Explain the brain

If we were awarding the Almighty with a prize for the marvels of material creation we would surely pick the human brain. It is the highest instrument of rational thought and, through its marvellous operations, we can – with grace – reach out and touch God.

We may think of the brain as a complex of communicating parts, each part with its specialist function which may work on its own or in concert with other parts. And we may roughly separate it into the folded mantle of the cortex, which is the cognitive part. The limbic system, which majors on feelings, instincts and biological drives and the brainstem, providing basic life-support systems.

The whole will weigh about 1.4kg, and will contain around a hundred billion nerve cells. The more recently evolved cortex is very large in our species and, as the homo line developed, the brain increased in capacity from about 400cc to about 1350cc.

The neurons within the brain form and re-form connections at the rate of a million per second and typically each one has between 1,000 and 10,000 connections with other cells. They communicate using transmitting and modulating chemicals which pass through the synapses (connecting junctions between neurons). Others are more widely spread affecting whole brain regions. Deficiencies in these chemicals can have profound effects. For example, absence of dopamine can lead to Parkinson’s disease, just as lack of serotonin can lead to depression, or acetylcholine to Alzheimer’s.

Some neurons carry messages from the body’s sense receptors. Others carry signals from the central nervous system to the muscles and glands. Others, again, provide the neural wiring. Brain structure is directed by genes and by experience. We now know that new neurons are being formed throughout our lives, though this plasticity is marked by accelerated development in, say, the infant and at puberty. The other major inhabitants of the brain are glial cells, which provide support functions for the neurons.

The baby’s brain learns at a tremendous rate, forming and refining its brain connections in response to its environment. This process continues as everyday experience continues to generate connections. For example, the connection between a face and a name requires two areas of the brain to work in concert. We can even watch such connections being made in, for example, the brain of a mouse which is undergoing a new experience. Long term memory is formed by a continuing reinforcement of connections.

And everyone is familiar with the increased physical size of the memory of a London cab driver, as he learns “the knowledge”.

I cannot chart all the functions of the brain for you here, but a good example is provided by memory. Immediate memory is found in the temporal lobes. Basic stored memory is held in the hippocampus, and longer-term memories are posted in other parts of the brain. Near to the hippocampus is the amygdala, which handles emotions. It responds to our sense of fear or to our sense of delight.  (See link below)

When the brain of Phineas Gage, a 19th-century railway worker, was penetrated by an iron bar, he survived. This enabled scientists to locate the characteristics of his personality which were damaged by the wound. Incident by incident they were learning how to relate function to brain area. Nowadays they use brain scans.

Although brain scan signals are, at this stage of knowledge, relatively crude, we are now able, for instance, to map the brains which correlate to different personality traits, such as neuroticism or conscientiousness.

In the past we used observational studies for this. For example, we know that people crossing a road, where jaywalking is forbidden, are over three times more likely to follow a man wearing a business suit than one who is informally dressed. (At least it was so in Texas in 1955, when this was studied.) Nowadays we might simply record the different brain activity triggered by an image of a business person.

There are different forms of brain scan. Some measure the electrical activity of neuron signals from outside the scalp. Others measure activity by inserting “tracer” elements which can then be identified, and others track the blood flow associated with activity in areas of the brain. While these methods have revealed much, it is generally agreed that they are still somewhat crude and generalised in their effects. Much research goes into the development of more refined detectors, and these will undoubtedly become more sophisticated. (see link below)

The wonders I describe are such that we should not be surprised at those scientists who believe that the whole story of our humanity can be deduced from a complete understanding of the brain. After all, if every aspect can be traced to cerebral or related activity, why do we need to look further?

To that, I think we must answer that every aspect of a violin concerto can be traced to the vibration of the strings and the sound-box of the instrument, but without the violinist there is no music. Yet the analogy is not exact. The integration of the human spirit and the human body is so much closer than the violin to the violinist that we are hard put to discern the boundaries.

