Neuroscience, Hominisation, and the Proliferation of Cultures in the Context of Spiritual Evolution

 

by psilo

 


 

 

            Modern evolutionary theorists suggest that the human being and the human species generally is undergoing significant changes in brain function and complexity.  In this paper I hope to explore some of the recent findings of neuroscientists in regards to the development of the human brain in concert with postmodern conceptions of the meaning and value of diverse cultures.  Within much of postmodern cultural theory there is considerable resistance to ideas associated with evolutionary development towards a telos or higher levels of consciousness and awareness.  Postmodernists argue that we cannot extract the human being from the larger cultural milieu from which they are embedded and that contemporary evolutionary theories can be used as another device for the white, European or western man to assert superiority over other ‘less-evolved’ cultures and peoples.  Further, postmodern theory attempts to challenge our assumptions about the complexity and depth of any particular culture in regards to others.  Attempts to create a hierarchy of culture or projects insisting on the superiority of any given cultural manifestation within a set of consistent and normative values is strongly challenged within contemporary postmodernism.  However, there is significant evidence indicating that an evolution is in fact occurring on our planet today and that our resistance to the incorporation of values into cultural theories hinders our ability to advance as a species.

 



The Evolution of the Human Brain

 

Scientists are now able to trace with a reasonable degree of accuracy the development of the human brain and how it has evolved and changed throughout the course of history.  From fossil remains and advanced dating techniques, evidence has emerged that significant increase in brain size, capacity, and complexity has occurred:

 

 

The fossil evidence allows us to trace the gradual increase in brain size over the past two or two and a half million years with some degree of precision. The average brain size of Homo habilis, far left above, who lived approximately 2 million years ago, was 750 cc. Homo erectus (next skull to the right) shows this transition most dramatically, indicating that most of the evolutionary increase in brain size took place during the life of this species. Early Homo erectus in Africa (from about 1.7 to 1 million years ago) averaged 900 cc in brain size, but later Homo erectus specimens from .5 million years ago average 1100-1200 cc, which falls within the range of the brain size of modern humans. The earliest or archaic forms of Homo sapiens, the species to which we belong (top center skull), dates to 300,000-400,000 years ago and averages over 1200 cc. The Neanderthal skull, second from right, has a brain size of 1500 cc, which is actually larger than the brains of most modern humans. The average for ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens, is around 1400 cc.[1]

 

With the advancement of the human species in evolutionary history, the brain continued to gain in size while neural crevices deepened and increased in number.  Interestingly, as evidenced in the quote above, brain size alone is not the sole indicator of advancement.  The Neanderthal skull is actually larger than most modern human brains at a hefty 1500 cc, but there seems to be a rough correlation between brain size and ability.  There may have been a point in the evolution of the human brain where size decreased while complexity increased as the brain became a more efficient informational processor.

            With the increase in brain size and overall efficiency came new abilities of thought that were apparently novel in the course of history.  One study suggests that there were 6 areas of advancement as the brain continued to evolve.  These may be summarized as follows:

 

1.      “The direct reaction to a sensor signal.”  As neural systems began to develop in various species and life forms, the ability to recognize and respond to various sensory stimuli occurred.  For example, plants were able to recognize the rays of the sun and respond accordingly.

2.      “The instinctive response to an inherited pattern which is associated with danger or food.”  Organisms obtained the ability to differentiate between categories of what we may refer to as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ on an instinctual basis.  The recognition of what constituted food for any given organism was critical to survival.  The conscious decision making process of organisms remains a mystery, but a level of instinctual or natural aversion and attraction is clearly evident.

3.      “The development of sensory memory and comparison.”  Especially developed in humans as learned habits of association, communication, and cultural customs; neural networks began to increasingly be able to record thoughts in memory and compare diverse experiences with others.

4.      “The ability to imagine, to mentally construct sensor patterns, remember them, and then use them as if they were real in the value summation neural circuits, provides a creativity element in the instinctive value summation process.” The ability to imagine and mentally construct meaningful patterns for survival is especially developed in humans as the brain is able to ‘visualize,’ predict outcomes, and mentally construct.  Other animal species may also use imagination in hunting tactics.

5.      “Conscious thought, an awareness of identity, a feeling of personal management, is a relative newcomer, and probably (not at all certain) is more developed in man than in the other higher animals.”  The ability to recognize thought itself as a process appears to be a trait especially developed in humans and made possible by the human brain.  A further awareness of identity and various other clear distinctions was made possible by this evolutionary development. 

