June 24, 2024
SF Gate

Is Your Brain Blocking Reality?.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

The peculiarities of the human brain are as puzzling as its complexity. It is peculiar that the brain doesn’t know it exists. As monarch of the nervous system, you’d think that this simple fact wouldn’t escape it. In the same vein, you don’t need to know that you have a brain in order to be conscious—until a few centuries ago, the greatest geniuses, including Shakespeare, Newton, and Bach, couldn’t care less that they had a brain.

Once you start along this path, the scientific veneration of the brain becomes stranger and stranger, because it hides a mistaken assumption. This is the assumption that the brain answers all questions about reality. It is just as true to say that the brain blocks reality, or to be fair, it manipulates reality to suit human purposes.

Does any of this matter to the average person, a non-scientist attempting to lead the best life possible? Actually, all-encompassing explanations are so tempting that we can’t seem to do without them. Three such explanations have dominated every culture. They revolve around God or the gods, scientific materialism, and consciousness. Depending on which culture you were born in and when, one of these worldviews, as we can call them, felt totally convincing. Total belief runs into problems if you happen to disagree because worldviews all have cracks and flaws, which is an uncomfortable fact if you are a true believer.

The current reliance on the brain to explain reality is just one part of the scientific worldview but an important part. There is no doubt that the brain processes the raw data that gets turned into the three-dimensional world we accept as real through the five senses. Photons, the subatomic particles that carry light, are invisible, and it is very useful that the brain makes them visible.

Such chemical processes aren’t the same as thoughts, but the brain processes them to create every aspect of the mind. This is enough to convince neuroscience that the Brain = Mind, or at the very least that the brain is the source of the mind. It would be nice, after thousands of years of philosophical wrangling, if the mind-body problem, as it is called, was instantly solved by turning to the brain. After all, if you can’t think without a brain, what more proof do you need?

However, this logic collapses once you look more closely. Let’s imagine a world where the only musical instrument in existence is the piano. Under such circumstances, you couldn’t play Bach or Mozart without a piano, yet obviously, it would be absurd to say that the piano composed music. It is the instrument, not the cause. Likewise, we only have one instrument of thought, the brain, but there is no proof that it is anything but an instrument.

Getting around this glitch is so difficult that philosophy was right to be baffled by the mind-body problem. Over the past forty years, I’ve been in contact with scientists who absolutely won’t budge when it comes to Brain = Mind, some of whom write whole books on the subject. Here are a few crucial questions they can’t provide answers to.

  • Did your brain write your book or did you?
  • How does your brain decide to ask questions about the brain?
  • How exactly does the brain see light when it is dark inside the visual cortex? How does it hear sounds when it is silent inside the auditory cortex?
  • If every chemical process in the brain is determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, where do free will, curiosity, insight, self-doubt, and skepticism come from?
  • If you deny free will, do you think everyone is a brain puppet, including those who study the brain? If you accept free will, how did the brain get past the determinism of chemistry and physics?
  • What proof is there that the brain experiences anything? Doesn’t this come down to the unacceptable idea that atoms and molecules have experiences, since the brain is nothing but atoms and molecules?

The mind-body problem has been around at least since the ancient Greeks, so these questions aren’t new, nor have they been resolved satisfactorily. It is useful to hold the belief that the brain answers everything because that allows you to ignore such frustrating questions or dismiss them as ignorance on the part of the questioner. (I’ve had forty years of experience with both attitudes.)

Worldviews crumble around the edges before they give way. The worldview based on God crumbled after the Holocaust, because having faith in a benign deity no longer made sense, nor did the notion of an indifferent God who simply lets humans transgress as monstrously as they want.

The scientific worldview has been crumbling quickly in recent decades, not as something incredibly useful, but as an explanation of reality. This acceleration is due to science’s need for empirical data. Data, measurements, mathematical logic, and experiments are necessities that science must have. Unfortunately, there is no data from before the Big Bang, which makes creation a mystery that cannot be scientifically solved. There is no data for where time, space, matter, and energy come from. Ultimately, there is no data for why, how, or what consciousness is.

If the brain can’t figure out consciousness, it can’t figure itself out. This one proposition overturns the belief that the brain explains reality. Adherents to Brain = Mind won’t care, and neither will the average person who isn’t a scientist. Life proceeds on the basis of two irrefutable things: existence and experience. We know we exist, and our life unfolds as a stream of experiences from birth onward.

One can spend ages arguing over the mind-body problem, and during those ages, the worldviews based on God or the gods and scientific materialism rise and fall. In the end, this is a battle of words. Existence and experience chug on regardless. But if the allure of a worldview is irresistible, the one that seems convincing, no matter how many ages pass, is the third one, the worldview based on consciousness.

The reason for this is simple: Existence and experience are meaningless without being aware of them. We can’t speak for other living creatures—the hypothetical consciousness of a cat or gorilla is their own private domain—but consciousness took a peculiar turn when Homo sapiens acquired such acute self-awareness. “I” came into being, and the rest of the story unfolded from there. (In evolutionary terms, our hominid ancestors must have  belonged somewhere on the spectrum of self-awareness.)

As for the practical question, “Does any of this matter to the average person?” as far as the brain goes, the answer is probably not. As far as consciousness goes, on the other hand, the answer is yes with a vengeance. By opening the door to consciousness, you open it to the highest values of humankind: love, compassion, empathy, insight, curiosity, personal growth, creativity, inspiration, and spiritual experience. The fact that the brain can process these values is a miracle I’m gratefully willing to accept. The veneration of the brain, not so much.

For more details, see my book, “The War of the Worldviews,” co-authored by physicist Leonard Mlodinow.

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.  Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution for the last thirty years. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Digital Dharma: How to Use AI to Raise Your Spiritual Intelligence and Personal Well-Being. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”  www.deepakchopra.com

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