In my next column we will review the commercial and psephological aspects of brain science. It is known as neuromarketing.

Meanwhile, the website Secondsightblog.net, which is available for comments and questions, carries links to brain functions and to brief descriptions of current scanning methods.

 

Brain functions – interactive chart at  http://www.newscientist.com/movie/brain-interactive

Summary of scanning methods at  http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/types-of-brain-imaging-techniques/

 

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Neuroscience, Quentin queries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Explain the brain

  1. Nektarios says:

    Quentin & Fellow bloggers,

    I am not a neuroscientist. It is a fascinating subject, but I feel the approach to `Explaining the Brain’ is a bit lop-sided and is only partly, as Quentin points out, crude interpretations upon the data gathered to present.

    For this reason, I leave the explaining of the mechanics of, and the different functions of the brain to the neuroscientists and ask a different question which is important when it comes to explaining the brain.
    As I say, I am not an expert on the brain, but one is aware of several things about the way of its activity.

    Looking at what I have learned, I see the brain is a bit like a computer which has been programmed and remembers.
    The brain is programmed; it conforms to a a certain pattern; it lives entirely on the past, modifying itself with the present, and projects forwards.

    Some view the mind as part of the brain – that is the materialist’s view. There is another view that holds that the brain and the mind are separate.
    So I ask, is the mind part of the brain or separate?

  2. John Lockley says:

    My view only, with no evidence whatsoever…
    I find it near impossible to regard the mind as no more than a set of electrical signals, so first reaction is that it is separate from the brain.
    On the other hand it is also difficult to visualise it as operating independently of the brain.
    As a Christian I believe that we have immortal souls, which are spiritual rather than physical.
    I therefore believe that the mind is that area where the soul impinges on the brain, and as the soul leaves the body at death and the brain’s electrical activity ceases, the soul takes the mind with it.
    It’s an impossible question to answer definitively, and no doubt there will be much further, and one hopes enlightening, discussion.
    John

    • Nektarios says:

      John Lockley

      I understand your dilemma, from your standpoint at the moment when you say to the question I posed,. `is the mind part of the brain or separate? “It’s an impossible question to answer definitively.”
      Well, Christian brother, when I looked into such things some years ago now, Psalm 46:10
      came to mind. “Be still and know that I am God”.
      I wondered why God said that to humanity? What did being still mean? What had to be still? And in that stillness, what does it mean to know God? And many more questions arose, but let us confine ourselves these four questions for the moment.

      I can see now that what has to be still, what has to be quiet is the activity of the brain.
      When the brain is quiet or still, then there is a possibility to be aware of God and have perception into God.
      Now is that the brain or is that mind?

  3. James H says:

    I find it interesting, the way certain characteristics or pathologies can be mapped; but an awful lot of the resulting explanations seem too much like a man with a hammer, seeing nails everywhere. I have seen it argued that the experiments disprove free will, which is a bit odd to try and argue – after all, if it were true, why would it be so difficult to persuade anyone of the point?

    Bearing in mind that, for the fMRI scans used to map brain function, they are using a proxy measurement, namely the changes in magnetic susceptibility due to changes in blood oxygen levels. This has been known to produce hilarious results (in case no-one’s seen this before):
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/fmrisalmon/

    A lot of confusion, and nasty argument, is caused by the limitations of Modernist philosophy. Since Decartes (I think?) we’ve been seeing ourselves as ‘spirits inhabiting bodies’, which along with materialism, leads to the insistence that if we can show a physical basis for thinking, that means the physical aspects are all there is to it.

    Aquinas would have disagreed: according to the principles of matter and form, the soul/mind is integral to the body, the way a sphere is integral to a ball. What we see in the various imaging techniques, I imagine, is the physical footprint or expression of what the mind or soul does, such as deciding, appreciating, etc.

