunctional livers and inadequate energy supplies. These offspring were also smaller and grew at a slower rate than fish grown in the uncontaminated water of hatcheries. The fish were contaminated with a mix of pesticides, industrial chemicals and flame retardants. The scientists inform us the contaminants are passed from mothers to their eggs causing the offspring to be born with the birth defects described. Lead author of the study's report, David Ostrach, went on to say, “If the fish living in this water are not healthy and are passing on contaminants to their young, what is happening to the people who use this water, are exposed to the same chemicals or eat the fish?” I'd like to know what effect the contaminants are having on the children of the people who are exposed to or who ingest the contaminants since one of the flame retardants found in the fish in this study have been discovered in Bay Area women’s breast milk at levels which are 100 times those measured in women elsewhere in the world. Also, considering the effects the contaminants have on fish brain development, could this provide a clue into the causes for the sudden rise of Autism and/or Downs Syndrome?
In another consideration, parents are shocked to discover their children, whether as young as 18 months or matured to 5 years, often have chemical exposure levels of up to seven times that of their parents. One 18 month old has been reported as exhibiting 2 to 3 times the level of flame retardants in his body as have been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in rats. The industrial chemicals with which we come into contact every day are accumulating in our bodies and endangering our health.
America is experiencing an epidemic of environmentally transmitted disease among its children from asthma to childhood cancers to birth defects and even developmental disorders – all of which are growing at an exponential rate. In yet another example of pollution’s effects on human populations, science informs us the softening agent found in many plastic products leads to infertility among men. Meanwhile, the EPA estimates they receive requests to approve new chemicals at the rate of about 1500 per year. Unfortunately, the EPA does not conduct studies or concern itself with the effects chemicals and drugs will exert upon the environment. Consequently, the potential second-hand effects these chemicals might exert on human (or other animal populations) remain unknown and unconsidered at the time the drugs or chemicals are approved for use.
I feel it is equally significant to interject the possibility that the roots of human tragedies such as DS and Autism may lie in the genetically engineered food we eat. Botanical engineers have been playing with the genetic material in our food for many decades now. The food you buy at the market has been genetically modified to be larger, plumper, more robust, prettier, and more uniformly exhibiting a beautiful and unflawed appearance. However, at the same time, the actual nutritional value in the foods has been reduced by those same genetic modifications.
Naturally, any reduction in nutritional value of our food induces people to eat more in order to obtain the required nutritional value needed to sustain them. What does that yield? Why, of course, increased obesity among consumers and increased income for the huge corporate farms and their “dealers,” grocery stores and fast food restaurants engaging in commerce today. This is one of the best reasons for individuals to have their own gardens and to both grow and buy organically produced foods grown from seeds which have not been genetically engineered.
A report from the University of Copenhagen released in the summer of 2008 claimed that organically grown foods do not contain higher nutritional value than foods grown which use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, the study used the same strains of foods – meaning they were using the foods produced by plants grown from the same genetically modified seeds for each study group: organically grown and organically pest controlled foods versus chemically fertilized and chemically pest controlled foods. One must test the nutritional value of unaltered strains of vegetative food materials against those “Big Agriculture” has genetically modified to discover how much nutrition has been extracted from our diet through the genetic modification of human food sources which “Big Agriculture” has initiated solely in order to increase profits.
Another major concern with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides lies in the severe damage the runoff from our farms causes upon our oceans. Scientists keep discovering the breadth and scope of ocean “dead zones” is more pervasive than previously thought. An additional 200 oceanic dead zones have been discovered than were thought to exist only two years ago so the current total now suggests at least 400 such oceanic dead zones have been discovered by scientists.
The dead zones exist where there is not enough oxygen in the sea to sustain life. These dead zones arise almost entirely because of human activities, most especially because of the commercial farming chemicals which run off into the ocean. That pollution feeds algae. When the algae die, they decompose, using up oxygen. The chemical pollutants create such a huge bloom of algae that when they die, their decomposition consumes so much oxygen as to leave that area of ocean a dead zone. We introduce so many chemicals from our commercial farming methods into the ocean that the sea’s dead zone areas have grown to the point that a dead zone the size of New Jersey now exists in the Gulf of Mexico.
A 2006 Manchester Business School study which assessed the environmental impacts of food production and consumption informs us that organic farming does not yield the huge release of Climate Change causing emissions in nitrous oxide which occurs with the use of industrial fertilizers and that organic farming techniques trap carbon in the soil, removing it from the atmosphere. The study also found that organic farming is mostly performed on the local level, immensely reducing the number of miles the food must be shipped for delivery to market, thereby also reducing the carbon emissions released in conjunction with its transportation.
