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.

Reconciling Scripture and Evolution

Posted in a discussion of our symbiotic relationship with mites, this summarizes my position succinctly:

The biologists that rely upon strictly biochemical processes of evolution will never be able to calculate rates, because the forcing conditions have been lost in prehistory. I found it interesting to ask “why does every civilization develop the concept of a soul”, and eventually concluded that Darwin was half right: life is the co-evolution of spirit with biological form. The addition of spirit influences the choices made by living creatures, and so changes the rates.

Given this, I went back to Genesis and interpreted it as an incarnation (“The SPIRIT of God hovered over the waters” – and then became God for the rest of the book), with the “days” of creation reflecting the evolution of senses and forms that enabled Spirit to populate and explore the material conditions of its survival (photosensitivity, accommodation of hypotonic “waters above”, accommodation of arid conditions on the “land”, accommodation of seasons with sight (resolving specific sources of light), intelligent species in the waters and air, and mammals on earth (along with man)).

Couple this with the trumpets in the Book of Revelation, which pretty clearly parallel the extinction episodes identified by paleontology – including injection of the era of giant insects – and it looks like science and scripture actually support each other.

The only point of significant disagreement is spirit itself. Given my knowledge of the weaknesses of modern theories of cosmology and particle physics, I found myself considering the possibility of structure inside of the recognized “fundamental” particles. It became apparent to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult to bring spiritual experience into particle physics. To my surprise and delight, I became convinced that this reality is constructed so that love inexorably becomes the most powerful spiritual force.

Loving Ourselves For Who We Are

My first encounter with transgender reality came when I was in graduate school. I worked on the top floor of the physics building at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. This was not a stuffy community – facility announcements were prefaced by a breathless woman asking “May I have your attention please? May I have your attention, please?!” But on the floor just above, at the end of a long dark hallway, the only female technician in the building had her workroom. Nobody seemed to spend much time down there, and a machinist finally clued me in “He went away one summer and came back a woman.”

I have to admit that this choice is problematical to me.

Here’s a less extreme example: I met a man who explained that he felt like he had two personalities, one male and one female. He was a large man, but felt compelled on occasion to wear women’s clothes. What I eventually came to understand was that as a father in a previous life, he had gone down in a ship with his young daughter. The girl had hidden herself in him as they drowned, and part of the work he was doing in this life was to give her the opportunity to work her way out again.

There are men that spend all their lives trying to get into a women’s bodies, and often they do so using methods that are psychologically or physically abusive. There’s a certain symmetry in being reincarnated as a woman. Should we have sympathy for their desires to become men again? That was the opinion expressed by a Unitarian Universalist minister. The UU movement famously supports LGBT choices, and the minister asked us on that day to try “walking in his shoes.” I had to hold my tongue, knowing that she wouldn’t understand, but what came to mind was: “But that’s just what he’s doing – learning what it’s like to be a woman so that he can have some respect for their needs! How is that end going to be furthered by supporting him as he – yet again – mutilates a woman’s body?”

Carlos Castaneda described the view of the Yaqui sorcerers regarding gender. Masculine and feminine souls have different topologies – one projecting and one receiving. His adherents evolved a discipline called “tensegrity”, and believed that the womb gave women enormous spiritual power, power that a man’s genitals could never challenge. But the Yaqui view was that all such power originated in the soul – in fact Castaneda encountered a masculine sorcerer that had turned himself inside out, and so presented as a woman.

If the soul is what matters and persists, then a man like Bruce Jenner will find himself back in a woman’s body again. In this life, why not get as much benefit from being a man as he can? He was put here in a man’s body for a reason.

But his struggle to become a woman may be of help to the rest of us. Science can’t really explain our sense of gender identity. Maybe Jenner’s choice creates another opportunity for society to recognize that gender is not simply about biological form.

Sexual arousal is a consequence of a yearning of one spirit for another that causes blood to pool in the parts of our bodies that feel most pleasure. That yearning is complicated by procreation, which at this point is overburdening the carrying capacity of the earth. Perhaps homosexuality is a way of freeing our ecosystems of the physical side-effects of the deepening of our spiritual relations?

But isn’t that a distorted view of life – that our sexuality defines our deepest relationships? In my thirties, I was taken aside on two occasions and warned that gay men weren’t accepted in the top levels of the institution that I was working in. Being someone that dreamed every night about women, I never got the message: my failure to engage sexually made people assume that I was gay. That I was committed to a relationship built upon intellectual and emotional compatibility seemed to escape them.