    • Nektarios says:

      James H

      Yes, I agree that the materialist view of the mind being integral to the brain is an assertion that will not stand up to scrutiny. For example, it is not the brain that perceives, but the mind. The brain is conditioned, the mind is not. The brain as no space, the mind has unlimted space &c.

      I am afraid I would question Aqunias view too. Is the mind integral to the body, to the brain or is it separate? If it were, the mind would be subject to all the limitatons of the body and the brain? What Aquinas confused was psyche with mind, but psyche is not mind

  4. mike Horsnall says:

    James H
    “…..What we see in the various imaging techniques, I imagine, is the physical footprint or expression of what the mind or soul does, such as deciding, appreciating, etc…….

    In fact we cannot know, but I really do like your metaphor of the the physical footprint-there must be one.
    I have been an osteopath for 25 years now and have had much opportunity to observe closely the body with the person ensouled within it. I’ve chopped up bodies in anatomy labs and sat with people as they died when I was a nurse before I became an osteopath. It does seem to me that we are, in the main, close to being spirits inhabiting bodies- yet somehow the glove is integral to the form. The chap who set up the British School of Osteopathy was a Lay Methodist preacher called Martin Littlejohn and he said that ‘vitality’ was the nexus of spirit and matter-for vitality you can read life. So much of theorising ignores the body yet, if but a few blood capiliaries give way, the theorist can theorise no longer.

  5. Iona says:

    “Spirits inhabiting bodies” has never seemed a satisfactory way of describing things… Yet spirit must be separable from body, as at death; yet must it, since “the resurrection of the body” is an article of faith? When I was being “instructed” I asked the priest about the resurrection of the body, and he said it would rather cramp one’s style, not to have a body.

    My mother died last year, and my aunt early this year, both following a long, slow deterioration. Sometimes I think of them as having had their various faculties taken away and put by for them, like sending on luggage in advance.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Iona:

      “….like sending on luggage in advance….”

      That too is a lovely thought. I agree that the formulation “spirits inhabiting bodies” doesnt sound that great on paper or sit that well in the mind. Yet if it is possible to experience oneself then my experience is increasingly toward that way of explaining,-it also solves a few connumdrums. Spirit must be “seperable” from body as it were but whether that is the ‘natural’ state I don’t know-seems to me that the spirit fits the body as the glove fits the hand-you can seperate them but they belong together for the long term-scripturally as you say.

  6. Horace says:

    Nektarios jn the first comment asks ” is the mind part of the brain or separate?”
    and this seems to have set the tone for the resulting discussion.

    I don’t really understand some of the arguments advanced e.g. “it is not the brain that perceives, but the mind. The brain is conditioned, the mind is not. The brain [has] no space, etc” ;

    BUT I do like Aquinas “the soul/mind is integral to the body, the way a sphere is integral to a ball”. To me this sums it up; a ball is a sphere – a brain is a mind.

    I am always worried by statements like “as the soul leaves the body at death and the brain’s electrical activity ceases, the soul takes the mind with it.” The mind/soul is not (I think we all agree) a material object; it exists outside of time – so to talk of the soul/mind as ‘leaving’ the body at death does not really make sense!

    BUT, as I have remarked before, consciousness and free will are (as far as we can tell) inseparably linked to time and memory. So how can we imagine consciousness outside of time? – perhaps it has something to do with our belief in “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”. Does the resurrected body perhaps have a brain which is not tied to time?

    • Nektarios says:

      Horace

      Death is an extraordinary experience. From a thought point of view, it lies beyond it.
      We view death by approximation – a dead animal, tree, flower or a human corpse.
      We say things like the life has gone out of it – it is dead.

      The nearest we get to death, actual, is death to `self’

      The mind is not of time, or the body or the brain.
      Such statements and assertions as my mind, your mind, their minds, are tied to the materialistic view of man. It ties the mind to time, and all that goes on in time, pain, suffering, anger hatred, killing, sorrows fear and death and so on.

      The mind does interact with the brain when it is still and only when it is quiet and still,
      otherwise it is just the chattering thoughts of the `self ‘and the brain.

