Oh, how I hate reading articles like this one by Steven Pinker (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394-1,00.html). Not because they threaten my poor, all-too-human hope that life continues after death, or we are more than the meat in our brains, but because such articles decide A PRIORI, with no in-depth research into survival of consciousness and no knowledge of the work that was done in this area beginning in the 1800’s with the Society of Psychical Research and continuing today, decide that all studies suggesting survival are flawed, rife with fraud, or impossible because we ALL KNOW, deep down, in our rational minds, that the soul is a silly, primitive fantasy of the undereducated masses and religious zealots. Consider this quote:
“Whatever the solutions to the Easy and Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will locate consciousness in the activity of the brain. For many nonscientists, this is a terrifying prospect. Not only does it strangle the hope that we might survive the death of our bodies, but it also seems to undermine the notion that we are free agents responsible for our choices–not just in this lifetime but also in a life to come. ”
First of all, the idea that only scientists can understand consciousness–or, better said, only neuroscientists–is an elitist assumption by a privileged few. Yes, it’s obvious that neuroscientists are in the best position to understand the workings of the brain, but the assumption that eventually we’ll be able to explain all conscious experience as a function of chemicals and transmitters is NOT JUSTIFIED and not scientific. Declaring that “eventually we’ll solve this problem” is not proof of anything. It is no different from me affirming that “eventually I will be able to prove the existence of the soul, just wait it out and trust me”.
Explaining how the brain works and how its perceptions can be altered by disease, injury, drugs or other factors does not mean that consciousness itself has been “located” in the brain. The article itself uses the analogy of radio transmitters and devices that receive waves: “They [certain brain waves] may bind the activity in far-flung regions (one for color, another for shape, a third for motion) into a coherent conscious experience, a bit like radio transmitters and receivers tuned to the same frequency.” But why must the radios and receivers tuned to the same frequency be necessary IN the brain or a function of the brain? A great deal of work has been done in the field of consciousness studies that suggest that consciousness is EXTERIOR to the brain–you can call this bank or field where consciousness (and perhaps memory) is stored whatever you wish–the fact remains that in order to explain the mysteries of consciousness, you have to look at the brain as the receiver, and the signals it receives as the originator and generator of consciousness. That explains ESP; remote viewing; telepathy; clairvoyance; verifiable after death experiences (see the works of Dr. Brian Weiss) and NDEs; communication with the “dead”; mediumship of all kinds; and all anomalous transfer of information. To simply declare that ALL of the above is either false or fraudulent reflects a lazy, uncritical mind unwilling to do the necessary homework to make such claims.
It is fashionable in academic circles to refute all such work in the “paranormal”, declaring it–in a paternalistic, Freudian manner–a reflection of our collective survival fantasies and equating it with religion or superstition. There is nothing more insulting than this paternalism to those scientists, philosophers, doctors, and so many others who dedicated their lives to unraveling the mysteries of consciousness. Many undertook the journey because the evidence forced them to; many started as skeptics and ended up believing what was obvious enough to shake the very foundations of their prior understanding of life and death. I have lived my entire adult life among academic super-skeptics, who will not even consider the evidence readily available for anyone to consider. There is not one text or experiment that will “prove” survival, but taken as a whole, the information garnered over the last 150 years or so leads the intelligent and thoughtful scholar to the serious consideration of survival of consciousness. However, a great many academics will automatically and instinctively reject ANYTHING that suggests the existence of a soul or an afterlife since it seems unseemly, a product of the religious lower classes that cling to fantasies in order to explain their existence. Academia is elitist in the extreme, always suspicious of any knowledge that it did not create or generate. Academics inhabit a closed system that often doesn’t play by its own rules, since “knowledge” is their domain, and it is a power game: he who defines reality owns the keys to the kingdom.
The race to define reality as originating in the brain has as much to do with prestige and power as it does with seeking the truth. If science can deny the validity of human experience and declare that we can know nothing about ourselves and that free will is a fantasy, then a select few control the very notion of humanity. There is nothing “scientific” about that; it’s demagoguery and absolutism based on theories that have not yet been proven, and probably never will be. Science is not headed towards proving the location of memory and consciousness–yet, by telling the rest of us that they inevitably will, a chosen few are attempting to control our identity, our experience, and the vast amount of data that leads towards the opposite conclusion–our brains are excellent receivers of memories, information, emotions and experiences that exist SOMEWHERE ELSE. There is abundant evidence for that assertion, and although I won’t pretend to define the location of consciousness–no one can claim to do that–I will say that I trust our human experience. I believe in the validity of our collective observations and deductions regarding the existence and nature of the soul, our contact with those who have died, our continuing awareness after bodily death, and the individual consciousness that is interpreted through our bodies, but is not dependent on it.
Think, I ask, about what it means to equate science and logic with one view of how the brain works. Think about the assumption that those who disagree are illogical, unscientific, superstitious, fantasy driven, undereducated zealots. It’s a profoundly insulting characterization that is simply false. Those who propagate such unflattering propaganda need to do their homework and delve into the so-called “paranormal” research that is strongly suggestive of survival of consciousness. Most of all, however, those men of science who claim to own the truth or will figure it out “given enough time and resources” need some perspective on their own biases and prejudices. That distortion in and of itself is enough to cast serious doubt on the validity and objectivity of their conclusions.
To see the other side of the issue, please take a look at Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary’s The Spiritual Brain – Neuroscience of Consciousness. For some sense of the furious and impolite debate that rages on in this field, read the Amazon.com reviews of the book and the intense emotions that those reviews generate. That in itself is fascinating and worthy of study.