Midweek Mysticism: Neuroscience confronts reality of the spiritual
“Old wives” traditionally tell us that everything comes in threes, especially bad luck.
The BBC had a distinctly old wifeian series of disasters this week, the consequences of which are still unclear, but which conceivably could spell the end of its monolithic structure and alleged metropolitan bias — surely not!
Let’s be kind, the Beeb does some things very well. One of them is occasionally to report on moments when the assumed infallability of science — a demigod at Broadcasting House — is rent apart.
A great deal of science is based on theory and supposition, and yet chunks of it are reported as if they were true in an absolute sense.
One of those moments is at hand. It began with the report by neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander that, while the human part of his brain was effectively “dead”, he was given a tour of Heaven, or at least a higher stage of reality.
This week BBC medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, broke a story of doctors discovering ways to communicate with people categorised as being in a “vegetative state”, and hence as good as dead. One wonders if they know that traditionally the “vegetable body” (situated around the solar plexus) is the gateway to the spiritual world?
In the new case, a man who had lost all sense of himself, his essential attributes, and presumably, most of his cortical brain function, could answer questions put to him by activating parts of his brain visible to the scientists in an MRI scanner.
He “said” he was happy and not in pain, much to the relief of his family. This is a fascinating breakthrough. The doctors would do well to look at the views of genuine mystics who have studied the subtle interfaces between body, mind and spirit for literally millennia.
Let’s start with some definitions, almost always the infernal flies in the ointment:
Spirit is the ancient word for consciousness and thus equivalent to it. I often use “Spirit/Consciousness” to convey that this is not what science calls consciousness — many neuroscientists believe (and it is a belief) that there is no consciousness outside the brain. I hope the current batch of new developments will nail this frankly illiterate notion once and for all.
Consciousness is both personal and impersonal. The latter is what we call God, the personal is “soul”. Consciousness (with upper-case “c”) is soaked into the Universe and, indeed, is indistinguishable from it, seen spiritually. Some Zen masters make this distinction as Big Mind/Little Mind, although I prefer to use “mind” — originally “heart” in old texts — for something else.
Mind is the contents of consciousness — our everyday thoughts and impressions. It’s what dies with our body, leaving consciousness (soul) to carry on to the next stage. I should point out that all these stages exist simultaneously, only our level of understanding determines where we are at any one time.
Once you look at the events of the recent “discoveries” by neurosurgeons and scientists in these terms, everything becomes simple and explicable. Anyone who studies their own consciousness, through meditation — methods of quieting thoughts and seeking stillness — will eventually arrive at this hierarchy of understanding.
It’s not rocket science, but with a little humility, it could be Science.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.