No matter the cause, the reduced cognitive capabilities stemming from Autism, DS and other neurological impairments are the result of physiological influences. This fits perfectly with my theory that consciousness requires the presence of life which possesses a living brain (the physical medium which is the mechanism allowing consciousness to function) and where the brain properly functions. This would be true whether consciousness resides in the brain or in an electromagnetic field surrounding and permeating the brain.
I am sure none of the neuroscientists I have mentioned would agree with my hypothesis that consciousness resides in an electromagnetic field which surrounds and permeates the brain and medulla oblongata. That does not make my theory invalid. I simply point out that all neuroscientists (and all scientists conducting research into any biological or physiological field) use as standard operating procedure the premise that all physiological processes have their roots in cells while all psychological pathologies have their roots in either physiological impairments or are the byproduct of behavior strategies arising as a result of life experiences. Hence, all neuroscience seeks answers to its questions within the brain and environmental factors affecting brain functioning.
Let’s return to investigating the source of mind.
Dr. Sam Parnia of Southampton General Hospital in England in a show investigating the possibility of life after death on the BBC on October 23, 2000, said, “Nobody understands how brain cells generate thoughts.” He said it might be that the mind or consciousness is independent of the brain. He went on to say, “When we examine brain cells, we see that brain cells are like any other cells, they can produce proteins and chemicals, but they are not really capable of producing the subjective phenomenon of thought we have.” He continued, “The brain is definitely needed to manifest the mind, a bit like how a television set can take what are essentially waves in the air and translate them into picture and sound.” [Note that those waves are electromagnetic waves, the same phenomenon of which Pim van Lommel has spoken in regard to his NDE research, as well as which I attribute as being the seat of consciousness.]
I sincerely doubt anyone other than I (with the possible exceptions of Pim van Lommel and Dr. Sam Parnia) conceives the possibility consciousness exists in electromagnetic fields (and I am not suggesting that either man has or has not considered such a possibility). It just seems a logical deduction from the research I have been doing that not only could I not ignore it, the more research I have done, together with the more thought I have invested into the possibility, the greater my belief vests in this theory.
Continuing our study into pathologies in order to aid illumination of mental processes, let me present another interesting example with regard to sight discussed by Dr. Sacks. This example concerns an individual born with congenital cataracts, meaning the child was born sightless. When the cataracts were removed, the child remained unable to make any sense of the visual world. In other words, since the child’s brain had never developed the functional ability to integrate sight within the child’s consciousness, once the impediment to the ability to see was removed, sight still was not a function accessible by the brain.
Again, I am compelled to aver that consciousness is inextricably tied to a properly functioning brain. My interpretation (and I want to stress this is my interpretation which is neither borne out nor refuted by any scientific data since none exists) of this kind of example is that the mechanism for proper functioning, the brain, failed to develop the necessary neurons and synapses to facilitate sight after birth because the presence of the congenital cataracts rendered their development irrelevant during the time period when the brain would have invested in developing neurons and synapses to facilitate sight. That left the child with a brain which developed deficient of the ability to see. Again, without a properly functioning brain, the mind is incapable of operating, and in areas where the brain does not function properly, the mind will not function, even though physical pathology may be altered to allow for functioning later, as with the removal of the cataracts.
An even greater insight into the relationship between the brain and the mind arises out of the work Dr. Sacks performed with patients who exhibited “sleepy sickness” as a result of the global encephalitis epidemic of the 1920s. This was detailed in his book “Awakenings” [“Awakenings,” Dr. Oliver Sacks, 1973, rev. ed. 1990] and popularized by the movie of the same name, which starred Robin Williams [“Awakenings” Elliot Abbot, Exec. Prod; Penny Marshall, Dir.; 1990.] Dr. Sacks was able to temporarily “awaken” these individuals who had been kept alive for decades in their “sleeping” state by administering the drug L-dopa.
L-dopa is also known as levodopa, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Levodopa is typically employed to stimulate and activate the nigrostriatial dopamine system which Parkinson’s damages. Dr. Benson and Mr. Proctor [in their book, “The Breakout Principle,” Herbert Benson, M.D. and William Proctor, Scribner, 2003 pg 222], tell us most recent research indicates Parkinson’s patients relief is more appropriately attributed to the placebo effect, or remembered wellness as they prefer to term the observation.