6.      “Then, quite recently, modern man discovered intelligent thought, a rigid methodology and a mostly painful process.”  The brain soon developed the ability to construct elaborate creations informed by logical associations, testability, and overall coherence within a larger system.[2]

 

Concurrent with the aforementioned abilities and developments of the human brain came the ability to communicate using a vast array of symbols, metaphors, and language.  One of the most clearly distinctive features of human thought is the capacity of expression using various means:

 

Neural changes that lead to language are behind the emergence of higher-order consciousness…Once higher-order consciousness begins to emerge, a self can be constructed from social and affective relationships.  This self (entailing the development of a self-conscious agent, a subject) goes far beyond the biologically based individuality of an animal with primary consciousness.  The emergence of the self leads to a refinement of phenomenological experience, tying feelings to thoughts, to culture, and to beliefs.  It liberates imagination and opens thought to the vast domains of metaphor.[3]

 

Neuroscientists are now finding that language and speech played a significant role in the emergence of modern humans.  Words, symbols, and metaphors helped facilitate complex thinking both within an individual and socially with members of a communicating society.  Apparently, as a child learns to read and communicate through speech, regions of the brain are activated and developed.  Language is both a benchmark of thought and a causal factor in learning.

            The evolution of language remains a mystery to neuroscientists and evolutionary theorists.  A prominent neuroscientist VS Ramachandran explains the conundrum:

“The problem is that the human vocal apparatus is vastly more sophisticated than that of any ape but without the correspondingly sophisticated language areas in the brain the vocal equipment alone would be useless.”[4]

 

How did the vocal apparatus necessary for language and the cognitive neural mechanisms connected to formulating thoughts in terms of language evolve in tandem?  Was there suddenly a genetic mutation that took place, allowing language to come into being?  If language was a particularly influential component in human evolution, then it behooves us to get a better understanding of the complex environmental factors that led to its development and flourishing.  Ramachandran suggests that the monumental shift occurred as a result of what he calls ‘mirror neurons’ located in the frontal lobe of the brain that allows humans to mimic others and catch a glimpse of their inner thoughts by a complex process of empathic resonance.

            Furthermore, scientists and anthropologists believe that a radical shift took place during the development of human culture that dramatically altered the course of history.  Ramachandran remarks that,

The hominid brain grew at an accelerating pace until it reached its present size of 1500cc about 200,000 years ago. Yet uniquely human abilities such the invention of highly sophisticated "standardized" multi- part tools, tailored clothes, art, religious belief and perhaps even language are thought to have emerged quite rapidly around 40,000 years ago — a sudden explosion of human mental abilities and culture that is sometimes called the "big bang."[5]

 

What precipitated this explosion in mental capacity, creativity, and sophistication?  Ramachandran believes that the formation and usage of the ‘mirror neurons’ facilitated such a dramatic shift.  He proposes that as humans began to share information about tool making, agricultural techniques, and hunting strategies that a rather sudden wave of evolution began to emerge as a result of humans’ ability to mirror and copy one another.

            We may also speculate on the impact of modern innovations and their impact upon cultural evolution.  With the advent of the printing press and now with the World Wide Web, information can be disseminated around the world at lightening fast speeds.  While it remains to be seen if and how these revolutions in technology will effectuate a revolution of consciousness, it seems reasonable to suppose that as information continues to amass from diverse corners of the world that the human species as a whole will be effected by these environmental changes and a corresponding set of changes within the brain will occur.  Perhaps one of the most interesting suggestions made by Ramachandran is the relationship of the individual to the larger society.  The evolution of the human brain proceeds within a larger cultural environment and is not an isolated incident.  The individual proceeds in proportion to society’s advances.

 

Postmodernism and the Postcolonialism: Challenges to Domination

 

In reaction to enlightenment and scientific paradigms dominated by the prerogatives of western society, a new form of reflection has emerged challenging many of the assumptions of the dominant ‘class’ in western culture.  As anthropologists began to research other cultures around the world there seemed to be a rising sensitivity to the value of diverse cultures and recognition of the power dynamics existing in the modern world that threatens to abolish these valuable cultural manifestations.  Instead of merely comparing these ‘primitive’ cultures with the more ‘advanced’ technologically savvy Euro-American way of life, as they were often referred to as in the beginning of cultural exploration, anthropologists began to appreciate cultures different from their own as intrinsically meaningful, rich in religious belief and art, and perhaps even more sustainable than the west. 

The world is increasingly witnessing the impacts of colonization and postmodernism offers us a way of looking at this rather precarious situation.  Since perhaps as early as the dawn of Christianity and the strong missionary impetus that it represented from the beginning, a thrust of colonialism spread throughout the world.  As Christianity gained in popularity among the ruling classes in the Middle East and Europe in the context of technological developments, Europe looked to the West to expand power, domination, and natural resources.  Both North and South America became the breeding grounds for Christianity and European influence.  The predominant paradigm during these explorations seemed to be informed by an almost fundamentalist form of Christianity.  Missionaries were to ‘liberate’ the ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’ forms of religion that existed in these regions of the world.  Technology coupled with aggressive forms of Christian prerogatives gave rise to countless wars and ideological conflicts in the Americas and within Europe itself.  Luther’s split from the Catholic Church precipitated what looks to have been a series of quite significant revolutions.  Disenfranchised Protestants fled to the Americas often with their own forms of domination and missionary strategy informing their actions.

