Sprituality & Transpersonal
Being and Brain
So here we are, early on this beautiful, bright sunny morning, where everything seems to be so sparkling with light. Here we are, drinking delicious coffee, enjoying the warm, early spring air, looking out across this beautiful, rural valley.
We are here to contemplate something about our constitution and situation, as human beings. Not to "understand" it mentally or intellectually. Although we can, and will inevitably do that, too. But the idea is to actually realise the full implications of the facts. And the facts we are talking about, are scientific facts.
We can see three or four dark brown and white cows in the field on the other side of the valley. They are lazily grazing, minding their own business, very slowly ambling down the grass slope towards the brook. It's a fair way off, but we can hear the water of this stream babbling on its way, continuously making its own kind of music. And clear above the sound of the water, somewhere in the buds and leaves are the birdsongs of spring.(click below to move on)
Fresh on the warm breeze, is something pleasantly fragrant. Something sweet, something we are not sure what it is. Perhaps some scent of a new spring blossom. You can almost smell the colour yellow. All of us are enjoying this experience, the peace and natural beauty of this scene. And this is because we are what most people would ordinarily call, "conscious" of it.
What is actually going on here? If you are an artist, perhaps, a tremendous amount is going on, you might say. If you wanted to paint it. But in practical terms, not a lot, you might think. A few cows, grazing, peacefully doing what cows do. But let's look a little deeper. And we might find that behind what we take for granted, behind what most people never usually even question, is something vast and profound.
What is going on in my head, and in the brains of all those who are with me, what is going on in your head, literally, is a flow of unimaginably complex patterns of the firing of biological cells called neurons, communicating with electrochemical pulses and trains of pulses. Through a super-complex network of neurons, synapses, glial cells, and many other biological components.
That, as understood by modern brain science, is what this whole experience, in terms of matter, rather than in terms of mind and being, actually consists of. The cows we see across the valley, the sunlight we see and feel, the breeze on our faces, the scent on the air, every part of this experience, is all the construct of this brain function.
It is not that there is some being, in my head, watching some "transcript" of the external scene, created by this brain function. This brain function, the neural construct the brain is creating, is the stuff of this experience. The very experience of "I" as this self, the being of his body, and the perceiving of this scene, is arising through brain function.
Modern brain science is sufficiently far advance now, that we know this experience is a construct of brain function. It's not a mere hypothesis. It is a scientific paradigm, indeed, but that's because that's how science works. And science does indeed, work. The only reason you can be reading this, now, is because of science. So yes, it's a scientific paradigm, but it's one supported by an increasing mountain of empirical evidence.
This construct of brain function is what is being encountered, by all of us, here. What we know as the scent on the breeze, is brain function. What we taste as the coffee, is brain function. What we see as the grazing cows, and the distance across the valley, is this, this construct of brain function.
Everything we know and experience happens as functioning in the brain. The thinking, the feeling, even every experience of each part of our own body that we experience. It seems that we feel the beating of our heart, in the breast. It feels like we feel the foot, in the foot. But it all happens in the brain. We know this as a matter of scientific fact. And the rest of the nervous system, the connectome, is an extension of the brain. This is the neuroscientific fact.
That's what this is all about. It is about the fact that beyond the thing ordinarily called brain function, is something vast, and profound, waiting to be discovered, realised. But to realise it, we, as a global network, must also realise the truth about brain function, the truth about this experience we are having. Which includes the materiality of the world and the brain organ in it. Through which, as a construct of brain function, this world arises.
I am not the only one here, seeing the cows, hearing the birdsong. Those who are with me are conscious of the same things. The cows, the valley, the scent on the breeze. So as understood by modern brain science, there is something about what is going on in my brain, that is in some way the same as what is going on in the brains of those who are with me.
There is some way, through our being in approximately the same place in space and time, and seeing the same scene, that our separate brain activities are in some way similar, in what they are constructing as our experience. The constructs they are creating are synchronised and made similar, in some part, or in some way, by what is going on in the time and space of the scene in which we are taking part.
The situation inside my brain, which is where this very experience itself is created, in terms of brain function itself, is one in which "that cow over there", and even the space between me and the cow, that I can see, and the distance the light travels from the cow to my eye, and my comprehension of the light itself, is all a construct of the brain function going on in my brain.
