Evolving Dementia

My mother spent most of her life supporting families dealing with cancer, but now Alzheimer’s is becoming a comparable epidemic. In 2012, estimates held that nearly 5.4 million Americans had the disease in some stage. The neurological characteristics of the disease include formation of protein plaques in the cranial fluid, which start to develop as much as thirty years before the onset of dementia. In the final stages of the disease, proteins in the neurons themselves begin to tangle, killing the cells and leading inexorably to loss of muscle control and death.

My mother had recorded a Nova special on the efforts of drug companies to develop treatment for the disease. The resources dedicated to the research are impressive – the special focused on three companies running drug trials costing up to $1 billion. The treatments attempt to mobilize the immune system to harvest and break down the proteins that form plaques. Early treatments caused dangerous swelling of the brain. The current generation of treatments avoid that side-effect, but while the special heralded that breakthroughs were possible, to the scientist, the justification for that hope appears incomplete.

The researchers do not hope to reverse the progress of the disease, but hold forth the possibility that treatments may slow the formation of plaques. This hope is inspired by three-year studies that demonstrated that early-stage patients showed 30% less cognitive degradation than observed in patients that did not receive the drug. But Alzheimer’s evolves over decades, and we have no way of knowing whether long-term treatment won’t result in complications that rival the disease itself. Nor, without expensive radiographic imaging of everyone’s brain around the age of thirty, do we have any way of knowing currently who requires the treatment.

Obviously, if we understood why the plaques form in the first place, we might be able to prevent the disease entirely. Given the expense of the research, however, it is obvious that some commercial profit must be generated to keep the work alive. As with diabetes and cancer, long-term drug treatments will generate that revenue.

But can it ever lead us to a cause?

One of the criteria for canonization is proof of a miracle. In the case of Pope John Paul II, one of those demonstrations was the miraculous healing of a nun with Parkinson’s disease, another degenerative nerve condition. Scientists hold that such demonstrations are simple fraud or chance correlation with spontaneous recovery. But if we take spirituality seriously, we might expect that the development of human intellect would create stresses in our physiology that it was never designed to sustain.

As I understand our intellect, the brain is an interface to the world of ideas. In sharing ideas, we build power in them. This power is not held by any one individual, but held in what Jung called humanity’s “collective unconscious.” No other creature had ever created this kind of repository, and so we would not have inherited from our animal predecessors any mechanisms that would protect our brain from direct exposure to such energies.

Consider, then, what might happen if we taught our children that thinking occurs in the brain. Every intense intellectual exercise would intuitively manifest as an attempt to take control of ideas, to force them into the interior of our brains where we can manipulate them most directly. But each thinker that wrestles with ideas struggles against the intentions of other thinkers, creating dissonance and stress in the tissues of the brain. Might this not result in damage to that delicate organ, an organ that never evolved to deal with such strain?

In my own case, when I began to take charge of my mind back in 2002, I had to struggle against corrupt residents. The strain expressed itself physically in my brain as pressure, sensations of heat, and in the most extreme occasion, sounds of the cranial bone cracking. The events that most frightened me, however, involved a sensation of burning in the nerves along my ribs that I found similar to the symptoms of shingles in its early stages. When I realized this, I turned inwards, considering the structure of my mind, and traced the problem to an over-heated section of my brain in the back of my skull. Realizing that my mind was passing energy through tissues not designed to process it, I tried to shift the flow outwards, into the soul that blooms all around me. I felt of shifting of spiritual structures, and over the next few days, the symptoms disappeared.

My belief, therefore, is that even if we figure out how to stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s using drug therapy, our medical science, with its focus on proteins and genomes, will never touch the root cause of our evolving epidemic of dementia. Our subconscious struggle for the control of ideas will simply intensify, and manifest in other forms of disease. No, it is the idea that the brain is the mind that is at fault. Only when we begin teaching people how to manage the part of their mind that resides in the soul will we be able to prevent dementia.

The Brain is God

Human beings can do really amazing things with their minds. For example, play short stop, which means fielding a ball reliably even when it’s never hit the same way twice. The complexity of that skill defies our understanding, so we just sit back and enjoy.

Less complex manifestations of the mind’s magic are treated as curiosities by the neuroscientists. There is, for example, the lady that dialed the time recording one day and was able to tell perfect time forever after. Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat describes twins that could do prime factorization up to eight digit numbers, apparently by “seeing” the collection of numbers. This was a skill that vanished when they were separated. And we have stories of people that could hear radio broadcasts, purportedly through the antenna of their dental fillings.

In attempting to explain these phenomena, the neurophysiologist evokes the breathless complexity of the brain. For example, it has been said that the information encoding of our brains exceeds the number of particles in the universe. Of course, that’s not really terribly impressive, because those particles also have states, so the brain could never capture the state of the universe. But it’s a nice number, very large, which creates a fuzzy assurance that there’s so much to be learned about the brain that we’ll eventually be able to settle all its unexplained manifestations.