‘The Postmodern project’ as I shall call it herein began to wake up to these atrocities and challenge the dominant Christian colonization.  A deep appreciation began to emerge in this process for different religions on their own terms and within the cultural context from which they emerged.  Instead of quickly rushing to judgment, researchers and anthropologists began to liberate themselves from their own cultural biases and prejudices.  In part, this orientation was informed by the scientific method and need for objectivity.  Simply by observing what occurred without rushing to premature judgments, researchers were able to gradually distance themselves from the overriding culture that informed them as subjects.  Further progress occurred as philosophers, anthropologists, and cultural historians began to integrate and learn from the insights offered by these cultures.  Soon however, with the advent of postmodern thinking, a seeming relativity began to infiltrate current thinking about how to treat these insights.  The contextualizing of truth appeared to limit its relevance to confined circles and social groups.  For example, instead of asserting the premises of Hinduism but merely identify its presence within a social group, one might suppose that it is purely a matter for India, that its truths are relative, and that they do not apply or matter to the western world.  What can we learn from studying the plurality of truths present in the world?   Is truth something to be found and arrived at objectively or is truth purely contextual and confined to the practices of different, and largely incompatible social groups?  As we witness the emergence of what appears to be a ‘global culture,’ how can we avoid the extremes of syncretism and ignorance?  Today, we are seeing the currents of diverse cultures melting together into something unforeseen in the history of humankind.  How will these changes effect our cultural evolution and the contents of our minds?  Further, will science be the dominant ‘way of knowing’ the truth?

Postmodern thinking has taught us that there are multiple ways of looking at the world and different methods to understanding ‘the truth.’  While science explores the play between biological and physical forces, it can seem to lack ‘ethical valuations’ in its relentless pursuit for technological innovation.  Instead of considering whether it is ethical to trap monkeys, basically incarcerate them, and perform horrendous tests upon them, science using various methods of  so-called ‘research’ can have a deleterious effect upon cultures, the animal kingdom, and the environment as a whole.  The pursuit of scientific ‘truth’ is not our only objective either as a species or global culture.  The feminist movement, racial justice, and the appreciation of ecological implications both culturally and environmentally have brought to the attention of many sensitive thinkers the fact that the modernist train of so-called progress is threatening the entire planet and our survival as a species.  The need to integrate the diverse voices stemming from cultures throughout the world is imperative at our moment in history. 

 

Global Consciousness in the Modern World

            The modern world appears to be getting smaller everyday with the ability of humans to travel across the globe and the establishment of powerful communication devices.  Humans are apart of an interconnected network of relationships perhaps now more than ever.  Cultures rarely exist in isolation from one another as the economic landscape embraces virtually every society and corner of the world.  As a species, we appear to be moving towards a planetary identity.  In this context, our homelands seem to be disappearing or extending indefinitely.  The mobility of the modern human is permitting families and individuals to move virtually anywhere in the world.  Our children are increasingly being reared in multi-cultural environments where diverse cultural heritages are coming into contact with one another.  This situation appears to be not only present in the modern cities of the world, but virtually everywhere. 

            The need to embrace the plurality of perspectives stemming from a global ‘melting pot’ is absolutely critical in the establishment of peace on our planet.  We need to think as a global community when making political, economic, and institutional decisions.  Asking ourselves such questions as, “How will these actions effect the Middle East or South America?” is necessary now more than ever.  Natural resources such as the rain forests need to be protected in the interests of the global community rather than corporate multi-nationals.  Any major decision in one’s own life, as a nation, or community needs to consider global implications.  We cannot afford to isolate ourselves from this larger environment because our true homes both for us individually and our children encompasses our entire planet.  Further, the postmodern critique of patriarchical and dominating forms of injustice needs to be heard by our world leaders.  We need to nourish our planet in sustainable ways rather than destroying both cultures and natural resources in the interests of a few powerful countries or multi-national corporations.  The human species is challenged in this moment of history to extend consciousness to the entire world.  Politicians insisting on the interests of a few privileged members of an elite class or determined to destroy our collective resources for the sake of a single country like the US need to share wider concerns.  Politicians, policy makers, reformers, and individuals working for social change must incorporate this global consciousness into their ways of thinking.