This construct has sometimes been called the brain's "internal model”. A model", based on past experience, that is said to be "predictive" of the nature of what we experience, through the material world.
But this "internal model" that I am said to be experiencing, is actually this very valley and cows and so on, because it is this that I am experiencing. It is all of us here, sitting looking at this view, smelling this fragrance, feeling this breeze, experiencing this world that we are seeing, smelling, and feeling.
I may experience subjectively, through my own individual brain function, but what I experience, is still this. The coffee, the valley, the cows. That is my experience. The river, the birdsong, the fragrance on the breeze. All this, is what I am experiencing, and all this, is a construct of my brain function.
And even if I were to start thinking about the nature of the light coming across the valley, if I were to start to describe it as an electromagnetic wave, or as particles called photons, all of that, all of that understanding, and my description of it, is all thought. And all that thought, and the production of speech through the breath, and the moving of the larynx, and the mouth, is all produced through brain function. What is happening in the mind, is happening as brain function.
So if I were to give a lecture on that, those with me, in contact with my communication, would be engaged in similar thinking, and cogitating, and there would be some way in which the brain function in everyone in that network had something in common with my brain function.
Through our communications, there would be some kind of linking of our brain functions, the influencing of one brain by another. Two people only have to look at each other, and talk to each other, to be influencing each other's brains. Through the materiality of the world. A material world, which we only know, or experience, or know anything about, in the first place, as a construct of brain function.
This is how it is. And when you start to see this, you start to see something new, and profound. And as we shall see, it is something beyond the idea of who you are, beyond your "who I am" idea. Because this whole experience only arises in the first place, through brain function. And the prima facie thing about the human brain, the prima facie thing that is staring us in the face, about it, is that it creates our experience of self.
Where is the scene we are seeing, where is the distance between where we are on this side of the valley, and the cows on the other side?
Where is the valley, and the light travelling across the valley to enter our eyes, where is all this? Where is the whole theatre of things that this "internal model" that the brain constructs, is supposed to be "modelling"?
Everything we are experiencing here is the construct of brain function itself. This is the position of modern neuroscience. It is not some hypothesis, some conjecture, some untested theory. It is what has been well established by all the empirical evidence over all the time that neuroscience and neurology and modern brain surgery, has being emerging through our human activities.
It's not some theory that denies "mind". It's not some theory that denies even the psychical or the spiritual. It is just the scientific realisation of the fact that everything we as human beings experience as the world, and as our self, is a construct of brain function.
That which we see, or hear, or feel by touching, that which we smell, or taste, and also our experience of our own body, its size, its position, its shape, its movement, and so on, is all a construct of our brain function.
So everything I am experiencing here as the material world is in the functioning of my brain, and in the functioning of the brains of those who are with me. The brain function is creating everything we are experiencing here. That is what everything that we are actually experiencing, amounts to. And we are "sharing" this experience, because there is something in the functioning of my brain, that creates the construct in my brain in some way similar to the functioning in the brains of those who are with me.
Do you want to say the valley, and the cows, are "there", outside my brain organ? You would be quite right. Yes, indeed they are. As material things, as material objects, in space and time, that's where they are. But what I, and those who are with me, are encountering and perceiving and experiencing now, as the valley and the cows, and the space they exist in, is literally a construct of the brain function that is happening inside our heads.
I don't experience seeing neural images or representations or neural models of cows across the valley. Rather, the actual cows I see, the actual valley, and the space in which they occur, just as I experience them, albeit subjectively and in my own way, are what this construct of my own brain function is.
Something in it all, beyond my own subjective experience of it all, is objective. Which means it is not dependent on the functioning of my particular brain. But nonetheless, there is nothing “there”, that anyone can ever find, that is not in one way or another, a construct of brain function.
Most people wouldn't say they experience being the cow, or the valley. They would say they only experience seeing them, or sense perceiving them. But the real question here, is, who is this "I" who sees? It arises through brain function. Shut down the brain function, and that "I" disappears. It, too, is a construct of brain function.
