Monday, June 2, 2014

The Neuroscientists' Map of Heaven



Recently, I was being interviewed about my three Near Death Experiences and the spiritual realizations that grew from them. The interviewer asked me if there was any scientific support for my views, or if my assertions were "just a matter of opinion."  But all profound spiritual experience is a matter of opinion. There is no proof I could give her, other than to show her what's in my heart. What has happened for me. 

For that variety of spiritual skeptic devoted to "proof" – to results of the scientific method – profound spiritual experiences always present an intriguing problem: finding a provable explanation for mysterious, personal phenomena. When one has predetermined that any extra-dimensional cause, or “magical” explanation is impossible, the problem is how to simply reveal the source of the phenomenon by applying scientific methodology. Like flicking on the lights on at a fraudulent séance. 
These days, the favorite way to conduct that search comes through "mapping" the human brain, whose incredibly complex workings are currently being captured and cataloged by ever-expanding artificial intelligence. Since there's so much going on inside of our brains, naturally the paranormal – even "The Divine" – has simply got to be in there somewhere too.
  
The idea that there's a spiritual part of the brain, an area where cellular electro-chemical activities generate sensations of unity and transcendence (neurotheology) isn't really new, but thanks to advances in brain-mapping, it's been getting a lot more airplay lately. Locating and documenting the "God Part" of the brain could provide a tidy explanation for the persistent belief that an external, or even cumulative, intelligence is at work in the world. It could decisively debunk all the claims of transpersonal, extra-dimensional spiritual experiences, like those made by the growing ranks of near death survivors, and other such witnesses of the sublime. 
After all, even we mystics and navel-gazers ourselves suggest that it’s an inward path to spiritual realization, so doesn't it just make scientific sense that divine experience doesn’t originate from without, but from somewhere within – within the circuitry of our brains, that is?

The real problem is that every direction you look in turns magical pretty quickly. Looking outside of our brains, we’re immediately assailed by the totally incomprehensible domain of our very being. That darn infinite cosmos. First, there's the fabric of Time/Space, loaded with the galaxies and question marks that we see when we look into the night sky. Then, there's the limitless sub-atomic universe, described by the ridiculously magical – yet scientifically reliable – quantum mechanics. In both cases, Science's very best explanations are at best conditional, and otherwise reliably subject to change.

In our larger, avowedly "magical" context, mapping the mysterious processes within our brain may someday function to demonstrate how the neural pathways of the brain work, but not necessarily what the brain may actually be capable of doing. It's a bit like capturing lightning in a bottle.There's a whole lot more to it than just how it works.  

It seems to me that the real questions posed by the neuroscientific skeptics are: How are all of our sensory – and "extra-sensory" – expe-riences explained by the idea that each of our brains is independently conscious? Are our brains exclusively the generators of everything we perceive (including "God") – or aren't they quite possibly receivers, and projectors too? The answers to those questions almost seem obvious.  

Naturally, there's a part of my brain that experiences spiritual sensations. There's a part of it that experiences heat and cold and hunger and heartbreak, too. There's a degree to which all sensations are received, and generated, and projected out into my life (and yours sometimes) by me, and my little ol’ eight pound brain. And the same is true for you too. That’s how we process this life, whether our “reality” reaches us from the outside, or grows out of the many ways we create it ourselves, utilizing these clunky (but elegant) vehicles we run around in. (No wonder they're so expensive to maintain.) 

No scientist worth his salt would suggest that temperature only exists because my brain tells me it does, though how sensitive I am to it, or how much of it I generate myself can vary quite a bit. The same holds true for the experience of profound spiritual realizations. The reality of spiritual awareness, consciousness, and extra-dimensionality is, no doubt, realized in the part of our brain that takes care of all that for us. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re only human, after all.

For thousands of years, we have been describing spiritual experiences of an extra-dimensional nature with far more solidarity and consistency than the scientific community has managed to muster in its comparatively brief life. And  even the proposition that there's an individual, brain-centered experience of the spiritual, that manifests a kind of spiritual mass delusion throughout humanity, suggests the participation in a shared field of consciousness  the conceptual lightning that quantum mechanics let out of the bottle long ago.

And what of the human heart? Can we map that as well? Studies now demonstrate conclusively that the heart, with cellular similarities to the brain, serves a cognitive function, at times controlling intellectual judgment, as well as emotion. 

Feelings of sublime connectedness, the generation of Love, and our compassionate impulses are all processed by a mixture of mind and heart. So, too, those deep, transformative realizations of a spiritual reality, most convincingly testified to by meditators and trauma survivors (including near death experiencers). But as usual, the people who have the most trouble “scientifically” squaring these kinds of testimonials with their own expectations are those who may never have had such profoundly spiritual experiences themselves. Once they do, they usually change their tunes in pretty short order.

While we don’t seem to be evolving much physically these days, we unquestionably are spiritually. The internet, synchronicity (a connecting principle without cause, according to Jung), measurable instances of global consciousness, spiritual realization of all sorts on a mass scale (not just on Oprah), as well as the incredible potential revealed by mapping the human brain, all point to an increasing awareness that demonstrates this evolution. 

Like the evolution of those parts of our brains that have allowed us to process logical thought, vision, communication, creativity, and cooperative effort, our brains –and hearts– are evolving to process our growing spiritual potential. We’re not just simply generating spiritual sensation, we’re becoming more and more capable of observing, receiving, and projecting spiritual energy through our shared field of consciousness.

I hope the skeptics discover what we believers found “within” a long time ago – namely serenity, compassion, and the deep understanding of the nature of our absolute unity. And that maybe, Love is a kind of quantum field itself.


The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere.


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