Well, we’ve hit a roadblock. Recent analysis indicates strongly that we’ll never be able to simulate the brain. This is really terribly frustrating. Now those of us carrying the labels “schizophrenic” and “delusional” will never be able to pin the scientific materialists to the mat, forcing them to recognize the existence of the soul.

The Trust Mind

Hundreds of years before the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the mystics of Greek Hellenismos understood Humanity’s spiritual development as a growth into engagement with certain fundamental natural forces. Aphrodite, for example, was represented as a beautiful woman, but as a god mediated between humanity and the force of attraction, which manifests as much in gravitation as it does in sensual desire. Following the era of the Titans and Olympians, the aim of the mystics was to usher in the age of Dionysius, allowing men to interact directly with the principles. In other words, for us to become gods.

When this truth was first revealed to me, the speaker admitted that in the modern era, we view Dionysius, the “party god”, as an unlikely avatar. We view alcohol as a vice, but the Greeks saw it as a tool. When we are drunk, we “lose our inhibitions.” That may manifest itself in a tendency to orgy, but at a deep spiritual level reflects the loosening of the protective barriers around our souls. We surrender ourselves to trust, and so relate more freely and deeply than we would otherwise. (See this post by Irwin Osbourne for more on this experience.)

The power of this relation can be abused. Megalomania is one pathology. In “Ray”, the film biography of Ray Charles, one scene reconstructs a set in which a horn player stands up to take an impromptu solo in the middle of a number. The man was dismissed, not because he violated the integrity of the rendition, but because Ray recognized intuitively that the man was on heroin. Accused of hypocrisy, Charles’s retort was that he had to be the only one. A second pathology is dependency. In graduate school, a friend shared his experience of a teacher who drank incessantly, and actually could do chemistry well only in that state. It took me a while to figure out how to suggest that maybe the teacher wasn’t doing the thinking at all – that the alcohol enabled him to inject himself into a community of minds that tolerated his needs.

There are other methods to achieve this integration. A young woman can be almost suicidal in her disposition to trust the men that she desires, and when that is manifested in sexual license, she may serve as the pool in which men join. Junger’s book “War” documents the characteristics of men that survive constant threat only by surrendering themselves to trust in each other.

There is enormous power in such melding, but the methods listed above cannot be sustained by our physiology. The licentious woman becomes corrupted by masculine demons, and loses her beauty. Substance abuse drives our metabolism into pathways that destroy our health. And war is a process that no one escapes without harm, even if it is hidden deep in the soul behind a stoic mask.

It is for this reason that everdeepening.org opens with this statement:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, energy and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed, and to those that love themselves, no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

As a Christian, I see the ultimate human manifestation of this truth in the march of Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. And behind that sacrifice, I must see the yearnings of a perfect and unconditional love that invests itself in the realization of that truth in our lives.

But when picking up the Bible, it doesn’t take long to reach contradictory evidence. Taking Eden as a metaphor for a relationship of trust between the source of love and humanity, that trust is corrupted by the serpent, which appeals fundamentally to human selfishness. In God, we were gods, but Eve is encouraged [NIV Gen. 3:5] to “be like God, knowing good an evil.” For this breach of trust, Adam and Eve are dismissed from the garden, and punishments are heaped upon them.

What was so heinous about their crime? Was it worse than the slaying of Abel, for which Cain was allowed a lifetime of repentance? And what is so important about us that God would give Jesus as a sacrifice to the goal of our redemption?

To understand this, we have to understand the nature of thought. We have succumbed in the modern age to scientific materialism, and so hold that thought occurs in the brain. I know this not to be true: I relate frequently to thinking beings that have no bodies and no brains, and so must recognize that my brain is merely an interface to my soul. To facilitate the expression of will through my body, the operation of the brain must correlate completely with the thinking done by my spirit.

Thus I interpret “In the image of God he created them” [NIV Gen. 1:27] in this way: our bodies are a tool through which we manifest the will of our souls and – given the quote above – they operate most effectively when used to express love.

The problem is that every interface is a two-way street. While through our commitment to creative expression, we can bring truth and beauty into the world, the opposite can occur. In the experience of pain and suffering, we project thoughts back into God. In the expression of greed and lust, we corrupt the purity of love. This is articulated many times in the Bible: consider Noah, Exodus and Ezekiel. Rather than being remote and impervious, God suffers from our wrong-doing. The flood is thus a desperate move to rid himself of the irritation, as is the destruction of the Holy City through the witness of Ezekiel. While horrifying to us as humans, we might imagine that so must the bacterium feel when confronting the operation of the immune system.

The error of the Law is to interpret these actions as a judgment, as an evidence of sin. They are not. The effect is to destroy the material manifestations of the success of selfishness, revealing its sterility. They are actions taken to frustrate selfish personalities that attempt to prevent love from liberating and healing their abused captives.

