Thursday, May 7, 2020

Is That All There Is?

For a very long time I have been interested in the mind-brain connection and the answer to the question above. I was convinced that the mind had to be separate from the brain in some way. If not, how can we imagine (and I do imagine and am far from alone) that there is more than just this life? Yet, how do we explain that we are more than what we see? As George Lucas wrote for his character Yoda, "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." *

Every bit of research reinforces the view that, for our body, this is all there is. Brain studies show that when a part of our brain is damaged, by physical means, or more gradually by age or disease, our character changes as well. Those who have seen the effects of dementia on their loved ones know this all too well.

Yesterday my son pointed me to a podcast** of the NPR (National Public Radio in the USA) program Radiolab with the clever and meaningful title Unraveling Bolero. The story is about two artists, Maurice Ravel, composer of Bolero, a highly repetitive, popular piece of orchestral music from the later part of his life's work, and Anne Adams, who in her forties quit her career as a research scientist to embrace creativity in another direction - visual art. Without giving too much away, because the podcast is very well done (as are all of the Radiolab programs), both Ravel and Adams died from complications arising from progressive aphasia. Ravel's composing of Bolero and Adams' sudden embracing of the visual arts were early symptoms of deterioration in brain function.

I have been thinking a lot recently about a dream from very early childhood when I had no filter to tell me it was silly or impossible. This particular dream (I remember several) was of a time before my birth. "I" had agreed to leave a place where I knew everything in order to accept nothingness followed by life as a person in Canada in 1952. In the experience "I" agreed to do this because there was a potential to accomplish some important goal.

If we don't dismiss this dream as fantasy (and I don't) then it seems to contradict the belief that mind is something generated by our brain. Or does it? Is it possible that the Yoda quote above is close to the mark? Perhaps we (the body and brain we carry about) are host to a spirit that joins us as we are conceived, comes along for the ride, so to speak, and, finally, after this body dies, carries on in some way taking the essence of what was experienced.

It might be that the connection we often feel to the divine is an artifact of this hosting process that each of us participates in. In a very real way, we are connected to a higher power, and this is only a small glimpse into how large a connection it is, and what the nature of that higher power might be.

*Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)