What they mean by remembered wellness is, in some situations, the mind seems to be able to heal the body through the power of a strong belief invested by the patient in their inevitable recovery. When patient and doctor both invest intensely and unconditionally in the eventual efficacy of a particular treatment regimen, the results quite often conform to their belief system. Dr. Benson’s research with the Harvard Medical School offers findings suggestive that the mind/body link can, when appropriately stimulated to do so, remember wellness in the body and, in the process, can rejuvenate the body into the shape and general conditions from a time when wellness can be remembered. But I digress.
What I find most fascinating about Dr. Sacks recapitulation of these patients’ case histories is that they proved incapable of recollecting any thoughts, memories or any other form of mental activity during the decades in which they were “asleep” – not even dreams. In other words, the consciousness of these people did not die, but lay dormant, or in what might be termed a state of hibernation.
However, once the patients’ were “reawakened,” so was each individual consciousness awoken. The revivified consciousness of the patients did not exhibit any apparent negative effects from decades of dormancy. They did awaken, however, thinking of themselves as being the same age and in the same time period as when they had last been conscious.
This makes an even greater case against consciousness’ ability to function without the presence of a concomitantly functioning brain as well as a case for consciousness existing outside the brain. As long as the brain is alive, whether or not it functions, that particular individual consciousness will also continue to exist. This is commonly accepted by all of us. However, the consciousness fails to register any activity, awareness, perception, memory or any other kind of thought in the absence of a properly functioning brain where ever, and in every system where, that brain fails to function properly to the degree the brain cannot properly function in that area or system. In the cases of the post-encephalitic epidemic patients treated by Dr. Sacks, the brain apparently lost the ability to record new information and stimuli as they were experienced or perceived, consequently, the patients could not remember anything from the period after they fell “unconscious.”
Once again, this correlates perfectly with my theories. The electromagnetic field, which I postulate as being the seat of consciousness, will continue to exist as long as the brain is alive. This is the case because as long as the brain is alive, there will exist within it electrically charged particles, and both their presence and the perpetual at-motion state of the ions within the brain guarantees the existence of one, unique, cohesive and persistent electromagnetic field. I contend the persistence of that one, unique, cohesive and persistent electromagnetic field is the only explanation for the continued presence of a unique, cogent and persistent individual consciousnesses in a physical body which otherwise completely remakes itself many times over during the life span.
“How,” you might wonder, “can I remotely consider suggesting the electromagnetic force explains consciousness?” Bear with me a moment and entertain some extrapolations of what science knows about the electromagnetic force.
Science lists the electromagnetic force as one of the four fundamental forces of nature along with gravity, the weak force and the strong force. Wikipedia informs us, “The electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field.” Humans are electrically charged objects. The human brain is a hotbed of electrical activity. Consequently, we produce an electromagnetic field. The field “affects the behavior of charged objects” (humans, especially brain activity) in its vicinity. This is exactly what I am suggesting, the field affects human behavior - it initiates or wills the behavior.
“The field can be viewed as a combination of an electric field and a magnetic field. The electric field is produced by stationary charges [charged particles], and the magnetic field by moving charges (currents);” the combination of charges, stationary and at-motion, being the sources of the field. One can imagine the field as “quantized, being composed of individual photons.” It’s a real, physical, observable thing. “Experiments reveal that electromagnetic energy transfer is better described as being carried away in ‘packets’ or ‘chunks’ called photons with a fixed frequency.” [The quoted material in this paragraph was all taken from Wikipedia.]
Isn’t this how scientists describe information transfer in computers, by chunks or packets of bytes (kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes) which are nothing more than electrically charged objects encoded with either an on or off signature (zero and 1). That kind of signature description is the same thing as a charge of either positive or negative. Charges can be arranged in combinations of orders (variations of the binary code of zeroes and ones just as easily as variations of binary code expressed in pluses and minuses) to capture and retain data as well as to interpret and convey meaning.
One way scientists appreciate the electromagnetic fields’ effects is through a feedback loop. They describe it as being: 1) charges generate fields, 2) fields interact with one another, 3) fields act upon charges, and 4) charges move. It can just as easily be said of humans: 1) their bodies generate their minds, 2) their minds interact with one another, 3) their minds act upon their bodies, and 4) their bodies move.