    • Rahner says:

      “it exists outside of time”
      Experience, thought and communication are all temporally extended so the claim that the mind/soul is outside time is quite implausible. Presumably it would mean that the mind/soul is not before, after or simultaneous with any physical event? It is hard to see what evidence there could possibly be for such a claim or indeed why it is thought necessary to make it in the first place……

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Yes, thats kind of the way I was working along, can’t see that the phrase “outside time” really means much because time is a part of events -and as we all know its ‘events dear boy’ that make life. Horace was I think referring to the fact that the mind can function across ‘percieved time’ ranges -perceived time being different than the thing itself though.

      • Nektarios says:

        Rahner
        Is mind equivalent to soul or an interchangeable word we use, but is that accurate?
        It is a materalistic view that all is contained within, when clearly it is not.

        We are discussing, not claiming anything.
        It is my view that the psyche is not mind. Mind is not bound by our conditioning, time or indeed space.
        So what are the discoveries we have made about the activities of mind? One thing for sure and I repeat from earlier postings, one cannot interact with mind until the brain , our thoughts are still and quiet.
        The MRI scans show a more uniform operating of the brain when it is still or quiet, more contemplative or meditative, then sudden unexplained fashes across the brain occur,
        is this mind incommunication?

      • tim says:

        Clearly the mind and the soul exist in time. That doesn’t mean that they can’t exist outside time as well. Shove your punt pole into the river – the fish see that it exists in the water, but it exists outside the water as well. And it still exists outside the water when you lift it out again. Outside time, things are not before, after or simultaneous. I agree about the evidence, but the motivation to make the claim is clear enough (even if not necessarily adequate). The most important entities (some of us believe) have an existence outside time and space.

  7. mike Horsnall says:

    Horace,
    I agree with this ball/sphere.. brain/mind business. Its a good analogy and one that seems to approximate to the truth. Its an old adage that you can dissect the brain but you won’t find a mind-but I think it points to a deeper truth. I don’t view the mind as seperate from the body (brain) either. But I am interested in your thought that the mind exists outside of time.
    I don’t understand how the mind can exist outside of time if the mind is an aspect of the body-it sounds a bit like saying that acetylcholine can exist outside of time??? Its this drift that has turned me over years to the view that our life is in essence of spirit and that mind is a phenomena of the body. There is a drift in Catholic thinking -expressed by Pope Benedict recently that only where God is seen does life truly begin. I’ve mulled this over for years and considered the spiritual life that is happening in my life-for spiritual life is an experience we can all measure in ourselves.

    Paul in Romans 12 (I think) discusses vessels for noble or base purpose and I have mulled this over for years too. My conclusions thus far are that mentality and emotionality are , rather like Aquinas believed, levels of life but are of a lower form than the life of the spirit which is true life and somehow interfaces with the rest-governing to increasing degree as certain conditions prevail-namely faith and godwardness;as we struggle to reach out to God -so God struggles to reach in to us. Your question about the ressurected body is interesting also, If the conditions of that ressurectd body are outside of time then- presumably duration and the laws that govern ‘things’ eg gravity etc might not apply either…in which case our ressurected bodies will have to be made of something other than the flesh we know which, being stuff in the way of flesh and blood cannot exist without the material conditions supplied by the physics of space and time?? Is this line of thinking pausible do you think?

    • Horace says:

      Re my question about the resurrected body – Yes, it is possible that “our resurrected bodies will have to be made of something other than the flesh we know which, being stuff in the way of flesh and blood, cannot exist without the material conditions supplied by the physics of space and time” but I am not quite convinced.