What I see as outside my own brain organ, is in fact a construct of what is going on inside my brain organ. It's not that the valley and the cows and the space they are in, as the stuff of material existence, as material objects, in space and time, are spatially inside my head.
Rather, it is that the entire scenario in which there is this space and the objects in it, including the object of my own brain organ, is a construct that is implemented in nature through brain function. Through the functioning of my own brain, and the brains of those who are with me.
So it's not just my brain organ it happens through. It happens through any normally working human brain organ that comes here. Here, to this place, that is a construct of brain function. Any human brain that comes here, has some part of its working that starts to work in this way.
Of course, all this may seem a little difficult, if you have never come across talk like this, before. That unfamiliarity and potential difficulty, is why practically no one wants to see it in this way. Most people would rather say that this place here, this valley, with these cows, and the scent on the breeze, is a place that exists separately from, and independently of, anyone's brain function. Even though the only thing that anyone ever experiences, when they come here, is a construct of their own brain function.
Most people would rather argue that our brains are interpreters of this place, creating an "internal model" or "neural model" of it, rather than being the creators of it. However, the neuroscientific fact is that what our brains create as this "internal model" or "neural model", as our experience of this place, is what we actually experience as this place.
What we experience isn't always what is objectively the facts of how this place is. Neuroscientists say that this "internal model" that the brain constructs, is a "predictive model" that to some extent creates our experiences out of its predictions of what those experiences "should" be. It bases its predictions on the past.
And so we might have an illusory or mistaken experience of something. These predictions are based on the past. But what was it that was experienced in the past? It was a construct of brain function.
This principle in no way means that we are experiencing a "predictive model" of something that is not already a construct of brain function. It just means that there is a difference between the implementation of the construct by an individual brain, and the principle of the construct itself, which doesn't depend on any particular, individual brain.
There is a principle by which our brain function creates our experience of the material world. And it's not a principle that arises in any individual brain, in isolation. And that shouldn't surprise us. Because in the way we currently understand the "evolution of the brain”, no brain organ comes into existence in isolation, anyway.
Nature creates our brains through the material world. But the material world itself, is also a construct of brain function. At first sight, this might seem paradoxical or difficult. But it is not, really. And we shall be coming back to it.
If I walk across the valley, I don't experience a "model" valley, that I am walking across. If I touch one of the cows, feel it, smell it, hear its breathing, I am not experiencing a "model" of a cow. I am experiencing the very thing that we all call the cow.
This thing that I am experiencing, called a cow, an experience that is a construct of my brain function, is the thing that we call the cow. The cow I experience, is the neural so-called "model", or neural construct, of my brain function.
The "internal model" that brain function creates, is the world that we are experiencing. It is one and the same. It is not an "internal model" of anything separate from itself. Despite the commonplace conviction that what we experience as the world, and the things in it, is all separate from our brain function. And that we then experience it through an "internal model" created by the brain.
So nature is far more sophisticated than we generally realise. This construct that our brain function creates, which we experience as the world, the universe, other people, cows, dogs, cats, and also our self, is a very sophisticated construct. It is not just a construct created through our brain organs. Amazingly, it is a construct in which our brain organs also appear.
The whole thing, the whole trick, is a construct of nature. It is actually quite easy to see, once we transcend our pre-existent thought about what nature is. Once we transcend the presumption that material nature has nothing to do with us, other than that we happen to be arising in it. And any feeling we have that this is difficult "to get our head around", is only an apparent difficulty that it is possible to overcome.
One thing that both the whole history of science has taught us, and that our lives as human beings should be teaching us, is that you shouldn't necessarily reject something, just because at first it seems difficult to comprehend. Because it may turn out to be the truth.
The valley, the cows, the space across the valley, the colour of the cows, the sunlight, the green of the grass, all of these things just as I and those who are with me experience them, the things themselves, are a construct of the functioning of our brains.
So is the feeling of the very movement of the wind on our faces. Everything about the world external to our bodies, that we experience, when we share that experience in some way, is some way in which our individual brain functions are working closely together.
And they are working closely together, in this way, because of the nature of this scenario in which we find ourselves. Because of a particularly important feature of this neural construct that we are encountering and experiencing. A feature that we know as the objectivity of the material world.