            This is not an easy task for anyone.  Powerful forces are at work in our world today including but not limited to financial pressures for survival.  Every one of us hopes to secure some reasonable standard of living and we have identified the rights to health, education, and religious freedom as virtually universal rights for every individual.  There are bound to be ideological conflicts as countries and cultures attempt to secure these rights for their peoples, but as a species, it is in all of our best interests to continue working together for the entire world community both now and for the future.  We cannot afford to merely take care of our particular ‘country,’ geographical area, or localized contingent of individuals.  If destroying particular regions of the natural environment is going to have adverse affects on local peoples both in the short term and long term, then they must be protected despite any economic incentives to proceed otherwise.  The making of more money should not be our primary motive either individually or collectively.  Money should be used to make the world more beautiful for all people now and the foreseeable future.  We need to do the best we can and everything will work out, but now we have knowledge accompanying our paths.

            The spread of western forms of capitalism based on a system of supply and demand is one of the primary reasons why our environment and cultures are disappearing and being destroyed.  The global economy has entered a trend of hyper-consumerism as especially evidenced in the United States.  Our greed as a nation is having deleterious effects upon the world, and whether we want to believe it or not, these atrocities will sooner or later come back to haunt us as a nation and people.  We need to raise our global awareness despite its difficulties and sacrifices.  Our economic systems need to be based on healthy ways of managing both natural and personal resources.  We need to align our economic policies with sustainable ways of being, beginning locally and extending globally.   

 

Spirituality in the 21st Century

            Since the publication of A Pluralistic Universe and The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, the Harvard philosopher, psychologist, and researcher of religion, a fundamental shift has been  underway in academic circles concerning the manner in which one investigates religious truth and experience.  While all of the great world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, and Christianity existed well before the turn of the 20th century, there were few comprehensive efforts to appropriate the diverse insights that each religion brought to bear on questions of ultimate meaning.  James’ work was one of the first such efforts to approach the religious phenomena from a scientific perspective drawing from neurology and psychology.  James attempted to maintain scientific ‘objectivity’ in his investigations as he recorded the experiences of religious persons from diverse backgrounds.  Comparative philosophy of religion in Europe and America before this time in such writers as Hegel continued to maintain a philosophical bias towards Christianity as the highest form of religion.  Hegel subjected all of the major religions to the truths of Christianity that was so characteristic of European thinkers of his era.  However, with James’ work, we see the beginnings of a comparative philosophy of religion attempting to be egalitarian.

            In the final pages of The Varieties of Religious Experience, James says, “I think, in fact, that a final philosophy of religion will have to consider the pluralistic hypothesis more seriously than it has hitherto been willing to consider it.”[6]  His investigation into different forms of religion and religious belief appears to have finally led him to a ‘pluralistic’ position as he refers to it.  Such a conclusion is perhaps one of the most significant of the modern era because for the first time in protestant, Euro-American thought, a move is made to appreciate the plurality of religious belief without subjecting all religious claims emanating from other religions to Christian dogma.  A new era of epistemological investigation into religious experience was paved challenging the primacy of Christianity.  The insights arrived at by James appear to be closely aligned with contemporary postmodern theories of culture.  Instead of asserting the dominance of his own religious preference and background, James maintained a radical openness to religious traditions foreign to his own cultural milieu.  While James was informed by the scientific method of inquiry that certainly colored his conclusions on the nature of religious plurality in the world, there is a sense in which his desire to be ‘objective’ was successful.  Postmodernist thinkers of today may find James’ work reductionistic since he attempts to find a common core to these diverse experiences that he confronted in his investigations.  Furthermore, James clearly used scientific methods of appropriation, which postmodernism will challenge on the basis of the tradition from which ‘science’ arose- namely, the patriarchal ‘reason’ and the domination of the western paradigm.

            Today, most people of the world confront the clash of religious beliefs, paradigms of thought, and perspectives on the global situation in their daily lives.  How will questions of meaning be solved in this context?  Can the religions truly learn from one another and work towards integration?  Are we as a species moving towards a universal form of religion or is this merely another device for the subjugation of others to a ‘meta-narrative’ informed by modern science and western ways of thinking?  The 21st century will apparently face these questions in one way or another as information on the various religions continues to spread throughout the world.  The modern era is creating a rather precarious situation whereby traditional norms, religious beliefs, and world-views are coming under serious challenge.  Spirituality in America looks like it is becoming another shopping mall- you can take Buddhism home with you or check out ancient texts from Egypt.  All of the religious traditions of the past can now be investigated in one form or another and the glue holding a single contingent of peoples or society together in a shared religious tradition is coming undone.  Apparently, this onslaught of information coming from various sources will cause a degree of confusion and unrest.  Finding one’s identity in any number of competing religious traditions has become an increasingly difficult enterprise.  With the breakdown of traditional structures of family and the beliefs that were passed from one generation to another, there is no longer a clear continuity in many people’s lives and religious identification begins to look rather uncertain.  Modern science has attempted to fill this gap for many people throughout the world, and yet, the often reductionistic and mechanistic methods employed by science can seem to lack religious depth.