      This business of ‘time’ is, as I keep saying, very difficult.
      Rahner says above :- “Presumably it would mean that the mind/soul is not before, after or simultaneous with any physical event?”.
      Well, for example, Roger Penrose “Shadows of the Mind” – Chap 7 “Quantum theory and the brain” :- ” . . it might well be the case that the Z-mysteries of [Quantum] theory are interfering with our seemingly watertight conclusions about the causality, non-locality, and counterfactuality properties that might actually exist between awareness and free will.” [‘ free will ‘ here implies a ‘ physical event ‘].
      (See: “Is God just the “Big Bang”? September 11, 2008”)

      To put it as simply as I can; God created time – therefore God “exists outside of time”. Insofar as man is created ‘ in the image and likeness of God ‘ then it would seem reasonable to suggest that the soul/mind ‘ exists outside of time ‘.

      • Rahner says:

        “God created time – therefore God “exists outside of time”. Insofar as man is created ‘ in the image and likeness of God ‘ then it would seem reasonable to suggest that the soul/mind ‘ exists outside of time ‘.”
        I think few philosophers would accept this as an argument or as evidence. In any case some theists affirm an eternal but temporal God, eg Richard Swinburne.

      • Nektarios says:

        Horace
        Time as you say, Horace, is complex.
        So what is Time? Time is essentially a means of division. There is the constant division of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It seems we need time for everything under the sun.
        But to enquire into the nature of time requires Patience. I hope you realize Patience is timeless? Only impatience is of time. So let’s look into it.

        Movement is Time. to go from here to there is time. To learn a language, to accumulate knowledge is Time,
        Meeting our memories of yesterday and a thousand yesterdays, meeting the present, modifying and moving towards the future, all this is Time.
        The pusuit of an ideal requires Time.
        One can go through all the different aspcts in life that is of Time or where Time is implied,
        so I don’t need to delineate everything, do I?
        So together we have to understand, not verbally, the feeling and sense of Time.

        Time is memory. it is the past, our own past, conditioning, and so on until be think,
        Time is necessary for change. Outwardly, obviously, Time is necessary to develop and change. Outwardly, physically Time is necessary.
        One sees, one cannot possibly escape from that time or try to find a stop to that time. To suggest or try to do so, would be utterly foolish and meaningless.

        We have only opened the lid a little on discussing the whole nature of Time. but will leave off for now with a tantalizing question. Does Time exist psychologically?

  8. Nektarios says:

    Rahner
    We are moving steadily forward.
    Alas, Mankind fell from his first estate, his soulical aspects became subject to the physical,
    to its passions and desires and if I may be so bold , but only to suggest or question, subject to the workings of the brain which when the he was alienated from the source of life, died.

    Man’s brain with its workings could no longer find God, but invented one after another. His mind
    that he depended on was darkened and this is the problem Man without God faces and those who claim by Faith, in some measure know Him, have problems too and need extracting out of the old nature and its workings to walk in the Light, not as an idea, a philosophy or concept, but in actuality. Then, the working of the Mind is working in conjunction with the brain, becomes clear and essential as it extracts us from the old nature..
    As it is we tend, do we not, to rely on the busy conditioned, fearful activity of the brain to tell us everything. It can’t.
    God created everything, but He is other than what he has created, but in inhabiting the whole of creation does not may Him temporal, but He that is the Eternal/ Creator sustains it,
    Man does have something of God, and will return to Him.

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    Horace,
    Ok I’ll buy that. Its sometimes a bit difficult to seperate the thinking of ‘Horace the Neurologist’ from ‘Horace the theologian (!!!)’ But the sense that man comes from elsewhere is fine. I was at a Carmelite Priory this weekend with the Diocese and the Monk , speaking on the ascension, said more or less just that.I guess thats why the Penrose book is called ‘Shadows of the Mind’? Because that bit of us which is ‘other’, not in time, I mean must interface or occupy the rest in some manner. That kind of chimes in with the thought that our true identity is in Christ and not in temporality-though Christ was -and is- in both heaven and earth now.

  10. mike Horsnall says:

    Horace ,
    PS sorry, havent got the book so must ask…what is counterfactuality?