Think of the analogy of a refrigerator. As long as it is plugged into the wall outlet, electricity will pass through it, and an electromagnetic field will exist as a result. When the brain dies, or the fridge is unplugged, the electromagnetic field will eventually dissipate. If the amount of electricity emanating from the wall should be significantly decreased, the fridge will still have an electromagnetic field, but it may not have enough power to keep anything inside it cold. In the same way, if the brain is still alive but unable to function for whatever reason, the electromagnetic field will still exist, but the electromagnetic field may not generate sufficient energy for any thoughts to occur or experiences to register. However, once the current returns to normal power levels, the brain, just like the fridge, will return to normal functioning as it did with Dr. Sacks’ “sleepy sickness” patients.
However, I believe death yields an altogether different result which becomes clearer when viewed through this example. If one unplugs a refrigerator, the appliance does not die. Certainly, one could easily plug it back in and it would run just as well as ever. However, a particular event occurs if the fridge is unplugged. The charged particles stop moving. When they cease to move the magnetic field weakens. In time, all the electrically charged particles will leave the area of the refrigerator, and the electromagnetic field will dissipate.
Let me explain the difference between humans and appliances in this example. A refrigerator has no consciousness and is not dependent on the existence of any particular or specific electromagnetic field in order to operate. If one plugs the appliance back into the wall, electricity will begin to flow through it again, a new electromagnetic field will be generated, and the fridge will operate.
However, I contend that humans do depend on their very specific electromagnetic field to produce consciousness and to sustain their lives. When a human body dies, the physical processes of the brain cease to function. That means the electrically charged particles stop moving, the magnetic field will weaken, and eventually, the electrically charged particles and the fields will dissipate.
As we have seen with Dr. Sacks’ “sleepy sickness” patients, as long as the body and brain remain alive, even if the brain is in “off mode” and unable to register and store new stimuli and data, the mind, or consciousness, waits - always at the ready - to be turned back on. If the brain starts to function properly again, the mind will find it is still there, ready to function. The mind will function as well as the brain is able to facilitate its functioning.
Some individuals exhibiting Savant Syndrome, like those with impressive number skills, provide examples of just what the mind is capable of when sufficient synapses are invested in a particular area of function. How minds function and interact with reality depends to a large degree on how one invests in one's synapses.
For instance, scientists theorize that an Autistic Savant is the product of the way in which the developing child’s synapses developed - so few synapses were invested in areas devoted to social functioning that the synapses of the brain were enabled to invest mostly in one specific area, the area of special talent. I find one problem with that theory; it expresses no explanation for what occurred to the investment in synaptic development among the non-Savant Autistic. I would further suggest the fact that a child of 3 has double to 10 times the number of synapses compared to an adult indicates we exhibit atrophied usage of our minds’ actual capabilities by perhaps as much as a factor of from double to ten. Maybe every one of us is capable of exhibiting Savant talents in some field, or multiple fields. Maybe we just aren't stimulated properly for synaptic development to invest properly.
It is worth noting with regard to Dr. Sacks' post-encephalitic patients’ inability to record new information, the brain does not stop neurogenesis in individuals afflicted with a coma, so there was no explainable biological impediment to storing new data according to current scientific dogma, even if the data is only in the form of dreams. Let’s consider: a- Dr. Sacks’ patients all maintained persistent awareness of self consistent with the time when the patient last had been coherently conscious, b- therapy had been ongoing, c- the patients did get out of their beds and engage with the world; however, while d- neurogenesis was not affected, e- no memories from the “asleep” consciousness were ever recorded by any of those patients.
What is the one unifying and common element to the persistence of consciousness in Dr. Sacks’ patients? Is it not the persistence of the same electromagnetic field? The bodies’ senses functioned, yet no new input was being correlated by the brain. However, when the people were “awoken” back into consciously aware perception and interaction with the world (because their neural activity received a jolt from the administration of L-dopa and its effect of stimulating synaptic activity to re-spark), it was as if they awoke on the day after they first went to “sleep.” The people knew who they were and retained their previous memories. All that was missing was any recollection of events during the time they were “asleep.”
These patients had been “asleep” for about 20 years, so their bodies had regenerated and replaced their cells a couple of times over, at least. I theorize that the single continuous factor to maintain an integrated consciousness with memories from one’s childhood intact to reinforce a cogent sense of self is the specific electromagnetic field. Consequently, I suggest that field is the person’s signature because all the brain cells containing old memories had long since been replaced in Dr. Sacks’ patients by the time he induced them to regain awareness.
I can only conclude the persistence of any and every unified and sentient consciousness is inextricably tied to that specific and continuing electromagnetic field. I would expect that the electromagnetic field for every individual would be unique from one to another, and that the differences would be apparent through some signature particular to that specific electromagnetic field which ought to be perceivable with some measurement in wave lengths, oscillations, amplitudes, frequencies, etc.