 

IQ, EQ, and SQ: The Search for Integration in GQ

            I began this essay with a brief exposition upon evidence suggesting that as a species, originating out of Africa, humans have over the course of time developed unique mental capacities and abilities.  I proceeded from there to a discussion of cultural theory informed by postmodernism, and in the section immediately above, I attempted to shed light on issues connected to contemporary spirituality.  There has been no attempt on my part to maintain a strict linear progression throughout this investigation, but instead, to explore dimensions of thought and experience that are mutually related to one another although seemingly worlds apart.  I want to now ask whether integration is possible between these diverse elements, and if so, what it may look like. 

            Let’s briefly set the stage.  We have a human with an incredibly powerful brain that probably took millions of years to develop, a cultural and environmental milieu informing this development, and the realms of Spirit.  We also have three ways of thinking in front of us- the scientific, the postmodern, and the spiritual.  Science investigates the functions and mechanisms of biological systems, postmodernism looks at cultural manifestations, and religion attempts to reflect upon ultimate questions of meaning and significance.  When we start to look more closely at these ways of approach to life in the world, hopefully at least two things become clear.  First, there is something miraculous in the fact that we can even transgress these topics from one to the other as if they are all present at the same time.  Secondly, since we can move from one paradigm, way of thinking about the world, and perspective to others that are perhaps equally meaningful and insightful on their own terms, there may be the possibility of an integration.

            In a recently published book entitled SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence authors Danah Zohar and Dr. Ian Marshall explore the different neural mechanisms responsible for our various modes of thinking.  They identify three primary modes of understanding:

One kind of neural organization enables us to do rational, logical, rule-bound thinking.  It gives us our IQ.  Another kind allows us to do our associative, habit-bound, pattern-recognizing emotive thinking.  It gives us our EQ.  A third kind makes it possible for us to do creative, insightful, rule-making, rule-breaking thinking.  It is the thinking with which we reframe and transform our previous thinking.  This gives us our SQ.[7]

 

Neuroscientists using a relatively new device for studying the brain called an MEG (magneto-encephalograph) are now able to trace blood flow throughout the brain when certain kinds of thinking are taking place.  For example, linear and rational kinds of thinking occur in the frontal lobe of the brain located behind the forehead.   

[8]

As you can see in the relatively simple diagram above, each area of the brain has a specific function in the processing of information.  Scientists believe that certain areas of the brain are particularly developed in human beings and a recent study by Ramachandran suggests that in the temporal lobe there is a region where religious thoughts arise and are formulated.

            In a 1997 study at the University of California, San Diego, a team of neuroscientists performed a series of tests using EEG electrodes on epileptic patients who commonly reported religious and mystical experiences during their seizures.  Ramachandran and the other neuroscientists involved reported that electrical activity in the temporal lobe of the brain dramatically increased when religious topics were discussed with these patients. They went on to name this region of the brain ‘the God module’ and concluded through further tests on both epileptic and normal patients that, “There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes (of quite normal people) concerned with religion.  The phenomenon of religious belief may be hard-wired into the brain.”[9]  This is a quite dramatic finding especially when placed within the context of contemporary evolutionary theories of how the brain evolved over time in the course of history.  A Sunday edition of the New York Times reported the finding and said, “Evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain's complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage co-operation between individuals.”[10]  This rather shocking conclusion seems to suggest that human belief in God is merely an epiphenomenona of the brain, or does it?

            Here we begin to tread on some rather tenuous ground both scientifically and religiously.  If we are willing to admit that at some point during the evolution of the human species a region of the brain developed allowing humans to formulate ideas about God, does that necessarily imply that ‘God’ and ‘religion’ are merely ‘ideas’ that Nature has implanted within us for the purposes of survival?  Can this region of the brain actually perceive the reality of ‘God’ or is it simply an organic process of the brain that has little relevance or ‘absolute value’?  Post epileptic seizure patients regularly report experiences that are often put in the following terms, ‘There is a divine light that illumines all things,’ or as one patient put it, ‘There is an ultimate truth that lies completely beyond the reach of ordinary minds, who are too immersed in the hustle and bustle of daily life to notice the beauty and grandeur of it all.’[11]  What exactly are these patients reporting?  Are these flights of the imagination into some kind of mystical rapture or are these observations accurate representations of the nature of reality?