The Objective World
Just because the material world is literally objective, doesn't require it to be separate from brain function. It just means that the nature of the material world - which is a construct of brain function - is not dependent on the particular functioning of any individual brain organ.
The objectivity of the material world we experience, even when we are making measurements of it in science, is indeed objective. But there's no scientific reason to cling to the assumption that it is not a construct of brain function, now that we know there is nothing we know or experience that is other than a construct of material brain function.
It is in this construct, that takes place the experience of doing, and measuring, and understanding, and thinking. The whole of what we called “science", is part of the construct of brain function.
The objective, material world, all we can ever know of it as human beings, is always this brain construct. It is also a means through which our brains are (or can be) connected through the construct. We just happen to call this particular part of what our brain function constructs, the objective aspect of it, the material world. And in this material world, our brains themselves constitute a network. It is a network that exists in the nature of this construct of brain function.
If I pick up the telephone and speak to you, then my brain function affects yours, and when you answer, yours affects mine. That happens through the material cause and effect of the objective material world. But in other words, it happens through this network that is part of the construct of brain function. Let's put this another way.
This place, this valley, with the cows, and the scent on the breeze, is a place. It's a place where I can experience an experience of self as "who I am", and the same is true for those who are with me. My brain conjures up my experience of this place in a unique way, that depends on my body and brain, and where it is in this place. But as a place, it's not a place that my brain organ, in isolation, has conjured up through its functioning, as a construct only of my personal brain and experience.
As a place, it is part of a thing we call the objective world. Which is why all of us here experience it. Each in our own way, perhaps, but it is nonetheless the same place that we experience.
The objective world is a place that doesn't depend on any individual subject who is experiencing it. That's why it's objective. But that doesn't mean what we commonly think it means. It doesn't mean it's a place separate from brain function. And because this brain function is also creating the visceral experience of self as "who I am", it is not a place separate from this experience of self.
Science in its current condition will tell you that as the cow across the valley moves, the light enters my eyes, my brain responds to the moving image on the retina of the eye, and I see the cow move.
But in that scenario, science ignores the self experience created through my brain function, a part of which is that "I" see the cow move. This experience of self that we so perfectly ordinarily call "I", is also arising through brain function, the functioning of the same brain that is constructing the experience of the valley and the cow.
Science knows that the cow's movement affects my brain. That's how I see the cow move. We don't see with the eye, we see with the brain. The cow's motion is mapped to at least sixteen distinct populations of neurons in the visual cortex of the brain. We cannot reverse this.
I cannot change the movement of the objective cow, in this objective place, just by changing my brain function. I can change my experience of it, I can change how I see it, and experience it, for example by taking a drug, or if I am delirious. But I cannot change the objective features of it that others might see, or in particular, that science might measure. That's why the cow, and the valley, as "objects", are said to be objective. That's also why modern science is possible. It relies on the objectivity of the material world.
However, this doesn't mean that any part of this place with the valley, and the cows, or of this whole objective place that we call the world, or any part of what science calls the universe, or even the whole of it, as we encounter it, it doesn't mean that this is anything other than a construct of brain function.
Our material home is not a place independent of brain function, a place that brains just happen to be in, responding to. It is a construct of brain function that depends on the principle of brain function. It depends on the way it creates our experience of being and perceptions and intelligence. And that aggregate of all experience that is integrated by brain function, the sum of all experience delivered by brain function, in an individual, is what many brain surgeons today recognise as the experience of self.
We may look through telescopes deep into the cosmos, we may examine the smallest parts of the objective world that we can find, using our scientific equipment, we may wonder at the magnificence of the supernova, and the elusiveness of the quantum particle, and understand it all according to how we understand all this material phenomena to work. Which indeed is how it works, according to our current understanding of it. But it is all, just as we experience it, and just as we think about it, and comprehend it, and even measure it in science, brain function in action.
Even what we understand theoretically, in more abstract understanding, is still within the nature of this construct made through the principle of the brain. All of that thought, all of that understanding, all the concepts, all the concept-structures, are something we do encounter. We encounter it as mind and thought and comprehension. And all that, too, is the construct of brain function. It is all part of the intelligence we are being. Which has been instantiated through the principle of the brain.