Morning dead growing? Has Professor Tart finally lost his marbles?
Although most people in the scientific community seem to have developed a total belief in the monastic, materialist view that consciousness is nothing but an epiphenomenon produced by the brain (and perhaps in conjunction with some other aspects of the nervous system), I and a few other people who have worked in parapsychology believe there is empirical, scientific evidence for the competing theory is that the mind per se is of some different nature altogether than the brain, although consciousness, as we ordinary experience it, is the product, the systems emergent of both whatever mind is and brains nature is, working together. I’ve written about this elsewhere in a formal dualistic theory of consciousness. (Tart, 1993)
The reason to postulate that brain may be something more that is not equivalent to mind is the data of psychical research and parapsychology, where sometimes humans show effects like telepathy or clairvoyance that we have no explanation at all for in terms of the material properties of material objects. My last book (Tart, 2009), The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, marshaled this evidence, and overall it showed that it is a reasonable position to accept the reality of the material universe and its laws but also allow for something else, something we vaguely call “spiritual” or “non-material.”
I’ve just attended a five-day retreat with Tibetan lama Tsoknyi Rinpoche on aging and Buddhism. Besides traditional teachings, this included a small group session for everyone where they talked about what most concerned them about getting older. In my group, and in most groups, judging from conversations after the retreat, one of the main concerns among this older group of people is that their minds would go. Alzheimer’s, senile dementia, etc. For some the idea of their mind deteriorating is far more frightening than that of their body deteriorating.
There are deep philosophical and difficult scientific questions connected with this issue. If consciousness as manifested, as we experience it, is nothing but the electrochemical functioning of the brain, then certainly if the brain is damaged or deteriorates we expect to see the consciousness/mind deteriorate. On the “positive” side, as far as gaining more knowledge, insofar as specific mental functions, pathologies and deteriorations are correlated with specific areas of the brain, we would actually learn something about how those aspects of consciousness are produced in normal brain functioning.
So let’s say you meet someone who is having difficulty communicating, or saying things that don’t make sense: certainly from a materialistic point of view to see this as a result of ongoing brain damage is a sensible thing to do. But from a dualistic point of view that I use as a working hypothesis for understanding the mind and altered states of consciousness (ASCs), might there be cases in which the mind remains relatively intact in aging or injury, but the way it interacts with the brain changes drastically? It would be like watching a car speeding up and slowing down, veering right and left, suddenly stopping, suddenly accelerating. It could be that the driver is seriously impaired, or it could be that the driver is relatively unimpaired, but there are some major problems with the car’s mechanical functioning itself.
I was deeply touched by peoples expressed worries on the retreat, and while I certainly don’t have any overall solutions to the problems of aging, I remembered something that I observed recently which can serve as a convenient illustration of how impaired mind-brain communication might manifest. This might be useful to some others.
My wife Judy had a lot of handwritten notes from a teaching retreat that she wanted to transcribe, but it was going to take so very long to type them up. I suggested she use the tool I’ve found so useful recently, Dragon Dictate Professional 11.5, and then she would only have to correct occasional mistakes rather than do an enormous amount of typing.
For those who haven’t used it, Dragon Dictate is a computer program that listens to what you say via a microphone connected to your computer and then makes guesses as to what each word is as it types it out on the screen. I’m using it right now, and it’s doing a very accurate job. Sometimes it makes mistakes, of course, so it’s a good idea to train it to recognize the peculiarities of your voice, and the manufacturer provides material to read aloud so the program learns what your voice sounds like saying particular words.
My wife spent over an hour training, and then tried to dictate her notes. Dragon Dictate made so many mistakes and wrote stuff which was almost totally nonsensical, that she quickly gave up! But, I thought, connecting it with this retreat on Buddhism and aging, that’s an excellent kind of example for picturing a changing relationship between mind (one kind of existence) and brain (another kind of existence). There was nothing wrong with Judy’s mind nor her verbal expression of it, but someone looking only at the transcribed output could readily think the person who had typed it was demented or insane. To illustrate this, I’m going to ask her to read this particular paragraph into Dragon Dictate, and we’ll see how it comes out.
Well that’s what I thought I was going to do, have her read the above paragraph. But as she attempted it the program turned some of her words into commands, like bolding part of a sentence, instead of transcribing her words and didn’t bother to transcribe most of it! That confuses me, she has a pleasant, normal voice. So let me try reading the above paragraph myself in a funny accent and see if that can illustrate how distortions creep in.
“My wife spent over an hour trying as I tried to pick tight her notes Dragon dictate made so many mistakes, wrote stuff which was almost totally nonsensical, and she quickly guy. But all I thought it knowing this brief Buddhist retreat. That’s an excellent kind of example are picturing a challenging relationship between morning dead growing. There was not the rule with Judy’s mind nor expression of elite call bull so bored looking all in at the transcribed mapped out red leaf be exempt person will keep. One guy monitored or in sign.”
Okay, there are undoubtedly many different kinds of problems that affect how we can express ourselves, some must probably express an actual deterioration in the quality of our consciousness, but some, as this example shows, and golf interaction between mind and brain.
Would that be wonderful if we had absolutely real reliable telepathy, so our expert mindreader could tell what was going on “inside” person? I can remember years ago, with said the still, that I had to make the decision as to whether to pull the plug on my mother after she had never recovered any consciousness from emergency surgery. I know I made the best decision possible, but how I wish I could’ve really know whether there was still somebody” inside” her body or not…
And if we did develop some kind of telepathic way of seeing if a person’s consciousness was still functional in spite of communication difficulties, we would be so concerned that this was really a valid telepathy, and not some distorted version of it or just a projection of somebody’s irrational beliefs that they were telepathic…
I hope this analogy is useful to some people.
So, as I asked at the beginning of this little essay,
“Morning dead growing? Has Professor Tart finally lost his marbles?”
I don’t think so, but as I actually age I become more and more aware of the real possibilities of these kinds of things. Frankly I would prefer to have only an excellent theoretical knowledge of what aging is about, rather than direct experience! 🙂
I would also like to end this essay by saying research has now figured out how to use telepathy reliably so we can communicate with the mind behind an impaired brain/body, but, alas, that’s probably a project for your and my next lifetime….
Tart, C. T. (1993) Mind embodied: Computer-generated virtual reality as a new, dualistic-interactive model for transpersonal psychology. In K. Rao (Editor), Cultivating Consciousness: Enhancing Human Potential, Wellness and Healing. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1993. Pp. 123-137.
Tart, C. T. (2009) The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together. Oakland, California: New Harbinger, 2009.