    • tim says:

      Not-soness? Mistrust seven-syllable words….

    • Horace says:

      Two possible (if not very helpful) definitions:-
      a) expressing what has not happened but could, would, or might have happened.
      b) the definite results of measurements which have not been performed.

      Sorry, I am not a philosopher, definitely not a theologian and actually not a neurologist but a neurophysiologist!

  11. tim says:

    Rahner, you tell us that ‘few philosophers would accept’ (something or other) as an argument. You may be right, but unless you can explain to us why not, then we have to rely solely on your authority. Aren’t we are obliged to challenge you, in order to develop a mature faith?

    • Rahner says:

      The highly ambiguous premises do not support the conclusion….

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Ho ho ho!…sounds a bit like..”there’s an ardvark in your fish tank…”

      • tim says:

        Ok, it’s hand-waving, but quite engaging? I don’t think we necessarily have to be committed to total rigour all the time on this blog….

  12. Iona says:

    Mike – presumably, our “resurrection of the body” will be on a similar pattern as Jesus’s resurrected body, – solid, tangible, able to eat (but I suppose not dependent on food) yet not restrained by walls, distance etc.
    Some saints have been reported as bilocating, – Padre Pio, for example, was seen hundreds of miles away from his parish – which he never left. Maybe the resurrected body can do the same thing. Or rather, maybe it is simply not bound by space, hence may appear to bilocate.

    As for Time: I cannot think that it is ultimately real. There was no “before” the Big Bang; time, matter and space have their origins in the Big Bang. Time, change, causality, succession of events, are ways in which we are constrained to see things. God is under no such constraints. It is not that God sees into the future; for God there is no future nor past.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Iona,
      Perhaps this means that we catholics are the answer to the current fuel crisis…we caould all pray a bit more and then set up teleportation businesses…..”* tons of sugar to Paraguay Sir? No problem, three days of prayer &fasting should have it at the docks waiting to be collected…”

      But as for Time not being ultimately real -thats quite good, I hadnt thought of that to date, or at least not so succinctly.

      • tim says:

        I don’t understand where saying ‘time isn’t real’ gets us. Certainly it had a beginning – St Augustine and modern physicists agree on that. It probably has an end – whether that is in the unimaginably distant future or at the Second Coming. Meanwhile it’s as real as space, or so it seems to me…

      • tim says:

        No – miracles are not done to order. That would be black magic.

  13. Nektarios says:

    Mike Horsnall

    The mind does interface with the brain, as I have said, but only when it is still and quiet.
    Otherwise,the brain is busy with one thought, stimuli, fear, presentation, or other mundane
    daily routines that we have.

    • Horace says:

      Nektarios
      “The mind does interface with the brain, as I have said, but only when it is still and quiet.”

      I must share a rather sad story:-
      Studying the EEG of a patient I had observed curious brief evolving disturbances of brain activity which I thought were probably artefacts but might be epileptic phenomena.
      To study these further I decided to record for the whole night.
      I was afraid that the machine might run out of paper before morning so I returned to the ward about 1am – the patient was quietly asleep, the EEG recordings showed normal sleep patterns and so I turned the recorder off and put in a new pack of recording paper (this was in the ’70s long before digital recording equipment became available).

      When I turned the machine on again there was no trace of brain activity.

      I checked all the controls, I re-calibrated the machine – still no evidence of brain activity!

      I am ashamed to say that it was only then that I thought to look at the patient – who had quietly died while I was changing the paper. I had to go and tell the night nurse what had happened.

      • Nektarios says:

        Horace
        I notice similar behaviour today in hospitals and in doctor’s surgeries. In my younger day, let’s say, a doctor would look at you, feel your skin, look at ones colour and a whole load of observable tools, from which the doctor would give a diagnosis – usually acurate too.

        Today doctors just ask the patient what their symptoms are, key it into the computer and hey presto – a possible diagnosis among several that it could be, and I suspect guess or refer to a consultant.