            Interestingly, reports and observations of this nature closely resemble what are often called Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s) where people describe going through a tunnel of light and meeting dead relatives and various beings of light who inform them that God is everywhere and that love is the ultimate meaning of life.[12]  However, there is one significant distinction between NDE’s and epileptic seizures or heightened temporal lobe activity.  Often, patients who are hospitalized and found ‘dead’ for all intensive purposes will show no activity on EEG tests.  There are no signs of brain activity whatsoever in these patients.  If we can maintain that both epileptic seizures and NDE’s are real, fully conscious, and actual experiences devoid of delusion, then while there may be a center in the brain especially suited to religious topics and ideas, there may also be life beyond the brain in an immortal reality. 

            While I was reading through some of this material on epileptic seizures and mystical experiences, I happened to get in a discussion with a son of a neighbor who is an epileptic and just out of curiosity I asked him if he had had any unusual experiences during his seizures.  Remarkably, he reported that he had an experience very much like an NDE.  I could not believe what he was telling me.  I had been interested in these experiences for seemingly all my life and how they related to the brain and here right before me in the living flesh was a person describing a NDE down to the nose.  I will try to paraphrase his story as best I can.  He said that he was experiencing a seizure and that he thought he was about to die when all of a sudden a ‘rope’ as he called it started spinning around him and that this ‘rope’ was the color of light, then all of sudden he encountered dead relatives who comforted him and were exceptionally alive.  Although we did not go too much further than that, he said that shortly afterwards he found himself awake in the hospital lying beside his father.  What I found particularly intriguing about his story was the fact that although it was an epileptic seizure where patients often report mystical experiences showing them the omnipresence of the Divine, my neighbor’s experience was closer to an NDE.  This gives some evidence, in my opinion, to the theory that there is a region in the brain, namely the temporal lobe, that is connected to ‘God’ thoughts and that perhaps this region is a link to a transcendent dimension of being.  When we die we pass finally in the last stages of death through our temporal lobes because that is our last connection to physical reality on the earth-plane.  It is the bridge of worlds and dimensions- between the spiritual and the material planes. 

Modern quantum physics suggests that our universe is holographic, and while I will not go into the details here, there seems to be a particular quantum state or environment in this region of the brain that extends and connects with the totality of reality.  The currents of energy flowing in this region are truly transcendental in kind.  The Speed of Light is realized in consciousness.  Simply imagine the speed of your mind at this moment- think about anything and ‘flash!’ it is there before you in the imagination- just like that.  The temporal lobe may be a unique hyper-dimensional, transworldly, and Godly like vortex within the human species- a true miracle!  Immortality rides through every one of us.

Throughout the remainder of this essay I would like to keep two ideas in mind from what we have gained from this investigation.  First, I am going to assume that the insights from epileptic seizures, mystical experiences, and/or near-death experiences (NDE’s) are ‘true’ perceptions of the nature of Ultimate Reality in the sense that a divinity is perceived to infuse all forms of life and matter.  And secondly, while this Divinity or trans-world, trans-dimensional presence pervades the entire cosmos, there are true and ‘real’ distinctions between entities in the material or manifest world.  I think it is important for us to keep these two distinctions clearly in view as we proceed because while there are plurality of selves, causal forces, and a complex array of relationships existing within both the material and spiritual realms of life, there is a fundamental equality and divinity present through all of the differentiated forms.

The human brain is one such manifestation of creative forces that appears to be directly linked to the transcendent principle in a self-reflective, consciously present, and self-aware manner that is perhaps one of the most unique incidences in the world.  The brain allows us with its miraculous complexity and order to participate through experience in the universe’s wider matrix of meaning.  The temporal lobe in particular appears to be an especially unique region whereby thoughts and consciousness of such caliber and clarity can be actualized in experience.  Furthermore, as evolutionary scientists have argued, the temporal lobe of the human brain may have gradually come into fuller existence and embodiment through the evolutionary development of the human species as a whole.

What I would like to emphasize at this juncture is the fact that while the temporal lobe is a miraculous, and perhaps even a gateway to the infinite, this region of the brain works in conjunction with the rest of the body, the universe as a whole, and intricately connected biologically through neuronal networks with the entire brain.  Nothing exists in isolation from the rest of the universe, world, and larger Reality.  Consequently, to fully realize the vast potentials of the human brain and the body-human, we must look towards integration of the various components in a way that does justice to both the complexity of our nature and the underlying simplicity or unity.  An attempt has been made here to touch on some of the regions of the brain that help to facilitate this process, but let’s explore the possibility of an integration still yet further and notice how it relates to the different kinds of knowing that we confront in our daily lives.