As we have seen, however, in death all body functions stop. Just as with any appliance, in time the electrically charged particles will dissipate and the electromagnetic field will cease to exist. When this occurs, that particular electromagnetic field can never be regenerated.
In my mind, Dr. Sacks’ work with his “sleepy sickness” patients speaks volumes against any possibility that consciousness survives very long past death’s threshold. I say this because I believe consciousness resides in an individual’s unique, specific and persistent electromagnetic field and I have found no indication that specific field can persist long after death. I concede that it is unlikely any experiment can ever be constructed to determine this definitively. However, I cannot see how consciousness can exist after death if that consciousness dissipates along with the electromagnetic field. Clearly, it would seem to me that the fields would be assimilated by the superseding electromagnetic field encompassing the Earth which we call the magnetosphere.
This preceding material provides a fine transition to discuss Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs). The two have a set of peculiarly common perceptions which seem to underlie the generally shared awareness accompanying NDEs and OBEs. For instance, there are claims of seeing a bright light, reviewing one’s life, a feeling of overwhelming love, and a sense of greater understanding for and participation with natural order. In addition, people of different faiths or belief systems seem to feel a confirmation of whatever their chosen faith happened to be. Many people describe traveling down a tunnel. Every one describes leaving the body and looking down on the self.
Science attempts to explain away some of these commonly perceived experiences. They suggest the recounting of one’s life might be akin to having every axon memory fired one last time as each dies. But then, how is it the memories persist after near-death resolves back into life? The light and the tunnel effect might be a product of sight synapses firing and finally all lighting up brilliantly in the end. But again, if the synapses are dying, how is it that one retains sight as a perception when life supersedes near-death? And, where does the synapse for intense universal brotherhood and love exist in the brain, the shared feeling of which is so regularly described as part of Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences? Maybe we should learn how to stimulate that neuron a little more often in a few more people.
It seems likely that cultural conditioning creates strong belief systems in every individual. Near-Death Experiences confirm every one of those belief systems, each one in turn for the individual investing in the belief because, at the end, we perceive what we have been conditioned to expect, expect to expect, or want to expect. This speaks more to the depth of our conditioning, our need to self-validate self-worth at the end and the mind’s remarkable ability to manifest any phantasm or splendorous specter one can imagine in order to affirm its belief system, than that there is either confirmation of the existence of an afterlife or that any particular religion expresses the truth about such an afterlife. This is especially true given that many of the tenets of the various belief systems are mutually exclusive. Those tenets cannot be objectively real or true since so many of them disagree with one another. However, they are all subjectively real to each person who chooses to subscribe to it, and that subjective reality is what everyone comfortingly confirms for themselves in death.
If the common thread of “endinglife” reality is to validate everyone’s individual belief system, including those beliefs which are mutually exclusive, that only indicates, quite strongly I might add, that no human mind is capable of grasping any objective truths, but every subjective truth is equally true and false at every instant – both during and after life: true for the subscriber and false for non-subscribers. Such a conclusion renders all potential meaning as being universally meaningless, but to the individual, meaning remains an irrefutable, subjective truth which at the end becomes the imagination’s self-fulfilled prophesy of one’s conditioning, culture or belief system. However, logically, when one realizes that reality retains individuation through subjective perspective, one comprehends that which constitutes individual consciousness does not completely dissipate immediately upon the moment when the body ceases to function. In NDEs, the individuals’ electromagnetic fields have yet to dissipate. As long as the field persists, some thought will also persist, and apparently the ability to perceive the physical world as well, since so many NDEs and OBEs contain a thread of commonality: correct descriptions of the environment which include accurate depictions of events and environmental factors present while the individual was unconscious or near-dead, including who was in the room. If the body is revived before the electromagnetic field dissipates, “memories” from the NDE or OBE will persist in the individual consciousness after the experience has concluded.
What does this say about the existence of an afterlife and how consciousness integrates itself into the post life situation? Well, the most one can do is extrapolate based on the following criteria: how we individually choose to interpret consciousness, whether one takes seriously the claims made by individuals who experience NDEs or OBEs, and how one perceives what kind of post death reality may exist if a post-death reality exists at all.