        I would not feel too bad, the person died peacefully in their sleep, nothing one could do.
        but the issue of relating to the patient is an important one, but one that seems not high on the list of priorities. There must be hundreds of millions of pounds of equipment in hospitals and doctors surgeries and with other health care providers, that is not for use, but only in case of litigation. So it is clear where NHS priorities lie, though I can personally say I have a good relationship with my GP.

        Coming back to the brains activity being still and quiet, – I am not suggesting one has to be dead before the mind can interface with the brain – just in case some bright spark suggest it.
        Can we move forward a bit now in our present discussion?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      “as I have said..”
      Oh of course, silly me.

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    Tim,

    No, I’m sure it doesnt get us anywhere at all and- as you intimate the years seem to roll along impervious to our opinions. But the idea that time is only part of the story might help us guard against becoming fixated on it and confining our speculations to completely earthbound reasoning…one certainly does hope that God isnt measuring our progress in Heaven with a stopwatch!

    • John says:

      I come back to my earlier comment, (second in the list) now that my computer is working again and I am able to catch up on the discussion….
      As for this whole question of “outside of time” it seems to me that if we accept space/time as a creation of God, then time cannot be part of God’s “environment” (with apologies to de Chardin). Let us call that time-free “environment” Eternity.
      The angels had free will, but no time, so their choice for or against God was instantaneous and irrevocable.
      God gave us immortal souls which belong to eternity, but fixed us in a space/time continuum, which means that in addition to our free will we have the gift of being able to change our minds (but not, I think, our brains).
      Our actual contact with God as a mind is governed by the instant we call “now”. This is the point where space/time and eternity “touch”.
      We remember time past, but cannot change it. We have plans for time future, but cannot control it.
      If the immortal soul is contiguous with the mind, then the mind belongs to eternity and the brain only to space/time. This is why I (and others, I believe) can contemplate their physical death, but not their total extinction.
      This is what I meant by my challenged proposal that at death the soul takes the mind with it. I would hope also that the above may strike a chord in the general discussion on time.

      • Horace says:

        John
        Broadly speaking I agree with all your points above – only one thing remains worrying:- “the mind belongs to eternity and the brain only to space/time”. How does this tie in with the resurrection of the body?

    • tim says:

      I agree…

  15. Nektarios says:

    Fellow bloggers,
    I would like you all to notice one of the problems we have in discusing mind, brain activity, and that is, the distance we put between mind, brain activity in Time or not of Time. Of the brain or outside the brain.
    What you can observe from this is three things.
    1. The workings of the brain
    2. The effect of Time
    3. The division that Thought produces.
    It is although one is standing over there somewhere, looking, thinking, guessing
    where Mind comes into all this, Yes?
    We are not simply observing, we are thinking about the brain, its activities, about measurement,
    and so on, but you are not observing. One feels they must say something, feel it might cause a problem to their faith or conditioning and way of life. Fear is in the air.

    You can see by reading through our postings that we live fragmented and compartmentalized
    lives, out of memory, the past, modifying it in the present and going forward into the future. In otherwords, there is a space between, so one is not in contact with our Mind aspect., for that to happen the activity of the brain requires to be still and quiet. Then the Mind that sees and knows
    can give insight, perception into things concerning oneself and I add only oneself, as it can open the door to that which is untouched by thought, or Time, or indeed brain’s activity when it is quiet and still.
    Some one asked in a previous posting as we went into this, who is the observer?
    If there is one who is the oberver, then that is self, of self, of thought of me, of time; of all the fragmentation that takes place in time. The question is not who is the observer, but what does it mean to observe?
    I will stop here for now. (discuss).