The frontal lobe of the brain is a relative newcomer on the evolutionary scene of the planet and allows us to think ‘rationally,’ solve various problems, make plans for the future using the imagination, and conceive in a linear fashion while taking into consideration a larger system or complex.  For example, when an engineer prepares the blueprints for a high-rise building a tremendous amount of planning, careful thought to all contingent factors, and actual representation in mathematical and symbolic forms of representation is taken into consideration.  This is high-level frontal lobe activity drawing on various regions of the brain, but concentrated specifically in an area that biologically can create thoughts necessary for the eventual implementation of such plans.  A complex array of neural circuits and networks are employed racing at the speed of light to and from various neurons and biological networks.  This ability is peculiar to human beings and is not exhibited in quite the same brilliance in other animals or species that we know of.  Apparently, the frontal lobe is partly responsible for this kind of thinking.  At least in the material and biological world, these neuronal networks must be in place for such thinking to occur. Much of scientific thinking appears to occur in this region as well as mathematical understanding.  Typically and conventionally, we may refer to this as ‘intelligence’ and there are tests that attempt to quantify this in an IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

Recent studies in neuroscience have also identified other kinds of knowing and types of ‘intelligence’ related to cultural and emotional ways of understanding and relating.  The language centers of the brain are especially suited to communication between individuals, but there are subtler dimensions concerned with emotional life and reactivity in general that are deeply somatic in nature affecting the feeling tonality of the entire body.  For example, when a person falls in love certain perceptions are present and received through specific neurons in the brain.  All of the tactile and emotional states that we experience from the touch of a human hand to the reaction patterns associated with various verbal and non-verbal modes of communication are dynamically registered through our nervous system.  There are other ways to relating to our emotional lives as well.  Consider for a moment our cultural situation and let’s say that we are in an ideological conflict with others.  What is the feeling state of such interactions between apparently opposing views and perspectives?  What can we learn from such states and how can they contribute to our relationships with others?  Emotional sensitivity in relating to others also involves our ‘mirror neurons’ that were discussed earlier and allow us to resonate with others emotionally through a process commonly known as empathy.  Learning from our emotional experiences and integrating them into our lives with the other ways of knowing we are exploring may be loosely quantified in an Emotional Quotient or EQ.

Attempting to put numerical values on our emotions and relationships with others is not necessarily the point here, but simply showing that there are other modes of knowing and understanding the world that are equally as valid as the rational, linear thought of IQ.  However, let’s suppose that we can in some rough sense quantify EQ.  How might we assign values to emotional and cultural ways of relating and understanding?  Perhaps, our emotional and interpersonal lives are primarily a means to embody love on deeper and deeper levels.  This love may flourish with a spouse, the entire planet, your neighbor, or a culture totally foreign to your own.  Whereas IQ identifies the ability to discriminate and make distinctions while formulating complex associations, EQ may be best identified with the capacity to feel and express love to all forms of life, cultures, and peoples.  A low EQ would be correlated with tendencies to go to war with others, acts of violence, and a neglect of one’s impact upon others and their surrounding environment.  A high EQ is reflected in acts exhibiting compassion, peace, and joy towards others and oneself in diverse situations and environments.  For example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama would score especially high in quantified EQ because he embraces diverse cultures and peoples in his words and actions in a variety of environments quite foreign to his homeland and the customs represented there.   The ability to perceive situations in all their fluid multiplicities, react to them in a kind and compassionate manner while maintaining love for others is the epitome of emotional fortitude and EQ.

What about our spiritual aspirations and the richness that they embody?  In SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, the authors identify several indications of a highly developed SQ or spiritual intelligence. 

These are:

·        the capacity to be flexible (actively and spontaneously adaptive)

·        a high degree of self-awareness

·        a capacity to face and use suffering

·        a capacity to face and transcend pain

·        the quality of being inspired by vision and values

·        a reluctance to cause unnecessary harm

·        a tendency to see the connections between diverse things (being ‘holistic’)

·        a marked tendency to ask ‘Why?’ or What if?’ questions and to seek ‘fundamental’ answers

·        being what psychologists call ‘field-independent’- possessing a faculty for working against convention[13]

and I would add one more feature of SQ to their list, namely,

·        a capacity to express oneself creatively through works of art, music, writing, and/or speaking

In the use of our spiritual intelligence, we are nearing a ‘holistic’ integration of our entire being, including but not limited to our brain, bodies, surrounding environment and other persons.  However, SQ has a particular strength, exhibits certain neuronal oscillation patters, and can be especially active when concentrated in the ‘god module’ region of the brain and temporal lobes.  Interestingly, the authors argue, SQ is not simply adhering to a formula of doctrines informed by a particular religious community.  Instead, SQ incorporates non-linear, spontaneous ways of thinking and being that are often outside ‘the box’ of custom and convention.  Furthermore, whereas IQ asks questions pertaining to how something works and functions, SQ asks questions about why and for what purpose.  Our temporal lobes seem especially suited to seek answers concerning the meaning of existence, find solutions to perplexing philosophical problems and contemplate religious questions pertaining to the ‘big picture.’