There is a moment when the heart ceases to beat and blood stops circulating through the body. If NDEs and OBEs are real and if the experiences are as related to the non-experienced by those who have had either an NDE or OBE (and I am going to take the existence of both NDEs and OBEs along with the basic, common events from both as based in fact just as the scientists do who study them, in part because I have had multiple Out-of-Body Experiences and one NDE), then one must conclude, as I have, that there exists a period of time after the heart stops beating where the brain continues to function. It is impossible to know if consciousness functions persist even after EEG readings flat line. However, I theorize that consciousness, for at least all life forms which have brains, persists until the electromagnetic field particular to the life form dissipates. The last comment suggests to me a two step degree of mental functioning after the heart stops beating.
The first stage is relatable by the individual having an NDE/OBE upon returning to “normal” body functioning. While the body-mind link persists, the mind continues to perceive the body and physical world. The mind apparently has the means to do so since so many people “return” from an NDE or OBE and provide accurate descriptions of people present in the room, what the room looked like, where people and things were, and what was happening in the room (even if unconscious, sedated or temporarily dead).
Individuals who experience NDE/OBEs express these common experiences: they recount their lives (remember experiences), see a brilliant light to which they either feel a strong attraction or are counseled to move towards by the “spirit” of a departed family member, other loved one, or occasionally a spiritual or religious figure like Jesus (for many Christians), Moses (for many of Jewish beliefs), angels, or other deities related to the particular belief system the individuals held during life.
It is during the next stage that people are overcome with the feeling of altruistic love and understand it as being the most basic element of life. I suggest this is the beginning of the transition to the death of individual consciousness and the initial integration into the Planetary Mind. In other words, this is a period when the individual experiences an apprehension of integration with Unity.
The perspective that memories are reviewed and that a bright light appears may have more to do with brain functions firing spontaneously in an integrative moment (not as synaptic death throes). The awareness of the integrative moment occurs as all one’s experiences are “uploaded” into the Planetary Consciousness and one is afforded, during the transition to the second stage, a perceptive peek into the nature of Unity, which is revealed as the energy Love. This is the common perception of and lesson learned from those who have experienced either NDEs or OBEs. It is the same message taught by Jesus, Moses, Lao-Tse, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, every Dali Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Moody Blues, Donovan and John Lennon. Love is the most basic Universal Principle and is the first axiom upon which one can build a personal philosophy which is coherently consistent with Universal Purpose.
It seems to me the second stage becomes complete when the brain flat lines and synaptic activity ceases. This is a period where the mind ceases to perceive the physical world, having lost the use of the brain. At that point, there is no possibility for reinvigorating life into the body from a medical point of view. Medicine and science both hold that when the EEG reveals no synaptic activity, the brain is dead and cannot be revived. Even if it could, so many brain cells would have died as to render the individual severely brain damaged.
Again, science fails to consider as even a remote possibility that consciousness may reside in the electromagnetic field which will remain present (to a constantly reducing degree as it slowly dissipates). Now, I am not suggesting that body needs to be preserved to save the mind. I think that would be cruel. As we know from Dr. Sacks’ patients, the mind wouldn’t be active in a deficient brain. And if the brain was damaged, the mind would not function properly upon revival even if it could be revived. The point is, as the electromagnetic field dissipates, the constituent elements of that field would be integrated into the larger electromagnetic field which encompasses the Earth – the magnetosphere – as the ions, together with the field, dissipate from the area of the deceased's brain.
The magnetosphere acts in a variety of ways, one of which is to shield the Earth’s atmosphere from certain effects of the solar wind. Let’s look at it more in the sense of its function in an interconnected solar system.
The Sun immerses the Earth, and all the planets, in not only its photons for light and gravitons for its gravitational field, but also other photons exerting the electromagnetic field’s influence and the solar wind. We know many planets have magnetospheres, shielding out much of the solar wind. But we also know the magnetospheres are large enough to encompass that planet’s moons; they generate enormous amounts of electricity; they emanate radio wave transmissions, and they interact with the solar wind at one or another, or even both, of their poles in spectacular auroras. Jupiter’s aurora occurs at Jupiter’s southern pole, while the radio wave transmissions from its magnetosphere can be heard by earthbound radios, as would Saturn’s except that it is drowned out by the larger and closer magnetosphere possessed by Jupiter.
Jupiter’s magnetosphere, if it were visible as a light source in the sky, would dominate it. Jupiter’s magnetosphere would be the largest thing visible in the night sky, larger and brighter than even the Sun appears during daylight hours. When Saturn is positioned behind Jupiter in an alignment where Jupiter is situated directly between Saturn and the Sun, Jupiter’s magnetosphere encompasses Saturn, Saturn’s system of rings and moons, and even Saturn’s entire magnetosphere within Jupiter’s shielding umbrella.