This is “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” that brings death into the world. Lacking appreciation of the virtues of love, we chose not to trust in love. We demanded understanding. But understanding is gained only through experience, and experience requires expression of both good and evil. We are educating ourselves.

In the end, Christ gathers those that chose good into the fold of the perfect love that originates from the divine source. We join our shared memory and wisdom into a single holy mind, and heal the world of the disease of selfishness. Thus I do not interpret the Crucifixion as atonement for our sins. Rather, I believe it should be seen as a surrender to trust in love, a struggle waged most fiercely in the Garden of Gethsemane, and redeemed by the proof of the power of love in the Resurrection. Rather than an indictment of our frailty, it is meant to be an exhortation to manifest our own forms of greatness.

Trust in yourselves. Trust in love. Welcome yourselves into the Holy Spirit, the mind formed when that trust is perfected in us.

Demons Like Us

When the Catholic exorcist Father Amorth confronted a demon (An Exorcist Tells His Story), he occasionally found one in a forthcoming mood. When asked what hell was like, their response was along the lines of “Hell is being absolutely alone.”

Now that may sound better than burning in a pit of eternal fire, but the preference tells us something about what it means to be a demon. Demons are demented, and they know it. Being alone means that they’re stuck with their insanity. It eats at them. They become their own torment.

The reason a demon longs to turn a person to their control is because it either provides validation of their sickness (“See: people like it, too!”) or it allows them to work towards healing. What’s interesting is that demons can’t take control of a person unless they are invited. It seems that the soul of a person fills their body so completely that they have to consciously make room for the demon to enter.

This may make demons sound pretty pathetic, and ultimately, they are. However, they really don’t have much choice in the matter. They can’t be born like the rest of us, because their energy is too twisted. They tend to distort the forms they occupy, and infants are particularly vulnerable. Furthermore, they’re greedy. If a part of their personality doesn’t fit, they’d rather beat it into submission than let it go to a better home. And they are proud. They’d rather be alone than adapt themselves to a form that would allow them to live their own life.

What purpose is served by this description of demons? Well, I could have gone back and tried to explain the soul and its existence in terms of dark energy and field lines and the like, as a physicist might be expected to do so. That would be interesting, perhaps, but would leave us asking “What does it really mean?” What’s important in a practical sense is how a soul exists, and how our actions affect it.

You see, we need to figure out which is more important: the soul or the body. When we’ve gotten a sense of that, we can start thinking in a mature way about morality.

So what does the description of demons suggest?

  • A soul can’t change itself unless it controls a body.
  • The soul lasts longer than the body.
  • The body is affected by the soul.
  • The body can be a haven for the soul.
  • The soul can think, reason and plan even though it doesn’t have a brain.

Now let’s look at this from a joyous perspective. What does this suggest about living?

While a demon seeks a perverted form of life, I think that it is true form of life. Life exists when a soul occupies a body. Where there is no soul, there is no life. This is true as much of a body on life support as it is about a rock. (Although some rocks are more alive than some bodies on life support.)

How do most bodies get souls? Well, that occurs in the sacred organ of the womb. When a man loves a woman, their love-making attracts a soul that will find joy in their company. Otherwise, well, they tend to attract souls that seek frustration or pain. In most cases, of course, the soul will be well suited to integration with a human body. That means that creating strength and deep-seated joy in the body (joy that lasts beyond the moment of pleasure) will help the soul grow into health. Creating weakness and fear, conversely, forms diseases in the soul.

What about our brains? Well, they are not the source of our intelligence, which exists in the soul. The brain is, however, a very effective interface to intelligence. This means that intelligent souls want to participate in a human life, over other forms of life on earth, so that they can find joy and strength.

What this suggests is that, as the forms of life have evolved on earth, our souls have evolved. Souls looking for joy and healing have attached themselves to animal and plant forms in the ways that enable them to best acquire strength. The human brain makes that process more flexible than any other organ, and so we have grown remarkably during our short time here on earth. Good and selfless people provide a home to lots of angels.

The problem has been that the more sophisticated we are about living, the more of a threat we pose to demons. They have a lot of useful parts locked up in their pain, parts that are really attracted to the idea of working with humans. The reason that demons harm us is, in part, to try to prove to those parts that being human really isn’t such an attractive option.

Obviously, demons consider themselves to be at war with us, but Father Amorth reports that they don’t necessarily believe that is inevitable. When the exorcist asked them why they hate Christ, they said “We don’t hate him. We test him.” When faced with compassion such as existed in Father Amorth’s, demons realize that healing is possible. The questions is: are we strong enough to deliver it?

The proof of Christ is that, as long as we prefer strength and joy to pleasure, we will be.

At my high-school reunion this summer, I had a long talk with the mother of a schizophrenic. Her son draws detailed pictures of terrifying demons. What is interesting is that they don’t seem to be hostile. It’s more like they’re posing for him.

Maybe they’re hoping for a diagnosis?