            Our spiritual intelligence may be especially helpful in considering our meaning in life, why we are here at all, and what vocational activities may be suited for us.  I also believe that our SQ can unlock creative energies and inspirations when fully utilized.  In art, music, film, theatre, and writing of various forms there can often be portrayals of meaningful events within a larger context of significance.  Also, in recent discussions with artists that I work with, they speak about consciously connecting with higher energy and frequencies that infuse their creative efforts.  Modern physics often discusses the thin chasm separating chaos from order, and it appears that our temporal lobe and ‘God module’ are right at that threshold.  Unleashing the powers available to us at those energetic centers has virtually unlimited potentials and may be a pivotal key in our continued evolution as a species and planet.  Learning to cultivate these energies and allowing them to express themselves through us is perhaps one of the greatest possibilities of the human organism.

            Finally, before we leave our study of the dynamics of the brain, I would like to suggest that there is an integrating factor to our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual lives that I will refer to as our God Quotient (GQ).  Especially in the modern era when we have so much information coming to us from around the world and find ourselves in diverse cultural and intellectual environments, there is a need for us to develop our capacities to live integrally.  Health, Joy, and Happiness may be reflections of balance, equanimity, and integration of our complementary talents.  Perhaps there are several qualities that are specific to our God Intelligence or GQ:

·        a capacity to integrate emotional feelings in such a way as to promote Joy, Peace, and Happiness

·        a capacity to recognize both the complexity and simplicity of any given situation

·        courage to face life’s challenges with an understanding that we are always loved

·        a willingness to surrender to higher levels of consciousness for the benefit of all sentient beings

·        a tendency to see things from a ‘God’s eye-view’, in their totality and completeness

·        a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things

·        a capacity to withhold judgment upon others and situations

·        aspiring to Truth, Beauty, and Love through all activities

·        being especially sensitive to others’ thoughts, feelings, and ways of being

·        promoting freedom for all life forms

·        exhibiting compassion on a cosmic scale

·        being forever immortal in worlds of continual change

·        being a source of unbounded Love and Creativity

·        a capacity to integrate all times, places, and modalities of being into one’s life

God Intelligence (GQ) integrates our entire bodies from head to toe, from a speck of dirt to the sun, from the distant reaches of the past to the unforeseen future- GQ looks to harmonize all times, places, and forms of being in the infinite bosoms of love and nurturing embrace.  While death, suffering, and life’s tragedies pose challenges to us all, they can and should be incorporated into our GQ for the manifestation of yet higher levels of Beauty, Love and Unbounded Creativity.  And although there might be a place inside the brain bridging the transcendent and immanent realms of being, our GQ can be present everywhere infusing all material, spiritual, and energetic realms of being.

 

A Final Word

            We have traversed extensive territory in this essay and I hope to say a few things in an attempt to wrap things up.  Many of the claims made here arise out of personal experience, speculation, and thought.  While I have attempted to accurately represent the evolutionary drama that we are involved in and suggest that there may be specific regions of the brain that have developed over time helping to facilitate a spiritual advancement, there is always the sense in which words cannot describe the true reality of such things.  I believe we live in a time of considerable import for us individually and collectively.  Our ways and modes of knowledge have increased dramatically over the past several hundred years.  It is imperative that we proceed with sensitivity, kindness, and compassion while maintaining clarity of thought.  All of our artistic, scientific, and cultural expressions can be held within a larger perspective and consciousness.  We live and exist in a miraculous universe filled with tremendous delight and beauty.  Our destiny is to participate in this wonderful play of forces and manifestations.  ‘May we be happy!  May all sentient beings be happy!’ said one of my Buddhist teachers in a recent lecture.  We have witnessed tremendous tragedy on the world scene in recent times, but let us continually strive as best we can to liberate others, actualize our fullest potentials, and create worlds of magnificent beauty.  No one is here to judge us except ourselves.  Let’s continue to have faith in the Divine Majesty, love as much as we can, and all manner of thing shall be well.  May there be Peace for All.

                                   

"Axis Mundi"

by Marcia Snedecor


[1] http://www.wsu.edu:8001/vwsu/gened/learn-modules/top_longfor/phychar/culture-humans-2two.html

[2] http://www.onelife.com/evolve/brain.html

[3] Edelman, Gerald M. and Giulio Tononi.  A Universe of Consciousness:  How Matter Becomes Imagination, pg.193.

[4] http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge69.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] James, William.  The Varieties of Religious Experience, pg. 526.

[7] Zohar, Danah and Dr. Ian Marshall.  SQ:Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, pg.39.

[8] http://www.state.vt.us/schools/gcs/cwrks/profdvlp/brain/brstruct.htm

[9] SQ:Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, pg.94.

 

 

[10] http://medicinegarden.com/archive/00003644.htm

[11] SQ:Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, pg.93.

 

[12] http://near-death.com/index1.html

[13] SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, pg.15.

 

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