Who Are We Beyond Our Brain? Science Explores The Answer To The Question
While I have never had a true near death or out of body experience, one memory that I have preserved was of a time I fainted while visiting Copenhagen in college.
One moment I was awake and watching a movie in a smoke filled hall, and the next thing I “knew” I was looking up at a friend administering smelling salts and asking me if I was ok.
The amazing thing that I remember was in the interim – I was somewhere and many places, some seemed to be ethereal and others were other worlds – and then somewhere inside me a voice remembered my parents and said it was time to go back. But how to get there? This is where it got interesting – I distinctly remember that my mind realized that it needed to connect to a set of “facts” – like the memory of my parents, where I lived, where I was going to college, and several other known details, and when they were all back in my memory bank, like tumblers of a lock, it all clicked and I “remembered who I was” and woke up – my eyes opened. I was “Tom.” And I was “back.” I decided that I would never forget that experience because while I was “there,” these other worlds weren’t just dreams, they were “real.” Since then I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon “who” I am. In my 66 years I have played numerous roles, many of them job-related and others of course as a son, mate, friend, and so on. And most recently, working with Michael Jeffreys and reading work like Eckhart Tolle and attending conferences like Science and Nonduality, the issue of consciousness and the true self have become paramount. As I have described previously, my own epiphany in this area came when I saw geneticist Juan Enriquez speak at TED and describe how DNA works as a computer program – not as an analogy but in reality. There are two aspects of computers that we now know through our own experience that make this a cutting edge bit of knowledge: Keep in mind that in modern times mankind did not have a clue about the possibility of software until after World War II and our own experience with it evolved years later. Previously there were ciphers and codes and even in those instances it took very “intelligent” machines to decipher their meaning. Now it seems that the same science of Biology has also discovered that this same operational capability is in even the simplest of organisms.
There are amoeba with DNA “genomes” as complex or even more complex than our own. And now this: “Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that neurons are risk takers: They use minor ‘DNA surgeries’ to toggle their activity levels all day, every day. Since these activity levels are important in learning, memory and brain disorders, the researchers think their finding will shed light on a range of important questions.” Neurons reprogram themselves – how? If they were human we might suppose that it is based on “experience,” but these were once stem cells – or cells with no “purpose” that could have become lungs, hearts, stomachs, or ears but were reprogrammed to be neurons and now they do this – they form networks.
These networks, of course, are matrixes of information and meaning – just like the tumblers of the lock that “I” used to reclaim my own identity when I fainted and woke up. So here was once again the notion of “Self.” Back at the Science and Nonduality conference, neuroscientist Rudy Tanzi of Harvard who studies Alzheimer’s describes this as a brain disorder in which the “Self” disappears because these networks are no longer operational. In terms of software this could be seen as a malfunction or “bug,” or in the case of a network – loss of “connectivity.” So two more things become apparent: First, the Self is not a static entity, but rather the result of presumably neural functions that create connections and networks based on internal meaning and memory; and These networks form and operate under the direction of DNA, which is literally software code. If we accept both of these premises and add our own concrete experience with software like Word, Google, and Photoshop, we must acknowledge that these functions are manifestations of a vast underlying intelligence (God, Consciousness, Source, whatever) that predates us and will probably exist long after our own species has gone extinct – especially with its scientific hubris of objective knowledge. With this basic understanding it becomes clear that no “science,” whether biology, physics, or psychology, will ever achieve “truth” without a more profound appreciation for and comprehension of this underlying vast intelligence. Astrophysics has hinted at the possibilities in its discovery of “dark matter” and biology and genetics have disparaged it with their dismissal of “junk” (unknown) DNA, but this is the crux of what is deemed “the hard problem of consciousness,” and until we disappear completely as a species it’s not going away.
The best we can probably do now is to consider that the “Self” is software running in the brain or perhaps throughout our body, which makes it, as Eckhart Tolle and others say, “no thing.” .
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