It is also worth noting that planetary magnetospheres contain within them plasma. Science has, as yet, no understanding of the significance of this plasma. However, let’s look at how it operates. Plasma is one of the main components of the Sun. The solar wind, at least in part, emanates from the solar plasma. We also know the solar wind is intensified by stormy conditions which are associated with solar plasma flares. At times, these flares affect the Earth. Aurora light displays are accompanied by heating in the ionosphere, which leads fountains of the Earth’s ionospheric plasma to escape the Earth’s gravity. Ironically, these plasma releases feed areas of space where space plasma storms are spawned. The Earth generates new plasma from within the Earth’s core to replace that which is lost. There is a fascinating interplay (and an interrelationship) at work here which needs greater investigation.
I think of this phenomenon as being like a dance, or more literally, a conversation. The Sun is constantly in communication with the bodies orbiting it through a synaptic-like firing of electrical bolts, flashes and flares in a relationship to or emanation from the interaction between the Sun’s and Earth’s (and each other planet’s) plasma. Radio waves among and between the planets seem to keep the celestial bodies interconnected. The auroras appear like flashpoints signifying a conference taking place, harmonizing the various planets within the solar system’s grander scheme: revealing the solar system as a grand, interconnected ecosystem nurtured by the Sun.
At the same time, within the sphere of each planet’s magnetosphere is contained a complete ecosystem of its own, including differing numbers of moons and sometimes rings. I contend, as you may have guessed, these magnetospheres, as electromagnetic fields which encompass the vast living network which is our solar system (for the Sun) and which also encompass most of the planets and moons (for those living planetary ecosystems), are communicating, sentient consciousnesses.
The accumulating Planetary Mind is enriched by the totality of experience acquired by every consciously sentient, living being which has ever existed or ever will exist on the planet. As the individual’s mind merges into the Planetary Mind in death, the concept of individuality also dissipates and consciousness should at that point be able to perceive the Universe as a single contiguous mass of energy and matter. When the individual’s electromagnetic field has finally completed its dissipation, or more accurately termed, its integration into the magnetosphere (or Planetary Consciousness), which is the over-encompassing planetary electromagnetic field (Planetary Mind), the individual mind ceases to have a unique consciousness separate from totality, is united with its local source, and finds oneness in Unity on the planetary scale. At this point, the individual unit ceases to exist, think, or have any other awareness.
One cannot even postulate a logical reason for the persistence of individuality after reunification. The self would be a puny concept. Perception of the individual life would become both minutely irrelevant, and yet still magnificently enriching, since it is only in everything that anything has meaning but without something, especially the littlest things, nothing expresses or grasps the totality of everything necessary to infer meaning.
Let’s return to more traditional scientific inquiries and look at the relationship of creativity to brain functions. Dr. Oliver Sacks has presented a variety of examples in which individuals possessed some seed of an idea which lay dormant for differing periods of time until one day the seed awoke in the mind of those individuals ready to be developed. Apparently, the seed lay gestating in some unconscious realm of the mind with no conscious development. Some of the examples he presents seem extraordinary.
Harold Pinter had an idea for a play lay dormant in his mind for seven years with no conscious mental activity directed at developing it. When it came back to him after the seven years of gestation, he wrote the first line of the play. Three days later, Pinter had completed the entire play.
The following is my brief and paraphrased recapitulation of Dr. Sacks’ description of Poincaré’s creative ordeal in a particular instance.
Jules-Henri Poincaré attempted to resolve a mathematical problem concerning Fuchsian functions. For two weeks he consciously and deliberately struggled to resolve his problem with the only result being frustration. At that point, he traveled on a geological excursion. While abroad, and without having focused any mental activity on his problem whatsoever, an idea of insight which might provide the answer to his problem suddenly arose. So, Poincaré returned to his search for the solution. However, no resolution presented itself. Feeling a sense of dismay, he took another vacation to a seaside. A few days later, while walking on a bluff and again without having attempted any additional conscious effort to find the solution to the problem, Poincaré says the solution suddenly and spontaneously arose in his mind with a sense of complete certainty attached to it.
Dr. Sacks posits that a “level of unconscious mental functioning exists, which is neither the unconscious Freud wrote about nor the state of physical unconsciousness.” In this level of unconscious mental functioning, a kind of “playfulness is exerted whereby a variety of elements come together.” As he describes it, there is a “playing together of the extraneous elements.” Apparently, after enough playfulness has been applied, the various elements can coalesce into a cohesive whole, which springs to mind in the form of a complete hypothesis, solution or basis for a creative work.