I know that my workmate in college was a terribly unhappy person – their physical transformation was incomplete, and therefore unsatisfying. It also came with terrible social ostracism. Why do doctors then pursue this craft? Is it merely so that the superficial external presentation matches the internal reality, so that those that see sex as a mechanical activity will not be surprised when the inner personality – the very soul of the man or woman they are loving – comes to the fore? Wouldn’t it just be better to prepare people to recognize the nature of the soul that they are pursuing, and thus to learn something about their inner selves at the same time?

In spite of all of my questions, I feel no hostility to the transformation being pursued by Jenner and others, unless that it seems to involve an enormous investment of energy. I guess that as long as they can afford it, it’s just another experiment in living. Let us know how it works for you!

Why Physics is Important

For roughly 1400 years, from the time of Ptolemy until Kepler, the most accurate method for calculating the motions of the planets assumed that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Ptolemy used a model of perfect circles. To account for observations that showed that the other planets sometimes appeared to reverse their direction of motion, circles were added on top of the circles (somewhat like the moon Deimos moves in a circle around Mars as it moves in its own circle). The size and velocity of the circular motions were calculated by comparison to nearly 800 years of observations of planetary motions. The care taken in that work made the tables of Ptolemy the best means of predicting the position of the planets until Tycho Brahe made more precise measurements of planetary motion in the second half of the 16th century.

The problem with Ptolemy’s model, when the telescope was finally improved to the point that we could observe the moons of Jupiter and the positions of the stars, was that it didn’t allow us to predict the behavior of anything else in the sky.

Did anybody care? Not particularly. What was important was to know the position of the planets precisely for purposes of navigation and agriculture, and the more arcane and less reliable discipline of astrology (predicting the future based upon the configuration of the planets against the stars). Until, perhaps, generals became concerned with the trajectories of cannonballs. Then the work of Newton, inspired in part by Kepler’s laws, produced a universal theory of gravitation that could be used to predict the motion of any collection of massive objects.

All of the great advances in science have come when a large body of data is shown to be encompassed by a simple behavioral theory. Newton’s theory of gravitation assumes that the force exerted acts along the line between the two masses, and drops as the distance squared. Often, however, these behaviors are overlooked because scientists, like Ptolemy and his followers, can do pretty well simply by adding more shapes to their models. It doesn’t make a difference that the only reason circles were used was because they were perfect (and therefore easy to calculate). As long as you could get the right result by adding more circles, that was easy and comfortable.

Those of you that stick with this blog will learn that I believe that we are at another turning point in physics. Since 1950, the theorists have assumed that the objects they use to describe the universe are “perfect”: they have no additional structure. As their data became more and more complex, they stuck with this principle, despite the fact that every revolution in physics has come from discovering structure inside of things that were previously thought to be fundamental. Matter was discovered to be made of atoms; atoms are made of electrons and a nucleus; the nucleus is composed of neutrons and protons; neutrons and protons are made up of inscrutable objects called quarks. These insights gave us, successively, chemistry; optics and spectroscopy; radioactivity; and particle physics.

Like Ptolemy, the theorists draw upon a huge body of measurements that provide numbers that they can use to accurately predict the results of experiments. They are so successful in this regard that they have stopped asking “why” about the numbers. Why is the electron mass 0.511 MeV/c2 while the muon mass is 140 MeV/c2? As a graduate student, this drove me absolutely crazy. Mass is a primary fact about the universe, and the failure to adequately explain it means that nothing else in the models can be considered secure.

So why am I going on in this in a blog about religion? Because I think that we’re in the same boat with ethics.

The most powerful theories of moral action have been brought into the world by people that insist that there is a soul. Yet over the last 300 years, those moral theories have been slowly eroded under the skepticism of scientists that can’t find the soul anywhere in their models. Thomas Jefferson, for example, went so far as to remove every reference to miracles from his personal copy of the Bible, and considered Jesus of Nazareth to be merely an inspirational philosopher.

This impact of this perspective has propagated so deeply into our religious dialog that our focus is now primarily on material facts. Does life begin at conception? Is it possible for natural selection (Darwinian evolution) to generate a human being? If marriage is the seat of the family, how can the sterile union of a gay couple be marriage?

So the reason that I bring up physics is because when I began to consider models of structure beneath that known to modern particle physics, I came up with a large class of models that contain a soul – a personality independent of a material body. The theories also support the ability of souls to accumulate large amounts of energy. The most efficient way for them to organize energy is to love one another. That insight allowed me to evolve a whole array of methods for controlling predatory personalities, methods that are suggested in all the myths regarding the exemplars of love that gave us our most powerful theories of moral action.

In other words, I believe that I can prove that Jesus and Muhammed and Buddha were right.

And I hope that I can give women enough courage to stand up and be counted in their number.