June blog on consciousness.
12 JUNE 2016
CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE BRAIN
I find it very annoying when people try to make the brain prior to consciousness. If there is a problem of how the brain relates to consciousness, this problem can only be solved by going to a level beyond both of them. The eye of contemplation – also described as the gaze of higher or deeper consciousness – has to be accessed if we are to tackle the brain/mind conundrum.
My own favourite way of putting this is to say that consciousness uses the brain, much as a violinist uses a violin. This makes it easy to say that brain disease of various kinds can put up obstacles to the free flow of consciousness, making it hard to maintain an even keel. In other words, the brain can get in the way of consciousness, but it certainly cannot produce consciousness.
Ken Wilber has said that what we are talking about here is the ultimate question of the relation of Emptiness and Form, Infinite and finite, Spirit and world. In all these cases there is a living process of change and development, exchanges of inner and outer, the interpenetration of opposites. These are easy ideas for a Taoist or a Sufi, but harder for a regular scientist.
The idea that the brain comes first is a typically materialist view, and we have increasingly been finding this inadequate. It is even inadequate for quantum physics, which has no pretensions to spiritual superiority. Of course many people have pointed this out, and I have no need to pick out Wilber particularly as an authority. But come on! It is just ridiculous to say that the brain comes first and consciousness only later. Newborn babies, and even the foetus in the womb, are conscious already, as much research shows, long before their brains are developed much. If you don’t believe this, have a good read of Stan Grof, who has spent 50 years researching it.
It was Elmer and Alice Green who coined the concise statement that ‘all of the brain is in the mind but not all of the mind is in the brain.’ This makes perfect sense to me, but it would be a pain for a standard brain researcher to get his or her mind round it.
Perhaps all this is a bit abstract for some people, but I think it is an important issue, and well worth some agony of appraisal.