The significance of this discussion, to me, is the clear indication that levels exist within an individual’s mind (or consciousness) which are inaccessible to conscious deliberate thought but which are constantly at work, actively seeking new modes of expression. I would have to add, from my point of view, if these levels exist for some, then they exist for everyone, not just the most creative or intelligent of the species. However, at least at this point in the limited investigation of this phenomenon, no one has discovered the same kind of functioning in the less creative of society. I expect that is just the result of no one having looked there. [Oh, I suddenly remember where I left my keys.]
At present, it is impossible for clinical neuroscience to investigate this mental activity and determine if any correlations to brain activity exist. I would assume, based on the information presented above regarding sight in relation to brain function, there must be some brain activity attached to it, at least during the time when information is going back and forth from the conscious mind to the unconscious (I have a problem to figure out) and from the unconscious mind to the conscious (here’s that play you wanted to write). The problem with looking for clinical proof and then subjecting that proof to analysis lies in the impossibility of knowing when and in which person the process is at work at any given moment, especially given that the individuals, themselves, don’t even know the process is in operation.
Nonetheless, the process seems to me to lie in that electromagnetic field, which, as I earlier posited, both permeates and yet surrounds the physical body. I rely on the corresponding belief that the brain, itself, as a remarkable multitasking super processor of information, cannot (just as a computer cannot) create on its own. No, there must be a “user” separate from the “computer” which has the ability for original thought. This “user” must be the essence of our consciousness and it must also be “extra-physical” (since memories continue to exist in minds long after the brain cells which, according to current beliefs of neuroscientists, should have contained those memories, have already ceased to exist). But at the same time, consciousness must be inextricably linked to the physical brain and cannot function without a properly functioning brain. Again, the only reasonable suggestion for resolving this dilemma is that human consciousness lies in the electromagnetic field, and not in the tissues of the brain.
I imagine it this way: the brain is like your computer hardware; the neural network is a combination of the Central Processing Unit or CPU (neurotransmitters and glandular secretions) and the software (synapses, dendrites and axons) which translate the user's input into bytes of pluses and minuses (sufficing for zeroes and ones) and transmits those bytes of information in chunks or packets through the program (particular system of function within the body: e.g. sight, hearing, etc.) into activity according to the user's desire; and the electromagnetic field is the user. The electromagnetic field (EMF) which is expressed as consciousness in a living thing is absolutely unique, unlike any field which came before it or which will ever come again. Consequently, the EMF is not the observable manifestation of a reincarnating spirit. A reincarnating spirit would have one consistent EMF signature in order to be a consistent and coherent, sentient entity. The EMF did not exist until produced by the body during development in the womb, so the EMF cannot be the observable manifestation of an indwelling soul, either. The EMF isn't created by God. The EMF is created by the electrical activity in the developing brain of the fetus and continues to develop throughout the individual’s lifetime. Furthermore, the EMF does not go to heaven, it dissipates into the magnetosphere.
Those of you who wish to believe in an immortal soul, or an individuality which reincarnates in lifetime after lifetime, will undoubtedly disagree with many or all of my personal views on this matter. However, to recap, my conclusions are: 1) consciousness is an extra-physical phenomenon, 2) which can be defined as the electromagnetic field generated in humans and other living creatures, hives, colonies (like ants or coral) and ecosystems by a central organ connected to the electromagnetic field (like the brain in animal life through electrically charged particles which communicate between neurons in the brain; the core of a planet which is a living ecosystem; or the core of a star which is also the center of its solar system’s ecosystem), 3) which remains vitally linked to the physical apparatus of the brain (or core), and 4) cannot exist beyond the individual’s (or ecosystem’s) physical life because individuated consciousness cannot function without the presence of life.
Bertrand Russell once wrote, “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” That observation applies to mathematics and science as well as every other field of inquiry. Any view of the development of scientific knowledge will reveal that the greatest discoveries are always made by those individuals who are able to step outside accepted scientific dogma to investigate possibilities never before considered. In this instance, I subscribe to a statement once made by Aristotle, “A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.” In my mind, my four conclusions concerning consciousness as exhibited by living beings and ecosystems constitute an eccentric theory which qualifies as a likely impossibility according to current scientific knowledge, but which, to me, is preferable to the unconvincing possibilities current neuroscientific theories and religious dogma offer.