  16. John says:

    Horace (and Tim)
    The short answer to your last question is “I just don’t know”. I have to confess that I have never understood the NEED for a resurrection, which reveals that I have no idea of the nature of the resurrection. If my immortal soul finds itself with God in Heaven, then I don’t feel the need to drag around this bag of bones any more. It has been argued that it is necessary to have a body in order to be fully human, but I don’t grasp the continuation of that necessity into life after death which I believe to be spiritual. If I make it, I may get a pleasant surprise!
    I (naturally) accept Jesus’ resurrection, but the Gospel underlines how very different His resurrected body was from His former body. It could pass through locked doors, it could come and go at will, it could remain unrecognised even by his followers.
    Just what was (or is) a resurrected body? After the ascension, where is Jesus’ resurrected, physical (?) body now? What is its “environment”? Before the ascension it certainly wasn’t limited by space or time.
    This lack of limitation could be regarded as a divine attribute, but we believe that Jesus was fully human, having a brain, a mind and a soul.
    This all leads me to associate the mind closely with the soul rather than with a physical and destructible brain.
    John

    • Horace says:

      The Apostle’s Creed
      ” . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

      • John says:

        Of course I believe that – I’m a Catholic.
        All I said was that I couldn’t see the need for resurrection of a body.

    • tim says:

      The question is, why do we need a resurrected body? I think this question may be above our pay grade, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t speculate, provided we don’t get too discouraged if we don’t immediately arrive at conclusive answers. Consider works of art. A book, or a picture, is reducible (in principle) to a finite collection of bits of information that can be stored on a computer. But to be experienced or enjoyed, it has to be embodied – on printed pages, or a television screen, or in live performance. That’s particularly true of more complex works of art, like music, plays, or ballet. So maybe in order to experience heaven as it is intended that we should, we need a body? If the analogy is worth anything (I hardly need to emphasise how speculative this is) our glorified bodies must be somewhat different from their originals.

      • John says:

        I take your point. All I’m stuck with is the difference between space/time and God’s environment. Clearly a glorified body is different – Christ’s was. I just can’t grasp how a bodily extension of a glorified and spiritual soul exists outside space and time.

    • Horace says:

      John
      Apologies; I have perhaps misunderstood your concerns.
      “It has been argued that it is necessary to have a body in order to be fully human, but I don’t grasp the continuation of that necessity into life after death which I believe to be spiritual.”
      Perhaps it is the word ‘fully’ that is the trouble. I would argue that body and soul are both necessary attributes of a human being. Therefore if we are destined for ‘life everlasting’ then this must involve both body and soul.
      This term ‘resurrection’ is perhaps just a description in human temporal terms of how the dead human body can take its necessary part in ‘life everlasting’ .
      Like you I just don’t know – but I wonder if the resurrected human being may not simply be a human life seen from the aspect of eternity (i.e. outside of time).
      How this could be, I haven’t the faintest idea!

  17. Iona says:

    John – (May 25th, @ 3.12)
    If the resurrection of the body is at all similar to the resurrection of Jesus’s body, it will definitely not be a case of dragging around a bag of bones.
    Our Lady’s body was not left on earth. And Our Lady has appeared (bodily? – anyway, visibly) in various times and places since (Fatima, Lourdes…)
    “I can’t grasp how a bodily extension of a glorified and spiritual soul exists outside space and time”
    – but is that something we can hope to grasp while we are enmeshed in space and time? It defeats imagination. A glorified and spiritual soul, embodied or not, defeats my imagination.

    • John says:

      Fair point, Iona.
      My expression “a bag of bones” was intended as self-deprecating – at my age the physical body is not an attractive object and I wouldn’t be sorry to be rid of it.
      With the help of professional theology I can (just) begin to imagine the soul with God, but I find it hard to include the body in the visualisation.
      You are quite right, of course, this is all idle speculation. I think I have drifted away from the original topic except insofar as the physical brain is part of a physical body. I remain convinced that the mind is much more than that, but I can’t contribute anything more useful.

  18. Iona says:

    No, I don’t think it’s idle speculation; it’s just that it’s beyond comprehension. Some people have had beatific experiences here on earth, but find it almost impossible to communicate them.

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